by Max Barry

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by The Dictatorship of Universum Aethereum. . 3 reads.

REGIONAL DATABASE - ARCHIVE - A Dangerous Encounter

A Dangerous Encounter is the first-encounter story between United Helgha and Imperium Unitum, its two authors. What starts as a journey trough space for one side and routine patrol for the other quickly turns into a bloody skirmish, where dozens are lost on both sides and the Helghan crew is taken prisonder. The storyline is as of right now unfinished, but the two o

United Helgha wrote:Doctor Johanna Eva snapped out of her day dream as she heard footsteps outside her small bunks privacy curtain and squinted against the artificial light once it was pulled open. Standing above her was her superior the elderly Doctor Heinz. “The sensors picked up another asteroid, can’t plot around this one since it showed positive on the metals scan.”, he said as he scratched his stubbly facial hair.

Dr. Eva sighed and sat up in her bunk as she yawned, “Another one, that makes three on this trail. Think we’ve stumbled upon a cluster of rocks?” Dr. Heinz thought for a moment and replied, “Doubtful, the last rock was a week ago and this one’s pretty sizable. Scans are fuzzy but so far the asteroids 50% metal both inside and out. Can’t plot around this one or the mining companies back home would eat us alive.”
Dr. Eva slid her boots on and talked as she walked towards the small rooms door, “Well get some rest old timer, I’ll run the recon op and make sure it gets properly logged.”
—————————

Dr. Eva walked through the ships claustrophobic halls and stopped to log pipe leaks more than once as she made her way up to the front mounted cockpit.
As she passed by the security barracks she spotted the six guards gearing up.

Dr. Eva made her way to the cockpit and stood behind the captains chair, Captain Edward Von Miller III spun around to simply state, “This one’s different Eva, our scans are picking up massive amounts of metal on this rock- the kicker is the scans keep saying the metal is OUTSIDE the asteroids crust.”
Dr. Eva tried not to smirk at the captains thick upper class accent and replied, “That’s why I’m here, Heinz went down for his elderly man’s nap and sent me up here. As usual he’s more focused on his naps than the mission.”
Captain Miller nodded in agreement and spun his captains chair to face the large glass window of the cockpit.

“What should we do Eva? I advise calling for another charting team before investigating further, but I’m just the captain of the ship. You’re in charge of anything mission related.”, Captain Miller calmly said.
Dr. Eva thought for a moment and typed on her touch pad as she replied, “Move us in closer so we can see this mystery asteroid for ourselves and we’ll go from there. Please.”
Captain Miller sighed and said, “Understood Dr. Eva, moving us into viewing distance exactly 100 meters off the starboard side. Helmsman proceed with cation, weapons station keep an eye out. Jump in 3..2..1.. jump.”

Dr. Eva held onto the back of the captains chair slightly as the ship slipped into Ark travel, a sparkle in her blue eyes.
—————————-

The Pioneer III slipped out of Ark travel roughly 100 meters away from the asteroid and started scanning it once again.
Captain Miller tisked with a smirk and stated, “So close Johnny, we’re 105 meters. You owe the crew another round of beers when we get home.”
The young helmsman Johnny Edberg sighed as he replied, “Man that’s three this rotation. At this rate I’ll be spending my entire paycheck all on beer.”

Weapons technician Gertrude Smith leaned over in her chair and kissed Johnny on his freckled cheek, “Don’t worry honey, I’ll make sure not a drop is wasted!”
Dr. Eva chose to ignore the show of affection she had just seen, while in the proper navy that kind of relationship is strictly prohibited- the Pioneer was a private vessel the Imperial Navy contracted out for special missions.

Dr. Eva looked through the large viewing port on the ships starboard side and coughed awkwardly. Captain Miller wiped the smile from his face and reported, “It appears the scans weren’t wrong, I’m seeing what seems to be a structure of some kind on the asteroid. Doesn’t look like any imperial design I’ve ever seen. Perhaps we stumbled upon an abandoned mining site? Wouldn’t the first time those cheapskates in the mining sector forgot to log important information.”

Dr. Eva couldn’t stop staring out the viewing port and called Dr. Heinz on her tablet, “Heinz you better get up here, I think we just hit pay dirt.”
Captain Miller spun his chair around and asked, “What’s wrong, what’s going on? Go on.” Dr. Eva smiled as she replied, “I think we just found our ticket to first contact. We are about to be the first humans to find life other than man!”

Captain Miller looked at his two crew members and shrugged.
———————————

An hour later all personnel on the ship were gathered in the loading bay and updated about the developing situation. Captain Miller, Dr. Eva, Dr. Heinz, and the security leadership Staff Sergeant Smith were all talking away from the personnel and a debate had started.
“I’m telling you, we should wait for proper reinforcements before going any further. My men are trained to fight off lowly raiders and keep the peace- NOT blindly walk into a damn alien structure with God only knows what inside it!” Sergeant Smith hissed as Dr. Heinz nodded along. The elderly doctor pushed his glasses up as he replied, “I’m afraid I most agree with Smith this time Eva, it’s simply too dangerous.”

Dr. Eva paced in place as she excitingly replied, “Yes it’s dangers but I refuse to let this opportunity pass us by! If we wait we’ll just be cast aside as those snobs from the Imperial University take all the credit. Miller, surely you agree?” Captain Miller thought for a moment and sighed, “I think this is dangerous and a bad idea, but she’s right. The imperial sector will not only take the credit, but also likely cover this up. I personally would like to be there when first contact is made.”

Dr. Eva looked at the three men around her and stated, “Where do you want to be when man finds life other than ourselves? In the background destined to be forgotten by history, or a main character that will be remembered for eternity?”
———————————-

An hour later Dr. Eva, Sergeant Smith, and his six guards were all in space suites slowly falling from the ship down to the asteroid below. Once they made landfall Dr. Eva spoke calmly through her comms, “Scans were right, gravity is low but noticeable. Not breathable obviously. Moving towards the front entrance.”

The group of eight slowly made their way to the large metal door at the alien faculties front. Dr. Eva made it to a small panel next to the door and asked, “Hey Heinz you still don’t wanna come see this? There’s strange markings on this panel and some sort of language I don’t recognize. I also see symbols of some kind branded into the metal door, a humanoid skull and what appears to be cogs in a machine?”

Dr. Heinz’s voice crackled over the comms, “No I’m quite alright here in the ship. Let me see here… by cross referencing these images I’m seeing from your helmets live feed with the imperial catalogs… no matches. Eva, I think you’re right. This may actually be alien.”
Sergeant Smith piped in, “Just great and all but can we hurry this up? I’d like to not have our asses hanging out in the wind.”
Dr. Eva chuckled as she pressed a few buttons on the control panel and noticed they lit up. “I couldn’t possibly figure out this code any time soon, what should we do?” She said as she looked over to the grizzly soldier. Sergeant Smith just smirked wickedly.
———————————-

“Everyone clear! 3..2..1 fire fire fire!” The young soldier shouted as he pressed the red button in his left hand. An instant later Dr. Eva held her breath as a dull pop sounded and suddenly the large metal door buckled outward. As it ripped off its hinges and floated away the team of guards pushed and pulled their way into the dark opening with their rifles raised.
A few minutes later Sergeant Smith beckoned for the Doctor to follow him in.

Dr. Eva couldn’t believe her eyes when she entered the structure. It was much bigger on the inside with a long hallway leading deeper into a well lit chamber. More odd symbols were etched into the walls with some even detailing angel like humans in heroic poses. Dr. Eva walked along the hallways walls and took photos of everything. She noticed how some of the unknown writings had what she could swear were pieces of Latin mixed into them.

She stopped at the hallways end and just stared. Before her were machines the like she’d never seen, as large as buses and frozen in time. To her left were entire book cases caked in dust, all teaming with scrolls pinned to them. To her right she saw what appeared to be an accent sword laying on a low table. Dr. Eva turned to Sergeant Smith and whispered, “I told you so.”

Imperium Unitum wrote:

The sound of metal knocking on metal made Alexander raise his head towards its source. There, towards the man comically knocking on an already open door. "What is it, Davis?" said Alexander, returning his gaze to the stack of papers he was holding in his hands. Davis walked in a few steps, placing a tablet on his desk.
"We have a bit of a problem, sir-" as Alexander picked up the tablet "observatories detected a ship on the outer rim. Could be Xeno." As Davis barely finished Alexander's gaze met his.
"Have you taken this to void control yet?" Davis nodded.
"No ships due this month. Doesn't resemble any of our own ships, either." Alexander furrowed, his eyes darting back between Alexander and the tablet in his hands.
"Davis-" the officer started "-get your gear on. Get as many men as you need and investigate it. I'll inform the Marshall about this." Davis simply saluted with his metallic hand and turned away from the room, increasingly hurried steps echoing from inside of the hallways.

