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|Title: Blake||Submitted By: Ender|
This is a poor time for introductions, but I'm Robert Blake. I used to be a mechanical engineer on Tau Ceti, but now I'm somehow in command of the remaining human and S'pht survivors on this God-forsaken rock.
Robert wasn't entirely sure who he was giving directions to. Every last one of his men was accounted for and inside the base. My men. It wasn't something he was used to. He had grown up on Tau Ceti as a simple engineer maintaining his work area and fixing any problems. When the Pfhor came seventeen years ago, no one was prepared to fight for their lives; least of all the civilians on the colony. For two days, he struggled to survive with his closest friends. In the end, he had to watch as each of them died at the hands of those alien-things. He had watched as one of the behemoths had mumbled "Drinniol" and then picked his friend up by the shirt and crushed him against a pillar. The only thing that kept him alive was his knowledge of the colony's inner workings. Robert had used engineering crawlspaces to escape from a number of encounters.
After the two days of fear and horror, he thought he would give up. But he had heard rumors that the one AI, Durandal, onboard the orbiting Marathon, had caused an uprising in the alien ranks. Apparently, with the help of the S'pht, they had won the fight against the Pfhor. Robert had even stood awestruck, as a fighter had surrendered to him and a group of unarmed engineers. He learned that nine Mjolnir Mark IV cyborgs had been living secretly among the crew and had saved the colony from destruction, but Robert had never quite understood what had saved the Marathon. It didn't matter though, because the two-day war was over.
Seventeen years ago Robert Blake had promised himself he would never go through something like that again. I did a good job with that one. It wasn't by choice that he came to Lh'owon, but nobody asked him what he wanted. Durandal had hijacked the Pfhor ship that had captured them as slaves and had kept them in stasis during the long flight to the galactic core. They had all been furious when they awoke in an alien chamber without any knowledge of the past seventeen years. Hell, we didn't even know seventeen years had passed. Durandal began by asking for volunteers on the following terms: assist us and control your own destiny, refuse and face indefinite return to the unreliable Pfhor stasis chambers. Few of us refused.
They had been dumped unceremoniously into the middle of a fight between the Pfhor and the S'pht. Almost half of them had been cut down by the crossfire within seconds. Most of them had run for cover. Some realized they had holstered weapons and tried to kill as many of the ugly bastards as they could. Unfortunately, they weren't fireproof, and the Pfhor had flooded the area with lava, leaving only a few survivors. Robert had "led" the first couple of their encounters with the Pfhor. He took charge, kept the men out of unnecessary harm, and was a good strategist when the situation called for one. It's a wonder I never joined the military. What made Blake a good leader was that he knew Durandal sent them in as cannon-fodder, but he intended for each man to leave as a soldier. That was why the others had looked up to him for leadership.
Ever since then, he had been the uncrowned head of the human forces on Lh'owon. Things had been going well until he heard about trouble from Durandal. One of the other AIs from the Marathon, Tycho, had fallen in with the Pfhor and was about to take Durandal offline. Before he was destroyed, he left instructions for Robert and his men to follow. And follow them we did. It took them nearly a month to find the individual Durandal wanted them to locate. Blake was hesitant to follow any more of Durandal's instructions, especially to search for just one man, but he knew it was important. Despite his constant demands, Durandal knew what he was doing. They had finally found him and it was time to proceed with the remainder of his plan. The final instructions for Blake and his men were to attempt to activate an ancient AI buried deep within Lh'owon.
Now it was time for Blake and his men to get some rest. If this security officer was as good as Durandal said he was, there would be no need to send anyone with him. He had his own troubles to deal with down in the base; they were barely hanging on. The only thing keeping the Pfhor from overrunning the complex was a virus that kills Pfhor in a matter of hours. The S'pht say it was bio-engineered by their ancestors during the war against the Pfhor a thousand years before. Whatever; it's saving our butts. Robert only hoped the nameless security officer would be able to activate the AI in time. Durandal had convinced them that this AI was the only hope of defeating the Pfhor. It was supposed to make contact with a long-forgotten S'pht clan that would likely stall the invasion of Sol. Nobody here wants to think about what would happen if the Pfhor reached Earth.
Robert disconnected from the terminal and headed toward the main section of the complex. The other men had made it the "Recreational Area" and were all congregating inside. For a few seconds, Blake stood in the entranceway surveying the scene. He was turning to catch a bite to eat before returning to the terminal when someone ran toward him and yelled "Thank God you're here!". On instinct, Robert's hand grabbed at his gun, and leveled it at the man's head. The frightened colonist fell to the ground. "Whoa! Hey chief, it's me! It's me!" Blake lowered the magnum and helped the man up. He chuckled and pointed to the tip of Robert's gun. "This side toward enemy."
"Sorry, I thought you were, you know, one of them. Those damn Pfhor androids. They've been keeping me on edge lately." Robert apologized again. "What's wrong?"
"Well that's what I came to talk to you about. The simulacrums, sir, we think we know how to tell them apart from us."
"Good. Show me." The man produced a drawing by one of the science staff that diagrammed the differences between humans and the simulacrums. Most of it was biological and hard to notice with a casual glance. "What else? We can't inspect them before they explode."
