Prologue: Segment I:
Invented by the many facets of our being:
Our Hopes and Our Fears
Sight and Smell
Touch and Taste
Sound and Spirit
Our Past and Our Future
A battle of infinitesimal Angels and Demons
That will cloud and color our judgment of the world around us.
~ Excommunicated Templar Knight, Shadon Qua
Jupiter 19 Space Habitat…207 Mm Orbit…Jupiter’s Outer Gossamer Ring…14 March 2300…|
Finlay Rogum glanced through the transparent tube walls of the umbilical.
Jupiter dominated the sky, swirling in a mass of color and light. Its red dot hung suspended within the raging perpetual storms of the planet, a ragged-rimmed pancake of incandescent gas, a tightly packed spiral of energy twisting into the ultimate of birth and at the same time, the utter destruction of hot gases as they whirled forever downward toward the mysterious depths of the gas giant.
The battle cruiser Kane, a squat and ugly ship, rested snugly against the umbilical tube that was connected to the enemy’s mobile space station. The gaping wound along its aft side was visible through the transparent tube where its outer hull had been boiled away, spilling a tangle of half-melted wires, cables, and control circuitry caused by a direct hit from one of the station’s gamma lasers. It was a refurbished space tug and like most of the ships in the Templar armada it was something discarded made new.
“Is it almost done?” Rogum hissed into his throat mic, feeling insignificant with Jupiter’s bulk seemingly to be hovering over him.
The Templar soldier he addressed swallowed nervously. “A few more minutes, Second Fist,” replied the soldier, glancing back over his shoulder and down the line men at the commander of the Templar assault spacecraft Kane. His plasma torch sputtered back on as he continued his work on the airlock hinges.
Rogum crouched in the docking tunnel in a ragged line of twenty Templar soldiers dressed in space battle gear. His eyes narrowed as he blinked the sweat out, eyes the color of watered down blood, the eyes of an albino, the distinct mark of his family and of his kind. A creature made for war, man distilled by science into the essence of violence.
He rose a little off his haunches, trying to get a glimpse of movement through the crystallized-titanium airlock porthole located on the metal hatch at the far end of the tube. But there was nothing, only darkness almost as thick as the void of space itself and the sputter of the torch. The only movement was the slight reflection off the glass porthole of himself and his men as they waited impatiently for the doors to fall.
In there was the enemy. The betrayers. Roughly seventy-five men, women and children waited beyond the huge bay doors directly in front of him completely aware of what the next couple of hours would bring.
Join us or die…death or salvation, Rogum thought, his finger tapping a fast cadence against his armored thigh.
This would have gone easier if they just had accepted his terms. Of course, he would not have kept them, and they probably knew that. It was a ritual that had come to mean nothing in this war. In a sense they were his brethren, so much like him, but something that came later. That did not matter; brother had fought brother since the beginning of time. It would not stop now.
He reached up and pressed the recessed stud on the side of his helmet and his visor slid opened. His nose crinkled at the stench. The smell of sweat, of the liquid dissolvers that had been applied to the hinges of the airlock doors, and of the lubrication used to oil the joints of their armor, all of which lay thick and heavy upon the non-circulating air inside the tube. The trepidation of battle seemed fill the air like the smoke sputtering from the cutting torch: heavy, thick and with acidity that burned the eyes and throat.
Rubbing a gloved hand over his porcelain white face, he stopped to scratch the five-day growth of stubble that lie like fine white down on his cheeks and chin. There should be plenty of water in the habitat, enough to wash the stench off my body and shave. Sighing, he closed his visor, turning on the air filters built into his helmet to maximum. All it really did was replace the air from the umbilical with the rankness inside his suit.
He glanced over his shoulder at the Kane’s airlock door, inside was another legion of fifty men and one Golem combatdroid with a three-man team nestled inside. It had taken a little over five days to wear down the outer defenses of the habitat without completely destroying it in order to get close enough to connect to this, the main docking alcove. Drugs had kept him and his men alert, there would be a price to pay for it, but it was a norm.
