Alrighty, folks! The moment you've all been waiting for!
I won't waste your time with too terribly many details, but do pay attention to the A/N at the end of the chapter, as it will state my Release Schedule.
Finally, to keep this brief:
For the newcomers, this story is a sequel to my previous story: Mass Effect: The First War.
That story, this one, and the others in the War Series are all Alternate Universe representations of the ME Universe, with a Humanity of my own make, canon, and volition added onto it.
So, obviously, everything henceforth is to be considered non canon.
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I hope you enjoy the tale I've got to tell!
For your consideration:
Mass Effect: The New Face of War
"I have walked through valleys of sin and oceans of night. I have looked daemons and traitors in their eyes. I have heard the whispers of dark things that wanted my soul. And never once have I encountered anything that has struck the fear into me that a Xenos would feel if it ever truly understood the resolve of the Human Race."
— Daenyathos, "Reliquerae Tactica," Warhammer 40000
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the first successful space organization to successfully land a man on Mars, and keep him alive and healthy. As the Humans of Earth celebrate, NASA remains stunned by a chance discovery a few miles from the landing zone, at Mars' Southern Pole: An Alien Installation. Later, this installation would become known as 'The Prothean Ruins'.
After decades of rapid advancement, the over-arching government for the Human Race, and their public 'face', should they be contacted by extraterrestrial species, the Human Systems Alliance, escorts the first Colony Ship to Eden, the closest planet to Sol, that is proven to be able to support Human Life. Using Warp Transit, the Human Race's solution to the light speed limit, the colonists successfully arrive on Eden, and colonization efforts soon begin.
After four years of intense research and development, the Systems Alliance Advancement Task Force (Known colloquially as the 'AATF'.) succeeds in creating two of Humanity's three most important creations in their brief history. Truly sentient artificial intelligences are created, and within decades are integrated into every level of Human Society: Political, Military, and Civilian. Their second creation would be that which would remain beyond top secret for more than a half century: SIGMA Operatives, Humanity's first generation Super Soldiers.
The Humans discover an enormous object in the Eden System. The object, soon called the 'Tuning Gate', is quickly discovered to be a means of supra-light speed travel, faster even than Warp Travel. The Alliance scrambles to hide the Tuning Gate from the public eye, while simultaneously trying to prepare for an inevitable, and imminent First Contact.
The Human Systems Alliance, through experimentation with Tuning Gate Travel, discovers the Quarian Migrant Fleet. On the verge of societal and structural collapse, and risking their very existence, the Quarians initiate first contact with the Humans, and the two quickly enter a mutually beneficial alliance, the Quarians settle on Human worlds as their ships are fixed and assimilated into the Alliance Navy, and the Humans gain Quarian technology.
However, due to previous events done by rogue Quarian Captains, the Turian Hierarchy - hot on the trail of the Migrant Fleet - finds a Human planet and - under the impression that it is a Quarian Colony - proceeds to invade it with overwhelming force. The defending Human, and surviving Quarian forces manage to send a message to Earth, warning it of an impending attack.
The Hierarchy, under the impression that the Humans were just noisy primitives uplifted by the Quarians, invaded the Sol System with two of their main fleets, but the Humans - using their unique technology and home-field advantage - devastate the Turian fleets, and dominate the invading forces on Earth.
War is quickly declared upon the Hierarchy, and after a failed attempt at negotiations, the Citadel Council declares war upon the Humans. However, in a surprise blitzkrieg, the Humans divert the entirety of the Citadel Navy to Thessia, while they attack Palaven.
After abducting the Turian Primarch, and the Turian Councilor, the Alliance Director of Affairs attempts to force hostilities to end, or have the Turians risk the destruction of their homeworld. The Turian Councilor calls the Human's bluff, and in response, the Humans trick all of Citadel Space into believing that they deployed a high-grade Nuclear Weapon that destroyed Palaven in its entirety. The ruse was quickly lifted after the formal Turian surrender.
Hostilities are quickly ended between the two species, and the Humans delay heading for the Citadel for two weeks, as they prepare their forces and solidify their defenses.
After a lengthy peace-negotiation, the Human-Turian War (Known in the Alliance as the 'Second Contact War') is ended.
The Human Systems Alliance (And all species therein) is declared a sovereign entity, held apart from the Citadel Council and the Terminus systems. The Humans - now knowing of what hides around the celestial corner - experience a major territorial boom as the Alliance expands its borders. The Galaxy is still wary of the Alliance, more specifically, the Quarian influence upon the galaxy's newcomers, the Human Race. The Council believes that a Sleeping Giant has awakened, thanks to the Human-Turian War, and unfortunately for the Council, the very same species that had been downtrodden for centuries, are the Giant's largest allies.
After several brushfire wars with dozens of small mercenary organizations and Pirate bands - who had all violently attempted besiege Human worlds and take Human and Quarian slaves, the Human Systems Alliance solidified its status as a Galactic Superpower, on par with the Citadel Council. The Mercenary organizations and Pirate bands in question were all completely destroyed with ruthless efficiency, in the wars lasting less than two and a half Alliance Standard Years.
After being lifted from the ship-production limitations that had been agreed upon during the peace negotiations, the Alliance begins to rapidly escalate its ship creation levels, to accommodate with its rapidly increasing territory, and to protect itself from the Citadel Council and any other threats that come with the territory of galactic status. The Alliance and the Council quickly enter a Cold War, during which they both build their military presence.