Alexander left the stack of documents had had been running through, firmly grasping the tablet before he himself left the office. He turned the corner to the right, passing saluting soldiers and returning their gesture wherever his focus allowed. Alexander furrowed again, looking at the tablet he held. It vibrated, an alert displayed an unessage from the observatories. He paused to look at it, standing directly in the middle of the empty and dimly lit passageway. It showed an updated pictogram of a faraway object approaching another. He swiped down to see it on the system's star map, with the objects approximate location being somewhere in the nearby Asteroid belt.

He snapped away from the map to continue striding forward, taking another right towards a room bearing a golden Imperial Aquilla atop its ornate door. The guards at the front saluted him, which he ignored, staring only at the massive sliding doors and what laid behind them. He walked in before they were done opening, triggering the mechanism to close them as he stepped on the metallic floors inside. He stared around at the men working to stabilize the systems inside, typing into consoles or observing moving charts and numbers on their screens. He was nearly started by a visible electric impulse going through a metallic tube connecting a man's head to the dark ceiling.

The shock illuminated the overlapping conduits of energy, finding its place of resting in a dome above the head of the Astropath, a dried out husk of a man with so many tubes and wires connected to him that it nearly made Alexander vomit. He approached the skeleton, connecting the tablet in his hands to a terminal wired directly into the man's torso. He began to type vigorously, the sound of the taps on the keys filling the otherwise silent room. Alexander erased and rewrote many parts of his message multiple times, slurring words and repeating phrases in his rush to complete the message. A raspy voice startled him from his endeavor "Don't rush it." said the Astropath, with the air escaping through his unhinged jaw sounding more akin to a wheeze than typical human breath.

Alexander stopped to breathe. He wiped the sweat off of his forehead and looked over the message, his focus having been shattered by the Astropath. When he found where he left off he collected his thoughts and typed with renewed vigor, more eager to finish his message and get away from the Astropath than his duty to the Imperium. He typed in any new information he received on his tablet, attaching whatever feels he felt were needed. When he finished he looked upon it one more time, reading word for word in a whisper, before writing in his credentials and disconnecting the tablet.

————————————————————————————————————————————

Captain Davis climbed down a staircase in the ship, watching some men still strapping themselves to their chairs. Others talked with each other, their voices unheard outside of their armor. Others inspected their weapons, looking to see that their power-packs were firmly inside of their laser carabines, while the Melta gunners did the exact opposite, ensuring their weapons did not have a power source inserted inside. Only one stayed completely still. His red markings and distinct weapon cut him from the crowd, whereas the others had to be differentiated by the number displayed on their right pauldron. Johan looked at him from where he was seated and turned up a dial on the side of his helmet. When one of the numbers inside of his helmet displayed "02" he began to speak.

"Captain Davis..." Davis put a finger up in the air and shook his head slightly, turning the dial on the side of his own helmet until the number "11" was displayed in bright green letters.
"Ever diligent aren't we?"
"Aren't you supposed to lead by example, Davis? You're not exactly helping these new recruits by being here." as Johan said so Davis looked around at the men still strapping themselves in.

"I, quite frankly, don't care. You're not in the best shape yourself! Your armor is all dirty!" said Davis, hitting Johan's pauldron right on the red stripe painted on it. He looked him up and down to take in the rust and the dirt stuck on his armor. "Planet-side exercise?"
Johan shook his head from side to side as far as his armor allowed him to. "Just an old ship. They sent us on a f*cking ironclad-"
Davis chuckled a bit "An ironclad? I mean...I guess this posting isn't that important. But an ironclad?"

The ship shook slightly, knocking down Davis and any recruit that hadn't yet strapped themselves. Davis slowly pulled himself back to his feet, while the men around him helped each other up. Davis very quickly changed rotated the dial on his helmet all the way around, waiting until the numbers changed to a simple "CC" on the right side of his helmet.
"Diane what the actual hell was that?" he yelled out, incensed.
"One of the grippers disconnected-" she began to say, with a nonchalant tone. Davis swore he heard a tiny pop coming from her end of the transmission.
"Bloody tech adepts..." Davis cursed out. He turned away and began to climb up the stairs, using the bar on the side for balance in case one of the 'grippers' disconnected again.

When the door automatically opened he stumbled inside of the Captain's room and sat down in one of the empty chairs on the right side of the chamber. Just as he began strapping himself in he heard another tiny pop coming from in front of him. Diane, who had now rotated his chair to fully face him, chewed loudly and annoyingly on pink gum, which she blew into balloons with any chance she got.

As Davis removed his helmet he looked her dead in the eyes "Are you really gonna do that for the next five hours?!"

————————————————————————————————————————————

As the ramp hit the metal framework the entire bridge shook. Crates that had been untouched for decades fell and a tube snapped. The rusted and blown out structure was illuminated by large lights on the ship, used by the ship's gunners to point out targets and cut them down before any got a chance to come close to the ship. Lascannons and Heavy Bolters were fixated on doors and holes opened in the building, as soldiers quickly swarmed from the ramps and onto the bridges of the building. They took cover behind crates and and collapded walls, laser carabines and meltaguns trained on imaginary enemies and potential entry-points. A single rusty battle automata strode forward.

Johan did not hear it thanks to the impossibility of sound in the void, but he nonetheless imagined it would make the distinct "Clings" and "clangs" that rusted and broken servo-muscles make when they are that far worn out. He still felt the ground shake under him as both multi-meltas strapped on the automata fired on the massive door in front of them, causing a molten hole to form in the already-collapsed gates.

"J-squad, move up" said Davis, with Davis responding "Roger that" before his entire squadron formed up in a line behind him, moving in a tight formation with their guns pointed in front of them. Johan moved past the automata and careful not to trip on the cooled metallic slag that collected on the floor in front of them. He looked up briefly to see a bright blue depiction of Earth, with two bundles of wheat just under it. An Imperial Aquilla was lazily hung from chains directly on it, itself more rusted than the ancient symbology in front of Johan's eyes.

They stopped in front of the sealed door. The man just behind Johan raised up his lasrifle and stepped to his side, placing a spiderlike device on the door. He rotated his dial as he did so.
"Fully sealed." he said, sternly.
Johan pressed a button on his helmet "This is Sergeant Johan, the door on the inside is still fully sealed. Should we still blow it?"

A response came shortly, from Davis himself "Don't. We'll bring up a scanner. If there isn't a vacuum in there we have to reseal it."

The soldier next to Johan turned to him "Why aren't we blowing it?"
Johan returned his gaze "If the airlock held this long we can bring up a radar, Legion-grade. We can detect where anyone inside is down to their heartbeats...if they even have those. Can't do that if we blow it"
"Cause the sound won't bounce back?"
"Correct."

United Helgha wrote:

Captain Miller was dozing off in his captains chair when a low beeping noise woke him up, he looked down at his chairs left armrest and pressed the button. A small hologram screen activated and letters appeared in front of the Captain.
——-
UNKNOWN VESSEL APPROACHING.

IMPERIAL IDENTIFICATION NUMBER: UNKNOWN.

SIZE: 600 meters in length

ARK ROUTE: UNKNOWN.

HOSTILE: UNKNOWN.
——-

Captain Miller frowned and tapped away on his chairs arm panel, “Gertrude are your scanners picking this up?” The weapons technician typed on her keyboard for a moment and replied, “Yes sir, no information about the unknown ship. Hey Johnny you got anything?”
The young helmsman checked his work stations monitors and quickly replied, “Nothin of any use, could be pirates but that ships way too big and we’re way off the charted paths.”

Captain Miller frowned and searched the imperial database for any records, finding nothing. He thought for a moment and spoke calmly, “Get Dr. Hienz in here, and keep the ship on the asteroid. If they are hostile we’ll need to keep low.”
The Captain pressed a button on his armrest and reported the info to Dr.Eva, “Doctor our scans are picking up a very large vessel heading right for the far side of the asteroid. No imperial records on its design and no identification ping. I’ll standby for evac but it’s going to take 20 minutes to warm up the engines.”
——————————————————————

Doctor Eva listened to the transmission from Captain Miller and replied, “Roger that, we’re almost done here. Let me know when you’re outside the back doors, something tells me our visitors know where the front door is.”
The young woman started to put her space suit back on as she spoke, “Unknown hostiles detected by the Pioneer, everyone suit up. If things get too hairy I’ll open the entrances and our little air pocket turns into a trap. Sergeant Smith, please prepare your men.”

