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In one small dot of the eternal space, thirty-one planets formed the empire where humans can prosper and live in peace. In their constant drive to advance, they succeed in discovering new technologies that can help them cheat mortality.
But that alone, does not guarantee that they will live forever or be safe… So, to keep the empire protected, they destroyed all the gates and cut-off the wormholes to the outside universe. They use their technology to build powerful starships to guard them at all times.
However, what the technology cannot do is keep them safe from themselves as their greed, envy, recklessness and fear constantly create frictions which may annul and obliterate everything they have achieved. So, a special unit is created to make sure that never happens...
The Executioner - A lot might have been written and said about ECIs, how they became about, how they operated, how they changed the empire and the space forever. Their stories fascinated and inspired whole generations to strive to become so much more, and so much better than they could even imagine…
This is just one of their stories, a small story about the first of them, about how it all started…
Chapter 1 - Underground
The year 1825 of the Emperor Toran, counting 14858 years of the House of Lios, Planet Vazz…
The blast blew a huge crater fifteen feet in front of Derran, dusting his neck as he kept his helmet-covered head between his knees. Then, an instant later, one overshot him, landing among three troopers in the raw behind. They didn’t even have a time to scream. Their torn body parts and guts landed partly over his back and arms. He tried not noticing it.
Derran knew that at that point it really didn’t matter if the targeted droid-lunching station was five hundred feet or five hundred miles away. They were never going to reach it. The objective, to incapacitate it, seemed all but forgotten. He could only guess which of the next projectiles will terminate him and the rest of his team.
"We are dead here!" Next to him, Will was yelling, still keeping his hands over his head, as if that could offer any protection.
"Sure we are! We’re all dead!" He answered back, lifted his rocket rifle and fired three shots at the low flying droid which was already turning around, getting red and ready to blast them again.
But his eyes didn’t follow the droid. They searched the space around. The smoke and dust around them had turned the mid-day into dusk. Blown parts of the walker, a two story-tall tactical armored unit, burned but yards away. His unit was lucky to have escaped from it before droids had cut it down. Many units around seemed to have less luck, with dying screams of men trapped inside, frantic shrieks slicing through Derran’s heart. He could do nothing for them.
"That hole there looks better!" Derran yelled again through the explosion, and before droid pieces even fell to the ground, he jumped up and raced forward toward the hole, to the place where a large, knocked-down concrete wall covered most of the bomb crater underneath, providing some kind of protection.
Seconds later, three other troopers skidded in on top of him.
"Is that all we are?" Derran asked unsure, his voice shuddering, his head and lips shaking.
"Probably..." Will uttered the words out. The squad of fifteen, brought down to four. Derran dared not to look at their faces to see who made it, and who didn't. He dared not to think whose body parts were still covering his fatigue armor.
As a droid whistle appeared overhead again, they creped deeper inside the hole, inching onward.
The explosion over their heads shook their concrete roof, their body heat obviously revealing their location.
“Check your armor,” he instructed his men. “One of them must be leaking heat.”
“It’s mine,” RonTon replied behind him. “Heat regulator seems to be shot.” He tried punching it with his armored fist, but it was lightless there on his left hip.
Derran didn’t wait for the dust to settle, but found the hole through which the light was beaming down, and leaning his rifle against the iron bar which was supposed to reinforce the concrete, he steadied it to a droid which was hovering above.
He squeezed the trigger again, and almost instantly, the droid was blown to pieces.
“It goes deeper…” the coarse voice, it had to be Slicky’s, called him to look further inside their shelter.
Before there was a very tall building here, Derran could tell with a thick iron posts sticking out from underneath. But the whole structure seemed almost completely obliterated, probably during the last week’s orbital bombardments, the one that lasted for a whole seven days and was supposed to destroy the planet's defenses. If not completely destroying all the defenses, they were at least supposed to soften them enough so the ground troops could be placed on the ground and overrun the whole place without much trouble. It was obvious that the bombardment hasn’t accomplish its purpose even to the smallest of its intent. Lack of information. Severely underestimated enemy. It could only lead to a complete disaster.
The command, in their last briefing, said that the plan was to save this planet. No more turning livable environments into a space rock. How noble. But for Derran that only meant spilling the blood of his men. And with the enemies’ droids operating so freely, almost completely intact, it obviously meant a lot of blood.
In the distance, more blasts, explosions, men screaming were reaping the air. More droids would come for them. For each they shot down, at least three would come back to finish the job. The battle was lost. He dreadfully accepted it.
Maybe if they sent magnetic shielded heavy mecs… Maybe they could stand up to droids, Derran thought before realizing whatever happens in the future, he will probably not be around to see. Stupid assholes!
They moved deeper inside, and the crater seemed to grow bigger. Soon, they could even stand in it with their back stretched straight. A sliver of hope sparked inside Derran’s head as he thought about the prospect of his near future existence.
Not dead, we are not dead yet.
