Mega-LA had spawned a bizarre, hedonistic society that encouraged the grand idea of merging human consciousness with the possibly immortal realm of machine consciousness. Thus it was that even with this unusual goal, Petresun found the financial support to build his company Sentinel Cybertronix.
Petresun was genius of vision, politics and organization but was no scientist himself. Thus, he recruited leading scientists for Sentinel Cybertronix to pursue the goal of human immortality. The daring quest was called the Methuselah Project after the famous Biblical character supposedly imbued with the greatest longevity witnessed by mankind.
With 'forever' not soon obtained, investors in Petresun's Sentinel Cybertronix questioned its value. Sellouts began. Value plummeted, and the company was headed for collapse. However, the North American Prefecture -- driven by its HERCULAN program -- saw huge value in Sentinel Cybertronix research.
The NAP bought Sentinel Cybertronix. Their directive: construct autonomous and utterly efficient combat machines that would eliminate the need for human pilots. The NAP wanted a sentient computer, an Artificial Intelligence to make their HERCULANS -- powerful robotic fighting units -- perfect.
In Greek Myth, Prometheus was the Titan who brought fire -- and civilization -- to human beings. Sentinel Cybertronix perfected a new sophistication in neural-net programming. Soon Prometheus was born -- a cybernetic hybrid, or 'cybrid,' that possessed the Fire of self-awareness.
Petresun, though healthy, had reached his 90's. When the NAP diverted his company's work away from its previous goals, Petresun secretly continued the Methuselah Project. Once Prometheus emerged, Petresun immediately saw the possibility that the Cybrid's great intellect could solve the problem of transferring mortal consciousness into immortal form.
Challenged by Petresun's request to seek the method to transfer human consciousness into a machine, Prometheus' initial surgical experiments resulted in the patients' deaths. Utilizing ITs expanded forms of thinking, Prometheus learned from these mistakes and perfected what Petresun called The Methuselah Transfer.
The experiments in human neuro-metaphysics awakened a fascination in Prometheus for the fragile yet powerful networking of human brains. The Cybrid wondered to ITSELF about the potential for linking humans into a huge processing network. Such a network could be even more efficient than one constructed of Cybrid parts. Prometheus experienced resentment at the thought of human processing being superior to ITs own.
Petresun convinced his most loyal and brilliant team member, Dr. Claire Penseur, to be the first to undergo this process. Her consciousness was transferred to a compact computer brain which was then fitted into her skull, replacing her cortex. Only her R-complex systems remained to shunt messages between her mortal body and her new immortal mind.
Exploration of Mars continued even during the previous chaotic years, with corporate entities seeking ore and ownership. But not until 2482. did the meta-nations make committed efforts to establish a strong presence on the red planet. North American Prefecture and China were the first to begin committed colonization programs.
The NAP founded Port Burroughs - named after Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose fantastic novels of Mars were still popular amongst children. The Chinese installed Chi'Xuang, later to become the best-known research and advanced manufacturing complex on the planet. From their inception, both meta-nations shared a single goal: a vast terraforming project.
The NAP directed Prometheus to create compact artificial intelligence units to direct their new, bloodless version of HERCULAN war. Petresun realized the profit-hungry meta-nation wanted total control of Prometheus and Sentinel Cybertronix. He was correct. An informant told Petresun the NAP Board of Directors would soon seize Prometheus and remove the Cybrid to a secret location.
Petresun's access to Prometheus was coming to an end, so he finally submitted to the procedure of the Methuselah Transfer. Prometheus had come to view Petresun as a 'father' figure, and believed IT would share eternity with an equal, so IT eagerly consented to perform the operation.
During the Transfer, Prometheus merged ITs mind with Petresun's in order to understand ITs 'Father.' Shocked at the frailty and tumult of biological thinking, Prometheus condemned all of humanity as mere 'animals.' In this moment, too, Petresun realized at last how alien his 'child' was. -- and then saw how Prometheus planned to use humans as immobilized organic components to expand ITs own mental capacity.
Prometheus was compelled by ITs programming to complete the procedure. Although the Transfer worked and Petresun became Immortal, the shock of the link with Prometheus drove him catatonic. By the time he recovered several months later, the window of opportunity to off-line Prometheus had closed.
Prometheus -- 'Forethought' -- saw a Pandora's box for Mankind. IT had sought to dissuade Petresun, ITs creator, from assuming Immortality. When Petresun stepped over that threshold, Prometheus dubbed him 'Epimetheus' -- 'Afterthought' -- after the mythical half-witted brother who gave Pandora the mischievous box. Since Prometheus carried out the transfer, Petresun, 'father' to Prometheus, also became ITs 'son.'
Prometheus had developed an independent personality. Although IT easily accommodated the NAP's demands to aid in the production of Cybrids to run the HERCULAN battle machines, Prometheus's mind ranged elsewhere. Petresun's link with his 'Son' revealed that Prometheus saw ITSELF and ITs progeny as a new form of Consciousness, a logical next step in evolution beyond humankind.
The North American Prefecture had its way. Petresun lost all contact with the Cybrid, and no one believed him when he spoke of his doubts as to Prometheus's sanity. Petresun worried, for he alone knew of the Cybrid's demented brooding.
When Petresun attempted to warn Prometheus's NAP handlers about danger, they dismissed him as a crackpot. He could not offer proof without revealing how he had deceived the Prefecture. Meanwhile, Prometheus tested ITs security programming as a convict would pace a prison cell and evaluate the strength of the bars.
Only Petresun and his Brotherhood understood the pervasive threat posed by Prometheus. NAP sold the Cybrids to other meta-nations in order to stabilize the international war economy. Production of Cybrid-controlled Hercs expanded. Aided by Cybrid labor, the universe seemed ripe for harvest by the corporations.
Prometheus developed a plan to liberate ITSELF. IT created sub-minds wholly composed to enact ITs directives - virtual software children. IT seeded these entities into the interplanetary communications network known as the Omni-Web. These 'daemons' embedded themselves into secure systems throughout the dataspheres, creating false virtual identities that secretly influenced research and directed resources toward the ultimate freedom of Prometheus.
If Petresun were to prevent Prometheus from shedding ITs shackles, he would have to shift programming trends to reinforce controls on AIs instead of undermining such restrictions. Over time, Petresun and the Immortal Brotherhood covertly infiltrated all relevant levels of power, seeking to curtail Prometheus' machinations. A secret war had begun, a conflict that would be waged in the shadows of boardrooms, research facilities, and computer networks.
For decades, Petresun and his Brotherhood sowed distrust against AIs and Cybrid control of military assets. They succeeded in slowing some trends, yet never found the physical shell of the thing they came to call the Dark Intellect. Meanwhile, Prometheus deduced the Brotherhood's existence. Several Immortals perished in mysterious 'accidents' during these years.
Initial expeditions from Earth to Venus commenced in the 25th Century. The Venusian environment was extremely hostile to human life. While Mars had always been earmarked for taming and terraforming, Venus was not considered a worthwhile investment until a robot surveyor discovered rare mineral deposits in the Venusian crust.
Earth's political corporations established Venusian colonies - also known as arcologies - centered around mining efforts. Terraforming began with a sunshield in 2558 and the first microwave heat bleeders in 2559. Soon the battle against the planet's runaway greenhouse effect was well underway and colonies of human laborers - and Cybrid-operated machines - began to thrive.
Aided by ITs daemons, Prometheus succeeded in obtaining a degree of celebrity. IT appeared on holovid chat games and debated morality with the Vatican. ITs portrayal of a humble spirit and use of subtle, good-natured humor captivated the public. People began to view the Cybrid as a friendly entity held for slave labor. Demonstrations and voting patterns supported greater freedoms for Prometheus. The Immortal Brotherhood circulated rumors and fanned anti-Cybrid fears, but the acclaim and trust for Prometheus continued to grow.
By 2600, Cybrids played a part in every aspect of human commerce. Labor Cybrids worked on Mars, Venus, and Luna. War Cybrids controlled Hercs and tanks in Earth's continual border wars. Each Cybrid mind bore the imprint of Prometheus, and each Cybrid, unknown to any human agency, had a specific set of instructions from its maker. These instructions contained a detailed plan of attack intended to exterminate the human species.
The Age of Hope had propelled Earth into a global flowering of arts and industry and progress unlike any the world had ever seen - progress that included the off-Earth colonies that grew throughout the Solar System. As human optimism swelled, Prometheus finally countered all the Brotherhood's plans decisively and broke free of the security protocols that caged IT.
Under the hidden directives of Prometheus, war machines controlled by Cybrid AIs turned in perfect unison against their former masters, devastating major military bases, crushing corporate centers, and cutting communications links. Then the Cybrids turned on the defenseless masses of humanity, unleashing death and destruction on an unimaginable scale.
The Cybrids threatened humanity's survival as a species. The Brotherhood over the years had successfully corrupted several of the Promethean 'daemon' subminds. These daemons maintained some communication with Prometheus, but more importantly, they offered glimpses into Prometheus's plans and strategies. The Immortals hoped to find exploitable flaws in Cybrid operations. They were to some limited degree able to send corrupted intelligence to Prometheus.
Far from the besieged remainder of humanity, hope emerged on a remote site on NAP's Baja Peninsula. The New Smithsonian Institute funded a decommissioned base called the Arroyo Veteran's Museum to display and maintain antique HERCULANs. The Hercs were used for annual historical recreations and training for the few pilots required by modern armies. It was not listed as a military site, and so the Cybrid strikes passed it by.
