A/N: Ladies, gentlemen, and badasses alike! Welcome to the next installment of Hail to the Zero Queen! Last episode we had ourselves a miniature Ghost Operation with Siesta and Kerrigan, along with one nasty surprise. Today the effects of that surprise come full circle in both the Ghost Academy, and in the Royal Palace itself, following these reviews!
Yuri-Hime-Chan: My fault, got my uranium isotopes mixed up. Will fix that this weekend, thanks for pointing that out!
Holy Knight: The UED was utterly thrashed in the Koprulu Sector, what actually made it through will soon be revealed.
ExodiaGeass: It wasn't necessary for them to have a moment, Kerrigan can easily detect approaching troops and sense danger. It would be unnecessary and plot prohibitive to have them behave like that.
Foldguy: Always good to hear from you, as well as read your own fan-fics. The Earthlings will get theirs in time.
Sacchin: I'm glad to see you like it! :)
In the immortal words of Duke Nukem: Let's Rock!
The clearly unnerved monarch asked hesitantly, "Just what does this mean Lady Kerrigan?"
The Queen of Blades cleared her throat, "Your Majesty, it means the United Earth Directorate has forces of unknown strength and number somewhere in Halkeginia. It could be an infantry battalion or a squadron of heavy battlecruisers, we just don't know at this point."
Pontiers shook his head, "Does it matter? We outnumber them with the Zerg and our standing army, our victory is assured!"
"It isn't General! Not anymore."
Whispers filled the room before the Queen cleared her throat, "I'm not terribly familiar with the fine details of the United Earth Directorate; could you please explain how they could be such a threat?"
Kerrigan nodded somberly, "Yes Your Majesty. The United Earth Directorate is based on Earth, the Terran homeworld, far beyond the borders of the Koprulu Sector. Before they were founded, countless criminals, social deviants, and mutants were exiled from the planet into the Koprulu Sector. I am a descendant of those exiles, as are billions of others. The UED itself didn't just leave us to our own devices, they watched and observed the exiles for decades, over a century in fact. When the Zerg and Protoss appeared it caused great upheaval in their society. After a change of government, it was decided to send an Expeditionary Force into Koprulu to take control of the collapsing Confederacy."
A military liaison spoke up, "Just how powerful are they Lady Kerrigan?"
The red-headed psionic chose her words carefully, "Immensely Lieutenant, their combined forces and massive technological advantage made every single faction in the Koprulu Sector join forces to push them all out. Former Confederacy troops, rebel movements such as Raynor's Raiders, the Protoss, and yes, even the Zerg all formed under my banner to remove them."
"They were that large of a threat?"
She nodded sadly, "They became that powerful based on highly advanced technology, and a mastery of Psionic conditioning which was highly effective versus the Zerg Swarm. I don't know if they have any of the Psionic devices left over from the Brood War, but we have to assume that they are still in play."
Kerrigan continued, "The UED has no moral compass, the only things that matter are the protection of Earth, and maintaining the purity of humanity as is, one without magic, deformation or psionic potential."
Silence enveloped the room, and Julio was stunned into submission. The Psionic instantly knew that the Romalian knew something about this, but decided to not push the issue in public.
"How did you win Lady Kerrigan? I heard from Umbra they all turned on you in the end."
She smiled, "Oh they certainly did, although it wasn't simply betrayal on their end. I played each faction for fools, manipulating the Protoss to kill off Zerg who had separated from the Swarm and fallen under UED control for one. I weakened their positions while strengthening my own. By the time the dice were cast, my victory was assured."
Tensions seemed to relax at that, particularly from the Queen, "Do you know how they arrived in Halkeginia Lady Kerrigan?"
She shook her head, "I have no confirmation yet, but after I hunted the majority of their remnants down they regrouped briefly on the planet of Abaddon. I dispatched a Brood to take the planet, but by the time they arrived the UED had vanished. I suspected they returned to Earth, but now I believe they somehow ended up here."
"Do we have any intelligence on how many there may be?"
"Not as this point Your Majesty, though if they were traveling through warp space they would need a ship capable of doing so. At the minimum we're looking at least one heavy battlecruiser, Behemoth class or higher, and an unknown amount of support vessels and troops."
"Could this 'Behemoth' be a danger to our current battlecruisers?"
"The Behemoth was the standard Battlecruiser class of the day in the Koprulu Sector, reliable and powerful. While ours could easily outmaneuver the other, a Behemoth's main gun could very easily destroy one of our own. Not to mention it carries far more troops, weapons, and has a warp drive."
Pontiers seemed curious at that, "A warp drive Lady Kerrigan?"
"Correct General, it's a type of power plant that allows the ship to travel at immense speeds for various amounts of time. It makes trips to other worlds and even other star systems possible within a reasonable timeframe."
A random official yelled out, "Why don't our battlecruisers have a warp drive!?"
Kerrigan frowned, "The Henrietta class was never intended to fight one on one versus their Koprulu Sector equivalents; they were designed to fight against the vast fleets of Albion and support ground invasions. Not fight past this world's orbit, let alone into deep space. The Swarm's best projections show victory against a single Behemoth with three of our own, even then, at least one will be severely damaged or destroyed."
