BOOK ONE: WRATH OF THE GODS
CHAPTER 6: FIRST STRIKE
"What do you mean they can't get the gate open?" the Hiigaran commander snapped impatiently.
"Err, Eye Command said it wasn't them who closed the gate," the hapless ensign managed a reply to his superior, "They're not sure what happened, but something caused 112A to fall off the network…"
"Look – frankly I don't give a damn what they're telling you," the commander cut the junior officer off before he could finish, "We've now got a full carrier force stuck on the other side, with Kiir Sjet no less! Tell them that unless they want to answer personally to Lady Sjet herself…"
The loud ping of the sensors console rang crisply through the carrier's bridge, preventing the incensed commanding officer from continuing further.
"Massive energy spike from the gate node," the officer in charge answered quickly, "Quantum waveform readings off the scale – I think it's…"
For a brief moment there was a brilliant flash of blue that temporarily scrambled the sensor arrays of every Hiigaran fleet asset in the vicinity. The flash was so bright and sudden that even the viewscreens' adaptive dimming were unable to keep up, forcing the bridge crews to shield their eyes from the glare. And then the explosion of light faded to reveal the restored hyperspace portal within the gate node, shimmering with varying shades of blue.
"Gate node is open, quantum waveform readings are stable!"
"What are you waiting for – reestablish contact with Exile!" the commander demanded as he moved quickly towards his own console to open a fleet-wide broadcast channel, "All ships, stand by for entry into the jump event and prepare to commence immediate rescue…"
The Hiigaran officer trailed off as his eyes followed the gaze of the rest of the bridge crew – all focused on the gate node as the portal flared with energy and spat out a ship of unmistakable design…
"One hundred percent match with databases – it's a Progenitor Keeper," the sensors officer had gone pale at the sensor reports, remembering the nightmarish stories of these bringers of death.
And then the klaxons began wailing throughout the bridge as automatic response systems kicked into high gear, reminding the Hiigaran crews to do the same.
"They have weapons locks on us!"
"Picking up energy spikes!"
A crimson beam of electrified energy connected the Keeper to the carrier, then to the carrier's flanking destroyers, then the escorting frigates as it leapt tirelessly from ship to ship.
"What in Sajuuk's name was…"
For the third and final time the commander was interrupted when his console took on an eerie shade of red and leapt up at him, the panels exploding to reveal menacing crimson tendrils that drove hungrily into his open mouth. There was a muffled cry accompanied by choking gasps as the organism shoved its way into the hapless Hiigaran's innards, the rest of the bridge crew watching in stunned shock as their CO's torso bloated so quickly as to rapidly burst the buttons off his Navy uniform. And then he exploded in a mess of muscle and bone, all the bits and shreds pulsating under the organism's influence.
Then all of them the same.
As the carrier and its escorts began listing, as the dreaded crimson ooze took shape across the magnificent Angel Moon emblazoned across the ships' hulls, ion beams and Arbiter projectiles quickly lashed out from the other Hiigaran task forces towards the Progenitor ship.
The Keeper remained motionless – simply raising its energy shielding to absorb the brunt of the barrage. And then the shots scattered as the Hiigaran ships began tracking new targets: Keepers and other Progenitor capital ships, infected Tradeships and Super Acolytes…
This time it was definite: a cry for help, but much closer to home in comparison with the distant echo she had seemed to sense earlier. Mental reflexes kicked in and a connection quickly established, bypassing the Sajuuk's bridge altogether.
"This is Fleet Command."
"Fleet Comm… Lady Sjet?" the voice sounded incredulous at first, the emotion then quickly giving way to near hysteria, "Thank the Maker we got through to you! Something's come through the gate!"
"The gate?" she frowned as the relevant database articles brought her up to speed, "Gate Node 112A?"
"… we don't have much time, they're tearing us to pieces out here," the voice was calming down now, as though the person on the other side were resigning himself to his inevitable fate after witnessing the calamity unfold, "Transmitting whatever I can with this bandwidth…"
Data feeds, struggling with the limited bandwidth of the long range channel, barely managed to make the connections with her mind. Error-correcting algorithms quickly kicked in, alleviating the problem and opening her eyes…
A scene out of a Nightmare from Hell: a sizeable force of Progenitor ships, flanked on either side with multiple Bentusi tradeships, their golden hulls pulsating with the familiar red biomass. The invaders were simply waltzing through the carriers and ships that made up the stationary defences of the gate node – infecting anything within range, and finishing off stragglers with well-placed ion or phased cannon shots.
