Aboard the Redeemptionist Naval Crusier Predator
Navigation Hazard 115, Darkworlds Sector
325.1 hours, 9,518 SR

They never even had a chance.

His eyes staring at the view of space directly ahead of him, Captain Shev Saulom couldn't help but smile.

Those in the ship he were hunting were famala, depraved children of the She who had seduced and destroyed Odohm at the beginning of the world, casting all His children into five thousand cycles of bondage.

He had broken those chains over nine thousand cycles ago, when He'd returned as the Redeemer, just as His Word said he would, His children and He waging a war without relent against Them ever since.

This was merely the latest in a series of victories stretching back to the beginnings of the Redeemption of Odohm. stretching forward to the final destruction of the famala and the restoration of the Edom denied His children for so long.

Saulom merely basked in the glory which came in being the instrument of His Redeemption.

"Target slowing," the Predator's first gunner reported, crosshairs now bracketing the transport floating in the holographic reality encasing the Marauder-class cruiser's primary command center, lines of data in red and green just to the left of the crosshairs expanding on the gunner's report, giving Saulom precise figures of how the black hole's event horizon was impeding the Predator's quarry, restricting the range of its lightspeed jumps, serving the purpose of its Redeemer by keeping the famala from escaping inevitable and final judgement.

At a thought from Saulom--communicated via nanopresence to the ship--the hologram zoomed outward, the transport, the Predator, and its ninety-six Scourge starfighters now specks against the yawning chasm of the black hole, its attendant pulsar a beacon of light and truth upon which all enemies of both would burn like methals flying too close to the flame.

How could anyone deny the Redeemer with the evidence of His Work always close at hand? Saulom asked himself.

"Fighters closing with target," the first gunner reported in clipped sentences. "Mass cannon loaded. Forward torpedo tubes loaded. Forward missile tubes loaded. Interceptor batteries ready to fire. Mechanized infantry loaded aboard gunships and awaiting orders. Fighter line commander reporting in."

" He awaits Your word to engage, Sire," he then added.

Another thought activated the external communications array, the holo of his fighter commander floating in front of the master of the Predator, Saulom speaking the words and the will of his Redeemer, when he said:

"Cripple the ship. Leave the famala alive so that we may teach them wages of their sin before we surrender them to His Judgement."

In the cockpit of Federal Guard Starfighter Wild Horses
Navigation Hazard 115, Darkworlds Sector
5.15h 023d 22,147y GST

"Capping hell," whispered First Lieutenant Asperada Torin-Riis over comms, the cockpit's holographic reality zooming in on the transport and the ninety-six Redeemptionist Scourge starfighters swooping down on it, the transport itself awash in liberated energy as nanopresence projectiles from 192 heavy mass cannon ripped the ship apart at the molecular, atomic and subatomic levels.

The image of the woman commanding the transport was sheathed in fire, the stench of fear and burning flesh, the heat from the flames conveyed by the stricken transport's nanopresence to the Wild Horses' and, from there, to the nanites which were a part of Asperada herself...they didn't have long, photon radar already detecting gunships 85,000 MDU out from the transport and a Marauder-class cruiser 15,000 MDU behind the gunships, the cruiser and its gunships both at eighty-five percent of light speed and continuing to boost.

We will shortly be within effective range of the cruiser's interceptor batteries, the ship whispered in her mind,if we both continue boosting along our present respective trajectories.

We, the fighter added,are already within the effective range of the enemy fighters' interceptor missiles and mass cannon.

As if to punctuate the seeming insanity of Asperda's decision, two squadrons of Redeemptionist Scourges disengaged the transport, changing their boost trajectory to intercept her wing of forty-eight F-42D starfighters.

Nodding her head, Asperada thought of her pilots, and their images floated in front of her, awaiting the decision they all knew she had to make.

"Take them out," she whispered.

Aboard the Federal Guard Ship Claymore
Navigation Hazard 115, Darkworlds Sector
5.18h 023d 22,147y GST

"Pilot," Captain Malphina Riis-Torin snapped, without hesitation,"take us above the plane of the ecliptic, plot a trajectory which will have us exiting at an oblique angle to that cruiser!"