Two of them had still lights working on their helmets, and when they lighted up the darkness in front of them, they could see an iron door blocking their way.
“Let me through,” Derran commanded as he threw his rifle around his shoulders and pulled out his laser knife from his left boot.
He didn’t bother with the lock but used the knife to go through the metallic sheet, cutting out a dog’s door in its lower half, big enough for each of them to crawl through it.
Two flashlights were sufficient to point the stairs that seemed to spiral themselves to somewhere underneath. Derran pointed them down.
“Who knows, maybe we can get to that droid station this way,” he whispered hopefully although he doubted they would find anything more than stinking sewage where the stairs ended.
They descended in a single file, with stairs spinning around and around, showing no sign of ending. At first, they started to feel protected and safe going to the underground where no droids could hunt them.
But as soon as the stairs stopped, and they saw a heavily reinforced concrete tunnel going both ways, big enough for four of them to comfortably walk shoulder to shoulder, they knew they were inside some kind of a government installation. The only question was what kind.
It was not vacuumed sealed, so it could have not been a tube, like those in the Capital City. Its floor was dry, so it certainly was not used as a part of a sewage system or a water tunnel.
Whatever kind it was, Derran just wished it was the kind that would not get them killed. Maybe he wished for too much.
He rested his hands on shoulders of his two nearest companions, indicating them to stop.
“What is it, Sergeant?” Will whispered voice hardly made it to Derran.
Derran put a finger to his lips, and nobody made another sound. The battle that raged above could be heard no more… They went that deep. Forward or backward, the tunnel was equally dark and quiet. Which way to go? Darkness ended both ways with their breathing being the loudest sound around.
None of them were sure. Derran made a decision, and pointed forward to the right.
They tried to move as quietly as they could. Obviously, they were not quiet enough as before too long they could hear spiders with their metallic legs scratching the concrete floor and walls, somewhere coming from the blackness, clanking their ways toward them, frantically, almost animal like.
Before even seeing them, before waiting for their machine guns installed on top of their heads to cut them down, Derran fired a salvo of plasma rockets down the tunnel. As they exploded, the ground all around them shook, the tunnel squealed, concrete pieces falling down from the ceiling.
“It must be some type of a military installation… If they have spiders guarding it, who knows what?” Slicky said from the back.
Who knows, maybe this can take us to the droid station, Derran let his hope light up.
“Well, they know we are here now… So, we better hurry!”
They ran then, as fast as they could, as fast as the light in their helmets showed them the way. Soon, the darkness ahead was lighted with the metal of spider legs and torsos melting and burning, covered with the orange plasma. Blown pieces of concrete debris lay everywhere revealing a few feet of hole in the tunnel’s right wall.
Will, without any thinking at all, stuck his head in it. “Airway... Big enough to…” He said as the noise of thousands more spiders rushing toward them overpowered his voice. They could not have been more than hundred yards away, a minute time to reach them at most.
“Can we get in?” Derran asked.
Derran checked his plasma rifle. Only three charges left. So, he reached and pulled off a metallic ball from Will’s belt. It instantly lighted red, with 5 seconds counting down.
“Make the hole bigger and get in.” He told them all pointing to the airway. His trembling fingers moved over the timer, but succeeded in stopping it when only one second was left. He moved the timer forward toward eighty seconds.
He then threw the bomb like a bocce ball in the direction they came from, making it roll with all the bouncing noise it could make, hoping it would attract all the spiders.
“No way of going back there now,” Wills commented while he could hardly squeeze his shoulders through the airway. Luckily, they all fitted inside.
“Go forward, fast…” Derran begged them.
There was not enough room to stretch up, not even to their knees, so with their bellies pressed against the tube, they used their elbows and feet to push themselves forward, stopping to crawl and got dead quiet only when they heard the thunder of spiders passing them by.
If they have thermal scanners, we are gone. Derran thought unsure that the tunnel wall was thick enough to prevent them from being detected. And the soft plastic that airway was made of certainly would not hide their body heat. But spiders didn’t stop, and the bomb went off, and the airway shook like a suspended bridge in a torrential wind.
“Now there is definitely no way of going back.” Wills chuckles reached Derran.
They continued to crawl, almost soundlessly, but soon the fresh air rushing like a river through the tube chilled their sweat. They moved as fast as they could, fearing more spiders would come to meet them. The only question was from which side. But none came.
I guess who ever build this, have not considered that not all of the emperor’s soldiers were oversized, meter- shoulder-wide fighters. Who knows, they might not have even considered that people from Lixia might actually side with the emperor. Derran tried to occupy his thoughts, tried not to think of cramping muscles and what was waiting for them in front. Being child-small I guess has its benefits sometimes. And all the rap we used to get the entire time from regular troops? I’d like to see them in here now….
Soon the tube tilted to the right, and the shimmer of the light up ahead meant that they came out from behind the wall.
