After a bit of delay, here's my followup to Eagle's Fall and second contribution to the Renegade-universe detailing the events of the GDI/Batarian Hegemony conflict: The Verge War. As I said at the start of Eagle's Fall, if you haven't read Renegade already, now's the time to do it. It's in the same place you found this, and there aren't many stories in the ME/C&C section to sift through. Similarly, if you haven't read Eagle's Fall, you may do well to read the first chapter for the timeline.
But without further ado, here's chapter one of The Verge War.
"So you'll do nothing, then? How typical."
"Mind your tone, ambassador," Councilor Tevos said coldly, "The Council is taking your accusations seriously, and we have already sent aid workers to assist Elysium's recovery."
"We can rebuild a colony, councilor, but neither of us can bring back the dead," the hologram of Ambassador Donnel Udina may have been flickering, but the anger on the ambassador's face was clear, "What we want is action against the people behind the attack."
"Your Commando decimated the attackers, yes? Rescued those who had been abducted?" the clipped voice of Valern interrupted before his asari or turian counterparts could, "Then you can expect no more trouble from them."
"Don't act like you don't know what I mean," Udina shot back, "The Batarian Hegemony has been providing-"
"-nothing that can be proven with the 'evidence' you've offered so far," the turian councilor, Sparatus, finished the sentence, "You knew the risks of colonizing on the border of lawless space, and pirates don't need much prompting to attack vulnerable worlds." The emphasis on 'vulnerable' was obvious, and Udina's jaw visibly clenched at the goad.
"Ambassador, the Hegemony has already requested that the Verge be made an area of batarian interest, a request which we denied," Tevos stated, "But tread carefully. Aggressive action against them will be viewed as thus by all Citadel races. Do we understand one another?"
"Perfectly," Udina said carefully, "I withdraw my petition for Council investigation."
The hologram flickered out before any of the Councilors could reply. All three knew the traditional mentality of the GDI, and now, it was just a matter of the scale on which it was applied.
As the adage went, 'If you want something done right, do it yourself.'
2177, three months later
Unregistered lunar colony: Torfan
Sardo Jarok blinked both sets of eyes in an effort to clear the haze left over them after a night of heavy drinking. He hated having to wake up this early, but his omni-tool was flashing urgently, and he had a job to do. Being the de facto overseer of Torfan had its advantages (the high quality of last night's ale, for one thing), but he needed to keep up with the duties that such a position entailed.
"Alright, I'm up, damnit," he blearily entered several commands into his omni-tool to open a comm channel before pulling on his boots, "What's going on?"
"We're getting a bunch of eezo energy signatures on the scope," a gruff reply came through the omni-tool's communicator, "They're big, too."
"Hang on," Jarok forced himself to his feet, ignoring the throbbing pain in his head, "I'll be up there in a minute."
"Sure thing, boss."
It took a few minutes to reach the sensor array, most of which was spent waiting in a lift to deposit him on the proper level, then moving to the next set of lifts. Nothing on Torfan's main complex could be reached from a single elevator, to both the chagrin of its inhabitants and potential invaders alike. Before arriving, he scrolled through what documents and transmissions he had on his omni-tool, trying to pick out what it might be that had roused him from his sleep at this unholy hour.
The doors to the control room slid open, and Jarok's sensitive eyes were thankful for the general darkness, save for the light of the various screens and consoles. One of the men looked over his shoulder as Jarok approached.
"Sorry to wake you like this, boss," he apologized preemptively, trying to lessen Jarok's wrath should the alert turn out to be nothing, "We just don't have anything this big coming in today."
"We're supposed to get a shipment from BSA," Jarok offered, "It could just be them." Batarian State Arms was another reminder of the Hegemony's untrusting nature: they refused to let private companies produce their weapons, armor, and other tools of war, but ended up creating a single corrupt and wasteful supplier.
"They're not due for another three days," the technician shook his head, "And even then, they're not putting out the usual signal." He inwardly cursed himself for contradicting Jarok, but he had a strange sense of unease over this alert that was overriding his better instincts.
"Fine, then wait until we can actually see them," Jarok snapped, "And get a raiding party on standby. They're probably just a idiots who don't realize how close-"
"They're hailing us," the technician interrupted. Jarok made quiet note to come up with a particularly grueling punishment for the offense, looked up at the newly-lit screen.
