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Original Post is here.

Part 1: Fleet Assault

Fleet Commander Xivas eyed the great expanse past the observation deck, unfazed by the turbulence of his ship, a formidable Aegis-class, as it disengaged warp travel.

For several days, the Ionax had lost contact with civilian ships not far from the isolationist Biktom Directorate. Although the Directorate itself was (not unreasonably) the initial suspect, the culprit was found to be a clan of Giree pirates unaffiliated with their species’s patron empire. Still, the wrecks raised more questions than answers; analysis of the ships’ data logs showed signs of forced entry, implying that the pirates had looted not only commodities, but information as well.

The implications – of who could use the data, for what – were unsettling. Still, for all its quirks, the clan displayed nothing else of note. Its base of operations was a meager asteroid facility, boasting only a single flak battery resembling a floral satellite dish, as well as a hangar that seemed unsuitable for more than a few fighter squadrons. Due to this, only a small counterraid fleet was deemed necessary to remove these defenses.

Xivas, recently-appointed, had been chosen to lead this raid in order to prove his worth in the field. He savored the prestige of leading a fleet into battle aboard an Aegis. Meanwhile, in the same ship, Sergeant Zul prepared with his squad for the next step: to infiltrate the base itself in a search for the stolen data - and, if possible, the pirates' intentions for it - while neutralizing any resistance that remained. He made sure to pack adequate magazines for his Nova Rifle, and equipped his plasma sword’s hilt in an accessible position.

Far ahead, Xivas noticed the pirates’ asteroid, bathed in the glow of an unclaimed red dwarf. Some of the fleet’s smaller vessels - particularly Arbiter-class warships - drifted ahead, arranging themselves to most efficiently tap into the Aegis's protective energy field. Already, icons representing them were within view on the fleet operators’ terminals, colored blue to indicate shield integrity. Soon after, however, the terminals displayed something less comforting.

“Multiple vessels are exiting the station’s hangar,” an operator declared. Xivas nodded, faintly making out the gleam of their hulls. He held down a button on his command terminal. “Interceptors, assume forward position,” he commanded. “If the pirate vessels approach, proceed to attack.” “Acknowledged,” the squadron leader replied, and the fleet’s Razor-class ships zoomed to the front of the Aegis.

The pirate vessels began circling the asteroid as more continued to emerge, contrary to expectations. Just how many are there? Xivas thought.

Just then, a pinprick of green light shone on the asteroid. “The station is activating its-” an operator began, but was cut off as a green ray surged toward the fleet, blasting one of the Arbiters before faltering. The ship’s icon on the terminals began to blink yellow.

“The flak discharge dealt damage to shield integrity,” the operator said, “but no hull damage is evident.” However, Xivas did not respond; his attention was diverted to the pirate vessels, which had stopped appearing from the base, and instead began flying toward the fleet. The interceptors immediately sped forward to counter them.

“We have the vessels within range,” said the squadron leader. Some of the operators switched their terminals to a view of the interceptors’ flight cameras. “The vessels appear too small for a Giree to pilot effectively,” one noted. Xivas contemplated this, along with the vessels’ underestimated numbers. “The Giree ARE known to prefer combat drones,” another operator added.

The vessels that must have been drones were in the shape of two perpendicular crescents. The horizontal one extended further to the sides than its vertical counterpart. Upon the Razors’ approach, they moved in sync to surround their adversaries, peppering them with orange discharges that dealt a pittance to their shields. The Razors, in contrast, retaliated with blue shots that quickly disabled their fragile targets.

As the remainder of the fleet came within range, the Ionax warships provided fire support, only to have shield energy burned away by the pirates’ flak gun. Nonetheless, the drones were picked off until none remained. “Interceptors, return to defense position,” Xivas ordered through his terminal. “Fleet, maintain course until we get in range of the station’s flak battery."

The ships pressed on, bearing the flak gun’s blows as they approached. The operators’ terminals showed one ship after another falling to suboptimal shield integrity, nearing red-blinking critical status with each ray they withstood. Eventually, however, it fell within targeting range.

“Flak battery in range, fire at will!” Xivas declared, and the fleet’s armaments erupted into a surge of blue light as photon streams pummeled the flak gun. Eventually, its most delicate mechanisms could take no more, and the structure exploded with a blinding flash. The high-velocity debris bounced harmlessly off the Ionax ships’ shields.

“All pirate defenses neutralized,” Xivas said. “Commence boarding the station.”

