Okay, I won't bother trying to excuse myself. I'll just let you know that I've had serious problems with the latter portions of this chapter. I can't seem to make them flow like I used to be able to, and its bugging me to no end.
I can only offer my apologies, and the one small glimmer of hope that my creativity bits seem to be hitting me in waves lately, so I've decided to go with those as I can. This has resulted in me opening up another story and paying back a friend of mine with a requested tale. With luck, my creativity will soon flux back here, and I can get back to turning out chapters every three days like I used to be able to, rather than every three weeks (glares at himself)
At any rate, I tried to answer your questions, and if I've failed or messed something up, please let me know. Once again, I want everyone to know that you have my sincerest thanks for taking the time to read the dregs that I turn out, and my gratitude goes out to you.
Lawyers: see previous chapters of disclaimers, I grow weary of having to always write these up.
Tarath stared down at the device in front of him. It was tubular, though it tapered down at the ends, black in color, and about three feet long by one foot around. He saw a scarcely noticeable seam around the front edge of it, and reached down. He carefully pried it open, and saw that there was a small keyboard there, Precursian script telling him that they were numbers. He nodded to himself. Just as he thought. But he didn't tell anyone what it was… no need to get their hopes up just yet. The thing had been sitting out here for the better part of ten thousand years, and there was no guarantee that it was still going to even turn on, let alone be capable of proper arming sequence.
Scarcely daring to breathe, the Reaver pressed a few key buttons. There was nothing at first, and then it slowly turned itself on, a small data screen on the right end of the panel opening up and flashing to life. A line of commands popped up, demanding authorization and his identity.
He extended his right hand, and the machine scanned it, then took a measure of his eye. Blanks then appeared, showing a twelve digit long alpha numeric code. Tarath thought back for a moment, trying to remember what each one corresponded too.
"What is it?" Sig asked, coming up behind him.
Tarath shot a hand backwards, a single finger extended in a harsh gesture of silence. He racked his brain a little bit more, and then it all started coming to him. Nodding to himself, the Reaver quickly entered the proper code. The panel flashed green, and then another popped up, which he again entered, and then a third.
Finally, it beeped, and the screen flashed gold. Those who could understand the Precursian characters that flashed next gulped.
Explosive material armed. Solar Flare active and ready for detonation sequence.
"Tarath," Jak spoke, his voice scarcely above a whisper, "what the hell is that thing?"
"A bomb… a very big bomb," The Precursor quickly shut it down and picked it up. "I'm amazed that it works after all these years. The engineers and scientists of our people certainly knew how to build things, I will give them that." He paused and looked around at those gathered before him. Valthos' expression was unreadable behind his mask, and most of the others seemed tired. Jak was as well, but his wife… Tarath actually shuddered at the look in her eyes, the blind, unadulterated hate that seemed to be pulsing through her at the moment.
He had seen her before, and it looked so… alien upon her face. He had a feeling though, that it would make his next request all the easier.
"Jak, Keira," he spoke, "I'm going to need you two to come with me. This device here has just changed our odds of winning this little war."
"What do you mean?" the dark Channeler asked, cocking his head to the side and staring at the Reaver intently.
"First, we need to head to your city, and gather up that A.I. you told me about. Vin, right?" Tarath said, waiting till he got an affirmative nod. "Then, we're going to give my little brother a very nasty surprise."
"Brother?" he faintly heard Seem say. Then her eyes lit up with a sudden and terrible understanding. As before, when she had learned of Kerrog's light oriented nature, the Channeler looked utterly stunned.
"Adoptive." The Reaver said, and then walked out, the Solar Flare tucked safely under one arm.
Jak and Keira moved to follow, and then, surprisingly, so did Valthos.
"What are you doing?" Keira asked as she turned and looked at the Wastelander King.
"Taking the fight to the enemy," the masked elf growled. "These… Fallen Ones, or whatever the hell they are, just showed up, killed hundreds of my people, destroyed my city, and have left us to the mercy of the desert. I can't let that go unanswered."
"You saw how effective your weapons were against them, Valthos," Jak said, shaking his head. "Throwing more people into a meat grinder isn't going to help you."
"I'm going, not my people," he turned to Sig. "You're in charge until I get back, Sig."
"Let him come," Tarath said. "Much as it pains me to involve you any more than you already are, we are going to need all the firepower we can get."
It did not take very long to return to Haven City. Jak and Ashelin were in a furious discussion.
"So Samos has been captured, half of Spargus reduced to slag, and now you're telling me that our enemy has everything they need to start a terraforming procedure that will ultimately leave this planet devoid of life?" The Governess muttered, resting her hands against her forehead. She turned to Onin, who was in her meditative stance. "And you, you sent Samos out there! Didn't you see what was going to happen?"
Onin opened an unseeing eye, and a flash of symbols appeared before her.
