Deep in the Unknown Regions, turbolaser fire illuminated the black starfield of the nameless system. On all sides of the newly updated X-9 Reconnaissance-class starfighter, anti-fighter flak and the snarl of thundering turbolaser fire from nearby Imperial capital ships crowded Aoirtae Valaeris within the already confined space.
"Kara," she said into the internal communicator, "what are you doing back there? Get those ASPs off our back!"
In the tail gunner seat of the starfighter, Kara Inviá snarled. "Your... lack of piloting skills is making it difficult!"
Smiling to herself, Aoirtae placed her hand on the fighter's yoke, and pulled an impressive loop, wrenching the starfighter wildly, until a moment later, when it positioned itself directly behind their most immediate aggressor—an ASP interceptor. Aoirtae grinned.
A single blast from the starfighter's cannons erupted, and the ASP disappeared in an explosive boil of superheated gas.
"Show-off." Kara chuckled, before unleashing a volley of energy blasts which reduced two more ASPs to atoms.
A sudden shockwave of debris and fire emerged from one of the Remnant'sAether-class corvettes nearby, almost throwing their starfighter into a tailspin. Aoirtae twisted the yoke, and managed to stabilise the ship, and managed to whip it sideways across the superstructure of an Imperial Star Destroyer, seconds before impact. "Woah nelly!"
Kara slammed her fist. "That was the Quadrantia Empress. Captain Anabelon. Three hundred lives."
Clearing the Star Destroyer brought the starfighter on course for a heavily damaged Phoebus-class Star Destroyer, which Kara identified as Commodore Thonaloc's flagship, the Valour; the space between the two mighty battleships ablaze with turbolaser exchanges of enough magnitude to melt entire planetary regions. In an effort to lose their pursuers, Aoirtae divided the fighter right into it, using her lightning-fast reflexes to avoid the turbolaser bolts and emerge on the other side—with those ASP pilots brave enough, or perhaps foolish enough, to pursue, now vaporized.
It was three weeks to the day since the Fall of the Twelve Worlds, and for the last two of which, the New Republic Remnant had been under nearly constant siege by the Imperial Starfleet, which used interdiction technology to prevent the fourteen, now thirteen, loyal Republic vessels from escaping to friendly Cognatus territory. Having rejoined the fleet after reporting on the death of Ryen to the Ethelnór Aldárae, Aoirtae and Kara were quickly outfitted in Republic fighter gear and were immediately directed toward the cockpit of one of the Remnant's new X-9 ReCon starfighters—recovered from an abandoned U.R.C. starbase.
"We need to take down the interdiction field!" Kara said. "Otherwise, the fleet's finished!"
Aoirtae kicked the starfighter into a half roll to avoid a piece of debris, as her eyes darted across the battlefield. "There!" she exclaimed. "That siege dreadnought!"
Directly ahead of the starfighter, the dreadnought Absolution hung ominously, surrounded by a flotilla of Imperator and Judicator-class warships, and screened by squadrons of ASP starfighters. "We just need to figure out how to get to it in one piece."
Kara nodded and interacted with her communicator to a new frequency used by the Remnant's pilots. "All pilots, this is Goldwing. Mark our position. We need to take down that dreadnought's interdictor field."
A male voice echoed in her helmet. "Copy that, Goldwing. All fighters, form up behind her."
Aoirtae and Kara's starfighter was soon joined by over twenty X-19 ReCon fighters, all of which activated full sublight, and surged forward with cannons blazing. All around their starfighter, Imperial ASPs came swarming. Giving themselves over to battle, both Aoirtae and Kara grasped onto the targeting system and began blasting in unison; Aoirtae whirling the fighter in impossible manoeuvres and knocking out any fighter in front of her, while Kara directed her cannons toward any who made it past.
Across the battlefield, Admiral Cretacea stood next to Apollo, both of whom made no effort to hide their fear in the face of the situation. With the Imperial interdiction field in place, there could be no escape, and with the full might of the Imperial armada protecting the dreadnought, Cretacea was hesitant to sacrifice any of the Remnant's few remaining capital ships in a vain effort to destroy it. Their last hope was with a mere twenty starfighters penetrating the Imperial defences, and destroying the gravity well generator.
Meanwhile, Aoirtae and Kara's starfighter jolted to one side, allowing for an ASP-EX Extinction-class Interceptor to pass them by, directly into Kara's line of fire.
The interceptor's engines caught the second bolt, sending the craft spiralling into a nearby destroyer.
"Nice one!" Aoirtae said.
While the rest of the squadron dealt with the Imperial fighters, the Aldárae flipped their starfighter behind an Imperial cruiser and shot toward the Absolution at maximum thrust. It didn't take long for the Empire to guess what they were up to, as Aoirtae and Kara promptly discovered by a wave of flak from the dreadnought, the intensity of which would surely spell the end of an ordinary pilot.
By Aoirtae and Kara were no ordinary pilots.
The X-9 ReCon rolled sharply, avoiding an energy bolt with centimetres to spare, and bringing them zooming along the dreadnought's dorsal surface. Ahead, Aoirtae noticed the dreadnought's central aperture, brought the starfighter lower still, to the point where the wing-tipped cannons almost grazed the shields. When the hull gave way to a depression, Aoirtae knew that they reached their destination. Pulling the starfighter upwards into a climb, rolling all the while, Aoirtae suddenly pulled hard on the yoke, spinning the starfighter upside down and sending it hurtling toward the aperture, and the gravity well generator it housed. Narrowing her eyes in steely concentration, Aoirtae unleashed the full power of the fighter's forward cannons and torpedoes, and at the last possible second before pulling up, the generator exploded into scrap.
Almost as soon as the generator turned to ash, Kara and Aoirtae heard Cretacea's voice over the comm. "Aha, I knew they'd do it! All ships, make the jump to lightspeed!"
One by one, the vessels of the New Republic Remnant shot off into hyperspace, followed closely by Aoirtae and Kara. For the moment at least, they had earned a reprieve.
Chapter II: Command and Control
The X-9 ReCon hurtled out of lightspeed several minutes later and was greeted with the sight of the New Republic Remnant's thirteen remaining vessels, many of which were heavily damaged in the fighting. Nevertheless, as the fighter approached the cavernous hangar bay of the flagship Republica, Kara considered it fortunate that more ships weren't lost, given the strength of the assailing Imperial armada. The starfighter touched down on the deck with a gentle thud, and as a member of the hangar crew prepared a ladder, the cockpit opened. Aoirtae and Kara climbed down and clapped each other on the back.
"Looks like they sent the welcoming committee," Kara remarked, noticing a female ortellan approach with a stern expression on her face.