"Get out of there!" the order went out –already too late. Damage reports began filtering in through the data feeds and directly into her mind: hull breaches, loss of system control…
"… too late for us Milady," the voice was choking with the finality of the moment, "They won't take us! Not now, not ever!"
The final notification of a self-destruct slammed into her senses as the connection ended.
No. This… this can't be…
Spare us the dramatics, a new voice echoed through her mind, the sudden mental contact taking her entirely by surprise. She turned around in her mindscape, barely making out a dim silhouette on the very fringe of her being.
What… are you?
The entity seemed to chuckle, as though amused by her response, Simple-minded for Unbound persona. We have come to take what is rightfully ours…
This time an image accompanied the mental message, a single glimpse of which sent cold quivers down her spine as she realised just who it was they were now dealing with.
No, Karan answered in as calm a voice she could muster, You cannot have the Sajuuk.
Have it your way then.
And then she felt a forceful wave of mental energy flood through the connection and crash into her psychic boundaries. The sensation was familiar – akin to during their final jump to Hiigara, when the Emperor had nearly killed her with a similar assault. Since then she had made preparations, engaged in mental training for a repeat incident such as this.
But this attack was something else altogether.
For a few fleeting seconds her mental defences held – then they gave way like collapsing dams, letting the assault surge through and engulf her mind, vanquishing her thoughts, tearing at her very psyche…
So this is how it ends, Karan managed one final thought before it too was washed away by the oncoming tide. As the darkness washed over her, as she sank to her drowning death and her vision faded, she glimpsed a glimmering robed figure in the distance.
Not yet, Sajuuk Khar, a new voice echoed faintly from the figure, Not yet…
"Lifesigns critical!" the ensign yelled as he watched the readings dip perilously, "She's not responding to queries!"
"It's an attack – lock down all systems!"
"They… they just did, just this second…" the officer in charge replied with trepidation after witnessing what seemed to be the ship's systems taking matters into their own hands and executing the tasks without any input or commands on his part.
"We'll figure that out later," Ferinas Manaan snapped as she grabbed her kit and ran for the doors, "Med teams One and Two, with me!"
"Be careful," another officer yelled out to her, "We've lost Trinity – hyperspace interrupt imminent!"
As if on cue, a mighty groan rumbled through the godship's superstructure as quantum forces tugged on it in every direction. Then gravitational forces took hold and yanked the Super Dreadnaught unceremoniously out of hyperspace, the quantum wavefront shimmering away into nothingness behind the now-disabled ship.
"Issue an immediate scramble alert to everything we've got here," General Qwaar's order was simple and straightforward, "That the Sajuuk misjumped is by no means a good omen – but that it exited hyperspace right here in Tanis is nothing short of miraculous."
"Affirmative sir. Tanis Control out."
"Status on launch sequence?" Qwaar demanded.
"Docking clamps released – we are away," came the reply from the helm.
Hang in there Lady Sjet, the Somtaaw general quietly prayed before turning back to his trusty helm officer, "All power to main drives! Paaura is go!"
The massive drives of the Explorer III class vessel lit up as they began pushing the Somtaaw command ship from the station, its twin siege cannons on either side already beginning pre-fire sequences in preparation for the unexpected.
"Good job with the salvage efforts Idus," Soban nodded approvingly as he studied the external cam views: the strange Fourth Core was now quite securely adhered to the Dreadnaught's belly with a series of space-titanium alloy cables, "When this is all over… I'll see to it that you and your boys get a good chunk of shore leave."
"If we survive long enough for that," the chief engineer chuckled morbidly as he cut the channel to lead his team with the rest of the hyperdrive repairs.
"Somtaaw humour," Sora rolled his eyes at the comment as he finished the final astronavigational calculations for the possible hyperspace jump routes they could take, "I'm done Captain – all that's left is for Engineering to finish the hyperdrive repairs."
"Nice to have good news for a change," Soban was finally able to smile a little, "Eliir – how's long range comms coming along?"
"You will be pleased to hear that I'll be continuing this trend," the Sjet sensors officer answered cheerily, "Since Idus was unable to do anything with the main array, which needs a proper replacement, I've been able to reconfigure part of the sensor array to function as an ad hoc long range receiver at least."