"The ways of the future are clouded," Pecker said, tapping his feathers together. "Not everything is seeable, especially in this time of chaos. Onin regrets that she was unable to foresee this complication, but ultimately, it is possibly for the greater good."
"How so?" Keira growled. "My father's in the hands of a psychopathic egomaniac and a Precursor who can't seem to see the consequences of his actions. For all we know they could be torturing him while we stand around discussing this like politicians."
"They aren't, I assure you," Tarath turned and crossed his arms over his chest. The Reaver was in his Ottsel form, floating a few feet off the ground. "Kerrog has forgotten much in his time away from here, but his honor is not one of those things. He will not allow a prisoner of war to be harmed. Doubtless, though, he intends to try and get information from your father, and perhaps use him as a bargaining chip to keep you from interfering in the upcoming battle, or keep us from trying to utilize some kind of anti-orbital defense to smash the Day Star out of the sky."
"He thinks we're that great of a threat?" Jak muttered under his breath.
He has seen us in action before, heard of our exploits from his Metal Heads and Death Bots. I think that he realizes we are capable of shifting the battle away from his favor. Kage wrapped his wings tightly around himself like a cloak as he answered Jak silently.
I suppose that you're right," Jak replied
"I'll ready the home guard," Ashelin said. "Our manufacturing facilities are still in the process of being converted back, but we've still got tanks, and gunships. If it comes down to a ground battle…"
"No, you need to stay out of the conflicts if you can possibly help it." Tarath shook his head. "This is not your battle."
"Not our battle?" Ashelin glared daggers at him. "Look, Praetor, your little brother's lackeys have come to us, they have attacked us, destroyed our home, and slaughtered our people." She walked towards the black armored soldier. "So don't try and give me some line about it not being our fight. It's been our fight for generations, ever since you dragged us into this war!"
"Your resentment and anger are not misplaced," Tarath said to her. "But all you will be doing is throwing away the lives of more of your soldiers…" He paused.
"I hate to say it, Ash, but he's right," Jak looked over to his cousin. "We saw how effective our weapons were against them at Spargus. You'd probably need a tank round to crack that armor."
"Our metatron armor shells are designed to withstand direct assaults from Channeling attacks, as well. Your Eco blasters won't have much of an effect on us… they're not optimized for dealing with a Precursor."
"What do you mean?" Torn said, acting a little defensive as he clutched at his rifle.
"When I first helped Mar to learn how to construct Eco based weaponry, it was built like our own weapons. You may have noticed some of the old defensive turrets still up in the lower sections of the city," he noticed that Keira nodded her head. "Ever see them shoot anything?" She again nodded.
"Metal Heads, but there was something different about the wounds…" she trailed off as Tarath nodded in a sagely manner.
"Smaller holes, right? But going in much deeper?" She nodded. "That's because the bolts are more focused, optimized for heavy armor penetration," he glanced around at the others. "Over the five hundred years since Mar founded this place, you've been fighting nothing but Metal Heads. Your weaponry and combat doctrines have evolved to match that threat. You've made your weapons fire bolts that are less coherent and concentrated, that spread their damage out. Ideal for dealing with hordes of Hora-quan charging at you, but it makes breaching a Metatron based defensive suit all but impossible without a massive sustained volume of fire." He looked back to Ashelin and shook his head again. "Prepare your city, and pass out as many heavy weapons as you can, but don't go looking for trouble. Let us lead the charge this time… you deserve that much."
Vin, still in his robotic body, imitated a coughing noise at that moment.
"Tarath and I have been discussing a plan, and I think that we've got one that would work. I'd need to check out the plans of the Day Star a little more before I promise anything, but we might still have a chance in this fight." He looked at Ashelin. "With your permission, Governess, I would like to go with them and see what I can do to help out."
"Go ahead," the Governess said.
Jak and Keira bowed, and quickly followed Tarath and Vin out through the door.
As they left, Ashelin collapsed back in her chair. Her head slumped against the table, and she felt the poundings of a migraine coming. Slowly, she stared up, at the T.V.s around the room, at the papers, files, and reports in front of her, at the tactical and strategic maps of Haven.
"Why does it always seem like the world is trying to collapse around us?" she muttered to herself.
Torn walked up and put a sympathetic hand on her shoulder. He didn't say anything, but he knew that this had to be trying. He vaguely wondered if Mar had felt like this when he had first come here.
Within one of the primary Precursor command centers, surrounded by countless data readouts and computers, Vin poured over the plans from the Day Star, overlapping the original transport design with that of the battle cruiser that it had been converted into. Around him, Jak and Keira were quietly discussing last minute ideas with Tarath while Daxter hung out over in one of the far corners of the room, staring at one of the television monitors that depicted the bustle and activity of the soldiers around the base. Everyone was preparing for the final confrontation; securing hover bikes, double checking weapons, combat routines, and in the case of Ariki and Xadec, plotting out further tactical and strategic assessments of their forces. Still others kept drilling the younger children for their first battle.