"It seems as if the Pfhor don't know all that much about us. The simulacrums have a limited vocabulary; usually consisting of random words that mean nothing together. The most obvious phrase we've heard them utter is something along the lines of ‘frogblast the ventcore!'. Not only that, but the Pfhor only produced green uniforms for the androids. Whether they only had that fabric or were too lazy, we don't know. Either way, the simulacrums only come in one flavor-exploding green. Just keep in mind that not all green-uniformed personnel are simulacrums."
"This is good work. Let me know of any new developments." Robert knew this wouldn't be enough to protect everyone in the base. More and more of the androids had been successfully impersonating his men as of late. He feared that the situation was growing out of control. Blake needed every single simulacrum destroyed if he was going to keep more from dying. Just as he thought of a plan, he heard someone yell from across the room.
"I'm out of ammo!" What the hell? It hit him in a split second. Robert wheeled around and whipped the magnum out again. There was one man in a green jumpsuit racing toward one of the men. Blake called out to the man: "Get down!" He dove to the ground as Robert squeezed off a single shot. The bullet struck the android in the head and sent it flying back a couple yards. The others scrambled away in time to avoid the ensuing explosion. I've got no choice. Robert left the room and hurried back to the networking station. One of the S'pht verified that the security officer had reactivated portions of the AI's systems. It also mentioned increased activity by the Pfhor near the areas where the officer had recently been. The Pfhor are already curious about what we are doing, but when they realize what we have found they will go insane. The rest of the AI would have to wait though. Blake wanted Durandal's man to take care of the simulacrum problem first. He activated the terminal and waited to contact the security officer again.
Robert had teleported the man into the complex about ten minutes ago. Although he didn't want anymore colonists dead, he had to make sure all of the simulacrums were destroyed. Blake had given him instructions to use caution, but shoot to kill. God will sort the dead... It was hard to tell, but so far, the man seemed to have taken out only simulacrums. There was another problem however. The S'pht had discovered that the Pfhor were preparing to launch an attack on the base. They had already sent in air-sealed Hunters and Troopers to try and stop the security officer, but he had made short work of them. Something told Blake there wasn't much time to prepare.
His only hope was to try to get more of the S'pht AI online and working again. Durandal had given the name Thoth to the AI. Someone in the complex had said that the Ancient Egyptians believed in a god of wisdom that went by the name of Thoth. It was supposed to have the body of a man and the head of an ibis. We don't need a bird. We need a damn fleet of warships! Blake had been reviewing all of the information Durandal had left regarding Thoth, but hadn't been able to find anything directing them in what to do once it was fully operational. He believed Durandal expected Thoth to contact the lost S'pht clan, but it had yet to do so. There had been no more instructions from Durandal.
Many of the colonists viewed Durandal's destruction as a good thing. Even if we're stuck on an alien world in the galactic core, at least we're in control of our own destinies again. Nobody liked the way that Durandal had carelessly thrown them into battle, heedless of the risk to their lives. They lived with it though because they didn't want to spend the rest of their days frozen inside a stasis pod. At least in battle, they knew that they could die any second. It was frightening sometimes, but it was also exciting. These were the days of their lives that would never be forgotten, no matter how it turned out.
With Durandal gone, they never had to fight if they didn't want to. No one had given up the war though. Blake had given a speech to the men after they learned of Durandal's destruction. At that time, everyone wanted to stop fighting, just sit back and let the S'pht fight their own damned war. But Robert had reminded them of what the S'pht were fighting for. They were fighting for freedom. This wasn't just freedom from a tyrannical government or from an oppressive AI toting them about the galaxy. Their fight was for freedom from slavery and death. The Pfhor had captured the S'pht thousands of years ago and had treated them as simple tools of war ever since. It was their right to be free from the Pfhor. He had been so passionate that almost every single person had cheered him on right then.
There had still been a few individuals who claimed that it wasn't their war to fight. If the S'pht wanted to be free, they could fight themselves. All Blake had done was turn on live video feed from the surface. There was barely a single stone lying atop another. Smoke, fire, and rubble were all that remained of the once beautiful paradise. He looked the man who had challenged him in the eye and simply said: "Earth." The man clearly hadn't remembered that the Pfhor were planning to invade Sol. For the time being, the S'pht were the only things in their way. By helping the S'pht, they were helping Earth.
They didn't plan to stay on Lh'owon forever. Once victory was secured for the S'pht they were going to steal a Pfhor ship and head back to Earth. He had invited the security officer to come along, but something about the man told him that he wasn't going to. He has his own destiny to follow.
Blake stumbled back into the networking station clutching his bandaged arm. It's my fault they died. I was too overzealous, and that cost them their lives. He started up the terminal to give Durandal's man the bad news. The security officer's success in ridding the base of the simulacrums had made everyone bold again. Robert had wanted to save him much trouble in reaching the next AI activation site, so he and thirty men had traveled up one level to clear the area. Things had gone horribly wrong. There was an ambush; Pfhor troopers had been waiting for them, and they were decimated. Blake had managed to retreat with a handful of men before the Pfhor cut off the escape. The Pfhor had teleported in more heavily armored troops. There were people trapped in that section that were fighting for their lives.