"Shit," he muttered. It was far, far too early in the day for this. The signal used GDI encryption. It was as sure a sign of authenticity as a watermark. After a few moments, the channel opened, and a holographic image of a dark-skinned human clad in a blue Naval uniform appeared.
"This is Major Terrance Kyle of the GDS Ragnarok. Am I speaking with the man in charge?"
"Yeah, pretty much," Jarok smirked, "Awful far from home, ain't you?"
"Insults will get you nowhere," Kyle replied coldly, "I'm ordering your immediate surrender to GDI custody."
"On what charges?"
"Piracy, kidnapping, and murder are at the top of the list," Kyle ignored the mocking nature of the question, "I'm sure we can find more if we take even half a look."
"That'll be a problem, then," Jarok crossed his arms, smirk never leaving his face, "Because it sounds like you're looking for pirates, but everyone here is a private contractor under the employ of the Batarian Hegemony. If you have a complaint to file, I'll gladly pass it on."
"I won't ask again: will you surrender into GDI custody?" The technician breathed a sigh of relief. If Jarok got to vent on the presumptuous human, he'd get away from the whole situation that much better off.
"And if we don't?" Jarok shot back, "You'll come down here and make us? The arrogance of your species astounds me. You think that the entire 'verse should bow to you because you were top dog on your homeworld. You want us, you'll have to get your hands a little dirty."
"Very well," Kyle nodded, "Then justice for your crimes will be exacted here and now."
The hologram vanished, and Jarok suddenly saw a golden opportunity. Torfan was a veritable fortress, covered with bunkers and defense guns and honeycombed with tunnels that made it an invader's nightmare. A few hundred men could easily hold off an army of thousands.
If the GDI wasn't bluffing about an attack, he'd be the pirate who led the defense that pushed back the 'mighty' GDI military. Elanos Haliat had failed to establish himself as a self-styled pirate king with his invasion of Elysium, but here, Jarok had a defender's advantage, and a chance to fill the position Haliat had left vacant. Thoughts of fame and fortune filled his mind, and he swiftly handed out orders.
"Get everyone ready for an assault," he shouted, raising his voice so the rest of the technicians and men in the room could hear him, "I want AA guns online before the first drop pod breaks atmo. We'll turn 'em into coffins before they even hit the ground. Once they're down, arm any mines we've got nearby. Bastards will be spent before they even get in sight of us."
"GDI ships coming on screen," the technician announced, already feeling elated, "It looks like…" He trailed off, staring at the screen mutely. Jarok looked over his shoulder at the display.
"Well, look at that," he grinned, "This just gets better and better."
The GDI battlegroup was a sight to behold. Jarok saw through the array of cruisers and destroyers to the real prizes within it: two dreadnoughts, each emblazoned with the golden GDI eagle. And Glacier-class, no less: the pride of the Initiative arsenal. Each one could alone carry a substantial portion of an invasion force, and it made short work of all but massed cruisers or other dreadnaughts.
If GDI was dispatching two of their valuable ships for this operation, it would appear all the more disastrous when it amounted to nothing. It was just the sort of PR catastrophe for GDI that the Hegemony would welcome, and they would richly reward the one who gave it to them.
"How's their progress?" Jarok shook the technician out of his silence.
"No new movement to report. Steady decrease in velocity, but nothing else," the technician regained his composure and replied.
"How nice of them," Jarok snorted, "They're giving us time to get ready."
"Hang on. Picking up new energy signatures."
"That'd be the dropships. Make sure the gun crews are ready to go," Jarok nodded, satisfied that they were adequately prepared.
"Wait…" the technician frowned, both pairs of eyes squinting at his screen, "Energy signatures are only emanating from the two dreads. They don't match ME drives."
"What are you talking about?" Jarok was suddenly reminded of his dislike for the particular technician, "If they're sending out dropships, what else could they be running on?"
"Can't be right," the technician breathed, looking at another readout, trying to disprove his own findings, "Can't be right."
"Talk to me, damnit," Jarok demanded, "What the hell's the matter?"
"It's an ion buildup," the technician answered, his voice cracking as terror filled his expression, "Oh God, they're-"
Beams of emerald energy lanced from the dreadnaughts, slicing through fortifications and reducing the men within to ash. Jarok died before he could even appreciate the gravity of his refusal to surrender, but most of the pirates on Torfan died in fear and panic, trying to raise defensive barriers and taking futile shots with weapons that could neither hope to reach nor damage their attackers.
