Astral Chapter 2: Over Two Hundred Worlds

Vladimir Prosek looked at the face staring back at him in the polished black metal that lined the walls of the elevator. His face had deep frown lines, but otherwise appeared youthful and healthy, despite being on the cusp of his fifties. Vlad was dressed in his dress uniform, which he always wore when he visited his friend, Angus.


High laced boots, thick, deep-charcoal grey fabric, shiny black buttons, all designed to outline the soldier wearing them, to show off the powerful body beneath. Vlad’s grin widened into a broad smile. He loved his reflection; it was a picture of power, and not just physical power.

Vlad was the general of Emperor Angus McCleod’s military, every last branch of it. It was he who had spent the last ten years working with his Majesty to coordinate the campaign that was to launch this very day. The idea of the conquest, the carnage, that would begin today had put a spring in his step and an unquenchable smile on his face. What he loved most about that reflection was what it did to others. Vlad was born and raised on a planet called Proteus. It was a hellish place, populated by vicious creatures and covered with volcanoes and seas of lava. McCleod’s family had sent colonists to mine the planet generations before for the rich supplies of gold, platinum and diamonds that it held.

When Angus inherited the throne, he had set up a genetic research laboratory on the planet. It was a few years after some of the experiments “escaped” that the planet had to be abandoned by all save the science team doing the research.

The harsh conditions of the planet had taken its toll on the indigenous population, causing some interesting birth defects in some, and flat out mutations in others. Vlad had been spared anything too disfiguring, but his gaunt, powerful persona was amplified by his deep brown right eye and stark, ice blue left eye.

The elevator reached the floor of the Emperor’s throne room, the doors opened and a soothing female said “Throne room, I hope you had a pleasant ride, General Prosek.” Vlad waved his hand dismissively, finding the automated voices of the many apparatuses in the palace annoying at best.

His heart quickened, as it did every time he stepped into the magnificent chamber that held the McCleod family throne. This was power. Power he was able to share in because of his position. The room was enormous, more like a warehouse than a room. The floor was made of a checkerboard of white alabaster and black marble, kept polished to a mirror shine at all times. Set out a dozen feet or so from either side of the room were thick, smooth Doric columns made of the same black marble, with weaving, intertwining lace patterns of gold and platinum. He glanced up at the vaulted glass ceiling, a marvel of engineering in it’s own right, and through it to the perfect blue sky of the magnificent ball of rock known as Daedelus, the McCleodian throne planet.

As he walked down the center of the room, he was saluted by elite soldiers, spaced evenly between the columns for the length of the giant hall. He gave a slight nod to each as he walked by. He respected these men above all others; he had trained them all, and they kept his beloved Emperor safe.

That same emperor was looking down on the general from his over-sized, over-stuffed throne. Flanking it were two large robots, Yin and Yang. Both stood nine feet tall, and were the personal guardians of the Emperor. Both had skull-shaped heads and faces on armored bodies, their eyes glowing slightly red. Yin was the lighter of the two, a thin-bodied apparatus that had been programmed with the mind of a master martial artist, and was proficient will all forms of bladed weapons. A six foot long Japanese blade called a No-Dachi was slung over his right shoulder, and two 3 foot long blades retracted into housings on his forearms. He was painted a muted, flat black with a white dot in the center of his forehead. The robot gave a slight, respectful nod to the general as he approached.

Yang was stark white, and lived up to the name he had been given. He was heavier than Yin, carrying much more armor. Where Yin was graceful and fluid, Yang’s movements seemed labored and clunky. However, anyone mistaking that for him being less lethal than his brother were sadly mistaken. Twin ammunition feeds ran from drums on Yang’s back, feeding twin three-barreled guns on his forearms, and a gun every bit as large as Yin’s sword strapped over his back. It fired bullets a full five inches in diameter, and was, in Vlad’s mind, the word “overkill” manifesting itself physically. Yang had a black dot in the center of his forehead, and never acknowledged the General; He didn’t have the extra bandwidth Yin did for complex thought.