Part 2: Boarding Party

Sergeant Zul stood like a metallic statue as the boarding shuttle silently ferried him and his squad to the pirate base. He gazed intently at the closed docking port before him, awaiting the moment it opened.

This was far from Zul’s first assault on a pirate stronghold; he had distinguished himself throughout the ongoing turmoil of the Metallic Void, despite the many brushes with death he had faced. He had been granted the position of sergeant for his proficiency, but, all in all, lived only to see the Ionax through this dark age as a way of honoring his fellow Soldier-Castes’ sacrifices. In this regard, it was his hope that this mission to secure stolen Ionax records would contribute to the Void’s end in some way.

The eerie quiet came to an abrupt end when the shuttle trembled upon connecting to the base. A few of the squad’s newest recruits gripped their Nova Rifles tighter, and glanced to their left and right. Meanwhile, its more seasoned members turned to the docking port in unison. With a gust of air, the port slid open to reveal the base’s gritty loading bay, and the squad charged forward.

The Ionax were immediately met with a hail of orange energy rounds. Some shots met their mark, creating orange-hot punctures in their quarry’s metallic exteriors. Two squads retreated to their shuttles to provide cover fire, while the rest, Zul’s among them, pressed on.

Upon reaching the safety beneath the platform, Zul’s mind raced for his next course of action. He registered that he was accompanied by a second squad and their sergeant. He took note that there was a rocky wall to the right, and that the other advancing squads had made for a tunnel running through it, instead of for the platform’s underside. Straight ahead, there were stairs that led to the platform from behind. To his left, he noticed a stairway curving up to the platform as well.

He tapped his fellow sergeant to get his attention. “There’s two stairways,” he said, pointing to both. “We can flank them.” His peer nodded. “Squad, this way!” He beckoned, while Zul gestured his own squad to follow him.

Upon reaching the base of the rear stairs, Zul turned his attention to the defending Giree, who wore black bodywear. It seemed that some of them were firing sniper rifles from behind the platform’s barricaded rails, while three had deployed tripods. The guns mounted atop them were adorned with three backwards curves, and fired rapidly to suppress the shuttle-bound Ionax. One of the sniper Giree turned, and Zul noticed… him (?) wearing an optical visor that glowed a malevolent red.

“They’re coming up behind!” The sniper called in the Giree common language, dashing for the rear rails as his companions (all adorned with the same headwear) turned around to look. However, before the pirates could engage the new threat, the other squad emerged from the right. With the deafening sound of Nova Rifles, the Giree collapsed, splattering blue hemolymph onto the metallic platform. The other sergeant rushed up to the front of the platform, gesturing toward the stationary Ionax to come out.

A Giree surveillance operator turned around. “Sir, the Ionax squads in the hangar just took out the forces stationed there.”

The leader in the room folded his arms. “Figures,” he scoffed. “The main shaft is pretty well-guarded, though. Those freaks shouldn’t make it much further.”

The band of Ionax continued down a corridor, following the sounds of a fire fight. They emerged to find the remaining squads far off to the right, using large crates as cover from another group of defenders. The base’s second line of defense was not unlike the first, but more numerous, and occupied what appeared to be repurposed excavation scaffolds.

“Squad, engage!” The other sergeant ordered, and led his squad to station themselves behind some more crates in a bid to even the odds. The shuttle-entrenched squads from earlier followed suit. Meanwhile, Zul noticed another corridor to the left.

“This way,” Zul said to his squad, and hurried through. If his hunch was correct, the new passage would lead to the scaffolds. Sure enough, he discovered a stairwell hosting a spiral staircase. “Split up and attack from behind,” Zul ordered as he dashed up the stairs. He went through the second floor’s door, and came across two emplaced tripods; one was occupied, while the other’s occupant had been gunned down.

Zul holstered his Nova Rifle, and crept up to the unaware Giree. He withdrew his Plasma Sword and activated it, its hiss of superheated air drowned out by the shootout’s deafening racket. The blade shimmered an ominous green as Zul crept forward. He gripped the pirate’s shoulder and drove the sword into his back, netting a strained gurgle of surprise. Zul drew the blade as the body fell limp, steam billowing from the cauterized wounds. At the same time, another pirate fell from above and slammed the ground; no doubt the rest of Zul’s squad were finishing off the rest of the first scaffolds’ occupants. Zul deactivated and sheathed his Plasma Sword, his vision set on the second set of scaffolding across the shaft. He re-equipped his Nova Rifle to help see the fire fight to its end.