The grumpy old soldier spat his nub of a cigar out and sternly ordered, “Alright ladies, time to earn our paychecks. Andrew and Gunther guard the front door, expect zero gravity. The rest of us will guard the back entrance, remember we’re here to protect the Doctor- not be hero’s. Move out!”

As the soldiers quickly prepped for a fight, Dr. Eva was hurriedly collecting material to study later. She had a bag of books, odd tools, and a golden pendant with more skulls and cogs etched into it. She stopped her collecting when a subtle vibration shook the facility. Then another as more vibrations caught her attention. She walked towards the rear doors and quickly keyed her helmets comm link, “Miller status update, how far out is that vessel?”
A moment later Captain Millers upper class voice calmly stated, “Right outside, it’s too late.”

Eva’s face went ghostly white as she took cover behind a large metal box, the soldiers around her training their weapons on the front doors.

Imperium Unitum wrote:

Captain Davis looked at the hologram displayed in front of him, the figures could just barely be made out in the green display. The unknown enemy wore armored suits and had weapons of a mysterious kind. Most of them were behind cover, positioned either behind or besides the armored doors, with weapons drawn and aimed in what was likely overlapping arcs of fire.

"This is a tricky" said Trisk, the ship's 'Weapons Master' - "What do you reckon, Captain?"
"We'll use the ship's guns on it" said Davis, looking at Trisk's rather concerning smirk after hearing those words. Davis continued "We'll fire some of the lascannons to batter down the door, afterwards we'll fill the entire chamber with heavy bolter fire." Davis pointed towards the rather small group of soldiers cowering behind boxes right in front of the door "Isn't much we can do for the ones in the other directions but these guys should be blown to bits with as little risk to our men as possible."

"And then?" asked Trisk.
"We'll send in the Kastelan to take their fire."
Trisk and Davis exchanged looks for a bit. Trisk sat right back at her console and began shouting commands to the different turreted and casemated guns of the ship.

"Fire only on my mark" said Davis, looking at the hologram updating with the shuffling of the enemy grunts. Trisk paused and nodded, continuing to update every battery with the right amount of available turret rotation to face the hallway and the metal door. A few of them were visible from the command bridge, but most simply reported when they were positioned and ready to fire.

————————————————————————————————————————————

Johan watched as the tech-adept installed a small device on the door. It took a while for it to boot up. Johan looked down as this weapon one more time, firmly grasping the metallic magazine holding the esoteric munitions required for its poorly understood mechanisms. The gun glowed a bright red, then, signaling the user and everyone familiar with it that the weapon was ready for operation.

"Johan, move back" Davis' voice came in, with minor disturbance. "We know where they are. We can blow it now." Johan turned his dial again in order to respond as he moved back
"Roger that, Captain."

————————————————————————————————————————————

The sudden flash and the blinding storm of bolts flying over Johan's head caused him to lose focus and stagger back. In the seconds he recollected himself the fire briefly stopped, before the a trail of red was fired from the ship and the floor underneath him shook violently. Heavy bolters fired until their barrels glowed a red almost as bright as the lascannon firing once every few seconds. When the fire finally stopped Johan stood frozen in place. After what felt like hours Davis' voice finally cut through. "H-squad and J-squad. Storm it!"

As he moved forward he saw each and every member of the Hydra Squadron disappear into the dust of the room the ship had so indiscriminately fired into. Just as he put a boot in the room and the dust floating around cleared away from his vision, he was sent crashing down. Something had hit his chest. He felt instinctively felt around where it had. Nothing. His plate was as flat as it had been at the start of the mission. The relief that came over him went by fast, however, as the very next moment he heard the unmistakable voice of Baldwin, the 'Hydra.' With two words, his heart sank... "ENEMY CONTACT"

United Helgha wrote:

Sergeant Smith racked the charging handle of his anti material rifle and looked through the low magnification scope mounted on the bulky weapons top. Whoever or whatever was on the other side of those metal doors would have a bad day very soon. He braced himself against the large metal box he was standing behind and shouted his last order, “Prep grenades! If those bastards start to push us back I want the killzone to go ballistic!”

Dr. Eva kept typing at the keypad next to the rear exit doors hidden by large metal crates and wished she should wipe the sweat from her brow beneath her helmets metal faceplate. The decoding tablet in her left hand flashed letters and numbers across its screen as it struggled to decode the unknown symbols on the keypad. “Come on you piece of junk, do your job!”, she whispered as it finally decoded the first few symbols of the code. The doctor shouted behind her, “Halfway there everyone!”

Sergeant Smith tightened his finger on his rifles trigger and cursed his luck, he knew it wasn’t fast enough. He heard a muffled pop and an instant later the metal doors in front of him down the hallway shook as they quickly turned molten orange and exploded inwards. His two men in front of the doors instantly died as the hot metal shards ripped into their bodies, their combat suits useless against the shrapnel.
The rest of his men in the hall stood their ground and waited for his order to fire. Sergeant Smith waited for what seemed like an eternity before he sighted a formless figure emerging from the smoke. He aimed for center mass and slowly pulled the trigger, the bulky rifle bucking against him as an Armor Piercing round streaked down range.
——————————————————————

Dr. Eva heard an explosion as suddenly the air in the main chamber was sucked out and her feet left the metal floor. She cursed herself for forgetting to activate her magnetic boot soles and pressed the button on her wrist plate to activate them. She peaked around the metal crates behind her and gasped at what she saw.
Debris flew everywhere in the zero gravity as thunderous gunfire flew in every direction. She saw her guard detail peaking out from behind crates and wall hugging pillars as a few bodies drifted around them, the Doctor now very grateful she hadn’t known their names. Her heart was thundering in her chest and she could feel the panic creeping into her mind as a man tackled her to the ground, a loud pop and sizzle marking a round flying just inches overhead as the pair hit the ground.

Sergeant Smith looked up at the scorch mark left on the wall above him and chuckled, “Whoever they are, they’re packing some serious firepower!” He helped Doctor Eva to her feet and grabbed his rifle from the floor before peeking from behind the crates. “You’re lucky I’m here to protect you Doctor, otherwise you’d be a puddle of biomass right now. How’s that exit strategy going?”, the tan man calmly asked as he loaded another magazine into his rifle.
Doctor Eva blinked slowly before shockingly replying, “It’s finished, I was going to tell you when you saved me… I almost died just now.”

Sergeant Smith didn’t reply, instead he nodded his head and barked out orders, “You heard the Doctor, it’s time to beat it! Give ‘em your grenades and retreat!” The Sergeant lobbed a smoke grenade into the hallway and followed it with a shrapnel grenade. One instant the hall was filled with concussive blasts and the next he was leading his men and the Doctor across bare asteroid terrain, his middle aged body aching from all the action it had seen throughout the decades. Smith ran straight to a shallow crater only half a mile away, the crater their ship was hidden in. He panted out a question as he ran, “Miller you better have that ship up and running or so help me Helghan I’ll strangle you myself!”
——————————————————————

Captain Miller was busy making sure his ship was ready to depart when he heard the static riddled voice of Sergeant Smith belch over the comms link in his ear. Miller double checked that the ships six medium auto cannons and two missile pods were armed. He quickly replied to the Sergeant as he strapped into his command chair, “She’s armed and ready to depart Smith, lowering the port side ramp now!”
Gertrude snapped her head towards Miller and reported, “Captain, hostile units exiting the complex! Permission to fire?”
The Captain nodded once as the stubby ship slightly lifted off the grey barren ground and its frontal auto turret snapped to port side. It took a moment to lock onto its targets and belched out a stream of super heated plasma infused led projectiles the size of a man’s forearm.
Miller smirked as he heard curses over the comms piece in his ear, he didn’t have time to warn his comrades downrange.
——————————————————————

Dr. Eva and the soldiers around her hit the ground hard as they saw the bright flash of cannon fire coming from their front, in that same instant several super heated shells screamed just feet above their heads- quickly followed by a thunderous shockwave that blew grey dust up around them. She was dragged to her feet by a soldier and told to run, so she ran. She ran as fast as her stiff suit would allow and didn’t look back, she was way out of her depth.
—————————-

Sergeant Smith sharply ordered the Doctor to run and pushed her forward. He faced the approaching enemy and laid on his stomach, bringing his eye to his rifles scope. He didn’t look up as he sternly ordered, “You men follow her and make sure she makes it out. Whatever we saw today is of the upmost importance, her life’s work was finally justified today.”
His few remaining men disagreed and refused to leave him behind. Smith let out a deep chuckle and quickly replied, “We’ve been through a lot and this WAS by far the cushiest assignment we took. A lot of good men died in there today and that’s on me, but none of that means you should die with me. Get out of here, that’s an order.”

