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Full Version: A Measure of Salvation
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Somewhere in Sirius, there is the great house of Liberty.
Somewhere in Liberty, there is the system called Colorado.
And somewhere in Colorado, there is an old base, a ramshackle construction run by the Xenos, called Ouray.

Today something out of the norm happened on that hollowed-out rock in the Silverton Asteroid Field.
At a late hour of the day... if one could even go as far as to say that day and night existed here in the first place,
a ship that didn't belong here entered the main hangar bay through the massive steel doors that kept the cold darkness of space out, and the warmth of the few still-running lamps mounted at the bay's ceiling in.

The ship, an old Rheinland Bomber without any markings on its hull, covered in a strangely shiny and black metal plating that didn't match the Rheinland Military ships in use today,
with weapons of unknown origins and strange looks to them mounted on the hardpoints, slowly passed the threshold of the bay doors and hovered towards what seemed to be a fine "parking spot" in that large and mostly empty hall.

As the landing gear made contact with the cold ground, the reinforced cockpit canopy slid open and a man climbed out.
Clad in a suit of powered armor, he observed as the hangar bay's crew chief barked orders to the few men that formed Ouray's ground crew.
His other ship, a tad beaten up from some fight, was being towed in.
It was a sign that he would stay at this place for a while.
A place he didn't percieve as a graveyard.

A girl sat alone. Her once red hair had faded to pink, the black roots of her natural color beginning to show. She sighed quietly to herself, no company save for the untouched drink in front of her. She didn't like to drink much, especially not what they sold in this bar, but she felt even more alone sitting at an empty table.

Placing her Cardamine mask on the table, she picked up the glass and examined her reflection in the murky liquid. She saw a lifeless corpse staring back at her. She wore no make-up today, didn't even brush her hair. She ran a finger down the scar on her cheek, it had nearly healed completely. Her lips turned into a frown and quivered slightly.

She had stared into the glass for what must have been ages. Thinking back to all that had happened to her so far, all the people dead or corrupted because of her. Her looks, her personality, her fault but powerless to stop them. Her and her brother turned mindless servants, her husband probably murdered. Exiled from home, kidnapped, beaten, raped, and tortured. She served Lords she hated, and killed those she loved. A tear rolled down her cheek and fell silently into her drink, the ripples waking her to her surroundings.

The girl placed the glass back on the table and stood, fastening her mask back into place as she exited. The barman frowned, assuming it was another lass who got left out in the cold by her date. After her departure, he cleared her table with a sigh. Ah, didn't even touch her drink, third day in a row.

One ship looked out of place in hangar of Dryden. One rather foreign ship on a Xeno base. An Orchid bomber. None of the crew dare touch the ship for fear of the owner. The girl walked straight to her ship, catching the eye of more than one crewman on the deck. The cockpit opened with a click as she approached and the engines flared when she entered.

She only continued to exist for two things, the vain hope that her brother might love her again, and for the odd affection she held toward the old man who had brought her to Dryden. The only things to live for, and she sat alone on a Xeno base impossibly far from a home she can never return to; no more.

She was determined to find the old man.
Two days later...

He was waiting. Ever since he had sent [color=#CCCCFF]<span style="font-size:10pt;line-height:100%]the transmission
, he was waiting.
But that was alright, he was a patient man.
And afterall, it was more luck than anything else that he had the opportunity to meet the man who ended up setting the time and place for his seperation off that Corpse Empire.
David Chambers, that was his name, had granted him access to the Serpentis' communications station on Ouray after their last encounter in space.
That's been the last time he had seen the man, and he was one of the few people he had ever thanked for anything, propably a mutual feeling in one way or another.

Chambers had left him a note in his temporary quarters, saying he could stay for as long as necessary.
He also assigned the local chief of security, a man called Sid Lampkin whom everybody just called "Chief", to aid him if he needed anything.
A nice gesture which just aswell came as the result of him not mercilessly butchering the poor Xenos that had foolishly fired on the corpses calling themselves "Phantoms" one day.
He had been there and his ship had been disabled by the Xenos' gunfire back then.

"If only they had finished it." He muttered to himself as he took another another sip of the Xeno Whiskey.

