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Upon this Stage Final Prologue: Dante's Encomium
Posted By: Gordi<gorditio@budweiser.com>
Date: 18 June 2002, 10:36 pm

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      They say that once you have traveled down war's corpse strewn path, and seen men quail, and break, and die before her, that you never forget her terrible face, not even for an instant. It is something that will haunt your every moment to the end of your miserable days, a shapeless specter of death, vicious and cruel residing in your mind, born only by yourself unto yourself. Inevitably you will run from her, for solace in friends and family, but she will always be there, stalking you in the darkest depths of your soul, growing to fill the ever widening chasm she created in your core with her putrid, decaying body; forevermore an indissoluble part of your very being. It is a dark dance, endlessly played out in the recesses of the mind between human spirit and the dark umbrage of perverse consciousness that eventually drives many a strong man to insanity, and ruin.
      Yet somehow, there are men who thirst for this life, this existence of waking nightmares and torment, momentarily satiated by bloodshed and pain. Watching Quinn do his 'work', Bram knew he was one of these masochistic children of war, and he wondered how any lone soldier could bear such a taint upon his soul yet still function. The pain must have rotted his humanity long, long ago, leaving only the savage shell of a man behind, Bram contemplated. He kills for the feeling of life it gives him; the slaughter is his drug and his addiction, he NEEDS it to thrive. And it was that that made Quinn so very, very deadly.

      "GET BACK!" Quinn thrust Bram back into the Scorpion with a flick of his massive hand. He had not even used his arm even, merely his wrist, yet the force sent Bram reeling uncontrollably into the open maw of the APV door. With cat-like reflexes, Quinn threw himself backwards, performing a half summersault underneath the open Scorpion door, then throwing himself sideways beneath the low slung belly of the tank, using the bulletproof skin of the APV to shield his body from a steady stream of bullets fired by approaching I.D.F. security troops in their rear.
      Thrusting his own weapon into one of the firing ports, Bram loosed half a dozen fletchet rounds from his shotgun into the mass of onrushing soldiers. Quinn used that brief two second window of distraction to level his three foot, scoped behemoth of a rifle and drop the entire four man I.D.F. team with one controlled burst. Bullets whined overhead, and Bram rushed to the far side of the Scorpion to counter. But before he could even draw his bead on the new targets, a spray of blood from behind an upturned table announced the threat had been dealt with by a well positioned Alan, who had somehow managed to obtain a vantage on the overhanging causeway some 12 feet above. Two more bursts from Quinns rifle, a white phosphor grenade hurled by Raoul, and the lobby fell eerily silent, save for a repeated beeping from the main reception desk.
      Swinging down from his position, Alan rushed to the desk and found the source of the noise. Someone had tripped the breach alarm before dying. Muttering a curse, he set to work at they keyboard, tapping furiously and squinting into the screen for several minutes before he turned back to the team.
      "Ok, look. I can't get access from the terminal...it's a Recep station, and the mainframe doesn't give it command access. The best I can do is use one of the ID badges to requisition an emergency override from command personnel."
      "Do it, " said Raoul, tossing Alan a blood smeared badge from an eyeless corpse on the floor. With that, Alan set to work again, typing and squinting for another minute before he swiped the bloody tag through a holographic badge reader.
      Suddenly a phone on the station next to him rang, and he grabbed the receiver. "This is Lieutenant..." he looked down at the badge. "Baker. We have intruders at the door. Security gates are down, but they're going to breach in under 2 minutes. Requesting emergency lift operation to evac the crew down here." He pulled Bram, who was closest, towards him and put another ID badge in his hand.
      "Yes, Sir. Just a moment, Sir." He turned to Bram, cupping his hand over the phone mouthpiece. "Say the name on this badge, the rank, and give the number below the security strip. Nothing more unless he asks."
      A voice came through the receiver, and Bram could have sworn it was the now dead soldier from the first checkpoint. Looking down at his badge, Bram quickly read the name. "Stephens, Corporal 2nd Grade. Security clearance 1183-2191-8493-1562."