The A.I. continued to scan everything he could, searching for a weakness. Every machine, vehicle, aircraft, even organic beings, had their flaws and their drawbacks. It was the result of optimization. If you put more emphasis on a fighter's speed and maneuverability, you had to remove some of the armor or weapons to lighten it up, or slap on bigger engines, which meant more fuel consumption—and thus less time actually spent in battle—and a higher IR signature. Or you tried to mask that, and it added to the cost and complexity of the craft, and limited the number that you could field with the same amount of resources as compared to a less effective, but much cheaper, craft.
"Anything?" Keira asked.
"Well, if these plans are indeed accurate, then we're dealing with a very nasty possibility here," Vin brought a robotic hand up to his chin. "This bomb that we found uses an anti-matter/matter charge, and has enough of a kick to knock out most of Haven… but we're dealing with some serious metallurgy skills here," he gestured to the armored shell of the ship. "hitting it from the outside with this thing won't do much more than give it a need to rebuff the paintjob in the immediate area around the blast site, which means that we're going to have to set it off somewhere inside if we want to take this sucker out of the fight."
"What about the bridge?" Jak asked. "Take out command and control."
"Temporary setback at best," Vin shook his head. "They've got a backup, located far enough away from the main one that a single strike won't take it out. As far as I can tell, our best shot is to try and take out the primary reactor," he gestured to a region near the lower aft of the ship. "If we hit it with that bomb, we just might set off a chain reaction that will take the rest of the ship down. If nothing else, it'll take out about ninety percent of their power generation ability."
"What's the catch?" Keira growled and stepped up nearer to the plan. "You're making it sound too easy."
"Well, there are two catches, really," Vin looked over at her. "The first is distance. That thing's a million or so miles away from us right now, and obviously, a drop-ship's out of the question, as you'd get fragged before you even got close enough to see a docking bay, let alone land in one. That mean's we've got to do it via a warp gate, and the calcs for that won't be easy… If I'm off by so much as one one-thousandth of a percent in my algorithms, you'll pop out in the middle of a vacuum, or worse, some Fallen Precursor might wander along and wonder why in the name of the gods there's an arm sticking out of one of the walls."
"Anything else?" Jak inquired.
"Well, the region around the reactor is pretty heavily armored, so a proximity detonation won't do. You're going to have to actually get the bomb into the primary reactor area, and since the brig's located up here," he highlighted and area that was about half a kilometer away from the reactor, "that means that we're looking at a two team operation here, and I guarantee you, as soon as they figure out what's up, there are going to be soldiers pouring into those two regions."
"A small strike team can quickly move towards the brig," Tarath said, and then pointed to a corridor that ran down the side of the ship. "This is probably our best ingress and evac point. I'd recommend no more than thirty for the assault on the main reactor. If we move fast enough, we should be able to secure it before the crew becomes aware of what we're doing. Holding it becomes just a matter of time."
"How are you planning to detonate the flare?" Vin looked up at the Reaver and crossed his arms.
"Can't risk a remote detonation, there's a possibility the signal might not get through, and that they could disarm it. We'll use a timer." The Praetor said.
Vin cocked his robotic head to the side, but said nothing. "You tell Xadec that we're ready just as soon as he can scrounge up a team."
While Tarath went off to scrounge up volunteers for the mission, Jak headed over to where Daxter was. The usual, if somewhat dopey, smile was absent from his face. Jak could sense that something was not quite right.
"Hey, buddy, what's wrong?" he asked, sitting down next to the Ottsel and taking off his helmet.
"What makes you think that something's wrong?" Daxter turned and faced him, pasting a smile on his visage as he did so.
"Come on, Daxter. We've known each other since we were six years old. Don't try that with me. Something's eating at you, now what is it?" Jak picked him up and forced Daxter to look into his eyes.
"Everything… finding out what I really am, Samos getting caught by that psycho, Errol, and the knowledge that the world as we know it might be coming to an end, and looking back on everything that's happened." Daxter listed off with a sigh, spinning his hand around in the air for dramatic effect.
"I would have thought that you'd consider that just another day in the line of our work?" Jak made a weak chuckle. All it got him was a glare.
"Laugh it up why don't you," Daxter hissed, his eyes narrowing to slits.
The dark elf raised an eyebrow. The occasional glare was one thing, but he had never heard Daxter use that tone, let alone with his best friend.
"Oh you know exactly what I'm talking about. How many times have you seen me get insulted? How many times did that green faced freak smack me around, literally? How many times… how many times were you having to yank my butt, or tail, out of the line of fire? And now come to find out that I've got the power of the Precursors locked away in me. Hell, that I am a Precursor?" he clenched his tiny hands into fists, and it looked like fires were burning in his eyes. "I've made up my mind."
