While on patrol, a security vessel, ‘Pride’s Call,’ is assigned to investigate an unknown base on an ice world moon, orbiting a gas supergiant, in a brown dwarf system. When it is discovered what the base contains, a kill order for all inside is issued, but due to operational and security conditions it must be done as quietly as possible. Key concepts: Minevjtirkjot—a fringe group of Kaxar that believes that it is acceptable to consume vjtirkjot, or sapient flesh, in contrast to the majority’s held beliefs that only non-sapient flesh can be consumed. Hosts—a select group of individuals, of all species, that can bond with a symbiote, gaining great powers, but at a price; one is constantly hungry due to the symbiotes caloric load, and due to living forever while non-hosts have age limits, real relations are problematic, not to mention they will always be warriors in the military and beholden to the government for enough sustenance to survive. Kaxar—Felinoid race and member of the Stellar Coalition, they believe in honor and Clan over self and are generally seen as the best warriors of the galaxy. Bruish—a reptilian race and member of the Stellar Coalition, lacking emotions and being long lived, they are the best strategists of the Coalition and are often seen by the other races as cold, calculating, cunning, and manipulative often using double entendre to sow confusion. Edun—One of the few artificial races, this race of humanoids are the best and worst combination of races, and due to their artificial nature, they have to fight to maintain a voice in the coalition. Stellar Coalition—One of the key governing bodies of the galaxy, made up of many races, but notably the Kaxar, the Bruish, and Edun, they strive to keep some semblance of the peace established by the long vanished Ansaii. Ansaii—A race of avians, they built the stellar coalition, but mysteriously vanished millennia ago, causing a galactic civil war that was only recently resolved. Deathpride—A reputed secret police/research group of the Kaxar not publicly acknowledged due to their extremist ideals and the supremacist ideology. Shaownet—a reputed secret police/spy/research ring made up mostly of Edun, not publicly acknowledged, but the majority of the races suspect Shadownet secretly runs the government and subverts the other races. Dark Khanate—The Kaxar afterlife, similar in concept to Valhalla.
“You will be HALO dropped in about 2 klicks from a back entrance noted in recon footage.” Thoth, the mission commander, was informing us.
We were gathered in a small briefing room just off the hangars of the ship. Like all Kaxar constructs, the room was simple, a neutral soft green to make the room feel larger than it was, with few decorations and barely comfortable chairs.
“The facility itself can’t be destroyed from orbit, or trust me it would be ash. As tier 4 ESMAFs, (elite strategic multi-adaptive fighters) and particularly, hosts, you should be able to clear the facility with minimal injury. You will also be out of communications for the entirety of the mission, and you are not to use electronic coms unless you have to, because you need the element of surprise.”
Thoth was kinda of spindly, like he never hunted and only learned the minimum self-defence and never practiced after word. I couldn’t understand how one could call themselves Kaxar if they couldn’t hunt; then again I couldn’t understand tech and strategy, him and his ilk could, so.... His calico pattern fur was thinning, even the long furs, or mane, around his face which were greying as well, he was well past his prime, unlike my pristine, shiny bright rusty red which gleamed of youth, though as a host my fur would always belay youth, and women’s long furs only ever grew out of the top and back of our heads and down our necks and spine if we physically got older, and I was stronger than 3 non-host fighters, speaking off...
“But we are hosts,” I shrugged, as the youngest I was out of turn, but he wouldn’t protest and any repercussions would be behind closed doors as was befitting a high-level warrior, “Are we not the best warriors the Khanate has?”
“There are some things we keep from the public to prevent undue chaos.” Hejroaronn, our teams Lead sighed.
Her fur was a beautiful cream white with epic dark stripes, she was three times the age of the man briefing us, an age a non-host would never achieve; being a host had its advantages. “Of these quiet concepts, the Minevjtirkjot are almost on the level of hosts in battle prowess, they train constantly to be the best and do not suffer the weak. Additionally, we can only afford a surgical strike, so there will be far more of them than us. Understood?” She finished with a glare, indicating I was safe from a reprisal if I kept my mouth shut.
“Yes, Lead, I am eager to honor the Khanate.” I lifted my chin in surrender.
“As your Lead said.” He swallowed, no one pisses off a host if they could help it, “We keep things from the masses for the good of all, only the top echelon knows what we are doing here, and we scheduled this briefing as close to the drop as possible.”
“To that end, you should probably continue, Commander.” Hejroaronn placed heavy emphasis on the man’s rank.
“Yes, General.” He seemed to shrink, she was after all, 8 grades higher than him in the khanate hierarchy, “The facility is mostly prefabricated and, they may be minevjtirkjot and diseased, but they are also Kaxar and think like we do, mostly. The entrance you will be using is an old, closed down, hazards transfer point. Commandant Kiten, it uses the old Jöten 6 firmware protocol...”