The Kane’s airlock hissed open and a soldier of the administrator caste glided through, coming in a half duck-walk attempting to make himself a smaller target for enemy fire. Most of the other soldiers turned and shook their heads in disgust, the possibility of weapon punching through the habitats airlock doors were nil to zero. Rogum did not know the man’s name. In his mind and most soldiers of the order an administrator was beneath them. The man was just an entity out of many that toiled the drudgery of their society…the Administration caste were toward the bottom in their hierarchal system. Rogum realized only the excommunicated, the unconverted and the slaves were lower in the pecking order. Nevertheless, they were useful, the order would have grounded to a halt ages ago without them.
The administrator in a suit of space armor too big for him stopped, glancing around like a turtle extending its head out of its shell until his eyes caught Rogum’s distinct armor. The administrator shuffled toward the commander reaching to push up his glasses, not realizing that his visor was still down until his hand slammed into it. The noise was deafening in the small space, echoing off the walls of the umbilical. The men hissed like a den of snakes and the administrator’s apologies just added to racket.
Rogum winced, taking a deep breath between clinched teeth to keep his calm.
Somehow, in his fumbling, the administrator was able to open his visor and push up his glasses before he got to Rogum. The administrator squatted down and rolled out a 25 by 25 mm wafer thin viewing screen out of his chest pouch. The administrator stroked his screen and a schematic of the habitat appeared, floating slightly above the surface.
The administrator glanced at Rogum. “Second Fist, we just received this data from Cloister.”
Rogum barely acknowledged the administrator and spoke over the comm, his radio connection to his men and the ship’s systems. “Download the schematics of the habitat to my suit and project it on my forward helmet display.”
He scanned the readouts as they appeared on the inside of his visor. A three-dimensional cross-section of the space station, a toroid within a toroid, appeared and rotated, showing the last known details of width, length and power sources. The space station was old, dating back to 2134, more than a hundred and sixty years ago. Most of the information was useless, much of the station had to have been changed and modified by now. But it did show the layout of the inner toroid, or the living quarters, constructed almost completely of layered liquid-titanium in a ceramic diamond weave, incredibly strong and flexible. Like so many other technologies, the engineering to create a station of this size and magnitude had been lost in the bio-plague wars of 2210. It’s more than a kilometer in diameter, he thought. He tapped his wristcomp, shrinking the image and placing it in top right corner of his helmet display.
Rogum looked around him and smiled, blessing those nearest with the sign of the cross and sword. He even acknowledged the administrator with a nod. He had prayed long and hard for a chance like this, and God had delivered. A habitat of this size, with its technological resources and data libraries – perhaps containing information on ancient technologies – would strengthen the Order. Adding to this was the possibility of new converts, the inhabitants of the habitat, with their technological knowledge who would shortly be united with the Faith, baptized by force if necessary.
A chance to bring these black bastards into the fold of God, he thought. This would certainly assure him of a promotion to First Fist and maybe a reassignment to the Vatican Moon Cloister, the headquarters of the Templar Order.
Rogum glanced back at Jupiter. If Lucifer existed anywhere, it would be down there, he thought with a slight flash of dread that had nothing to do with the frigid temperature within the tube. But of course, true evil resided in the heart of man. The Order will lead man out of darkness and back into the Lord’s grace, he chanted silently. His plan was simple; they would strike at once. Twenty men would enter the habitat, followed as quickly as possible by fifty more. He would send the full complement soldiers on the heels of the first. They outnumbered the habitants two to one and also had the advantage of the Golem, which would guarantee them a decisive victory.
Up ahead, at the bay doors, a soldier turned. “Sir, the dissolvers have done their job and the explosives are in place. We can engage on your mark.”
Rogum turned, noticing the administrator still squatting next to him.
“Will you be joining us?” He said.
The administrator’s eyes went wide and he stammered. “No…no…sir.”
The administrator scurried out faster than he entered.
“The true character of an administrator is shown with the yellow streak that runs down their backside.” He joked with his men. They laughed or smiled. “For God and the Order!”