"What do you mean?" Jak said, he felt a pit forming in his stomach.
"I'm going to Tarath… I'm going to have him and the others do whatever it is they do to turn someone into a full fledged soldier. I'm sick of getting kicked around, sick of being pushed aside like I'm some kind of vermin."
"Daxter, you don't have to prove anything—"
"Damn right, I do." Daxter's voice was barely above a whisper. "I've got a lot to prove… I've got to prove that I'm not a coward, that I can hold my own in a fight, that I'm worth the air that I breathe!"
"You snuck into Praxis' highest security cell block to pull my tail out of the fire, buddy," Jak said in a soothing tone. "When we all got captured at the tomb, it was you that ran off to get Sig. You've proved your worth."
"To you maybe, to Keira, maybe, to Tess…" the fires in his eyes seemed to spread, becoming hotter, fiercer. "But what about Torn, what about Samos? How many times have I been insulted, degraded by them, as being nothing more than a useless speck of fur. Hell, my own father never thought I'd amount to anything more than the next village idiot."
Jak said nothing. This change was very unexpected. He didn't know what to make of it.
"I'm going to go to Tarath just as soon as he's done with his briefing. I probably won't be able to help you guys out on this, but when the time comes for the big showdown, I'm not going to be sitting on the sidelines anymore…" Daxter said, as he hopped down to the floor and made his way towards the exit.
Jak was left staring at him as he left, just blinking.
Kerrog growled in anger as he stormed through the door into the detention block. Nira was by his side, an occasional bolt of red energy coursing over her armored combat form. He rounded a corner, and found Errol standing in front of an active detention cell, the one that was holding Samos. A pair of Dragoons and another Archon were between the two men, their weapons out and glowing with power.
"What is going on here…" he let his voice trail off dangerously.
"Executor, the Channeler is attempting to violate our treaty codes," the Archon said, not talking his eyes off of Errol.
Kerrog said nothing, but turned his eyes towards the Ascended Channeler. Errol simply snarled and fingered his weapons. "You said you wanted information out of him, right? I want to have a go at him and get that information."
"We have drugs for that, and mental scanners," Kerrog said. "I have read the dossier on you during your time under Baron Praxis, and while I know you're skilled in…" he paused, fumbling for a word, "interrogation, your methods are not necessary in this instance."
"Then let me get started on what was promised to me. You owe me, Kerrog, we had a deal," the elf's voice was simmering with rage and anger.
"Yes, we do have a deal. You help us obtain the codes and data that we need, and once we had our experiments are underway, you get a chance at Jak. Those were our agreements, and our part of the bargain is not yet finished." He glared at Errol, his eyes narrowing behind his visor. "And further, he" he gestured towards Samos, "is not part of that bargain. Stand down immediately."
Errol's snarl sounded more bestial than elfish. Rage and hate burned in the mutated eyes of the former commander. Kerrog frowned behind his helmet and crossed his arms over his chest. He wasn't sure what to do with Errol. The dark Channeler was rapidly turning into a loose cannon that he was unable to control. He was beginning to regret having to keep him alive this long.
"I could kill you where you stand, you realize that?" Errol said.
Nira took a step forward, bringing her psion claws up to protect her leader. If her hulking, nine and a half foot tall figure intimidated Errol in any way, the former Commander did not let it show.
"Perhaps, perhaps not," Kerrog shrugged. "I am ultimately irrelevant. My cause is the important thing here. As for trying to kill me, bear in mind that while you are more powerful than any one individual on this ship, that you are outnumbered more than six thousand to one. Stiff odds, even for you, I would think."
"You think he cares about something like the odds?" Everyone turned to face Samos, who was chuckling at the situation. "Errol is controlled by his base urges. He's always been something of a beast. It's just that now he looks the part."
"Insolent dog!" Errol roared, Dark Eco crackling over his whole body.
"You see what I mean?" the old Sage chuckled. "He responds to things that he doesn't like in a manner similar to a playground bully who isn't getting his way." He tapped his feet against the floor of his holding cell a few times. "Is that really the kind of person you want assisting you in battle, Kerrog?" A bushy, white eyebrow was raised.
The Executor said nothing, but Errol was getting dangerously unstable. Kerrog looked over to the other Precursors, and nodded subtly. They got the message, and before Errol, blinded by his rage towards the old Sage, never saw it coming. He picked him up, and tossed him into another cell, quickly activating the force field inside of it.
"You can stay there till you've cooled off, Errol," Kerrog said, crossing his arms over his chest. Then he turned to Nira. "Come on, we have one final order of business to take care of, and then we can get underway."
Okay, once more, sorry for the delays, and if anyone has any helpful hints about how to break writer's block, please let me know.
Until next time folks, best of luck, and may life keep you safe and happy.