THE WRATH OF CONN [Ep 10]


#21

As Eleod faced off with Fara, everyone in the chamber suddenly became aware of the other eyes watching them. Somehow, dark pinpoints could be both seen and felt from every corner of the Baneling nest. Figures cloaked in purest shadow, the size of a man but made of cold, unadulterated darkness had surrounded them. They watched intently as the girl with the Mana Sword – who had just cut away the strands of the spell meant to destroy the Device With No Name – stared down the Son of Shade.

“Step aside, Fara,” Eleod said. “This is what we came here for.”

“Maybe it’s what you came here for,” Fara said. “But I came here because you said you needed me. Remember? Maybe this is what you needed me for, to stop you from doing this.”

“Fara,” Eleod said, coolly, “I don’t know what you think you’re doing --”

“No,” Fara said, “You don’t. And that’s just the problem! Aren’t you going to ask me where I was? If I’m injured? If Roxanne’s injured?”

“We don’t have time for this!” Eleod said.

Fara laughed. “You have as much time as I say you do,” she said. “Because I’m not moving, and I’m not letting you or your friends near this Device until you’ve heard me out.”

The Shield put an armored hand on Eleod’s shoulder. The superhero moved out from the circle and walked closer to Fara.

“All right, Fara,” the Shield said. “You’ve got our attention.” He turned and looked at the Baneling Busters. “We’ll listen. Won’t we?”

Without waiting, Fara went on: “There was an explosion in the docking bay. Galgann’s fire set off a fuel drum, and that was it. Boom. Roxanne protected me from the blast, and from strikes from the Baneling we ran afoul of after docking. When I came to, a cave in had separated us from the rest of you, and Roxanne was badly injured. Lethally so. And wouldn’t you know it, there was the Baneling that did it. The Baneling that killed Dr. Dougal. That wounded Roxanne. It was trapped. It was helpless. And its life was mine to snuff out at my whim.”

Fara shook her head. “But I didn’t. Because unlike the rest of you, I got close enough to see what the creature actually was. It was a child. In all your years killing monsters did any one of you stop to think that monsters could have children? Could have families?”

“I seen Banelings kill children before,” Horker scoffed. “Kinda nixes my sympathy for 'em, if you know what I mean.”

“Well I decided not to be a child-killing monster,” Fara said. “I set the Baneling child free. And do you know what happened next? One of the adult Banelings came out of the shadows. It approached me, and because of everything I’ve heard about them, I was terrified. It knelt by Roxanne… and it healed her. It healed her.” Fara looked out at the Banelings gathered in the dark. “These creatures aren’t monsters. They had no say in their creation, the life that Conn wanted them to lead. In fact, from everything I’ve seen, they’ve rejected that life. These Banelings are good.” Fara sighed and shook her head again. “The only monsters here, are us. Because we came here with the intent to wipe these creatures out and destroy the only means they have of reproducing. Dooming them, and whatever potential they might have had, to extinction. Isn’t that the kind of bullshit you all fought a war against the Gods themselves to stop!?”

“That’s nonsense,” Galgann said, with a sneer. “Stupid girl. Banelings don’t heal. How hard did you hit your head? Where is your valkyrie now, if the Banelings healed her wound?”

“It’s true,” Roxanne said, stepping forward. “I’ll admit that I was out cold when all this happened… but when I woke I had a new – and quite painful – scar on my side, and Fara had an insane story to tell of how that scar formed. I’ve known Fara to be a great many things in my time with her… but she is no liar. She tells the truth, and my being alive before you now is proof of it.”

“No,” Eleod said. “It’s not true. You don’t know, Fara. You don’t know them like we do. If you did… if you knew the loss we’ve suffered, the friends we’ve lost… you would not dare profane their memories by standing in our way now. I will ask you one more time, Fara… stand aside. Let us do what must be done.”

Fara shut her eyes. She took a breath. “No.” She stood squarely in front of the Device. “Being the Mana Knight means standing for something. And right now, I’m going to stand for these Banelings’ right to exist.”

Roxanne nodded. She moved to stand next to Fara. “So do I. If you must destroy this Device, you must destroy the both of us along with it.”

“Dammit, Roxanne,” Eleod stammered. “You don’t have to… don’t have to…”

The Shield took his place next to Fara, just opposite Roxanne. “Same here,” the Shield said, folding his arms. “Hope you boys brought something that can crack seraphim plastic.”

Osprey slid Shiva’s Edge into its sheath. He started to walk toward Fara and the rest, to join his friends.

“Osprey,” Eleod said, grasping at the former spy’s shoulder.

Osprey turned and locked eyes with Eleod. Then, with unexpected quickness, he slapped the old dwarf across his face.