After very narrowly avoiding having its military collapse under its own economic strain, the Citadel Council and the Human Alliance 'end' the Cold War in the public eye, but behind closed doors both are still very much working to outdo the other. The Citadel Council - the 'Big Three' and their client races still highly divided over the Military Budget - is trying to crack the secrets to Human Technology, and the Humans and Quarians - species with such close ties they are colloquially called 'Sibling Species' - are working to advance their own technology and further separate it from the rest of the Galaxy.
After convincing the Systems Alliance Parliament that the SIGMA Program (An Alliance Military program that had forged Super Soldiers before, during, and after the Second Contact War) was obsolete in many, varied ways, Christopher McGraw laid the foundations for the SIGMA II's, child-soldiers selected from war-orphans and other Human Children.
John Shepard is recruited into the SIGMA II Program, rechristened as 'John-S2-15'
Tests performed on the child, as a prerequisite for joining the program, proved that the child does, indeed, have biotic potential.
While exploring systems for colonization, the Alliance decides to look towards a cluster of stars that formed an Earth constellation. Upon arriving at one of the clusters that makes up 'Orion's Belt', the Humans discover a new species, that is on par with Human technology as it was in the late 2000's, but more advanced in other ways. The species - Saltorians - are kept secret from the Council and the Humans decide to watch the Saltorians, who aren't at all close to cracking Eezo FTL, or Warp Technology, but are advanced enough where they have terraformed and colonized one of the planets in their home system. (The 'Saltorian Deployment' is quickly known as the graveyard shift in the Alliance Navy, as little to nothing ever happens in the system.)
John S2-15's bones ached. He could feel his stomach churning, his spine aching, his knees creaking like an old man's, and his very sore muscles screaming for rest. His eyelids were heavier than they'd ever been, and he was more tired than he could ever remember being. His entire body was sore, and he knew for a fact that he'd never worked so hard in the few short years in this galaxy; he didn't even know if he could work this hard ever again.
The worst part was that it had only been an hour since the day had begun.
When he, Doctor Mossman, and Mister McGraw had landed on a planet only ever referred to as 'Sparta', medics had gone right to work on the boy. His injuries from days previous were checked and healed using technology he couldn't even recognize, he was given more shots and immunization treatments than he could count, and they'd shaved off all of his dark brown hair. In addition to that, he'd been forced through dozens of tests, the last one of which he'd passed, much to the amazement of the examiners, who had promptly declared him a 'potential biotic', whatever that meant. He had then been introduced to his instructors, and from his first impressions from the day before this, he didn't think McGraw's words of being welcomed to Hell would ring true.
Of course, then John, who's last name had been stripped and rebranded with the 'S2' title and the '15' serial number, woke up the following day. This day, he'd woken up far before the sun, the first time he could remember ever doing so. At first he thought it was a mistake of the instructors', and tried to go back to sleep, but when he was quickly and roughly yanked out of his bed by the sheets and told to line up, he got his first taste of what the rest of the day would be like.
Their primary physical exercise, combat training, and all-around instructor, Joseph Ducard S1-99, a SIGMA One and a veteran of most every war that the Alliance had been in, had told them what they could expect. He said that they had twelve years minimum to turn these children from 'snot-nosed turd machines' to highly effective, universally efficient, and nigh-unkillable walking talking thinking and breathing machines of death. Ducard (Who only ever wanted to be referred to as 'Commander' or 'Sir', and had actually punched the kid who'd called him 'mister'.) told the SIGMA Kids that they would be broken in body and mind, and reformed into lethal killing machines in the name of their one and only race, the Humans of the Systems Alliance.
He told them that it would be the hardest parts of their lives, but it would be more than worth it in the end. He told them that they would begin with the 'lightest' boot-camp, the one designed around the Alliance Navy. He said that they'd drill like space-men until they were ten years old, at which point they'd upgrade to the Alliance Army's far tougher training regiment. Following that they'd be turned into Marines, then trained in the ways of the N7 Special Forces, and finally in the ways of the Orbital Dropping Death Dealers. When they hit seventeen, they were expected to be able to defeat a fully armored Orbital Dropping Death Dealer with no armor for themselves, and no weapons to speak of, aside from their hands and feet. It was when the SIGMA Kids hit seventeen that they would train like honest-to-godSIGMA Operatives, and he made it clear, on no uncertain terms whatsoever, that the year separating their seventeenth and eighteenth birthdays would be worse than all the others combined, with no exceptions.
Many of the children didn't think the man was telling them the truth, until they began their Physical Training. Their first feat of physical exertion was to run a quarter of a mile to a flagpole and back to the barracks. That alone had taken Delta Company - the company of eighty children, in which John had found himself - upwards of twenty minutes, which Ducard had called unacceptable, John and many others had noticed that he didn't even look tired, not even after the fifty pushups they all were made to do, in synchronous movements. That had taken them at least thirty minutes, because each time someone fell out of line, they did it all over again. Then the last ten minutes, of their first hour, had been spent doing jumping jacks, also in synchronous movements.
John was now in the mess hall, he had never been so thirsty or so hungry, but he felt like he could hardly keep down a single bite of food, or a single swig of drink. He forced some of the most disgusting food he'd ever eaten down his throat and drank half of the glass of water, which he truly doubted should have been called such, before Ducard had called them all up once again. Very few had actually gotten through their meals, but Ducard shook his head and told them that they would have to eat faster if they ever wanted to train on full stomachs, because he wouldn't wait for them, and neither would their enemies.