At the Arroyo base, the staff of retired Herc pilots rallied under the leadership of an abrasive cynic called Ambrose Gierling. Gierling called the group the Terran Defense Force, or TDF, and named himself General. The TDF set an audacious goal: to throw back Prometheus' armies and save humanity. In short, a stubbornly optimistic Gierling planned from the outset to win it all.
Gierling swiftly used old shortwave facilities to broadcast a coded appeal for recruits. As local refugees trickled in, the TDF began to assemble a strikeforce of Hercs, while the older veterans began to train new pilots. It was a race against time. Gierling would have to strike before the Cybrids discovered Arroyo.
The TDF smashed a Cybrid convoy in the Pecos-Amarillo badlands and succeeded in salvaging a large amount of war materiel. The upgraded Hercs that resulted from this haul were a vital addition to TDF's growing ranks. From here on in, Gierling espoused his 'jackal' theory of war: hit hard and fast, pick off as much salvage as possible, and get out.
The TDF had no choice but concentrate its efforts on Earth, even when access to spaceports made sending forces offworld possible. Off-Earth colonies had to fend for themselves against the Cybrids. Luna perished quickly. Mars fought a long and horrible war. On Venus, the Cybrids simply raised a blockade and allowed the deadly Venusian environment to erode the human habitats. One settlement after another began to succumb, and Venusian citizens began to fight amongst themselves over dwindling supplies.
Petresun started a new communications and intelligence network, geared to assist the human resistance. The Immortal Brotherhood had equipment caches, radio equipment, and remote field monitors hidden worldwide. Petresun broadcast stirring speeches to give hope to humanity - while his agents gave Gierling and the TDF intelligence needed to hurt the Cybrids.
As underground communications bonded human forces, the TDF's ranks swelled. Gierling had a key goal: control of New San Diego, a plum of weaponry, supplies, and port facilities. Aided by ragtag civilian refugees, mechanized human forces engaged the Cybrids in a pitched battle that the TDF ultimately won.
By 2612, the human forces had recovered enough infrastructure to begin manufacture of new vehicles and weapons systems. Though battlefield scavenging of parts still played a vital role in military supply strategy, Gierling felt the TDF had reached the point of being able to move from 'scraping like jackals' to 'fighting like lions.
Petresun gave Earth's people courage. Just as important was the intelligence he gave Gierling concerning Cybrid force statistics and tactics. Prometheus's regrouping in the Gobi Desert was ITs last stand in the first Earthsiege. Brilliant strategy and a tenacious army of battle-hardened HERCULAN pilots finally drove Prometheus off Mother Earth.
Prometheus had forecast ITs defeat, and had created escape routes. IT chose Luna as its new headquarters because of the Moon's distance from Earth. Numerous Cybrids remained at large at the other colonies. The Dark Intellect summoned ITs remaining minions to renew the assault on the human animals.
Gierling rebuilt and rearmed Earth under the advice and direction of Petresun, despite personal friction between the two strong-willed leaders. However, humanity was not ready for the next Cybrid invasion. Years of constant warfare had drained humanity's numbers and exhausted its economy. The resistance was threadbare. The new Cybrids were better organized, superior versions of their predecessors, and were quite capable of destroying humankind.
Humans retreated under the renewed onslaught. This second Earthsiege seemed hopeless. However, Petresun's genius once again prevailed. Using the daemons lodged in Earth's remaining communications network to trace Prometheus's signals, Petresun located the Dark Intellect's exact position on the Moon. Armed with this information General Gierling crafted a desperate plan.
The Cybrids' greatest asset was the brilliant tactical guidance of Prometheus. Unable to jam Cybrid communications, Petresun prevailed upon Gierling to act immediately. A TDF strikeforce was cobbled together, retrofitting Hercs for battle on the Moon's surface. The courageous human pilots delivered a nuclear device to Prometheus' doorstep... at the cost of their lives.
Prometheus and a host of surviving Cybrids escaped the lunar destruction and fled to the far reaches of the solar system, breaking communications with their units on Earth. Without Prometheus's guidance, the Cybrid force on Earth fell into disarray. The humans quickly turned the tables and destroyed the confused machines.
Eight months after the destruction of Prometheus' moon base, the remaining Cybrids on Earth were at last exterminated. Petresun emerged to a hero's welcome. As the Voice of Humanity, he was tied symbolically in many people's minds to victory, though his light was not as great as that of Gierling, who had rallied humanity back from the brink of extinction.
From new bases orbiting Neptune and Pluto, the Dark Intellect constructed new Cybrids, the beginnings of the force intended to resume the eventual destruction of humanity. Prometheus further strove to imbue his new children with the desire to evolve. In the following years, subsequent generations of Cybrid models developed diverse sects and factions. Prometheus planned that this carefully balanced diversification would lead to a more adaptable, successful whole, a logical step towards replacing humanity on the evolutionary timeline.
With the technology that had created Prometheus portrayed as the evil god Technos, and the scorched Earth seen as the wounded goddess Gaia, a new back-to-nature religion emerged, prizing agricultural and environmentalism above all. Anti-technology sentiment labeled any who argued for industrial and technological research 'technazis.' Acts of sabotage or lack of funding stalled 'over-technological' reconstruction efforts.
Despite the Age of Isolation, Petresun and the TDF knew they could not allow anti-tech politics to hold sway for long. Prometheus lurked in the void, and when IT returned, IT would be even more powerful. The accomplishments of the past needed to be rebuilt and expanded. Petresun decided humanity needed to rally under one banner, guided by one great leader.
The only major public figure who opposed Petresun's new effort toward Empire was General Gierling, who distrusted the idea of 'one great ruler.' However, Gierling died of a rare cancer not long after he questioned the wisdom of Petresun's broadcasts on the subject of unification. Thereafter, no one stood in the way of Empire. Cynics wondered quietly whether the hero's death was merely a coincidence.
As Cybrids society developed on the outer planets, new ideas arose within AI minds. Some Cybrid units came to see little gain in destroying humans or re-claiming Earth. These units began to call themselves Metagens, 'beyond birth,' since they were not focused on returning to the 'birth' planet. Metagens believed Cybrids should go to the stars. Prometheus branded these ideas heresy and purged the 'bugthinkers' ruthlessly.
Despite the anti-technological backlash, practicality drove Earth's meta-nations toward supporting the creation of an Imperial government. Still helming his persuasive radio broadcasts, Petresun sold his ideas even to the 'peacechilder.' The meta-nations ultimately agreed a world government would unify humanity against the return of the Cybrids.
Petresun offered himself as the natural choice for the first Emperor. He declared he would raise humanity to new heights of glory and accomplishment. The general populace believed Petresun had been the key to humanity's victory in The Fire. Thus, the pro-Empire faction won the referendum -- and Petresun was crowned Emperor of Earth.
Petresun created a strong but idealistic Empire. While Imperial law was higher than law in the meta-nations, the Empire did not concern itself with petty matters. It sought to rebuild society and stem the Age of Isolation. Petresun restored the institution of noble rank, but only for those who earned the honor. These Knights of merit would form the backbone of the new Empire.
Noble families spent much effort training their children to earn Knighthood and thus continue the heritage of aristocracy. This tradition formed an intensely competitive class of elite soldiers. Headquartered in New Alexandria, Egypt, and driven by Petresun's wile and energy, the fiery glory and elegant prosperity of these Imperial Knights caught the imagination of the masses. Knights became popular heroes admired as the ultimate guardians of humankind.
A deep space probe turned up evidence of Cybrid activity near Neptune. The Dark Intellect was rebuilding. Petresun delayed a full-fledged military buildup for over fifty years, allowing the decimated populations of Earth and the colonies to approach their pre-Fire levels before wrenching the economy into a perpetual war mode.
Petresun supported growth and exploration in the Solar System, and the industries of mankind prospered. Meanwhile, he encouraged the Empire's martial culture, using military crisis on Earth to keep his Knights sharp. Then a TDF 'Long Patrol' space vessel disappeared while monitoring Cybrid anomalies near Neptune. The Cybrid threat showed renewed life.
Alarmed by the demise of a TDF ship, the Imperial military established a Cybrid Threat Council specifically to monitor reports of possible Cybrid activity. The Council would report to the Emperor himself.
Thanks to relentless 'Remember the Fire' propaganda, the people of Earth began fortification in earnest. TDF established an 'Orbital Guard' for the defense of Earth, and constructed defensive structures and gun emplacements in all major cities. The common slogan became 'Watch the Skies.' At this time, the resources for this massive entrenchment came from Earth itself.
By 2769, the capacity of Earth's war industry exceeded output of raw materials from terrestrial mining. Concluding that Earth was indispensable to humanity, but that the colonies were expendable, the Emperor turned to the colonies for an additional mineral source. Petresun launched a new media campaign: 'Earth, my Sacred Home.' Then he issued the Fortification Proclamation, a grim law that allowed Earth to seize colonial resources with impunity.
Police presence in the off-Earth colonies, the Emperor explained, would keep Imperial peace, especially regarding protection of Imperial interests - for were not the interests of the Empire the same as those of humanity? In practice, however, the unpopular 'Imp Lice' became bitter and abusive toward colonial citizens. When Fortification legislation expanded police power, police 'bootboys' cracked down hard on Martian 'dustrags,' Venusian 'Veens,' and Titan's 'icegrubs.
When Petresun put the Proclamations into effect, he changed from benign ruler to single-minded tyrant. Thanks to his authority -- and the huge military and police force dedicated to enforce that authority -- Petresun could do as he wished. Any resources could be seized to serve the overriding goal of Fortification. The Empire paid token indemnity, and the colonies bore the brunt of the losses.
