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From Hell's Heart

Chapter 1: Without End

War does not determine who is right - only who is left.
Bertrand Russell

It was the 48th year since first contact, since the war began. For nearly five decades, planets have burned, stars have died, and billions have perished. But there are horrors, more subtle and infinitely more terrible, that such conflict breeds in the hearts of men, then could be found upon the corpses of a thousand worlds torn asunder...

The first thing that often strikes new-comers to space is not the vastness. The truth is, most space-faring species mentally prepared themselves for that particular characteristic of the universe centuries prior to achieving interstellar travel by blowing all their reverence for scale in their early days of orbital flight. No, the truly awe-inspiring, terror-inducing aspect of the absolute-zero vacuum was just how mind-numbingly empty it was. Looking up into the night sky from any world, staring at the endless expanse of stars, one gained the impression that space was filled to the brim things to see, places to go, and others to meet who looked into the stars and viewed the same thing. Then you got into the black and pointed yourself in the direction of one of those points of light you so dreamed to visit. Whether it was a nearby sun only several hours away, or a distant one several years or decades away, the first thing one was sure to note was that during that transit from point A to point B, there wasn't a damn thing to look at in between. Depending on the length of the trip, its the kind of thing that can drive any reasonable sapient to madness, no matter the company kept or distraction provided.

It was this very distressing aspect to the condition of space travel that made coming upon interesting things to witness such momentous occasions. Especially if that thing to see is a normally empty star system littered with the corpses of dozens of ships. A terrible, yet strangely beautiful vision to behold, the angular hulls of war vessels composed of varying tonnages ranging from fighters to a small hand-full of massive dreadnaughts littered about the in a decaying orbit surrounding a neutron star. Each one marked with the normal signs of space combat: armor warped and twisted by mass accelerator weapons, carbon scoring from high-energy laser and particle weapons, larger vessels literally ripped apart by disruptor torpedoes. Tens of thousands dead, for the sake of controlling the precious element zero held within the debris field of the remnant of a supernova. And by the looks of things, they would not be the last to give their lives in this conflict without end.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy to be found in this morbid graveyard was the impression left by the number of ships: nobody had won. Among the decaying corpses of these once mighty leviathans was the horrid implication that the number of wrecked hulks represented the size of an average task force dedicated to seizing and holding areas of strategic importance. It was, in a greater sense, representative of this war as a whole for the past 48 years. Countless lives, hundreds of ships, entire sectors of space torn apart, all for a handful of points of light in the night sky that changed hands too frequently for anyone to gain advantage. Millions upon millions dead...all for nothing. No funeral pyre was great enough, no sacred games holy enough, no songs of mourning tragic enough. An entire generation gone, with all of time and space to act as their cold, silent mausoleum.

It was the story of this terrible war, one not seen by the civilized galaxy for more than a thousand years. Two enemies, of terrifying skill and power, grappled and struck at one another in mortal combat, neither really remembering the reasons it started, consumed in simply continuing on since they had been doing so for more than a generation, for no cause other than the fact that they no longer knew how to stop. Their battle had ceased to be a simple quarrel between neighboring powers, it had become a vendetta of blood.

It was in such situations, such senseless bloodshed, that the most heinous of wounds formed. Not simply wounds of flesh, but wounds of spirit and mind, that marks all souls, from entire nations to solitary men and women touched by such horrors. And from such wounds, sapient minds once ruled by reason, turn slowly to quiet, terrible rage. And in the such transformations, intent transformed from patriotism and honor, to vengeance...