Tales Post 4 sees Ameryl, aboard The Lamb, noting the High Imperial battleships and High Legatifex Astrid's Kalor Varkesh. The ships, along with The Imperium escort vessels, position for a jump to the planet Briggan where Indigo Shade has been reported. Kalor Varkesh displays its new Bagon Noz Drive as it tears into, and through, Tartarus - making it the fastest of the present ships. The Lamb itself slips onto the astral plane to reach their destination. Once they arrive, suspicion arises until, unexpectedly, the red giant begins to collapse into itself and begins to form a supermassive blackhole like those found at the centres of galaxies. One of the High Imperial battleships attempts to escape with a jump but the gravity breaks the ship in two.
Shades of an Empire
Continues from Tales Post 2.
The ships form a jump pattern. They're widely spaced to ensure they're not going to bump into each other when they emerge on the other end.
Ameryl stands on the bridge of The Lamb and looks through the viewport at the High Imperial ships. She sees the impressive Kalor Varkesh glide with more agility and precision than most machine space vessels could muster. She actually feels quite envious of High Legatifex Astrid right now. Its draconic form is a dark grey and smoking, like its been recently burnt by the fires of Tartarus itself. She can only see its black, aethereal wings because they blot out the stars of space behind them. Its ribs protrude from the skin and are just as ashen as the skin. Its immense head swings slowly and Ameryl gets the impression that its looking at her. The dragon eyeing up the lamb.
Ameryl's own ship is little and white to boot.
It's composed of the bone of a great space whale, mixed with the moon rock of Brethrain. The space whales are known to be incredibly hardy beasts of space and, while not as fearsome as a netherwyrm, they are almost as durable. They're often found swimming through asteroid fields or sailing into dangerous nebulas. Their bones are a precious commodity, fabled for withstanding some of the most powerful weapons known to the great empires of the cosmos. When this material is then combined with the remains of a god, you have a ship that could stand up to almost anything. Brethrain was a literal moon god that looked down upon the planet Indra. After Ameryl destroyed the planet and the moon, remains were gathered up, ground down and combined with whale bone to create an unfathomably durable material.
Ameryl had had to be extremely careful when she absorbed Brethrain, careful not to consume the entire planet with the God-Killer. That dreaded craft of gods everywhere yet friend to the weak. The fragments had been few but just enough to create a small craft.
The Lamb is a pretty and dainty looking craft that masks its strength. It's dotted by transparent sections where a film has been applied to the bone-moon material, meaning the windows aren't a liability to the integrity of the craft. It has a smooth, rounded fore with a length at the rear that looks like a tail. Two rounded, squat wings jut out from its sides giving the thing an unusual, fat bird look.
The Lamb has zero weaponry of its own.
It doesn't need it.
The technology used in The Lamb went into its tractor beams, of which there are thousands and each is of incredible strength. The tractors are capable of dragging moons from orbit with ease. Combined with speed to rival even Kalor Varkesh, The Lamb could not only outrun anything but hunt down any ship, disable it and bring it limping home.
While its tractors could disable even the strongest of capital ships, The Lamb doesn't rely on this alone. Five of its tractors are permanently directing five much larger edifices. They orbit around The Lamb like moons around a planet. They're disc-shaped vessels that have been remoulded from their original design to service The Lamb rather than act as independent crafts. They're coloured, for the most part, dark, menacing red and were once ships of the Omega Reich. While they could, even now, become separate ships, they're redesigned to act in specific roles to support the overall strategy of The Lamb, their hub ship.
The Lamb gently slips away from Kalor Varkesh, its Greater Omega ships following it in a synchronised pattern.
When The Lamb is stationary these ships starts to move around it in a seemingly random pattern, sometimes with a lazy loll or sometimes a sudden zip. It looks, from a distance, like a bunch of fish hovering around a small shell.