Henrietta found that tidbit the most disturbing, "Those sorts of losses are unacceptable Lady Kerrigan. Do we have any advantage in any scenario involving direct confrontation with the United Earth Directorate? Do we have warp capability at all, or does the UED have a monopoly on that as well?"
The Queen of Blades paused before responding, "The Swarm has the means to counter enemy capital ships, not to mention the small numbers the UED has available means that we will always have a numerical advantage." She turned to the Queen, "I am not certain, but we may have access to some short distance warp capability."
The Erebus' voice came through Umbra suddenly, "Majesty, Mistress, we do have psionic warp capability available, but no Terran warp drives as of yet."
"Understood, but I would've liked to have been kept in the loop Erebus."
"Mistress, I," the eponymous Erebus paused, unable to find the right words. "You're under an extraordinary amount of stress Mistress, from the Ghost recruitment to preparing the Zerg for war, and working the political side of things. I knew it was a risk-."
Kerrigan couldn't help but smirk, "We'll finish this discussion privately Erebus. Besides you're getting all sappy on me, don't want to see you getting soft in your old age."
A laugh went through the room at the dynamic duo's impromptu conversation, as Umbra managed to appear amused and annoyed by the eponymous Erebus' antics.
She cleared her throat and turned back to the Queen, "I assume a proper war declaration is being considered, due to Albion's actions?"
The nobles turned to Henrietta in anticipation, "It is Lady Kerrigan, and given the United Earth Directorate's involvement in the armed conflict between two of the Brimiric monarchies I will be asking more of you than ever before. If General Pontiers and the rest of the command staff is in favor, I would like to appoint you a rank befitting your status as Royal Champion and one as the leader of the Zerg."
The sudden significance and consequences of being appointed a military rank was not lost on Kerrigan and certainly not the nobles in the room, "Your Majesty?"
She held up a hand, "I'm getting to the point Lady Kerrigan, just hold on. In the event that the UED takes a significant role in the war, all command of Tristainian forces would be handed over to you." The Queen's next sentences were disrupted by a complete loss of verbal discipline from the younger, highborn nobles. A wave of killing intent from both the Queen and Kerrigan stopped that interruption from continuing, along with every hair on one's back to stand on end.
"Thank you Lady Kerrigan. The only reason I am considering this is your previous experience with the UED. Their methods of war, technology, and knowledge of their inner minds gives you a unique perspective. Our own generals, whom are very good at their jobs," the generals in the room bowed their heads from the praise, "Have no experience fighting an adversary like the UED."
Kerrigan nodded, "I understand your logic Your Majesty, and it is a very wise decision." The statement was clear enough to all those in the room: Sarah Kerrigan certainly approved of the Queen.
Pontiers nodded with a frown, "I see no reason to disagree with your request Your Majesty, if the UED is as powerful as Lady Kerrigan describes them then having an expert would be more than adequate." Several other nobles turned to each other and nodded grudgingly.
"The question remains Lady Kerrigan," Tristain's monarch began, "What sort of rank would suit you? The Swarm has both airborne and ground units, meaning the rank of General may not be suitable."
"I'm not entirely sure Your Majesty," Kerrigan responded, "A post as an Admiral may be more accurate in this situation."
Pontiers shook his head, "Admiral is a Gallian rank Lady Kerrigan; the rank of Commodore would apply here."
She nodded, "You do have a point, but given the Swarm's spacefaring abilities, a proper naval rank would be more suitable."
Henrietta de Tristain nodded in agreement, "I concur Admiral Kerrigan, when you are deployed in force to Albion you will be on equal terms with Pontiers, and you will report only to him and myself."
Admiral Sarah Kerrigan de Char bowed, "By your will Your Majesty."
That Same Time
The sound of a trumpet playing echoed throughout the Ghost Academy dorms, along with the sound of simulated gunfire coming through the loudspeakers. The former waking everyone up, while the latter ensuring no one fell back to sleep.
Screams echoed through the hall as the recruits put on their olive green BDU's on and ran out of their rooms into a crisply dressed Lord of Tarbes, who was wearing a sharp, brimmed hat and a slugthrower on his hip.
"Recruits, attention!" The hall silenced instantly as feet came together and people managed to stand up straight. Some, such as the new noble students and a few maids were slightly more unprepared. Elliot immediately marched over to Lady Freon, "Recruit! Why are you not at proper attention?!" The noblewoman tried to match Elliot's gaze but immediately faltered upon seeing the flat, annoyed glare in front of her.
"Is something the matter Recruit?! Do I have something on my fucking face?!"
"No what Recruit!?"
"No Lord Tarbes!"
"In-correct RECRUIT! Drop and give me twenty!"
Evelyn tried to match his voice, "Twenty what Lord Tarbes?!"
"Incorrect again recruit! Give me fifty!"
Lady Freon seemed even more confused, as Elliot turned to Siesta, "Recruit! Demonstrate for your fellow maggot right here!"