      "Ok, the lift is up, you have four minutes to evac before the computer overrides OUR override. Get going, we'll have a team meet you on level fourteen."
      "Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir." Bram responded before tossing the receiving on the floor.
      "We have four minutes of override. They're going to have a team on the fourteenth floor waiting for us," he said to the others.
      "Fourteen? Perfect, we have one floor of separation. I couldn't have planned it better myself."
      "God dammit, Raoul, are you deaf? He said there's a squad waiting on fourteen for us. We come out of the lift, they see we're not the desk personnel and they shoot us. Even I'm not that good and you are bloody USELSS in a fight." Quinn shouted, his face flush with unwarranted but deadly rage. Bram noticed Quinns knuckles were pure white, and the barrel of his gun was shaking rapidly as he gripped it harder and harder, the physical manifestations of his bubbling fury.
      "Do you have a better suggestion, Quinn? Maybe we should just kill everything that walks through that door?" Raoul replied, his voice soft, but just as deadly.
      "Look you little shit -" Quinn started, but Bram hesitantly cut him off.
      "Um..there are three minutes left before they shut down the lift, and I think I can hear something outside." As if to reinforce his words, the building began to vibrate gently with the rumble of oncoming vehicles. Dust that had settled on the ceiling showered down upon them, coating everything with a fine white powder, and the overhead lights started to sway back and forth on their mountings as the unseen approached.
      "OK, up into the lift, weapons out and don't forget the bags," Quinn grabbed his rucksack and keyed open one of the elevator doors with the security badge from a dead guard. Once Bram was in, Quinn pushed him against the door wall, obscuring him from sight to anyone looking in. Likewise, he managed to position his considerable build against the opposite wall so that he too was invisible from the portal. Alan and Raoul remained in front of the door, their ISR-32s held at the ready.
      "Give me your guns," Quinn said, reaching out his massive arm.
      "Bugger off," said Raoul, reluctant to hand his equalizer over to Quinn.
      "ISRs aren't part of the I.D.F. armoury, they'll know immediately when you two are standing at the door with un-issued weapons. Give me the guns," he said again.
      "Bloody Christ," he sighed. "You walk through the door without guns, they don't suspect anything and don't kill us. Then you say that you were the only two in the lift when the intruders broke through the security door and had to go without the rest. I know you're stupid Raoul, but pretend to fucking understand."
      "Shut up, Quinn," he said, but handed his weapon over anyway. Suddenly a voice overhead chimed in, it was the I.D.F. security computer that controlled doors and lift functions. "Forty-five seconds remaining until override. Please evacuate to your designated levels before lift function is suspended."
      "Shit, let's go," Raoul punched a button, closing the doors, and the lift automatically began to rise.
      The waited tensely for only a few seconds, until the gravity powered lift slowed, then stopped as the display panel indicated that they had arrived on level fourteen. Raoul looked at Quinn, who nodded. When the doors slid open, Bram couldn't see outside, but he did notice Raoul and Alan visibly relax.
      "Where's the fire team?" Raoul asked.
      "Down on six, all teams are securing the stairwells against the intruders. Do you need medical attention? Where are the rest of the crew?" a voice replied from the corridor, and Quinn smiled. A medical team meant only one or two side arms.
      "We're the only two that made it through before -" Raoul was cut off by Quinn as he swung out around the edge of the door, leveled his weapon at the seven man medical crew and pulled the trigger.