“For God and the Order!” His men repeated.
He gave his men the signal to close their faceplates and to ready their weapons. His men had superior training and combat gear compared to those living in the space station, but even so, it would be hard. For this was no skirmish, no simple test of strength. This was war, total domination. A war for survival, for a way of life. By the end of today, things would be different for the inhabitants of Jupiter 19.
They would change or they would die.
Rogum shuddered in anticipation. How many would he bend to the word of God? How many of the inhabitants would survive the rituals of conversion? These were questions still hidden in the mist of the future, but they would be unlocked shortly, in due time.
He raised his arm, tensed, looking about him prideful, his whole being absorbing this moment, then brought down his arm sharply. The vanguard of twenty Templar soldiers in the umbilical hurled themselves forward, hesitating slightly as the shockwave of the detonation struck them. The Kane’s airlock doors opened behind him with a swish and a clang, and the other fifty men who had been waiting inside the Kane surged up through the tunnel, fanning out as they crashed through the opening into Jupiter 19.
The Golem started to follow, but Rogum stopped it with an upraised hand and sent a command through his radio link. “Hold back as a reserve and await my orders!” He waited for the last man to pass and then followed the wave of men down the corridor and through the shattered barrier.
From glaring brilliance to total darkness it was nearly too much for Hannibal Forge’s eyes. He couldn’t see a thing. Liquid accelerator rifles fired, brightening the world with the flash of their muzzles.
The Templars were all advancing. Fast. The gunfire turned them into flickering images, persisting for a split second on the back of Hannibal’s retinas as ghostly apparitions. The Templars in their augmented battle armor darted straight through the outer hull doors and entered the main habitat’s space dock, smashing through the tough crystallized titanium bay doors as if they were made of paper. Hot metallic globs screamed across the gap between the two forces, colliding into walls, armor, flesh and bone. Fragments, blood and pulp tumbled through the air in the slow-motion random patterns of a zero gravity environment.
The interior of Jupiter 19’s docking bay was cave-dark, illuminated only by the shifting patterns of light and shadow thrown by the weapons fire and the high-intensity infrared lamps mounted on the Templar’s armor. Hannibal’s own gunfire illuminated tangled pipes and cables on the walls and overhead, the crisscross steelwork of cranes and the menacing moving forms of Templar soldiers swimming through the air, like the now almost extinct sharks darting through the oceans of Earth when they caught the scent of the metal tang of blood. The smoking remains of a Templar floated overhead and gently bounced in one corner. Nearby, half a dozen man-size shapes, tribe mates in black biotech spacesuits sprawled on the ceramic diamond alloy-weave deck, a few having been scythed down by a liquid-accelerator rifle burst.
Two red streaks of molten metal lashed out from the opposition’s line, striking a couple of Hannibal’s tribe mates to his right. He kicked off the nearest wall and ascended toward the ceiling, twenty meters above, trying to put as much distance between himself and the fast arc of rifle fire carving through his people who scrambled for cover below. Just before he reached the gray-metal ceiling, he flipped his body over and the magnetic soles of his boots connected with a click. Hannibal had endured a lifetime in outer space and this had given him a second sense for gravity and vectors; his amplified genome also added to the mix. He computed the enemy’s movement in the tiny flickering seconds that lit up the silent dark, then swept his gun returning fire in a deadly crescent, and delivered a couple of Templar soldiers to their final judgment with their god.
“Close the inner ring doors!” Hannibal yelled, over the station’s secure radio link. “Prepare for Icarus Gambit in five.” He rolled his feet from heel to toe and disconnected himself from the ceiling. Pushing off, he sped toward the floor. Hitting the surface and rolling behind a crate, he squeezed off another round for good measure. “… three… two… one… now!”
The habitat’s artificial induced gravity fields slammed on; it rose from zero gravity to two-point-one in a microsecond, and the bay lights flared on to full brightness for another count of five. The Templars, floating at different levels through the open atmosphere in the dock, hit the deck in a clatter of metal and groans, momentarily blinded because their armor infrared vision enhancements did not compensate for the blaze of light rapidly enough. Hannibal and the other warriors of Jupiter 19, old enough to fight, rose and dispatched liquid death. Superheated metal globules shrieked across the berth, superheating the air in their paths.