Their second run for the day had taken longer than the first, and many times the entire company had to halt in order for the kids to empty their stomachs, due to the raw physical exertion their young bodies were being subjected to. John himself wanted desperately to throw up, but he'd seen what Ducard had done to the boys that had done so, he'd shouted of how each morsel that was being ejected from them was a sign of weakness, how their body was showing them that they were too weak to finish the run, and that he would show them how to fight their own body's natural reactions, if they grew up, let their 'balls drop' (Whatever that meant!) and trained with him and their 'brothers'.
John knew not what Ducard meant by calling all eighty of them brothers. His late mother had never, ever told him that he had a single sister, let alone eighty brothers. He had kindly brought this up to Ducard, who had simply - but angrily, and very seriously - responded by telling him that, after they worked, bled, and sweated together for twelve years, they would all be family. He had then even gone so far as to say that, when they entered combat, the SIGMA II's would be closer than ever, he said that, when they were finished, they would be so close that they could tell what they would be ready to do before they could do it, they could see what they were thinking just by looking at them; in the SIGMA Operations, family wasn't blood, it was bond. Then he'd made John - and all of Delta Company - do fifty push-ups. John didn't like where he was, not at all. But when he sat down to eat his lunch, he remembered his last meal with his late mother, how she had told him she loved him, before she had gotten a call and had to leave him with Mister and Missus Williams. That had made John remember just what he had signed on to do: he wanted to make the aliens that had killed his mother pay!
"Hi!" Said a new voice, that jolted John from his dark reverie. John looked to his right, and saw a dark skinned young boy sit next to him. The boy looked like he'd had his head waxed, as opposed to shaved, and he had a smile on his face, as opposed to the scowl or the tired frown on the faces of the other children in the mess hall. "What's your name?" The kid asked.
"John." Said John, "John S2... Fifteen." He had a slight amount of trouble recalling his serial number, but it always came to him in the end.
"Ah." Said the kid, who extended his hand, "I'm Justin. Justin S2-99" Another, slightly heavier 'thump' came to John's left, "the giant's George. George S2-66." He smiled.
John shook Justin's hand, and then George's. Justin was a tall kid, even for his age, he had to be at least three and half, maybe four feet tall. His dark brown skin helped to mask his darker brown eyes, and his lean build gave John the impression that he was fast on his feet, and could pack a punch. However, if Justin was tall, George, on the other hand, was a giant of a kid. He had to be at least one and a half times John's three and a half foot height, and looked like he had the athletic and muscular build of a ten year old. George had tanned white skin, and a shaved head of black hair. His dark green eyes completely betrayed his tough, muscular build, the look of kindness behind those two green orbs made John think he wouldn't harm a fly, let alone another living, thinking, sentient being.
"Where were you, before you came here?" George asked, his accent a thick Earthen English, and his tone a slight bit deeper than someone of his age should have.
"Eden." Said John, shyly.
"I came from Earth." Said Justin.
"Roof." George supplied.
"Really?" John asked, a smile stretching across his face, "what was roof like? My mommy told me it was tough there, but real pretty at night."
"Well, I spent most of my time outside during the day." He tapped his biceps, "my foster father wanted a home full of football players, see. So during the day, we played football, during the night, we ate and we slept."
"So… You never saw Roof's roof?" John asked.
"Oh no, I did. The green neb… Neb… Nebular, behind the rings? It looks real cool."
"I was raised in New York." Justin mentioned, picking at his food as he listened to George and John.
"What was that like?" George asked.
"Lonely. My dad died during the Second Contact War, and my mom gave me to an orphanage. When Professor Burga came to find me, I accepted right away." He said, "but I'll never forget my first view of the city. Have either of you heard of the space scraper?" Justin received two shaking heads, "well, some guy told one of the builder guys that it would be cool to build a building so big, so tall, that it could be seen from orbit. So they did, and now we've got the space scraper."
"That's so cool!" Said John, gleefully, as he too ate his food.
"What was Eden like, John?" George prodded.
"Yeah, I heard that it was untouched by the Mercnary and the Second Contact wars!" Justin mentioned.
"It was kind of boring, actually." John mentioned, "the moon was boring, my house was boring… The only cool thing was Mister Williams."
"Who's Mister Williams?"
"He's a marine!" John said proudly, "he fighted during the mercenary wars -"
"Mercnary." Justin corrected.
"Mercnary wars, and he saw some of the SIGMA guys in action!"
"Whoa, what are they like?"
"I don't remember…" John looked down in shame.
"Aw, it's okay." Said Justin, "according to mis - Commander Ducard, we'll be those guys, in a few years!"
"That'll be so cool…" George mentioned.
The three continued idle chatter for several minutes, eventually the conversation landed upon what Justin called his 'stupid Human trick'. Justin could curl his tongue, and George was able to cross both of his eyes in opposing directions. The conversation came to John, who shrugged.
"I... Don't really have one." The kid said.
"Oh, bologna!" Justin jeered, "you've got to be able to to something!"
"Yeah, come on, what's your secret?" George prodded, with a smile on his face.
"Well..." John shuffled his feet and stared at his empty lunch tray, "I know some magic tricks..."
"Can you show us?" Justin asked eagerly.
"Sure." Said John.
It was always an effort for the child, ever since he'd learned Magic, to summon it. It always felt like he was running really fast, it felt great while he was doing it, but when he was done, it was exhausting. He squinted his eyes tight as he concentrated, feeling in his mind for the 'spark' that always brought forth the feeling of power his Magic provided. Several seconds of nothing, and as Justin was preparing a comment, John found the spark. Instantly his body was enveloped in a violet aura, and after a small groan of effort, the tray in front of John began floating in the air, enveloped by a violet field.