“How do you know...” I started in disbelief before I could stop myself.
“Paladin Ngotam!” Hejroaronn stood to tower over me, she was really mad now, she needed a snack, so did I, but... “He is intelligence, he may not be of our order but you will respect him, or I will make you. Understood?”
I fought the urge to cover my neck in fear, “Yes, General, my apologies.” I hoped using her rank and not title would help smooth things over, looked like it helped at least one iota...
“We know,” Thoth, also willing himself not to cower, started again, “Because it is prefab and that is always standard tech, if it’s not, knowing what it’s supposed to be will help your imbedded tech support do her job.”
With that resolved, and his head still on his shoulders, he continued, “We anticipate a standard Kaxar compound layout, which means the center will house the control nodes and volatile equipment, we expect you to use that to scuttle the base. You have 1 standard revolution to blow the base or we will have to send in an extermination force, and the Khanate would prefer not to do this because it would attract the attention of the other races in the council and we would prefer not to admit this to them. This is a matter of pride, of honor, Understood? General, will that be all?”
I was really the only person of a lower rank than he was, intelligence officers were seldom high ranking in the Khanate, they just couldn’t get strong enough to gain respect and still keep up with their ‘brain’ work. And though he was technically in charge of this briefing, he was only here to provide us all the information we had on the target, and he was not brave enough to go against a host of any rank. Hejroaronn mulled the question, then nodded, she had enough info, the briefing was officially over.
“Be at the drop ship in 20 minutes,” Thoth finally groaned with relief, “Dismissed.”
Before every mission, a host is well fed, so that there is less distraction from hunger. We still want food, a downside of being a host is we can never be full, but after a meal sized snack every few hours, it is less of a need. After we ate and dressed in level 4 enviro-suits we loaded the low power drop ship and waited for the drop.
“At the academy, we were told that Minevjtirkjot was destroyed decades ago,” I commented to Jera, next to me the youngest.
Jera’s suit, like her fur, (we all tended to pattern our envirosuits, and sometimes even formal and everyday wear, like our fur was patterned, to keep things simple) was indigo black, though all suits were matte instead of glossy.
“As I understand it,” she shrugged, “There are only a few pockets left, and they are mostly clanless.”
“If they are clanless, how can they be so strong as to need a host dagar to take them out?” I scoffed, not really fully accepting the explanation, but not wanting to cause too much more trouble.
“Those rotten múspellsmegir, they reject the khanate only because of their insatiable hunger for vjtirkjot. In fact, some of those múspell have formed their own shadow clans, and their hunger for power is almost as deep as their taste for vjtirkjot,” Kiten explained as if to a child with no concern for sworn epitaphs, “Their numbers are none the less small and we will honor the khanate with their demise, as they would no doubt delight in our downfall.”
As we finished our conversation, the lights shut off and the engine idled, we would glide on inertia before the final drop. A single tone sounded; we got ready. A double tone sounded and the back hatch slipped open, we jumped out in formation: First Hejroaronn, our leader in her muted white tiger print, then Zebath, the second in command her cheetah patterns were worn, evidence of her long service, and Kiten, out techie with her flat grey with more hardpoints devoted to her gadgets than weapons (but like any other dagermate she was deadly), last it was me and Jera. We dove to the planet below in a delta formation, angling our bodies like arrows to provide the least amount of drag possible. We line up based on the few dark green LEDs that would be on. Kaxar don’t see dark green very easily which is why it was chosen for situations like this, but it did make it almost a guess where we needed to be.
There was no atmosphere to speak of, even had there been, this high up, and suited up as we were we would not hear anything. My pulses pounded in my ears, threatening to drive out all thoughts; my breath came in too short bursts, not nearly enough to be comfortable. We had done some HALO training in the academy, but knowing there was no safety net this time made my hearts, yes Kaxar have two, beat faster and faster, to the point I thought one might explode. Slowly at first detail resolved below. The ice formations like grand gems passed in and out of focus before I could truly admire them. My altimeter started to beep in warning, with such little atmosphere on this planet we should open our shoots earlier, but we were using rocket packs, a risk, but so was floating daintily to the ground like flowers. I trusted Hejroaronn, one does not become a lead unless they know what they are doing, but my nerves threatened to fail me, I had to consciously remind myself not to activate the rockets.
Finally, a small lavender, the color we see easiest, LED on Hejroaronn’s back plate began to flash, slowly at first then faster as she prepared the ignite. We reoriented from a nose dive to feet first, the air friction starting to make things uncomfortably toasty, so the rockets would slow rather than speed our descent, and waited. Once it was a solid light, we all punched it.