Hannibal caught sight of a Templar Inquisitor in his red and black armor as he surged up and darted through the airlock and into the habitat. Hannibal twisted his rifle around and fired, anticipating the Inquisitor’s direction. Hannibal’s liquid slugs impacted the chest of his enemy with penetrating thunder, sending him tumbling back through the umbilical opening. Hannibal dropped to his knees and rolled to an adjacent crate. A pulse of molten liquid ripped through the crate where he had been crouching. “Shit!”
A splatter struck his cheek, burning for just a second before his biotech spacesuit reacted and pumped painkillers into his system. His suit was a rarity, an organic creation from before the bio-plague wars. It was alive. It was grafted to his body, becoming a second skin, a second skin with enough sentience to respond in order to increase its host’s ability to survive in hostile environments.
The lights went out plunging the world back into oblivion. The outer hull vanes swiveled one hundred and eighty degrees allowing the ambient radiation from the planet Jupiter to permeate the outer hull. The temperature climbed from zero to forty degrees Celsius in seconds causing the Templar’s infrared heat sensors to be almost useless in the scalding dark, and giving Hannibal’s tribe the upper edge, for they knew the territory. In the tattered cloak of darkness, like a ghost, Hannibal proceeded deeper into the field of battle to dispense death.
“Damn it!” Rogum’s armor had stopped the slugs, but the impact had fractured his shoulder and a couple of his ribs. More than half of his men had died here in the last thirty minutes. The combat was fiercer than anything he had ever imagined. He gasped in pain on the floor of the umbilical as he glanced down the tube. The docking alcove ahead was blocked with the bodies of the dead…mostly his men, who seemed to dance in grotesque herky-jerky movements in the fluctuation of the gravity plates.
Here, at the entrance of the space-habitat, the tribal members of Jupiter 19 had made a stand. He downloaded and displayed the bio data of his men on the command screen built into his helmet, but had to open his faceplate to wipe the sweat and condensation off the small screen before he could see the statistics. His suit was optimized for the stinging cold of space, not for this humid warmth. Whoever was leading this tribe was a superb tactician. Evidenced in the way he was keeping his soldiers off balance by manipulating the gravity, temperature and lights in set patterns. And just when the Templars had deciphered the pattern and compensated for it, it would change. The ten-meter metal plates that made up the floor of the docking bay, separately and in arranged groups, were changing in intensity of gravity anywhere from zero to nearly three times E-norm. The inhabitants, using the gravity changes, were able to move across the battleground with the grace of a ballerina or an acrobat: floating, running, diving and rolling across the bay floor. They appeared like phantoms out of the steam and smoke that obscured the battlefield and they struck from above as well as below.
Despite this setback, the Templar’s superior combat gear had overshadowed the brilliant tactics of the infidel’s leader and things had gone well for them in the last ten minutes. The first assault had been a disaster. After that, it had been steady fighting, metal plate by metal plate, inch by bloody inch. When they captured a plate, a Templar engineer in blue trimmed armor patched the gravitronic controls into the Kane’s computer network, blocking any further havoc with the gravity fields.
So far, this tactic had worked perfectly. New converts had been taken; they had been bound and drugged, and then left against the wall next to the bay doors, freeing his men for combat. Those of the enemy, who continued to resist, had their throats slit with the ceremonial daggers that all the Templar warriors carried. Ammo was too costly to waste.
They were building momentum and were pressing forward relentlessly, enclosing their opponents, forcing them to flee or surrender. Slowly, the battle evolved into something different, a savage animal backed into a corner willing to jump into the abyss of what Sun Tzu called the dying ground to become something far more deadly. Where warriors fight to the death, when there is no other alternative. Rogum had to undermine the inhabitants’ willingness to fight, but first he must push them to the edge. He had to make them understand that there was no question of compromise, that it was his intention to eradicate them, down to the last man, woman or child if they did not surrender.
