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|The ship and her crew are introduced.||
"****. This place smells like the urinal in a Portuguese cathouse."
"What's a Portuguese?"
"Jesus ****, don't you kids ever read your **** history anymore?" The mechanic looked back out of the cockpit at his assistant, and shook his head. He leaned forward and folded his arms on the edge of the metal. "Portugal was a country back in the days. Near Spain. You know what Spain is?" The other man nodded. "Good. Right there, part of it sorta. And they had these whorehouses and they were famous because they stunk to all hell. Now hand me that atomic resequencer." His assistant dug around and found the indicated tool, a long cylinder with three clear slits. They were about ninety percent full of a glowing blue fluid. He dropped back into the cockpit of the starfighter and went to work.
The speaker system in the hangar sounded a long whistle, and a neutral male voice came over it. "Attention all station personnel. The christening ceremony for the Xerxes will commence in five minutes. All who wish to attend should begin traveling to bay number seven immediately."
"**** ship. Waste of money." His assistant merely nodded at the metal.
* * *
The noise in the massive conference hall was almost deafening. There were over two thousand people present in the room, a massive, gently curving chamber of gray metal forty feet tall, a hundred feet wide, and five hundred feet long. The inside curve of the room was completely clear, looking out into an absolutely dark docking bay. The light in the room was a dim blue. Hundreds of waiters were shoving their way through the uniformed military men, the press, and the important guests to deliver drinks and snacks to all gathered.
There was a group of uniformed officers spread out throughout the crowd, many in clusters with their fellow crewmen and women. They were all wearing the black uniform of the Alliance Elite Forces, with the Human Alliance patch on the left shoulder, and their ship and legion patches on their right. The Human Alliance patch was a group of four stars, two yellow, one white, and one blue. Their legion patch showed a black sword on a blue background--the symbol of the Shadowknights. The ship patch was fairly simple. A red circle, with a grey and white X in the center, and a blue slash that curved from one side and cut the X in half. Less well-known, as it applied to the ship hanging invisibly in the darkness of the dock. The uniforms were slightly different depending on the race of the person wearing it--humanoid three times, completely different the fourth. All four races of the Human Alliance were represented. Humans were the most numerous.
The second most were the Tel'thazad. They were difficult to distinguish from the humans, as both races stemmed directly from the same basic pool of life. Most of them were more heavily built, showing the fact that the force of gravity on their homeworld was stronger, one point four g's. They came from the third planet orbiting Alpha Centauri, and were the first to contact humans. With widely varying hair and bluish skin, they mixed with humans well.
The other common creatures in the room were the Keta, natives of the seventh planet of Sirius. They were the odd ones. The only known silicon-based lifeforms, the vaguely insectoid Keta required nothing--no air, no food, no water. All they required was a source of energy, any source at all. Any matter, any radation would do. They clacked about the room on three legs, placed slightly more forward than humanoid legs with the third sprouting from the rear, and their four arms were generally held closely to their sides to keep them out of the way. Most were either brown, red, or a shade of gray, covered with plates of armor that formed their hybrid skeletons--they had skeletal systems internally and externally, making them extremely tough to injure. They were tall too, always over seven and often over nine feet tall. There was no hair anywhere on their bodies, and their race lacked genders.
Rarely in the room, one of the black-skinned creatures from Acheron stood. They were instantly identifiable by the masks that they wore over the lower half of their faces, with a tube that ran to a small container in their uniforms on the hip. They were easily the most exotic of the people represented. Fluorine-based bodies, an atmosphere rich in hydrogen and boron and a diet including massive amounts of alcohol was required for a Sakhnetaz to survive. They were also humanoid, hairless, and tall--six to seven feet tall, with slender bodies and glowing, featureless eyes. They claimed to be descended from the Tel'thazad, though no biologist had made the link. They were the only ones capable of natural psionic contacts, and wherever one stood, the area immediately around it almost inevitably thinned of others. Several were gathered together in one corner of the room.
The announcement system came on with a click, and one of the man in the uniform of the Shadowknight Legion stepped up to a podium set up at the center of the massive window. There was an array of symbols across the left part of his chest, indicating his rank as captain. He pressed a button to sound an attention whistle, and turned on the microphone. "Ladies and gentlemen, if I could have your attention..."
It took a minute, but the room quieted down and at least half the people turned to face him. That was a relatively good sign. He cleared his throat lowly, and then continued speaking. "You are gathered here today... representatives of the civilian press, the government, the military, and my crew... to witness the christening of the finest ship to ever be constructed by human hands.