      A moment should be devoted to this extremely special weapon carried by Quinn, for it was not the ISR-32 carried by Raoul or Alan, nor was it a tactical assault shotgun of the kind Bram held. In fact, his rifle was one of only 100,000 in all human space. Customely manufactured on demand by the Colt & Browning smiths on Windfall in the Beta Erindilli system, the LRPS40.6 multipurpose rifle is one of the finest examples of human engineering to date. Designed initially as a replacement for the SAW v.301, the Colt & Browning engineers quickly discovered the uncanny accuracy of the rifle, even at high rates of fire. The weapon was such a success during initial development, that the I.D.F Marine Corp handed Colt & Browning a three year, eighty-eight million dollar grant to further develop the weapon according to newly introduced I.D.F. specifications. After all three years, and nearly ninety million dollars, C&B's design team went before the I.D.F. Small Arms Acquisition Board to present their creation. Designated the Long Range Personnel Suppressor .40 calibre, revision 6, the LRPS40.6 boasted an internal ceramic coating impervious to heat, dust, and use degradation that allowed it to function for years in the worst environments before even minor servicing. The barrel was laser rifled by the most delicate computer aided arm possible to allow near perfect accuracy, even at maximum effective range (over four miles). Built in fluid shock absorbers located on the tripod hinge and in the stock reduced back blast from the massive shells to a minimum and kept the weapon stable at its highest rate of fire (1500 rpm). An integrated magnification and zero-lux/infrared scope allowed the user to orally alter the magnification/view mode, or to designate one of six preset functions. Additionally, depressing the trigger lightly would activate a laser designator, visible only through the scope, it 'painted' the exact impact location of the shell, factoring wind, rain, gravity and distance, allowing the user to alter their shot accordingly. Of course, all of these functions could be turned off, but not once in its six years of service had the gun, or its incorporated systems failed.
      The high price of the rifle, over sixty-three million dollars per unit, and long production cycle prevented the weapon from ever being the mainstream success the I.D.F. had hoped. However, it quickly became the gun of choice by the I.D.F. Shadow Bureau, the secret police of the fleet that conducted political assassinations, covert operations and insurgencies too sensitive for the general special forces. In fact, the Winfall production facility is within the perimeter of the primary Shadow Bureau operations center, and each weapon is carefully stamped, recorded and securitagged for its journey to Bureau agents. However Quinn obtained the rifle though, he was certainly putting it to good use now.
      At less than 10 meters, it was practically impossible for him to miss. Firing from the hip, he raked the barrel back and forth across the medical team for nearly two seconds, a tongue of flame almost as long as the gun dancing from the muzzle until all 50 rounds in the massive drum magazine were depleted. Four of the med team were killed instantly by the huge .40 calibre shells that riddled their bodies with half dollar sized exit wounds that would smolder for the next 10 minutes. By then, Bram had scrambled out the door and began to pump shell after shell into the unarmoured medical personnel. At such close range, the 12 gauge rounds full of jagged metal didn't disperse as they were designed, and the tightly packed steel fragments striking soft flesh at high velocities simply tore their targets in half.
      The lone survivor, a combat surgeon by his uniform, ran in a zig-zag motion, his hands over his head as he sprinted towards an open door at the end of the corridor. Letting the surgeon run for a few seconds longer, Quinn slowly brought the LRPS to his face, using his thumb to switch the weapon over from its automatic to a more accurate single shot mode. This done, he dropped his right hand into one of the cargo pockets attached to his pants and withdrew a small 12 round bar clip. In one fluid motion, he then brought the scope to his eye and smoothly inserted the magazine, where it locked to the rifle with a sharp 'click'. By then, the surgeon was at the door, his hand wrestling with the knob that had been jammed by an errant round from Bram's TAS. When it still wouldn't open, he began ramming the center of the door with his shoulder in a vain attempt to open the reinforced steel hatch by force - to no avail, it did not budge. Quinn sucked in a deep breath, his left eye closed, and Bram could tell he had had enough - in an act of mercy, or compassion, or, knowing Quinn, probably just pleasure, he would finally let the man die. The surgeon looked back at the group just in time to see the massive LRPS muzzle pointed directly at his head...and then he simply ceased to exist. Quinn squeezed the trigger once, and a gout of flame, followed instantly by the .40 calibre round exited the barrel. It took all of a quarter of a second for the depleted uranium round to cover the intervening 50 meters between gun and target, barely enough time for the internal guidance fins to deploy. Somehow, although it was more than likely intentional, Quinn missed the instantly fatal head shot, instead striking collar bone at the sternal end of the pectoral girdal...a region packed thick with painful nerve ends and vital arteries. It would kill him for sure, but death would be a slow ten minutes coming while he watched blood spurt from his veins in rhythm with heartbeat, the thick and crimson elixir of life that wept for his body as it fled, because it was not his to keep any longer. Quinn grinned, as Bram imagined a skull would grin, and turned his back to the dying man.