His five remaining men hesitated before bolting for the ship, a new energy spurring them on. He noticed two remained behind and shook his head, “You boys are either brave or the dumbest soldiers I’ve ever seen. Either way, get down and get ready- here they come!”
Several hulking masses shot through the dust cloud left behind by the cannon fire at inhuman speeds, several firing weapons and some even brandishing massive swords. Smith set his sights on the leading hostile and pulled the trigger, a small dust cloud wafting up around his rifles barrel. The hulk of a man stumbled as the round smashed into his armored leg, going head over heels as his comrades continued the charge. Smiths racked his rifles bolt and fired at his next target as his remaining soldiers opened fire with their battle rifles. He watched as his second round found its mark on the monsters head and cursed as it bounced off. Smith switched targets once again and fired in increasing speeds as the mob closed the half mile distance in a matter of minutes.

He shot to his feet and waved his men on, “Retreat now, no buts!” The Sergeant fired his bulky rifle the best he could as he walked backwards. A bright flash caught his rifles scope and it exploded in his face as he flew backwards, little bits of metal implanting themselves into his face.

It took him a moment but Smith got up to his feet and dizzyingly looked around. To his front was a mob of armored titans rushing towards him, to his back one of his men ran back to help him. He tried to tell the soldier to forget him but before the words could leave his busted lips Smith watched as Private Walters suddenly jerked in place as multiple small blasts ripped his chest cavity open. Smith blankly watched as the young soldiers limp body drifted in place where it had been hit, all its momentum lost.

The greying solder slowly unsheathed his standard issue combat knife from his combat belt and let out a primal roar. Through blood shot eyes and a blood covered face Smith turned around to face the mob now on top of him. He stayed his ground as the group bolted towards him and went into his battle position, trained into him all those years ago in the academy. As the first titan sped towards him with a pistol aiming at his head Sergeant Smith ducked left and let the beast blast past him. He rolled left and came up right behind a enemy combatant, the titan clearly unaware of what just happened. Smith stabbed his knife between two pieces of armor and pried them apart, quickly shoving his last grenade into the opening. As the enemy swatted Smith away like a fly he smiled through his broken teeth as he saw the beasts left arm explode at the elbow, so they do bleed.
——————————————————————

Sergeant Smith blacked out before he hit the ground, falling into a blissful dream. His dream was rudely interrupted when he was jerked up by his head. He cracked open his one good swollen eye and sighed. His heads up display was going haywire, his visor cracked into several pieces. His eyes focused on the devil like faceplate of the soldier holding him up by his head.

:SUIT COMPROMISED:

:ERROR:
:ERROR:

:ATMOSPHERE UNSTABLE:

:IMMEDIATE MEDICAL ATTENTION:

:BLOOD LEVEL LOW:

:HELMET DAMAGED:

:VISOR AT 12% POWER:

:E7$0r:

:SeEk@ $edicAl ATT!i0n&:

Smith laughed as the monster holding him barked out some kind of ugly sounding sound, probably an order if he had to guess. The titans helmet slightly changed as Smith noticed it’s eyes change from red to clear, revealing two piecing grey eyes. It barked out another order, this time Smith swearing he heard some Latin mixed in.

The enemy soldiers eyes went back to red and it tightened its massive hand around Smiths helmet. Smith just hung there as he felt the air leaking from his suit and the blood loss making him lightheaded, he knew he was dying. This sure wasn’t how he thought he’d go out though, always hoping he’d die peacefully at some military retirement home back on Helgha. As the life seeped from his body, Smith felt one last urge of anger as he felt himself dying.
He opened his bloody mouth and coughed out one last sentence, “For. Helgha.”
The dying soldier suddenly swept his arm up and stabbed his blood covered blade into the exposed neck of the titan holding him up. It flinched slightly and simply let go of the dead soldiers head, it’s small body slowly drifting to the ground. The enemy plucked the knife from its neck and continued the assault forward.
——————————————————————

Captain Miller, his small crew, Dr. Eva and her security detail, and Dr. Heinz all stood in shocked silence as they watched the hologram screen before them. They had made it to the ship safely and were already firing all boosters to make a hasty getaway while the screen before them showed the last moments of Sergeant Earnest Smiths life.
Miller smashed a button on his chair arm and shouted out his orders, “Fire all missiles at those things, fire them all!”
The ships two missile turrets turned in unison to aim down at the enemy group and fired six anti ship missiles at the exact moment the enemies massive juggernaut of a vessel loomed overhead. Captain Millers face went ghost white as he looked at the massive vessel ahead of them and lost all hope in living to see another day .

He braced for what he knew would be a painful death and at that moment an incoming signal beeped his command decks hologram screen. He looked around confused at the confused faces around him and opened the call with a press of a button.

Imperium Unitum wrote:

Johan had no chance to even get up after hearing the Hydra. He pointed the gun in the direction of a silhouette trying to escape and fired it. The Volkite cut through the dust and the man. Even in the vacuum of space, the heat ray burned a bright red. As it found its target Johan was reminded of the effect of the sickly weapon. The entire upper half of a humanoid shape just...gone. Reduced to burning ashes and scorched metal. It was then that flashes took his vision again. Instinctively he put his arm out in front of him. From the inside of his armor he heard the sound of metal bouncing off.

His torso was most affected. There the drum-beat of metal hitting him was deafening. A sharp pain came from the arm he put in front of his face, right then. 'It got through' he thought to himself. Whatever it was, it had gotten through. The pain was nigh unbearable and the blaring alarm of his suit made it all the worse. The pressure the armor exerted on his arm was immense, the last ditch effort of Void-pattern Carapace armor to seal itself and protect its user from penetrating attacks, the least that the Guard could afford.

Writhing in pain, with more flashes and pieces of metal flying at him, he felt a great figure leap onto him. Then the deafening noise stopped. The flashes seemingly covered. The moment he felt brave enough to open his eyes again he saw the figure of an armored giant. With his good arm he moved to rotate the dial on his helmet 'Took your sweet time, didn't you?' he shouted, towards the armored figure. It took what felt like forever for the armored behemoth to finally answer. In the meanwhile other Marines ran past them, guns blazing or close combat weapons drawn. To them the explosions were nothing. The metallic showers bounced off of their armor like rain on a hard surface.

"We got here as fast as we could" answered the Marine. The Marine turned to face towards the doorway, where an entire squadron had already gone through to give chase to the enemy. The Marine barked another order in the general communications "Turn the gunship around and kill those bastards! Captain Davis, turn your monitor away, too, we might need laser fire on their vessel."

Johan didn't answer the Marine. He merely tried to get back to his feet. His gun was still attached to him by a strap, thankfully. Although it took had seemingly been hit. Not entirely out of operation but something that the local engineers would curse him for having to repair. When the Marine finally strode forward he took in the sight around him. He almost vomited in his armor. It seemed that he'd been lucky again. Others had been so close to the enemy their armor did not protect them. Gaping holes where blood poured out and froze in the darkness of the void. Servo muscles twitching and shivering on the ground as their armor failed to recognize their deaths and attempted its best to save them.

A helping hand was extended to him. Without hesitation he took it, despite the pain in his arm getting worse and worse from servo muscles near-constant contraction. Armored men flooded the room. Not Marines, as they had their own orders, to take revenge on the enemy for the damage inflicted on Johan's brethren. Regular guardsmen like him, kneeling down to collect whoever was still alive and attempt to save whoever still had a hope of salvation. He staggered to his feet, slumping his arm over that of his comrade in arms, who did not even attempt to recognize the number or designation of. The only thought on Johan's mind being the escape from the sight of his dead colleagues.

————————————————————————————————————————————

As Arthagan marched forward he paid attention to the radio chatter in his ears and looked carefully not to trample the corpses of the fallen. The sight of the gunfight outside was barely seen as shadows being cast into the chamber he was still in. The only other Marine in sight knelt down. Arthagan made his way to the kneeling Marine. He looked through the armored visor down at what the curious bystander was looking at. The sight he took in was what he expected. A fallen enemy. There was a hole in his chest. One no doubt punched through by one of the Guard's lasguns, as any other Imperial weapon would've blown the corpse to bits or reduced it to nothing more than ashes and a thin paste coating the inside of the old facility.