He hadn't been angry back then. Just sad about them not reducing his ship to dust when he and... whoever it was on his wing were surprised.
Too bad the Xenos realized their mistake and set off a chainreaction that had brought him here.
Atleast he could find a little solace in the thought of having spared their lives.
For whatever it was worth, whoever those Xenos back then were, they didn't deserve to die.
Not by his hand. Not in the name of the Phantom Empire. In the name of men and women who were already dead.
He knew he had killed enough in their name.
More than enough, too many, came the thoughts of regret, just to be washed away as he noticed a man standing in the doorstep.

"What's it you heard, Chief?" He asked.

"Nothing but the rain.
Just doing my usual stop to ask the usual question, Phantom.
You need anything today?"

Aside from Xeno Whiskey there wasn't anything he needed for now, he thought as he stared out of his quarters' only window into space.

"Nothing Chief. You can go."

"Alright, nothing it is then.
See you tomorrow."

The Chief turned around to walk away... and then stopped for a second.

"Almost forgot, a patrol reported one of your friends heading our way earlier.
No idea who it is, but they said he was flying one of those black ships you lot show up in, now and then.
They also said it would take a while for him to get here, he seemed to be taking his sweet time.
Seems he scared 'em a lot somehow though, 'cause they turned tail right after noticing that."
The Chief said over his shoulder before disappearing out of sight.

"First one's coming old man." Gloom - that was the name the Phantoms had given him - said to himself as he turned away from the window after hearing the door slam shut.
"Here's to hoping it's also the last one." With a swift motion he emptied the glass of Whiskey and then stood up to take a look in the cracked mirror mounted on the wall farthest away from him.
Running his fingers through his white beard, he debated what to do.
"Space or ground..."
He had to grin as the thought crossed his mind, that denying whoever came the opportunity to cause any harm to the people on this rock would piss the Phantoms off a little more.
Even if that was only a temporary delay for the ineviteable at best, he thought further.

He didn't know how right he was going to be.
16 hours ago.

Defiler grinned gleefully in the cargo hold of his Shadow. So many captured pilots, so much that can be done, but only so much they can take. What to choose, what to do... His thoughts of a fitting torture for each one were cut short by a transmission from the Hellbound. Direct transmission from the Eidolon himself.

Short and precise, as fitting the second in command of the Phantoms.

[font=Courier New]Defiler, you are the nearest pilot to the Colorado system where Gloom's transmission was last traced. Your orders are search and destroy. Find Gloom. Kill him.


[color=#CCCCFF]One-way communication. No need for confirmation, orders cannot be disobeyed. Defiler sighed, another pointless S&D mission. Killing one target wasn't any fun anymore, only bathing the blood of the enemy entertained him, now. He did have to admit, his new job was considerably more entertaining than the command position with the Outcasts.

Defiler wouldn't have time to play with his captives, oh well. He traded them to slavers on Rochester for a few credits before launching. Shame that someone else would be having all his fun. Engines burning, he made for Colorado. First place to check, the only neutral base in the system, Ouray.
The hatch to the hangar bay drew closer with every step.
There wasn't anything left to do.
Like all those times before, he had put on his uniform... or equivalent thereof.
He looked the straps on the armored gloves... they fit tightly around his old hands.
Crathygtan Power Armor, he thought.
One of the nicer things he had been handed during his stay in the Phantoms.
Would be a shame if it went to waste, it had served him well.
He could only hope that soon, all those things wouldn't matter anymore.
Faint hope at best, after all these years, but everyone needs something to keep themselves going.
Keep themselves trying.

Slowly he opened the hatch with his free hand - the other was holding some kind of sword, sheathed in its scabbard - and stepped through.
As his eyes, covered by the armored mask that was part of the armor, surveyed the scene before him, that old song came to his mind... always that same old song.
The men of the ground crew glanced at him as he walked through the hangar bay, singing to himself.

"Help us soon, our doom approaches,
Save us so we don't lose focus.
Come here sweet catastrophe,
To kill our lives, our hopes, our dreams."

He walked over to the old Blood Dragon fighter of his, "Katana" as they were called these days.
A push of a button later, the cockpit canopy slid open.