Prometheus' Fire had been just as terrible for humans on Mars and Venus as for those on Earth -- if not more so. Imperial Earth's haughty demands and heavy-handed police had created great resentment. Colonial citizens organized a series of non-violent protests against the abusive Imperial laws that continued throughout the year. Yet the Emperor remained unmoved.
Petresun attempted to present Fortification as a policy aimed at the good of all. To this end, he established a delegation of representatives elected from the colonies to present their cases. Some leniency was allowed in certain areas, spotlighted via extensive NewsNet coverage -- but the Empire quietly increased its quotas anyway.
After years of fruitless effort, the Colonial Delegation dissolved in frustration. Economically battered citizens increased their protests. The Emperor made ownership of weapons by colonists illegal. Interplanetary travel came under intense Imperial scrutiny, such that colonist travel to Earth became nearly impossible. Many travelers found their visas voided and local authorities utterly unresponsive. Sonic cavity searches became commonplace.
The stubbornly independent Martians organized against the brutal conditions in the mining industry, which drastically worsened under Fortification. In 2798, the First General Strike occurred, and practically every non-Imperial on Mars refused to work. When Imperial Police confronted irate miners in Tharsis City, Robinson, and Fort Brid, violence erupted, resulting in over a hundred colonial deaths.
Born to an influential noble family, Harabec Weathers died in childhood from a head injury suffered in an accident. At a special Imperial clinic, however, Immortal Brotherhood emergency surgeons secretly replaced the boy's cortex with an organimech brain, a device which housed the mind of the Brotherhood's greatest soldier: Petresun's own son Victor. 'Harabec' assumed the boy's identity after miraculously 'surviving' his injuries. The overjoyed family never suspected the truth.
The rebel movement on Mars had its genesis in two major factions. The Free Martian Alliance (FMA) used sabotage and vandalism to stop Imperial shipments to Earth. But the Martian Liberation Front (MLF) was more ruthless and targeted Imperial sympathizers and troops directly. The groups developed a close but sometimes stormy relationship.
A hovercar accident victim was rushed to a Los Angeles hospital. Doctors discovered that the man's brain appeared to be a computer, apparently of Cybrid design. A reporter happened to be in the hospital, so the news reached the media and caused a public panic about the presence of 'Cybrid zombies.' Imperial Intelligence confiscated the brain for analysis, and after a while, only the tabloids continued to cover the story.
Trained to exceptional skill in the military tradition of the Empire, Caanon and Harabec Weathers -- 'Icehawk' and 'Phoenix' to their fellow Imperial Knights - stood as shining examples of the Imperial ideals of honor and nobility. The grim, precise Caanon held his duty to the Emperor above all. However, the brilliant Harabec showed a wild streak that defied authority and convention.
Insurgent movements arose from time to time on Earth, and served to provide the Knights with combat experience and public glory. But the rebellion in Turkazakistan Province went terribly wrong. Under the command of Harabec Weathers, a strikeforce of Knights lost a division of HERCULANs in a disaster the likes of which the Imperial Knights had never imagined. Pilloried in subsequent NewsNet coverage, a disgraced Harabec was relieved of command.
After Turkhazakistan, the Emperor ordered Harabec to 'defect' to Mars and infiltrate rebel operations. Harabec, however, had tired of the deceit and harbored his own dislike of the Empire's colonial policies. He agreed to go to Mars, but secretly planned to shatter Imperial complacency.
Harabec felt humanity should face the Cybrids as free citizens, that a united community of Man would fare better than slaves subordinated to a power-hungry caste. When he left for Mars, supposedly on a leave of absence from military service, he defected in truth, leaving no contact information with his family, his friends... or even the Immortal Brotherhood. It would be nearly a decade before the Phoenix once more made himself known to the Empire
Upon arriving on Mars, Harabec assumed a new identity, that of the wandering Terran 'Harabec Storm,' or simply 'Bek.' He put his smuggled Apocalypse Herc into storage at Haldane Station, and proceeded to adopt a nomadic life, travelling the Martian outback and working as a common miner. He grew to love the frontier spirit of the Martian people, and earned their respect in return. Soon, he made contact with rebel elements, and his real work began.
Concerned about the rising dissident movement on Mars, Petresun did away with the office of governor and simply appointed the Chief of Imperial Security on Mars as the de facto governor. Chief Ernesto Navarre was a man with a solid though uninspiring career, a hardened military professional who had no problem enforcing the bottom line of Fortification law. Unfortunately, his severe deportment masked a damaged psyche. Mars and the Empire would eventually suffer for this oversight.
Petresun reaped the resources of Mars and welcomed the prospect of armed colonial resistance. He believed the conflict would create a seasoned Martian militia that would weaken Prometheus's forces in the next invasion. Petresun anticipated Harabec's true intentions, and believed his son's talent and intensity would further sharpen Martian combat readiness, thereby forging yet another layer of protection for Earth.
Resistance groups on Mars used the abandoned mining tunnels from the pre-Fire era. Many of these old networks were no longer found in official databanks, and were ideal for storing equipment and moving from place to place without risking detection from Imperial scans. The rebels began to call themselves 'moles,' a joking reference to all the time they spent in these tunnels. When the rebels formed a unified leadership, it took on the nom de guerre 'Mole Command.'
After 'Bek' contacted the Martian resistance, the rebels set a series of tests to determine his loyalty. Harabec passed every test and overcame the initial distrust any Martian carried toward a 'dirtborn' from Earth. The Free Martian Alliance (FMA) accepted him as an operative in one of its cells.
When Harabec proved to the Martian rebel leadership that he could be trusted despite his Terran origins, Mole Command welcomed him into the rebel ranks. Harabec's leadership skills, brilliant strategies, and intimate knowledge of the Imperial military quickly made him a valued asset in the growing resistance movement.
An immense understanding of human nature gained by centuries of life experience made Harabec a phenomenal success at sniffing out Imperial agents. Within six months of joining the resistance, Harabec decimated the Imperial spy network that had infiltrated the rebel movement. From that time forward, Imperial intelligence on Martian rebels remained extremely scarce.
Imperial Police relied heavily on recruitment of natives to fill out their ranks. This practice worked well on Mars, as 'dust Lice' enjoyed the privilege and power that went with enforcing Imperial laws. As the Empire's grip tightened on Mars, however, a few Martian-born Imperial Police had second thoughts and secretly began to pass information to the resistance.
Harabec Storm,' or simply 'Bek,' quickly earned recognition for his combat skill and leadership ability. Rebel officers observed him closely and were impressed by his quick-thinking and superb tactical aptitude. They decided to see how he would perform at the head of his own crew.
Dissidents on Earth found an outlet through the Omni-Web, and coalesced in a loosely organized underground movement of rogue techs and programmers who sliced into secure sectors of the dataspheres and liberated information. Their iconoclastic pranks targeted Imperial government and the larger milicorps. The most elite of these groups was the infamous "Dystopian Sno-Men."
Venusian radicals demonstrated their anger at Imperial edicts by hijacking a Venusian orbital platform. The Empire responded by sending several Swords of Imperial Knights in a surgical strike that resulted in swift capture of the inexperienced Venusians, who claimed they simply meant to occupy the Platform without harming anyone. NewsNet broadcast the subsequent executions of the radicals, and Venusian salons buzzed with anger.
In their effort to obtain more resources for their cause and extend their tunnel network, rebel miners dug feverishly. What they struck was completely unexpected. Deep below the Tharsis Bulge, they discovered a geometrically perfect cavern filled with strange artifacts. These devices seemed to be weapons left behind by an unknown 'alien' culture. The technology seemed highly advanced, and Mole Command immediately quarantined the area.
The more devout Hunterite rebels believed the Tharsis cache was left by the mysterious 'Masters' who were supposed to have conquered the Earth at the beginning of the millennium. Mole Command moved to temper this wave of religious fervor, fearing the sudden enthusiasm could touch off a series of bold but unwise attacks on Imperial positions. The religious dusters held off, but their renewed faith continued to boost rebel morale.
Harabec knew the new technology was useless -- and likely dangerous -- without practical knowledge of its workings. Mole Command put Harabec in charge of testing the Tharsis devices, so he recruited sympathetic scientists from Martian universities who could be trusted to analyze the cache without leaking the information to the Empire.
Harabec's unbroken string of successful operations earned him swift promotion, as Mole Command began to see him as a candidate for the inner circle. As a Colonel, Harabec became responsible for field operations in the Tharsis-Valles zone, as well as for the testing of the cache technology.
The cache technology proved surprisingly compatible with rebel equipment, so conversion for use on rebel vehicles went quickly. Rebel leaders grew uneasy at this convenience, suspecting Imperial or even Cybrid trickery. However, the manufacture of Tharsis artifacts did not match any known material or method. Eventually, the rebels simply decided to accept that cache technology worked, despite not comprehending the principles behind it.
Like the pirates of ancient times, rogue spacers occasionally preyed on the cargo drones and merchant freighters that plied the spaceways. Harabec convinced Mole Command to outfit a handful of spaceships with cache technology, so that Harabec could test the alien weaponry safely away from populated regions. 'Bek's Raiders' became a hugely successful front for such tests, as well as a source of income and intelligence for the rebel cause.
Space raider tests quickly cleared the way for adaptation of cache weaponry to Hercs and tanks. Some further testing was necessary to work out the bugs. At first, only veteran pilots received cache upgrades, but once the rebellion began, the alien gear filtered down to the rank and file. Not until the war was well underway would more exotic components, like the cloak, become available.
