Chapter 14 - Hellfire

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"Please!" It was the last word of a desperate woman. Her voice was coarse, quiet, and filled with despair.

The Baron stared down at her. Tracks of pale skin peeked through the blood crusted onto her face. Her tears were genuine. Whoever the pilot had been, he meant something to her.

He made her watch him die.

The test had gone better than expected. The pirates in the outer solar system were the lowest form of life. Some preyed on weak victims, attacking cargo ships, or those in distress. That is the state in which they found him. His first jump into the Sol system ended with an overcharge in the wormhole device. The fighter wasn't meant to contain such technology, but he wasn't going to sacrifice the only thing in the universe that was truly his, so he retrofitted it anyway. The ship drifted for more than a day, with automated repairs taking the largest share of his resources. He was barely able to fly when the two-ship team assaulted him.

It took only moments to reveal that the pirates were no threat. Their weapons did no damage to his hull. The light cannons and mass drivers sent rounds that were easily deflected by the dense alloys of the fuselage. Lights smeared around the nose and canopy, but hardly even scratched the polished surfaces, giving him a rather beautiful light show.

He didn't move the ship. He simply sat there and watched as the two attacked, sending volley after volley through space in a futile attempt to cripple him.

When the pirates lost their interest in him, he spun to one and fired a single round. The cannon he used was old tech, designed to disable a ship by disrupting it's electronics. His surprise was great when the hull ruptured. The nitrogen and oxygen within the ship was ignited and blew orange and yellow flame into space for a breif second before imploding on itself, crushing every thing and every one within.

He was now aware that the ship carried four people. He smiled. It was a start.

With a lower power setting, he did disable the second ship. The construction of Terran vessels was laughable. Even at the lowest power draw, the electronics round still pierced the hull. When he soft docked to their ship, he could see the hole in their cargo bay venting white mist.

Cutting into the fuselage was a simple business, done in seconds. Navigating the tight corridors of the foreign vessel was another matter. Terrans were shorter, stockier, and more muscular. Compared to Arians, they were dwarves. The Baron, clad in armor from head to toe, had to crawl into the vessel, finding that standing caused him to hunch over at the waist.

A short search led him to a control center of some kind. There were analogue displays scattered about. Two Terrans lay on the deck, shaking, but unconscious. Perplexed, he analyzed them, alert to any danger they represented.

They were similar in their basic bodily construction. Two arms amd hands with five fingers per. Two legs that he assumed had an equal number of attached digits. Noses, mouths, eyes, hair. All similar. Factoring the height difference, their limbs were of equal proportion to their bodies. But their skin was pigmented, a light brown with a reddish tint. Each finger had a scale or protective layer at the tip.

He shook his head, deciding to investigate no further. He waited, contemplating his hatred for these creatures. In another time, perhaps they could have been allies. Friendly, even. But those possibilities died with his family.

The Baron was the first to see a human with his naked eye. He was not impressed.

The larger one groaned. His hair was short, his build thicker than the other. Perhaps he was the male. The Baron pulled a long knife from a sheathe on his right thigh and squatted behind him. The human rose to his knees, holding his head. He reached out for the smaller one, pulled the twitching body closer to him and lay its head in his lap. The Baron remained completely still.

The smaller one opened its eyes, smiled briefly at.the larger one, then focused on The Baron, crouching behind him, shrouded in darkness.

For the first time in months, the Baron felt something other than soul shattering pain or the numbing emptiness of loss. He watched the little ones eyes widen, it's muscles go rigid, and it's mouth open to emit a piercing scream. He saw fear, there. Terror. It filled him with burning excitement, lit his nerves like a drug.

The larger one turned slowly to follow the little one's line of sight. He, too, began to scream.

The Baron smiled at the memory. His face felt strange, alien to him. He realized that there was no memory in him of having ever smiled. He knew he must have, with Brian, or with Steph. But he couldn't remember.

The human woman in the airlock chamber rose, believing his smile was for her. Was she expecting compassion, he wondered. Mercy?

He reached for the control panel by the door, looking into her eyes. Of all that Terrans were, their eyes were beautiful. This particular specimen had blue eyes, bright and shining, made even more so by the pink outer orbs caused by her tears. Even in that physiological aspect, they were similar. His own were rimmed in red.

She returned his smile, slowly. Hopefully.

The Baron pressed a key on the interface and the barrier between her and the void of space disolved. He saw the look in her eyes, for he only had the span of a thought to witness it. Resignation? Betrayal?

Her living body was sucked into space. Her arms flailed and her body convulsed as the vacuum mangled her. Red and yellow and white spewed from her, leaving a trail of vitriol away from his ship.

The space barrier sprang into life, obscuring his vision once more. He turned away and examined the cargo bay, putting her from his mind with ease.

The long, bulky weapon lay there, ready to be installed on another fighter. The damage to the Gaurdian ship had been catastrophic. The destruction of his own remotely piloted fighter had been efficient, elegant, considering the state of their ship. The annihilation of it was so complete, not even the dead body he left aboard could have been found. And then, he watched in awe as the ship rebuilt itself.

The Gaurdian ship was not Terran. That he knew for a fact. The holos of its entry into Proximus told the story, not just of a hardened and capable combat vessel, but of the capability of it's pilot. It was easily the most powerful ship in Terran, Proximan, or Arian space.

He surveyed the cannon on the deck, marveling at it's complicated design.

Now that he knew it's power, he would replicate it and install it on his own fighter. The day would come when he would meet the Gaurdian in combat. He was going to need the firepower.

With a final glance, he returned to the bridge. The Dawnhammer was long gone, her trail leading back to Earth.

A warning light blinked on a console. He moved over to it and passed a finger over it. The cloak was depleting his energy reserves. As his finger swept the light, he heard the engine cycle down and his view of the stars through the leaded windows brightened considerably.

The navigation and communications array still showed the jump coordinates of the Gaurdian into the Sol system. The design to track the mysterious engine of the Dawnhammer was new, a project of the Arian war machine. He was only supposed to test it's ability, but upon acquiring the weapons design from a rather unpleasant encounter with an Arian scout, he saw fit to give it a practical use.

The scout had also run afoul of a band of pirates. Unlike the Baron, there was no restraint in the elimination of hostiles. All that remained of those ships were bones, and picking the cannons from the flesh of the dead had been a simple matter. His reward was a weapon that could take down a Gaurdian.

The communications system showed the Dawnhammer enroute to Earth. With a wistful glance, he began the wormhole sequence that would jump him back to Proximus.

He thought once more of the glowing face of the Dawnhammer before she opened fire. Nothing short of the fires of hell would take that ship down, he knew. And so it was, the weapon was named. The universe would see the Angel and the Demon wage war.

Which, he wondered, was he?

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