He stood up, getting his breath, while his men fetched the Golem. The Golem emerged from the spacecraft’s airlock a moment later. Somewhat humanoid, it was anatomically built like a short and squat man, vaguely resembling a huge suit of medieval armor, but it was four-meters in height and three-meters wide, all of it a dipole-titanium metal weave. The Templar Golem was equipped with liquid autocannon for arms, instead of the usual lasers, and a missile rack mounted on its blocky squared-off shoulders. Liquid slugs were devastating in close combat, but rarely punched a hole through an outer hull of a spaceship or space station. The Golem was too tall to walk upright in the tube and had to be laid flat on its belly so that it could slowly drag itself forward by the use of its arms.
Rogum quickly walked through the punctured bay doors. He hugged the wall to stay out of the cross fire, and then turned, watching the Golem creep into place until its head and upper torso protruded out of the gap. He signaled his men who were out on the floor to take up positions on either side of the Golem, leaving it a clear line of fire. When all was ready, he gave the order.
Hannibal, crouching low, zigzagged through the inner doors from a dimly lit hall to the far left side of him and back into the dark docking bay. The inhabitants had been using the inner hallways to flank and harass the Templar soldiers. Then they ducked back into the inner torus before the Templars could return fire, slamming the layered fluid-titanium inner doors between them.
When the lights flickered on, Hannibal risked a quick glance above the crates, scattered throughout the dock, before the lights went out again. He could barely make out his wife, Sheva, tied and bound against the far outer wall next to the shattered airlock doors.
Darkness. Burst of images of one side of the smashed dock as molten slugs shot across the dark like a meteor shower. The three-man Golem crept from Kane’s airlock and slowly scooted its way on its belly up through the umbilical shaft. It was almost in firing position…flash…next to the bay doors was the Templar Inquisitor. He’s still alive! Hannibal was about to move in order to get a clear shot at the Templar commander, but the door behind him was still open, light spilling out of it like a beacon. Open, it gave the opposition a free path into the inner habitat, a path to the children. The automatic door was trying to slam shut, but the body of a dead tribe member prevented it from fully closing.
Hannibal didn’t have an option. The Templars couldn’t be allowed into the living ring of the station. It was out of the question. The Golem’s external combat lights came on, partially chasing away the darkness. Hannibal vaulted over a crate just as a white brilliance blazed across the bay as the Golem opened fire. The liquid slugs ripped through crates and flesh in a thick haze of smoke and mist. The molten metal splattered against the walls, running down to pool on the floor like molten lava. Hannibal started firing his rifle at the Golem as he sprinted toward the door, trigger finger pumping frantically in short burst. Liquid slugs tore chunks out of the top layer of the Golem’s armor and took out a couple of its lights. Other than that, the slugs had no effect. Shifting his aim slightly, Hannibal fired at the Inquisitor and missed. The Inquisitor, screaming in panic, cartwheeled backwards, his limbs flailing out of control.
Hannibal kept moving across the floor as the Golem turned, sending a ball of plasma his way which struck with a liquefied hiss directly in his path. White fire whorled over his feet and he half-tripped, flinging himself toward the opening. Hannibal landed on a dead Templar, flipping behind him to use the corpse as a shield and continued to return fire. His legs were hot and sticky with fluid and in the palpitating darkness he noted that most of it was red. A small figure ran from the doorway toward him, diving and coming out of a skid and a tuck to end up beside him. He looked into the sweaty black face of his twelve-year-old son, Cory, his green eyes matching his own.
Cory grabbed his father’s massive shoulders and tried to drag him to the door. “Almost there. We can make it!”
“No Cory, you have to close the door!” Hannibal gagged, grinding down on the pain. “The tribe comes first, before me or any other single member. Son, you know what you have to do.” He flopped back onto one elbow, pulled out his tribal dagger and his pistol, connections to their past forged on Earth itself before the mass exodus, and handed them to Cory who reluctantly took them.