Commander Kalae Sevine nodded her head to Aoirtae and Kara, though her voice was flat and grim. "Good to see you both again. It seems like a lifetime since the Battle of Corunathor."
Aoirtae grinned. "You've changed your hair."
Sevine smiled, but did not reply, and instead beckoned them to follow her. "Fleet Admiral Cretacea has requested your presence on the command bridge. It would seem he has a plan for you both once we reach Cognalorilos."
Aoirtae and Kara kept pace behind the commander, as they entered the hallway and made their way toward the turbolift. "Commander," Kara said. "I thought you were the first officer of the Aeolus."
"I am. Commodore Roslia's here too. I'm assisting him in any way I can." Sevine replied bitterly. "It's funny. I had expected to receive my own command within a few weeks, but it seems the universe has other plans."
As they entered the turbolift, Aoirtae stretched. "I'm sure you will before you know it. We won't be rebels forever."
"Yes," Sevine said, frowning. "With a bit of luck."
After a few awkward moments in the turbolift, the doors parted to reveal the Republica's command and control centre, and several individuals gathered around a holo-table, including Apollo and Willelmus Cretacea. Ignoring bridge protocol, Kara rushed forward and hugged her father and grandfather, who returned the gesture warmly.
"You never cease to impress me, Kara," Apollo said proudly. "Your mother would be so proud."
Kara gave a short laugh. "I think it's more likely that she'd ban me from coming within a lightyear of an actual battle."
"True," Apollo said with a smile. "And she'd probably succeed where I failed to. She always was the scarier parent."
"You as scary as a paper towel." Gorf, who was nonchalantly scratching the part of his head where his nose should supposedly be, walked in, glancing at the new arrivals. "Oh, hello, Girl Laoi."
"Hey Gorf," Kara said. "The nickname is an improvement over Alive Gianne, so I'll take it."
Aoirtae placed her hands on the holotable, and looked at the fleet's trajectory to the distant world of Cognalorilos, the homeworld of the militaristic Cogsangui and the capital of the Unified Order of Cognalorilos, led by Apollo's old ally, Primarch Voro Acetenus. As they were travelling through what was essentially unknown space, avoiding the major hyperlanes, the journey was taking longer than usual.
"So what's the plan once we get there?" Aoirtae asked the Fleet Admiral.
Cretacea's reply was grave but hopeful. "Primarch Acetenus has granted us safe harbour to rest up, repair our damaged ships, and contact our allies. With their help, we can finally formulate a strategy to reclaim the Republic from Zare'Anne's clutches."
"Ask Bug-face Primarch man to blow him up", Gorf said, while raising a finger. "That's the only way people get things done in this galaxy. You blow people up."
Commodore Thonaloc, an imposing Corthrinus nodded in reply. "I agree with the sentiment. With the Cognatus as ever-closer allies, we will have gained a potent weapon against our foes."
"Voro has plenty of problems as it is, Commodore," Apollo said. "I've heard rumours of activity along the borders with the Cognatus Empire, as well as a new force commanded by a Nequam warlord. Still, I'm sure he'll be eager to lend us any assistance he can."
Commodore Roslia nodded in agreement. "His forces have already proved instrumental in more than one campaign against the Empire. Who knows, a Cognatus fleet may have prevented the Fall of the Twelve Worlds."
"What we waiting for then?", Gorf asked, jumping on Apollo's chair and sitting on it. "Let's go to the place where we no get blown up."
Commander Selanius stepped forward, his red Neraida-made eye darting from person to person. "It will be imperative not to let our guard down, remember. Although the Primarch is an ally, he commands many who consider us to be heretics. The Unified Order is made up of many disunited factions, bound together through the strength of will of Acetenus. Let us hope that our presence on their sacred cradle world does not inspire the extremists in his rank."
Roslia folded his arms over his chest. "I agree we should remain cautious, Commander Selanius, though any of Voro's warriors that we've come across have always been honourable. I'm sure the Primarch'll keep them in check."
"Better safe than sorry," Aoirtae chimed in. "We only have a handful of ships left, after all."
Subcommander Narrus approached the Fleet Admiral and whispered something into his ear. Cretacea nodded and scratched his chin, before looking up at the others. "We're arriving in the Cognalorilos system."
The lights on the bridge became dark red, symbolising the ships' transition to realspace, while on the overhead monitors, the blue void of hyperspace gave way to a vista of an orange desert world potmarked with crystalline oceans. Apollo had a nervous expression etched on his face, his eyes fixed on the display.
"Remember, everyone. We're the first non-Cognatus to be invited to Cognalorilos. Let's try not to mess things up."
"Gorf no want to see ugly Bug-face men. Will be in the room with the big TV screen", Gorf said, before getting up and walking away. Apollo called him back with a disapproving look on his face. "Ah, ah, ah, we're going down to the surface, Gorf. I don't trust leaving you alone on a heavily armed warship." Crossing his arms, Gorf blew a raspberry and walked back, a mildly displeased expression on his face. "Dumb."
Selanius opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted by Subcommander Dhivael. "Fleet Admiral, the Cognatus authorities have denied permission for us to land on the plane-"
Aghast, Commodore Thonaloc slammed his fist on the holotable. "Barbaric zealots! I knew we couldn't trust them."
Apollo furrowed his brow and raised his hand to placate Thonaloc. "Please, Commodore, don't jump to conclusions. Continue, Subcommander."
"Of course", Dhivael said, somewhat irritated by Thonaloc's interruption. "Primarch Acetenus sends his apologies but believes that it's best that his forces escort the President to the surface. Regions of the planet are still in a period of civil war."
Fleet Admiral Cretacea grumbled and looked to Apollo, who nodded his head. "Sometimes I forget how conservative the Cogsangui can be. Are you sure, son? I can press the issue with the Primarc-"
"No, no," Apollo said, shaking his head. "We're here as guests, after all."
Chapter III: The City of the Ancients
Once each Republic vessel had transitioned to realspace in orbit over Cognalorilos, a small flotilla of Cognatus vessels approached, led by a ship most of the Republica's crew recognised—the Herald of Retribution, which dispatched one of their shuttles to dock with the Republic flagship. Though most of the Remnant's captains were still overcome with unease after the traumatic events in the Four Systems, and the subsequent escape from Imperial forces, they welcomed any aid they could from the Cognatus, who towed damaged frigates into drydock to begin repairs and refuelling. On the Republica, Apollo strode down the corridor toward the main hangar and was followed closely by Gorf, Aoirtae and Kara.
"Remember," Apollo was saying to them. "Let me do the talking. I have experience in dealing with Cogsangui."