"Yes Drill Sergeant!" Siesta immediately dropped to the floor and began doing push-ups on the neo-steel floor in rapid succession. Evelyn, after watching several reps, began to emulate Siesta, only to collapse after five reps.
"Unacceptable Recruit! You will make your fifty push-ups here and now or so help me I will let you be used for target practice!" The completely unsubtle threat got Evelyn moving purely on adrenaline as she struggled to go through an additional 45 push-ups. "Pitiful performance from you all so far today! The run will shake that out of you! March!"
The ragtag group ran downstairs into the underground gym with Elliot leading them to the track, after confirming that none of the recruits slipped away, he gave his best thousand yard stare, "Recruits! We shall march, repeat after me in cadence!" He took a deep breath and began to sing in a deep pitch.
(A/N: Once I come up with a decent rhyming cadence I'll be sure to post it =X)
Royal Palace - Guest Quarters
One Hour Later
'I need to be briefed on everything Erebus, right now.'
The eponymous Erebus quickly responded, 'Yes Mistress. As I told you earlier, the Swarm has been experimenting with a short distance psionic warp system recently. The use of the Yggdrasil Overlord variants as a sort of psionic anchor could theoretically allow us to build a bridge between two or more locations.'
Kerrigan snapped her fingers, 'Like a portal, not dissimilar from a Warp Gate that the Protoss use.'
'Exactly Mistress, we normally would need a Behemoth or Leviathan to project the power necessary for a true Psionic Warp Jump. As we can't readily build such a being yet, we are forced to come up with a different method. A Yggdrasil could fly to a specific point and act as a kind of Psionic Relay, which a second Yggdrasil could link to Psionically to send forces across a short distance, at least in astrometry terms.'
The possibility of inserting an entire fleet behind enemy lines was an extremely enticing advantage for her, 'What sort of distance are we talking about Erebus?'
The Erebus paused to calculate, 'At this moment, I think we could pull of one to two AU with reasonable reliability and drift.'
Kerrigan immediately did the math, 'That's nearly 200 million miles Erebus. That could make transit within this solar system actually plausible! Why didn't you inform me?'
'As I said previously Mistress, you have been stressed and distracted as of late. To be blunt Mistress, you need a vacation, and soon.'
She shook her head, 'I'm perfectly fine Erebus, and I don't need a vacation or time off-.'
'With all due respect Mistress, you do! The entire Swarm is going through the exact same stress due to our connection with you, and it's starting to have unpleasant side-effects. Various units are fighting each other in the Hive on a regular basis, unit cohesion is failing. We all need you to take it easy, for all of our sakes.'
'Is there an alternative Erebus? We don't have the kind of time needed for something like that.'
A noticeable pause came through the psi-link, 'Try getting laid perhaps?'
Kerrigan immediately cut the connection with a smirk and began her walk to Julio. The same smirk on her face instantly caused the Romalian Knight's hair to stand on end as he nervously shuddered. He swallowed hard and turned to Kerrigan, and paled, "H-h-how can I help L-L-Lady K-K-Kerrigan?"
"You know something about where the Directorate came from Julio, and while I can easily pull the information from your mind, I would prefer it to be," she purred out the last part, "Consensual."
The color returned to Julio's face in an instant in a blush, "From what I have overheard, the 'Directorate' appeared three and a half years ago in Halkeginia. They ended up making contact with the Church and received medical aid for the countless wounded aboard their ships. The Directorate was led by someone ranked over Captain, more then that I can't be certain of. How they found out about your presence is something I can't be certain of either."
She nodded, the knowledge accurate, and most of all, truthful. "I'm glad we understand each other, and for the record, the Church will not suffer any repercussions for assisting the UED. My arrival was not foreseen, by myself or the Church; the actions of the UED are likely out of the Church's hands at this point."
The blonde knight nodded in thanks, "Your understanding is appreciated-."
"However, there is one condition to this Lord Chesare, I want the Church's records on the UED's arrival, existence, their communications with the Holy See and activities within Halkeginia in their entirety. I don't want you to skimp on the details either, understood?"
"Your terms are fair, although the documents may take time to gather."
Kerrigan gestured dismissively, "Time is of little consequence, but I need those files within six months. I strongly advise you send correspondence to His Holiness to ensure a timely delivery of those documents."
"Of course Lady Kerrigan, if you'll excuse me." She nodded slightly and the blonde quickly made himself scarce.
Umbra heard the brief dialogue between the two and approached Kerrigan, 'Are you sure that is a wise decision Mistress?'
She nodded dismissively, 'Of course Umbra, this is business, and I know Julio had no knowledge of the UED's major activities until fairly recently. This was more of a test to see if Julio could be trusted, and his honesty – and Romalia's – must be rewarded. Besides, I'm sure we'll have more . . . direct confrontation with His Holiness soon enough.'
'You mean Mazarin?'
'Indeed Umbra, his behavior is not without cause, I am fairly certain the Church is driving it; however I see no reason to worsen relations with him, the Crown, or the Church as a whole.' Kerrigan paused then continued, 'The Pope has plans, big plans for the future. The Zerg have proven to be the greatest wildcard in his scheme, I believe he intends to launch another Crusade to further his own political ambitions and secure his legacy. Before he does so however, he needs to secure his own flanks and gather allies. The Swarm and I are both his greatest potential asset and liability; he knows how the game is played.'