'What are you looking at, 56?' Arthagan finally asked. Only then did it click to him. The frozen blood and the one charred organ visible on the corpse, floating around barely attached by a few sinews. 'Don't tell me...' Arthagan continued. The Marine did not respond. He simply let go of his weapon, letting it dangle freely in the void, barely dragged down by the miniscule gravity present on the asteroid.

One hand gripped at the neck, the other forced the helmet off of enemy. And to their horror there it was. A human face, slowly boiling and freezing at the same time, now exposed to the void. Arthagan froze, looking back at the Marine who let go of the man's helmet, slowly turning to face his commanding officer.

Arthagan shouted into the general communications with a strange panic in his voice 'Cease fire, at once! The enemy is human. I REPEAT. CEASE FIRE. TAKE COVER AND DO NOT CONTINUE ENGAGING.' as he finished the voice of Captain Davis came in 'The enemy is what now?!' and before he could answer several repeating audible explosions were heard. The ground under them rattled and flashes could be seen from outside the facility. It took a moment to register to Arthagan. But audible only to him he muttered 'They're here...'

————————————————————————————————————————————

'Entering realspace in 3.....2....1' said the Magos. The entire ship rattled violently. The dancing storms around them disappeared and were replaced by the lights of the star-spattered heavens once more. The only grim reminders of the ethereal burst forth as well. Silhouettes of beautifully greeble star-faring vessels. Ten in total. All that the system could spare for "first contact." Sensors burst into life to take in their surroundings, flashing holograms of the exact locations of every object surrounding the ship for thousands of kilometers in every direction. It was almost amusing to Marshall Wilhelm when the enemy turned out to be under them.

'Is this it?' Wilhelm asked, confused. 'When Alexander's panicked message came through I thought we'd find no more than a burning defense monitor as revenge from the old enemy. But this?' As his confusion slowly shifted into anger in his voice Captain Davis' interrupted with a hasty message.

'Marshall Wilhelm' he exclaimed '-please do not fire your guns.' the Marshall raised an eyebrow at this. Even now Imperial Marines were chasing after small enemies, while the small ship of the enemy cut the Navy's brave men to bits where they were foolish enough to step out of cover. 'The enemy is human.' And the Marshall's anger turned once more to confusion. He furled his brows and turned again to the screen, to the battle that seemed to freeze as Marines were ordered to withdraw.

The enemy no doubt panicked at the intermission of the massive ships now above them and seemingly froze in place. The very ship the Marshall was one was sufficient to scare away any Xeno fleet or pirate Sloop. A Vengeance-class Grand Cruiser, equal in size to the very Asteroid that Davis' men and the enemy had fought over so violently up until now. Its guns were the size of the enemy warship. Its trophies and battle-scars telling stories of times before the Imperium even existed. The fact it even had escorts would only add to the terror.

'Very well...' the Marshall added. Time seemed to freeze for anyone still on the scarred battlefield under them. Any Marines that hadn't been torn to bits by the ships fire now under the cover of craters or the corpses of their fallen. The tension was immense. Every man sweat under their armor as they wait for something, anything...to happen. The only thing that came was the Marines' own gunship, which with a squadron that emerged from the Marshall's ship now surrounded the enemy vessel, still frozen in place with the terror of the apocalyptic devourer looming over them.

The Marshall got up from his throne. He signaled his Commissar to come next to him. The Marshall began adjusting his uniform as he spoke.
'If they do not belong to anyone we know. What is to be done, Commissar?' the Commissar watched as the Marshall felt around for every button on his uniform, making sure no line was out of place and that all symbols of authority were flamboyantly shown.
With a grunt he responded 'We can try to contact them. But I doubt its success.' He turned his head to the communications officer', a young lass with a metallic cord extending from the back of her neck into a cogitator in front of her.
'Open a communications channel. Use anything available. I don't care what frequency gets to them. Show them we are human, too.' The Marshall dusted himself one more time before sitting back on his throne. He looked at the golden Imperial Aquilla on top of him and then at the overprotective Marines standing as firm as statues, weapons in hand, on either side. The Commissar almost returned to his seating but the Marshall stopped him by tugging at his shoulder. 'Stay here.' he ordered, calmly.

The young woman enthusiastically turned to speak to the Marshall 'We got a signal! They might answer soon!" and with that the Marshall simply nodded. The Commissar stood next to the Marshall, right in front of one of the armored behemoths on the sides of the throne.

'Marshall...with all due respect-' The Commissar interjected 'We might sit here for hours speaking every language in our records. We could spend the entire computing power of the Machine Intelligence trying to decode what they are saying. What are the chances of this working, if any?'

Wilhelm looked at the Commissar, puzzled. 'Leave it to luck.' he answered 'We'll simply speak the most common tongue of the former hegemony. If they understand even a word of English they will be willing to cooperate.' the Marshall paused 'The other option is unthinkable, from my position' said Wilhelm, as he pointed around at the bridge of the massive Warship. The Commissar merely nodded back to his commanding officer, taking his eyes away and towards the hologram that would be displayed should they answer.

The Commissar called out 'Weapons officer!' as a man sharply turned from his Cogitator to the two men of authority. 'Have a Macrolaser battery trained on them. The gunships might not work.' the man nodded and began typing away. One last reassurance. When the communications channel was finally opened they took in exactly what Davis had said. The faces of living, breathing human beings. Both sides seemed startled, too stunned to speak knowing that they had fought against and killed fellow men. All except the Marshall.

He looked directly into the face of a woman, hoping that the broadcast on the enemy vessel was as clear as it was on the Imperial vessel. 'I'll say this once, loud and clear to you. Should you understand me you know what to do. Lay down your arms and allow yourself to come to us as guests. Your transgressions here will be forgiven only if you allow yourselves and your vessel to be salvaged by us. In the name of the Emperor, the Imperium and for the sake of your lives..." and with that, everyone waited on their response. The communications' officer hoped that they'd understand, lest the Warships' Machine Spirit would have to be the one doing the talking.

United Helgha wrote:

The command deck went silent as they listened to the man’s strange accent, everyone still expecting a fiery death to consume them at any moment. Dr. Eva noticed the rough faced man in the hologram was talking directly to her and struggled out a reply, “H-hello! I um… I am Doctor Johana Eva, currently working under the Imperial Helghan Navy. Let me be very clear, we understand our position and do not wish to fight.”

Dr. Eva looked at Captain Miller and motioned towards him as she continued, “This is the captain of this vessel, his say is final. I’m sure he agrees that we should take this invitation to board your ship.”
Captain Miller stood up as he caught the doctors glance, fully aware of what she meant.
“Greetings, I am Captain Edward Von Miller the third. It would be our honor to meet face to face, just lead my ship into your docking bay.” Miller smoothly replied, his upper class accent coming out thick and in contrast to his dirty overalls.

The group of nervous Helghans held their collective breath as they awaited a reply. The shapely dressed man on the Hologram screen nodded courtly as he spoke, “You will be guided to a docking bay. Do not attempt an escape.”
The screen fizzled off as the Pioneers command deck shuddered, it’s boosters pushing it upward towards the massive vessel above them. Captain Miller looked to his helmsmen and calmly ordered, “Slow movements Johnny, we’re in the palm of their hand now.”
Captain Miller sighed deeply and slumped into his chair, “The rest of you need to head for the cargo bay, I suggest leaving your weapons in your quarters.”

Dr. Eva and Dr. Heinz stayed behind and waited for the group to fully leave before talking. Dr. Eva leaned on a window seal as she talked, “I’m sorry about putting you on the spot Miller, I was lost for words for once.” The Captain waved her off and replied, “You did the right thing, I tried to show authority but I’m afraid that was never my strong suite. Dr. Heinz, your thoughts?”
The elderly doctor slicked back his remaining white hair and stated simply, “I never thought… this day would come. I admit I always believed in life beyond the stars- but never that they’d speak our language and look human.” He leaned next to Dr. Eva and calmly said, “I estimated I’d be long dead before first contact honestly, and now I’m here… about to enter an alien ship of alien design with God only knows how many alien weapons aiming at us. Very interesting indeed.”

As the ship under their feet shuddered Captain Miller stood and briskly walked out of the command deck. He stopped at the doorway and calmly said, “Well, time to meet some aliens I suppose.”