The ten mile long High Imperial ships position themselves in a triangular pattern, orientated along a linear plane, with Kalor Varkesh at the front. The two of them are of an identical build. The High Empire, like most empires and militaries, use uniform designs for the vast majority of their vessels and equipment. Kalor Varkesh is something of an anomaly within its fleet, likely the product of a favoured mind. The ships are elongated and adorned with affects that only sometimes serve functionality, other times they're entirely decorative and serve to glorify the empire. Every turret is intricately designed to be visually impressive. Statues stand in lines, honouring favoured souls. One of the latest statues added to the rows was that of Kimleigh.
A particularly high, gothic tower would be the bridge of the ships, overlooking the other towers like a city. Ameryl has the captains of these two ships on screen, noting that they're both decorated heroes with long service records. Only the best for the task at hand.
Of course the High Empire had wanted to send even more ships, but Ameryl refused to allow so many of them to come swarming through her territory.
There are five Imperium ships, excluding the support edifices of The Lamb. Ameryl chose her own personnel based on their experiences battling against the High Empire during the Only War. Each ship is unique and nothing like the other, a trait that has made The Imperium incredibly unpredictable but truly represents the face of The Imperium. A place for individuals.
Astrid and Kleo had been aboard The Lamb earlier but they wouldn't have any clue what might lurk within the other Imperium ships that are escorting them. Should the High Legatifex have an ulterior motive then she might be in for a surprise.
Ameryl, however, expects no such thing. The Only War was just that, the only war that will ever happen between them. Ameryl isn't about to hand over the keys to her territory to Astrid but she doesn't fear her or suspect her. The game between them is a cold war and that's how it shall remain under the pressure of mutually assured destruction. And the probable destruction of the entire multiverse.
The Imperium ships begin to jump first, then the two gothic-styled High Imperial ships jump - their visages elongate further as they appear stretched out, the front of the ship having moved so fast its rear hadn't caught up. Then its gone in a blink. Kalor Varkesh, on the other hand, makes a 'run up'. As it accelerates, netherflame blasts from its mouth and, suddenly, a rip in space-time blasts apart and Kalor Varkesh flies into Tartarus.
Ameryl stares, wide-eyed.
She hadn't expected that. The last she had heard of this biological ship, it certainly did make jumps like that. Some recent alterations must have been made. She does, however, recognise the jump drive as the Bagon Noz drive. An exceptionally dangerous jump system that runs the risk of destroying the ships instead of transporting them. Flying through Tartarus would do that. Kalor Varkesh, however, is a netherwyrm. If ever there was a ship perfectly designed for a Bagon Noz drive, it's Kalor Varkesh.
The Lamb itself, last, shimmers and disappears from reality. There's nothing flashy about this. It's simply functional. It's faster than the standard jump drives of the High Empire or the other Imperium ships, but she wouldn't be able to keep up with Kalor Varkesh. Tartarus is everywhere and as there's no time there, once the netherwyrm bursts out of Tartarus, no time will have passed at all in reality. The Lamb, on the other hand, is travelling along an astral plane that is tethered to reality. It's safer, it's nicer.
When The Lamb slips gently back into real space, Kalor Varkesh is already there. It's still bristling and sparking with the netherflames of Tartarus but appears to be completely undamaged. Ameryl grits her teeth as she wonders what Astrid could have gotten up to by herself. She may only have had a few minutes on Ameryl but a few minutes is all someone like Astrid would need to wreak havoc.
A communication requests arrives and Ameryl accepts.
It's presented as a visual on the viewscreen. This isn't the normal mode of communication between Imperium ships, but when dealing with the vast technological differences of other factions in the multiverse a simple visual display suffices.
Astrid: "Well then, Ameryl. Are you ready to watch the fireworks? Our infamous Indigo Shade is going to be in for a surprise today, I reckon."
Ameryl: "Be careful, High Legatifex. Indigo Shade obviously chose Imperium space to cause a ruckus between us. She may even have hoped to force a confrontation."