The Pfhor had realized that they were planning to reactivate the ancient S'pht AI. There was no way for them to know why or how they were going to activate it, but it didn't matter to them. It was evident that the S'pht were hoping for Thoth to regain consciousness. This alone was enough to persuade the Pfhor into halting the progress. Well they've succeeded for the time being. Blake needed to free the men, but he wasn't about to risk anyone else in there when he knew it was hopeless. The security officer was going to need to enter that area anyway. If they were still alive, he believed that the lone soldier could get them out. The main goal was still to activate Thoth, but if it was impossible, then he had to accept that they were gone. Iactura paucourm serva multos. Sacrifice the few to save the many. It was a phrase he had been forced to live by since he stepped foot on Lh'owon.
The terminal was connected and he began briefing the security officer. Every time Robert saw the man, he felt a certain awe and respect for him. He had done more for Durandal, the S'pht, and Blake than all of the colonists combined. His skills surpassed anything they had seen before. And now, he was truly their only hope. Without the security officer, they would be trapped in the base with a partially functioning AI until the Pfhor slaughtered them.
Blake understood that he had done everything in his power to save those men, but it still troubled him that he had abandoned his men. They hadn't died, they weren't captured-he had just left them behind. The thought was always in the back of his mind, welling up, rising to the surface. Robert couldn't take it anymore. He shut down the terminal and placed his head in his hands. If he didn't accept what had happened, he would never move on. I have to fight my guilt. This is my own private Thermopylae. Blake breathed deep, and for the first time in seventeen years, he felt his warm tears roll down his face.
Almost two dozen colonists had entered the base earlier cheering the security officer. He had single-handedly eliminated all of the Pfhor in the region and rescued the men from certain death. Blake had congratulated the officer himself over the communication terminal. More than ever he wanted to meet the man in person and see the man behind the mask. He had just learned from one of the rescued men that he had been the one who saved the crew of the Marathon. It had taken nine cyborgs to secure a short victory on Tau Ceti, but Durandal had only needed to rely on this person to win the fight. This man was Roland, Beowulf, Achilles, and Gilgamesh all in one body. He was the epitome of a hero.
There was a muffled thud coming from the tunnels outside the base. Then came two more in succession. Shit. There's no time! The S'pht had reported that the Pfhor had traced Blake's transmissions to the security officer and were planning a full-scale assault on the base. There was no way to survive it if they fought, and no way bring the soldier down in time. It had been proposed that they begin evacuating to the lower levels of the complex. Robert wouldn't be able to contact the officer anymore. There had been odd activity on the network that was trying to make contact with the man. I almost wish Durandal was alive somewhere.
A loud explosion jarred Robert from his thoughts. One of the guards yelled out: "They've breached the outer wall! The Pfhor are sending in their cyborgs units! We need to leave right now!" Blake couldn't leave the security officer without information on what was happening. If he tried to reach the base, he would run into an army of Pfhor immune to the virus. He led most of the colonists out of the base and quickly returned to the terminal to record a final message.
Durandal suggested before his destruction that there were two more activation sites. No one knew for certain what would happen when Thoth was activated, but if he didn't help them, they were all doomed. Blake needed the officer to do this last task. It was the last job he would ask of the man. Before leaving, he passed a poster on the wall with Durandal's name on a makeshift dartboard. The phrase below it jokingly read: "Kill Your Television".
Robert Blake stepped inside the Pfhor refueling ship Hfarl. The air was humid and smelled of smoke. There had been little resistance for the humans so far, and they were more than a little suspicious. Blake had been ambushed by the Pfhor a couple times, and knew to be cautious of a trap. Magnums raised, they advanced further into the ship. Deck by deck they made their sweep, inching their way to the command deck.
When they arrived, they found a single Pfhor fighter cowering in a shadowy corner. His staff was broken in half and the bodies of his comrades were left bloody and mangled scattered about the floor. There were spent WSTE-M shells on the ground and MA-75 bullet holes in the walls. It was a picture of total carnage. One of the crew was already pushing the scared Pfhor toward the navigation console. He was going to pilot the ship out of there before anyone could stop them.
Less than an hour ago, Robert had discovered that Durandal was still alive. No one wanted to be treated as his puppets again. They had taken back their destinies, and they weren't about to give it up. Tycho had been destroyed and the Pfhor were retreating. The S'pht mentioned that their lost clan, the S'pht'kr had arrived and were destroying Pfhor vessels. It was time for Blake and his men to get the hell out. They had seized the opportunity when a refueling ship was found abandoned; only the pilot had been left alive and on board.
The ship's engines roared to life and a shudder resonated through the hull. Robert couldn't help but feel a bit of regret for leaving the security officer with Durandal. He realized that Durandal would never let the man go. Robert wasn't one to leave without saying his farewells though. He was sure the security officer was already aware of Durandal's resurrection, but he decided to leave a brief, final message for him. Just before the Hfarl's FTL drives folded the ship out of the system and toward Earth, a message was sent to the Khfiva.
The dead walk again; we cannot wait.
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