      "I'm done," he said, still grinning, "where now?"
      "Christ, Quinn..." Raoul shook his head, and his eyes wandered the passage for a moment before resting on the blood spattered door against which the dying surgeon had propped himself. "That one, I think. There should be a service shaft at the end of the corridor that accesses all of the mid-levels," he paused, "not sure where it comes out though."
      "You know where you're going, we'll follow," Quinn said, holstering his rifle.
      They quickly filed up behind Raoul, and passed effortlessly through the jammed door, two quick palm thrusts from Quinn were enough to force it open with enough room for them to pass single file into the corridor beyond.
      Not that the I.D.F. command complex could be considered luxurious on any of its 300 levels, but the inconspicuous maintenance tunnel they entered was beyond spartan. Whereas outwardly, the building consisted of shining metallic walls and polished black marble floors, the long hallway stretching before them was of rough concrete all around. The walls were barely visible through a thick maze of pipes and exposed wiring conduits that covered nearly every inch of exposed space. Every so often, automated valves and release mechanisms would open a circuit or steam conduit and high above bright blue electricity would arc between contacts as massive pent up energies were released from the system. A quick area check revealed no other personnel in the immediate vicinity. That wasn't to say they couldn't have hidden amongst the tangle of pipes and wires, but it was doubtful at best, and anyone back here was more than likely low level maintenance, untrained in combat and without weapon.
      They traversed the 50 meter tunnel without incident and found the small, circular domed hatch in an alcove set off the main corridor. The only problem was that it had been securely welded shut, judging by the rust accumulated on the weld, it had been done quite some time ago.
      "Bloody Hell," Raoul kicked the steel hatch, swearing loudly when it proved to be harder than his toe. Ignoring his blasphemous tirades, Quinn opened Raouls rucksack and produced two cone shaped objects. Two wires, one red and one black, ran from the back of each cone where a small box with an attached LED display sat.
      "What are they?" Bram asked, eyeing the cones.
      "DE's," Quinn responded, then when he saw Bram still didn't understand, he added, "Directional explosives. They're a powerful plastic explosive encased in reinforced duratanium plates. Conventional explosives do an equal amount of damage within a relatively spherical radius. These DE's manage to focus almost 75% of their power in whichever direction the open end is facing."
      "Basically, he's using them here because we don't know what the Hell all this is," Alan added, gesturing to the maze of wires and pipes around them.
      "Where's the detonator," Quinn asked, peering into Raouls bag.
      "There wasn't enough room in his so I packed it with my stuff," Alan responded, tossing Quinn a small black box.
      Quinn pulled out a reel of wire from his pocket, stripped the ends and began to attach the wires on the DE's with those on the detonator. In 30 seconds, each chord had a mate, and Quinn was walking backwards in a crouch from the primed cones, around the corner back into the main hallway.
      "Grab your stuff shit and get back. I want everybody back as far as that control box," he said, pointing to a small grey control junction, blinking green against the dark corridor.
      Once everyone was back, he twisted a small knob on the box, pressed a button and covered his ears, grinning. Bram barely had time to cover his own when a clap of thunder echoed down tunnel, followed in short succession by another, then a massive gout of fire that illuminated the tunnel, throwing long shadows across the 4 men huddled against the ground. Quinn was the first to rise, but he motioned the others back down as he crept slowly towards the hatch. Deeming it all clear, he waved them forward, and gathering their equipment, they came.
      The DE's had cratered the ground to a slight degree, no more than two inches at the deepest point, and twisted the nearest electrical conduits beyond recognition where they now sparked and sputtered with angry electrical fire, but they had done their job. The hatch was completely ripped from its hinged mount, which, in fact had been ripped right out of the concrete. The force of the impact flattened it against the opposite wall, indenting the hatch six inches into the reinforced wall. Quinn kicked it out, and the hatch rolled out the alcove until impacting against the opposite wall where it clanked loudly to a halt.