"Good. When can we expect results?"
"Just about… now," Eliir replied as she tapped in the final command, "Accessing friendly frequencies…"
For several long seconds there was an anticipatory silence while Eliir continued to work, checking the primary broadcast channels of the Hiigaran Navy for updates. Hopefully they would stumble across a nearby fleet this way and jump to within hailing range for the engineering assistance they required.
"Something is happening, something major," Eliir noted curiously as she quickly browsed through the various communiqués racing back and forth across the communication highways, "Massive redeployments taking place everywhere – Command is in the process of recalling just about every fleet asset from the frontier regions."
"But why?" Soban asked cautiously, dozens of guesses running through his mind, "Is it a Raider incursion? A Vaygr attack?"
"Neither – but from the looks of it Command is spooked sufficiently to even recall the Fifteenth task force watching the Vaygr border," came the reply, "They are all redeploying just south of Karos, in the Shining Hinterlands."
"A buffer zone to Hiigara's south," the captain commented as it all began falling into place.
"But... there's no way for anything to be coming through the Southern Wall," Sora interjected, referring to the impassable gravitational barrier to the galaxy's south that prevented any form of hyperspace travel to the unexplored Southern Fringe, "And just about everything between the Wall and the Homeworld is either neutral, or allied with Hiigara."
"True, but an invader has to come from somewhere," Soban replied, "And if not from the Southern Fringe then where else? Now I don't claim to know how such a force would even make it through the Southern Wall..."
"Not if they did not need to in the first place," Aalcor chipped in suddenly as he transferred the contents of his console to the main viewscreen so that everyone could see what he was getting at – a galactic map overlaid with the various gate nodes of the Eye of Aaraan network.
"This is mere speculation on my part, but on valid grounds," the Manaani officer mentioned his disclaimer first before continuing, "Command deployed a sizeable force of ships to one of the gate nodes in particular – 112A. I do not claim to know for what purpose that was for..."
"It was for an exploration expedition," Soban filled in the blanks for his brilliant tactical officer, "Admiral Eefrit did mention this to me in passing: that 112A had been flagged as an extragalactic gate node..."
It was then that the eeriest of possibilities hit everyone smack in the head.
"... I don't like where this conversation is heading," Sora mentioned uncomfortably as he turned around and tried to busy himself at his console.
"Understandably logical," Aalcor nodded solemnly, "Sir, I was about to suggest that Vaygr forces were rerouting through the southern approach via the gate network; but with your mentioning of its extragalactic nature..."
"I'm not sure I want to know," came the muted response from Soban.
"Has this been confirmed beyond a doubt," Eefrit's voice had dropped to a deep ominous tone.
"Yes sir, in fact we have already initiated total recall of all available fleet assets," the duty officer added, "Unless of course you wish to negate that..."
"Not at all – it is all according to the emergency protocols," the admiral agreed, "We will commence redeployment the moment we are done here."
"Sajuuk protect you sir. Command out."
As the channel closed the admiral leant back in his seat, trying his best to wrap around the new reports that had just been provided to him. It was nearly a full ten seconds before he was able to snap his attention back to the battle at hand.
"All infected ships have been neutralised with minimal losses, and we are commencing mop up operations against the remainder of the Raider ships," Yuno answered, her voice also laced with worry after listening to what Command had to say, "If it is any comfort at least it seems we will not need to be dealing with any reinforcements after all..."
Yuno trailed off as the Legacy's sensor array picked up a change in the situation, "... Bravo II has just raised inhibitor fields admiral."
"A definite conclusion regarding the absence of reinforcements then," Eefrit noted with a mix of both relief and worry, "However it means we will be unable to jump out unless we take it out. Have you ascertained whether the station is infection beam capable?"
"I have been running multiple sensor sweeps over its superstructure and I can say with a ninety percent probability that it is not infection capable," the hologram replied as she gestured towards the main display, which immediately updated with the relevant scan results, "Perhaps if we are to exercise caution we could engage from long range via torpedo and ion assault frigates."
"Agreed," Eefrit acknowledged as he gestured towards the various commanding officers to commit to the necessary tasks.