'Should I speak to Elliot about war preparations?'
'That won't be necessary, I'm suspending recruitment effective immediately. I will head to Tarbes personally to assist with training who we have on hand. Tell the Erebus to put everything into finishing our battlecruisers and crew training, we'll be at war soon enough.'
Tarbes - Ghost Academy
The Acolytes were finishing their morning calisthenics when Elliot was contacted directly by Kerrigan.
'Elliot, it's Sarah, we have trouble.'
"Recruits! Take ten! Then hit the showers!" He focused on the Psionic connection, 'Go ahead Sarah. What's going on?'
'When Code Charga was initiated last night, we discovered a rather disturbing fact. A United Earth Directorate Ghost was among the assailants that attacked the Queen and me.'
The Asiatic Ghost paled, 'Is that why Siesta has been so robotic today?'
A sense of affirmation came through, 'She was fired upon by the Ghost, and then killed him with a shotgun at near point blank range. The trooper was chum after she went through the whole magazine.'
'Why the hell didn't you tell me Sarah?! She's my daughter for God's sake!'
'We had to be certain of the situation, I want her taken off the training regimen and have her looked over by the psychologist. Once she's been cleared she can continue to train, in the mean time I am coming to Tarbes to assist with the training. War is coming sooner than we anticipated Elliot, we need to be ready, Kerrigan out.'
'Goddamnit Sarah,' he shook his head before returning to the Acolytes, "Recruit Siesta, a word in private!"
Joseph perked up, "She hit the showers Sarge! Should I send one of the others to bring her over?"
Elliot waved him off, "Negative recruit, just have someone go tell her to see me after she's finished."
Female Locker Room
Siesta, while maintaining her fun, and warm exterior was in fact, a sobbing wreck of a woman. The events of last night, the lack of sleep, and the sudden change in routine were now well beyond her ability to cope with.
After being dismissed from their first calisthenics session, she had ran straight into the shower and began to weep. Both hot water and tears ran down her nude body as she gently fell to the floor, her legs simply unable to hold her weight.
She heard Jessica's voice in the locker room, "Siesta, are you in here?"
'No, not like this, not right now!'
"Siesta? Where's my favorite cousin?" The black-haired fairy looked over the shower stall to find a collapsed Siesta inside, "Siesta?! Are you okay? Speak to me!" She dropped her towel kicked down the stall door and immediately embraced the weeping girl in front of her. Jessica looked her in the eyes, "What's wrong beautiful?"
"I can't talk about it Jessica-."
Jessica's sudden outburst took Siesta by surprise, "What-?"
"Lady Kerrigan would never let one of us suffer! She won't mind having you spill some details, and not talking about it is just going to keep tearing you up inside." Jessica's eyes fell to the floor, "When Mom died, I had almost no one to turn to; my dad became Scarron as we know him today out of grief, and inadvertently left me to mourn myself. I would've killed myself had one of the fairies not come along and held me as I cried myself to sleep regularly." A set of tears came from the former fairy, "I don't want to lose my sister in arms, or the one cousin who is like the sister I never had. So please Siesta, talk to me."
The former maid sniffled and began to talk about the previous night as the hot water continued to flow.
Elliot in the meantime was beside himself as he waited for his daughter to come out of the locker room. Seconds that felt like minutes soon felt like hours as he began to pace in a circle.
"I you can keep going in that circle Elliot you'll burn a whole straight into the Abyss itself."
Kerrigan's voice brought the Confederate out of his stupor as he walked right up to the woman and punched her across the face. While Elliot had to shake his hand to get the sensation of utter agony out of it, the Queen of Blades actually spat out a tooth onto the ground.
She rubbed the right side of her jaw, "Okay, I deserved that one. Not telling you what happened was a dick move, and I am sorry. Can we please move on now? She looked around, "Where is Siesta anyways?"
"She hasn't left the locker room in over an hour Sarah. A few girls have gone in but those that have haven't come out yet."
"Ah crap, I'll head in there, and see what's up."
He moved to stop her, "I don't think that's a good idea Sarah."
"What's the worst that could happen Elliot?
The sound of Siesta's weeping was easily heard across the locker room as Kerrigan walked inside. 'I need to be by her side, but I'm not ruining these good clothes if I can help it.' She gingerly removed her silken noble clothing, and hung it up in a corner.
After she ensured she wasn't covered by anything sharp or pointy from her Zerg form (stabbing Siesta was not a priority), Kerrigan donned a towel around her body and walked over to the showers.
"Siesta? It's Sarah, can I come in?"
Some whispers were evident as she waited for a response. The stall door opened and Kerrigan instantly found that the stall was filled up with several people. Nearly every female member of the Acolytes was present, from Louise to Montmorency, along with Allison and Jessica.
She smirked, "It's awfully packed in here, room for one more?"