“The lights out!” Derran commanded them as the light grew stronger.
It was coming from the airway opening. Soon they were right on top of it and the light was enough that he could see a pure terror on the face of Slicky as he turned his head around to look for the Derran’s instructions.
Derran nudged his head, indicating them to move forward. In three elbow pulls he was on top of the airway net, checking to see what had spooked his comrade so much.
The openings were tiny, less wide than his little finger. But that was still enough to see three oversized metallic humanoids guarding the door. Each of their hands was substituted with a neuron gun with its ammunition taking almost all part of their torsos. Transparent, electric shields were placed three feet in front of them. They were waiting.
Nothing would come through them. Any kind of a frontal assault would prove to be fatal. They could take down ten thousand armored infantry troopers in a matter of minutes. Derran wasn’t even sure that a hand grenade thrown from a side would be enough to destroy them all. And they had but two left. Maybe only burying them under a whole mountain could disable them. He was not sure.
Wills lifted his head, looked back at Derran, asking for instructions. Without a word, Derran pointed his head forward. They quietly crawled past them, not even breathing, thanking space spirits that their prying red eyes have not turned up and zoomed in on them.
They moved forward, but the next ventilation opening was close by and it proved to be showing the same scene of more silver-looking humanoids guarding a steel door behind them. They crawled past that door as well. Suddenly, the airway split into three parts. The middle one seemed the biggest, so that’s the one they chose.
Derran calculated that all that air must be needed for a lot of people… And it had to be people. Why would they do that for animals, certainly not for machines? How many, maybe thousand or ten thousand? He could only guess.
Suddenly, they started to hear distant voices, firm sounds of someone giving commands.
Derran pulled Slicky’s leg, signaled him to stop, and listened. Nothing could be heard close by. They waited and waited, and still not sound had reached their ears. With a laser knife from his boot, he silently pecked a few holes in the tube.
He looked at the yellow painted concrete floor which was at least ten feet below them now. He could see nothing. So, he put his laser knife to work and silently sliced a hole in the tube big enough to jump down from it.
He was expecting to land in some kind of a passageway, unoccupied. But he was wrong.
As he jumped down, his heals didn’t even connect with the floor. In a blink, he saw a back of a humanoid guarding, like frozen in time, the white gate six feet behind them. As the humanoid finally noticed the noise, and started to turn around, Derran touched the floor with his toes, and rolled over toward the robot, then jumped on the machine’s back. His hand, with the laser knife still in it, went deep through the protective shield of his neck, puncturing it all the way through. He left his knife in there, and grabbed a thick black cord buried inside, yanking it out with all his strength, taking out its energy cord and making a killing machine only a harmless and permanent metallic statute.
Three of them came down as quietly as they could, but the alarm started to reverberate through the space, almost piercing their ears.
He showed two of them to guard the back door, and with Wills he rushed forward. They almost flue through the swinging door with their rifles pointed forward, waiting to fire them… But nothing met them on the other side. They were once again in the darkness, in the corner of a stadium-type structure.
Twenty feet forward, they came out of the passageway to the space that opened downward.
It stretched hundreds of steps below them and as far as their eyes could see. The bottom of the dome was filled with thousands of people, each sitting in front of multiple monitors with their hands flying over droid control sticks.
Derran and Will mouth-dropping shock swiftly turned to maddening teeth clinging as they observed the entire battle being played out on enormous 3D screens in the middle of the dome.
It was as Derran had feared.
It seemed the third wave of troops, which they were part of, were almost completely wiped out. The battle was obviously lost even as the Imperial command seemed to lunch the rest of their reserve jets. They obviously were trying to fight off droids, and failing miserably.
Derran understood right away the stupidity of the strategy of his commanders, the textbook objective of trying to achieve the air supremacy. How they could do it with the far inferior technology was something he could not figure out. And to throw in ground troops and light armored units to somehow compensate for the error was equal to send his men to a meat-grinding machine.
It was a nightmarish bloodbath, and tens of thousands of his comrades were still being blown to pieces.
“This comes down.” Derran whispered, more than talked, although the gunfire could already be heard behind them. “Even if it means us… Let’s just bury them all, right here, right now. Let’s just bury them in their own hole.” With those words, he finished his instructions, part of an infamous speech, without knowing that they were being recorded, without knowing that those words were to be later played over and over again, billions of times over, throughout the empire, for centuries to come.
He fired all his plasma rockets toward the center of the dome where he was guessing that the energy supply pod must have been located. He threw in all the grenades toward it as well, but the huge engulfing inferno which suddenly exploded ate them before he could see them detonate. Men screamed, the ground shook, fires swallowed thousands. There was no place to hide.
Little did Derran know at the time that the explosion ended destroying the main nerve of the central command system of the Vazz, incapacitating all their flying droids as well as their humanoids meat grinders, and practically winning a decisive battle for the Empire in the two-year long war. The peace treaty was signed not even a week after that day.