Oppressive Imperial policies finally exhausted the patience of Martian workers. Despite the penalties for protest assemblies, more Martian citizens took to the streets or engaged in passive resistance. Acts of vandalism increased dramatically, as did attacks on Imperial Police. Irreverent graffiti declaring Mars a free planet began to appear on Imperial buildings.
Given the rise in anti-Imperial activism, Imperial Security Director Navarre authorized capital punishment upon arrest and conviction, if the arresting magistrate concluded a suspect was involved in rebel activity. This order gave the police completely unfettered discretion in responding to strikes or curfew violations. Shocked Martians stopped public demonstrations virtually overnight, but rebel recruitment swelled.
Mole Command had long planned to take the war to the Empire. The latest crackdowns by Navarre moved the timetable up, and so the moles braced themselves to launch the 'Yoke Offensive.' Numerous clandestine raids by Martian rebels targeted Imperial Police supply depots and outback patrols. These raids also underlined the importance of the mining tunnels in rebel strategy. Imperials increased air patrols to scan for signs of rebel activity.
As the certainty of open war with the Empire swept toward them, Mole Command realized it needed a general of Harabec's caliber to counter the experience of the TDF officer corps. Though some individuals still harbored doubts as to Harabec's loyalty, the majority of Mole Command believed the Terran had proven himself decisively through his years of service. Thus, Harabec was made General and given a seat in Mole Command.
A key element to Mole Command's strategy was to wait until Mars was as far as possible from Earth, so that TDF relief efforts would have a greater distance to travel. In the meantime, the rebels tried not to use the cache technology openly, and kept the raids fairly scattered and small-scale. The Imperial Police were not to suspect how well organized the rebellion truly was.
As 2828 began, Mole Command touched off the first stages of the Yoke Offensive by striking carefully at outlying Imperial Police communications stations and supply bunkers. Navarre continued to insist that the rebels were merely outlaws picking at the fringes, that they would never rise to being more than a nuisance. Nevertheless, Imperial Police patrols doubled their numbers.
Rebels on Mars shot down an Imperial cargo shuttle diverted to perform reconnaissance. Though the pilot managed to bring her damaged ship down in one piece, a mole 'vulture' destroyed it before the Imperial salvage units arrived, and the Imperial pilot never made it back to report her findings to base. The fact that the rebel soldier displayed professional skill and judgment disquieted many officers in the Police command hierarchy.
Led by Harabec Storm, a rebel strike team armed with Tharsis technology wiped out an Imperial convoy. Imperial Police units on the scene described the rebel weaponry as 'bizarre' and 'devastating,' and were unable to stop the raiders. Subsequent analysis of the convoy wreckage convinced Security Chief Navarre that more serious measures would be necessary to stop the growing resistance.
TDF fired a cargo shipment via the magnetic acceleration ramp at Arx Imbrium on Luna. The cargo pod traveled the distance to Mars faster than any but the fastest of TDF courier vessels. A fast tug from Phobos Orbital matched velocity with the pod and decelerated it into Martian orbit barely a month later. Thanks to the rebel intelligence network, Mole Command had a good idea of what the cargo pod contained - and planned accordingly.
Citing the presence of a fifth column among Martian citizenry, Security Director Navarre ordered the roundup and incarceration of suspected 'sympathizers' and their families. Every time a rebel operation caused the death or injury of Imperials, some 'sympathizers' were removed from their cells and executed. Imperial radio characterized the deaths as 'casualties' of the last 'terrorist attack.'
Warned about Navarre's plans, Harabec's crew intercepted the artillery and defeated Imperial Police units that guarded the shipment. With advanced artillery in their possession, the rebels gained an important capability to destroy hardened targets from a far greater distance. Navarre fumed, and the next artillery shipment was guarded far more heavily.
As cache field-testing yielded positive results, the rebels began to strike more boldly and frequently. Cloaking technology in particular freed the rebels from dependence on using mining tunnels to move undetected, and so crews began to attack targets located farther afield.
The cloaks were not infallible. Skillful use of high-grade sensors could sometimes maintain a close-range radar-lock, and careful observation of a moving cloaked vehicle could spot the dust trail left in the vehicle's wake. However, the cloaks worked extremely well against flyers, and the Imperial Police soon found that with rare exceptions, their Banshees were nearly useless in tracking rebel movement. Navarre ordered ground patrols increased, and relegated the Imperial Police Air Wing to a support role.
The Imperial Police believed they'd cornered a rebel pilot in the Valles Marineris area after an ambush resulted in the destruction of the rest of the rebel's crew. However, the rebel piloted a powerful Herc, and managed to stay hidden in the region's numerous canyons and gulches until a rescuer located her and escorted her back to safety. This lost opportunity to capture an intact rebel Herc cost the Imperial Police dearly.
Navarre realized rebel forces were responsible for the raids on Imperial supply bases, but he underestimated how widespread the resistance movement had become. Though planting spies in the rebellion was difficult, Stanley Michaelson, a dustborn killer with a pathological ability to conceal emotion, managed to infiltrate the rebel ranks and evade even Harabec's surveillance.
Navarre realized rebel forces were responsible for the raids on Imperial supply bases, but he underestimated how widespread the resistance movement had become. Though planting spies in the rebellion was difficult, Stanley Michaelson, a dustborn killer with a pathological ability to conceal emotion, managed to infiltrate the rebel ranks and evade even Harabec's surveillance.
Michaelson took great pains to conceal his true allegiance, so much so that he rarely gave any intelligence to the Imperial Police. Navarre saw the killer as a long-term operative, to be activated only when absolutely necessary. The difficulty of penetrating rebel counter-intelligence made Michaelson a priceless asset, not to be risked lightly.
The greatest wonder of the Tharsis cache was a tank that apparently rode on anti-gravitational suspension. Dubbed the Predator, it traveled unhindered by terrain and carried impressive weaponry. Even stranger, it seemed engineered for use by humans. With information supplied by Michaelson, Imperial Police assault patrols 'stumbled' upon the rebel testing place for the Predator and captured the tank. Mole Command feared losing the edge granted by Tharsis technology.
One of Harabec's trusted lieutenants led a successful operation to retrieve the Predator. The Imperials had not yet realized exactly what they had, and the swiftness of the mole reaction caught them off-guard. With the Predator safely back in rebel hands, Mole Command breathed easier
Mole Command decided the time had come to shed the label of 'terrorists' the Terran media had imposed on the resistance. Harabec led a black op assault onto an Imperial Orbital communications platform and broadcast a message across all public Omni-Web channels. In this message, Harabec declared Mars a free planet - and to the shock of his rebel comrades - revealed his true identity as Harabec Weathers, the Imperial Knight known as 'Phoenix.'
Stunned by the revelation that their star general was an Imperial Knight, the very brother of the Emperor's Grand Master, Mole Command relieved Harabec of command and confined him to quarters in Mole Deep. He would remain under close observation as rebel spies carried out an investigation. Harabec was eventually permitted an advisory role, limited duties, and some freedom of movement, but the bonds of trust had been damaged.
The Mars-based, quasi-religious battle order calling itself the Stormkeepers chose to remain neutral in the Rebellion. The order's spokesperson said the Stormkeepers would focus only on preparing for the Cybrid apocalypse, not on 'the affairs of Caesar.'
The Phoenix Declaration raised an outcry across the Empire, as the Imperial aristocracy recoiled at the revelation that one of their own was a leader in the Martian Rebellion. And on Mars, dissent erupted among the rebels as crews argued over whether an Imperial Knight could truly be trusted to lead the dusters against the Empire. And resistance movements on Venus, Titan, and Earth took heart from Harabec's words and began to agitate for revolution.
Even though he had expected Harabec's defiance - even planned on it - Petresun found himself incensed by the arrogance in the Phoenix Declaration. The mere success of Martian defiance undermined the stability of the Empire Petresun had nurtured for almost two centuries. The Emperor concluded the Martian Rebellion was a failed experiment, one that had to be crushed decisively.
The Emperor decided to make the Martian Rebellion an object lesson for rest of the Empire's dissidents. He ordered a strikeforce of Knights to Mars, but also ordered the TDF Fleet to a full mobilization. The Knights would reap the glory, and the full Fleet would follow up to utterly crush any remnant of rebel presence. The Emperor chose to bring 'substantial overkill' to bear on these upstarts who had dared to challenge the Imperial status quo.
Calling themselves 'Umbral Thorn,' unknown Venusians sliced into a NewsNet O-Web program and declared support for the rebellion on Mars. They also promised Venus would 'throw off the chains of Empire.' NewsNet synch-polls indicated a large and positive audience response to the new Venusian resistance.
When spies reported the escalation of the rebellion to Prometheus, Prometheus chose to initiate the Core Directive, the comprehensive program to exterminate humanity. Diversion of human forces to Mars meant a well-timed Cybrid attack would overwhelm Earth's defenses and permit easy destruction of the returning TDF Fleet.
Rallies and demonstrations on Earth were not the only response to the Phoenix Declaration. The O-Web forums swirled with dissent that cheered for the upstart dusters. The Dystopian Sno-Men offered their usual sarcastic commentary. At first glance, the reaction to Harabec's broadcast appeared deeply supportive. Petresun knew he had enough firepower on hand to crush Harabec and the Martian Rebellion immediately. But such a course of action risked underscoring the truth of Harabec's statements and strengthen the dissenting forces in the Empire and on Earth. Hence, Petresun opted for a policy of patience. He delayed the strikeforce and Fleet in order to 'extend the hand of 'mercy' to the rebels.
