They had moved.
Quinze sat in the command chair of the Libra, looking at the large display screen that took up the entirety of the forward wall and trying to appear completely calm, despite the nervousness that filled him. The enemy warships had converged on one spot, surrounding the half-dozen smaller transports.
He glanced down at the personnel on the bridge, catching the eye of his analysis officer, a dour man named Gregorin. "Are we clear?" he asked.
Gregorin checked his monitor, then the main screen. "Hard to say," he said. "If we stay as we are, probably. If we fire up the main engines then we'll be lighting a torch that every ship in the solar system can see, though."
Quinze nodded, and sat back. He closed his eyes. It was all falling to pieces around him. The White Fang had once had a simple goal, and a simple method. The steps they needed to take; gaining the support of the Colonies, taking the Lunar Base, controlling the Libra; were all clear-cut. Back then, when they had started, it had all seemed so simple.
But now these newcomers had arrived, and changed everything. The Libra and its Mobile Dolls, supposedly the most powerful concentrated threat there was, were reduced to scurrying and hiding, afraid to even turn the engines on for fear of being noticed. It was humiliating.
He was torn over what to do. White Fang owed no loyalty to Earth; their purpose was to end the threat of those planet-bound powers forever; but could they – he – just hide while these newcomers devastated everything? They had already killed the Colonies. Every single one, destroyed ruthlessly without a moment's pause. Millions, billions, of lives ended.
"Sir, incoming contact!"
His eyes snapped open, instantly alert. "Where from? How did they find us?" he barked.
Gregorin shoved through the crew and took over the monitor. He stared at it for several seconds before turning to Quinze. "Approaching around the dark side of the moon, but slowly."
"The dark side?" said Quinze. "But that's-"
"Not from the enemy," cut in Gregorin. "Without firing up the power, we're down to minimal sensors, so we don't know anything else. If it is the enemy, we'll have to wait until they're well within firing range before we can even get an accurate fix on their location. That doesn't leave us much chance, sir."
"I know," said Quinze. "But if it's approaching from the other side, then it might not be them. Survivors from the Colonies, maybe? Is the recall still out on our Mobile Dolls?"
"No," said Gregorin. "If any survived, they won't lead the enemy to us. Could be the Colonies, though. Could also be a trap."
Quinze grimaced. "That's a risk we'll have to take. I'm not going to just sit here and let this Imperium destroy everything we've ever known. If they are Colonists, then we can't just let them die out there. If they aren't, then I refuse to go out without a fight. This is still a fully armed battleship."
"With all due respect, sir, so are theirs," said Gregorin, pointing with one arm at the blinking red dots on the main screen representing the enemy ships.
Quinze sagged back again. He had never envisioned these kinds of battles, with these kinds of stakes. "I know," he said. "How much power do we have available without firing the engines?"
"For weapons?" replied Gregorin. He checked the monitor. "Not much. We're pretty much using everything for life support and gravity. We've only got lights on half the ship. At a push, I suppose we could get one or two beam cannon emplacements online, but targeting would be manual."
Quinze gripped the cold steel arms of his chair. If it was hostile, then they couldn't be defenceless when it arrived. There had to be a way to get enough power to the weapons systems to be a threat to whatever it was. Two beam cannons, fired and targeted manually, would be a powerful but horribly inaccurate weapon.
"What about without lights?" he said.
"Without the lights? If we turn them all off and reroute all the power to the weapons, we might just be able to bring the automatic targeting online for those two beam cannons. That, or get another cannon working."
"Get the targeting."
"Sir." Gregorin gestured to half a dozen others, and they clustered around the monitors, shutting off sections and redirecting power flows.
When the bridge lights went out, last of all, Quinze just sat there, staring in the dark at whatever was moving towards them.
Mors Mortis strode through the outskirts of the town like an angry god. It's feet crushed buildings and smashed walls, and every firing of its weapons brought death in its wake.
The enemy were buzzing around it like flies, firing their weapons at it to no effect as they were swatted to the ground one by one. The Titan's voxcasters howled with bloodthirsty laughter as it killed.