Imperium Unitum wrote:

Dr. Eva, Dr. Heinz and Captain Miller all sat on their knees, frozen from either fear of shock at the sight in front of them. Marshall Wilhelm sat several steps above them, on the iron throne of the gigantic warship, with the authoritative-looking commissar standing defensively to his right. All around them, steel-clad giants gripped strange weapons and stared with seemingly endless vigilence. The Helghan crew had been taken prisoner the moment they stepped off their ship. The few remaining soldiers detained by Marines and laying in prison cells dozens of decks below them, while the rest of the civilian crew was taken in by naval armsmen, with less brutality.

The Marshall leaned forward and looked straight towards Doctor Eva. "Is what you are saying true? You are Helghan? Whatever that is, it is not present in our maps or our history. And seem to have no recollection of ours or the rest of mankind, either..."

The Marshall looked towards the Commissar, who began speaking without the Marshall asking what he thought he'd ask. "We had an agent check them beforehand. No signs of warp taint on any of them or their equipment." the Commissar took a short pause "If their story is to be believed we are dealing with a whole new remnant of humanity here."

"One so blissfully unaware of the Fall or our victories a century ago? I find that hard to believe, Commissar."

"Only one way we can find out." The Commissar says as he descends the stairs, down towards the ship's Magos. Leaning down to look at his screen the Commissar and Magos have a short exchange inaudible to the others in the room. The Marshall leans back into the throne.

"If I had the right of trade I would take my fleet and go to your world myself. But until then the only way for all of you not to be executed is to prove your origins. Otherwise you are just pirates, looters or worse, to me..."

Dr. Eva looked first at her crew, then towards the Marshall. In her own way she felt their betrayed looks. She had told the Marshall of their origins, their Heglhan identity and as many technical details without betraying the Helghan Empire. But some part of her felt like she had slipped, like her tongue had been carried away by scientific enthusiasm and she'd let information slip to the most dangerous people she'd ever met. She was sure Sargeant Smith would've given them less, or nothing at all. No doubt the soldiers under interrogation held silent as if they did not even speak the same language with their captors. In return these monsters had given her nothing. Bits of information and culturally recognizable symbols outside, she knew not of what they were or where they came from.

As the Commissar passed her and climbed his way on the stairs, carrying dataslate with basic information about their vessel, an idea came to her. "Let us contact our people." The Marshall and Commissar exchanged puzzled looks. To contact their own was a risk. If Helgha were militarily capable nothing would disuade them from retaliation in response to the Imperium's aggression. Curiosity took the better of the Marshall, with enough authority to justify his actions before the Council of Regency and the possibility of glory gained from his actions, he got up from his throne.

"Very well. Get these people on their feet. See if our communications' equipment is compatible with ours. We might be on our own to the most important discovery of the last decade!"

United Helgha wrote:

Dr. Eva and Captain Miller sat across from one another in their cold cell, the doctor avoiding eye contact. Miller sighed and asked, “You told them everything, even how to find Helgha?” Eva just nodded in reply as she looked up into his eyes. She took a deep breath and said, “I’m not sure if it was fear or scientific excitement, but I couldn’t help myself. I figured they’d find out one way or another, so why hold back? Clearly a civilization as advanced as they’res can connect the dots?” Miller nodded but disagreed, “Look doc I’m not saying you did wrong, but you possibly just put billions of lives at risk. I’ll talk to the soldiers and my crew, but I can’t promise they’ll be as understanding as me.” Eva sniffed and quietly thanked the captain.
—————————-
Miller jerked awake from his sleep and sat forward as Eva was escorted into their shared cell, “Well, don’t make me wait?” Eva rubbed her temples and sat down heavily, “Their very existence baffles the mind. In some aspects they’re generations ahead of us in technology, but in others they seem almost barbaric. They’re able to link directly to their “computers” through crude looking cables attached directly into the brain, but still force the human hosts brain to do most of the data transfer.” She leaned back in her chair and continued, “Their weapons are a mix of pure energy, yet also solid projectile firing. At least that’s what I could see, I’m sorry that I’m not a military minded individual. They kept mentioning something called the Warp and how we aren’t tainted by it, whatever that means.”

Millers face creased as he thought, motioning for the doctor to continue. She continued quietly, “I am willing to bet this Warp is some sort of viral sickness they fear, almost religiously I’d say. Perhaps it was their version of the black plague? Oh right, sorry- back on topic. I managed to explain how their communications equipment could in fact be used to contact Helgha, well a certain person of course. With great patience one of their “scribes” as they called him was able to connect me to a DSD outpost.” Eva leaned forward and whispered to Miller, “I was able to arrange for the transport of a high ranking general out here and guess what? They are sending Field Marshall Erich von Manstein!”

Miller sat back in his metal chair, dumbfounded. He whispered out, “This just got very heavy, very quickly.” Eva quirked an eyebrow and opened her mouth to speak when Miller interrupted, “Either the General comes and saves our skins, or he comes with an entire battle fleet. You better hope it’s the first, because Manstein isn’t known for playing nice.” Eva asked, “I’ve read about him in the past, he seems like your typical hard nosed commander?” Miller stood up and paced the small cell as he replied, “Oh no no, that man is shrewd and unflinching. Many call him a war hero or even a humanitarian, I call him the reason I got out of the Army the second I could.” Miller sat down and finished, “That man sees what we don’t, the bigger picture. He knows what will happen long before it unfolds, some say he can read minds! All I’m saying is, you better hope he comes in peace- or we’re dead already.”

Imperium Unitum wrote:

Marshall Wilhelm stared at the clock ticking above, every second felt like an hour, the only feeling of reality being brought on by the arms tugging at his uniform to affix the damned thing in place. His assistant took a step back to admire her own work. A pristine white uniform, filled to the brim on the chest with medals and honors, ankle high leather boots, officer's trousers in the same black as the boots, though admittedly a little less in the eye.

A sword was firmly sheathed at his hip. Its hilt presented a skull where for a pommel. The officer posed almost as if the woman in front of him was there to paint or photograph him. She could not help but chuckle a bit, but raised her thumb to signify that all preparations were complete. The final setpiece in the Marshall's uniform was his officer's cap, which showcased the Imperial Aquilla in gold right at its front. With that Wilhelm finally strode out from his quarters towards the main bridge, two armored armsmen trailing behind him.

It been days since the capture of the 'Helghan' crew. As the Commissariat reported they had been succesful in their communication with their home. The Helghan crew had convinced an officer of similar rank to Wilhelm and his flotilla to come save them. From how uneasy they looked, they might have even expected their Marshall to challenge the Imperials, or so the Commissariat reports.. As a precautionary measure several more vessels were requested for reinforcement. A squadron of Destroyers, another of Frigates and whatever ironclad pre-Imperial warships the Marshall deemed necessary.

The small fleet had moved away from the asteroid that the Imperial forces had fought the Helghans over, now orbiting around the dead husk of a world that an Imperial observation post was already orbiting around. No doubt the men inside, having suffered deadly casualties at the hands of the Helghans, felt both enraged at their capture and relatively lax treatment, and protected due to the Imperial fleet now blanketing their small station. A Commissar had allowed the frustrated men to interact with their foes without the consent of the Marshall. The gross oversight led to the death of one of the enemy combatants. Normally this would've been a minor offense but the importance of the crew according to the testimonies of its Captain and accompanying doctors led the Marshall to believe that they were more important alive than dead. Commissar Hudson and the soldier who murdered the Helghan were both inprisoned, awaiting transport to be court martialed in proper Imperial space.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Marshall gripped the arms of the throne he sat upon when the image of the arriving warp signals. This must have been in. From the bridge they were visible as lights in the sky, easily mistakeable for comets or other traveling celestial bodies without the proper detection equipment. The entire bridge braced for orders as the Marshall finally opened a direct communications' channel to all Imperial vessels in the system.

"All warhips heed my call. We are about to encounter an unknown force. We have expected them for days. We do not yet know if they are friend or foe. The main fleet is to turn to their broadsides. Alexei's and Vasily's squadrons maintain positions and await further orders."

The Commissar next to the Marshall opened his own communications channel. "Tell Captain Arthagan to hold back any and all starfighters. They won't perceive our weapons as a threat but if they see swarms of starships they will see it as a provocation."

While the Commissar spoke Marshall Wilhelm turned to one of the Armsmen near him.

"Bring me Captain Miller. Alone."

Though the ancient warship was outfited with intertia dampeners, the entire bridge felt the ever so slighty movement of the vessel as it turned its broadside. Cannons the size of city blocks turned to face the calculated entrance point of the Helghan fleet.

The ship finally sat firmly in position, forcing the Marshall and anyone non essential to look to their left towards the creeping lights. By virtue of light speed they'd be there minutes before detection. But minutes mattered little where the fleet had awaited days. No, years, for anything in the occupational zone.