Aoirtae shrugged her shoulders, while Gorf nibbled on his own claws, seemingly not paying attention.
"So remember," Apollo continued, casting his gaze to Gorf. "No calling them ugly bug-face men, or," he glanced at Aoirtae. "Mandible mouths".
Aoirtae opened her mouth in surprise, remembering that she had called Rtas'Shagili a "mandible mouth" during their encounter on Aecor. Acting scandalised by the accusation, she whispered to Kara. "Yeesh, he remembers that?" The small blue creature meanwhile mumbled under his breath, though did nothing else as he continued to nibble his own fingers to pass the time.
In the distance, Kara noticed a bulbous Cognatus transport, which looked rather out of place amidst the more angular designs of the Republic. At the opening hatch stood an imposing Cogsangui warrior in gleaming white armour, surrounded by warriors outfitted in armour identical to that used in battlefields across Cyrannus. When he stood before him, Apollo led the others in a respectful bow. "Fleetlord Ehtar, it's good to see you again."
Fleetlord Morin Ehtar returned the greeting by pressing his fist to his chest and bowing his head. "Likewise, clan-leader of the Republic. Know that the sons and daughters of Cognalorilos reject the claim of dominance by the one known as Zare'Anne. Indeed, you have been honoured as the first of not our own to step on the hallowed soil of Great Cognalorilos."
Apollo nodded graciously as Ehtar's men escorted them onto the shuttle. Ehtar bid them sit as the shuttle lifted into the air, and accelerated quickly away from the belly of the Republica, toward the planet's surface. After trying, and failing, to make small talk with the Cognatus guards, Aoirtae turned her attention to the viewport, as the blackness of space gave way to Cognalorilos' atmosphere.
"What's the situation on Cognalorilos, Fleetlord? When last I heard, extremists loyal to Vos Adamae were making inroads." Apollo asked, with genuine interest.
Ehtar looked up. "Your reports are accurate, Republic Clanlord. Though the true Cognatus maintain control over much of the planet, there are some fools who continue to resist the future. A rotation past, the Primarch reduced a rebel stronghold, pledged to Xarn Senakh'tenre, to ashes."
Apollo shifted uncomfortably. "Oh... lovely. I look forward to seeing Vor- I mean, Primarch Acetenus. It's been a while since we spoke, face to face."
Ehtar blinked and clicked his mandibles. "Yes. He expressed a similar sentiment. The Primarch considers you an honoured friend."
"He's always been there for us. I wouldn't be sitting here were it not for him." Apollo remarked as the shuttle touched down.
Morin looked over to Kara and Aoirtae, presumably thinking that Gorf was a mere pet of Apollo. "Have a care," he said. "Do not stray from the guards. There are some in the Th'khan Que'naesn who do not approve of your visit."
Aoirtae arched an eyebrow. "The Th'khr-what now?"
"The City of the Ancients. The historical heart of the Cognatus religion, and the seat of Voro's power." Apollo replied.
"Come," Morin said. "Witness the majesty of Great Cognalorilos."
Stepping out of the shuttle, they were greeted with an impressive sight. The City of the Ancients was built into the face of an imposing rocky mountain, bathed in the golden glow of Cognalorilos' twin primaries. Gorf eyed the majestic capital of the planet with his usual air of indifference, though his eyebrows raised slightly. "Nice." The Cognatus guards and Fleetlord Ehtar led them along a tightly controlled avenue lined with statues of prior Cogsangui warrior kings and supreme leaders, including the pedestal of one which had been removed relatively recently, which Apollo suspected was a statue which depicted the Warmaster Xae Vandon, who was recently revealed to have survived the Intergalactic War, only to be indoctrinated by the Corruptus. The Hold of Acetenus was a vast temple-like structure built away from the holy district of the city, and though it did not look like the most comfortable place to live, it was nonetheless a majestic sight to behold. As they entered the great hall, they were greeted with what resembled a vast throne room built from carved rock, quite distinct from the typical Cognatus style.
"Apollo!" someone called from the opposite end of the room. Clad in his impressive golden armour and cape, Voro Acetenus stood from his throne and approached the new arrivals. Voro clenched his fist and set it on his chest, bowing his head in respect. "It is good to see you, friend. Though I wish it were under more favourable circumstances."
Apollo echoed Voro's gesture with a curt bow. "Good to see you too, old friend. Thank you for inviting me into your home."
"The honour is mine, Apollo. You aided my people in our hour of darkest need. We would return the favour."
Aoirtae smiled modestly. "I became more acquainted with your medical staff than I did our enemies if I remember right."
Voro clicked his mandibles together in an approximation of a laugh. "And yet, you stand here hale and hearty. I daresay few of the warriors who walked these halls in its long history can match your deeds or those of Apollo's daughter."
"Don't let your people hear you say that," Kara said. "We could sense the unease when we landed."
Voro brushed off the comment. "Cognalorilos has long been at war, both from within and without, and my people are slow to change. But fear not young one, you are most welcome within these halls. Honoured guards, show the Heroes of Vasuband to their rooms. I would discuss the war effort with Apollo."
Apollo nodded in agreement. "Go with them, Gorf. And stay out of trouble." Gorf gruffed and proceeded to follow them. "It almost like you not trust Gorf. "Don't get in trouble" this, "don't press that button" that. "Put that knife down" that. Bleh."
Aoirtae snorted a laugh. "Don't worry, Mr. President. Just call us when you're ready to head back to the ship."
Chapter IV: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Dismissing his guards, Voro led Apollo onto a balcony overlooking a breathtaking view of the mountains bordering the Helrill Desert, from whose sands the City of the Ancients was built. On the horizon, the first of Cognalorilos' suns had already set, yet the second, the largest of the two, was casting a brilliant orange glow on the rocky slopes of the mountains. Apollo had been to many worlds in his time, but Cognalorilos was among the most strikingly beautiful, so distinct from temperate Capricaerón or bustling Orbispira.
"It's majestic," Apollo remarked, as he inhaled the fresh evening air.
Voro clicked his mandibles together. "You find it so? It is true that in these dark times, I find solace in the warmth of the twin suns. But alas, the feeling is temporary. With the fall of your Republic, the Empire stands poised to move upon our borders."
Turning on his heels away from the balcony, Voro activated his holotable, displaying a holographic projection of Cognatus Space. Though Apollo could recite each primary sector of the known regions of Cyrannus, he admitted to himself that he was clueless as to the makeup of Cognatus space, which for decades had been closed off from the rest of the galaxy. Of course, he could point to influential worlds such as Carthianpian based on their relative position to his familiar region of Cyrannus, though he still marvelled at the extent to which the Cognatus explored territories utterly unknown to those who lived in the galactic interior. Voro noticed his reaction and activated a holographic layer depicting the region's current political makeup.