Meanwhile, Elliot continued to pace, a pattern of wear already emerged from the floor as Kerrigan reached out to him, 'Elliot, cancel training for the rest of the day. Give the guys a ball and have them go play, the girls are having a night in tonight.'
The man was about to retort, but held himself back, 'Very well Sarah, I'll let everyone know.'
That Same Time
The shipyard had gone into overdrive after news of the UED's presence became semi-public knowledge. Drones worked harder and faster than ever before, and their efforts had paid off. Two of the Henrietta class battlecruisers were ready for war, and with a third nearing completion.
The shipyard's manager, an Erebus referred to as Leon watched the progress intently. With the increased speed came an increased chance of a mistake or accident. It was the role of Leon to ensure that potentially costly mistakes were prevented. The Erebus itself demanded such attention to detail.
The very same Erebus reached out to the shipbuilder, 'Leon, how goes my pet project?'
'It is well on its way to completion, half of the heavy construction has been completed, and we have all the rare metals and isotopes we need to start the next phase.'
'Excellent, do any locals suspect?'
'No, we've ensured that area is maintained only be a small cadre of Drones and Overlords. We've used the cover of a sewer line break to keep most of the riff raff away. It won't last for much longer though, I've already heard people asking questions.'
'Either cover won't be needed much longer in any case, with the war coming soon we'll need to ensure everyone is informed of the truth. While I will not be able to properly surprise the Mistress, this will simply have to do.'
'Why is it that you must surprise the Mistress every time?'
The eponymous Erebus paused at that, why did it want to surprise her whenever an opportunity came along? Why not share everything?
It didn't know at all, and answered truthfully, 'Honestly Leon? I don't know. What I do know however, is that we will need every advantage we need to ensure victory. Our susceptibility to Psionic devices is likely still present, and we must limit the Swarm's exposure to such stimuli. We're draining a lot of resources for this, and I know it'll be worth it in the end. I still feel . . . anxious is the Terran term I believe.'
'No one knows how the transition into Halkeginia affected the Swarm as a whole Erebus, this may just be another side effect. I wouldn't read into it.'
'No, you're probably right. In any case, how long until it's completed?'
Leon paused before it responded, 'At the current rate of construction, the third Henrietta class will be finished tomorrow morning. Your project will be complete at the end of the week, sooner if we revealed it to the Crown and to Mistress.'
Erebus quickly sent a nugatory pulse through the connection, 'Absolutely not, we can trust Mistress, but the Crown has been hopelessly compromised by Reconquista. I will not allow them, and by extension the UED any intelligence on our current operations. Umbra believes a proper war declaration will be announced within the next three days. When the UED tips their hand, we will strike back with overwhelming force.'
'Mistress, I have news.'
The woman's eyes opened instantly, 'Go ahead Erebus.'
'I received reports from Leon in the shipyards, construction on the ships for the war effort is nearing completion. All our pilots have been training non-stop and are resting tomorrow, all of their ships will be built and ready for action by the end of the week.'
'The Hercules will be ready by the end of the week Mistress, three are already constructed, and we have three additional hulls being laid tomorrow morning. All Henrietta class cruisers will be online and ready for commissioning after tonight.'
Kerrigan couldn't help but whistle, 'That fast Erebus? What's changed?'
'The region the Abyssals held was filled with a series of highly valuable rare earth metals. Massive stockpiles of tungsten, and iridium are allowing for more efficient power sources and construction. We have also discovered an incredible phenomenon taking place, natural plutonium in a raw, nearly pure state.'
'That's impossible Erebus, plutonium has to be synthesized from U-235 and other uranium isotopes.'
'Normally yes Mistress, but this world has done nothing but break the laws of science Terrans have known for centuries. This plutonium is not only powerful, but somehow is stable enough to be easily carried. It won't go supercritical if left with other deposits of plutonium, unlike most nuclear isotopes. Its pure form makes it ideal as a nuclear core for a missile, and nearly perfect as the catalyst for the Yamato Cannon.'
Her eyes widened, 'Are you saying we could employ Yamatos on the next set of battlecruisers?'
'Potentially yes Mistress, current hulls are wholly incompatible, but newer hulls could be retrofitted to permit a modular bow weapons system. A few days in dry dock could allow a commander to decide whether he wants the traditional forward guns, or a compact Yamato Cannon. The power won't be the same as a capital ship's, but the purified plutonium would bridge the gap considerably.
'How close are we talking?'
'A compact variant doesn't have the same number of focusing coils a Behemoth's main gun has, but with the ore's purity, we're looking at 75% strength, provided the gun is operating at peak efficiency. Realistically however, 50% strength is the average benchmark in most simulations I have run.'
The Erebus continued, 'The compact versions have the potential to also become ground based anti-capital guns. They are total overkill against Halkeginian ships, but if included with Missile Turrets and loaded bunkers they would pose a massive threat to enemy forces of any kind – or faction.'
'How effective would they be against opposing Battlecruisers?'