Astrid leans forward in her crystalline command chair. Unlike the outside of her ship, the interior of the bridge is made entirely of the crystal technology of the High Empire. Ameryl can see the orion second in command as he puts his hand onto a crystal and rubs it. Ameryl watches the display with concern. It does look awfully suggestive. It's no wonder Astrid goes round with no clothes on when there's men and women stroking and petting expressively all the time.
Astrid: "Yes, but she underestimated just how friendly we can be to each other. If anything, I think she's brought us closer together, am I right?"
She gives Ameryl a cute smile, which is odd when used by a woman who exudes sex appeal and normally has a sultry smirk. Ameryl notices that the weird lantern is still sitting next to her, apparently never out of her sight.
Ameryl: "Maybe. But don't underestimate her, Astrid. She's managed to constantly evade capture by being several steps ahead of everyone at all times. For all we know we're doing exactly as she had expected us to do."
Astrid: "You're so mindful, Ameryl. Quite an admirable quality. I just wish you'd turn that beautiful mind my way."
Ameryl: "Maybe you should put your mind to the task?"
Ameryl cuts communication before Astrid could continue to pester. The other ships now trail into the system and begin to slowly slide into a new formation as they crawl through space towards the planet Briggan. It's a dwarf planet and the only one in the whole system. The star is a red supergiant. By comparison to this star, the sun of the solar system would be nothing but a dot. And the dwarf planet is smaller still.
Though red giant is a relavtively cool star, this dwarf planet rests in a zone from the planet that has managed to develop a habitable atmosphere. Though it has weather patterns and liquid water, no life has ever developed there, making it a rocky world with great seas and lakes.
Reports that Indigo Shade had taken up residence there came through quite quickly and have remained constant. The fact that Indigo Shade doesn't seem to be keeping under the radar has Ameryl thinking a plot is afoot. The suspicion is that she has been recruiting new Shades to her cause and doing that within Imperium territory makes the Imperium suspect itself.
The ships fly down past the red blaze of the star and draw in on Briggan. Ameryl had expected something to happen by now. Some kind of defensive strategy in play. Instead nothing is happening.
Ameryl: "There's definitely no signs of life on the planet?"
No life is the answer from her bridge crew.
The Lamb has a crew of just fifty, which is in excess of perhaps twenty of what the ship would need to function normally. Traditionally The Imperium has always preferred smaller crews to minimise casualties if a ship goes down. The Lamb, however, is also just too small for a huge crew.
Ameryl: "Even if she's there she could easily mask herself from scans but there's no readings of anyone at all means either she's alone... or she's not there at all. Could it all have been a ruse? Did she leave already? Strange situation..."
Ameryl: "And a situation I wish was over already. The longer this drags out the more pressure this alliance is under..."
A request comes through, this time as a message, from Kalor Varkesh. It requests permission to blow up the planet.
A typical High Empire response to any given situation. If in doubt, blow it up with a big gun.
Ameryl taps a finger against her chin.
It is uninhabited...
Before she could ponder any further a report comes in of a disturbance. Very quickly she doesn't need details as she can see what is happening through the viewscreen. The star has started to collapse, rapidly, into itself. Ameryl gapes for a second before giving orders;
Ameryl: "Plot an emergency jump!"
The black hole is unnaturally fast in its growth, the red supergiant is consumed unbelievably fast. Briggan, the little dwarf world, is already gone. The ships of the High Empire have turned away from the star for their own escape route. One of them attempts the jump but the supermassive black hole generates so much gravity that it cannot escape the pull. The front of the ship tries to jump but the rear is not only slower but too slow. The ship bursts in twain, the front half jumps, creating a visual stutter, and then limps. The rear end is exactly where it had been before, only now it's beginning a slow descent towards the black gulf.
Ameryl is panicking.
Most galaxies have a supermassive blackhole at their centre, around which the stars and planets orbit. A second supermassive blackhole opening here in one of the arms of the Brontax Galaxy is going to obliterate it.
All the trillions people that live here.