“You ruined movie night,” he said, wagging his finger in Eleod’s stunned face, before moving off to stand with Fara, the Shield and Roxanne.

Eleod stood there and stared as the four friends – the Heroes of Albrook – stood, shielding the Device With No Name with their very bodies.

Eleod nodded grimly. “So be it,” he said, as he began to channel a spell. “Baneling Busters… on my command.”

Horker and Galgann, snarling victoriously, began to work together to conjure an enormous ball of churning frostfire.

“Let’s see if we can build this sucker up to hit seraphim’s melting point,” Horker cackled, Galgann joining him with psychotic glee.

Only Thetrel took pause.

“Eleod,” the sheikah said, “This isn’t right. You can’t…”

“Now’s not the time to break ranks, Skysinger,” Eleod said, “We’re in this together! We have to do this!!”

“Dammit, Eleod, those aren’t Banelings there! That’s the Mana Knight and the Shield!” Thetrel cried. “For Gods’ sakes, THE GREAT WAR IS OVER!”

Eleod stopped. His eyes went wide. “No,” he said, as if to himself. Grilka’s voice echoed in his head… the same words. The same sentiment. The same anger.

He looked up and he saw Fara standing there. Such courage. Such nobility. Such… heroism.

Gods, what was he doing?.. What had he become? What kind of a monster would…

The balls of dark force he was gathering in his fists slowly dissipated. “Stand down,” Eleod sighed. “I said stand down!”

Galgann and Horker, surprised, allowed their gathered elemental energies to fizzle.

Eleod slumped to his knees. Tears streamed down his face, and he pitched forward, his hands catching the earth as his back heaved with his sobs.

“Ah geez,” Horker groaned. “What a time for the CO ta grow a vagina.”

Thetrel threw an elbow into Horker’s ribs. The massive todo backed away and raised his arms in surrender.


#22

Sparks flew from a set of exposed wires dangling from the ceiling.

Conn could see them only through blurred, spinning vision. His hearing was muffled; his skin ringing with numbness, but for a sharp pain at his left temple, where a stream of blood ran perilously close to his swollen-shut eye.

With a groan, Lord General Conn Guitierrez sat up. All round him, death and destruction: the bridge of the Storm’s Eye in ruins. His crew – apparently dead to a man. Or so he initially thought.

Crying out in surprise, Conn was lifted from a pile of corpses by Marcellus the ork. Next to him, Fortibras (now missing half his right arm) smiled and waved.

“Good fellows,” Conn said. “I am glad you did not die… unlike the rest of these USELESS WEENIES.”

Conn struggled to remember what had happened. It was all a haze: it all happened so fast. One minute, Conn believed himself victorious. Then, there was doubt. And after the doubt… someone was firing. The engines went first, then main power. Then explosions rippled through the ship. Then, darkness. And pain. And now, dead weenies.

In the midst of his remembering, Conn stopped. His hearing, along with the rest of his senses, were slowly returning to him. Someone was speaking… were there more survivors? No, this was not the sound of speaking. It was the sound of… broadcasting? Static? A message! The comm!

With points and angry grunts, Conn directed Marcellus to carry him over to the communications console. The ork shoved the dead Tyranid from her seat, only to discover that her acidic blood had eaten through most of the actual sitting-part of the seat. Obliging, Marcellus leaned in, still holding Conn, so that the mighty Lord General could manipulate the console. His tiny hands throttled up the volume.

“-- Storm’s Eye, you are to lower your weapons and prepare to be boarded. In the name of the Grand Army Charter Alliance, you are to remand yourselves to our custody and cease all hostilities at once. This message repeats: attention, commander and crew of stolen SAGA vessel Storm’s Eye, you are to lower your weapons and prepare to --”

Conn snapped his fingers, and Fortinbras shoved his massive foot into the communications console, sending up a new shower of sparks. Conn sighed. “No, no no no,” He said. Clapping his hands, he reached up and whispered into Marcellus’ ear. The ork nodded obediently, and carried Conn off, deeper into the bowels of the Storm’s Eye. As they reached main engineering, Conn clapped Marcellus on the shoulder, and the ork set him down. Both Marcellus and Fortibras stood there watching, as Conn moved between several of the consoles, cackling madly.

Down here, the message from the Iceni kept broadcasting. But now, instead of angering Conn, it seemed to fuel his manic glee.

As he stopped at one console, rapidly pressing a series of buttons, he muttered: “To the last, I grapple with thee…” Then, he moved on to another console (standing atop the mutilated and burned corpse of a moblin to reach it): “from Hell’s heart, I stab at thee…” And again, to a third console, where he threw a switch upward and then pressed another series of buttons. “For hate’s sake… I spit my last breath at thee!”