"Whoa!" Said a wide-eyed Justin.
"That's so cool..." George marveled, blinking at the tray, which slowly floated back to the ground.
John smiled slowly, but he was physically exhausted, worse than any run he'd had to do with Commander Ducard.
"EVERYONE UP!" The trio heard suddenly. Eighty young heads started looking around for the garbled, electronic voice's source, but the voice didn't give them the chance, "WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!" It bellowed, "GET UP! WE'VE ONLY GOT TEN HOURS LEFT IN THE DAY, WE'VE GOT TO GET YOU WORKING RIGHT NOW! GIVE ME FIFTY!" John, Justin, and George all hesitated for only a moment, before they - and the seventy seven other children - obeyed the unseen voice and began pumping out push-ups, right there in the middle of the mess hall.
Several minutes later, when the kids' arms felt like jelly, and their legs were barely able to haul themselves back to their feet, they were furtherly admonished by Ducard, who slammed through the mess hall's entrance, angrier than ever.
"What are you doing!?" He roared angrily, "you're just going to bend over and accept orders from an unknown, synthesized voice?! How do you know that wasn't an enemy, and he wasn't trying to get you all low to the ground so you could inhale a poison he'd lathered all over the floors?!" He demanded, "I want everyone up and out of here, in formation, and ready to work in thirty seconds!" No one moved,"COME ON!" He roared.
The rest of the day was spent in rigorous exercise. What time wasn't spent running, working out, or performing calisthenics, was spent under the ever-becoming-louder voice of their instructor. Ducard had all but assured them that they would only ever be working harder and harder as time went on. He assured them that they would - within the year - be working on hand-to-hand battles, and within the month would be working on their marksmanship skills. He assured them that ranged and melee weapons would become so ingrained on their minds that they would feel utterly naked without them, when they were finished.
For hours, until the moon was high in the sky, John, Justin, and George, as well as the dozens of other children in Delta Company, worked harder and harder than the hour previously. No one kept their lunches or their dinners down, and by the time they all returned to their barracks, it only took seconds for them all to fall into a deep, exhausted, and dreamless sleep. But sleep would not provide them the respite they would have begged for, because only a few hours later, Ducard came roaring into the barracks, ordering everyone up out of their beds.
It took John only a few hours into his third day to realize that this would never become easy, but each time he felt near total exhaustion, he remembered his mission: Make those who killed his mother, pay,dearly.
"Well… They're doing better than I expected… Eh?" Came the deep, but light voice of Christopher McGraw, as he stood in Sparta's main headquarters, and surveyed Delta Company's barracks.
All eighty of the children were up and moving in minutes, and when the cameras shifted in order to follow them, he saw that it only took forty five seconds for them to line up in formation, and force their exhausted, young bodies to begin the run.
"I don't know… McGraw…" Said the female next to him, Doctor Evelyn Mossman; Mossman was staring at one individual in particular, one that had also caught McGraw's eye, but not for the same reasons.
"Mossman, they'll be fine." He assured her, running his right hand through his shoulder-length, very unkempt, dark brown hair. His left, cybernetic hand, was currently gripping a similarly cybernetic cane-like object, which was securely dug into the ground. "Look at them, yesterday they had less time to sleep, and yet today they're already getting up and moving faster. This is only seeing to prove my theories." He said, a wide grin on his face.
"But look, half of them are already stumbling up. How long do you think they can keep this up?" She demanded; Mossman was the most adamant scientist against McGraw's program, but the only reason she wasn't publicly against it, was because her secrecy agreement was funneling tens of thousands of dollars into her bank accounts, per month.
"When their bodies are matured, when they get used to it." He said, "the Spartans went through the same -"
"Don't you bring up those damned Spartans again!" Mossman threatened, "That was over two thousand years ago, when a man your age would be considered a senior citizen!"
"Hey! I'm barley thirty!" Chris defended, "Besides, a man my age, back then, would have already seen ten wars and a million gallons of blood spilled." he countered, "at least now we only see a few gallons spilled… A minute." He shrugged. "So let's go ahead and address why you're here. I know for a fact that you don't give a single shit about the other six hundred eleven, not like I do -"
"You don't care about any of them!"
"Oh contraire." Said McGraw, looking at Mossman, who was a good six inches shorter than him. Behind his dark blue eyes were thoughts aplenty, and emotions overflowing. Confidence, creativeness, wisdom, intelligence, all wrestled behind a wall of millions of scientific, social, political, economic, and technologic ideas and theories, and it all washed together to form an air of supreme and utter self-confidence. "These kids need some kind of focal point. Something, besides themselves, to keep that Human element."
"And, what? You expect the man who can't become attached to things, to be that focal point?"
McGraw smiled in response.
"It won't work, you know. Your Spartans, I'll have you know, fucked each other for pleasure, they only 'handled' their wives to produce offspring. Want to know what kind of messed up lifestyle makes men do that?" Mossman sounded slightly proud of her argument.
"A screwed up hierarchy." Said Chris, "and aside from that, these kids aren't SPARTANS, they're SIGMAs."
"Two different Canons?" McGraw smiled.
"What can you do?" She asked.
