|Stormcastle: And Other Fun Games With Cards And Dice|
|Peaceful Intent--Stories of human/Alien Interaction|
For the Way
“Are you ready, Templar?”
Cyrus had not heard the intruder. The question was the first sound to betray his presence. Cyrus turned to see a man, middle aged, with a short black beard. He wore a tight fitting combat uniform. Its colors were the gray of the Director’s caste, and the dark red of the Inquisition. According to The Way, the pixilated pattern was ideal for hiding in shadows.
“I am always ready to fight for The Way, Inquisitor,” Cyrus replied, glaring slightly.
The Inquisitor stepped closer. He made no sound as he walked, an impressive feat in the cavernous metal interior of Cyrus’ quarters. The effort was a clear sign of hubris.
“Have you ever had to correct Canvassers before?” The Inquisitor asked.
“They are not Templars. ‘Those who are not of the Templar caste shall be feeble in battle’, such is written in The Way.”
“Do not patronize me, Templar! I know the book of Castes. I was not speaking of the Canvassers' abilities in combat, I was speaking of their uncanny tendency to stray from The Way, and drag others into ignorance.”
Cyrus tightened his scowl.
“Your presence here is insulting enough, Inquisitor. Do not insinuate that I will deviate from The Way, by the deceit of a Canvasser.”
“I insinuate nothing.” The Inquisitor replied calmly, “It is my duty to inform you that a Templar regiment has already succumbed to Trebla’s lies.”
Cyrus’s eyes grew wide. His mouth hung open in shock.
“I was inside the laboratory compound this morning, it's despicable; I imagine they’ll start breeding between Castes soon.”
“Their captain… he must be corrupt… surely they’ve been deceived… or forgotten some of The Book.”
“No Templar, I think the section which describes how to revolt against an officer who defies The Way is a bit unforgettable. As for deceit, well that goes without saying, but not the way you mean it. There are a group of prisoners being held; they refused to follow their Captain. The rest know full well that he is a deviant, and yet they still obey.”
Cyrus was now speechless. His surprise soon turned to rage.
“Traitors! Deviation among Templars, in such numbers! Thank you for this information, Inquisitor, my fight is now all the more righteous.”
“Good luck, the Inquisition has decided to give you one chance. If you have not achieved victory within twenty four hours we will purge the entire area.”
“I will not fail.”
“Colonel Cyrus Imperator, before we begin I’d like to apologize on behalf of the Canvasser’s Caste for our failure to recognize Sten Trebla’s deviation. If only we’d stopped this…”
“Enough,” Cyrus replied cutting off the scrawny scientist. “You are here to give me a full layout of the facility; your purpose is tactical, not diplomatic. There will be plenty of time for apologies when this battle is concluded.”
“Right, right, I’m sorry Colonel, let me…”
The scientist’s nervous banter was cut off by the roar of a drop ship landing nearby.
“… Let me get my schematics!” he shouted.
The Canvasser removed a computer from his satchel. When opened the device lay flat on the table. It activated automatically displaying a floor plan. The Canvasser tapped the screen activating a three dimensional projection of the entire 10 story building.
“As you can see there are only two entry points, but you should be able to breach the outer wall with explosives. The same is true for these areas. However the laboratories on the third, fourth and tenth level are reinforced, for weapons testing. You’ll need to use the existing entry points. As far as we know, Trebla will be on the tenth level.”
“Where are the prisoners being held?” Cyrus asked.
“According to the Inquisitor, they’re being held in the medical facility on the fourth level.”
The Canvasser pointed to its exact location on the holographic display.
“It’s surrounded by reinforced laboratories," Cyrus noted. “The Mason who designed this building should stand trial, there are clear tactical implications. Thank you, Canvasser, you are free to go. I’ll have my scribes distribute this information to my troops.”
“Once again Colonel, I’m terribly sorry.”
“You are dismissed.”
The Canvasser scampered away towards the field camp’s main gate.