Now a small flotilla sat with weapons warmed and ready. A squadron of destroyers floated around tens of thousands of kilometers away with engines burning hot and torpedoes in their tubes. All while pre-Imperial Ironclads, hammerhead-shaped warships that had seen combat since the third millenium, prepared to descend on the enemy in a thunderous charge, with nuclear charges and lasers primed for knifefighting.

The lights in the sky finally materialized. It was not like staring into the horror of a warp drive breaking through. No flashing lights, cosmic faces staring back at you and the impossibility of sound in the void. Only a flash of light and then a physical objects. Thin veil was certainly a marvel. And it made Marshall Wilhelm smile to see the Helghan fleet, or at least what he assumed to be the Helghan fleet, safe and sound.

"Ten ships in total. One about half as large as our Typhon. The rest are miniscule. Not fighter lengths but approaching our Destroyers, Marshall" said the Commissar, with a stout expression." The Marshall looked at the tiny points on his starmap, now planetary distances away but approaching fast.

The Auspex began reading something else just then. Like a net all around the central behemoth of a warship. "We think those are fighters, sir. They don't seem to be going away, however." And indeed the Helghan fighters swarmed around their Carrier like a swarm of bees protecting their hive.

"Open communication lines the moment Captain Miller arrives here. I don't want a firefight today."

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

"Sir - Marshall. My crew and I have been waiting for you. I'm glad to see you and happy to inform you that our crew is... safe." Miller said, biting the inside of his cheeks trying to blurt out the word 'safe''. But shortly after looking at the hologram projection of the Helghan bridge the Captain saw that the Marshall was not impressed to see Miller. Far from it, in fact. His face contorted into anger. Not at the Imperials, which he himself clearly saw on his own hologram, but at Miller himself.

"You should quit your yapping and let me speak to the 'Imperial' commanding officer, Captain."

"Suit yourself then... spares me from it" Miller whispered, as Imperial Marshall Wilhelm walked towards the projector to be seen more clearly.

"Greetings, Field Marshall Erich. I am Marshall Wilhelm Sturm of the His Majesty's Imperial Navy. Our introduction here might be a little rude or informal. But I can assure you the intrusion of your crew into our space was as unexpected as the news of our existence might be to you."

There were a few seconds of delay between Wilhelm's little greeting and the Helghan response. Any unessential chittering in the room was cut silent. Every voice was listening in or peaking away from their screens to catch a glipmse of the historic moment.

"You are strange to me, yes. I'll spare you the greetings. And I'll spare you the chitchat. We are here to negotiate the immediate return of our crew."

Captain Miller broke into a cold sweat. 'Oh God no' he thought to himself.

Marshall Wilhelm smiled "That part of our conversation comes later, Manstein. We waited for you for days. The best you can do for us is not to refuese our hospitality." Wilhelm paused for a moment to take in whate he could understand of Erich von Manstein's expression. Guessing his thoughts he started again "This is not a trap, Marshall. It's a formality. This is great ocassion for us. We have encountered a new bastion of humanity in the stars. I welcome you aboard my ship, among your people and mine. And when that is done. Then, Marshall, I shall return your people and everything that belongs to you just as we found them."

The Commissar broke into a cold sweat. Captain Miller felt lightheaded. This was bold even for a high ranking officer in the Imperium. That single line carried in it the power to start a catastrophic battle between the two fleets. A battle the Imperial Navy would no doubt win but one that would destroy any opportunity for the two civilizations to ever be amicable.

The Helghan officer sighed. "You have your wish granted, Wilhelm. But know this decision doesn't come easily. Just as you waited for us we had to crawl our way to you. And just like you are wasting your time we are wasting ours.

United Helgha wrote:Marshall Manstein watched the holographic display dissipate in front of him after his first talks with the man called Wilhelm. He stood from his captains chair and sternly ordered , “I want all weapons ready to fire at a moments notice. If the unknown ships so much as fire a warning shot, I want to inflict as much damage as possible in the first moments of battle. Charge and load the railgun, fire upon the command ship- understood officers?” One of the command deck officers asked, “What about you sir, you’ll be on the targeted vessel?” Manstein grabbed his ornate walking cane and walked towards the elevators. Before he left he looked over his shoulder and replied simply, “I know, I didn’t stutter.”

Fifteen minutes later and a flight through the void of space, Manstein and his four marines watched quietly as their transport vessel gently touched down within the alien ships docking bay. “Remember, this is a peaceful encounter. Only fire if fired upon, and smile men! For we are the first Helghans to set foot aboard an alien vessel.” Manstein attempted to joke as their transports ramp slowly lowered to the floor with a telling clink of metal on metal. The marines followed close behind as Manstein stood straight and walked down the metal ramp, his leather boots clicking on its surface. The Marshall didn’t portray any emotion as his eyes adjusted to the harsh lights far above head in the large hanger.

He saw that the open space was alive with activity, alien ships being prepared left and right by what he could clearly see were support personnel. He had wondered why no alien star fighters had been detected, it seemed he had over prepared by deploying his own fighter craft. Overhead he saw the lights being blotted out momentarily as roof mounted rails carried cars of which contents he could only assume were supplies. Finally his eyes fell upon the procession of sorts that greeted his small craft, soldiers in surprisingly simplistic body armor lined either side of a path- each line of men being eight long with rifles smartly at their sides.

A man of modest height and build stood at their head, an officer Manstein presumed. With his sharp uniform and it’s heavy use of cold trim, Manstein could see these people enjoyed pointless shows of status. The Marshall held out his white gloved hand in greeting and said, “Field Marshall Erick Von Manstein of the Imperial Helghan Army, am I to presume you’re my escort?” The young officer nodded his head but didn’t take Manstiens hand as he replied, “Midshipman Sabetz, I am to escort you and your men to the bridge. Once there you will meet Marshall Wilhelm in person. Please follow me, the lifts are this way sir.”
——————————————————————

A short walk in utter silence and a few bulkheads later, the two men and their respective guards silently climbed deck by deck to the command bridge. Manstien had hid his true emotions but kept his eyes wide open the entire time, taking in as much as he could without looking around him. He had noted interesting details, such as how his alien hosts used crude weapons with box like designs- but then he also saw overly ornate pistols on passing officers hips. The most interesting thing for Manstien was just how human they seemed, no odd features or extra arms- just humans. Although he did notice that these aliens had different skin colors that varied from man to man- odd but not shocking.

Manstien looked to his right at the young officer and asked, “Tell me, why do some of your crew have dark skin color? Were they burned in battle, or perhaps have birth defects?” The officer called Sabetz awkwardly replied, “No sir, they were born that way. Do Helghans not have different races on your worlds?” Manstien looked forward in disbelief and simply replied, “Not at all, all Helghans share the same pale skin. It shows us that we are one people under one cause, united even in genetics. Obviously some of us are taller or fatter, but we all share our ashen skin.” Before the young officer could ask another question, the lift dinged as it reached their deck. It’s metal doors smoothly slid open to reveal a bustling command deck with ornate trimmings and smartly dressed crewmen busy at work.

Waiting for their arrival was Marshall Wilhelm, his clean shaven face and piercing dark eyes instantly catching Manstiens attention. He had the eyes of a master tactician, a man of experience who knew what needed to be done in a moments notice. Those were the eyes of a true commander of men, and that made him all the more dangerous in Manstiens book. Manstien stepped out of the lift and waved for his guards to wait, giving Wilhelm a curt salute of sorts. He held out a gloved hand to the ships captain- head held high and eyes locked with Wilhelms. “Greetings, shall we parley?” Manstien calmly asked.
——————————————————————

First mate Karl Dönitz looked through the artificial windows of the Endurance and studied the alien fleet. It seemed to dwarf his own, but his analytical mind already ran the scans- it was only about 50% larger than his in reality. He noted the various sizes of the adjacent fleets ships, even the smallest ships of the line being oddly larger than practical. Dönitz paid close attention to the weapons jutting from the fleet, they had no intel on their abilities or even what kind of weapons they were.

A weapons officer snapped Dönitz out of his thoughts and saluted his commander, “All batteries ready to fire on your command! The rail gun has been charged and prepped, sir.” Dönitz nodded and turned back to the windows, falling back into deep thought about their situation. “New fleet command, have our strike cruisers spread out. I want all possible vectors of small craft attack covered by their AAA. Send a message to high command, update them to our situation and make sure they have a reinforcement fleet in route still.”