[color=#FFFFFF]"You two belong together."
Came the thought as he placed the scabbard in the pilot's seat.
The sword and ship were, just like everything else he posessed, a memento.
Something to remind him of the few good people he had encountered.
Something he wouldn't need anymore if he was lucky.

It was a shame that he couldn't fly that particular ship out.
The powercore had been damaged beyond repair during... he didn't even remember when.
After washing the thought aside with the symbolic gesture of pushing the button once more, he walked over to that old Rheinland Bomber of his, another part of the song on his lips.

"The fire's decided to chase us away,
The darkness has come and it's chosen to stay.
We're the ones you want to be here waiting for,
We're the children of the war."

The ground crew's eyes still on his back, he opened the canopy and sat down in the ship's cockpit.

"Let's see where you'll carry me this time."

Moments later the steel doors of the hangar bay slid open and he launched into that familiar cold darkness of space.

Same old hope driving him.
Same old song on his lips.
Same old man at heart.
For now.
Ouray had just come into Defiler's visual range. His target would be there, or...What luck! The fool wasn't even hiding. That was a rather simple chase. Though, just sitting there like that... Not moving. Old man's lost it. Defiler pulled up to the base, only 15 clicks out. Nothing on comms except the various Xeno traffic coming and going.

"Well, suppose you were once a Phantom so that earns you the respect of an introduction. I go by Defiler, and I'll be your waiter this evening. Table for one in purgatory, Gloom." Defiler almost cackled into the local comms.

[color=#FFFFFF]"Sounds just what any other one would say. Any other of you talking corpses."
For some reason he would never know, Gloom sounded sad.

Defiler shrugged, a motion not visible over the voice comms, "Whatever you say, old man."

The Shadow's engines lit up, trailing faint blue exhaust on the black background of space. The old bomber hardly moved as the Defiler approached. From the underbelly of the fighter, a bright red light accelerated forward before the ship tilted up as it passed by Gloom's bomber, leaving a nuclear mine shining in the light from the system's star.
Not good enough. Not good enough to get rid of me in one go, he thought as he pulled the ship up and out of the path of the Nuclear Mine.
Just took the shield.

"Try again." Flightstick gripped tightly, he turned his ship around as fast as he could...

...just to have another Mini Razor shot come at him.

Too fast... the Shield Batteries were unable to bring the shield back to life when...

Bang! - A blast of Tachyon-driven Antimatter tore off the tip of his left wing, sending his ship into a tight spiral towards the nearest asteroid as warning signs flickered on throughout his VR interface.
He should've flown by sight... that virtual HUD obstructed his vision.

"Oh, did that hurt? Need a band-aid? Maybe you want me to call for your mommy to give you a kiss so it feels better?"

Maniacal laughter came over the comms as he took control of the Snubnose again.

"Well sorry, she's not here. But I'm sure you'll meet her where you're going!"

He knew he couldn't outmaneuver that one, no matter what.

"What, cat got your tongue?"

More laughter. But it didn't matter. He turned the ship around to face the Shadow, firing off a barrage of gunfire at it...

"Old man, I thought you were better than that!" catch a Nuclear Mine that bursted the shield bubble just a split-second after the Shield Batteries had brought it back.

"How about something more... slow? To savor the moment?"

Guns blazing, the Shadow charged at him.
A suicidal move. And unfortunately one he couldn't counter mid-turn...

"Good enough for any corpse."

...except with a Nuclear Mine to the face as he fired up his thrusters to send him rocketing out of the blast radius of the mine which was now going off at the nose of Defiler's Shadow.

"Ouch! Seems like it's time to stop playing with my prey then? What a big damn shame."

He tore off the armored mask. He needed to see.
"There you are." He thought as he spotted the Shadow come up from behind an asteroid, charging at him and... turning its nose away from his ship.

He knew what was going to come and just sat still, eyes focused on the shadow, his own ship not moving at all.
Closer... closer... close enough.
He squeezed the trigger and let out a purple barrage of raw destructive energy at the Shadow, downing its shield, ready to fire the Sup...

"Not bad at all, old man, but I'm better than that!"

Another Nuclear Mine, right in his face. - He knew he couldn't avoid it, and braced for the impact...

"To hell you go!"