Down below, on the floor. Something was happening. The point defence weapons mounted on its legs, multilasers and heavy bolters crewed by Skitarii, were firing at something. Visual sensors moved, tilting down to glare at the ground below. Eight of the enemy craft were low down on the ground, inside the Titan's void shields. Their weapons, while near-useless against shielding, were deadly against unshielded targets.
Mors Mortis stumbled as a trio of shots lanced into its right knee. Metal and bodies flew from the wound, half vaporised by the beam shots. Its laughter turned to a shriek of rage, and its left arm extended downwards, the melta cannon mounted there hissing as it prepared to fire.
As if they knew what was coming, the enemies scattered. Mors Mortis fired. The microwave blast was normally used for melting through fortress walls, and seared a hole a dozen metres deep into the ground in front of the Titan, instantly incinerating the few enemy craft that had been caught in its blast.
The remaining craft were buffeted away from the shot, and Mors Mortis' blade claimed another two, slashing out in a wide, powerful arc. One foot stomped backwards, and the sword slashed forwards again, smashing another craft to pieces. The point defence weapons claimed the last, stitching it with craters.
The Gatling Blasters cycled up once more, as a fresh batch of enemies rose up from the city ahead. An itch clawed to life at the back of its mind, a distraction that grew with every second. The Titan grunted with annoyance, and fired. The shells scythed through the enemy, smashing them back down to the ground, but the itch was still growing. It was almost pain, now. Mors Mortis roared in frustration, raising its melta cannon towards the enemy-
And then fell silent.
Wufei threw Altron into a wide roll as the monster ahead opened up with the weapons on its shoulders. They were monstrous versions of machineguns, and their fire took five of the Tauruses he had gathered from the sky. He gritted his teeth in anger.
Altron's thrusters were straining, now. They were overexerted. He had to leave. It was that, or crash and die. No. He couldn't flee from a battle, even one as hopeless as this. He had not fled from the Libra when he had fought to stop White Fang taking control of it, though it had nearly cost him his life, and he would not flee now.
"Everyone, spread out," he ordered. "Keep moving erratically. Don't let it get a bead on you. We're going in fast, and we're going in close."
Ahead, the giant walker raised it's left arm, a smoking cannon with a perforated barrel. It roared, and he tensed, ready to react.
The shot never came. The great machine just stood there, immobile, frozen halfway through its action. The weapons mounted on its carapace still blazed, cutting down anything that came too close, by the walker itself was silent.
Now was his chance. "Go!" he shouted. "We have to reach it before it comes back online!"
Silas screamed in agony as the mind-link was ripped from him. Monofilament wires whipped from his eyes, subdermal linkages were torn loose, and every nerve in his body fired at once. The shock of being suddenly disconnected from the Titan's consciousness was like a blade of ice piercing his heart.
Through the haze of red that clouded his eyes, he saw a robed figure flailing at him. Its – her, he realised, his thoughts returning slowly, painfully – hands slapped and scratched, wails and cries coming from her mouth. He staggered to his feet, gritting his teeth as he grabbed a fistful of his hair and pulled hard.
His eyes were beginning to focus now, and he could begin to make out features. Her hood had been thrown back, and her face was filled with rage. Her words were incomprehensible to his tortured senses, sound seeming as if heard through water. He battered away her slaps and scratches clumsily, stumbling backwards away from the throne.
He growled in sudden anger, and surged forwards, finding his balance at last. He grabbed her arms, and slammed her back against the wall. The air left her body in a gasp, and she sagged, all thought of attack lost for a moment. He punched her in the stomach, as hard as he could manage, and she cried out in pain this time.
He leaned in close to her, keeping her pinned. "What are you doing?" he managed to say, thickly.
He could just make out tears in her eyes. "You killed them," she said. At least, that was what it sounded like. "You killed them without a second thought, and you- you laughed!"
He roared in anger, and threw her across the chamber. She crashed into the throne and crumpled to the floor in a heap. Breathing in deep, painful gulps, he looked around the chamber. As they had been trained, his Moderatii were bringing themselves out of their stations, detaching themselves from their own mind-links.