Imperium Unitum wrote:A Dangerous Encounter: Bonus Story - The Interrogation of Dr. Johanna Eva | M4 Y500 | Location: Imperial Vengeance-class Grand Cruiser "Typhon"

Reading off the case file of the interrogation done by Commissar Hudson on the armed elements of the unknown ships' crew, Doctor Gerson sighed in dissapointment. One soldier had already been killed during interrogation. And all of it for so little information.

Doctor Gerson had protested it as such but the Commissar insisted that it would somehow be a marvelous idea to allow the soldiers who fought each other at the station to match their testimonies, without stripping the Void Guard of their weapons. Even as he held no sympathy for any who would raise a weapon against the Imperium Doctor Gerson couldn't help but frown down upon the corpse of a man with his head shot off his body by a lasrifle. It was a miracle they even restrained the rogue guardsman in time for him not to execute all remaining soldiers.

The Imperials had extracted only barebones information. All they knew about these people was that they called themselves Helghans, came from Helgha, didn't know of Kholnya, the Federation or the Imperium. And that was it... Nothing more. Sure they could definitely tell a lot from dissecting their ship, but the tech adepts insisted on its preservation and the voluntary collecting of information off of that.

But the interogation of the soldiers had already been ruined. From sorrow or anger, no one spoke afterwards. Even the Commissars didn't press them harder, but instead returned them to captivity in their cells.

Doctor Gerson entered the large plain white room. He looked at the supposedly 'dangerous' prisoner, a frail woman in a spacesuit baring strange markings. Nothing about her seemed dangerous, but one could never know. There was a Marine at the door, armed and armored. And inspectors sat behind a desk, spying the room through video feed and through a one way observation window.

As he strode confidently into the room, hoping that his luck would be better. After all, the doctor carried no arms of his own. And he specifically insisted that the Marine at the door check twice before filling the room with bullet holes. He strode forward and smiled at the woman, hoping that whatever culture she came from saw this as a gesture of friendship rather than aggression.

The inspector behind the video camera recording the room pressed down on the button that would film the entire process of interogation. Pressing another to begin a comm channel, he simply said in a monotinous, deep robotic voice: "-begin log-"

"You did already give us your name. Doctor..." Gerson paused to look at his files one more time "Doctor Johanna Eva. That's correct?"

"Yes. Yes that's it."

"Well in that case this marks the beginning of your interrogation. I'm doctor Udman Gerson of the Imperial Observation Station you might have seen nearby."

Doctor Gerson leaned back into his chair. "Now, if you wouldn't mind, I would like to ask you a series of questions, Dr. Eva. Now the stern looking comrades of mine you met earlier might have shaken you up considerably but I can assure you there is nothing to be afraid of here, with me. I am also a Doctor. I am a man of science, just as you are. We might be in different fields as far as I know but that is not what I came to ask you for today. We are expecting you to be a lot more cooperative than the soldiers we interrogated earlier."

"About the-" Dr Eva raised her voice but Dr. Gerson immediately cut her off.

"You can read the case file yourself once this is over. I promise you that."

The doctor flipped another page in his case files. He was met with an entire page of images and number brandings of different captured weapons and armor, of their ship and its internal systems, and whatever the Imperials could figure out without taking everything apart piece by piece. Flipping the page again, he got to a series of questions. He mulled over them for a few seconds but only felt the need to ask a few of them.

"You are 'Helghast', correct?" Eve simply nodded in approval at this question. Inspectors on the other side of the wall and video surveilance of the room confirmed it.

"Then what can you tell me about this, your identity. You are clearly human. You speak a human language. Yet you all insist on being refered to as Helghan, or in your plural, Helghast. What is a Helghan?"

Doctor Eva looked puzzled for a moment. Not out of any desire to keep something as innocent as their identity a secret, but in the way that she did not know how to answer the man's question.

"I'm no sociologist, professor. But if my memory is correct it is as much of an identiy to us as 'human' is to you. The Helghast are... the people drawn from the world of Helgha. I do know for a fact we are genetically divergent from something... you are and I are very alike but still very different" Eva said, gesturing at her features and those of the man in front of her "the pale skin is a feature all of us share as far as I know. You're...brownish? I can't even tell honestly..."

Eva continued "The others around you definitely resemble us somewhat but everything about you is different"

"That would be enough, doctor. We have enough time to talk about how different we are when we have established where exactly you come from." The interrogator and the inspectors from all their different stations scribbled down some notes. Minimalistic notes, as a recording would already be preserved to the Marshall so the need for a stenograph was long gone. "Speaking of that. What is this Helgha you speak of?"

This was the longest period of time where Johanna Eva stayed quiet. On one hand, she still believed the Helghan armed forces capable enough to take these people on, if they were dangerous. But they had stopped firing when they recognized the Helghans as something similar to them, had they not? If anything she would be able to get some information out of the man. Anything was valuable in the situation they found themsevles in.

"Doctor Eva? Will you please answer the question?"

"Helgha is our homeworld. I could tell you the coordinates myself but you probably looked through our ship's database either way."

"And a civilization, doctor Eva? In the database of your ship some of the men's identification spoke of different worlds. Not that we can understand your alphabet, but we had Captain Edward Miller reluctantly walk us through it."

"What exactly are you asking of me, Doctor. I simply don't understand what you expect me to describe."

"Worlds, infrastructure, military, government, short history and more, if you so wish, Eva. I'll ask you one at a time if it makes it any easier for you."

Doctor Eva broke into a cold sweat trying to find the words to continue answering the man. "Well...for worlds I told you of one, of Helgha... you should be able to know the rest from our ship's records. We don't have a lot of worlds... Helgha-1, Europa, Prime, some asteroid colonies here and there... as for military..."

"We have a Navy, Army and Guards. Navy is what defends our space. We are not part of the navy if that's what you are going to ask later... the army is pretty self explanatory. And the Guards... well the Guards are a glorified police force."

Doctor Gerson scribbles more notes. With his one free hand he signals the woman to continue speaking.

"The government defines itself as Imperial... We have a ruling Imperial family. The family dates back to a mythical figure known as Helghan the Great, the founding monarch of the ruling dynasty and the namesake of our homeworld. That's for history, too. We don't know much more than that. We only took to the stars a thousand years ago and there is not much in between that and that..."

Doctor Gerson froze in place. "Did you just say a thousand years, doctor?"

"Yes, why-?"

"I am not sure I understand... Our records-" The Doctor cut himself off before anyone else could. He was not yet sure how much he could reveal to the Helghan woman. Even rudimentary history could get him in trouble with the Commissariat. "- Can you continue on to infrastructure? We've heard some strange terms on your communications and found some peculiar systems onboard your ship. Miller said something about 'Petrusite' and 'Ark Travel.' Could you elaborate on what that means?"

Unsure of what to say but assuming that Miller hadn't answered himself "Petrusite is in essence the natural gas found on our homeworld. We use it for just about everything. I'm not a chemist so I can't tell you much more than that."

"And Ark Travel? It sounds like something we know of but I don't want to assume anything over here."

"That would be our main method of faster-than-light travel. That is actually what I came on the team for. To explore these lanes. Sort of like roads where Ark Travel works. It does work in other spaces but for extremely short and unstable jumps. In others spots it does not work at all. Or the crew even just vanishes" Hearing his Gerson realizes that what the woman is talking about is a method of warp travel known as the thin veil, one which requires neither navigators nor a gellar field. Even a strong warp drive isn't required. Much safer, but only really functional on stable 'lanes', as the woman also described.

"I understand all you have said so far. But there is one last thing I would like to ask you, Doctor." Gerson paused briefly but the voice in his left ear urged him on. "The comment you made earlier... it made me wonder if you have any concept of a fall of civilization? You don't know what I am or who I belong to. You don't know what the Imperium, Kholnya, the Federation, Minerva, the Hegemony, the United Nations, the Great Paralel...nothing?"

Doctor Eva shook her head before answering. "No. I don't recognize anything you are talking about."

"A century ago our great civilization, the Imperium, broadcast its victory over an alien species and a fellow human civilization far and wide into the Orion Arm. Are you aware of anything like that? Not of anything specific like that but do you know of any alien transmissions from a hundred years ago?"

Doctor Eva shook her head again. Doctor Gerson took his files and his notes and got up to leave.

"Well then, Doctor Johanna Eva, thank you for being cooperative. This concludes our interview for the day. if I have any more questions we might meet again but until you will be returned to your quarters and the Marshall expect all of you up on the bridge after he is done personally reviewing your interrogation."

The inspector behind the screen made a note to his superiors to check the Helghan ship again in order to find Helgha's direct star-map coordinates.

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