The message from Iceni stopped. Then, another message replaced it: “Self destruct sequence activated. Ten minutes to total reactor core failure…”

“THOU ART A WEENIE, MOUNTBATTEN!!!” Conn’s laughter echoed through the dying husk of the Aquitane battleship.


Kaeli, the young mul girl who had been working as a waitress in a sandwich shop before coming along on this epic space adventure, stopped as she noticed something strange. “Admiral… I’m reading something I don’t quite recognize from inside the hull of the Storm’s Eye.”

Mountbatten, who had been looking over his crew manifest to assemble the perfect borading crew, stopped in his tracks. “Oh no,” he said. “I ought to have guessed… It’s the reactor, isn’t it?”

Kaeli shook her head. “I’m not quite sure… it’s an energy buildup, certainly --”

“He’s engaged self destruct,” Mountbatten said. “If we’re close enough to detect the energy buildup in the midst of this storm it may already be too late. V3, turn us around and move us away from the battleship. Full speed.”

V3 beeped. As Mountbatten sat back down in his chair, he reached down for his mug of coffee, and took a big swig. It amazed him that it was still warm! And NONE had spilled. He looked down at Bim.

“You, my friend, are the true hero of this day,” the Admiral-Supreme said.

Biminberrick would retell the story of how Admiral Mountbatten had told him that for as long as he lived.

Of course, if the Iceni couldn’t get away from the Storm’s Eye in time, that might not be much longer.

“V3?” Admiral Mountbatten said, with some urgency.

V3-86F beeped in protest. “We’re going as fast as we can,” Nopen said, “But we can’t make top speed because we’re still on auxiliary power!”

Mountbatten tapped into the intercom. “Engineering, this is the bridge. Violante? If you have any tricks up your sleeve to give us a little more juice, now’s the time… no pressure, but it’s life or death.”

Minutes passed. Gradually, the static on the viewscreen started to clear as the Iceni made it past the storm.

Nopen sighed. “We’re… almost out of the storm. That’s good, right?”

“Not good enough,” Mountbatten said, his face grim.

Suddenly, the Iceni lurched forward. A hum rang all around them as main power was restored. V3 chirped in excitement.

Without waiting for the translation, Mountbatten pointed forward. “Everything you’ve got, V3! Punch it!”

The Iceni shot forward with a burst of speed. Mountbatten slumped back in his seat, exhaling a sigh of relief. If it were not space, he surely would have heard the blast of the Storm’s Eye from behind him, ringing out across the heavens, just barely fizzling at the outmost edges of the explosion’s radius and failing to catch the Iceni within its destructive embrace. But since this was space, all they had was the certainty Mountbatten expressed that they had, in fact, outpaced the explosion and gotten away safely, just in the nick of time.

Mountbatten suddenly sat straight up. “Oh no,” he said, with sudden realization. He activated his comm again. “Violante! Are you there!?”

“Yeah, I’m here Admiral,” Violante said.

“Oh thank the Gods,” Mountbatten said. He sighed with relief. “But, wait. The damage reports you gave me on the reactor… If your estimations were correct, only entering the reactor chamber itself to change out the coupling would have given us our main power back so quickly! But no human could have survived such exposure, so how did you --”

“I didn’t,” Violante said. “Butlesworth did. He’s a robot, so it was all okay, and he saved us all.”

“Oh, all right. That makes sense, good thinking. I’m glad you didn’t go into the reactor chamber yourself to make a noble sacrifice to save us, Violante.” Mountbatten rubbed his eyes. This mission had been far more excitement than he was used to. “All right V3,” said the Admiral, “Let’s swing around for our team back on the facility. By now they ought to have completed their mission.”


#23

::Docking Bay, aboard the Iceni::

As the gunship landed, Admiral Mountbatten and his crew stood at attention. Behind Mountbatten, Dr. Tatsumota rubbed his hands together in eager anticipation.

The loading ramp lowered, and one by one, the Baneling Busters exited. Roxanne and the Shield together carried out Dr. Dougal’s remains on a stretcher. Mountbatten sighed and shook his head.

“Every mission has its casualties,” he said. He looked to Eleod. “Well? Make your report, Vrinnicus. Where’s the Device With No Name.”

Eleod turned and looked back at Fara. Then, he looked back to Mountbatten. “Admiral Supreme. As we landed in the docking bay, we encountered Banelings almost immediately. We fought to establish a beachhead, but Dr. Dougal did not survive the skirmish. With the scientist dead, we had no one with expertise enough to safely deactivate the Device so we could secure it for transport. Being left with no alternative, we fought our way into the heart of the facility, destroyed the Device, and then fought our way back to extraction.”