Cyrus stood on top of an armored personnel carrier. Below him his troops stood in perfect ranks. Their armor reflected the orange light of the rising sun. Their blond hair and fair skin were hidden beneath their helms. Their blue eyes were shrouded behind a slit of polarized glass. Cyrus held his own featureless battle helmet under his left arm. His Katar-pistol was strapped to his right. Cyrus raised the wedge shaped blade of his weapon as he began his speech.
“Templars!” he bellowed, “on this day we correct the greatest of perversions. We will destroy the greatest offense to the People of the Way! Our foes are not outsiders. They are not blind fools ignorant to the Way. They have learned The Way in all its perfection, they have lived according to The Way, yet now they reject it!”
Cyrus paused a moment. His troops let loose a hellish roar, cries of “deviants” and “traitors” and a dozen other words of revulsion mixed into an unintelligible angry roar.
“Whatever the reason for their deviation, be it weakness of mind or body, lust for power, or pure malice, we shall correct them!”
Another roar. Cyrus shifted to a foreboding tone, and pointed his Katar strait at the crowd.
“Heed these words, the perversion we fight runs deep. Today we will fight with former members of our own Caste!”
The crowd gasped.
“In this battle keep the edicts of The Way fixed in your minds. Our foes will try to corrupt your thoughts as well as pierce your bodies. Remember this! The Way is right, they are wrong. Whatever words they say, no matter how clever its deception, no matter how tempting the offer of riches or luxury, THEY ARE WRONG!”
The crowd cheered in approval. Cyrus raised his Katar again.
“FOR THE WAY!”
The crowd repeated Cyrus’ cry. Cyrus concluded his speech by putting his helmet on and climbing into the turret of the APC.
The personnel carriers lumbered through the city outskirts. The Canvasser’s building soon came into view. As they drew closer they heard the sound of rifle fire. A few rounds glanced harmlessly off of the APCs’ armor.
The vehicles surrounded the building. Templars charged out on all sides. Rifle fire escalated inflicting a few casualties. Soon dozens of Templars were flooding into the main entrances where they found deviants crouched behind barricades putting up a strong resistance.
Explosive charges ripped through the outer wall of the laboratory building. Templars charged in firing their Katar-pistols. The deviants were surprised by this flanking maneuver, but they soon returned fire. The two sides charged towards one another. A few warriors on either side were incapacitated by the other’s bullets, but most found themselves in brutal hand to hand combat. The deviants wore the same armor as the loyal Templars, but there was no confusion. Those who still followed The Way had its book strapped to their side.
Cyrus drove his katar into the eye slit of a deviant’s helmet. He swiftly withdrew the crimson blade and blocked the blow of another enemy. He took hold of his attacker’s wrist then fired his remaining rounds into the deviant’s chest shattering his sternum. Cyrus looked about for another enemy but saw only his own troops. He loaded a new cylinder into his katar-pistol and radioed his executive officer to see if they had secured the other entrance.
Major Thurs’ unit remained on the fourth level as Cyrus and his personal unit continued upwards, eager to capture Sten Trebla. Cyrus grew more anxious with each flight of stairs he climbed. In spite of himself he finally radioed Thurs.
“Major, report,” he ordered. “Have you found the prisoners yet?”
“Not yet, the doors are all locked and barricaded, but we’ve met no enemy resistance. They may not consider the prisoners a priority,” Thurs replied.
“Don’t become over-confident, they may…” Cyrus trailed off as he approached the seventh level landing. Through the doorway he saw a scrawny man dressed in the white robes of a Canvasser. The man was looking at a group of screens which displayed Templars moving through rooms.
Cyrus aimed his weapon at the Canvasser.
“Do not move!”
The Canvasser looked up defiantly. Click! Cyrus was too late noticing the object in the deviant’s hand. A series of thunderous booms shook the building.
Cyrus opened fire on the Canvasser killing him with a single shot. He quickly ran over to inspect the body. He turned the corpse over with his foot. He pulled a small metal device from its cold hand. It was a remote detonator. Cyrus looked at the screens, they had all gone blank.