We landed hard, but fortunately, no broken bones. As we were supposed to remain radio silent, Hejroaronn used some hand signals to direct us to secure the drop site. Until we got inside the compound, it would be too cold to unseal to talk normally, so it would be rather quieter than I was used to. We carefully but directly made our way to our entry based on inertial data overlaid on the probe recon map, as non-water snow began to fall. Upon a successful tactical approach, Kiten began to work the access controls using her specially designed cracking system. After a few tense moments with us other four constantly going over the visible area, we were in the utility passthrough for the facility.
“We will let the temp equalize a bit, then proceed,” Hejroaronn announced as she opened her mask, and her breath puffed out.
Normal clearing would involve tranquilizers and restraints, but Minevjtirkjot were deathlisted, they were all to be exterminated, so ours were kill shots as we made our way to the main control room. As standard operations procedure, every room had to be cleared or secured from exit to the best possible extent, so one could not get attacked from behind. This meant very slow progress through a relatively short and direct path. But we also liked relatively open paths, sometimes with multiple egresses, only the most hardened had such direct access, to funnel enemies into a death path, this triggered my senses.
“Lead, this looks a little too hardened to be simple malcontents...”
“They know they are deathlisted,” Jera responded, “Why wouldn’t their compounds be hardened?”
“We are on mission, kids, focus!” Zebath spoke for Hejroaronn, knowing she was on a hair trigger.
“But shouldn't there be more? If this is a living community, I would expect at least moderate resistance, not a smattering...” I suggested as I shot down an enemy at the other end of the hall.
“Ours is not to reason why,” Kiten broke into the conversation, “Let’s thank Pride that it will be easy, or not. Lead, sensors indicate a ghost defence protocol has been activated, the base is now on alert.”
“Snouts up, ladies, now it gets fun!” Hejroaronn almost smiled.
From then on resistance increased, the use of hidden loopholes to protect defenders as the harassed attackers increased. We used weapons and hand to hand techniques to dispatch our enemies.
“Lead, this is tier 4, gen 6 armor they are using,” I appraised one I just dispatched, “I wouldn’t expect random non-government players to get their hands on it.
“Kill now, let intelligence question later!” Hejroaronn declared as she body slammed someone through a solid wall; she was pissed.
Through the new hole, me and Jera entered to clear out the room; there were only two enemies a piece. We took some hits but they didn’t last long.
Almost as suddenly as the alarm happened, the resistance stopped, “They must have started a ragnarok protocol! Get to the core!” Hejroaronn called.
Ragnarok protocols usually meant withdraw to most defensible positions, let the enemy get to their goal, then spring a trap and destroy the base taking them down with you, or before the final event and stop it. We only had a few moments to secure the core or it could blow with us in it. This was not a normal thing for Kaxar. Aside from Clan and Pride, we wouldn't sacrifice our own for much else; we would surrender and become blood bound servants for a while, join their clan (we were drawn to power and if they could beat us they deserved respect) or bide our time to make a decisive move (not a normal Kaxar reaction but it did happen, especially with those that served with Edun or Bruish for extended periods of time). We were also not builders or colonists so rebuilding infrastructure was challenging at the best of times, we preferred to take over if we could.
“Kiten, get to the ragnarok files, figure out how to pause it, or use it to our advantage,” Hejroaronn ordered as soon as we stormed in, “Jera and Ngotam, secure the entrance and egress points, Zebath help me find a way off this rock!”
We all worked feverishly to make the best of the situation, at this point, even if we were killed, the mission would be accomplished. But like anyone else, we wanted to be able to bask in the glory of victory, not celebrated at a victory wake.
“Lead, I’m getting a little queasy, you ever feel this before?”
“It’s just nerves, and we may be running on fumes. We all are feeling a bit off.” she returned, “Focus on the mission, it will help.”
“We have company coming!” Kiten called, “compound monitors show battering equipment and assault troops!”
She still had to try to finish her hack of the system so she hunkered down in as safe a position as she could. But the rest of us fell back to cover her and line up shots at anyone who entered.
A deathly silence engulfed the room. As my pulses filled my ears again, I started to feel dizzy. Then the doors were blown open and blind shots issued forth. As we found targets we shot, the assault armor of the invaders shielded them from the majority of damage, but they were in a bottle neck and we had the advantage. Soon, though, our shots started to stray and they broke through the barricade.
As hosts, we had the ability to physically manifest some of or aura as armor or in some cases weapons with the hue of our auras, but as that took a toll on our minds and ate up energy, we used this ability very rarely on MACO missions. This aural armor could be nearly impervious, limited only by our energy reserves and will power, with the enemy in the control room, we had little choice.
To conserve her energy, Kiten’s armor only manifested as a transparent beige with golden flecks wall behind her as she still worked to hack the base's systems. My armor had been likened to that of a ghostly green samurai, Hejroaronn’s was silver platemail, Zebath’s was a lilac chainmail, and Jera was smoky fur armor causing her to look like, as some of our Edun colleagues said, a giant werewolf, whatever that was. Us four fighters also manifested blades, sharper than any physical object could be that suited our armor sets.