"A lot of stuff, apparently." He looked back at the vid-screens, "I can make a particle beam that literally annihilates anything it touches, at the speed of light. I can make an augmentation process which essentially turns those little kids you see right there, into indestructible gods. I can form an image of the scientific arm of the Human race that our numerous wars and our rebellion haven't managed to shatter. And I can be a focal point for these children to maintain their Humanity."
"You're just one man." Mossman stated, bull-headedly, as she ran her left hand through her auburn hair, before she put it back in its tight bun.
"Look at what brought you here." McGraw pointed to the screen that was focusing on John S2-15, "he'll be just 'one man', and when this program is done with him, this 'one man' will be strong enough to take down an entire military base by himself." He paused, "or, hell, maybe even a large military base, the Ones did it during the SCW." He spread his arms, indicating all of the vid screens, "imagine what six hundred twelve of these just one men, all working together, can do."
"I shudder to do just that…" Mossman muttered ominously, before she left the room with a huff.
"Now entering: Hoom'Serol." Said the deep, baritone voice of the air-plane's pilot, "as we make preparations for our landing, please join us in remembrance of just how we got to where we stand today." A pause, and the video screens on the backs of each of the seats all flickered to life. The passengers of the airplane knew the drill, and those that were interested hooked their ear-phones into the screens, while those that weren't simply switched the screens off and went back to their books, their phones, or other such devices and activities.
The video opened up with a picture of the cosmos, in all their glory. Lit bright by the billions upon billions of stars that enveloped them. A deep, baritone, and ever so slightly flanged voice began speaking.
"In the vastness of Space, there lay billions of stars. Orbiting these billions stars, lay countless more planets, asteroids, and other such celestial bodies. Only two of these are known to have life. Saltor, our home, and Hoomanisire, the planet Cleansed by the Holy Light of the gifts left behind by our gods, for us to use. Saltor was the first planet, in all of the Universe, to breed life. From dust came us, the Saltorians. The Hoomanisire, our God, found us, living in caves, fighting everything - the angriest Snipe, the mightiest Blor, the stealthiest Shawk, and even Saltor itself - just to survive. The Hoomanisire's first gift came to us in the form of sentience, the ability to think beyond basic instinct." The picture shifted from the picture of the cosmos, to a video of the system's primary planet, taken from the homeworld's largest space-station, the 'Cosmos Instinct'.
The planet's seas were a clear blue, with a slight hint of green. The continents - of which there were nine - on the planet were all teeming with balances between the bright green of nature, and the golden light of society. The light gray clouds blanketed some sections of the planet, and the iconic image of the homeworld that was burned into every member of its child-species' mind, was formed.
The video cut to an image of a prehistoric Saltorian, he stood tall in his tattered, beige-gray clothes. Held high, in the triumphant lizard-being's four-clawed hand was a stone sword; the man's mouth was open wide in a victorious roar, his eyes gleamed with pride. In front of him was a horde of other, similarly armed Saltorians, and behind him were all manors of Saltor's ancient predatory animals, and Saltor's wrath itself was manifested in the form of an enormous, raging inferno of a forest fire.
"With this tool, we fought back against the forces of Saltor, and using weapons - bone, rock, and wood - we began to win. Groups formed, and thus came the Hoomanisire's second gift, Society. But the Hoomanisire is nothing if not wise, we are an innately violent race, upon gifting us with Society, the Hoomanisire gifted us with Battle, War, and Conquest, all at once. Millennia passed, as we fought the elements and ourselves, before Hoomanisire himself came to save his children from the brink of annihilation."
The prehistoric Saltorian picture was now replaced by a new, ancient painting. Standing in the center of an enormous ring of bowing, robed Saltorians, and bathed in a holy silver light, were the Gods of the Saltorians, the Hoomanisire. Their flawless, pale white skin contrasted heavily with the dark emerald scales of their creations, their dark brown hair and kind, round eyes stood in stark opposition to the hairless heads of the Saltorians, and the diamond eyes and snake-like slits of their irises. The very presence of the Holy One in the middle of the ring of worshiping Saltorians seemed to scream with holiness.
"The Hoomanisirian age, the days in which we lived alongside the Hoomanisire, as children would live alongside their parents. Scriptures, prophets, societies, arts, legends, the Hoomanisirian age gave us everything. The Hoomanisire himself gave us everything, but his first gifts were the ones we simply couldn't resist, we still cannot."
The video cut to black for several seconds, before a new image was shown. This one had the harsh reds and oranges of War, the Saltorians - now clad in ancient armors, and armed with steel weaponry - were clashing on the battlefields. Corpses were strewn about the picture, with bloody gashes torn into them and horribly efficient ancient weaponry sticking straight out of them.
"We fought each other still, slaughtering ourselves with the weapons and gifts the Hoomanisire gave us, in the veil assumption that we would gain his favor. How wrong we were."
Another fade to black, before another ghastly image appeared. This one of enormous fire-lances, and horrible weapons being unleashed upon the planet. Saltorians were running in fear of the wrath of the Hoomanisire, their gods, as their planet, their homes, and their families were all torn apart, the old gifts and the most ancient of temples being burnt to cinders in the wake of the Hoomanisirian Fire.
"The Hoomanisire's next gift would be the Great Cleansing, and the Departure. The Hoomanisirian age ended with the departure of Hoomanisire himself. He cleansed Saltor of all of its sins, showing us that War, Battle, Death and Destruction would only serve to further lose his favor. The Dark Age came after the Hoomanisirian age, when the skies were filled, and the sun itself was blotted out by the unclaimed souls of those cleansed by Hoomanisire before he left.