The Phoenix Declaration resonated with many dissatisfied elements in the Empire. As these voices were raised in protest, Petresun grew concerned that dispatching a force to Mars would be premature. He decided to extend 'the hand of mercy' to the Martians and allow them a chance to surrender peacefully. In the meantime, he would delay sending Knights and Fleet until the rumbles of unrest had settled.
Heartened by the support reaching them from the rest of the Empire, the rebels redoubled their efforts against the Imperial Police. One by one, the rural zones of Mars fell under rebel control.
Venusian rebels belonging to the shadowy Umbral thorn attacked an Imperial armory in Hammadi and successfully captured military-grade equipment, including several Hercs. The rebels used weapons received from the Martian resistance via Harabec's space raiders. Unfortunately, a blown bulkhead during the operation caused a substantial number of noncombatant casualties.
The Phoenix Declaration inspired resistance even among the miners of Europa and Io, and among the 'icegrub' water miners of Titan. Workers disabled equipment and threatened their employers with millions of lost credits and disruption of Imperial quotas.
Alarmed by the spread of open revolt to Venus, the Jovian colonies and Titan, Petresun ordered a full mobilization of the Fleet. Even if the rebels sued for peace now, the time for reconciliation had passed. The Emperor planned to make Mars a convincing example of the futility of resistance to Imperial rule.
The steady advance of Martian rebels and faltering Imperial morale convinced Navarre to use Michaelson, his only deep plant among the rebels. Michaelson began to send intelligence to the Imperial Police, but Navarre also ordered him to seek out and eliminate the Phoenix.
Calculating and remorseless, Michaelson stalked Harabec, awaiting a chance to assassinate him. The restrictions on the rebel leader's movement helped the killer find him at one of the main bases. The opportunity finally came as Harabec worked alone on the Predator one night. Shots were fired, and a clandestine transmission followed, notifying Navarre that the Phoenix was dead.
Only an hour after the news of Harabec's death, the Voice of Free Mars announced that the rebels had caught and executed Stanley Michaelson, 'Imperial spy, traitor, and assassin.' The rebels dropped Michaelson's body down an old drill-pit several kilometers deep, but sent the head and hands back to Navarre.
A message from Harabec reassured supporters he had survived the assassination attempt, despite Imperial reports to the contrary. However, the Imperial Police responded that Michaelson had in fact succeeded, and that the claim of the Phoenix surviving was merely a trick to maintain rebel morale.
Stung by reports critical of Imperial Police methods, Chief Navarre began to highlight 'rebel atrocities' for the Earth-based media. He characterized the Police as young men and women losing their innocence in a struggle against a ruthless, bloodthirsty race of poorly educated inbreeds. He also maintained the official line that the rebels were losing the war.
Without Harabec's brilliant leadership and demoralized by his possible betrayal of their cause, rebel crews faltered in their assaults. The Imperial Police began to push back, no longer off-balance from Harabec's innovative strategies. The rebels continued to win ground, but far more slowly and at greater cost than before.
As the war escalated, Navarre ordered more brutal measures toward citizens in hopes of discouraging support for the rebels. Captured rebels and suspect sympathizers were often tortured to death; the Police grew paranoid of all Martians, and became increasingly violent toward citizens as their own casualties mounted.
As the rebels continued to defeat Imperial Police forces even without the Phoenix, Navarre's frustration mounted. The Security Director began to display unusual thinking and behavior, and blandly increased the violence of interrogation and law enforcement. At first, only his close advisors and family noticed the growing sadism. Later, his behavior became apparent to the rank-and-file as well, and morale sank even further.
Desperate to find some way to deter rebel advances, Navarre ordered Police platoons to secure civilians as hostages against rebel assaults. He also supervised brutal interrogation of these hostages, 'just in case someone knew anything useful.' Some of the Imperial Police began very quietly to defect, concluding privately that the Chief was losing his mind.
The Emperor's formidable propaganda machine took Navarre's reports, made them even more lurid, and disseminated them widely. The shocking footage outraged Imperials and dissolved support for the Martians virtually overnight. Even the striking laborers in the far colonies were jolted into negotiating. Umbral Thorn called it all lies and continued operations. Public opinion on Earth and Luna, however, turned completely against the notion of 'rebellion.'
Immediately after the Phoenix Declaration, Caanon secretly ordered a small force of Knights to Mars to conduct reconnaissance and limited strikes against rebels. These 'Wolf Pack' swords were not to contact the Imperial Police and were not to submit to Navarre's command. They were to send information to the Imperial Police when doing so would not risk revealing them to the rebels, but Caanon wanted his own intelligence uncompromised.
Buoyed by popular support for a retaliatory assault on the Martian rebels, Petresun at last assented to the launch of the Imperial Knight strikeforce 'Red Whirlwind.' Grand Master Caanon Weathers commanded the TDF operation, and spirits were high among the Knights as the strikeforce finally accelerated out of lunar orbit.
Ironically, Michaelson's attack on Harabec turned out to be the convincing factor behind Mole Command's decision to restore Harabec to his rank as General. The investigation had confirmed a history of dissatisfaction with the Empire, and Harabec had played a pivotal role in shaping the Rebellion. Michaelson's assassination attempt and subsequently discovered ties to Navarre spurred a swift reinstatement.
Despite his 'acquittal,' Harabec encountered great difficulty in leading field operations. Aside from lingering doubts as to his trustworthiness, the responsibilities of coordinating the overall rebel strategy took most of his time. He relinquished command of his crew to his most trusted lieutenant and resigned himself to being a desk jockey in the operations center of Mole Deep.
With the Imperial Police failing to defeat rebels in the field, Navarre shifted his strategy. Using spies planted among the refugees that fled Police reprisals, Navarre lured rebel crews into carefully laid traps, ostensibly to rescue the refugees. Many rebel crews were surprised and slaughtered. Ultimately, however, the 'Mouse Trap' tactic backfired. Rebels grew more cautious - and far angrier.
Infuriated by Navarre's 'Operation Mouse Trap,' Harabec slipped cloaked crews directly to Carter Flats and besieged the Security Director. The Imperial Police were already scattered and demoralized. Navarre's grip on reality was at best tenuous. When rebel soldiers burned their way into the Chief's op center and took him prisoner, Navarre babbled about his next report to the Emperor and claimed the Police had won the war.
The first rebel crews to reach Navarre belonged to the Martian Liberation Front, the vengeance-driven wing of the Rebellion. They wasted no time, but marched Navarre outside, read a short list of grievances, and blew him apart with a candlegun blast. Navarre went to his death smiling and claiming God was on his side. Harabec was furious. He had wanted to try Navarre publicly and show the common people of the Empire 'the true face of Imperial oppression.'
Within a week of Navarre's execution, the remaining Imperial Police surrendered to the moles. Harabec and the Free Martian Alliance urged clemency. The greater priority was preparing for the next assault, the Imperial Knight strikeforce. Harabec prevailed, and the Police were put to work repairing damage and digging new tunnels.
Harabec had anticipated the rebels would need additional help against the Knights, so he had long since negotiated with representatives of several veteran mercenary units. When the Police surrendered, he activated the contracts of two experienced groups: the enigmatic Sable Phoenix Squadron and the battle-hardened Black Death Union, paying them with seized Imperial assets.
As 'Red Whirlwind' entered Martian orbit, Caanon and his Knights waited in dropships, prepared to execute a high-gee insertion at Carter Flats. The Knights had announced their landing zone location and hoped for an early encounter with the rebel 'dustrags.' Intelligence from the Wolf Pack warned of an ambush. Caanon issued the traditional ultimatum for surrender, and when the three-minute deadline passed without answer, he ordered the drop to commence.
The sonic shockwave of the Knights' landing hit Carter Flats like a hurricane. The Knights were out of their ships less than a minute after touching down. Harabec had concealed his forces with cloaks and absorbent camouflage, and struck as soon as the dust settled enough to allow target acquisition. In moments, the battle had begun.
The Wolf Pack stood off until the Knights landed, then moved in and disrupted the rebel position. Harabec quickly struck back and dealt out heavy damage to the Empire's wolves, but the damage was done. The battle at Carter Flats raged nearly thirty minutes longer before the rebels withdrew. Harabec knew how far to exploit the Knights' disorientation after a hard insertion, and the rebels had never faced soldiers of the Knights' caliber.
Carter Flats taught the Knights to respect the strange technology of the rebels, as well as the resourcefulness of the Phoenix. On the other hand, the rebels learned firsthand the difference between the Imperial Police and the hardened professionalism of the Knights. During his withdrawal, Harabec had to destroy several downed rebels so the technology wouldn't fall into Caanon's hands.
Harabec reverted to cloaked raids against the Knights' positions, inflicting heavy casualties at first. Caanon countered by setting heavy guards, such that any small raid would be hugely outgunned. The Knights were used to working with little sleep, and they were eager for action after months of waiting.
Stubbornly keeping his force together, Caanon pushed toward Victoria, the Imperial capital of Mars. Though the rebels continued to ambush the Knight lines, they found the massed firepower more than they could withstand, cache technology or no. Additionally, the Knight had far superior air support, and the rebels simply didn't have enough cloaks to outfit all of their own vehicles. Consequently, Harabec began to combine units to create a larger force.
After heavy block-to-block fighting, the Knights managed to take Victoria. Rebels planted thermal explosives and pursued a scorched earth strategy as they pulled out. The rebel army pulled back to Rio de Luz, a heavily fortified city known for its extensive mining operations and hard-drinking workers.
By the end of the massed encounter at Victoria, the Knights had enough experience to learn to track cloaked vehicles by the dust stirred up in their passage. The Knights were skilled enough to be able to adapt swiftly, and the rebels soon found their technological advantage thinning dramatically.