"Altering trajectory," the Claymore's first pilot, Lieutenant Dalla Trimane, replied, the forward view in the primary command center's holographic reality shifting, as the Federal Guard Saber-class destroyer climbed sharply upward, above NAVHAZ 115, the ship's speed and relativistic mass both increasing rapidly, the singularity starting to form in front of the Claymore, as she approached the speed of light, unrestricted by the black hole's immense gravity.

"Mass cannon loaded," the Claymore's first gunner, Gunnery Sergeant Janna Kriss, reported in clipped sentences. "Torpedo and missile tubes loaded. Interceptor batteries ready to fire."

Malphina could feel her ship thrum, the mass-reaction turbine at her heart feeding on the matter sucked in from the ramscoops, liberating the limitless energy of space itself to power the destroyer and drive her inexorably towards the singularity she had created.

Through her nanopresence link, the captain of the Claymore swore she could hear her ship singing.

"Lightspeed in five," Dalla said, the singularity almost fully formed now,"four, three, two, one--"

Time stopped, then fragmented into chaotic, echoing, overlapping strands of past, present and future, Malphina, as always, unable to make sense of all the noise--

"--zero!" Dalla finished, the Claymore exiting the singularity at point-blank range from the Redeemptionist cruiser now struggling to turn its flank away from the other ship's guns.

"Fire!" Malphina shouted, Janna letting loose with the ultra-heavy and twin super-heavy spinal mount mass cannon, the two quad-turreted heavy mass cannon, the twin forward ultra-heavy mass torpedo tubes and the thirty forward ultra-heavy mass missile tubes.

The Claymore continued boosting past the 85 percent of lightspeed she had been travelling when she'd exited, making ready for another lightspeed jump, her pilot making a slight alteration to her trajectory, pitching her nose so that she skimmed the top of the cruiser, shooting past it, the singularity beginning to form in front of her.

"Aft torpedo tube, fire!" Malphina shouted. "Pilot, alter trajectory to intercept those gunships and--cap!"

The ship rocked, alarms howling throughout the command center, Master Warrant Officer Talina Kord, the Claymore's first tech adept, reporting,"direct hits astern, minor damage to port and starboard ramscoops, nanopresence neutralizing hostile nanopresences and effecting repairs."

The Claymore completed her boost to lightspeed, swallowed whole by the singularity she'd made.

Aboard the Redeemptionist Naval Crusier Predator
Navigation Hazard 115, Darkworlds Sector
325.2 hours, 9,518 SR

The holographic reality turned into screaming white, the command center falling down around Saulom, now on his hands and knees, weakly struggling to his feet, his face wet and sticky, his nose assaulted with the stench of burning flesh.

Saulom's vision gradually returned, the command center burning all round him, the ceiling caved in, the holographic reality broken by large swatches of bare hull metal.

"Return fire!" he shouted. "Pilot, alter trajectory to bring our weapons to bear!"

"Enemy destroyer has boosted to light speed," came the voice of the Predator's second pilot over comms.

"Port gun batteries have scored direct hits on enemy destroyer," the second gunner then said,"negligeble effect."

Saulom looked round him, confirming with his eyes what he'd already knew...all the primary command crew remained at their stations, fused to them by the energies which had demolished the command center, the ship's second tech adept reporting over comms:

"Nanopresence 70% disrupted and regenerating slowly, hull breaches in all sections, severe damage to port and centerline mass scoops, forward and centerline mass holds destroyed, outer starboard drop bays destroyed, outer starboard and centerline habitat decks destroyed, severe damage to mass-reaction turbine, output dropping to seventy-five percent of normal."

"Sire," the Predator's executive officer reported,"we can no longer remain at our present orbit, not with our turbine in its present state. Recommend--"

"Sire!" the second gunner reported,"target vessel launching lifeboats, enemy destroyer exiting singularity on an intercept trajectory for our fighters and gunships!"

In reply, the master of the Predator, one of the Chosen of his Redeemer, gave the only order his duty and his faith permitted him to:

"Alter trajectory to intercept that destroyer. I will join you in the secondary command center."

In the cockpit of Federal Guard Starfighter Wild Horses
Navigation Hazard 115, Darkworlds Sector
5.20h 023d 22,147y GST

The Wild Horses shook from a glancing blow to her rear, Asperada dodging the fire of the enemy behind her, lining up the fighter twisting in front of her in her sights, vectoring nanopresence from her heavy mass cannon towards it, forcing it bank sharply to the right and down.