Torfan's buildings sported kinetic barriers that could stop even ship-based weapons, but they tragically depended upon something physical to activate them. The ion cannons barely distorted them as they passed through, sweeping across carefully laid minefields and bunkers alike.
When the surface was scoured, scanner sweeps and unmanned drones found tunnel entrances and underground structures. For the better part of an hour, the two Glacier-class dreadnaughts fired shot after shot from their ion cannons. 'Scorched earth' would have understated the devastation. There was no rubble where bunkers had simply ceased to exist, and the ion beams reshaped the surface with contemptuous ease.
Wherever scans detected signs of life, the twin mechanical titans erased it.
Major Terrance Kyle watched from the bridge of the Ragnarok, neither satisfied nor remorseful. At Shanxi, turian ships had slain hundreds of GDI soldiers from orbit, but Kyle would never equate that with the current action. Not because he believed the action to be somehow dishonorable, but because those were shots fired in a war that never came to fruition.
Here? These were pirates, pirates who carried the gear of soldiers and thought it made them warriors. Kyle didn't even consider it revenge for the attack on Elysium. An exterminator didn't fancy himself the avenger of a raided larder when he killed rats, and Kyle didn't consider this any more than a solution to the Initiative's growing vermin problem.
Batarian colony: Huron
The skies over Huron burned as the vessels in low-orbit fell apart. By the time crews managed to reach their few ground-based defenses, enemy ships had achieved sufficient dominance to turn them (and anything around them) into burning craters. What few shots that were fired did pitifully little: kinetic barriers designed to stop far stronger ordinance had no problem stopping them.
Huron had thought its location an advantage. Barely inside the Verge, it received virtually no attention from pirates because of their high tendency to be batarian, and it was bad form for pirates to raid worlds colonized by their biggest sponsors. In fact, it often had pirate vessels in orbit, including this very day.
But those ships were at several crippling disadvantages. Pirate ships were built, tautologically, for piracy: they were quick and agile, equipped with means to make them better at disabling and boarding their targets. Destroying a target was pointless when it could just as easily be put out of commission and stripped for parts and valuables. And dead traders never returned. Live ones would quite often come back through territory they'd been robbed in.
Their enemies were not traders, however. They were beyond that, beyond even rival pirate fleets. These were warships. They had no intentions to capture vessels inferior to their own, nor did they plan to loot valuables they did not need. They were built to destroy and, in turn, be resistant to destruction.
As debris blazed in Huron's atmosphere, it was clear as day that the ships excelled at both purposes. Most combat-capable ships were annihilated before they could even react to their attackers. Others were destroyed as they tried to flee. And those that tried to return fire died just the same.
Soon enough, the burning scrap was intermingled with dropships, carrying death to Huron's surface.
"Can you reach command yet?" the Sergeant shouted, not taking his eyes from the viewport of their bunker. He could see dropships setting down in the distance without even needing to magnify them. Deploying this close to a position was cocky of the invaders, but…
They're right, the Sergeant cursed internally, They know we can't stop them from landing.
"Nothing yet, sergeant," the Technician replied, "I-I think their weapons are causing interference."
"Wasn't enough to destroy our ships with 'em," the Veteran grunted, thumbs flexing over the firing studs of the bunker's gun emplacement. The Loader beside him gave a mirthless smirk, but the Sergeant did no such thing. The three of them may have been in combat before, but the Technician was the least experienced of them all, even when the platoon had been at full strength.
The Commander and well over half the platoon had died to the bombardment, trying to bring weapons that stood a chance against orbiting warships online. They had failed, and now there were four bunkers, two of them empty, and seven men between them. The Sergeant was the only officer left, and he didn't expect to last long enough for anything more than a battlefield promotion.
"Keep trying to get through. Even if we can't expect reinforcement, we still need to…to…" he trailed off as new silhouettes set down. If they hadn't been in flight, the Sergeant would have mistook them for five-story buildings. Even the Veteran and Loader weren't able to keep their eyes from widening.
"Sergeant, did you see those?" a voice from the second bunker came through the Sergeant's ear. The Others were paying close attention to the horizon, thankfully made even more wary by the lack of any direct supervision.