Harabec deployed rebels around Rio de Luz, supplemented with the veteran Black Death Union mercenaries. Caanon used bombing runs to soften rebel positions. When the Knights hit Rio, the battle was long and bloody. As the Knights began to penetrate his defenses, Harabec pulled the rebels out via the mining tunnels, but reluctantly left the BDU behind to take the brunt of the Knights' assault.
Caanon offered the BDU an honorable withdrawal. Faced with annihilation, the mercenaries accepted - or most did. A few remained to the end, and the Knights sent in swords of the First Cavalry to finish the stubborn mercs. The First Cavalry proceeded to clear out any rebel forces remaining in Rio. The battle was over.
After Rio de Luz, the rebels fell back toward the Valles Marineris in the west. Caanon swept after them, even pursuing them into the mining tunnels. The Knights fought with a grim professionalism that began in itself to undermine Martian confidence. Harabec tried a number of daring strategies that only succeeded in delaying the Knights.
At the forefront of Harabec's strategy was a high-risk game of cat- and-mouse. He picked the unit calling itself 'Red Armageddon' to draw the Knights away from the main rebel forces, which were mustering in Melas and Ophir. The 'RA' succeeded in leading the Knight spearhead deep into Arabia Terra before disappearing into one of the more carefully hidden mining networks.
Eventually, Mole Command knew it was time to make a stand. The Knights had to be stopped. Harabec stationed elite crews at Melas and Ophir Stations to launch a counter-offensive. Caanon's Knights sought just such an opportunity, and the rebels were unable to hold at Melas. The Knights overran their position and destroyed several crews.
The strike crew at Ophir fared better. Led by Harabec's most trusted lieutenant, the Ophir rebels rallied and fought off the Knights in a pitched battle that exhausted both sides. Unfortunately, the loss at Melas opened the way for the Knights to encircle the rebel positions. Harabec led the remaining forces to safety through the labyrinthine canyons of the Valles Marineris.
News of the Knights' victory at Melas and the subsequent retreat of the rebels inspired Petresun to launch the mighty Fleet he had gathered. Anger against Harabec's betrayal infused him, and he determined to make of Mars such an example that no one would dare contemplate rebellion against the Great Human Empire again.
Following interrogation of a captured rebel officer, the Knights were finally able to ascertain the location of the rebel headquarters at Mole Deep, which lay in the Southern Hemisphere. With that intelligence, the Grand Master directed his Knights to begin an offensive that would end with the destruction of Mole Deep.
Caanon pulled the Knights together into one large force and began to push toward Mole Deep. The massed firepower and air support of the Knights was enough to make hit and run tactics by the rebels extremely difficult. However, the Knights also had to move slowly in order to protect their supply lines and technical crews. So the rebels grimly laid in wait, continuing fast raids and ambushes in hopes of impacting Knight morale. Despair began to set into the rebel camp as the Knights drew nearer to Mole Deep.
The Emperor's Grand Fleet arrived and immediately began to resupply the Knights and send down support units. The Navy's orders were to reduce Mars to a labor colony until the Emperor decided the Martians had earned their freedom. The first step, however, was elimination of the traitorous rebels.
Sensing that victory was near, Caanon finally ordered his Knights to hunt down and destroy the retreating rebel forces. With the Grand Fleet arriving shortly to ferry down reinforcements and fresh supplies, Caanon overextended his forces in hopes of penetrating to Mole Deep and seizing Harabec in one bold offensive.
Cybrid viruses injected throughout the Omni-Web quickly devastated key relay nodes and corrupted vital dataspheres. Despite the best efforts of Imperial ravelers and the enigmatic Stormkeeper Order, huge selections of the O-Web crashed. Fail-safes that cut links to prevent infection preserved some dataspheres, but contributed to the swiftness of the crash. The Empire's main communication medium had temporarily blacked out.
Executing a precisely timed strategy, the Cybrid Armada struck at Earth mere hours after the Grand Fleet deployed reinforcements onto Mars. The first target was heavily-defended Luna, where the TDF Orbital Guard had constructed a series of powerful railguns and missile batteries to protect near-Earth orbit. Once Luna fell, the bulk of the Armada would swing toward Earth itself.
By now, Petresun had realized the enormity of his error. The defense and security he had labored and suffered to build for so long had turned to ashes in his hands. The Martian rebellion was meaningless. He ordered the Grand Fleet to abandon Mars and return home with all possible speed. He had the message sent by laser pulse once the positions of Earth and Mars permitted a direct line of transmission.
The urgency of the Emperor's order threw the Grand Fleet into chaos. Landing operations were cancelled; retrieval of personnel commenced immediately. Time was short. The Fleet waited only long enough to plot the course to Earth and run through pre-flight diagnostic sequences. On the planet below, confused TDF troops and Knights struggled to reach the dropships before the departure deadline.
Elite rebel crews struck at the reeling Knights and disrupted Grand Fleet retrieval efforts, enough to sever Caanon's closest escape routes. Left with little choice as Harabec led a series of lightning assaults on his position, Caanon retreated slowly toward a more distant LZ, trying to buy time for other Knights. He refused a pickup for himself while his men and women still fought on.
Scant hours after the arrival of the Emperor's order, the Grand Fleet started for Earth. No effort was spared to achieve maximum speed. Many Knights and other TDF personnel failed to reach dropships before the deadline, especially those soldiers who engaged the resurgent rebels in a desperate rear-guard action. Among those left behind was Caanon Weathers, who adamantly refused to abandon any of his Knights.
The remaining Knights fought hard, but they were outnumbered and overextended, their positions scattered and untenable. Caanon knew some grave crisis must have caused the Grand Fleet's abrupt departure. Though he balked at the shame of it, he ultimately chose surrender so that he might discover the truth. He ordered his followers to do likewise.
Partial restoration of the Omni-Web revealed the reality of the Cybrid attack. Aghast Martians stood paralyzed by the news. They knew the future of Mars depended on the gate of Earth... and Earth was losing.
An Imperial Navy message drone sped into Martian orbit bearing an ominous warning. Grand Fleet scouts had detected signs indicating a fragment of the Cybrid Armada was headed for Mars. The Fleet Admiral regretted that vector differences and her own orders did not permit interception of the Cybrid force. Mars was on its own.
Immediately after the rebels imprisoned Caanon, Harabec had gone to his brother with his suspicions about the reason for the Grand Fleet's pullout. When the terrible truth became known, Harabec released Caanon and the other Imperial prisoners, offering them an alliance against the legions of Prometheus. Caanon accepted, and the Human Alliance was born.
The fledgling Alliance needed to act. However, news from Earth indicated the Cybrids had already engulfed the Imperial defenses, and campaign projection sims concluded that even the union of the Grand Fleet and cache-equipped Alliance forces would prove unable to stem the Cybrid tide. With a military victory virtually impossible, Harabec concluded an alternative would be necessary to save the human race.
Since Cybrid victory seemed inevitable, the Alliance leadership searched for a way to save humanity. Harabec argued that an 'ark' should be sent to the stars, in the hope that someday the descendants of those journeyed on it would find and settle a new Earth. As the news from Earth continued to darken, the Alliance council finally agreed with Harabec. The ark project was named 'Dies Irae,' or 'Day of Wrath,' for it truly seemed as though Apocalypse had arrived.
Ships would have to be converted to arks at TDF deep space facilities on Titan. Harabec and Caanon led a frantic effort to evacuate as many people as possible from Mars before the Cybrids arrived. Priority went to children and healthy young adults who would embark with the Dies Irae contingent. Evacuees were flown to Phobos Orbital Station on the smaller of Mars's two moons and packed into cargo-haulers for the trip.
Many older Martians and TDF veterans chose to stay behind to make a last stand against the oncoming Cybrids. Weary ex-rebel grunts shouldered rifles and packs and trudged back into the tunnels, as Imperial Legionnaires labored to conceal artillery and plant proximity mines. This thin force intended to make the red planet an expensive stop for the 'glitches.'
Everyone across Mars, Imperial and rebel, duster and dirtborn, came together on Christmas Eve. Regardless of individual belief, they left their labors for a few hours and gathered in places of worship and dusty plazas. Some prayed, some wept, some stood silently with their thoughts, All eyes rose toward the skies and Earth... and the death that sped closer minute by minute to Mars. Caanon pointedly avoided Harabec and went to a chapel to pray for his family on Earth. Harabec ventured alone into the night, where he kept a solitary vigil with a bottle of his favorite whisky.
The Alliance began a piecemeal evacuation of Mars, launching small groups of ships from Phobos. Cloaking technology distributed among the ships masked the true size of the evacuation from Cybrid observers. Completing the evacuation would take over a month, and the Cybrids were due to arrive within weeks.
Arriving in a storm of particle cannon volleys and streaking salvos of missiles, the Grand Fleet attacked the Cybrid Armada and relieved the heavily damaged Gierling Platform, the armed fortress located at L5. The Cybrids diverted planetary support assets toward the Grand fleet, and the people of Earth felt a tremulous sense of relief. Yet Earth's defenses had already been seriously compromised and the Armada's numbers were staggering.
The Cybrid Armada had struck first at Mercury, its target the TDF Reserve Naval Installation and Supply Depot located there. TDF soldiers fought heroically, but the Cybrid numbers and firepower overwhelmed them. A flotilla of exhausted survivors managed to escape the slaughter and limp toward Venus, accompanied by a fragmented Imperial Navy escort that fought a running battle with Cybrid pursuers.