      Quinn looked down the red lit maintanence shaft, inspecting it slowly for any indication that security may have heard the breach and was coming to investigate. They hadn't, and down he went. With his gun looped around his shoulder, facing downward in case any surprises appeared at the other end, his considerable bulk slowly descended the twenty feet required to reach the opposite end. Talking would be too risky now, a dead give away that someone was coming through the formerly cealed hatch.
      Index and middle fingers pointed inward towards other palm, thumb held perpandicular to index facing up. Preparing to breach, one man backup. He pointed at Bram. You.
      Bram scurried down the ladder with one hand, the other gripping his shotgun tightly. When he reached the bottom, noticed there was a very small shelf on which he could rest without standing directly on the hatch. Quinn began signaling again.
      Palm outward, index finger raised with the rest perpendicular to the palm turned into all fingers raised thumb outward at a 90 degree angle, forming an 'L'. I'm going first, left side.
      Ok, I'll follow right side, Bram signaled.
      Exactly. Wair 10 seconds before you come down, then cover my backside, got it?
      Yeah. Let's go. Bram finished.
      Quinn twisted the wheel mounted on the hatch, and surprisingly enough it turned. Obviously someone had decided that they needed to get in here at one point or another. It swung open noiselessly, and Quinn immediatly shot through the opening feet first, his weapen held tightly against his body. As he fell, Bram heard shouts from somewhere in the room below, but then as Quinn began to shoot, the voices one by one fell silent. By the time Bram followed, the room had been cleared, and Quinn yelled the all clear up to Raoul and Alan.
      They had just started a perimeter search of the spacious, glass walled room when Raoul decended the tunnel and let out a whistle.
      "Bloody Hell, this is the control room. We're already here!" he exclaimed, looking around like a kid in a candy store.
      "I thought that might be the case. The tunnel we just came through looked too important to be regular maintanence, the command instructions printed on some of the nodes up there were stamped with the I.D.F. Launch Authority logo," said Alan.
      "They control the drivers?" Quinn asked.
      "Not exactly. Well, some of them help. They route commands from this room to the antennae, and to the fleet command ships primarily. The people in this room control the drivers."
      "Oh," Quinn didn't care anymore.
      "Well, let's get to work then," Alan said, as he sat down at one of the consoles. "Bram, get two more charges and secure them in the tunnel about halfway up. Tightly now, don't want them falling down," he said with a morbid grin. Bram wished he wouldn't do that anymore, but set to work anyway.
      Raoul, meanwhile had pulled a medium range radio from one of his vest pockets and was talking quietly into the mouthpiece. He stopped for a moment and turned to Alan.
      "How much longer?"
      "About five minutes," Alan replied. "we've got to blow the charges AFTER redirecting authority to the secondary array or the system will hang for at least 15 minutes, waiting for us to come back online."
      "So five? I'm on the wire with Mic and Dan at the secondary array and they want to know how long."
      "Give me the radio," Alan said, reaching out his hand. "Mic, you boys ready over there...good, good. We're going offline in a little under four minutes now, so good luck." he finished his conversation and set the radio down.
      Nearly ten minute passed, and with each lap of the clock Alan grew more and more irritable.
      "Bloody thing doesn't understand I want to take it offline. I can take this terminal and this room offline, but it boots me right back on saying the rest of the system is unprepared." Bram watched him type furiously for several minutes before he lost interest and wandered away to talk with Quinn.
      "Bet they'd never trained for something like this, eh?" he nudged Brams ribs with his elbow.
      "Wait, wait a minute, what did you just say?" Alan interrupted.
      "I said I don't think they train for a situation like this, why?" Quinn responded.
      "That's it, BEAUTIFUL! The computer is in a 'breach' state of emergency, it can't be switched to a 'launch' state of emergency, which would let me direct override control to the second array. I CAN authorize a system shutdown for this complex though, which is similiar to a training shutdown in that it will automatically divert control to the secondary relay."
