Pfhor Battle Group Three, Central Arm, hung motionless above the dusty ball of rock that was Lh'owon, the second planet of a dim star ninety-seven light-years from the gravitational center of the Milky Way. The gigantic battleship, three smaller destroyers and twenty auxiliary craft had not left the system for nearly six years. They were not to be relieved for another two.
Lh'owon had once been a marsh world; now it was a nearly waterless desert. It had been populated, a thousand years ago, by a race of highly intelligent creatures who had already landed on their own moons and would soon have headed to other stars. Below, their cities stood empty and ruined.
In its glory years, Battle Group Three had been known throughout the Empire; decorated in every battle anyone remembered from the Wars of Imperium, for turning back the loyalists at Tahrm's Gap and holding the approaches to the Pfhor homeworld itself during the slave revolt of the Nakh.
Undefeated in battle, it was finally politics that splintered Battle Group Three; by sending a few ships to suppress subservient races here, a few more to garrison the fringes of Pfhor influence there, the nobility had slowly broken the power of the old Navy.
What was left of Battle Group Three had been assigned to this dead world in the Galactic Core. To defend the system against a single enemy no one expected would ever arrive, and who had last been seen thousands of light-years away.
The tedium of blockade duty had destroyed morale and discipline.
In the dark between the orbits of the sixth and seventh planets, slightly above the ecliptic, a ship vanished, folding soundlessly in on itself in impossible ways. As the long craft twisted and faded in one place, it began simultaneously to appear in another.
The stolen ship had been in the system for days, keeping its distance from Lh'owon and the Pfhor fleet surrounding it; dodging among asteroids and moons, testing and measuring. Looking for something. Waiting.
Alarms sounded throughout Battle Group Three, screaming that a vessel had folded into existence less than thirty kilometers away from the battleship. Computer operators throughout the fleet stared in disbelief at their tactical screens- no ship could jump this close to a gravity source. For three seconds, no warning was passed, no word spoken, no action taken.
The invader erupted in a hundred thin lines of green fire, striking out toward the Pfhor ships, phasing through their shielding, destroying weapons or engines or communications gear. In seconds Battle Group Three had been disabled, and their ships began exploding. In two minutes only one ship remained among the debris in orbit above Lh'owon.
Down on the planet, as the orbital bombardment began, the Pfhor garrison was only just beginning to understand how hard their life would become over the next few days.
I stared through the window of transparent metal alloy and out into space. For a moment I'd thought we were still at the colony, still on the alien ship in orbit around Tau Ceti. But there were too many stars here, and the sun was too red and the planet too big.
The ship felt different, too. Cleaner, but older. The scars of the battle which had nearly consumed it had been erased. Most of them, anyway: I thought that I remembered firing the grenade which had buckled the armor plating in the hallway outside the room where I awoke. The dent was still there, if you looked close enough. Painted over and smoothed out, but still there.
When it turned out that Durandal had brought me here, instead of leaving me to be the hero on Tau Ceti like I deserved, I wasn't surprised. Durandal was the rogue personality construct who had been the brains behind the defense of the colony ship Marathon. I'd been the brawn. Durandal had always been unpredictable, even when he was just opening doors and managing food processors three hundred years ago on Mars. Together we had fought off the Pfhor invasion of Tau Ceti. I don't think a single one of the three-eyed creatures survived, but we'd taken their ship.
Now Durandal said that we were in the Galactic Core, thousands of light-years from Tau Ceti or Earth, and that seventeen years had passed since we left Tau Ceti. He had ignored my questions, mostly, telling me that I wouldn't have wanted to stay on Tau Ceti anyway.
Seventeen years in an alien stasis chamber, in a space a little too tall and too thin for human comfort, unconscious and dreamless within a few degrees of absolute zero. Seventeen years, while Durandal had raced about the galactic core in a stolen Pfhor attack ship. He's probably right when he said those years were boring, but nobody asked me what I wanted.
Now he says there's fighting to be done, and that I've got fifteen minutes to prepare for transport down to the planet. I guess I'll figure things out as I go along. Just like last time.
You survived the assault of thousands of Pfhor warriors on the starship Marathon, and reasoned your way past deck after deck of traps and obstacles-not easy things to do. Now the hero of Tau Ceti and a living legend, you might think the Pfhor and their minions hold no more terrors for you.
In Marathon 2: Durandal, you are the willing minion of the rogue computer persona, Durandal. The root of your loyalty is a mystery, but none of Durandal's orders are challenged. Durandal has brought you to the homeworld of an alien race (the S'pht). It is Durandal's intention to discover the secrets of the S'pht and prepare humanity for its inevitable confrontation with the Pfhor...
WSTE-M5 Combat Shotgun
While going through some data I appropriated from the Marathon (looking for design notes, of course) I stumbled across a reference to a weapon used by Imperialist forces against the inserectionists during the Ares Raid; July 14, 2444. (Never heard of it? I'm not surprised!) Many years of loving craftmanship went into the design and construction of this brutal tool of mayhem, I hope you can appreciate that. I won't waste my time trying to explain the loading mechanism to you - your primitive mind could never grasp its complex nature.