Where it met the interceptor missile she'd fired from her outer starboard missile tube, the Scourge going up in a bright, white flash falling down into the maw of NAVHAZ 115.

The fighter behind her volleyed nanopresence past her, Asperada barrel rolling to allow the Redeemptionist starfighter to overshoot her, merging with the shots she'd fired from the heavy mass cannon to follow his friend into the Abyss.

Transport launching lifeboats, her fighter whispered through the nanopresence link, Asperada's attention diverted briefly to the transport itself, the veteran Federal Guard starfighter pilot watching it disintegrate and stretch towards infinity at the same time.

"Commander to wing," she said over external comms, altering her trajectory at the same time she spoke,"those lifeboats must make it out at all costs."

Multiple "understood"s and "copy that, Lead"s replied to her order, the Claymore's fighter wing turning as one to put themselves between the lifeboats scattering and running for safety and the enemy gunships and fighters determined to kill them, the Claymore herself exiting lightspeed jump in the midst of the Reedemptionists, her ten interceptor batteries locking onto and ruthlessly dispatching fighters and gunships even as they twisted and jinked to avoid being hit by hundreds of rotary-mounted light mass cannon and interceptor missile launchers.

A persistent, annoying beep and the voice of Master Warrant Officer Cayla Durnos--one of the 1143d Volunteer Starfighter Squadron's combat team leaders--both alerted Asperada to the enemy cruiser still very much in the fight, in spite of the massive damage continuing to take its toll upon it.

"Claymore," she said over comms, even as her mass cannon and interceptors tore into hostile fightercraft converging on her,"that cruiser's not out of it yet. He's 50,000 MDU directly behind you and closing fast."

Aboard the Federal Guard Ship Claymore
Navigation Hazard 115, Darkworlds Sector
5.24h 023d 22,147y GST

"Fornc," Janna spat out, loosing a volley of mass torps from the destroyer's aft tube, while continuing to direct the actions of the ship's interceptor batteries.

Malphina merely nodding her head in reply, watching the Redeemptionist open fire with his four super-heavy and single ultra-heavy spinal mounted cannon, Dalla's thoughts and the ship's merging as one to move the ship out of the path of the incoming hostile nanopresences.

For now, at least, the Redeemptionist ship drawing closer to them with each passing instant, Malfina whistling when she saw the nanopresence continuing to eat away at the enemy vessel and the hand of NAVHAZ 115 pulling at it with a steadily tightening grip, the master of the Claymore inwardly cursing at her opposite number's idiocy for continuing the fight when his own ship was too badly damaged to remain in orbit around the black hole, let alone--

The Federal Guard destroyer shook violently, aftershocks continuing to rock the ship for some time, as Talina reported:

"Nanopresence 60% disrupted and regenerating slowly, hull breaches throughout the ship, severe damage to forward mass holds, outer port and starboard drop bays, outer port and starboard habitat decks; all damage under repair."

"Gich," Malphina swore, Talina adding,"report from medical...casualties are sixteen dead, twenty-one wounded."

"So far," the tech adept finished.

"So far," Malphina whispered.

Aboard the Redeemptionist Naval Crusier Predator
Navigation Hazard 115, Darkworlds Sector
325.2 hours, 9,518 SR

Cheering rocked the secondary command center when the Predator's shots gored the enemy destroyer, even as the cruiser trembled from stem to stern with the imapct of ultra-heavy mass torpedos tearing it apart, more of the command center's holographic reality winking out, replaced by bare hull metal, more of the ship's external sensors destroyed in the last exchange of fire.

"Sire," the second gunner reported," acting commander of the fighter line reporting loss of half our fighters to enemy action, and the consequent escape of half the famala lifeboats to ligh--"

"Tell him there are no excuses, gunner!" Saulom, occupying the command station, snapped in reply.

"Those," he added coldly,"are for famala. If he persists in acting in that matter, instead of applying his efforts towards the eradications of the enemies of our Redeemer, he will undergo transformation, at my hand, upon his return to the ship."

"Inform him of my will!" ordered the master of the Predator, as he watched the enemy destroyer alter its trajectory to bring all of its forward weaponry to bear.