      "Then do it," Raoul said from behind him.
      "Already done," he flipped a switch on the wall next to his station, and immediatly all the monitors in the room went dark. "Bram, key the explosives if you would," he added.
      Bram tripped the DEs, and a roar came from the maintanence tunnel exit the corner of the room. The force ripped the hatch from its mountings and threw it against the floor with a horrific smash. The ceiling above them noticably sagged, and smoke poured from the smashed tunnel. The lights flickered for a moment, then died completely as the local electical systems finally succumbed to the duel poundings they had recently recieved.
      The room was almost completely dark, the only light was that coming in through the forty foot glass window from the floodlights outside the compound, 15 floors below. Bram heard an electonic whine, and a green pinprick appeared in the corner Quinn had occupied. Before he could figure out anymore, gunshots roared, and a muzzle flashed near the green spot. In the brief illuminations, he saw it WAS Quinn, using the LRPS night scope to see, and he was shooting at them. Bram barely had time to draw his rifle before both Raoul and Alan were dead, and Quinn had covered the the thirty feet between he and Bram. Grabbing the smaller mans beck in his massive hand, he took the shotgun from his shaking grip and threw it against the wall.
      "I don't have time to explain, but I'm going to let you live and that should satisfy you for now. Are you going to fight back?" he waited for Bram no shake his head before letting him go.
      "We have to go NOW, we won't be safe until we're off the planet so get your gun and follow me," he handed Bram a pair of night vision goggles and darted off into the darkness, leaving Bram scrambeling to grab his weapon and catch up.

      At 0430 UST (Universal Standard Time), a low yield nuclear device no larger than a 24 pack of cans went off on the fifteen floor of the I.D.F. Orbital Driver Command Center on the rim planet of Demeter. It was extremely small, but powerful enough that it vaporized a perfect sphere some 300 meters in diameter in the outer wall of the building. With such a large portion of the building gone, its structural stability was nonexistant, and it could no longer support its own weight. The 285 floors above came crumbling down around nearly 2,000 I.D.F. security troops and vehicles milling about the base. There were no survivors. By 0435 the information had blitzed across a thousand worlds, where it was condemnded by all the men of high import amongst the Interplanetary Congress as the worst act of terrorism in recent memory. For the next five minutes or so, they were right. Around 0440, two orbital drivers that were sitting primed and ready to carry 55,000 tonnes of fusion propulsion material into space were launched. The problem was that they were lifting off two days too early, and without anyones authority. Controlled by Dan and Mic, the men are not themselves important, in the auxiliary antennae array, these rockest roared into space at nearly 17,000 miles per hour, a space crowded with I.D.F. warships providing cover and support for the rescue operations below. In review, numerous captains would lose their command for actions in open defiance of standard I.D.F. operating procedures and orders. The average distance between ships was something less than 200 miles - a great distance on land, but spitting range in space. When the drivers appeared on the ships screens, nobody had any idea what they were doing or what to expect. One thing can be sure, though: that they least expected the two drivers to be turned into 450 meter rockets, loaded with a combined 110,000 tonnes of reactor material.
      The resulting 'fireball' created a light so grand that some mistook it for the early rise of Demeters sun, Aisys. Those of a more religious bend cowered and proclaimed the end to be at hand. At the metaphorical level, both were somewhat correct.
      Both drivers struck the heart of the I.D.F. fleet, and upon impact caused a chain reaction that engulfed some seventy starships, one orbiting drydock, and created enough debris that sparked fires around the planet.
      The Fires of Demeter, as they would soon be called, marked the beginning of the end to the period of time in human history defined by the Interplanetary Congress, as some would say, dictated and ordered by the Interplanetary Congress, and the beginning of a long, bloody civil war that would stretch for a billion lightyears over human space and time.

      To what end were these actions ordered? We know not yet, but rest assured that the ends will be known and those who ordered them may yet be brought to light. For upon this stage we have set our scene and none will rest till all is seen!