"Scared, helpless, the children of the Hoomanisire did all they could to show Hoomanisire that they were worthy of his return. But soon, differing ideals clashed, and very soon, our world was enveloped in a series of never-ending wars. One empire would rise, only to be taken out by another, using the steel-forging gifts and arrow-firing techniques of the Hoomanisire."
More pictures depicting wars, death, famine, disease and pestilence. They seemed not to stop, and all of them screamed of hopelessness and despair. But then the video cut to a modern-day footage of a Saltorian Battlevector, standing proud in his fatigues, his energy-lance held tightly, professionally, and reverently in his arms. The man's mere image reeked of honor, experience, and loyalty. The look in his golden eyes screamed of battle experience, and dedication to world peace. His uniform, the curvy-leaf like lines of blending green, tan, and dark green colors screamed of power, and the vest and armor underneath it roared of professionalism.
"The Hoomanisire felt that no one was worthy of his blessing, but then he found the BattleVectors, dutifully worshiping the Hoomanisire's memory in the Temple of the Hoomanisire, on the continent Innsua, named after the holy heaven Hoomanisire went back to after departing us. The Hoomanisire saw the BattleVectors united under one simple desire, to regain the favor of our Gods. And regain we did, in the form of the Hoomanisire's next gift: Ships, Cannons, Holy Armor, and Sea-Travelers."
Back to the ancient pictures, as ancient BattleVectors, garbed in steel armor instead of energy and bullet resistant clothing, and armed with blades and bows, stormed the beaches and the continents of Saltor, looking to oust the evil, war-seeking empires of times ancient past.
"Using these gifts, and studying them to learn how we can improve upon them - as the Hoomanisire taught us - the BattleVectors sailed forth to all the Saltorian Continents, to begin the Age of Irony. We fought each other - an act that the Hoomanisire had deemed unfavorable - to gain the favor of the Hoomanisire. Centuries passed, millennia, all consumed by war, but the BattleVectors were successful. After wars few thought would end, the BattleVectors united Saltor under the Saltorian Empire's flag."
More pictures of BattleVectors committing war came. Superimposed beneath these images was the time-honored image of the Saltorian BattleVectors' symbol, the symbol of the most powerful and respected aerial animal on Saltor itself, the Flizs. The Flizs had strength enough to bite straight through the skin of any Snipe, and could seriously injure a Saltorian with its talons, yet it only ever sought conflict when hunting, or when defending itself.
"For millennia after, Wars would continue, but the BattleVectors - utilizing the gifts the Hoomanisire would bestow upon them with each passing generation - would end the wars before they could envelop us as the Irony Wars had. Then, the Hoomanisire - seeing how devoted to gaining his favor, we were - bestowed upon us his next gift: Technology. The very gift that came from the depths of the Temple of the Hoomanisire.
"Guns, gunpowder, electricity, fire, cars, gasoline, so many inventions and creations, all fueled by the Hoomanisire's gift of Technology. Tens of millennia passed, as we continued to advance ourselves. Airplanes, energy lances, missiles, they all came to us with time, but culminated in the most recent gifts of the Hoomanisire: Space."
There was a new image of the Void, now with Saltorians looking to it from their home planet.
"The Hoomanisire taught us, through Technologies such as the airplane, that Saltor's air itself was now ours. Planes could take us to the outermost reaches of Saltor's atmosphere, and the forbidden fruit of Space tempted us, and Hoomanisire rewarded us by allowing to taste the fruit. Space Shuttles, Rocket ships, Satellites, they all allowed us to travel to our Moon, Helesia, and then to the fourth planet from our Sun; the planet named after our gods, Planet Hoomanisire. We came, we saw, and we wanted it." The image was now of Hoomanisire, its atmosphere and its surface once being an ugly red, but then shifting into beautiful blues and greens, slowly being blessed with the golds of technology and society. "But, we expected that the planet would shelter us as Saltor had, for so long. We were wrong, upon removing our protective shells, our people withered and died under the airless skies of Hoomanisire. That culminated in his second most recent gift, the Great Cleansers. We, as the Hoomanisire had taught us, took what was ours, and shaped it into something we could use. We cleansed the planet, and made it into our own."
The video faded to black, and then a new picture of battle appeared. This one depicted lines of infantry, savagely rushing the defenders of the Cities, their guns, their cannons, and their vehicles all brutally destroying the sword-wielding defenders, who had yet to be blessed by the gift of gunpowder.
"But a single planet could not stop our single most innate desire: To War. The Hoomanisirian Colonial Rebellion was costly, but not as costly as Hoomanisire's second Great Punishment: The Dreg War."
Images of horrible insect-like aliens besieging the Saltorian Empire's worlds filled the screen. Burning cities, slaughtering men women and children, and even the animals of Saltor, all appeared and cut away quickly, like the beating of a heart, to increase the tension of the video. The multiple-eyed, multicolored insectoid Dregs were painted in evil lights, with their horrid reds and dark oranges clouding out the bright blues and peaceful greens of the Saltorian species.
"Two thousand years ago, the Dregs found us on Saltor, they found us on Hoomanisire, and they showed us what would happen to those who lost the favor of the Gods. For centuries, the Dregs fought us, testing our conviction. We fought back, using everything the Hoomanisire had taught us; missiles, guns, energy-lances, cannons, ships, vehicles, planes, rocket ships, they were all used to fight against the Dregs, but weren't enough. We fought with everything, but still we lost more than we won. The Hoomanisire, though, he saw our resolve, felt our conviction, and he answered with his last, most recent gift: Fission."