The orders went out and the Legacy's complement of Abyss class torpedo frigates immediately proceeded into formation alongside the ion assault frigates, the latter ships already manoeuvring into their broadside firing positions. As the attack force continued with their preparations the remainder of the fleet got to work to keep the Raiders at bay: the remaining destroyers and ion frigates pounding away at the Assassin IVs while the battlecruiser trio finished off the surviving Raider carrier with a well-placed salvo from their heavy ion turrets.
"Gehenna and Abyss squadrons in position, commencing long range bombardment!"
Almost instantly the torpedo frigates launched off their anti capital ship torpedoes, the ion assault frigates following up immediately with their own salvos of long range ion beams. Once again the energy beams leapt across the incredible distance and sizzled against the infected station's hull, melting away layers of its outer armour. Then the torpedoes caught up and shattered against the station in a multitude of blossoming explosions, ripping even larger chunks of metal and writhing biomass off the victim.
"Picking up biosign fluctuations from Bravo II," Yuno reported, "We have wounded the Devourer."
"As much as I want to keep it alive long enough for the techs to determine how the Raiders are controlling it..." Eefrit trailed off as he pondered the option for a moment, "... Nay, we have little time. Continue with..."
"Wait," Yuno's eyes widened with surprise at the new development that had just hit the circuits, "I don't believe this sir: the organism is hailing us!"
"I'm not sure... it seems to be desperate and even terrified in its attempts to make contact," Yuno added as she began archiving the hailing data for future study, "This behaviour is unprecedented, considering even the Beast of old did no such thing according to the databases..."
"Must be some kind of subtle trickery afoot," Eefrit growled sceptically.
"So do we..."
"Let us see what it has to say," Eefrit nodded with a slight smirk, "Perhaps all these years of evolution and mutation may have made it smarter. All ships suspend fire on Bravo II for the duration! Yuno, go ahead."
"Patching through..." Yuno trailed off as she made the connection, giving rise to a unnervingly low buzz emanating from the bridge speakers. And then the ominous multiple voices of the Beast, like some twisted parody of Bentusi audio transmissions, echoed through the bridge to send shivers down the spines of every Hiigaran present.
"... cease your attacks Hiigaran Parts! If our hyperspace shield falls then all Parts will be taken by the Self!"
"A lame lie," Eefrit commented, slightly disappointed by the organism's miserable attempt at persuasion, "Resume bombardment and cut the..."
"... no you do not understand! The Self is all-powerful and will take..."
The cacophony of voices ended abruptly, bringing considerable relief to the chilled officers on the bridge.
"Connection terminated sir," Yuno muttered, glad that she didn't have to go through the ordeal of listening any longer than necessary.
"Any signs of software breaches?"
"None whatsoever – I primed all system firewalls in expectation of a hacking attempt over the connection," Yuno responded, "They made no such attempt for the duration."
"Good – resume the bombardment."
A second shower of ion beams rained down upon Bravo II from afar, followed by another wave of torpedoes. Another series of explosions rocked the splintering station, which now began to list and vent atmosphere from the near-catastrophic damage caused.
"Inhibitor field is down!" Yuno announced triumphantly, "All hyperdrive systems returning to nominal functionality!"
"Then let us cut off the head of this Beast once and for all," declared Eefrit, "Target the main reactor and..."
"Priority alert," Yuno interrupted the eager admiral, her holographic self seeming to fade slightly to a paler shade of colour, "Progenitor hyperspace signature detected behind Bravo II..."
As Yuno spoke the words, a yellow hyperspace window opened behind the listing station, sliding back to reveal the familiar outline of a Progenitor Keeper. As the window closed the ship seemed to spend several moments studying the infected station before it, contemplating its next move.
What happened next took everyone entirely by surprise – the crimson arc of an infection beam suddenly linked the Keeper to the station. As the stream of charged particles faded an initial nausea descended upon every person on the Legacy's bridge – the thought of a dangerous Keeper-Destroyer falling to the Devourer was just too horrific to comprehend. Only after the initial surprise died down did the realisation set in: that it was the Keeper that had fired the beam.
They hear nothing once the channels are muted. But for myself...
Yuno tried her best to close her consciousness completely to the audio streams – a futile effort because the combat situation required her to extensively interface with all of the Mothership's internal systems. She had once believed that there was nothing in the known galaxy that could possibly top the aural horror of a ship in the undying grip of the Devourer.
She was wrong.