"As you can see," Acetenus began, indicating to space held by his own forces. "Our might eclipses that of Vos Adamae, and his vile ilk. Yet," he continued, activating a filter displaying space held by the Cognatus Empire, "my kind remains embroiled in conflict. The Sundering of the Cognatus, the loremasters have taken to calling it. We cannot contend with a full-scale invasion by the Empire."
Apollo frowned. "It's a difficult situation, I know, and I would help you if I could. But I'm afraid that the thirteen vessels in orbit are the last vestige of the New Republic. Now, all we ask for is a safe harbour."
Voro bowed his head. "And you shall have it, friend."
Across the complex, Fleetlord Ehtar led Aoirtae, Kara and Gorf to the guest wing of the vast keep, pointing out works of art and statues of great warriors as they passed through the dusty and harshly decorated corridors. Ehtar, fascinated by the history of the building, was regaling them with the once lost lore of the Cogsangui people, that zealots such as Xae Vandon and Vos Adamae sought to replace with a religion constraining the past traditions of honour which had guided the Cogsangui for generations. "This is why," he was in the midst of saying, "Primarch Acetenus is the greatest thing to happen to the Cognatus for many an age."
"He seems like quite the leader," Aoirtae remarked. "Just the sort needed when times are bad."
Exiting onto a sky bridge leading to the guest wing, Aoirtae shielded her eyes from the blaze of the setting sun and almost failed to notice that Kara and Ehtar had stopped in their tracks. Noticing two figures blocking the path, she squinted and identified them as Cogsangui wearing identical blue armour. Though she and Kara assumed they were simply honour guards, Ehtar immediately unholstered his plasma rifle. "Followers of Adamae."
Both Cogsangui activated their energy blades in turn. "Fleetlord Ehtar, you are strayed from the path. Your False Primarch has invited heretics to our sacred world and granted them seats within our hallowed halls. Join us, strike down the False One and his alien masters, and join the Archon in bringing the truth once more to the cosmos!"
Ehtar growled in response. "Fools, I name you. Fools! You think you will topple the Order by yourselves? Even your insane Archon lacks the power!"
"Oh, but we do not fight alone. Behold!" The Cogsangui warrior pointed to the heavens, where a trio of unidentified battlecruisers began to descend toward the city. The cruisers were certainly not Cognatus in design, lacking the smooth and bulbous design in favour of harsh angles and spikes, emblazoned in dark green and black. However, before they could react to the new arrivals, which began unleashing squadrons of fighters and shuttles, the Cognatus soldiers rushed forward with their blades in hand and a war cry upon their mandibles.
Ehtar unleashed a barrage of plasma fire at the assailants and managed to hit one in the shoulder, though his foe, driven by faith and fury, brushed off the wound and continued the charge, only to be felled by a blast of energy from Aoirtae, who knocked him off the bridge. The final Cogsangui swiftly took cover and tossed a grenade over the barricade. Noticing it at the last possible second, Kara formed a bubble of energy around it, containing the blast. Gorf, perhaps unsurprisingly, raised his hands and screamed in fear before promptly fleeing the scene altogether. The Cogsangui warrior, pinned down by relentless plasma fire from Ehtar, unholstered his own rifle and began firing in return, failing to realise that another Cogsangui had suddenly appeared from the guest wing, armed with a deadly plasma lance. Quickly and quietly, Ankhnes Nar Monomai rushed forward, and drove her lance through her enemy's back, killing him instantly.
Ehtar lowered his weapon once he recognised the new arrival. "Captain of the Guard. Your arrival is opportune."
Aoirtae smiled and nodded in recognition. "It seems you've received a promotion since the fight on Vasuband. It's good to see you again, Ankhnes."
"Likewise, Knights of the Aldárae Order. Though we have no time to reminisce. It would appear that these," she clicked her mandibles in disgust. "Traitors, have provided intelligence to unknown aliens, permitting their attack on the Primarch's hold."
"Not just any aliens," Kara remarked, sensing a familiar presence on the planet. One that filled her with dread.
Deeper in the Hold, an explosion rocked the Voro's war-room, and the distant sound of blaster fire could be heard from outside. Voro, through sheer instinct, activated his energy blade and stood between Apollo and the door. "Stand behind me!"
Apollo unholstered his pistol and aimed it at the door, as the sound of heavy footsteps rushed toward them. "Is it the rebel Cognatus?"
Voro's reply was immediate. "No. Not unless they've begun to use the weapons of outsiders, and they are much too proud for that."
The heavy doors leading to the room were suddenly smashed open, and to Apollo's shock, three male Mortalitas soldiers emerged from the smoke. It was clear from their armour that they weren't Imperials, though the uniform nature of their gear indicated that they were members of another organisation, one that did not lack for resources. The lead Mortalitas stepped forward and bared his teeth, his crimson eyes fixed on Apollo. "The Imperarch will be most pleased. The great enemy found, at last, huddling by the leg of a common savage."
Voro whirled the blade in his hand and narrowed his eyes, beckoning the trio of Mortalitas forward. "Come then, Mortalitas. Test yourself against me."
One of the Mortalitas rushed past his commander with an energy blade in hand, charging forward at the President. Stepping to one side, as if to allow the Mortalitas access his prey, Voro suddenly brought his blade down on the Mortalitas' thick neck, decapitating him instantly, and with another motion, he flung the sword like a frisbee, divesting the others of their heads and sending their twitching bodies crumpling to the floor.
At once impressed and disturbed by the violent deaths of their aggressors, Apollo gathered himself and remained close behind Voro as they made their way toward the great hall. Voro glanced down at the President as they walked. "Imperarch? Have you heard of such a one?"
"... Well," Apollo began. "He called me the great enemy, which doesn't exactly narrow it down. You may have noticed, but I'm not exactly a popular guy these days. Still, they weren't Imperials, and they weren't mercenaries, so..."
Apollo stopped himself, considered the possibilities and began again. "Before the war, we received intelligence that an independent Mortalitas faction had renewed aspirations for galactic conquest... Of course, then the war happened and we suddenly had a more immediate threat."
Through the windows of the hall, they could spot the distant blooms of fiery explosions and hear the distinctive engines of battling starfighters. Picking up his holocom, Apollo contacted Kara, whose holographic image appeared a moment later, with her blade extended. "Kara?! Are you alright?"
"These Mortalitas... jerks, are making things difficult," Kara replied, using her blade to deflect incoming bolts of energy. "We're with Voro's guard. Stay where you are, we're on our way."