When Vlad reached the foot of the dais the throne was perched upon, he bowed respectfully to his Emperor, then looked up at the man he had dedicated his life to serving. The Emperor was a shining example of the excess his family had enjoyed for over a thousand years. He was fat and balding. Liver spots adorned his hands an head. he was dressed in a deep purple suit, with a maroon vest with yellow pin-stripes, over a white dress shirt. His hair (what remained of it) was kept relatively short, and he fidgeted with a gold brooch on his left lapel, which he often did when he was nervous.

“You look well this morning, General Prosek.” The Emperor said in a clean, English accent. Vlad smiled; Angus had worked very hard through his adult life to lose his trademark family brogue because he thought it was sloppy and undignified. He had a loud, strong voice, used to speaking to large crowds and commanding attention.

Prosek stood at parade rest and replied “I am well, your majesty. Everything is moving along according to the updated plan. The Crown of Thorns are all in place, awaiting the order to commence.”

The Emperor seemed pleased. “You have not yet sent the order?” He asked slyly. Vlad smiled widely. “After all of our planning, I would not dream stealing that pleasure form you, sir.” Angus beamed. In the decades since making Vladimir Prosek his right hand man, he had never regretted it once. Vlad scaled the dozen steps to the throne and pulled a small phone from his front pocket. “They are ready and waiting, your Majesty.”

Emperor Angus McCleod too the device from his most trusted advisor and subject, and spoke the words he had waited ten years to say; “This is Emperor Angus McCleod. Rain death and make me proud.”

On over two hundred populated worlds, war began.

 


Millions of miles away from the now celebrating Emperor and general, on planet dedicated to commerce and free trade called Trea, two atmospheric traffic controllers watched their screens, monitoring the skies for any blips that the sophisticated software that did most of the work might have missed. It was a fairly thankless and boring job, but it wasn’t difficult. The computers did ninety eight percent of the work, with the last two percent usually amounting to one of the two men using a light pen to mark an errant ship as it flew down from or up into the sky.

Roger, a barrel chested man with bright eyes and a ready smile, adjusted his cap and glanced over at his partner, Mike. “Anything going on over there?” Mike snorted. “What do you think? We haven’t so much as a bird crash into a windshield in three months. I wish something interesting would happen…”

Roger turned to fully face Mike. “Careful what you wish for, buddy. When things get interesting around here, people tend to die.” Mike waved his hand dismissively, not even bothering to pull his eyes from his screen. “Yeah yeah. Get a sense of humor, Roger. We’re just talking about people. Other people.”

Roger shook his head and turned back to his monitor. He liked Mike, but his attitude could use some work. Despite his flippant statement, Mike had never failed in his job, and was actually quite good at it, if a little cynical. Roger felt his belly rumble and realized it had been hours since he had eaten anything. He stood up and stretched. “Mike, take over for a few. I’m going to go grab a candy bar.”

Mike continued to stare at his screen and once again gave a dismissive wave, this time followed by a sly smile. Roger gave a great belly laugh and stepped out into the hall toward the vending machine. Maybe Mike’s right, he thought. Things had been boring for a while, and when the most interesting this you do in a day was go try and find a candy bar brand you haven’t tried before, it was time to re-asses your goals.

After a few minutes of contemplation, he settled on something in a brown wrapper with blue lettering that looked unusual and promised caramel, peanuts and chocolate. Roger unwrapped it right there and took a large bite, then leaned against the machine and sighed deeply as he chewed.

He nearly choked on his second bite when Mike’s voice came over the PA system. “Roger! Jesus, get your ass up here and take a look at this!” Roger hurried back to the control room, jamming as much candy bar into his mouth as he could on the way there. He mumbled through a mouthful of chocolate “What the hell is going on?”