“Major!” Cyrus called over the radio, “Second battalion come in!... Anyone on levels four or five report!”
Silence. Cyrus turned to his unit. “First squad, go down to the fourth level.”
The squad clambered down the staircase. After a few minutes they called back on the radio.
“Colonel, The third, fourth and fifth levels have been completely destroyed. Explosive charges stripped out everything but the support structures, we’re cut off from the bottom floors by a thirty foot drop.”
Cyrus contemplated the situation for a moment. When Cyrus finally gave his next order much of the strength was drained from his voice.
“First squad, regroup with the rest of the unit, we are continuing upwards.”
Cyrus sensed despair among his troops. He could not see their expressions or the color draining from their skin, but their posture slumped and their heads looked at one another fearfully.
The Templars encountered no resistance on levels eight or nine. They would all have preferred deviants charging from all sides. The suspense was far more ominous then any strait fight.
The floor of the first room on the tenth level was covered by five centimeters of liquid. Cyrus led the troops forward puzzling over the pool they were wading through. After a few moments Cyrus became aware of a strange chemical odor. Then he felt moisture in his boots.
“It's acid!” a man shouted.
“Silence, Templar! Clearly it is not caustic, my feet feel fine. It is only dissolving the rubber in our boots.”
The Templars all looked at their feet for a moment.
“What a pointless tra-”
Before he could finish speaking, Cyrus and his soldiers all began to thrash violently. Their muscles spasmed from electrical shock. Soon everything went dark.
Cyrus awoke on a table. His helmet and weapon were gone. His armor remained. Cyrus sat up. The first thing he saw was a strange spherical object covered in cables and pipes. Cyrus looked about to find he was surrounded by a dozen Templars. Their weapons were all trained on him. He looked down at their waists and saw that they did not carry The Book of The Way.
“A valiant effort, Templar, but this is a fight you cannot win, we posses the most powerful weapon known to people of The Way.”
Cyrus recognized the voice, he turned to see a man dressed in a tight fitting combat uniform. Its colors were the grey of the Director’s Caste, and the dark red of the inquisition. Cyrus glared.
“So you are a deviant as well. This is unprecedented; an Inquisitor should know better. Tell me, were there really any prisoners?”
“Indeed.” The Inquisitor gestured to a man in white canvasser’s robes. “Sten is keeping them in a sub basement with Captain Veritas. They are watching you now through video monitors. He has devised this entire meeting for their benefit.”
“Sten Trebla,” Cyrus stated, “if you think you think you will deceive or entice me like you did this Inquisitor you are sorely mistaken. If I had my Katar I would cut your throat.”
“Which is precisely why we took that from you,” Trebla replied, “but fear not, you will get a chance to kill me, indeed you will be able to kill all of us, along with yourself, your troops, and most of the people in this city.”
“What trickery is this?”
“In the book of knowledge, it is written that ‘that which has mass is eternal, its destruction is an illusion created by the shifting of its form’.”
“I know the passage,” Cyrus replied.
“I have discovered that it is false,” Trebla stated.
“Impossible,” Cyrus snapped. “The proof has stood for over two hundred years, more then enough to make it a scientific law. That is why it is in the book of knowledge.”
“It may be law, but it is still false. I can’t prove it to you as I did the other Canvassers, nor would you understand its specifics. I will put it in laymen’s terms. I have discovered that mass and energy are interchangeable. Mass can be destroyed, creating energy. The Way has a flaw, it must be fixed. There must be a new Way, or perhaps no Way at all.”
“You spin clever words together, but I know it is wrong,” Cyrus replied. “It is pathetic that the Inquisitor was deceived by them.”
“Deception was not necessary, I have studied the book of knowledge with more fervor then most Canvassers,” The Inquisitor replied. “I have examined the evidence myself, it cannot be refuted. The device in front of you is over a thousand times as powerful as the Inquisition’s purge missiles. It creates this explosive force by destroying mass at the atomic level.” Cyrus nearly laughed.