“The main shaft’s defending forces have been wiped out, sir,” the operator said nervously.

The leader nodded grimly. If the Ionax found out what they’d been up to…

The Ionax squads regrouped in the center of the main shaft. Despite their fighting through two sets of defending pirates, the location of the base’s command center - where the stolen data would likely be held - was no less clear. After some deliberation, the sergeants agreed to spread out to find it.

Zul went down the main shaft with his squad, eventually reaching an alcove with a door in it. “Brace for entry,” Zul ordered, wary of an ambush. He walked up to the door itself as his squad positioned around it. He withdrew and activated his Plasma Sword and sliced the door’s hinges, then kicked it down.

Zul’s head was grazed by an orange discharge, and he immediately ducked. He heard the chorus of energy weapons fire from the back of the new room. He warily crouch-walked forward, noticing an array of terminals ahead for him to use as cover. His squad followed suit, and what was no doubt the command center became the scene of the mission’s third firefight.

As his squad fired over the terminals, Zul noticed a Giree pirate different from the rest, with thicker, shell-like chest and back armor, with two protrusions extending from his shoulders. He watched him flee down a hallway to the right, narrowly avoiding a Nova Rifle’s fire. Cowardly mollusk, Zul thought as he sprung from his cover to pursue the pirate.

The passage was dark, lit only by the synthetic glow of Zul’s sword. To unaided eyes, navigation would be impossible, but Zul could see the tunnel’s grated sides as he charged through. Eventually, he reached an intersection, with several other intersections ahead.

Zul slowed his pace as he entered the labyrinth. Immediately, his left side was pierced by an energy shot. He turned and barreled down the hallway, but the pirate had evaded.

Zul briefly paused to decipher the pirate’s hit-and-run strategy, then rapidly looked around for a solution. He noticed coolant return pipes adorning the walls, just beneath the grating. With a slash of his blade, the pipes ruptured, and out spewed an extremely hot liquid that would scald his organic adversary.

Another shot narrowly missed Zul’s head. He turned and ran through the searing fountain, rupturing more pipes to deny the pirate freedom of movement. At the end of the hallway, Zul spun around, ran, and turned to enter the other side of the hallway. He slashed at the opposing wall once, then walked back to face the pirate head-on. The pirate raised his sniper rifle, and Zul darted forward to evade. He swung his Plasma Sword to finish off the pirate, severing his long neck from the rest of his body. The body stumbled backwards for a moment, attempting to right itself, then fell forwards.

Zul deactivated his Plasma Sword, then holstered it. His hands freed, he seized the severed head in his left hand, and dragged the rest of the body back with his right.

Zul’s defeat of the commanding pirate allowed the rest of the mission to pass swiftly. The tactical value of the confirmed death of the pirates’ leader paled in comparison to access to his biometrics; in conjunction with mission-specific decryption technology, it provided the squads with unlimited access to the base’s data logs. The logs were transmitted to the Ionax capital city-ship, Alox, with little effort. From there, it was just a matter of heading back to Axol for debriefing. The squads would meet the routine Voxxel of their wounded, and extraction of their recovered fallen for meltdown.

It was revealed that the pirate clan led by Liryor, as he was now known, had stolen files pertaining to the properties and uses of Positium, as well as to Ionax anatomy. This, on its own, proved unsettling to the central Ionax administration; the anatomical records, for instance, would be dangerous in the hands of rebel Ionax with ambitions of creating a sustainable rogue Ionax state. However, then came the matter of who the pirates had been selling this data to…

“Sir… Liryor has been terminated.”

The leader hung his head, resigned. The fact that the pirates would eventually be destroyed by vengeful Ionax forces was of no particular surprise to him, but his own superiors’ willingness to cooperate with pirates – ex-citizens of the Directorate, at that – was. Now their “research project” was exposed to the very alien forces the data was stolen from.

He could only guess what would happen next. No doubt the upper echelons of the Directorate Intelligence Network, fearing the Chief Administrator’s wrath, would search for a scapegoat. Even the leader in the room could be the one to face the consequences of his superiors’ negligence.

However, the bureaucratic nightmare was only the beginning; the Directorate, in a matter of hours, would find itself in an alien power’s contempt. To the leader’s knowledge, this alien power was no more open to reasoning with foreign influences than the Directorate. Retaliation to the extent of war was not out of the question.

The Directorate Intelligence Network could only wait.