Luna (Terra’s Moon), Inner Solar System
Holy Sept: The Antioch Shrine
Security Clearance: Cleric Levels 4 and up required
Hour: Just after Midday Prayers
Date: 443 Year of Kovar (three weeks after the fall of Mars)
Terra rises over the horizon, shedding her teal-blue light across the powdery moonscape. Large and nearly full in the black sky, you can just make out some of your home world’s characteristic features. Her hot warm seas, her cobalt oceans tinge with green shades of the continents and massive algae flows. A silver gleam emanates from the modern metropolises of Antarctica at the southernmost pole. Malachite clouds of hydrocarbons swirl about the equatorial regions, faint emerald lights on the edge of the planet’s night side give glimmerings of the vast underwater habitations running all the way from Bangkok to New Cairo. Old, ancient cities domed over during the rising floodwaters of the Great Upheaval, over four hundred years ago. Back in the time of the Prophet Kovar.
Green. Life. Terra teams with it. Even from the distance of Luna the home world pulsates like a verdant gem in the empty void. Settlements containing Terra’s over 18 billion souls sparkle like diamond crust across the Grand Chasm of Eurasia and the small inland sea of North America. No bare plains like Mars. No orbital platforms like Venus to block the view. No frosty icecaps along its spherical crest. Terra hangs ripe as an apple in the nocturnal lunar sky.
You pause, still facing Terra on your prayer mat after noontime prayers. Sitting cross-legged you remove a data pad from your satchel and scroll through it with an index finger. Your doodled notes fill beneath your fingertips.
Mercury. Reich controlled space, probable location of Venusian Fleet shipyards.
Venus. Reich home world. Extensive orbital stations, both civilian and military.
Terra. Home. High population density, all followers of the teachings of the Prophet Kovar. Contains many archaic ruins on several continents.
Luna. Terra’s Moon. “Dark Side” houses Al-Khazar training camps. Contains most prominent holy septs and centers of governance for the followers of Kovar.
Mars. Occupied and divided by Terran and Venusian zones. Largely populated with Reds. Breathable atmosphere, but dangerously thin in the upper altitudes.
Asteroid Belt. Largely uninhabited. Some military and mining outposts.
Jovian and Saturn Systems. Information insufficient. Reds, possibly Whites, on Jovian and Saturn moons. Blues and Greens harvest elements here, but do not settle. Uranus and Neptune frontiers rarely visited if even populated at all.
Walking through the striped Byzantine archways that mark the tiled interiors of the west wing of the complex you listen to your own soft footfalls trailing behind the audible clacking of your elder guide. Through another set of windows you glimpse the spiked minarets of other, smaller holy septs scattered across the lunar surface. The windows of each sept always face Terra. You’d often dreamt of coming to Antioch, the shrine where the council of the seventh order, the most supreme class of clerics prayed, and debated the fates of the 18 billion Terrans living on the home world below. Since first becoming a holy cleric at twenty it has taken you almost another twenty years of steadfastness and service to the teachings of Kovar to ascend to the rank of four stars, the minimum any member of the clergy must attain even to be invited into the holy of holies, the great Shrine of Antioch. Surely there are older, more historical septs back on Terra, but none as rich and blessed as Antioch.
Stepping through the next series of bending corridors behind your elderly guide you spy intricate mosaics portraying glittering scenes of the Book of Kovar with pyrite, brazen, rosy, and jadeite tiles painstakingly erected to perfection generations ago. Deeper within the sept you pass through timber gates made of real wood. Probably erected from the fabled rainforests of Terra’s past. The golden walls now give way to intricate calligraphy, topaz swirls and embellished scripts stating the holy words from scriptures throughout the Book of Kovar. From the corners of your eyes you seek out some of your own personally most inspiring verses, including passages from chapters 4, 13, and 17. Some of the very words that first convinced you that those voices in your head were the Word of the one true God and his prophet Kovar. Words that called you to the ministry in the first place.
Those voices seem tranquil and quiet today amongst the chanting monks. Their voices uplifting, their faces hidden behind paper thin screens backlit by candlelight. A feeling akin to electric energy raises the hairs along the nape of your neck. Your rub the dark wisps of your own thin beard with familiar anticipation. This is just as you had hoped it would be.