A new image, as iconic as Saltor itself, exploded onto the display. An enormous, city-enveloping cloud in the shape of a fiery mushroom.
"We split the atom, we found the Wrath of the Hoomanisire. We used it, everywhere the Dregs came, we burned them with the Hoomanisire's Wrath given physical shape: The Nuclear Bomb. Mere decades passed, as we made hundreds, thousands of bombs, and after we burned them off of Saltor, we moved to Hoomanisire. It took us centuries, but we too burned the Dregs from Saltor, leaving only a single queen with which we keep now, as a reminder of our strength when united." Now the images were of the Saltorians bombing the Dregs and winning against them. Videos even, of atomic detonations and nuclear destruction, millions of Dregs falling, be it to Saltorian Guns of Atomic Weaponry. "After spending a century, cleansing our planets from the Dreg War, we sank back into our old roots, with wars upon ourselves raging - though now more violent than ever, with the Nuclear Bombs entering play. But now, the BattleVectors had enough."
Now, the images and videos were of modern BattleVectors, forcibly annexing rebellious, war-seeking states and cities under their flag. The honorable, albeit brutal view of the warriors were painted much larger than the civilians they were saving from the tyrannical governments.
"They refused to see what the Hoomanisire would deliver us when next we lost his favor, so the second Irony War began, as they conquered everything, and united us all under the Praetorian of the BattleVectors. For decades now, two thousand two hundred and nine years after the beginning of the Age of Technology, the BattleVectors have been maintaining peace, through means of superior firepower. The BattleVectors are the only ones with access to the Nuclear Arsenal, they alone can cleanse Saltor and Hoomanisire entirely, and begin again, should they see fit."
Finally, and gradually, the images and videos became peaceful things, like beaches, airplanes, soldiers reuniting with their families, and children playing and laughing.
"The Hoomanisire has been quiet, ever since the Second Irony War ended, mere years ago. The Saltorians, the children of the Hoomanisire, eagerly await his next gift... Or his next punishment."
Selaan Sal'Fiil sighed, as the video was cut off as the plane landed. It was one of the most recent editions of 'A Brief History of the Saltorians', a documentary detailing the history of the Saltorian Race. He recognized it because it was commonly used as interplanetary entertainment, and apparently as airline entertainment on Hoomanisire. Selaan could hear the engines of the airplane whine down, as the plane descended back to the Hoomanisirian ground. He brought a clawed hand, and rubbed his scales with it, he suffered from great jet-lag, and wanted nothing more than to exit the offending machine and get to where he was needed. His hand did little help, as it rubbed along his elongated, reptilian face, but it did enough that he could notice.
Gods... Thought Selaan, If only my mates were here with me.
He could remember the looks on his eight mates' faces, when he said he had been called away to Hoomanisire for an emergency discovery. They had demanded what would call away a scientist for such a long journey, as the simple trip from Saltor to Hoomanisire took upwards of four months, and another four coming back. But alas, he had to brave the Journey, Praetorian Heif Hoom'Sine had urged he go, investigate the claims. Selaan could understand why he had to go, no one claimed they found gifts from the Hoomanisire unless they were legitimate... Or if they were touched in the head, but Hoomanisirian BattleVectors had investigated the claims themselves, and had advised they bring a Great Studier to help them, thus, Selaan getting a two-way ticket to Hoomanisire.
Selaan felt the plane touch ground, and several minutes after it stopped moving, he was allowed out of the plane, and to enter the airport. Hoomanisirian airports were known to be very strict on security, with the wars going on on Saltor, very few of the Hoomanisirian BattleVectors wanted it to spill onto Hoomanisire, so they used the latest in security technology to make sure the Saltorians entering and exiting planes were legitimate, and not seditious rebels, or war-instigators. It took Selaan upwards of a Saltor Hour to make it through the airport, and upon exiting - his luggage slung over his eight-foot tall frame - he saw a sign that would frighten any wrongdoer, and would fill with the greatest sense of pride, any soldier or righteous civilian.
Three BattleVectors, in their signature woodland combat-camouflage uniforms, with vests showing proudly over their hidden armor plating, stood to the left of the main exit. Two had energy lances in hand, the club-like weapons were as elegant as they looked brutal. Their energy cells were inserted at the back end of the rifle, and at full charge, it gave them six hundred five-second burst shots of laser fire. The five second fire limit was so the weapon wouldn't overheat and disintegrate on the soldier. Only BattleVectors could wield the mighty weapons, and thus, their mere presence screamed of legitimacy to Selaan. The third BattleVector, in the middle of the pack, had a sign in his hand, with Selaan's name written upon it.
"I have found you!" Selaan called, his right hand raised, as he strode over to the BattleVectors. He smoothed out his beige shirt, and patted a wrinkle out of his dark blue pants, one had to look presentable in front of BattleVectors, they deserved the best, for everything they went through, to keep the Cities safe from War.
"And I, you." Said the BattleVector in the center, he lowered his sign. "Selaan Sal'Fiil?"
"Yes, Sir." Said Selaan, with a slight bow of his scaly head.
The BattleVector's eyes were hidden behind the visor of his helmet, but Selaan guessed they were looking into his own dark brown eyes, searching for any sign of deceit or ill-will. A few seconds of silence passed before the BattleVector smiled broadly, revealing his rows of sharp, meat-shredding teeth.