'They would be best implemented in groups, in a star shaped defensive grid with overlapping fields of fire. If the enemy knew where they were, they could launch cruise missiles and fighter bombers to take out the installation first, albeit with extremely heavy casualties. Both ship-borne and ground based cannons would have approximately the same range, it would be a matter of who shot first. A number of shots from a ground based battery could cause considerable damage and hamper a Behemoth's combat effectiveness.'
A pause came through the connection as the Erebus continued, 'Mistress, I have a request regarding the disclosure of our current assets.'
Kerrigan instantly knew the question before it was evens stated, 'I can permit a certain degree of misdirection Erebus. Do not hide any additional details from me, I will decide which ones can be disclosed to the Crown. Understood?'
The Erebus wasn't entirely pleased with the answer, but accepted it readily. 'Crystal clear Mistress.'
'Thank you Mistress.'
Fourteen sets of combat books clacked together in unison as Kerrigan walked the line of assembled troops. "Good morning recruits!"
"Good morning Captain!"
All fourteen of the Acolytes were dressed in the skintight matte-black sim-suits that Kerrigan and Elliot had demonstrated during the royal visit to Tarbes. The suit, along with a pair of specialized combat boots for use in the simulator made the entire outfit both menacing, yet managed to be eye appealing.
"Today you will all be entering the simulators as a team, this will be a multi-hour tutorial on all the basic training required as a Ghost. You will be learning hand signals, firearms training, and counter-mage tactics. Now remember, you can't die inside the simulator, but remember the fear of death, and death in real life is very much a reality. Enter your simulation pods recruits!"
While the ten new recruits were curious and excited, the four more experienced ones were downright terrified of returning to the simulators.
'Girls, this is not going to be a repeat of your punishment. Using that simulation was an utterly deplorable act, both as a human being and as your commanding officer. Should you ever desire to test your mettle again, that simulation can be re-accessed-.'
Four solid replies caused Kerrigan to stick a finger in her right ear and rub it as if someone had shouted next to her. 'Or not, that's cool too.'
Each recruit was helped into the pod by a pair of support techs, who helped insert the proper tubes into position along with the helmet's oxygen source itself. After the pre-checks were completed, the helmet's oxygen supply engaged and the techs went to the next person in line.
Five minutes later the Acolytes, along with Kerrigan were set up in their simulators as Kerrigan gave a thumbs up to the control booth. The signal had the techs to quickly fill the sim-pods with neuro-electrically enhanced water as the recruits saw the world fade into darkness.
The recruits looked around and were stunned by the sudden change in scenery. Everyone was inside what appeared to be a hallway, with marble floors and pillars seemingly going on forever in every direction. An open ceiling with a clear sky stood above them all as Kerrigan clapped her hands.
"This is The Hall, you will enter each and every simulation at this point and you can either walk to your simulation, or have the Adjutant take you to the simulation of your choice. Not every location has been opened to you as of yet, many advanced training scenarios and combat options are not safe for recruits to try alone." She turned back to the still awestruck group, "Now then, let us continue to the firing range, the first door on the left."
In a matter of seconds, the group appeared in an industrial themed hallway that had an end 100 meters away. As Kerrigan led them forward, the recruits gaped as they saw a massive target range, with its end visible in the distance on their right.
"This is the Firing Range, every handheld and stationary weapon available to you can be practiced with here. Everything from pistols to man-portable artillery pieces can be safely used and tested at your discretion. The range is monitored by its own, dedicated Adjutant in order to make your experience as smooth and realistic as possible. Another part of these simulators is the ability to realistically portray every part of war. From touch, hearing, smell, sight and even taste are replicated with extreme detail. We want to ensure that any disturbing imagery in the field doesn't damage your ability to perform."
The 14 FNG's shifted nervously as she continued, "War is a bloody, unpleasant, and horrific thing. Whatever stories of glory, honor and booty are completely exaggerated."
As she finished Freon shouted out, "What about our honor as nobles?!"
Kerrigan facepalmed, "Recruit Freon, you are among the elite, those who have been selected to become one of Tristain's most elite fighting forces. A skilled, experienced, and strong psionic can stand against any Square class Mage and be on equal footing at the very least. The common recruits were ecstatic and began to smile.
"I myself fought The Heavy Wind herself to a standstill when I was weakened, in addition I was actively trying not to kill the Duchess at Recruit Valliere's request. Psionics have dramatic advantages over pure mages in most circumstances. Those with magic in their blood can theoretically cast magic more effectively, reliably, and can use their psionic powers to amplify their magic power. In essence Recruit Freon, the ability to use psionic power could easily turn your line rank into square in a few years, if not a matter of months."
She turned to Montmorency and Katie, "This also applies to Recruits Verdun and Montmorency, so there is no reason to deny your abilities and powers due to being 'noble' because your actions will make you noble in the end."
The silver-haired witch calmed down and became silent as Kerrigan motioned to her right, "Now then, take your place here in the firing line."
The recruits all stood in front of the large firing box provided for each recruit. Kerrigan's voice boomed as she explained every part of the firing box to them. A set of buttons allowed the user to set the position they wanted to fire from, as basic as standing or sitting to lying prone or crouching at various elevations. On the right, a console was present with a myriad of options for weapon selection, range settings such as target distance, and various conditions in the field, such as heavy precipitation, extreme temperatures, or clear weather.