Laughter mixed with alarm sirens echoed through his ears as he struggled to bring the ship under control.
Looking out to the right he saw that...
He saw as good as nothing.
The right wing had been torn off almost completely with the blast, and the ship's status display in front of him was rapidly blinking.
Not only the wing, but the right weapon pod at the ship's belly, and the Mini Razor that came with it, were gone.

"Huh, still alive? What is it with you, too stubborn to die? Or too stupid?"

This whole fight went too fast. Too fast for any Nanobots to repair even a little bit of damage.
And his Shield Batteries didn't seem willing enough to help.
For that matter, the status display just silently displayed a red "N/A" next to their symbol.

"Weeell, let me wrap this up then."

There it was again, charging at him... charging... char...

"Not yet, corpse."

He dodged out of the way the wall of gunfire was taking and started to input commands into the ship's computer via the small keyboard with his left hand, holding tight onto the flightstick with the other.

"Oh, you want to play cat and mouse? Too bad that I'm not interested in playing games."

Defiler's voice sounded different this time. Angry.
And angry people make mistakes.

"Big damn shame, as you'd put it.
It's a fun game.
But dead men play no games anyway, so that's not much of a loss."

He dodged out the way of the next salvo and the Nuclear Mine that followed it.
Just a little more. Just a little more.

"Dead men? Talking about yourself there, aren't you? Hah!"

Beep! - He glanced at the display. "Warning! Capacitors charged beyond maximum!" It silently exclaimed to him.
That was the sign.

"There's something you never knew, corpse."

"Oooh, really? And what would that be, you old fool?" Defiler's voice was filled with a mixture of anger and overconfidence as he pulled the Shadow around and charged at his beaten-up Snubnose.

He saw the Shadow's guns light up.
Constant bearing, decreasing range.
Another way to say they were on a collision course.
Everything started to shake as the first shots forcefully connected with his ship's hull.
He pushed the button on his flightstick that released a Nuclear Mine and then maneuvered the ship a tiny bit to the right.
His left hand wandered to the switch that would cause a remote detonation, in the same moment as his heart seemed to turn to stone.

"What is dead already..." A cold, wry smile came over his face as he flipped it.
The explosion tore off a bit of his left wing just a split second before the Shadow passed him.

With the shockwave allowing him to evade Defiler's ship and to turn the Snubnose around in the blink of an eye, a trail of fire formed half of a circle behind him.

"...cannot kill a living man."

The final gunshot was the exclamation mark to Defiler's history of violence.
With a Banshee's wail the Supernova Cannon, overcharged way beyond limitations, let out a burst of pure Antimatter that lit up the space around both ships and melted the entire weapon itself.

Blinded by the light, Defiler couldn't do a thing.
With all his might he tried to get the Shadow to turn, to move, to evade, but it was too late.
When he realized the finality of this one moment, the barriers in his head that had stood between him and his memories collapsed along with the link to the Phantom Empire.
A single tear escaped his eyes as his last thought surfaced out of the depths of his mind before the Antimatter charge reached its destination:

"Forgive me, Margie."
Twelve hours later...

"Finally done!" The Chief let out, struggling for breath.
[color=#FFFFFF]"Yes, done."
The old man agreed as he looked up at his old Blood Dragon fighter.
After the fight he had called out for Ouray to send a Transport to tow in what was left of both ships, and the remains were mostly scattered around this quiet corner of the hangar bay.

The Snubnose's main hull was stripped off its powercore which had now been integrated into his fighter.
A temporary solution, but there wasn't going to be much of a compatibility issue as both ships had undergone the standard Phantom upgrade process before.
Size wasn't a problem either, and the orginially Rheinlandish "heart" found itself a new body to pump blood through.
True enough, most work had come from salvaging whatever remains of weaponry were left on the Snubnose and the Shadow...
Well, its wings rather as those were all that had been left of the ship, the center having been reduced to absolutely nothing.



"They end up bringing the weapons that cause their destruction."

"Sounds more like rightfully earned loot to me."

He turned to the Chief and scowled for a moment.

"Not how it should be."