Through the haze of pain that clouded his mind, he realised that if they saw the girl, there would be nothing he could do. He would be as good as dead. Giving an angry groan, he dragged himself to the Throne and depressed a series of runes, giving the signal that all hostilities had ended. The Moderatii stopped, and then set about relinking. They had been roused from their fire control duties on automated protocol. If an enemy gained access to the command chamber, they would not find the crew easy prey.
He staggered to the girl, adrenaline leeching from him and being replaced with aching exhaustion. He grabbed her robe and lifted her, grunting at the strain. He shook her, then when she didn't come round, he hit her again, open handed on her cheek. She groaned and her eyes fluttered open.
"Why?" he said angrily. "You could have killed me – killed us all! There are enemies out there this very minute that are trying to kill us!"
She coughed, obviously in pain. He shook her again, and she managed to get an answer out. "You- you were going crazy," she coughed. "Laughing all the time like a madman. And killing. Killing all those people. What did they do? Why did they have to die like that?"
Damn this woman and her weakness! Were they all to die for her damn morals? "They were enemies," he grated, trying to stop himself from beating her to death there and then. "This is war, and they are the enemy. The enemy deserves only one thing, and that is death."
"But why?" she said, her voice strengthening. "How can you kill like that?"
"I kill because I can!" he said angrily. "This is a Titan, a God-Machine designed to do one thing; to kill as much as possible, as fast as possible. The Archmagos demands the death of everything here, and I am one of his weapons."
"So you would obey any command given, regardless of what it was?" she said, the fire back in her eyes.
"If needed, yes!" he said. "No man dies in vain that dies in the service of the Emperor."
"But if those commands went against your God-Emperor?"
He hesitated. The chain of command was a thing instilled in his almost from birth. To break it was unthinkable, but to go against the God-Emperor was heresy. Worse, to willingly turn was treachery. "No," he said at last. "Not that. I will not be another Horus, nor will I be servant to one."
"Then how can you accept one command blindly but not another? How can you question only one thing? Does your intelligence count for nothing?"
"I fight where I am commanded, how I am commanded. This Titan is a weapon, and I am its Princeps. I go where I am taken in service to the Emperor and the Machine God."
"But how can you not see that blind service is inviting treachery? When subordinates must obey, what is to stop their superior from using them to his own end?"
That gave him pause. His anger drained away, to be replaced by cold rationality. She had a point. As much as he hated it, she had a point. "'The seeds of heresy reside in rational thought'," he quoted. "But without rational thought, humanity would die."
"Then 'heresy' is necessary for humanity's survival," she said, softly. "For without thought, we are worse than animals."
"But if you speak truth, then-"
"Why are you here?" she asked. "Why are you killing?"
"Because I am commanded to," he answered.
"But if those commands are wrong?"
"Then… I do not know. Though you use unconsecrated technology and practice heresy, you are undeniably human. There is no taint of the ruinous powers within your society."
"Then why are we fighting?"
"I- I do not know."
What was he saying? The words that were falling from his lips were heresy, and yet they were right. His world was shaking apart around him, and yet he knew he was somehow on the right path. But if he was right, did that mean that the Archmagos Veneratus was wrong? That his fellow Princeps were wrong?
The chamber shuddered violently, and he almost fell. He let go of the girl, and she stumbled to her feet. "The enemy!" he said. "They are still attacking!"
She grabbed his arm. "No!" he said. "Is everything I have said for nothing? How can you perpetuate this meaningless war?"
"Because if I do not, we will both die," he snapped, and sat back in his Throne. The neural linkages snaked across his skin, cold as ice, and he turned his head to look at her.
"Back in the corner. I will do what is right."
For now, he had to keep Mors Mortis alive.
"It's a Mobile Suit!"
Quinze started, his reverie broken by the call. Their vigil had lasted for over an hour, as they waited, illuminated only by the blinking lights of the screen, watching the contact move inexorably closer.
"We're being hailed," said Gregorin.
"Put it up on screen," said Quinze. "I want to see who it is."
Gregorin nodded, and tapped at his console. An image snapped to life on the main screen, showing the last person he had expected to see again.
"Quinze," said Milliardo Peacecraft. "Good to see you're still alive."