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In Fire and Ash

Chapter Two - Epicenter

Tau Ceti: The hub of Human activity. The third planet colonized by Humans after Alpha Centauri. The ever orange and black skies dropped acidic rain more often than not onto the massive Uni-City that spanned the entire planet. The cold and rainy world was wrapped in decaying buildings and ancient burned out houses, crumbling skyscrapers and abandoned industrial mega warehouses. The dark and gloomy city held several levels to its population, from the wealthier habitat domes in the sky to the crime infested mid level apartments to the planet surface, known as ZeroLat by those unlucky enough to inhabit the bottom region. Tau Ceti's size was welcome for the infestation of criminals, murderers and galactic pirates that had become the denizens of the dark underground. Tau Ceti conducted black market transactions and mercenary hiring as its commerce and developed weapons of horrifying intent as its industrial base.

After the eradication of Human civilization on the home world of Sol, all diplomatic relations had to be moved, reluctantly, to Tau Ceti. Here, in his high imperial seat, resided Adonnis Delacroix. Delacroix was the Viceroy over the Confederation of Worlds. He had not been elected, but instead came to power when he rose to command during the battle for Maria, the last of the gaian Human planets, and beat back the Saurian onslaught. Still, his victory came at the price of millions of colonist who were thrust into battle as fodder for the Sakkra soldiers. The moral aspects of using women and children as infantry were overshadowed by the victory. In Delacroix's mind, the end justified the means. He now had nearly absolute authority, as well as something that many leaders did not have; a visage of terror. He was a large man to start, standing well over his fellow diplomats, with broad shoulders that could make a Bulrathi think twice. But his face, and most of his body, was covered in burns. He had been captured by Meklar when he was a child and an attempt was made to remove his flesh with a searing device. Instead, it turned him into an unspeakably ugly man. Mothers used stories of his face to frighten young children into behaving. Still, it worked in his favor; no one dared oppose his glare.

Today, the Viceroy was looking over the latest reports of his piecework armada, sent into deep space to investigate a possible Saurian colony. The list of nearly 2,500 men and women who had disappeared was uninteresting to say the least; apart from one detail. Two men reported missing struck Delacroix's attention; Admiral Norvits and Captain Airoue. They were among a few reported missing, not dead. Delacroix looked up from the monitor to stare at the high cathedral ceiling above.

"Missing, hmm?" he snarled. "I always knew they were traitors to the cause! They opposed me when I assumed power." Delacroix shouted to an empty room.

"I'll be damned if they aren't cohorts of those whimpering Psilons." He boomed. "They won't take this away from me with some pathetic stunt to..."

He cut off as the door abruptly swung open, revealing a cowering messenger with some kind of report in his hand.
The Viceroy strode the long distance to the door, his deep purple robes trailing behind him like violet fire.

"I've told no one to enter without permission!" he thundered. "Tell me why you are here or I'll have you thrown to the ZeroLats before you can beg for your miserable life!"

"The Saratoga is gone, m'lord." The small man squeaked.

The Viceroy lifted a gnarled hand to scratch his chin. "So, that fool Serman is in on it, too? They all want my throne. They can't have it. I'll die before..." Delacroix trailed off as he saw the shaky messenger still standing in the door listening.

The Viceroy leaned in close to the nearly convulsing young boy and whispered in a grating voice "Have Vice Admiral Urmarus report to me immediately."

The scrawny boy gave a quick salute and ran down the corridor so fast he nearly fell several times.

Viceroy Delacroix looked away, out the windows that rose nearly to the ceiling on the other side of the room. "Airoue was the only man who wasn't afraid of me. Of course he would be the one to try to overthrow me. I was a fool not to see it." The disfigured man rambled on.

Several minutes later a resounding knock came at the door. The heavy handed sound could only be the Vice Admiral. Without waiting for a reply, the door swung open easily as a towering shape filled the doorway. Nearly twice as tall as any man and many times heavier, the lumbering Bulrathi officer filled the room with a presence that could not be ignored. His massive hunched back was shrouded by a ceremonial Bulrathi garb, different shades of blue and brown with his house insignia emblazoned on the back. His tree trunk arms reached nearly to the ground, where his large padded feet moved unnatural silence. Covered fully in thick, course, brown hair, the Bulrathi's most intimidating feature was his face. Gray hair lined his scalp and worn out old horns curled around the side of his head, a sign of great age.

As he reached the Viceroy, the Bulrathi fell to one knee, fist pressed to heart, and snorted a greeting. Even kneeling, the Bulrathi could see the Viceroy without lifting his head.

Viceroy Delacroix motioned for the beast to stand. "I have a mission for you." He stated simply. "However, it isn't your average mission."

Delacroix explained his situation. He explained the traitors. He also included a few details which, though not true, would become just as good when the rumors spread. While he may not have believed the stories he made of the lost men being traitors, they did seem to fit the circumstances well.

By making the old Admiral and Captain look like traitors, he could make himself look like a hero for bringing back their heads. He would also eliminate his two strongest opponents within the Confederation. What could be better than killing two birds with one stone?

As the silent Bulrathi left the room, the Viceroy walked to his VoiceComm to order some poached Sakkra eggs and some cooled wine. He would make a feast out of this victory. No one would oppose him after they saw his ruthless cunning.
He slowly returned to his monitors to read over the list of the dead. For some reason, reading that list made him feel even more alive. He could hardly suppress the laughter.


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