Walking around the ship he took a close look at the results of combining Crathygtan technology with the remains of his bomber's Energy Blasters.
Alienesque power couplings and energy focussing arrays mixed with the remains of "Lamia" Tachyon Cannons and Debilitator pulse stabilizers manifested themselves together in the form of... something.
As long as the weapons did their destructive job, he wouldn't care.

"What with that?" The Chief pointed at the mangled and broken remains of the Snubnose.

"She's served me well. Bury her at a good place, lit by the stars." Came the words quietly as he stepped closer to the old ship and ran his armored palm across the canopy.

"Uh..." Unsure of what to do and slightly confused by his words, the Chief raised an eyebrow.
"...whaaatever you say. I'll get going and arrange for it."
Better do what the Phantom says, he thought before walking off and disappearing behind a corner.

"Wonder how many more will come, old man. How many more."

Drowning in his thoughts, he lost all track of his surroundings.
The same girl, now seated in her Orchid, felt a subtle increase in the weight she felt bearing down on her heart. She had just jumped to the Colorado system, the source of Gloom's last message. The feeling wasn't new to her, soon she would find the less to live for, more to die for. She had almost grown used to her misery. Unfortunately, today it didn't do anything to shorten the journey. There's always Gloom, she thought as she drifted into a soft sleep from the quiet lull of the bomber's engines, tears staining her cheeks.

New comms traffic from Ouray woke her, [color=#CCCCC0]"Unidentified ship, I repeat. State classification, affiliation, and yer damn business out here."

She rubbed the tears from her eyes before responding, "Uhm, sorry. Orchid Bomber, Phantom. Looking for someone. Seen any... Rheinland bombers, lately?"

"Well, Phantom, I think I know just who might that be. You must be another friend of Copperhead, come on in and land, I s'pose."

"Uh... Thanks." She faked a smile for the man. I guess he's here somewhere.

She let the bomber drift in slowly, moving under the base to the docking port on the far side. She pulled up slightly before hitting the autopilot, allowing the ship to spin on all three axes toward the large metal doors embedded in the rock face.

As autopilot took over for the docking sequence, she fixed herself in her reflection on the instrument panels. No showing weakness. She blinked a few times and rubbed her eyes. She looked … better, vaguely. Still looking ragged and like she hadn't slept in days (rightly so), but the evidence of tears was cleaned away. She smiled for herself and sighed. It wasn't worth faking.

The mask was put to her face as she climbed out of the cockpit. It was a part of her, more so than most Outcasts. It brought her many scornful looks, but it was all she had left of home. She breathed deep through the filters of the Cardamine-laden mask and looked around the hangar.

Her gaze drifted from craft to craft. Most were generic civilian fighters, Starblazers, Eagles, and such. As she went down the line, one caught her eye. The mangled wreckage of a Rheinland bomber, and standing at the foot of it... An old man in a suit of white powered armor.

The voice violently ripped him out of his thoughts.
He didn't even get to turn around before she threw her arms around his neck for whatever reason.

"I missed y..."

Not going to let her continue he pushed her away, knocking her to the ground.
His heart turned to stone once more as his cold gaze met her watery eyes.

[color=#FFFFFF]"Why're you here? What the hell drove you here?"

"I just..." She was sobbing already.

"What, didn't get your Corpse Lord's orders? Maybe you came after that carcass of a man who died out there a dozen hours ago?"

Treating her, Margarita Cruz - or Dark Blossom as she was called - that way didn't bring him pleasure, but it was necessary.
Neither alive nor dead, he remembered. That's what she was.
Scared little girl on one side, mindless servant of the Phantom Empire on the other.
Not someone to drag around anywhere.
Especially not when she didn't belong into either world.

"W...what orders? What man?" She was confused, didn't know what he was talking about.

"I'm no longer part of your glorious and mighty empire that consists of no more but rotting corpses.
If you're here to get rid of me just as that carcass who called himself Defiler, then get lost.
Unlike him you still have a chance to live, so I advise you to get the hell away before you make me run out of the last bit of mercy I've got left."

He said that in his cold, monotone voice before he picked up his mask and started to walk towards his fighter, leaving her alone, sitting on the cold ground of Ouray's main hangar bay.

Margarita's world was about to break apart as the puzzle pieces in her head snapped together to form a complete picture.
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