Admiral Mountbatten arched a brow as he regarded Eleod. His eyes passed along all of the other returning warriors. Behind him, Tatsumota slid his hands in his pockets and quietly raged at this misfortune.

“I see,” Mountbatten said. “With Dr. Dougal your only casualty.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Interesting,” Mountbatten said. “Fought your way to extraction and just happened to return to your shuttle in time to catch our communique that we’d returned to pick you up?”

“Yes, sir. Your timing’s as good as ever, sir.”

“And all that time we were gone,” Mountbatten said, “Through all our exchanges with Conn and the Storm’s Eye… you were fighting – the whole time! – against throngs of Banelings.”

“It was a horrific, pitched battle, sir.”

“With no losses at all!”

“Well. Dr. Dougal, sir. We’re all lucky just to be alive.”

Mountbatten looked over the returning troops again. “Forget no losses: no injuries. No maimings. Hell, you don’t even look particularly dirty for all the fighting you claim you just did.” The Admiral fixed his eyes on Eleod. “Let me ask you again, Vrinnicus: is this, in fact, the report you’re making?”

Eleod returned Mountbatten’s stare. “Something wrong with your hearing, old man?”

Mountbatten searched Eleod’s face. He cracked a grin. “Not at all. I was just concerned because – how’s it go? The memory goes first as you get older?..”

Tatsumota caught on to the exchange. Suspecting shenanigans, he stepped forward. “Admiral. I demand we go back. Give me marines and send me down to the surface, I want to inspect the ruins of the Device myself.”

“That won’t be necessary, Doctor,” Mountbatten said. He drew his communicator off his belt. “Bridge, this is the Admiral. Full speed home.”

Tatsumota fumed. “Do not think this is the last you will hear of this, Admiral. The Celpo is Mother, after all.”

As the docking bay began to clear out, Mountbatten spotted Fara. He walked toward her with intention, stopped in front of her. Fara almost doubled over at the Admiral’s abrupt approach. She froze in place, as Mountbatten scrutinized her.

“So,” he said, standing straight up and clasping his hands in the small of his back. “I hear it was quite the slaughter down there. Hundreds, thousands of Banelings… and you brave heroes just waded through them, massacring the lot of them.”

Fara pursed her lips, and quickly nodded. “Yeah, it was… awful. The carnage, I mean.”

“Yes, the carnage,” Mountbatten said. He caught a glimpse of Roxanne walking by and his eyes followed her. Then he quickly looked back at Fara. “You know, not a lot of people really think about how to dress for an outing like this, do they?”

Fara shrugged. “I dunno, the Shield seemed to pack just right for the occasion.”

Mountbatten smiled. “He did at that. And look at you, with your armor vest. New, I think, isn’t it? Never seen combat before, has it?”

“Yeah,” Fara said. Then, quickly: “I mean, except for just now, of course.”

Mountbatten laughed. “Of course. But that’s not the thing that caught my eye when I spotted you, Fara. Didn’t you find it cold down there? Wouldn’t you have liked to have brought along a sweater?”

Fara balked, and her eyes widened.

“It’s funny to me that the only signs of damage among your whole party,” Mountbatten observed, “Are your missing sweater… and the bloody tear in the side of Roxanne’s combat suit. If I had to guess, I’d say Roxanne was hit by one of the Banelings, and you ripped your sweater to shreds to stop the bleeding. There might also have been a small explosion or cave-in, which explains the dust particles in your hair… but all that’s beside the point. Tell me true, Fara: Eleod’s story. It’s bullshit, isn’t it?”

Fara paused, in thought. Then she looked the Admiral right in the eye and said: “A lot of things happened down there. Hardly any of it happened the way I thought it was going to… and before I was in the thick of it I wouldn’t have ever guessed I was capable of some of the things I did. But let me tell you one thing, Admiral: exactly none of it was bullshit. Believe Eleod or don’t… the only thing you need to worry about is the Baneling Busters succeeded in their mission. And the Device With No Name is no longer a threat to anyone in the Web.”

Mountbatten pursed his lips and sighed. He looked at Fara hard. Then, after a long moment, he nodded solemnly. “Well who am I to doubt the word of the Mana Knight, hmm?” He reached out to shake the girl’s hand. “Thank you, Fara Somers. Though the wider public will never know of the service you rendered to the Grand Army Charter Alliance and the Republic of Tasnica this day… know that you will always have my respect and admiration for what you did here.”

Fara shook the Admiral’s hand. “Can we… hurry up and get home now? If I calculated the travel times right, and we’ve been out for as long as I think we have, I might just get back to Albrook in time to get a C- on most of my final exams.”