The unholy multitude of voices that represented the twisted psyche of the creature wailed and hollered as a new strain began taking over forcibly. As the new layer of biomass began spreading and tearing its tendrils into the established infection the chorus seemed to splinter some more, growing louder and louder until it peaked as a desperate insanity of disembodied voices screaming for mercy.
And then as suddenly as it had begun, the shrieking banshees faded into a welcome silence.
"You okay, Yuno?" Eefrit's voice filtered in through to her, the admiral having noticed her holographic avatar suddenly freezing in position as the infection progressed.
"... I am fine sir," Yuno answered in a slightly shaky tone of voice, "... did you hear..."
"The channels were muted, and for that I think we are all grateful," Eefrit stated plainly. He didn't know what else he could say to her – he didn't even know what things were like to her in the virtual realm.
"... admiral, we need to go now..." the Manaani's struggle to recollect herself was clearly audible in her words, "... we have multiple inbounds..."
Eefrit nearly sprang up at the revelation, "By all means, begin pre-jump preparations now!"
The rest of the bridge officers needed no official order – already they were issuing the emergency recall orders to the rest of the fleet.
"... emergency recall is in effect. Fall back Delta squadron, fall back..."
"Easy for you to say..." Luca growled as he jiggled the flight stick, trying his best to shake a particularly stubborn Bandit off his tail. Another stream of high speed projectiles blazed dangerously past his cockpit window, reminding him that he was still not in the clear.
"Got your back Delta Five," the welcome voice of one of his squad mates echoed through. Moments later the warbling warnings of the onboard computer ceased as the Raider interceptor shattered from the force of a pulsar blast.
"Thanks for the help Delta Three," Luca responded as he swung the Acolyte III around and went to full burn, racing towards the safety of the Legacy's docking bays. The fighter's sensor suite was already starting to ping crazily, indicating the arrival of a good number of new contacts from hyperspace.
"FUCK," the pilot swore out loud when the collision alarms suddenly rang and a blaze of yellow light appeared before him – he was scarcely able to bank away from the ion beam that had seemingly appeared from nowhere, "The Hell was THAT?"
"EVADE!" Delta Leader's voice hollered through the channel, "WE'VE GOT BLOODY SUPER ACOS EVERYWHERE EVADE EVADE!"
This is going to Hell real fast, Luca thought as he switched the ship to evasive parameters and dumped all power to the engines. The Acolyte III responded and jerked forward as its fusion drives shifted into high gear.
"Martyrs of Kharak," Eefrit uttered at the awful sight, "Infected Bentusi?"
"... pre-jump preparations halted," Yuno added suddenly, "The Keeper has activated its inhibitor field. We are trapped!"
"Defensive formations!" Eefrit snapped after a quick glance at the tactical overlay, which was essentially screaming 'You're Screwed' in his face – two infected Bentusi tradeships had just jumped in-system and were advancing steadily with the Keeper at the tip of the delta formation. Making matters worse was the fact that the tradeships had brought along full complements of the things the Somtaaw didn't wish to be on the receiving end of ever again: the deadly Super Acolytes. Already the nimble fighters were tearing through their ships with disturbing ease, their twin ion beams making short work of even frigate armour.
"Long range bombardment on the Keeper! Fleet, fighting retreat at flank speed and maximum range!"
The ion assault frigates opened fire once again, their turrets sending focused ion beams streaking towards the target. When the beams connected there was a momentary flash of vermilion as the Progenitor ship activated its energy shielding, dissipating the ionic impacts harmlessly with its protective barrier.
"Keeper has activated shielding," Yuno warned, "Weapons are having minimal effect – initiating scans for the shield energy frequency..."
Then an ominous red glow heralded the second firing of the infection beam, the energised particle stream touching a destroyer trying to get away and then leapfrogging to several neighbouring ships. Screams cut through all frequencies as the captains desperately initiated the Naar Directive, causing explosions of drive plasma to erupt all around the affected sections of their vessels. Sadly this was a temporary respite at best: taking advantage of their crippled situation the Super Acolytes wasted no time swooping in for the kill, letting loose their ion beams into the gutted hull sections and easily ripping the capital ships in two.
"We've lost Perdition and half the Firelance squadron!" a yell came from somewhere on the frantic bridge.
"Yuno, how much longer?" Eefrit asked urgently, knowing full well that their chances of survival were next to nil as long as the Keeper remained in action.