"Yeah. Just keep eyes on them and get your gun prepped. Confirm."
"How's our cannon?" the Sergeant spared a moment to look at the Veteran and the Loader. Both had already begun triple-checking their weapon as soon as they'd sighted the new dropships.
"As good as it'll ever be," the Loader replied, "Clear as the day it rolled off the assembly line and plenty of ammo to feed it."
"Gonna be plenty left over," the Veteran grumbled, "Not like we're running a long-term plan."
"Stow it," the Sergeant snapped, "Are you going to man that gun, or do I need to do it for you?"
"Hell no," the Veteran snarled, somehow managing to conjure a satisfying metal-on-metal ka-chunk from the gun, "I tuned this thing myself. You couldn't play it if you wanted to." The Sergeant grinned internally. That had done it.
"Good. And who knows? Big dropships mean big targets. You're going to have a field day with this," the Sergeant added. This time, the Veteran even grinned, however malevolent it may have been. It was enough for the Sergeant, though. The last thing he needed to worry about was one of the few men he had left cracking under pressure.
"Anything yet?" It took a moment for the Technician to realize that the question was for him. He hesitantly shook his head.
"Sorry, sir. I'm not even sure if this set is strong enough to get that far off-world."
"Well, it's all we've got," the Sergeant replied, "If nothing else, get it to someone who can bounce it further. We don't…" he hesitated a moment, then finished, "We don't have much time."
Everyone present knew it was true, and the Sergeant figured that there was no point in lying about it. If anything, giving them hope he knew was false would only make them more likely to break when the noose was tightening. Soldiers already resigned to death held their positions, having decided that they had no reason to flee for.
"Possible contacts, sergeant," one of the Others provided a much-needed shift of topic, however bleak it might turn out to be.
"Confirm. Six, no, eight contacts from what we can see. Can't make out details yet," the Sergeant said, both to them and the troops in his company.
"Confirming eight, sergeant. Are those…?"
"Shit," the curse escaped the Sergeant's inner voice and jumped out of his mouth before he could contain it, "Confirming enemy armor. Walkers, over."
"Good. Lighter armor than tanks. Easier job for us," the Veteran spat on the barrel of the emplacement. It boiled away almost as quickly as it landed.
"The hell are those?" the Sergeant murmured to himself. They were walkers, that was unmistakable, but they were unlike any that he'd seen in intelligence files. If he could guess their height given the distance, they were easily twice as tall as the ones on record, possibly more. He further enhanced the viewport's image, and cursed under his breath.
The only walkers he'd seen before (and even then never in person) were squat, like tank turrets that had sprouted legs and replaced cannons with a pair of lighter weapons on either side. They were about as dangerous in terms of firepower as light tanks, and they were deceptively fast, but these were as far from those models as krogan were from asari. These looked more like heavy tanks that had traded their tracks for a pair of legs.
"You seeing these, sarge?" the Loader asked, snapping the Sergeant back to the situation at hand.
"Yeah. How long until they're in range of our guns?"
"A minute, maybe one and a half."
"Alright. Don't start firing until you're sure you can get hits," he made sure that his comm line was open, "Same goes for you guys. Confirm?"
"Yessir. Orders confirmed."
"It's now or never, soldier. Got some good news for me?" the Sergeant looked over the Technician's shoulder at the comm set.
"I got the signal past atmo, but I'm not sure if anyone's hearing it. I-I'm sorry, sir."
"Don't be," the Sergeant clapped a hand on the young soldier's back, "You did better than I could've hoped for. Just keep broadcasting. Open channels if you need to, and include the feed from the bunker's scope. Got it?"
"Yessir. I'll make it happen," the Technician replied with newfound confidence. The Sergeant only regretted that he probably wouldn't have long to use it.
"Thirty seconds to range," the Loader announced. The Veteran was completely focused on the gun's sights. The Sergeant suppressed the sound of the deep breath he took to calm his nerves, then nodded.
"Make them count."
"Will do, sir," the Veteran broke his focus and gave an actual smile this time, "Might as well say now that it's been an honor." It caught the Sergeant off guard.
"Ah, you're wel…I mean, thank y-"
"But if we live through this, I never said that, got it?" the Veteran's smile widened, and then he turned his attention back to his weapon. The Sergeant quieted another deep breath before replying.