Hannibal hugged his son. “Be careful. The soldiers could have made it into the inner corridors. Now go! Don’t let all of this be in vain.” Then he pushed him away. “Now, go.”
Cory turned and dashed across the floor, evaporating into the haze. Hannibal could only look after him in pride. Damn that boy is fast. Cory made it back to the door jammed with the body of a Tribal member and stepped through.
Hannibal whispered after him. “Good-bye, my son.”
At the door, Cory paused and pushed the corpse to one side letting the door shut. He rolled the body over to glimpse its face. It’s Catherine! Her kind blue eyes stared back at him. She was the habitat’s hydro-agricultural expert. Who would take care of her flowers now, he thought reaching down to close her eyes. He stood and then checked up and down the hall. No one. He started down the corridor. Heading toward the command heart of Jupiter 19 at a walk that quickly built into a dash, Cory stopped at the corner with the gun out and then wiped the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand before he peeked around it. Searching, the corridor was empty. He relaxed.
Crouching below one of the communication panels that were set at every major intersection in the station, Cory tucked his gun in the maintenance belt around his waist, and then turned the comm unit on. Quickly he tapped in his code. At once the tiny display came alight, bright white. There was a moment of static, then a miniature image formed of Monique’s face that stared back at him. She was the eleven-year-old tribe mate that he had left in charge when he came down to the inner corridors to help his father and the others. He could see some of the other children crowding behind her to get a look at the screen. Someone was crying behind her.
“What’s happening down there? Can’t see anything with dock’s cameras through the smoke.” She began, and then turned around to yell at someone behind her. “Someone take Angela to the break room and give her a bottle.” She returned her attention back to Cory. Her manner changed at once as she whispered into the comm microphone. “Cory, someone is in the hallways trying to hack into the computer main frame and he isn’t wearing a tribal locator.” The cold void of space was a dangerous domain. Children were taught at an early age to remain calm and logical; they learned how to control their fears.
Cory took another glance down the halls. “Where?”
Monique told him the exact the location. “I think I can block the intruder for a little while from the command terminal from here, but sooner or later he’ll override the systems.” She paused; she didn’t need to tell him what he would need to do. “Please, be careful. I can’t do this alone.”
Cory cut contact, touched the dagger in his belt and pulled out the gun. Then, after pausing to look back along the corridor, he began to run. He would take the back way through the robotic maintenance shafts. Fully loaded combat soldier? Sensors maybe? Armored probably? He didn’t know what he would have to face. He would have to figure something out when he got there. Wearing nothing but a skin-tight survival bio-suit and his maintenance belt, he would not last long in a hand-to-hand fight with an armored Templar. But still, he had to try something.
A few moments later he scurried out of the shaft. The sound of high-speed liquid cannon fire, a deep-throated bam-bam-bam, reverberated through the walls that separated the two sections, the inner torus from the outer. The echoes of combat seemed to roll down the corridors.
It was a narrow hallway and the overhead lights were flickering. Probably because of what the Templar was doing in the panel. Cory had tucked the gun in his belt, shimmied up the wall conduits and crawled along the overhead pipes running down the top of the corridors for the rest of the way. It was something the children used to do when they played hide-and-seek with each other. Now if he made a mistake he would not be able to call time out. Cory hugged the shadows, looking down. There was only one man, his back to him and helmet off, expecting nothing yet. His armor was blue trimmed, a Templar engineer. Hesitantly, Cory scooted to the edge of the cable trays and swung his legs over, holding onto a pipe until he heard bursts of the Golem’s weapon, and then dropped to the floor.
Pulling out his pistol, Cory moved quickly between the booms of gunfire and came up behind the man silently. The handle of the gun felt slippery in his sweaty hands. He remembered the pain on his father’s face and fired the pistol, hitting the back of the man’s throat. The man spun, his hands clutching the wound as his life spilled through his fingers. His cry of surprise and pain was cut sharply off as Cory, weapon already aimed and clasped in his shaking hands, fired his pistol once again at point blank range into the man’s face.