"At once, my Sire," the second gunner replied, the second pilot matching the famala's change of trajectory with one of his own, even as two more torpedos slammed into the cruiser's nose, causing more of the holographic reality to die in showers of sparks.

Aboard the Federal Guard Ship Claymore
Navigation Hazard 115, Darkworlds Sector
5.26h 023d 22,147y GST

"Stay with him, pilot," Malphina said unnecessarily, the ship's interceptor batteries dispatching more enemy fighters, allowing more of the transport's lifeboats to boost to lightspeed.

"That's almost all of them, Captain," Janna reported, Malphina's eyes on the cruiser twisting and turning to bring his guns to bear on her ship, while avoiding any further damage from her guns, the pull of the black hole becoming more pronounced on the crippled Redeemptionist warship, its gravity ripping shreds from its hull, stretching them into infinity, as they fell towards the singularity.

"His power output's dropping," Talina reported, Malphina willing the other captain to pull away, now, even as he opened fire with his missile tubes, forward torpedo tubes, and spinal mass cannon, all four of his heavy mass cannon batteries having been destroyed between the Claymore's guns and NAVHAZ 115's gravity.

Janna salvoed missiles, mass cannon and torpedos into the enemy vessel, crosshairs lighting up Redeemptionist Scourges as they converged on the final three lifeboats, the interceptor batteries locking onto the hostile fightercraft, taking several of them in quick succession, Peri's fighters twisting and turning with the others, several more of the enemy disappearing in roars of brilliant white-hot light, those lights themselves rapidly disappearing into the black hole.

Same with the enemy cruiser, Malphina watching in horror, as its orbit started rapidly decaying.

"C'mon, you stupid Redeemptionist fornc," she whispered,"c'mon, pull out, save your gropping crew!"

Aboard the Redeemptionist Naval Crusier Predator
Navigation Hazard 115, Darkworlds Sector
325.3 hours, 9,518 SR

"Sire!" Saulom's executive officer whined and puled,"we must--"

"One more word," Saulom warned him,"and you will undergo transformation!"

"The Chosen and the Saved of our Redeemer," he reminded him and the others,"do not retreat in the face of the enemy!"

His ship groaned and shook, as it slid deeper into the gravity well of the black hole through the incompetence of its second pilot.

"Maintain present trajectory!" Saulom screamed. "No excuses!"

"Yes, Sire," the second pilot replied, a cacphony of alarms wailing in reply to Saulom's order and the pilot's immediate compliance with that order, a high-pitched shriek rattling the secondary command center, that shriek followed by several sounds of metal tearing from metal, sparks raining down from the ceiling, the holographic reality flickering several times before finally giving way to red-lit darkness, the second tech adept reporting,"complete turbine failure, Sire, ship is on emergency power only, nanopresence attempting to effect repairs."

In the cockpit of Federal Guard Starfighter Wild Horses
Navigation Hazard 115, Darkworlds Sector
5.31h 023d 22,147y GST

"Gich!" Asperada swore, one of the remaining three lifeboats going up in a white-hot flash, her interceptor missiles taking its killer too late to do those poor souls any good.

"Gich, gich, gich,gich!" she kept cursing, twisting and turning her fighter to bring her guns and missiles to bear on a trio of Scourges convgering on one of the surviving lifeboats, Asperada screaming, as her thoughts unleashed a torrent of nanopresence against those Redeemptionist gichforncs, the centermost of the three enemy fighters banking up and away from the incoming fire which took both of his comrades.

Asperada jinking hard to the right and sharply downward, mass projectiles sailing past her on both sides, the fighter which had evaded her fire doing his very best to shoot her down, rapidly closing to the range where no evasive action in all of Mother Universe would do her any good.

"No, you don't, gods-zamhed Redeemptionist horvack," Asperada said through gritted teeth, waiting until he got just a little bit closer to her tail before loosing a pair of interceptor missiles towards him, following that with a hard bank and a violent rollover which brought her guns to bear on the opposing fighter.

Too busy evading and deploying countermeasures against the missiles, the Redeemptionst scrackvaccer never saw his death coming, the nanopresence flying from her heavy mass cannon instantly and immediately obliterating his fighter.