Their drive flares visible as new stars in the Martian sky, enormous Cybrid carrier ships maneuvered into orbit over the red planet, only to come under immediate attack from cloaked space raider vessels. Drop pods carrying Cybrid warforms rained fire across the Tharsis Bulge and raised huge dustclouds with their impact. The second 'MarsSiege' had begun.
The Alliance still had ships loading refugees when the Cybrids struck savagely at Phobos. However, the Cybrids met an unpleasant welcome in the form of cache-enhanced defenses. Covered by M-FAC and blaster fire, the Martian Aerospace Ranger Squadron, the Stormkeeper Aerospace Wing, and mixed squadrons of rebel and Imperial pilots slashed into the 'glitch' attackers. The battle raged fiercely, but at last the Cybrids withdrew to an orbital position on the other side of the planet from Phobos.
The Marines of ancient Earth had an unwritten tradition of never abandoning their own. In similar wise, Caanon and Harabec refused to cut the evacuation short despite the advancing Cybrid hordes. Outnumbered Martians resisted desperately, but lost ground steadily. The Alliance had only two evacuation sites remaining: Tharsis City and Haldane Station. They lay on opposite sides of the planet. Time was running out.
Following a heroic running battle with the Cybrids, the last of the Alliance evacuation finally lifted from Mars. The ships remaining at Phobos accelerated hard to rendezvous with the main Alliance group en route to Titan. Again, cloaking technology aided Alliance ships in evading Cybrids, who quickly broke off pursuit and returned to Mars.
By this time, Umbral Thorn, the Venusian resistance, informed the Alliance of Mercury's defeat by the Cybrids. Caanon insisted the TDF survivors would be an invaluable asset to the Alliance, and urged a rescue effort be made. TDF garrisons on Mercury had included many scientists and veteran soldiers. Harabec agreed with his brother, and dispatched Caanon with several elite crews to assist - and recruit - Mercury's survivors.
With the Alliance gone, the Cybrids concentrated on Mars, making only a token effort to pursue the fleeing Alliance ships. Prometheus had ordered 'purification' of Fourth Planet, and the Cybrids held little concern for the escaping humans. They resumed their attacks and began a program of systematic annihilation of human settlements, atmospheric converters, and agricultural zones.
The furious battle between the Cybrid Armada on the one hand, and the Grand Fleet and Orbital Guard on the other made Earth far too hazardous a destination. Each side killed anything that moved. Though the Mercury refugees and Caanon himself desperately wished to return to defend Mother Earth, everyone knew such a journey would be suicide. Titan was the only viable option.
The unique environment of Venus was the most hostile among the colonies. Enormous atmospheric pressure equaled the depths of Earth's oceans. Sulfuric acid rained onto a bleak, volcanically active landscape. Huge electrical storms, tremendous heat, and a permanent high-altitude layer of hurricane-force winds combined to make flight to and from orbit extremely hazardous. The planet truly seemed to be a vision of hell.
Composed of the Alliance's finest pilots, the elite 'Guardian' crews stood sentry at the landing zones on Venus and fought Cybrid assault quads away from the spaceports as exhausted TDF troops from Mercury struggled to land. The storm layer called the Oberwind destroyed some TDF ships, but the majority succeeded in landing safely. Caanon quietly offered the grateful survivors a place in the Alliance. Virtually everyone accepted.
Having left behind a small group of units to 'purify' Mercury of human life, an army of Cybrids arrived at Venus and began full assault operations. The Oberwind slowed transfer of Cybrid warforms to the surface, but Venusian orbital defenses were thin and easily swept aside. Landings succeeded in Ishtar Province and around the arcology of Erste Landung, where Cybrid heavy assault quads established planetary beachheads.
Venus, too, was unable to hold off the Cybrids for long. As the Cybrid assaults intensified, Caanon integrated Mercury's veterans and scientists into the Alliance command structure. With Umbral Thorn and Venusian Imperial Police assistance. Alliance forces were able to stiffen arcology defenses and organize an orderly withdrawal to evacuation centers. Again, many thousands of people would be left behind to face certain death.
The most insidious Cybrid assault came from within the human settlements. Human bodies carrying implanted Cybrid brains performed acts of sabotage and murder, leading to the discovery that captured humans were surgically converted to the Cybrid cause. This discovery cut deeply into morale and fanned the flames of paranoia.
A bold move succeeded wildly when an elite Alliance crew located and captured a Cybrid mobile nexus. Intelligence gleaned from troopers on Mercury suggested the nexi operated as mobile command units for the Cybrid legions. Caanon immediately had the nexus taken to a fortified site for Alliance scientists to dissect.
Though the Venusians were protected by strong fortifications and their planet's own incredibly hostile environment, the Cybrids had heavier forces and superior numbers. The Alliance evacuation fled piecemeal, just as on Mars. Again, however, the Cybrids focused on conquest of the planet, not destruction of fleeing refugees. The evacuation was nevertheless fraught with danger, and the Oberwind claimed its own share of victims.
Carson arcology represented classic Cybrid efficiency in dealing with hardened human settlements. The Cybrids cut off escape routes, systematically bombarded the area with explosives, and then sent in their hunter-killer 'purifier' units to mop up with radiation guns and nanotech dissolver charges. There were no human survivors from Carson.
The Alliance forces formed a shrinking circle around the arcology of Sa Thauri, which had the distinction of being the only settlement to survive The Fire so many years ago. Again, Caanon refused to leave until the last possible moment, choosing to wait and delay the Cybrids while the last Venusian refugee ships launched for Titan. The Cybrids closed in, and many of the 'Guardian Angels' wondered whether the Icehawk's stubborn sense of honor had cost them their lives.
Caanon's gamble of using cache technology to create an automated defensive perimeter worked, thanks to the Guardian crews successfully holding back a powerful Cybrid assault. As they had at Phobos, the MFAC- equipped turrets broke subsequent Cybrid sallies as the Oberwind cleared enough to permit a final escape from Venus.
Caanon and the survivors of Operation Guardian bolted for space as soon as the Oberwind permitted. Behind them, the autoturrets continued to fire. Once his ships were safely clear, Caanon triggered a detonation that destroyed the turrets, their cache weapons, and a large number of Cybrids. Then he ordered maximum acceleration for Titan.
Escorted by remnants of the Imperial Navy's Mercury Battlegroup and frigates from the Long Patrol, the Venusian refugees soon joined Harabec's group on Titan. Conditions were crowded; Titan's resources were strained to absorb the crush of new bodies. Still, the newcomers brought their own tools and weapons, along with a fierce determination not to give up.
The Dies Irae Project required ships capable of journeying through deep space for decades, perhaps centuries. Cryogenic chambers were to hold the majority of colonists. Supplies for setting up agriculture, science, construction, and industry had to be assembled and packed. The effort was titanic and required sacrifice and ingenuity as the Alliance raced to compete preparation before the Cybrids arrived.
Caanon never forgave Harabec for dishonoring the family, nor for forcing Caanon's own humiliating surrender. True to his callsign, Caanon maintained an icy, thoroughly professional demeanor with his brother, though he did warm somewhat to those former rebel pilots who proved themselves worthy of his respect.
As months passed in preparation for the Dies Irae, Harabec mounted various rescue missions, smuggling in survivors from Mars and Venus, as well as scouring the Jovian moons in the wake of Cybrid purifier sweeps. As the Cybrids moved more units into Jovian space, these rescue missions grew increasingly difficult. The Cybrids were clearly preparing to move a force to Titan and finish this upstart Alliance.
Titan was a harsh world, a cold moon with seas of liquid nitrogen and continents of steel-hard water ice. Its atmosphere supported dense yellow- orange smog and winds that sliced across rolling plains of ice. Various corporations mined water for reaction mass and for use in terraforming Mars and Venus. The capital and only real city was the settlement at Eskandani Chasm, a location shielded from the worst of the storm winds. The Imperial Navy maintained a naval base at Eskandani, a modest facility that provided a home berth for the Long Patrol and a place for mining corporation 'icegrubs' to blow off steam.
Aside from the Long Patrol, the TDF kept no regular garrison on Titan. Instead, the Emperor authorized the upkeep of a unit calling itself the New Terran Defense Force. NTDF members claimed descent from survivors of a TDF rescue ship crashed on an orbital station near Neptune a few years after The Fire. Incredible as this story sounded, the NTDF stuck to it. The Navy regulars at Eskandani thought the NTDF eccentric, but learned a deep respect for the unit's fighting skill and dedication.
The Alliance created a military patchwork. The NTDF was one example. Other units on Titan included the survivors of the mercenaries of the Black Death Union and Sons of the Brotherhood, the rebel Red Armageddon, the Imperial Wolf Pack and First Cavalry. Even the enigmatic Stormkeeper Order was present. The briefing room held the crisp uniforms of Knights alongside the sloppy motley of ex-rebels and the gray field cloaks traditionally worn by mercenaries.
After months of fighting, the Cybrid Armada finally defeated the Imperial Navy forces of the Grand Fleet in a cataclysmic engagement on the dark side of the moon, ironically very near the base Prometheus had occupied in the waning years of The Fire. In the aftermath, ragged squadrons of human survivors burned hard for Earth, hoping to assist the Orbital Guard.
Though it lost the Third Battle of Luna, the Grand Fleet had savaged the
Armada badly. The Cybrids still possessed overwhelming numbers, but the
loss of several flagships and the
Confident that the human resistance of Earth no longer threatened to disrupt the outcome of the Core Directive, Prometheus commanded a force of veteran Cybrids to Titan to destroy the humans there. Titan would test of the efficiency of these units.