Mike stepped away from his monitor and pointed. “I have no idea, look at this.” Mike’s screen was filled with a field or green. Normally it was blue with green blips marking the ships that weren’t yet being monitored by the computers, red for the ones that were. “Did you spill a drink or something on it?” Roger asked as he cleaned some peanut from a molar.

Mike glared at him. “Look at yours.” he said flatly. Roger walked over to his machine, and sure enough, it was filled with a field of green. “That’s impossible.” he said. “System, what is that thing?” he asked the computer. The metallic voice of the monitoring system rang out from a set of speakers in the ceiling. “A vehicle of unknown origin in the lower atmosphere, roughly two thousand feet above ground, approximately ten miles in diameter.”

Mike laughed. “My ass. That thing is broken. Let’s go out and have a look-see, shall we?” Roger just nodded. In his ten years at this job, he had never seen the computer make a mistake, let alone one so ridiculous. He and Mike stepped outside and looked up. It was a fairly cloudy day, with large clusters of cumulus clouds hanging low in the sky over the city in the distance. The bits of clear sky that showed were turning orange in the late day sun.

“I told you that thing was broken.” Mike started to say, then choked on his words. Something large, huge, and black suddenly pierced the clouds over the city proper. It looked like a black cylinder the size of a skyscraper, with a large hole in the center. Within seconds, more were descending from the clouds until there were more than they could count. Without warning, the entire cloud parted to reveal a giant ship. It’s center was three miles across, with ten radiating “arms” spaced evenly around it, each another three miles in length.

The cylinders that showed first were embedded in the arms, and looked like barrels pointing straight down. The ship hovered, motionless for several minutes.Nothing happened.

“Looks like you got your excitement, Mike.” Roger said sarcastically. Mike started to retort, when there was a deep grinding noise. They both looked up to see the arms begin to rotate on the body of the ship, while it stayed in one place. There also appeared to be a cloud rising out of the top of the ship.

Several spaceliners and cargo transports could be seen lifting off and trying to speed away from the giant vessel as fast as possible. The cloud split and veered to intercept. One cargo ship with the word “Shartkey; Building better transports” emblazoned on the side lifted off the ground from a strip a mile away from the pair. A communications vane lowered on the bottom of the ship as it pivoted for take off. A few seconds later, part of the cloud turned toward it. Then they saw what the cloud was; hundreds of small ships. Bright green flashes blazed from the tiny ships, easily twenty of them firing at the Shartkey ship at once. The blasts ripped the ship to pieces before it burst into flames and crashed to the ground.

“Oh… Sh-” Roger started when the ground suddenly shook. Glowing white hot particle beams began showering from the giant barrels on the mother ship, making it resemble a massive minigun. Beams of energy the size of buildings crashed into the city, vaporizing buildings instantly and causing anything caught with a glancing blow to burst into flames and explode, destroying everything around it.

Mike was dumbstruck, but Roger recovered his wits. “Oh God, Mike, come on!” he screamed, grabbing his partner and dragging him back into the building. “We have to get into the basement!” Mike stared at him blankly.”Why?”

“Because its moving this way!” Roger shouted. The two men ran for the emergency stairwell to get to the basement. They never made it. The swarm of smaller ships sliced the suburbs of the city to pieces while the mother ship destroyed the city. In minutes, the entire city and surrounding area, including everything that had flown in the sky, was a burning wasteland.


The same scenario played out on hundreds of worlds throughout civilized space. Billions died in the opening minutes of the war, while the masterminds sat at a giant wooden table, in a giant dining room lit by candles and a fireplace. General Prosek and Emperor McCleod laughed, drank needlessly expensive Champagne, and dined on gourmet food prepared by the finest chefs money could buy.

When the two moons of the throne planet of Daedelus reached their summit in the sky, Prosek excused himself, bidding the Emperor good night with a gracious bow and a wide smile. Everything had gone according to the modified plan, but the real fun began the next day. Vlad himself would have an opportunity to get his hands dirty; there were few things he loved more that firing his guns at live targets.

 

 

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