"Holy..." Ensign Caela Roan, the 828th Volunteers' executive officer, whispered over comms, Asperada's holographic reality switching to the view from directly behind her, Asperada letting out a long, slow whistle as NAVHAZ 115 began dragging the powerless Redeemptionist cruiser to certain, timeless death.

At the same time, the Claymore, just directly behind the enemy vessel, turned round, matching its rapidly decaying orbit, moving in front of him and snaring him with her grav beam, pulling him up and away from the maw of the black hole.

"What the--" one of the 828th's newer pilots started to ask, starting over with "what in the holy grop is she doing?! That's--"

"Her duty, Guardsman," Asperada replied.

"The duty we owe even to them."

Aboard the Redeemptionist Naval Crusier Predator
Navigation Hazard 115, Darkworlds Sector
325.3 hours, 9,518 SR

Saulom steepled his fingers together, leaning forward in his chair, even as his command crew babbled in confusion over the famala's decision to lift them out of the black hole's gravity.

"Silence, all of you!" he barked, after a few minutes, his voice abruptly cutting off all others, the master of the Predator adding,"The famala have only one reason for their actions, and it was not motivated by compassion. They are incapable of compassion or mercy or any of the traits which are ours and ours alone!"

"They wish to devolve us," the executive officer said, all too eagerly for Saulom's taste.

"Precisely," Saulom replied, already laying the groundwork for the executive officer's transformation in his mind, even as he devised a strategem to win this day in spite of everything.

"Gunner, transfer all available mass to the weapons," he ordered.

"Sire, we have insufficent mass to--" the second gunner started to say, Saulom cutting him off:

"We have more than enough mass in our surviving holds to die with our teeth in our enemies' throats, as befitting the Saved and Chosen of our Redeemer."

Looking round him, fixing each and every man of them in turn, Saulom added:

"Only those who have sinned against Him and their brothers need to be afraid; those who are pure of heart should already know their place in the Roll Of the Living is secured, and their lives will continue, for all time."

"All remaining mass transferred to weapons, my Sire," the second gunner replied. "Awaiting your order to fire."

Aboard the Federal Guard Ship Claymore
Navigation Hazard 115, Darkworlds Sector
5.34h 023d 22,147y GST

"We have him," Dalla replied, the Claymore trembling slightly as her grav beam took hold of the derelict Redeemptionist cruiser, Dalla adjusting the turbine's output so as to shift the mass of both ships out of the grip of NAVHAZ 115, the two vessels rising slowly out of the black hole's event horizon.

"And, just as we should've suspected—" Janna started to remark, Malphina sighing, shaking her head, the holographic reality showing the Redeemptionist son of a fornc transferring mass to his weapons.

"Peri," she said over tacnet, her wife's holoimage appearing instantly, replying,"hold on, the ride might get a little bumpy."

One of the Claymore's fighter squadrons wheeling about, diving on the enemy cruiser, the remaining squadron intercepting the surviving Redeemptionist fighters before they could interfere, the Federal Guard destroyer trembling, as nanopresence flew past to knock out the Redeemptionist ship's weapons and rupture its mass holds.

"They're still alive," Janna remarked, the two ships now well above the plane of the ecliptic,"something for which they'll be sure not to thank us."

"We didn't do this for their thanks, Gunnery Sergeant," Malphina reminded her.

"Yes, ma'am," Janna replied.

"Recall the fighters," Malphina then ordered her first gunner. "Pilot, cut him loose and resume patrol trajectory as soon as the last of the fighters have docked."

The captain of the Claymore then radioing the derelict cruiser's location to the nearest Redeemptionist deep-range base.

Aboard the Redeemptionist Naval Crusier Predator
Navigation Hazard 115, Darkworlds Sector
325.3 hours, 9,518 SR

Saulom continued staring into the gloom, fingers steepled, no one daring to speak of the failure which had just passed.

The failure the famala had compounded by informing their superiors, just before she had boosted to lightspeed and beyond Saulom's reach.

The failure Saulom had the power to eradicate here, now, so as to ensure the promise of eternal life for all of them.

Unclasping his fingers, the master of the Predator, Chosen of his Redeemer, laid his hands on the interface surfaces of his chair.

The world briefly flashing white behind his tightly-shut eyelids before momentary darkness claimed him.


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