"Welcome to Hoomanisire, Studier Fiil!" The man shouted gleefully, no doubt thankful that he didn't have to take Selaan's life. "Come, we have a great deal to speak of." He said, motioning for Selaan to follow him to their military transport vehicle.
The trip from the airport to the excavation site took hours. Selaan and the Battlevectors spoke of many things, primarily the warfronts on Saltor, and the goings-on on the planet. The News got many things right, but nothing beat personal experience. Selaan explained to the best of his ability, after all, he lived on Innsua, and therefor knew little of the actual battles, aside from what everyone else knew: The BattleVectors were an unstoppable force, against the immovable object that was the Saltorian instinct for War. Eventually the six-wheeled vehicle settled down, and Selaan was allowed some peace to watch the sky of Hoomanisire pass them by.
Unlike Saltor, which had a slight gray tinge to its sky, that Studiers like Selaan had deduced was due to an ancient asteroid impact, which left such dust in the atmosphere that, even now, so many thousands of years later, still affected the sky, Hoomanisire's sky was a bright, bright blue. It was such a pure blue that the white of the solar system's sun only seemed to make it even more beautiful. The passing forests, towns, villages and cities only served to continue to build up the image of the 'Beautiful Colony-world', that Hoomanisire's settlers had spent centuries building, post-Dreg War. The greens and browns mixed perfectly with the beautiful blue of the sky, and the whites of the clouds.
Finally, the journey ended, and Selaan got his first true opportunity to stretch his legs, which felt sorely under used, after so long sitting and waiting. What greeted Selaan's eyes was a sight worth seeing, he saw an enormous dig site, which extended deep into an enormous Sal-made canyon. There were workers lining the inclines, which led up and down the canyon, but at its deepest point, Selaan saw something truly wonderful, truly beautiful, even. He saw steel.
But this wasn't the steel Saltorians used to make their machinery, and their weapons and other such devices. This was Hoomanisirian Steel, the very same metals that the Temple of the Hoomanisire was made from. Their distinctive blue-gray sheen was what convinced Selaan that this was no hoax. It was the real thing, and by Gods - literally! - it would be the greatest technological discovery since Fossil Fuels.
"Is that... Truly?" Asked Selaan, in a state of pure awe.
"It is." Said the BattleVector, "and we've just -" his voice coincided with a large, loud, bright flash of thermite "- gained entrance." A second later, and a mass of bodies was running for the newly made entrance. BattleVectors and Colonial Marines quickly surged forth, and pushed the excavators back, forcing them to get back to their jobs.
"And you want me to be the first to enter the holy grounds?" Selaan asked, disbelievingly.
The BattleVector nodded, his uniform seeming to glow from the gratitude Selaan felt for it and its wearer. "Shall we enter now? Or would you like to set your things -"
"Now!" Selaan could still remember the first time he set foot in the Temple of the Hoomanisire, the tingling feeling in his scales, the warm feeling in his blood, and the warmth that had radiated into his ceremonial robes. "Gods, now! Please!"
The BattleVector smiled warmly, "follow me, Studier." He bade calmly, before he began his trek down the circling inclines.
The trip down to the center of the canyon had stretched out to infinity, for the bristling Studier. He could not comprehend that he was going to be the first Saltorian to step foot upon a new Temple of the Hoomanisire! It was incomprehensible, it was unbelievable! And yet, here he was, stepping onto the ladder and lowering himself into the temple.
Upon setting down on the dark, Hoomanisirian Steel ground, Selaan looked around. He clicked on his flashlight, and was greeted by the sole object in the room that cemented everything he'd thought in the last hour, he was in a new Temple for the Hoomanisire, and it was the greatest discovery for their religion, since the temple upon Saltor.
It was an enormous, disk-shaped object, stretching dozens of meters across the floor. There were all sorts of screens, terminals, and objects surrounding its dusty, silver surface, but Selaan could not help but let his mind wander, wondering if it was a transporter, or perhaps a communicator. There was an enormous object, like a chandelier, looming above it, only a few dozen meters from the thermite-carved hole they had dug. It had several dozen spire-like objects, all pointed at one spot: The disk. Selaan could not help but wonder if it was some sort of weapon, but the terminals and benches surrounding them made him second guess himself.
"Studier Fiil! Please move from the ladder!" Came the shout from the BattleVector, Selaan apologized and did just that.
I truly am here... Thought Selaan, as he moved about to explore the room, A second temple of the Hoomanisire. His gaze, his face, and even his mind, were all filled with a sense of pure awe.
How was that? Eh?
Now, for those of you wondering how I'll be releasing this, my Beta and I spoke on this for a very long time. Eventually we came to the conclusion that the content would benefit from having a bi-weekly release schedule.
In layman's terms, I'll be releasing one chapter every other week.
The next chapter can be expected (Drumroll): Sunday, February 9th.
Finally, the more observant of you will very soon notice the ''REVISED' tags popping up on the TFW Chapters.
I did a binge-reading quest the other day and... Well, I thought I could do better.
So I'm running through the TFW Chapters and am revising them, putting a spit-shine on the existing content, updating it to fit my Canon, Grammar/Spelling/English mistakes, and fixing the continuity errors that popped up.
These changes are not required to continue reading TSW, this is primarily for new reader attracted to TFW by this story, and vice-versa.
'Till then, folks, if you're looking for updates, check out my profile! I'm almost always dropping updates as to what's going on when, where, and how it relates to my stories.
And if you liked the chapter, leave a review! I actually do read every single one (sometimes more than once) and I try to respond to every one I find.
Thanks for reading, folks!