I dove and combat rolled toward the closest door and engaged the target, as the others chose their own. The first few were easily dealt with, but I soon slowed, my manifestations were not as strong as they should have been, the others struggled as well, we were getting tired. Soon, though, the manifestations failed entirely, one by one, usually in the worst of times. Each crack of released of energy knocked us down, the enemies pressed their advantage, as one was about to take my head off, another body slammed him against the wall, took his gun and shot him. I had no time to think, others pressed on. As one killed Hejroaronn as she defended Kiten, I charged as fast as I was able and returned the favor. Jera was next to fall. Me Zebath and the stranger, in armor that was distinct from the rest, continued the struggle, but Zebath collapsed from exhaustion and was stabbed, then an explosion rocked the facility, and Kiten was knocked out by debris and it was only me and the stranger. I moved to attack, but fell, my head spinning and out of breath.
“Why did you save me, did you want to kill me last, to savor my aura...” I struggled to breathe.
He took his helmet off with his uninjured paw, “I saved you because I still care for you, Naga,” he swallowed.
He was sweaty and beat up, but I instantly recognized his scent and look. I couldn’t believe it, it must have been some kind of deception, right?
“Njial, your, your one of them, you’re a, you...”
“The word you’re looking for is minevjtirkjot,” he coughed some flecks of blood, he was very badly injured, I felt for him, despite... “And yes I am, but they aren't.”
“What else would they be?” I tried to stand but couldn't, why was I so weak?
“Deathpride isn't real...”
“And neither is Shadownet, but it looks like their symbiote poison is effective.”
“And how would you know about that, you're only a political warrant.”
“Being, what I am, we have to know things, and by the way, I got promoted, I’m a Jay Gee now.”
“Congratulations, múspellsmegir, what did you do to me?”
“Harsh words, but with the propaganda against us, I don’t blame you. And I didn’t do anything, but,” he struggled over to stand above me, “This should help.”
He produced a needle and injected some glowing lavender liquid into the base of my skull, where the symbiote resided. At first, I was too angry to react, but the nausea dissipated and I was less dizzy.
“What the hell was that?” I stood up, it helped me feel safer.
“Something we designed to be an antidote, we can’t have Shadownet taking out our best warriors right from under our snouts.” He shrugged, leaning against a wall.
“What do you have to say about yourself, about being... that?”
“Do you really think we fritter through the galaxy killing sapients just to consume them?”
“What else am I supposed to think?”
“That is the activity of severely disturbed sapients of all races, a minority sure, but still all of them. But, Honor is important to all Kaxar, there was a time when we all showed honor to our predecessors by allowing them to be a part of us. We felt that to remove the material from the food chain was sacrilege, when we also knew that after one joined the dark khanate their bodies were just shells...”
"Yeah, well we learned better, we may not consume directly but the body is not removed from the chain, it’s returned through...”
“They would say that even that kind of recycling of the bodies was just as bad, they wanted us to preserve the flesh from all ravages of time, to completely remove all the material from the chain. They would have all species bury the shells of those that join the dark khanate. We got fed propaganda by the ansaii, who, as herbivores, didn’t want us to eat flesh at all. Their compromise was that we shouldn't eat vjtirkjot, the first time there was a conceptual difference mind you, and elevated those that didn’t. To a lot of us, we lost honor during that time, but we couldn’t fight it. We still preserve what honor that we can. After so long being force fed the lies I can’t expect you to understand.”
“I have a mission.”
“We are all on a mission. The horrors of their lies about us are trumped up and the activities of the disturbed are labeled as ours, though they certainly are not; some Deathpride operations are sanctioned by the khanate but the ones that aren't or are re-classed, are labeled as minevjtirkjot so they can order a cleanse with the knowledge few will question, and the ones that do are conveniently silenced.”
“Honor comes first, I have to do what I have to do.” I stood straighter, knowing what had to be done.
“I know, as we all would.” He stood too, ready to accept the end.
Though Kiten was critically injured, with her help I was able to set the base's self-destruct protocol and pilfer a ship before she succumbed to blood loss. When we finally managed to get back into orbit just as the carrier returned. As I stumbled down the ramp, me carrying the unconscious Kiten, the medical team rushed us and made us get on gurneys. Thoth stood above me and requested a report.
“We did what we needed to do, the stronghold is destroyed and no one remains alive within.”
“Congratulations on your first successful mission, pyrrhic as it may be.”
“Will we re-forge this dagger, or be assigned to others?”
“Not my decision, though it is unlikely this dagger will be re-forged with only 2 survivors.” He shrugged, “The odds are a new dagger will be assigned to this ship, and you and Kiten will return to command to be integrated into new daggers.”