"Consider it done. If it helps, I'll even threaten to write you up for insubordination."
"Glad to hear it, you dumb bastard," the Veteran laughed, but his expression quickly reverted and hardened, "Ten seconds."
"Broadcasting on loop, sir," the Technician slumped in his seat, "I'm sorry I couldn't get it to reach-"
"No need. It was more than I should have-"
The last of the dismissal was lost behind the sudden boom of the emplacement gun opening up. The Veteran didn't even blink as he moved his arms with the recoil of the cannon. It was a heavy gun, easily able to pierce light armor, and despite its high-caliber could fire off a fresh shell every other second. The result was a steady thunder that shook the bunker's walls and only failed to deafen its inhabitants because of the barrier between the muzzle and the interior that normally protected them from small-arms fire.
"Engaging contacts!" one of the Others announced, and the Sergeant was dimly aware of the opposite bunker's weapon opening fire as well.
The Veteran was firing just shy of the weapon's maximum range, and dealing with the natural recoil of such a steady rate of fire. But his shots roared downrange, slamming into his target and consuming it in fire.
"Scratch one," he grunted, "Seven more to-" He was cut off as a shell raced from the smoke, striking the ground some distance to the left of the bunker. The detonation was still enough to rattle their teeth in their heads, and the Veteran shifted his aim back.
The walker stepped through the smoke, a dim orange shell surrounding it. The Veteran swore viciously, refocusing his fire on the undamaged walker. The Sergeant was surprised how resilient the kinetic barriers were. How much punishment could it take? And that still left whatever armor it had to get through afterward.
Another shot came from the walker's cannon, along with one from one of its companions. The bunker rocked as its own kinetic barriers weathered one of the blasts, but the walkers had their location now. If their targeting systems were even half as good as their shields were, they wouldn't be missing any more shots.
"We've lost barriers! They're going to-"
The Sergeant closed his eyes as an explosion, louder than even the ones that pounded against their kinetic barriers, reverberated through the bunker. The Others were gone. The walker group had nothing more to divide its attention.
Three earthshaking blasts, and the Sergeant heard the sound of glass breaking. It was all too familiar to him, and he knew it too well to believe it was actual glass.
It was quick, if nothing else. Whether by luck or skill, a shell passed through the barrier that allowed the emplacement to fire out of the bunker. Veteran felt nothing as it first passed through his head, so quickly that severed it from his neck as cleanly as a guillotine. It continued, undaunted, and struck the opposite wall where it detonated.
Within half a heatbeat, the blast saw that the other three soldiers joined the Veteran in death. Their armor and personal kinetic barriers may as well have been prayers and wishful thinking for all the protection they offered. It had been the Sergeant's first and final command, and had he known his fate even days prior, he would've laughed that he had earned the Veteran's respect, or that he'd stood his ground against odds so impossible with just six men at his back.
But then again, not all men can live to know that they stared unblinking into the face of certain death. And over the next week, Jantine and Tarson would fall to the same force that had overwhelmed Huron. And on both worlds, there would be dozens of Sergeants and Veterans, unnoticed among thousands of pirates and brigands, diamonds lost in a mountain of broken glass.
The invaders would have been wise to notice these men. It would have warned them of what awaited them on Ral'dan.
Codex - Global Defense Initiative - Declaration of War (excerpt)
"For the better part of the past decade, the Batarian Hegemony has waved their funding of piracy in the Skyllian Verge in the faces of all sentient races, humanity the first among them. The destruction of Torfan has shown that the Initiative will not stand for attacks by slavers and outlaws, but the nest that hatched the egg remains undaunted, and the Council refuses to intervene. The path ahead is now more clear than it has ever been, and by unanimous vote, the board of directors has declared war against the Batarian Hegemony and any who would call themselves their allies. Torfan taught us that we face a foe who will not respond to anything but force, and I say, let them see how long they can stand beneath the weight of humankind. No more guarding borders. No more political debate. No more human deaths while the real enemy hides behind state-funded criminals. From this day forward, we fight until the unconditional surrender of the Batarian Hegemony. Good night, and may God bless the Initiative."
-Director Charles Saracino, December 8th, 2180
Next chapter: the GDI offensive force hits the ground running, finally on batarian worlds within actual Hegemony territory.