Your guide opens a final chamber door, its greenish-bronze hinges squeak from age. He silently beckons you to enter, remaining outside on the threshold himself. The oaken door closes behind you.
Brother Saleem speaks very highly of you.
You humbly nod. The Caliph has his palms folded behind his back, facing away from you. Half a dozen starlets flash from his saffron and jade gown, a curved dagger on his belt. Did you bring them with you? he asks.
Reply in the affirmative. He nods his head, the room draped in shadows. A sliver of silver light penetrates the darkened room, its high ceilings barely visible.
You have done great works he continues. Missions both on-world and off, personally baptizing your first converts before you got your second star. Impressive. And Thessalonica, that was you?
You nod again.
I understand you once enlisted in the squadrons of the Divine Wind when the war started. Risky thing to volunteer to fly two tons of explosives in a Kamikaze Pod. Only the most righteous of our holy warriors volunteer to sacrifice themselves in destruction and flame against the foes of Kovar, thus being assured a place in Eternal Paradise.
God called me to it. The Almighty and Kovar called me to it you add.
The Caliph turns round now, directly eyeing you with his impenetrable stare.
The Brothers tell me you hear voices sometimes, that you have since a teenager.
It has led to my calling, Caliph.
So it has he replies matter-of-factly. Tell me, how did you survive? Divine Wind pilots aren’t supposed to return once they have flown into battle.
It was the will of Kovar, Caliph you reply respectfully. My craft did not detonate. Enemy flak guns disabled my thrusters. I drifted into space with no propulsion.
But you did not give up?
The Almighty put a Red boarding vessel in my way.
Probably trying to take prisoners and acquire your unused explosives, the Caliph surmised.
But the voices in my mind cautioned me, calmed me, and then instructed me you finish.
Brother Saleem reports to me that you boarded with only your ceremonial dagger and a broken vent pipe from your damaged craft. You slew all 7 assailants aboard, most hand-to-hand. You then donned a pressure suit, loaded your pod’s explosive payload onto the infidels’ craft and ignited them with a charge from the vessel’s batteries. And yet still you survived.
I was picked up, unconscious in my suit, by a passing transport of our own people you explain. They found the bodies and wreckage still floating around me. Kovar’s will.
The Caliph looks at you a moment longer, studying you with his grey irises.
Show me. Show them to me now.
You extend your arms, two pulse pistols emerging from beneath your dark sleeves. Their extremely long black barrels glow slightly amber-green in your hands. Fully charged. The Caliph walks round you, inspecting your stance. He lifts the rear flap of your coat, finding a pair of elongated blades crossed behind your belt.
Skilled with the gun and the knife. Have you completed training? he inquires.
My gunjudo was taut to me by the Al-Khazars themselves you promptly reply. The most holy of all mujahedeen that serve the Council of High Clerics against the infidels of Kovar. In the Jihad against the Martian Reds I was assigned…special targets during the war.
Yes, I heard you are an inventive, energetic man. The Al-Khazars actually cheered you at Thessalonica the Caliph adds. Our shock troops aren’t easily impressed.
I eliminated an operative, a Red sniper who had been haunting the battlefield for weeks, slaying our men in cowardly ways you relay. I lay among the fallen for days, pretending to be a dead mujahedeen until the sharpshooter crept my way. I finished him with a knife.
Your record does you justice. Brother Saleem then found you. Assigned you political targets, military commanders, a few union organizers, and even one brothel heiress the Caliph continues thumbing through a scroll report in hand.
Yes, she was an abhorrence to the way of Kovar you icily recall.
Many of these were difficult targets, people well protected, hard to get to the Caliph notes. You would have been tortured had you been captured. Were you not afraid?
It is not my business when or where my Terran body shall perish you reply. That is the will of Kovar.
Indeed, the Caliph begins. I have a special task for you, one that comes directly from the seven star council, though you will not be meeting with any of them today.
Only five star clerics and above are allowed to directly meet the council, you know this and expect no less.
But, I can guarantee that if you fulfill this mission to the upmost success and Kovar has not yet shed your mortal coil, you will undoubtedly gain your fifth star.