Apollo nodded, and when Kara's image disappeared, he immediately contacted Admiral Cretacea. After a moment, the Fleet Admiral appeared, though the signal was clearly being jammed by whoever was attacking the planet. "Aedanius, are you alright?!"
Apollo dismissed the remark. "I'm fine, dad, but what's going on?! Why the frak are Mortalitas attacking the planet?"
"They arrived twenty minutes ago, a sizable armada consisting largely of unidentified battlecruisers. According to the Shiplord of the Herald, they accessed secret hyperlanes plotted by Vos Adamae's Cognatus faction, so it's likely they're in league."
Voro shook his head. "A partnership of pragmatism, no doubt. Adamae is not stupid, he will condemn the attack on our holy city, though capitalise on its fall."
"Aedanius, there's more." Admiral Cretacea said, his expression grimmer than Apollo could ever recall seeing. "Before attacking, they sent a single transmission, I'll redirect it to your holocom." After a moment, Cretacea's form was replaced by a massive Mortalitas, in impressive golden battle armour and a crimson cape.
Apollo gasped. "Zillum".
His voice deep and malevolent, Zillum began. "Ghosts of the Republic, witness the beginning of my supremacy. Witness the dawn of the age of the Great Star Dominion. Die, knowing that upon your bones, a new galactic order begins."
Chapter V: The Skies Ignite
Space above Cognalorilos was alight with the fire of war. As the vessels of the New Republic Remnant formed a tight parameter around the Republica, the Great Star Dominion pressed their advantage. Armed with new and deadly warships outfitted from weaponry and shields stolen from starships originating in an alternate reality, the Dominion unleashed their full destructive power against the Republic and their allies. Though ill-equipped to counter the Dominion vessels, Fleet Admiral Cretacea ordered his vessels to act as escorts to the more heavily armed Order vessels, including the Herald of Retribution, which provided cover for the Republic.
After several minutes battling through waves of Mortalitas warriors, Kara, Aoirtae, Gorf, Ankhnes and Ehtar eventually reached Apollo and Voro, whose forces were beginning to push back against the Mortalitas. As debris began entering the planet's atmosphere like shooting stars, flaming over the sky and tainting it red, Apollo called to Morin and asked to be taken to their shuttle, where he would ultimately travel towards the flagship. The horrific sounds of explosions grew closer and more deafening as they made their way towards Voro's personal hangar, where Ehtar's shuttle awaited.
"Aedanius, what are you doing?" A comm suddenly spoke from Apollo's holster. It was Cretacea.
"Making our way back to the Republica. I can't simply stay put and wait for the battle to reach the surface because once the enemy truly makes planetfall, it will be too late." He replied, looking ominously towards the shuttle's blast door, trying not to make eye contact with the Admiral, who nodded in reply. Granting Apollo, Kara and Aoirtae the use of the shuttle, Ehtar stood alongside Voro and Ankhnes and bowed his head respectfully. Noticing that they weren't following, Apollo turned his head. "Are you coming, Voro?"
The Cognatus Primarch shook his head in reply. "Our battle is on the surface, Apollo." He placed his fist on his chest. "May we declare victory this day!"
Apollo returned the gesture and strapped himself in beside Aoirtae, while Kara, being the most experienced pilot, took the controls. Gorf was still nowhere to be seen, and Apollo did not have the time to go look for him; he only hoped that he would eventually teleport back to his sight later. The shuttle launched, speeding its way through the billowing clouds straight towards the "Republica". The sound of turbolasers and blasting beam-rays began to pound on Apollo's chest, as he knew that he was facing no ordinary foe. The Remnant would have to pull a miracle if they were to have a chance against the Dominion, and more so... against Zillum.
Meanwhile, Zillum, sitting prideful in his chair while he witnessed the battle unfolding in his favour, finally heard the words he had been so patiently waiting for...
"My lord, we have just received word from our forward line that Apollo's shuttle has set a course to his flagship."
Zillum abruptly stood up, startling his officers, and extended his hand towards the battle, as if he enjoyed every step and gesture.
"Advance. Tear them apart. Leave none alive. Apollo shall be ours this day!"
The Dominion quickly changed its strategy, instead of its initial full frontal assault, its warships turned to specific focal points, where their cannons fired and tore several holes in the Remnant's line of defence. The Republic ships were caught off-guard, unable to adapt as the Dominion had simply switched its full spread fire to an incredibly ordered focus that allowed several ships to get through and wreck havoc in their opponent's lines.
Right at the centre of one of such "hole", Zillum's flagship advanced, leading a small fleet of his escorts through the faltering Cognatus and Remnant forces. Admiral Cretacea saw the immense Dominion battleship emerge from the fire and debris completely unscathed, and soon after, he realized Zillum's intent as he glanced at Apollo's shuttle through the ship's screens, paving its way towards the Republica and taking heavy fire from the ambushing Dominion ships.
"By the stars... Target that group of ships! Target them! Somebody fire!"
The Republica targeted its cannons as fighters flew across its hull, some exploding as they met the flagship's barrage. However, it was too late, Zillum's ship passed next to the flagship, and let its side cannons tear the flagship's defences apart.
Cretacea cursed, as he held unto his chair as the ship trembled before the Dominion warship's relentless assault. Still, he knew that he could still salvage the situation.
"All ships, the perimeter has been breached, the Republica is under heavy fire from the Dominion. I'm ordering all ships to fire at will, we cannot allow the Dominion to capture the President!" He turned to his crew, "What's the status of Aedanius' shuttle?!"
"It's still inbound, admiral, closing in. Fast!" Subcommander Dhivael replied.
"Republica to Apollo, report!"
Back at the shuttle, Kara was right at the controls, piloting the shuttle and increasing speed. The fighter escort had been destroyed during a dogfight between Remnant and Dominion forces. Suddenly, the shuttle was rocked by a turbolaser bolt, which impacted against the shuttle's wing, searing it off. Thrown from his seat, Apollo hit the ground hard. Aoirtae rushed to pick him up and noticed that his left eye was bleeding.
"You're hurt!" She said. Thinking quickly, she raised her hand and closed her eyes. For a moment, the battle disappeared before them, and all was still in the shuttle. Mouthing words to herself, Aoirtae opened her eyes and realised that the blood had vanished, though it was clear by Apollo's expression that his pain hadn't. Nevertheless, he placed a hand on her shoulder. "Thanks, Aoirtae, it's much appreciated."
Aoirtae nodded modestly and handed him the holocomm. Apollo placed it to his mouth and looked at the display screen on the opposite wall. "I'm still here, Admiral, about to enter the hangar!"