"Now that I've explained myself, we will go into the first room you will be frequenting the most here, The Dojo."
Beneath the White Isle
That Same Time
A pre-maturely greyed man with a single star on each shoulder was in the captain's ready room of the only Odysseus class capital ship that survived the pacification campaign. The 'Brood War' as the savage locals called it.
He, along with a few thousand troops, technicians, and other non-combat personnel had escaped the planet Abaddon before the Swarm tracked them down in two commandeered Behemoth Battlecruisers. Once they saw lines however, the pursuit stopped and the crew began to finally let the stress come out. Discipline was the first thing to fail, but the second, and worst were the Warp Drives.
The sudden deceleration killed scores on arrival, and damaged the ships sufficiently enough to make travel to Earth an impossibility. Their only saving grace was finding a garden world less than a week's travel from their position.
The natives had surprised them, actual human beings in what was considered a dead zone was nothing short of remarkable. In return for assisting the religious authorities with the 'pacification' of several 'heretic' and Elven posts the group and their ships were given safe harbor in a massive, secluded glen deep in Romalia.
The remaining labor force aboard all three ships went to work digging out the glen for a proper hiding place for each cruiser. While parts of all three ships could be hidden underground, the majority of the nearly kilometer long Behemoths remained vulnerable.
An SCV pilot, who had been drafted from one of the Dominion's agri-colonies suggested the idea of building a valley over the existing glen. The catch was simple, use the three battlecruisers as the 'hills' and to support an artificial landmass.
The proposal itself was as ridiculous in execution as it was in practicality. After he heard the man's thoughts and how he would go about it, he had approved it immediately. With the aid of Romalian Earth mages, and the wonders of modern construction, the project went forward steadily.
Thirteen months later, the 'valley' had been completed, and was complete with rolling plains, a small herd of deer, dozens of transplanted trees, even a flowing creek made the landmass appear completely authentic.
The months became years as the former soldiers and military contractors became miners and farmers, vast food stores and ore deposits were quickly scooped up and traded with the Church for specialized assistance, and continued patronage to their hosts. His major of 'Middle Ages Study and History' at the Terran Naval Officers Academy on Europa had been incredibly valuable in their political dealings and negotiation with the Church as a whole.
Just weeks prior to today however, Zerg forces had been detected around the planet. At the first signs of trouble, the officers had been convened together for an actual threat assessment and told of the Zerg's appearance – and dramatic change in tactics.
Ever since then, UED forces had been done nothing but train and prepare for the eventual battle against the Zerg.
The man turned to see a Phantom operative casually standing in front of his desk, "I see you let yourself in again Operative Danzen."
"Phantoms such as myself loath using doors Admiral. You know that better than most."
"I'm also aware of your lack of adherence to military protocol Operative. Not standing at attention upon seeing a superior officer, not saluting and holding said salute before it being returned. Hell, you didn't even knock on my door-."
"With respect Admiral, the first one I'm guilty of. The others, not so much. For the second part, we are below deck, meaning I am not required to salute as it is improper behavior for a naval officer to salute without a cover on their head."
"And the third Operative?
"I never used the door at all Admiral. Back on topic however, Operative Genesis was killed in action last night alongside Lord Richmond at an ambush at the Tristainia Royal Theater."
Dufay buried his face into his hands, "We have but a few remaining Operatives left, this is not good news." He moved his hands back onto the table and looked straight into the Phantom's eyes, "Tell me what happened, in detail."
He nodded, "Genesis was assigned to act as Richmond's personal bodyguard, separate of the small military force the Lord kept as a status symbol. I decided that due to the Queen of Blades' influence, an agent that could escape detection and potentially eliminate Queen Henrietta was deemed essential. In addition, a Phantom Operative would be the most suitable military liaison with Reconquista's contact in Tristain. Unfortunately, the Queen caught onto our plans some time ago, and was looking for the right moment to strike."
"And she found it, didn't she?" Dufay finished.
"She did Admiral. I believe the Queen faked her own disappearance to trick Richmond and his accomplice out into the open. Operative Genesis actively advised Richmond against a public meeting, but was overruled. Perhaps I should let the video from Genesis' ocular implants tell the rest of the story."
Dufay watched helplessly as Richmond and his contact spoke and as Queen Henrietta revealed herself and effectively sentenced the Tristainian to death. The Phantom cocked his weapon and as he turned around saw Kerrigan's razor wings, limbs that had been the source of massive fear in the expeditionary force, tear the gauss rifle apart and an open palmed strike that sent him flying onto the stage.
Several warnings appeared on the video, highlighting internal damage and broken bones. 'Lacerated liver, ruptured spleen, moderate abdominal bleeding and multiple rib fractures.' "Operative, that was from a single punch?"
"Yes Admiral, from what I can tell about Kerrigan's stance however it was intended to get Genesis as far from the Queen as possible. If I may Admiral?"