“It is a sphere of empty metal. This is a bid for power. Trebla will threaten the People of The Way into empowering him with this worthless contraption. His agenda is so clear it’s almost comical.”
“No, Templar, I’m going to die today. I must in order to destroy any belief that I am defying The Way for personal gain. I don’t grudge it. Science of the Way works so slowly. It’s a privilege to see my theories applied within my own lifetime. And the people in the sub basement will bear witness to this historic event.”
“Your lies insult my knowledge of The Way,” Cyrus replied.
“There is no more need to debate,” Trebla stated, “Anika, give Cyrus his weapon, and the detonation device.”
A Templar came forward. She placed a Katar, a key and a cube shaped mass of circuits and buttons on the table in front of Cyrus. Cyrus stared at them with confusion.
“I will order my men to unload their weapons and place them on the ground. At which time you will have a choice; you can simply take your Katar, and kill us all. You are skilled enough to accomplish this. Or, you use that device to detonate the weapon behind you. I would do it myself, but images of you blindly initiating your own destruction will be far more powerful. It will demonstrate where the former Way truly leads.”
“We all know what you are going to do.” The Inquisitor claimed “If you refuse to activate the device you’ll be showing fear that the Way could be wrong.”
“The Way is right, its truth is so pure it need not be tested,” Cyrus replied.
“You know your quotes well,” The Inquisitor remarked, “but in your mind The Way isn’t being tested, it is only you. You have stated this is an empty ball of metal with no function. If you believe this then you should have nothing to fear from activating it. If you are unsure, then you are unsure of The Way’s perfection.”
“It is a trick, the detonator will do something else,” Cyrus claimed.
“Now you insult your own knowledge of The Way. A Templar as great as you should see the obvious flaw in a tactical decision like that,” The Inquisitor replied.
“Enough,” Trebla ordered, “we all know what he will do. Weapons down.”
Cyrus paused for only a moment, and then picked up the detonator.
“When I find out the meaning of this charade...” Cyrus stated.
“Enter the numbers 94719 into the pad. Then place the key in the key hole and turn it.”
Cyrus entered the code and turned the key. Nothing happened. Trebla’s jaw dropped.
Cyrus seized his Katar and fired a shot through Trebla’s skull. The deviant Templars scrambled to pick up their weapons and load them. Cyrus fired his remaining rounds at them then charged forwards. He slashed with expert precision at gaps in the deviants' armor. Their blood gushed onto the floor as he continued his whirlwind attack. Half of the Templars were dead before they could ready their Katars.
Cyrus charged towards the second squad. Their bullets pummeled his armor, but he did not waver. Anika swung her Katar. He deflected the blow and grappled her. He moved behind her, pulled back her helmet and drew his Katar across her throat. Still holding her as a shield he managed to reload his Katar. Six rounds ended the fight.
He stood, splattered with blood, panting. Around him lay a few surviving deviants groaning in pain. He turned his head to see the Inquisitor.
“This was a test?”
“Precisely,” the inquisitor replied. “I hope you are not too insulted that you were subjected to it. You are a true credit to the Templars.”
Cyrus saw something strange in the Inquisitor’s expression. He also noted the glint of metal in his hand.
“What are you holding?”
“I have nothing.”
Cyrus raised his Katar.
“Open your hand, let it drop.”
A small metal key fell to the ground. Both men stood in silence.
“You believed it. You are a deviant, and you thought you’d die.”
Cyrus limped forwards. He bent down to pick up the key. The inquisitor seized his neck and pulled upwards in an attempt to strangle him. Cyrus impaled him with his Katar. The Inquisitor continued to squeeze, but soon his arms became limp. He fell to the ground gargling his own blood.
Cyrus limped back to the table. He removed the false key and inserted the real one. He reentered the number sequence and turned the key. In the sub basement, a view screen shone with a brief flash of light, then went blank.
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