"Slow down, son! Your ship will melt away if you try to land it at that speed!"
Kara's voice called back from the cockpit. "If I slow down those fighters will get us!"
The audio shut down after another lucky blast from enemy fighters, the shuttle's engines suddenly exploded, and Kara knew that even if she wanted to, it was now practically impossible to slow down. She tightened her grip on the controls. She was going to make it, no matter what. "Better get strapped in guys! This isn't going to be pretty!"
Zillum observed the flaming shuttle pushing through the battle like a comet on a nebula. He grinned as he saw his target's ship enter the hangar, releasing its emergency flaps and managing to slow down enough not to splat itself on the Republica hull. He knew that Apollo would survive that. He would not go down so easily.
"Prepare a boarding party..." He ordered, and then he walked away from the bridge whilst displaying a broad grin. He was enjoying every single bit of this moment, his spoils would not be denied, and Apollo would be his.
Chapter VI: Boarding Action
The Cognatus shuttle which had transported the group to the Republica was now a smoking wreck on the deck of the flagship's hangar. Fire suppression units immediately unleashed torrents of water, inadvertently hampering Apollo, Aoirtae and Kara from escaping. Within the cabin, and despite suffering from an injured arm, Kara gathered her strength and with an energy blow, blasted off the shuttle's busted hatch. Emerging first, supporting Apollo on her shoulder, Aoirtae gathered her bearings, and upon making sure that the President was secure, aided Kara in escaping from the shuttle.
"... thanks, 'Tae." Kara said with a grimace. "So what's the plan?"
Between heavy breaths, Apollo stood up and unholstered his pistol. "I need to get to the bridge and assess the situation, but I need one of you to get to the civilian deck and make sure Laoi and Dané are safe."
"I'll do it," Kara said, looking slightly uneasy. "'Tae, you stay with dad. Make sure he gets there in one piece."
Aoirtae nodded. "Will do. Take care of yourself."
Kara patted them both on the shoulder and made off in direction of one of the hangar's access hatches. Wasting no time, Aoirtae and Apollo set off toward the bridge, stopping only when they saw an injured crewman, and staying clear of areas of the ship closed off due to battle damage. As they approached the bridge, they could hear the distinct thump of turbolasers impacting against the Republica's hull, though after a few minutes, the more frightening sounds of arms fire filled the ship's halls. Suddenly, Aoirtae stopped in her tracks and held up her right arm for silence. Apollo stopped running and could hear the sound of heavy footsteps approach. "We've been boarded!"
The Aldárae reached to her belt to grab hold of her blade and felt a sinking feeling in her stomach when she realised that it must have fallen off during the shuttle crash. Turning her head slightly in Apollo's direction, her voice was a quiet whisper. "Run!"
As soon as the word left her lips, a squad of Mortalitas soldiers came rushing toward them from the darkness, brilliant red bolts of energy from their blasters illuminating the corridor. Moving quickly, Apollo and Aoirtae began to run in the opposite direction, trying to evade the bolts of energy which came flying at them. Aoirtae retaliated by blasting them with a wave of energy and was shocked when the elite Mortalitas took it in stride, some being forced to their knees, but most powering through the torrents of energy. Apollo responded by blindly firing his pistol in their general direction, intending to distract them if nothing else.
After almost two minutes of endless pursuit through the corridors, they reached an intersection held by a squad of Republic troopers led by Commander Selanius, who had erected an energy field capable of deflecting the Mortalitas' weaponry. Tilting his head to one side when he noticed Apollo and Aoirtae's approach, Selanius deactivated the shield, allowing them inside before raising it again. The pursuing Mortalitas soldiers hunkered down behind a makeshift barricade and began to lay down suppressive fire.
"It is agreeable to see you unharmed, President Apollo." Commander Selanius said in his usual monotone. "However, the ship is swarming with Mortalitas soldiers. Our security forces have been attempting to push them back, but as of yet, we have made no significant gains." Selanius indicated to the Mortalitas soldiers behind them. "Ah, there are some behind us."
Aoirtae pursed her lips and replied sardonically. "We've noticed."
"Commander, have you seen my daughter? I sent her to the civilian deck but I haven't received word back." Apollo asked.
Selanius nodded. "I did. The Admiral ordered the civilians evacuated to the Aeolus at the first sign of boarding action. I believe your daughter accompanied them. However, I am unable to contact the Admiral or the other members of the senior staff."
"Are the Mortalitas jamming comms?" Aoirtae asked.
"A logical assumption. Fortunately, this scenario is similar to other simulations I've run involving hostile boarding action on the Republica. The Mortalitas are acting in accordance with Simulation M-1201, specifically. They will likely attempt to seize control of the bridge."
"Which is where we were heading anyway," Aoirtae said. "Before these guys got in the way."
Apollo frowned. "Commander, is there a safe path to the bridge that doesn't involve being shot by Mortalitas?"
Aoirtae suddenly tuned out of the conversation, and the sound of blaster fire became ever more distant until it was utterly silent. Closing her eyes, she could feel a familiar presence and hear a familiar voice. "You do not need your blade, Aoirtae. You need only your mind."
Aoirtae opened her eyes and calmly walked out of the protection of the energy field. Instinctively, Apollo yelled and tried to pull her back through, but was prevented from doing so by Selanius. Apollo, Selanius and the Republic soldiers watched in astonishment as she stepped forward and strode toward the Mortalitas, and with a simple gesture of her hand, she swatted away a brilliant red energy bolt. Another bolt, and another came lancing toward her, and both were deflected into the wall.
From behind him, Apollo heard Selanius say, "The female mammal is impressive."
As the Mortalitas continued to fire on her, Aoirtae quickened her pace toward them and suddenly burst into a flurry of motion. Positioning herself in the centre of the squad, and despite lacking her blade, she became a whirlwind of activity, throwing kicks and punches and unleashing blasts of energy capable of knocking the far larger Mortalitas off their feet. One of the Mortalitas, clearly one of the more capable of the group, grabbed hold of her shoulder, and in response, she swiftly jumped over his head, and with a powerful kick, knocked his feet from under him. Another soldier aimed squarely at her head and fired, though the bolt stopped in mid-air before it could touch her, and ricocheted back into his chest. Half a dozen more bolts were fired, and all were redirected into the bulkhead, into the shield and some into the soldiers who fired them. After a moment, only the leader of the squad was left standing, and he unleashed a torrent of heavy blaster fire on his Aldárae assailant. Narrowing her eyes when one of the bolts grazed her shoulder, she internalised the pain and rushed forward, skidding across the slick floor and under the Mortalitas' trunk-like legs. Before he could react, she twirled into the air and landed a powerful kick, knocking him to the ground in a heap.