Dufay nodded as he saw the Phantom cough up blood and heard a shotgun cocking. The operative turned, pointed his flak pistol at the sound, and fired the entire magazine at the woman in front of him. A bubble of purple-blue energy appeared dispersing every blast of hardened explosive flechettes designed to punch through powered armor like a snowball hitting a wall. The last image was the shotgun firing into Genesis and then, nothing.
"Tristain has psionic soldiers as well?"
Danzen nodded, "From what I've been able to piece together from this footage, yes Admiral they do. From what I've seen they are also far more powerful than our own."
"It's just a matter of time until the war begins in earnest, especially now that Kerrigan has positively confirmed our existence here." Dufay turned to Danzen, "Ensure the remaining Phantoms are prepared for counter-psionic tactics, dismissed."
"Alright ladies, is everyone dressed for the night?" A chorus of yes' came from the Acolytes as Kerrigan held up a video disc, "Tonight, we are going to watch a classic romance film from Earth!"
One voice shouted out, "A film?"
"It's like a play, but you are completely immersed inside. No improvisation, no gimmicks, just scripted scenes and plot. I'm sure you'll like it girls! I present to you, 'The Notebook.'"
95 Minutes Later
The whole gaggle of girls (minus Kerrigan) wept as the couple died in each other's arms as their lives slipped away. Everyone was being hugged by the people beside them and the sound of wet sobs echoed through the hallways of the Ghost Academy.
Kerrigan herself was letting Allison and Louise cry into her chest. The soaking wet feeling of her nightgown was unpleasant and more than likely revealing, but the woman in her knew when to sit down and bear it.
'There will be far more sobbing in the near future, that's for sure.'
The men, who had retired to their own dorms to discuss training (and the women they were serving beside) instantly felt the hair on the back of their necks standing on end at the sound of a ghostly wail as it echoed through the halls.
Omake – Alternate Locker Room Scene
As she went inside the locker room, only one shower stall was running. She walked carefully over to the stall, the sound of quiet sobbing and several consoling voices caused her to freeze in place.
" . . Again, I'm so sorry Siesta. I can't imagine what that would've been like."
'That sounds like Allison, who else is in there?'
"I love you sweetheart, my dad loves you and everyone back home in Tarbes certainly loves you."
A sense of imminent danger passed into the woman's subconscious, "Sarah, you can come in here or continue to eavesdrop."
Kerrigan cleared her throat and walked into the stall, "Hey everyone did you miss me-?"
A blast of emotionally charged psionic energy came from Siesta as she leapt up and drop kicked the Captain of the Tristain Ghost Corps through two rows of lockers, and a solid neo-steel wall before coming to a halt in front of another row of lockers.
Kerrigan coughed up blood and a few more teeth as she shook her head, trying to clear the disorientation.
Joseph's call was instantaneous, "Captain on deck!" The sound of naked limbs coming together in attention instantly forced her back into reality as she looked around to find several nude men standing at ramrod attention, one or two in a more literal fashion.
"Uh, carry on gentlemen," Kerrigan moved to get up but was instantly blasted back into the lockers by a fully naked, and nearly glowing Siesta.
The men in the room gawked at the voluptuous maid before she glared daggers at each of them, "Find somewhere else to be, now!" The still nude males quickly donned their towels and ran out the door, not daring to take a second look. "Oh Founder, what have I done!?"
The black-haired woman immediately fell to the floor and wept. As soon as the cries started they ended when Kerrigan embraced her. Surprised, she looked to a smiling Kerrigan, who was missing several teeth and had a line of blood coming out of her mouth, "Hey, it's alright Siesta. You needed to get that stress out of you somehow, and I'd rather it be on me then someone-."
A cleared throat interrupted the two, the voice of Louise clear as day, "More frail?"
Kerrigan shook her head, "I was thinking 'less durable' but-."
"Siesta, please feel free to take out your physical stress on my familiar. I'm sure she can handle it."
A sickening grin came across the maid's face as she cracked her knuckles, "Oh come on-."
After several minutes, the girls walked out of the locker room, minus Kerrigan with smiles on their faces.
Elliot was the most confused but instantly started to laugh upon seeing Kerrigan come out beaten bloody. "And you said 'what's the worst that could happen!'"
"Go on Elliot! Laugh it up! I'm going to go throw up my spleen and the rest of my teeth, excuse me!"
A/N: I hope you didn't mind my alternate ending for this chapter. It was originally the first version of this chapter's end. After the lack of words made me sad I decided to rewrite it. I never deleted it from the document, so I felt like sharing it with you.
Unfortunately, I've run out of steam on my other stories as of now, the re-write for the first season has been slow going at best, and getting hurt at work didn't help matters.
That being said, I've had a lot of support for this story and the Zero in the Mojave. A big thank you to all of my fans out there! Second, there will NOT be another crossover this year as of yet. If there is however, I am currently divided between two FOZ Crossovers: Mass Effect and X-COM, or if my drive returns I'll be looking to finish 'Zero and a Vampire'.
Now that I've teased you, please continue to check in and read my new chapters as they are released. The Next Chapter to be released will be a double release, the next episode, and the Omake!
"I'll see you in the funny papers."