"Ten years ago, had anyone mentioned the concept of going fifty times the speed of light, you would have all laughed. Now you will see the realization of that dream, and even more. The vessel in this bay exceeds all those things we believed as limitations before. Its drive will carry us over two hundred times the speed of light, on its own power." At those words there was a hushed murmur among the members of the crowd who had not been informed of this. He cleared his throat again, loudly, and continued. "The AEF Xerxes is the most advanced ship you have ever laid eyes on, and its crew is the finest to be found anywhere in the galaxy. Today, we bring in an era of free exploration, of ships fast enough to arrive at a new star system in days instead of months. We announce the end of the gate network, and the end of years spent away from family members on cargo carriers.
"Today, I bring you the AEF Xerxes, the new revolution in ship design." He pressed a button on the podium, and the lights in the bay came on. This had been rehearsed a hundred times to get the proper level of drama for the attending press. As the lights came on, there was a whooshing sound of air as a wine bottle was shot into the vaccum. It slid through space and smashed into the front of the ship, which began to back out of the bay. The ship itself was suprisingly sleek. Eight hundred feet long, three hundred feet tall, one hundred feet wide at the bottom and one hundred and forty feet wide at the top, not counting the externally mounted weapons and the four engine nacelles which occupied much of the space difference between the bottom and the top of the vessel. Two nacelles were mounted on each side, blocky objects sticking out from the hull and glowing green. The weapons were impressive, four massive cannons that ran the entire length of the ship and ended in four large openings in the front. There was another array of smaller turrets all over the ship, and an assortment of torpedo tubes in each side of the ship, concentrated in the front. Two bent wings came out from the sides as well, holding four more large cannons--not nearly as big as the others. They increased the size of the ship to four hundred feet across, but there were no decks located in the wing structures.
As soon as it was out of the bay, applause rang out and the lights went back off. It was pulled back in and the reception resumed. The ship wouldn't be heading out for another week, but it was now complete and announced to the public. The captain stepped down and went into the crowd.
* * *
If left alone, humans had a tendency to always do what they did best. Even in 2231, this rule stood true. It was two days after the announcement of the AEF Xerxes, and those in the know were in an uproar. The entire concept of a vessel traveling more than ten times the speed of light without a gate was absurd. Representatives of the Terran Confederation had arrived, and were busy asking as many questions as they could--questions that the Alliance either deflected, or outright lied to.
The crew of the Xerxes had more important things on their minds. For one man in particular, the pair of bare breasts in front of his face were the moment's focus. The stripper moved back, her hips and body swaying in rythmic, natural movements, and turned to present her naked rear end to the man. It shook back and forth slowly, and his eyes followed every movement. She turned once again and moved forward, crouching low over his lap, and the warmth of her body washed over him. "So... what do you do for a living?" she asked, her hands sliding along his shoulders.
"I work with retarded dolphins." Max Steinhauer had always been fairly quick with his wits, and the stripper's green eyes widened. She smiled at him a bit and landed lightly in his lap, rubbing herself along him more fully.
"Oh... that's so noble. What's it like?"
"Well... they swim a lot, but sometimes upside-down... so we have to teach them. And the kids love to play with them. I love kids, too..." For a man in his position, his concentration was amazing. Silver tongue was working its magic, as the stripper leaned up over him, allowing her breasts to rub his face.
"That's wonderful... men like you do wonderful things..." She leaned back again, grinding her hips against his.
"Women like you do wonderful things."
One of the other crewmembers cast a distasteful look over at Max and his woman, as the two of them slid out of his chair and headed for the stairs in the center of the room. Nathan Andersen sucked on his cigar a bit, moving it between lips to allow a long breath of gray smoke to linger in the air from his mouth, before tossing down his cards. "**** you guys."
"No thanks. Couple more hands like that and I'll be able to buy me a piece too." Charlie Payne chuckled and slid the poker chips over towards him, tossing his flush back over to the pile. The dealer had rotated again, over to Paul Mox. He flicked the cards expertly between fingertips and tossed them down, one card down, then a second one up.
"Switching up the game a little for you guys. Five, seven, queen, jack, dealer receives a king." The men gathered at the table glanced at their hold cards. Paul tossed down twenty, and all followed suit. Nathan blew a cloud of smoke into Dillon Freeman's face, who coughed and hit him across the face with an empty bottle. Nathan just chuckled.
Paul flicked his fingers and another round of cards went down. "Five, ace, seven, queen, dealer receives a three." The man who had gotten the queen, Aleksander Pervomaiskaya, glanced down, considered, and tossed fifty in. Everyone else followed suit, and another round of cards began.
"Three, ten, nine, deuce, dealer receives an ace." The situation in the cards seemed grim. Paul threw down fifty, and everyone was still in. He glanced around, picked out some more cards, and started putting them down.
"Three, six, ten, five, dealer receives a jack." The five glanced at each other, each stoic. Only Charlie was showing anything that actually consisted of a hand. "Fold." Paul turned his cards over, along with Nathan and Dillon. Charlie and Alek eyed each other.