Pleasing the council and the one true God shall be my goal.
The Caliph nods himself this time, slowly approaching until he stands a hair’s breath away from you.
Well put, now let us begin. Have you ever heard of a maelstrom?
This will take all of your skills the first voice within your mind whispers.
Even the most masterful of gunjudo martial artists might fail at a task like this the second voice ebbs. There are fearless Al-Khazars that would tremble at such an assignment the second voice adds.
Then we will not fail the first voice replies smoothly.
No, you say aloud, walking along the quiet corridors of the Antioch promenade.
But the fatwa has been issued you think to yourself. A holy decree from the high council, their commands trickling down to you as though directly from a conduit from the Creator himself.
And you must carry it out, the second voice haunts. You and you alone.
I am the righteous, the hammer of God, you whisper to yourself over and over again, a mantra you repeat with the fervor of your evening vespers.
He is strong this one you must kill, cunning with the guile of the Evil One the second voice coos.
He is an infidel, besmirching the face of Kovar himself. I will find him.
And you will end him the first voice reenters, confidence in its finality.
The second voice remains silent now. You relax, your mind crystallizing into a vision of clarity. You will go to the outer reaches of the solar system, further than you have even journeyed before. Armed only with two pistols, two daggers, and an unmarked flier you would hunt down the man named in the fatwa. The council’s will, Kovar’s will, will strike fear into the hearts of the enemy when you destroy this man. No one is beyond His reach.
You read the electric scroll one last time.
WARNING: Message will permanently erase in a few minutes.
Operative Report to the Seven Star Council
Contact within Venusian High Command reports a missing maelstrom class war vessel. An unspecified quantity of high yield warheads believed to have been onboard. Ship now believed to be in the hands of Reds, possibly Martian rebels somewhere in the vicinity of the Jovian system.
Lone survivor of Blue vessel jettisoned in escape pod and reported to Venusian High Command. Subject suffered from some unidentified biological attack, currently in critical hospitalization. The officer, however, did visually identify one assailant as a Carbiñero by their Martian militia pressure suit.
Rogue maelstrom vessel considered to be an extremely lethal and unchecked threat now in the outer solar system. Venusian intelligence still denying maelstrom was actually stolen. Operatives claim that it is impossible. The inner workings of this stealth-cruiser’s systems remain unknown, but it has been inferred that only the captain of this vessel can control it due to some “unique” and as of yet unidentified procedure that makes this limitation possible. How the Reds have circumvented this failsafe also remains unlearned.
Since virtually all Carbiñeros were exterminated during the Martian Jihad as high infidels the remaining records were presented to the maelstrom survivor, who visually identified the culprit based on captured enlistment files. Little remains known of the ringleader, believed to be an ex-Martian terrorist known as Geronimo Ares. He may have possible connections to Europan sympathizers. He is considered tactically armed and highly dangerous, and is now listed both on the Venusian Intelligence Top Ten War Criminals List as well as now being under a Terran Heretic Fatwa issued by the High Cleric Council.
During the war Carbiñeros were responsible for the highest casualties amongst both Blue and Green troops, resulting in the personal losses of several sons of the members of the seven star cleric council.
Subject and his vessel must be terminated or compromised immediately before the warheads can be used against Blue or Green civilian or military targets. Already taxed military occupation of Mars prevents a large scale task force of either Venusians or Terrans deploying to outer solar system to hunt for the maelstrom. The Blues, however, will mostly likely deploy their own agent to track Ares down. Odds are high that the terrorist may try to attack either occupying forces on his Martian home world or actually strike Venus or Terra itself. Due to the undetectable nature of maelstrom class vessels his current whereabouts remain unknown.
Praise and Glory to the Almighty and his Prophet Kovar.
The scroll screen runs blank, the circuitry fusing in a tiny wisp of smoke in your hand. A grainy headshot of a stubble-faced soldier with high cheekbones and russet colored hair labeled: Ares, Geronimo, 1st Carbiñeros, dissolves. You set down the ruined pad, smoldering down to ashes on the pavement. You check your firearms again and walk out onto the enclosed hanger, a small unmarked space flier awaiting you on the flight deck.