Chapter 9
Sealing the Grave
ESS Ticonderoga, Outside Union Space
Date: Mon 18 Sep 122
Time: UST 1311

As was his custom, Admiral Mfume personally delivered the report to Marshal Van Daan. He glanced at the DataPad in his hand as he read off the details.
"We are currently of Day 13 of the operation. Our current estimates show that 98% of Erebus is secure and the remaining two percent should be secured within the next 24 hours. We have confirmed 432 enemy kills and have not succeeding in capturing any live Sheolites. Resistance is largely nonexistent at this point. Defense systems have been neutralized, but booby traps continue to pose a threat. Our casualties stand at 18 dead and 37 wounded. Are we clear to proceed with Phase Three of the operation, sir?"
There was a sixteen-minute delay on top of the few minutes it took the Marshal to take in the report.
"Your orders are to hold Erebus and to continue to monitor the area for Sheolite activity," he replied. "A flotilla of three intel ships are eight days out and will converge on your location to process the site. The flotilla's callsign is 'Proserpina'. Challenge codes will be submitted 12 hours prior to their scheduled arrival."
"Are there any additional orders, sir?" Admiral Mfume asked.
Once the delay had passed, Marshal Van Daan replied, "Negative. You have your orders. Van Daan, out."
The feed cut off. Due to the tensions between Marshal Van Daan and the command staff, he kept their communication as brief as possible. Admiral Mfume also worked toward this end, acting as the sole spokesman for the command staff and saving any discussion until after the Marshal left.
"Do we have any questions?" the Admiral asked.
"I don't like it," Commodore Frazier said. "Eight days out means those spooks have been hanging around since before the operation started."
"No one ever said the site would be processed by this task force alone," Commander Sharif countered.
"Fuckin' spooks..." Colonel Vasquez grumbled under his breath.
Ignoring Colonel Vasquez, Admiral Mfume said, "Our objective is simple. We will continue to rotate our forces on the surface and out in space until we get the green light to proceed with the destruction of the facility. There should not be many surprises left on Erebus. So as long as the Sheolites do not return, the operation should conclude with little incident."
The Admiral did not seem to realize the peril of tempting fate so, but it would soon be made clear.

* * *

Location: 'Erebus', Outside Union Space
Date: Sat 27 Sep 122
Time: UST 0322

It takes knowledge and skill to create, but destruction requires only instinct. It is the natural direction of all existence. That is why a mere thrall like him was sufficient for a task of this magnitude. The time had come to return this abomination of stone and steel to the Void. The Sons of Men who intruded on this unholy ground would be offered up as a pleasing sacrifice.
The superdense core of Artificial Planetoid 01 was a cunning solution to the problem of generating artificial gravity before the advent of the graviton generator. It was, however, inherently unstable and even with skilled technicians to maintain the delicate calibrations, it could easily go out of control and tear the entire structure apart with the gravitational fluctuations, which was exactly why the Union abandoned both the facility and Project Demiurge in the first place.
Where did that come from? the thrall wondered. It did not seem like something he should know, but it did not matter. The mind is nothing but a swirling vortex of chaos. There was nothing to be gained by pondering errant thoughts. He had a task to perform.
The Son of Men did not realize the great danger posed by the core and had only posted a mere two men to guard it. Lightly armored, lulled into complacency by the long and uneventful watch, they were easy prey. He dropped down from the ceiling. Before the Sons of Men could even react, the thrall took hold of one by the head and wrenched it hard, snapping his neck. The thrall then grasped the faceplate of the other and the hidden blade shot from his wrist with a hiss, going up under the chin and stopped short only because the guard's helmet was made of stronger stuff than the human skull.
With the two guards dispatched, the thrall was free to do his work. Maintaining the stability of the core was a delicate operation, but destabilizing it was easy. The universe is constantly moving toward a state of greater entropy, after all. Creation is difficult, order unnatural. Destruction and chaos, on the other hand, these were the true faces of Nature.

* * *

Location: ESS Ticonderoga, Outside Union Space
Date: Sun 28 Sep 122
Time: UST 1500

It took nearly six hours for Erebus to finish tearing itself apart after its core destabilized. Most everyone was evacuated in time, but there were thirteen who did not make it for one reason or another. In the absence of any immediate threat from the Sheolites, the task force stayed in the area to attempt to recover the remains of the lost personnel as best as possible. It was a courtesy that they could not usually afford in spaceborne operations, but it also made a more palatable excuse to remain in the area now that Erebus was gone.
Admiral Mfume sat at his desk waiting for the latest orders from SupCom. It had been over 24 hours since their report and the longer they were made to wait, the more restless the crew would become.
Finally, the cursor on the terminal began to blink, indicating an incoming transmission. After the initialization process was completed, the message from SupCom appeared.
Though the Admiral doubted there was much of anything left that held any significant intelligence value, there was only one answer he could give.