Further down the corridor, Apollo and Selanius watched as the smoke cleared, revealing Aoirtae standing motionlessly, though hyperventilating, as if she didn't realise she could summon such power. Apollo rushed forward and placed his hands on her shoulders. "That... that was amazing."
Rattled, she nodded slowly. "Err... t-thanks. I suppose I have my... training to thank."
Apollo patted her shoulder reassuringly. "C'mon, let's head to the bridge. We need to retake control of the ship."
Chapter VII: Death of a Legacy
Three hours after the Dominion's arrival in the system, the space battle in orbit over Cognalorilos was raging with the same ferocity. The Dominion's advanced battlecruisers and frigates, having disabled the Republica, had turned their attention to the Cognatus armada under the command of the newly arrived Lord N'thavo Xellunaion of the Fleet of Concordant Resolution, which began to push the Dominion back to the hyperspace waypoint. Meanwhile, by the time Apollo, Aoirtae, Selanius and the Republic soldiers reached the bridge, they had noticed that the battle inside the ship had seemingly died down, though the sound of explosions against the hull provided an all-too-real reminder that the battle in space was still as ferocious as ever. The hatch leading to the bridge had been sealed, though using his access code, Selanius gained entry and looked somewhat surprised when they were greeted with the barrels of a dozen blaster rifles. "Cautious, as ever, Fleet Admiral," he said.
Admiral Cretacea ordered his bridge crew to lower their weapons, and rushed forward, embracing his son fondly. "It's good to see you safe, son. Commander Selanius, seal the door behind you."
"Likewise, old man," Apollo said with a smirk. "Selanius tells me that he believes Kara escorted Laoi and Dané to the Aeolus. Please tell me he's right."
Cretacea nodded his head. "Don't worry. I've received word from Commodore Roslia. He's retreated to a safe distance on the far side of the planet with the Republica's civilian complement. Kara's with them."
Apollo sighed in relief and immediately turned his attention to the tactical displays. "What's the situation?"
Cretacea's transition from father to fleet admiral was as instantaneous as Apollo's transition from son to commander-in-chief. "The Republica has been disabled, but the Cognatus are facing the brunt of Zillum's attack. On our end, it isn't all bad news. The ship's bulk is preventing the Dominion from landing decisive blows to our critical systems, which is no doubt why Zillum has sent boarding parties to destroy us from within."
Apollo nodded. "And what about the other Republic ships?"
"The Vehement and the Valour have taken some damage, but they seem to have concentrated on the flagship rather than pick off the smaller shi-"
The Fleet Admiral was interrupted by a large bang on the hatch leading into the bridge, followed by a violent explosion which blasted it from its hinges and smashing into Selanius' soldier escort. The room filled with smoke, and from the darkness, a pair of luminous crimson eyes appeared from where the hatch used to be. Subcommander Dhivael fired her pistol at the new arrival, only for the bolt to dissipate upon contact with an invisible energy field. Stepping out of the darkness, Grand Imperarch Zillum emerged, followed by a contingent of his honour guard who surrounded the Remnant leadership with their blasters raised. The Mortalitas laughed mirthlessly. "Apollo. Admiral Cretacea." He extended his arms. "My old friends. I've been waiting many years for this moment."
Aoirtae charged forward with ferocity, and leapt into the air, intending to land a swift kick to the Mortalitas' chest. Zillum, however, was no ordinary combatant. Just as she was about to hit him, he grabbed her leg and flung her across the room like a ragdoll, knocking her unconscious when she slammed against a computer console. "Lo the might of the Aldárae Order," Zillum said, taking a heavy step toward them. "I confess that I am disappointed."
"We have nothing to say to you, Zillum." Cretacea said, eyeing his old enemy with utter contempt. "Why don't you crawl back into the shadows, where Tyrómairon can't find you."
Zillum ignored the insult but fixed his attention on the Admiral. "It occurs to me that we have never spoken face to face, Cretacea. Only from across the battlefield of stars. How fortunate for you."
"If I recall correctly, our previous encounters have never ended well for you, have they?" Cretacea said defiantly.
Zillum's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly, and in a blur, he grabbed Willelmus by the collar and held him up to his face. Apollo rushed to his father's aid but was kicked to the floor by one of Zillum's minions. The Mortalitas warlord eyed his great adversary malevolently. "No. And for that, you will always have my respect, Cretacea."
Struggling in Zillum's crushing grasp, Cretacea nevertheless managed to grab hold of his blaster from his belt and fired it into Zillum's chest. The Imperarch of the Dominion roared ferociously in pain and dropped the Admiral to the floor. Upon realising that his shield managed to deflect most of the damage, he grabbed hold of his bladed weapon and swung it in the Admiral's direction. Across the room, the other Republic officers were rounded together by the Mortalitas, and forced to watch as the Admiral struggled to evade Zillum's attacks. Rolling forward, Cretacea grabbed hold of his rifle and fired three bolts at Zillum, who managed to deflect them away with his blade. Running out of options, Cretacea activated the rifle's custom-made energy bayonet and stabbed it into Zillum's leg, bypassing the energy field and lodging into his knee. Growling, Zillum allowed the pain to fuel his hatred, and though the attack would surely have incapacitated any other Mortalitas, he shrugged it off and with a vicious motion, sent his blade plunging into Cretacea's chest.
Apollo screamed out in horror as he watched his father struggled backwards and fell to the floor. Breaking from the constraining arms of his aggressor, Apollo rushed forward and sank to his knees, cradling his father's head. With his last ounce of strength, Willelmus touched his son on the cheek and wiped away a tear. "... A-aedanius... I-I've always been... so proud of yo-"
The light of Willelmus' eyes vanished, and he stopped breathing. In the arms of his son, the life of the greatest military tactician in Republic history came to an end. Apollo completely broke down, rocking his father's body back and forth, before being dragged to his feet by Zillum. "You bastard! Y-you bastard!" he screamed, punching and kicking at Zillum, who effortlessly swatted him to the ground. Zillum hovered over him and picked up his blade.
"I surprise myself, Apollo. I took no pleasure in killing your father, as I took no pleasure in ordering the death of your wife. These were necessary things. Know this before I kill you, your death will bring me no satisfaction—you are a President without a Republic. A son without a father. A husband without a wife. You are weak. Broken." Zillum raised his blade to strike, and Apollo quietly accepted his end. "This is a mercy."