"I'm trying!" came the desperate reply as the computerised researcher worked harder, "Incoming Super Acolyte squadron: brace for impact!"
Pulsar turrets emerged from their cocoons all over the Mothership and began blasting away at the approaching fighters. Explosions began lighting up the immediate vicinity of the Legacy as some of the incoming Bentusi craft were shot down. And then the surviving fighters retaliated, sending yellow ion beams at the massive target and gouging trenches across the Legacy's armoured hull.
"Minor outer hull damage, repairs underway. Gunship squadrons are moving to intercept..."
Eefrit didn't reply – his eyes were fixed on the tactical overlay, watching as the Keeper continued to gain on them despite their retreat, preparing its infection weapon for yet another subversion shot...
"... I have it!" Yuno exclaimed suddenly, "Transmitting recalibration data to the fleet!"
A fresh wave of energy seemed to wash over the fleet when the various captains received the new data. Wasting no time, the capital ships within range quickly recalibrated their weapons and fired again, sending a veritable wall of ion beams blazing towards the Keeper. This time the energy blasts passed through the Progenitor shielding harmlessly, cutting deep into the ship's hull at the point indicated to be a critical area by research on Progenitor technology. The Keeper listed slightly and its barrier disappeared, secondary explosions blowing its reinforced hull to pieces before the ship itself became a flaming inferno of plasma.
"YES!" Eefrit let out a triumphant cry of delight on seeing the explosion.
"Hyperspace capabilities restored!" Yuno announced, "Sir, do we resume emergency jump procedures?"
"Yes, resume imm..." Eefrit trailed off as he glanced at the crimson-black tradeships, the sight suddenly triggering his memory of an audio record he had heard during his time in the Academy...
... The Devourer does not kill us when it tries to take our ships. It leaves us in place, but corrupts our being. We die, but we are not dead. We would be trapped, slaves in our own bodies, eternally...
"... Sir?" Yuno asked again on seeing the admiral stare blankly at the approaching tradeships, "Admiral?"
"No," Eefrit said plainly, "We will not jump."
"But... why?" Yuno was incredulous at the sudden change of heart, "While it is plausible that we could emerge victorious it would be at considerable cost to our own ships!"
"True... but consider this: do you think you could bear with the guilt of running and leaving them be?"
"You know that if we stay and fight on the loss in life would be unimaginable..."
"Unimaginable?" Eefrit made a forced smile as he made the mental comparisons, "They gave their existence for us. What more is there to say?"
"But..." Yuno tried to argue otherwise but the words wouldn't come. She too suddenly thought back to her time onboard the Pride of Hiigara as a member of the Advanced Research Module team. She had been on the bridge at that fateful moment, discussing possible countermeasures for the Keeper phase-outs with the other Intel officers. Their final words would probably be seared in her mind for all eternity...
... Our time has ended. Sajuuk awaits beyond the Gate of Balcora. The Dreadnaught will open the way. There you must end what has begun. You must take our Core and unite the Three. This is our legacy to you. Farewell...
When she opened her eyes again all the bridge officers were looking at Eefrit, nodding silently and signalling their agreement with his plan. It was then that she realised the startling familiarity of some of the faces, something she hadn't noticed outright due to the urgency with which the Legacy had begun operations. And then she recalled that the First Fleet had been named as such because it comprised officers, pilots, and workers who had been on the Pride of Hiigara and her escorting fleet during the desperate times of the Vaygr invasion. No doubt that it was upon these very souls that the Bentusi sacrifice had left their deepest imprints.
And to think that I should forget so easily - even in my current form where memory should be of no issue... Yuno chuckled sadly at herself. Emerging from the ocean of thoughts criss-crossing her consciousness, she observed the admiral looking patiently at her.
"... Thank you sir," Yuno spoke up finally, a humble soberness underlying her voice, "Thank you for reminding me of that which I have nearly forgotten."
"Huh?" it was Eefrit's turn now to be taken by surprise – he wasn't entirely sure for what it was that Yuno was now thanking him for, "What do you..."
"Never mind that," Yuno dismissed quickly, "All systems tracking and engaged sir: the Fleet has signalled its readiness."
"Well then," Eefrit began as he turned back to face the infected tradeships looming menacingly on the viewscreens, "Let us set them free."