Clattering to the deck, the soldier’s blood formed a bright red puddle on the gray metal deck. Cory turned, retching, and then collapsed to the floor sobbing. Cory cried for his father, for his tribe and for the dead solider at his feet, but most of all he cried for the loss of his innocence. Nothing will ever be the same again. He knew it deep down that Jupiter 19 is dead.
It was over. The captives, eight or so in all, were on their knees in a line before the ruined bay doors, guarded by Templar soldiers who formed a loose circle about them. The Golem laid in the tube behind them; an ominous presence to remind the captives of their hopeless plight. Striding toward them, Rogum twitched in rage. The prisoners watched him calmly, making Rogum uncomfortable.
An unnatural feel.
Where was their fear? Rogum thought scanning their faces. Their composure had never changed during the last two hours as he performed the ritual of conversion on one of their women. Rogum had used drugs and torture to produce excruciating agony, promising her release from the pain if she only asked for the Lord’s forgiveness and begged to become part of the Faith. She never broke. He had ultimately lost his patience and slit her throat. Her blood was still sticky on his hands. He reached up and opened his visor. He had been using the sensors on his helmet to monitor the woman’s responses, as if it mattered. He sucked air in through his clenched teeth in disgust and wiped most of the blood from his blade on the back of his thigh before he sheathed it.
Through it all the others had never uttered a sound, never begged for her life. They just sat there with accusing eyes as hard as iron…eyes of sapphire and emerald that looked out of place on their dark brown faces, but somehow gave them an ethereal tone. Just sitting there and watching me. Rogum averted his eyes and snapped his fingers. A soldier hurried forward with a bowl of water and a towel draped across his shoulder. Rogum washed his hands; the crystal clear water turned pink and then its color drifted closer to red. He dried his hands on the towel the soldier held out to him, giving it back when he was done, and turned back to the rest of his prisoners.
Looking down at the dark, bloodied and bruised faces of the captives, Rogum remembered how hard they fought and continued to fight in the only way they could, by refusing to relinquish their souls to the Faith. At the edge of the group, exuding power and confidence, was the tribe leader, the one who almost beat him, almost kept him from his prize. The leader’s green eyes searched him, not in anger, but pity. Pity!
Rogum crossed the distance between them and then backhanded the man with all of his might. The one they called Hannibal did not flinch, he just rolled his head with the blow, not uttering a sound, but Rogum did as his fractured ribs flared with pain.
Hannibal smiled, spit blood at Rogum’s feet and then spoke. “Maybe if you pray hard enough and ask for forgiveness your god will ease your pain.”
Rogum glared at him, swallowing his anger as he rode the waves of agony. The station was his…once he could figure out how to get the inner doors open without damaging any of the critical systems. “Shut up! Do not speak out of place again.” He paused, taking quick shallow breaths in the sweltering heat. “We can make this easy or hard, but know this, you will bow down and serve our God in this life or in the next. I need the station’s control codes that unlock the inner doors.” Rogum’s rose in something between a shout and a squeal. “I need them now!”
Hannibal’s eyebrows rose but he said nothing.
Rogum felt a ripple of anger pass through him. Time and time again, these heathens had refused to treat him with any respect. Rogum leaned toward him, his voice soft and conciliatory. “You haven’t answered me. Give me the station’s control codes and we will spare the children.”
Hannibal sighed and then shook his head, negative. “I am afraid I cannot do that. Even if I could, my codes would not work. By now, they’ve been overwritten.” Hannibal looked back up at Rogum, his eyes slipped for a second to the dead woman, and then back to the Inquisitor. “What is done is done.”
Rogum smiled assuredly, and then said, “Come now, we can help each other. Help me open the doors and I will spare your family.” He paused. “I give you my word that they will grow tall and strong in the love and truth of our God.”
Hannibal stared at the man, then broke his gaze to fall upon the crumpled form next to the Golem. “I have already seen the truth and the kindness of you and your god.” His eyes returned to the Inquisitor. “You have already shown his love to my wife, but I will give you this.” Hannibal could feel the embrace of Jupiter through the walls and deck plate. I come to join you, my love.