"Get away from him!" an ethereal voice shouted, moments before a flash of light illuminated the chamber and, from it, Gorf emerged; with teeth barred and claws extended, the small creature leaped into Zillum's head from the side, causing the massive Mortalitas to stumble as he sent his maw down into his scalp, digging his teeth into it as his body burned with a radiant, golden aura. What the Grand Imperarch would feel was a pain not familiar to him - one that felt like the fury of the heavens themselves as Dream Energy seared into his head while Gorf viciously mauled his scalp while sending his claws into his eyes. Zillum would let out a terrible roar as he lost hold of his blade, before sending a hand up in order to grab Gorf's body and attempt to remove him from his head; despite his mighty strength, he clearly struggled to do so.
"Gorf, it's too late! Get out of here, it's me he wants!" Apollo yelled to his companion, though he appeared to ignore him. Zillum eventually found the strength to rip the mystic creature out of his head and forcefully throw him against the ground, causing a powerful thud as Gorf rolled through the floor, before hastily rising to his feet in a combat stance. Such an impact would have surely crushed the bones of a lesser being, but Gorf had no bones to be broken. "Apollo and friends leave now. Gorf not let filthy fish man get you!"
Shaking his head in anger, Zillum knelt down to retake his blade as he passed a hand over his face, leaving it dirty in his own blood. "You... The creature from Yudumarth. You will not elude me of my prize again. Your trickery ends now!"
With a charge, the High Imperarch swung his blade at Gorf, though the creature began to skillfully dodge his blows while hissing aggressively, a scenario which further fueled Zillum's fury and surprised the others, who had no idea Gorf had such capabilities. Moments would pass until Zillum raised his foot and sent it down, causing Gorf to lose his footing for but a moment, in which the Mortalitas plunged his blade into the creature's head, lifting him from the ground in the process.
"How pathetic.", the Mortalitas would say, his teeth still clenched in anger. "It is very telling that the only vaguely threatening member of your family is your house pet, Apollo."
"G-gorf", was all Apollo could manage to say, as he looked on helplessly at the side of the Republic officers and Aoirtae's unconscious body. However, it quickly became clear that Gorf was not quite as done for as he seemed as he turned his eyes to Apollo, while still being lifted off the ground through the blade on his forehead. "Gorf had fun. But need to go now. Go home. You, though. You go... and find your own home again."
"N-no, Gorf, w-we're a team, we have to stick together!" Apollo cried out.
"Will miss you. Say bye to Laoi and Kara for Gorf. Now shoo." Zillum blinked in mild confusion as Gorf spoke, before the small creature's body begun to shine brighter and brighter until he exploded in a blast of radiant golden energy, sending Zillum flying backwards into a wall, screaming as he brought his hands to his face. "My eyes! I cannot see!"
Simultaneously, the light began to envelop Apollo, his officers and Aoirtae as they felt their bodies become lighter and lighter until, in a flash of light, they vanished. Zillum struggled to get back on his feet, his red eyes turned pitch white as he still could not see a thing, though it became evident to him that his opponents had escaped. "No... I will not be humiliated like this!"
By the time his vision cleared, Zillum darted his head across the bridge, only to realise that the force of the flash had killed his guards, leaving him the only one standing. Grabbing his comlink, he growled out his orders to his subordinates back on his flagship. "Dispatch my shuttle immediately! And prim our forward cannons. The very second my shuttle leaves this infernal ship I want it reduced to ashes!"
Once Zillum's shuttle touched down on his flagship, the entire Dominion fleet concentrated their combined firepower onto the Republica. After several moments of sustained fire, the once mighty flagship of the New Republic buckled and exploded in a fireball that outshined Cognalorilos' twin suns. When the light receded, the Dominion fleet was nowhere to be seen, having escaped the fury of an amassing Cognatus armada. The New Republic Remnant's meagre force, battered and demoralised, coalesced around the starship Aeolus. In the medical bay, Jena Faustus, the chief medical officer of the ship was tending to the injuries of the Republica's senior bridge staff, as well as President Apollo and Aoirtae Valaeris, both of whom sustained injuries at the hands of the Dominion and their nefarious leader. Several hours after the battle had ended, Ramdard Ramthrace, Primarch Acetenus, Commodore Roslia, Kara Inviá, Laoi Cretacea, and Dané Elenya stood around the bedsides of both Apollo and Aoirtae, both of whom remained utterly silent.
"Dad," Laoi said softly. "I'm so, so sorry."
"There is nothing you could have done, dad, don't blame yourself for what happened-"
Kara was suddenly interrupted by Apollo, whose voice was cracking with each word. "All of this has happened because of me. Do you understand? All of it! Two Republics have collapsed because of me, Gianne... Gorf... my dad, they're all dead... because of me." Fighting back tears, he locked eyes on his children. "Y-you have to go... go, as far away from me as you possibly can. Go... live."
Kara's voice was defiant, despite the tears in her eyes. She grabbed hold of Apollo's hand and squeezed it tightly. "No! Get a hold of yourself! You didn't raise us to be quitters!"
Ramthrace nodded in agreement. "After the Cataclysm, I told you that as long as you live, the Republic survives. That is as true today as it was then!"
Commodore Roslia was about to voice his agreement when Commander Sevine approached and whispered in his ear. Roslia blinked and cleared his throat. "... Mr President... nine of our remaining vessels have made the jump to lightspeed..."
Ramthrace swore. "Deserters. Traitors, all!"
"No," Apollo said in a low monotone. "All of you should do the same. This is the end of the Republic."
Helo shook his head. "No, sir. The Aeolus, Allecto, Mou'Llhei Star and Ardaeinos remain loyal to the Remnant. They remain loyal to you. If you don't appreciate their loyalty, that's your business. But respectfully, sir, you don't decide when the Republic ends. We'll continue the fight, with or without you, and I promise you: we will win."
Voro clapped Helo hard on the back, almost knocking him over. "Hah! Spoken like a Cogsangui!"
Apollo looked Helo straight in the eye, and with the faintest trace of a smile nodded his head, though he remained silent. In the next bad, Aoirtae lifted herself up. "I-I agree with Commodore Roslia. The fight isn't over, as long as we have some fight left in us."
Doctor Elenya folded her arms over her chest. "But where to begin? How can four ships topple an Empire?"
"One step at a time, Doc," Helo said. "We need to establish a base for one thing. And obviously, acquiring new ships... and people to man them should also be on the agenda."
Voro nodded his head. "I shall grant you access to our star charts, Fleetlord Roslia. There are many uncharted worlds to suit your purposes."
Helo placed his hands on his hips and nodded confidently. "Right... okay... so, we have a plan here, people." Glancing at the assembled group of Republic loyalists, and a particularly interested observer, he smiled. "The rebellion begins today."