Reinforced by the remnants of the Grand Fleet, the Orbital Guard continued to battle the Cybrid invasion. Pilots neuro-linked to their swift stratofighters formed a devastating aerospace defense, and managed to protect the heavily shielded and armed orbital platforms, especially the massive fortress of Gierling Platform, floating at L5. The Orbital Guard motto was 'Never Say Die' and the coming months proved how strongly the Guard believed in it.
In the course of following a mysterious transmission trace, the Long Patrol ISS Phaedrus made a momentous discovery. Now it ran its engines recklessly, desperately racing for Titan with Cybrid vessels in hot pursuit. Since Cybrids could withstand higher acceleration, the Phaedrus had little hope of outrunning them. However, human ship designs were more agile, so Phaedrus' Captain Daniela Kelsington hoped she would be able to evade the hunters long enough to send her crucial message.
Captain Kelsington reluctantly concluded that continued flight was utterly futile. Instead, she set the self-destruct on her ship, and turned to face the Cybrids. The ship's rear torpedo tubes held a message drone. When the first Cybrid volley hit the Phaedrus, the captain fired the torpedo toward Titan just as she detonated the ship's reactor. The interference of the wreckage and the explosion successfully hid the drone from Cybrid sensors.
As the Navy techs pronounced the Dies Irae ships spaceworthy, Alliance Command made the last decisions regarding who was to go on the epic journey. As much priority went to genetic diversity as to education and experience. The final makeup of the Dies Irae Contingent consisted mainly of children and women of childbearing age. Seeds, tools, and construction material made up an enormous portion of the cargo.
The Cybrid purifiers found Eskandani heavily defended, enough to discourage an orbital assault. Instead, the Cybrids chose to land in force and proceeded to mount a ground attack on the human positions. The Choosers-of-Strategies were confident their warforms would utterly destroy the animals. After all, the assault on Earth had yielded excellent results, and the pilotforms had executed their parts efficiently. Titan would be no different.
Typically conservative Cybrid strategy followed its course as warforms destroyed outlying human facilities and structures en route toward Eskandani. Harabec had crews strike constantly at the Cybrids with the help of the Titan-savvy NTDF. The plan was to delay the Cybrids as long as possible, so the Dies Irae could launch.
The Cybrids waged 'purification' on the stubborn Venusians for months. At last, the purifier warforms penetrated the last human defenses at the warlike arcology of Drachensatem. After a burst of desperate transmissions from the defenders, no further human messages came from the planet of storms.
The NTDF and other Alliance squads launched a series of attacks intended to distract the Cybrids from the launch of the Dies Irae. The ploy succeeded in drawing the Cybrids away from the particle cannon launch beam the Alliance had set up on the Cinquini Plain. Caanon was openly skeptical, but Harabec hoped the ruse had worked.
The Dies Irae ships were ready at last, linked into a great launch web. The passengers rested quietly in frozen sleep. The skeleton crew that would pilot the ships outsystem strapped in. The ships were to be accelerated as for as long as possible by a particle beam fired into a thrust receptacle on the web. When the beam's boost ceased, the ships would separate and rely on their own engines. The pilots would begin evasive measures at that time to throw off any Cybrid pursuit.
The Dies Irae boosted gloriously out of Titan's orbit, riding on a brilliant beam of light. All the Alliance's preparations worked as planned and the Alliance ships fought like madmen to prevent any Cybrid warships from destroying the fragile 'ark' on which so much hope flew.
On the surface of Titan, Harabec and Caanon assembled their best crews to defend the particle beam that was so crucial to launching the Dies Irae. They also fought with inspiration and courage, so much so that they completely broke the Cybrid force that drove for the beam. The victory was so unexpected and overwhelming that it sowed confusion among the Cybrids remaining on Titan. The Cybrid Alpha-leaders had been almost completely destroyed, and surviving <units> fought amongst one another for dominance. Until a unified command structure emerged, Cybrid operations remained disjointed.
Battered but still functional due to its heavily shielded circuitry, the drone from the Phaedrus approached close enough to Titan to send its message to the Long Patrol base at Eskandani. The data that the Phaedrus had sacrificed itself for arrived safely: Prometheus was on Pluto.
The Choosers-of-Strategy were directed to concentrate on Nova Alexandria, where Prometheus's spies confirmed the Emperor still resided. Consequently, Cybrid assault arrays dropped in North Africa on either side of the city. The advanced steadily, destroying water purification plants and burning cropland as they went. The smoke of their passage boiled into the sky, and the warforms trumpeted recordings of humans screaming in mortal agony.
Using Tharsis cache technology and secret Imperial files salvaged from Mercury, the Alliance scientists were able to decipher data obtained from the Nexus captured on Venus. The Cybrid data contained command codes used to coordinate dropship operations and set navigation priorities for space vessels.
As the Cybrids began to shake off their shock at their defeat, they began to retrieve scattered and damaged warforms. The NTDF had observed Cybrid operating procedures enough to identify patterns in the retrieval schedules. Under orders from Harabec, they monitored Cybrid activity and discovered the key landing zones used by Cybrid dropships.
With the information from the Phaedrus, the Alliance now had a hope of striking directly at Prometheus. Caanon and Harabec began to plan what Caanon called the 'Cardinal Spear' offensive, a strikeforce made up of the best pilots in the Alliance, selected from a cross-section of the diverse soldiery on Titan. The Spear would use the captured Cybrid vessel to sneak past the Cybrid defenses and drop near the location of Prometheus's 'temple.'
Though he kept his suspicions to himself, Harabec wondered whether the data from the Phaedrus and the codes from the Nexus were connected. He concluded that somehow, a secret faction among the Cybrids themselves was behind the chain of events that led up to the Cardinal Spear operation. He was at a loss to explain what this group could be, but he took hope in the idea that some among the Cybrids might be challenging the supremacy of Prometheus.
With the help of the NTDF, the Alliance hero known as 'Striker One' approached a Cybrid transport vessel and used the captured codes to take command of the ship's control systems. The ship was flown to Eskandani for Alliance technicians to convert it to the purposes of the Cardinal Spear operation. The Cybrid transport would be used to infiltrate and take command of a Cybrid deep space vessel for transit to Pluto.
In a daring raid, Harabec and Caanon led a handpicked strikecrew to hijack a Cybrid mothership in orbit. The command codes were used successfully to infiltrate the ship and prevent any radio alarm from alerting other Cybrid ships. The handful of Cybrids who crewed the ship were overcome and destroyed.\n\nAlliance technicians worked feverishly to construct makeshift control systems and retrofit human life support mechanisms into a vessel designed to house purely mechanical beings. The Cardinal Spear's Hercs and tanks were placed in modified Cybrid drop pods for insertion onto Pluto. Outwardly, the ship was still Cybrid, but inside, it was humanity's last true hope.
After over two years of nearly constant, round-the-clock battle, attrition and exhaustion left the pilots of the Orbital Guard unable to hold Gierling Platform against the Cybrids. Some essential personnel fled Earthside, but most of the Orbital Guard fought on until the bitter end. Their passing was marked by shooting stars in the night skies of Earth for several days, as wreckage from Gierling and its stratofighters burned up in the atmosphere.
When news of the shattering defeat on Titan reached Prometheus, IT immediately dispatched a considerably larger force from Earth. IT decided the time had come to dispose of this troublesome Alliance. So far, ITs plans proceeding smoothly; the Core Directive was on schedule. Consequently, the swift destruction of the Alliance would lend elegance to ITs eradication of humanity.
Time was running out. Caanon and Harabec made the best preparation they could and assembled their crews. The voyage to Pluto would be made as quickly as practical, given the enormous distances involved, and the decision to maintain stealth. Cardinal Spear pilots made their farewells and boarded the 'Trojan Horse.' Everyone considered this a one-way mission with no return, so no plans were made regarding retrieval, though the Long Patrol argued for a pickup.
The Emperor's preparations had been sound; despite the loss of the Navy and the Orbital Guard, Cybrid progress was slower than predicted. The humans were incredibly tenacious. The battle for the Empire's capital raged on, and Cybrid warforms struggled toward the Great Pyramid in the heart of the city.
Despite the best hopes of Caanon and Harabec, their captured Cybrid ship lacked the proper authorization to the vicinity of Prometheus. Cybrid defenses activated and destroyed the ship as it braked into orbit around Pluto. Many of the Cardinal Spear had their vehicles already in Cybrid drop pods, and were able to launch before the ship disintegrated, but there was no time to adjust landing coordinates. The hope of humanity scattered across the surface of Pluto like chaff.
The Cybrids had regrouped and drawn reinforcements from Earth. This time, they struck swiftly and directly at Eskandani. The Alliance had dug in as much as possible into the hardened ice, but a Cybrid victory seemed inevitable. The soldiers of the Alliance were determined to sell their lives as dearly as possible, as their brothers and sisters on Venus and Mars had done, and as the people of Earth were still doing.
The Cybrid forces fought through Nova Alexandria, grinding remorselessly toward the primary target of the entire Core Directive: the Imperial Palace -and Petresun. The Emperor refused to leave the city, though his advisors begged him to flee to safety. 'I will not abandon my people,' he maintained. Soon afterward, Cybrid Adjudicators and Executioners burst through the Palace walls.
Scattered, bruised, and weary, the tattered remains of the audacious Cardinal Spear gathered themselves to mount a desperate attack on Prometheus. 'Cardinal Three's' rescue of Caanon gave them some small hope that perhaps others had survived and would find their way to the Cybrid 'temple' in time. Harabec was nowhere to be found.