Rogum could not keep the excitement off his face. “What, what will you give me?”
Hannibal paused to look around at the last of the adult members of the tribe. They, each in turn, looked back with a smile or a nod. He looked up toward one of the bay cameras. “It is time my son. Remember that I love you.” Then back toward Rogum, cold green eyes bored into his. “I will give you a cleaner death than the one you’ve given my wife. I will let you meet, face-to-face, with the forces we worship.”
Hannibal’s voice had changed, grown harder, its tones filled with threat and menace. Rogum looked at him, surprised by the lack of fear in his voice, his air of command. Again this spoke volumes. These people were far gone on the path of damnation. They were lost souls scattered throughout this solar system. The Praetor of the Order was right to see them as a threat. He was right to send soldiers out here to either destroy or subjugate them. There was no respect in them, no understanding of their place in things. They had to be in league with the Terran council – that still defied the rule of the Church.
Rogum filled with disgust, and turned his head sharply away, spitting out words angrily. “Sooner or later we’ll break into the inner habitat ring. Everyone here will die. I want you….” Before he could finish, the floor buckled with such improbable force, throwing him and his soldiers off their feet and onto the deck. A sound, like the gates of Hell themselves being thrown open, built in intensity. Then the floor plates imploded as the gravitational system overloaded. They still had control, Rogum mentally screamed.
Hannibal watched, his eyes resigned, seeing how Rogum turned back to face him, and crawled toward him across the deck with his dagger drawn. Rage contorted Rogum’s face. This was the first time Hannibal had seen the true twisted reflection of what the Templars had become. Your Order started on such a noble path.
Hannibal could feel the pull of Jupiter’s gravity warping the deck and hull plates. He had always been aware of the slight drift toward the planet. They had to wait until the Templar ship docked before they made the subtle adjustments to bring them closer and at the right angle with the huge gravity field of the gas giant. The Tribe understood those subtle gravitational currents that were so important in the life and death struggle in the void of space so close to an intense gravity density. Here, the Templars were out of their element and their ignorance would be fatal.
It happened so quickly that there was really no decompression explosion…just a fierce rush of air. Since the airlock accesses to the Kane could not fully close due to the Golem, the atmosphere rushed out, hurling Rogum past Hannibal and further from his ship. His dagger forgotten, clattered across the floor. Everyone and everything in the docking tube was flung out into space.
Hannibal watched as the Habitat without the field inducers on, tore at the seams and the air rushing through the gaps drew his body past its ragged edges and into the coldness of space until only the great mass of Jupiter filled his vision.
Wait for me, my love. I’m coming...darkness.
Rogum’s faceplate slammed shut and his internal oxygen supply switched on. His suit sealed at his wrist, but his gloveless hands froze and his fingers cracked and splintered in shards of red ice. Spinning out of control, his suit thrusters sputtered on to stabilize him. The airlock’s emergency systems on the Kane must have come online closing the airlock portal because half of the Golem drifted past him in a twirl of shattered limbs and trails of ripped wiring. “This is Inquisitor Rogum calling the Kane, report!” He could see Jupiter 19 above him, receding away with a jagged hole in its side.
“This is the communication officer of the Kane, sir!”
“What happened?” Rogum screamed, his breathing becoming quick and shallow.
“They overloaded the gravity plates; opposing magnetic fields have repelled everything in the outer toroid away from the inner habitat toroid.”
“Damn it, just come and pick me up!” screamed Rogum over the radio, searching the sky for the Kane.
“Sir…” Static and then nothing.
“Come in, Kane. Are you there?” Rogum finally had to use his thrusters to turn himself. He ended up facing Jupiter and watched in horror as the Kane, engines blazing at maximum, tried to claw its way out of the planet’s gravity well. Failing, it started to tumble and roll downward. Following the spacecraft, the immense cavernous blood-red maw of Jupiter opened wider as Rogum started his own descent. Slowly, ever so slowly, he fell, tumbling into the fierce red dot after the Kane, shrieking all the way, until the planet engulfed him.