"Fifty." Alek threw his chips in. He hadn't played a lot of poker, and it showed. It was impossible that he had anything to beat what Charlie was showing. The other man smirked and tossed in fifty, turning over his hold card. A five, giving him a full house. There was a collective groan as he pulled in his seventh pile of chips for the night.
"Jesus ****. You're stacking the deck." Nathan threw a bottle cap at Charlie.
"How can I stack the deck if I'm not touching the cards? ****." He flicked the cigar out of Nathan's mouth and slid his chips into a bag, heading off for the bar. "I only got one thing on my mind right now. See you **** later."
"If he gets more sex than I do before we leave, I'm going to shoot myself. Anyone with me?" Nathan glanced about the faces of his friends.
"I'll shoot you," Dillon offered, "if it'll make you shut up about the fact that you can't get any even if you pay for it."
"Thank you." Nathan picked up his wasted cigar and lit it again, hoping to save the flavor. "Who's dealing?"
* * *
Half an hour passed, and the four played several more rounds of poker. The money was fairly evenly distributed, slightly in Alek's favor. There was a shout from across the bar, and the four turned to look over at a group of men in black uniforms identical to the ones they wore. They had a different ship patch, for the AEF Azure, and a different legion patch--a flaming skull, showing them as members of the Deathbringer Legion. They were approaching the poker game, pointing and laughing.
"I told you... that whole Legion's gay."
"You were right... look at 'em, surrounded by tits and they're playin' with each other."
"Glad they got that fast ship so they can run home to momma... eh?" Another fit of laughter and they passed the table, heading for the bar. Nathan reached for his hip and was stopped by a hand wrapping around his arm.
"No, you ****. It'll be our ****." Aleksander stared, and Nathan grumbled. His hand slid away from his hip.
"Aren't we all in the same **** army?"
"Doesn't stop the rivalries... 'specially from those ones. Whole Deathbringer Legion is made of grade A, first class ****. Three hundred." The chips made a light sound as they hit together in the middle of the table.
"Why is it we're playing poker instead of gettin' our pipes worked on, anyway?"
"We don't have any money, that's why. Unless you wanna go find the cheap whores and catch something. Bet we could get some planetside." Paul tossed his chips in after considering his cards.
"True what they say about the women around here. Shoulda terraformed it." Nathan glanced out one of the windows in the bar to the stark lunar landscape. The colony they were in covered about half the moon's surface, the other half being taken up mostly by mining operations. The Earth was just setting on the horizon. "I'm going to kick Charlie's ****."
"Don't worry about it," Alek stuck in, "we're on a starship now. We're allowed to bang the female officers when we're on a starship. Don't want us five hundred lightyears from home thinking about that more than the engines."
"Thank god for interstellar travel." Nathan threw his cards down, displaying them. Royal flush, clubs. The other three threw their chips over at him and grumbled.
* * *
"I still wanna know where you came up with the retarded dolphin line. Was she good?" Alek punched at the console in front of him, his fingers flying over its surface at a nearly blinding speed. The touch-screens in front of him updated and occasionally he reached up to indicate something on them. The low hum of the engines filled the antimatter control room, which was currently only occupied by Aleksander and Max.
"I just thought of something all chicks would fall for. Containment fields online, fueling ports open... we're ready to fill up." A string of clicking noises formed a constant harmony as he beat away at the buttons on the panels in front of him. "And, yeah, she was good. Like a cleaner bot."
"Almost sounds painful. Did she suck the skin off? Fuel ports are connected, antimatter transfer has begun... five percent."
"She didn't quite take the skin off, but it's going to be red for a week. Tanks are reporting antimatter containment nominal. Remind me why I'm down here?"
"Because we're short on engineers and you know how to push buttons. Watch the tank levels." Alek adjusted the top of his tunic slightly and moved across the room. He was a tall man, six foot four, with dark blonde hair and brown eyes. He was physically imposing, but it hid a mind more suited for engineering than fighting.
"Watching them. They look fine to me. Did you get any?" Max was shorter, a mere six foot one, and a little slimmer. It was more convenient for a pilot to have a small enough body to fit into the always-compact cockpit of a fighter than to have a massive muscle structure that could barely be squeezed in. He had light brown hair, and similarly brown eyes to his current companion.
"No. I have my eye on one of the marines, though. Good looking girl." Alek pressed another button and there was a clanking noise that echoed through the ship as the fuel rods disconnected and moved back away from the ship. "Tanks filled. We're ready to get things started. I'll see you around, Max."
"You too." The pilot headed out of the doors. Alek hung about the room for a few more minutes, then headed down to the engineering control room.
|Shadowknight Legion Chapter 2|