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Chapter 12: The Prophecy

It has been long written that he would return, and conquer once again...

quote from unknown source, late 3rd millennium.

Out of time and out of mind, a single vessel, no larger than a frigate, cruised silently through the starless black of n-space, deep within the Helios grav-well. In and of itself, this might not have been vastly out of the ordinary. Ever since the invention of grav-shunting, it had been considered a slim, but ever-present hazard of interstellar travel for a ship to become lost in the endless sub-ether between the dimensions. None of these vessels had ever been heard from again. Therefore, what would happen next was not only out of the ordinary, but also unprecedented.

Aboard the vessel, something stirred. A low hum spread across its hallways as long-dormant systems coming online one by one, as power began to slowly flow through the generators of the centuries-old ship - a sound which most experienced spacers would subconsciously filter out: aboard an operational spacecraft, the hum of generators and the whirring of air recyclers were nearly omnipresent, and true silence was normally considered to be a very bad sign.

Deep within the ship's hull, in a high-vaulted chamber set directly above the main generator, a tangle of cables disengaged themselves from a whirling device of spinning globes, attached to a central hub by long spokes. A few moments later, the ship's crew, entombed within stasis chambers across the ship, began to rouse, the casks of their stasis pods creaking open with the hiss of hydraulics. Across the ship's internal comm system, a voice spoke, the lilting, feminine voice of the vessel's onboard AI.

"Activation sequence engaged. Cyclic jumps dampening. Synchronisation modulator disengaged. Commencing awakening from low-level cryofreeze units. Operation 'Hypnos' complete."

"Probes have been launched to our other systems. Feedback shows 87% success from hibernation. As predicted, certain modules failed, reviving subjects earlier than anticipated. Nevertheless, 'silence' maintained: units euthanised after completion of total systems check. Calculate 3% attrition from Kairos-induced organ failure."

"Signals coming in from other systems now. Only Ecbatana system has not reported in - data link suggests complete failure of cryofreeze systems."

Across the ship, newly awakened men began to march down towards the cargo bay, before forming up into great blocks of power-armoured soldiers, standing to attention in readiness. Officers stalked between the formed ranks of troops, checking their charges for any signs of ill health. If any of the troops were disheartened by the AI's reports of systems failure and euthanisation, they gave no indication of it, their expressions impassive behind the view slits of their steel-crested helmets. If anything, there was an aura of anticipation across the cargo bay, of men who were finally getting to experience something that they had looked forward to for a long time.

At the command throne of the ship's bridge, set beneath a great bronze plaque bearing the icon of a two-horned ram, a withered man, with one eye as dark as night, the other blue as the sky, took his seat, as he listened to the AI's reports. Around the throne worked a number of bridge officers - the first of the vessel's crew to be awakened - who monitored an array of consoles as the last of the ship's systems finally came online. Like the soldiers in the cargo bay below, they were dressed in suits of segmented battle armour - even here, in the relative safety of the ship's bridge. Their commander, though wearing only a simple dress uniform, managed to dominate the chamber through sheer personal prescence and body language, even surrounded by the much bulkier forms of his armoured officers. Like their commander, the bridge officers looked gaunt and with sunken features, but their movements were quick and decisive - the actions of trained, motivated men who had long awaited this moment.

The AI continued: "Localised data follows; Orchitin system: 85% success. Madigant system: 82% success. Pommigral system: 92% succe..."

"That will be all for now, Lachesis. If there are any new developments, patch them through to my personal console." The ship's AI fell silent. Though highly advanced by most standards, Lachesis was essentially a jumped-up number cruncher with a superficial personality overlay - little comparison to the vastly more sophisticated intelligences produced by the Syntha.

The commander stroked his chin thoughtfully. "So. Old Parmenion didn't make it. Regrettable, but it makes the situation clearer now." Despite his appearance, the man's voice was firm and strong - the voice of a man not accustomed to allowing obstacles to stand in his way.

One of the officers looked up from his console. "Sir. We have General Krateros on the Iskandrian link."

"Understood, Hephaestion - patch him through."

A viewscreen in front of the commander's throne flickered into life. Though crackly with static, it showed the face of a battle-scarred man, though one just as worn and gaunt as the officers on the ship. He was standing in a darkened room, illuminated only by the dull red glare of low-power emergency lighting. From what could be seen of his surroundings, he was clearly in some kind of command centre or communications hub, but almost all the machines around him sat cold and silent, and most flat surfaces were covered with a thick layer of dust - clearly, this place had not been used in some time.

"Krateros here!" declared the general over the ship's comm. "Everything is ready as planned, and casualties from the hibernation systems were well within acceptable margins. We await your orders."

The commander gave a small smile. "Good. Good. Well-rested, Krateros?"

Krateros gave a crooked grin of his own. "Well enough, sir. It's been too long."

The commander shook his head. "No, my old friend. It has been exactly long enough. The day which we have long awaited has arrived at last. You know what to do. Your men all know the roles they have to play in our great endeavour. Execute 'the Prophecy'."

"Yes sir, lord Iskander!"