Ecumene of Holy Orion - Onboard ECS Righteous Truth , 1st Fleet of Faithful Intent
"You have my formal surrender Admiral. I'm putting myself and my soldiers at your mercy." The alien Cygnus V captain stood before Admiral Talaran in the hanger bay of the Righteous Truth, after their ship had been captured and the crew spirited away to Ecumene's flagship. She offered her sole remaining weapon, a non-lethal energy pistol as a token of surrender in customary fashion. The weapon was hardly anything worth offering or even valuable at all, but it was a symbolic gesture, and Talaran recognized it as such.
Talaran took the weapon and nodded to her, "And I formally accept your surrender. You and your crew will be treated fairly and according to Ecumene prisoner of war protocol."
"Even the non-humans?" The captain asked, a grimace crossing her face.
"Yes...they'll be processed and tagged. But no further harm will come to them..or you," Talaran replied, knowing full well how she had to feel as a non-human Laaadaruuan asking that question. He wasn't lying, but he wasn't explaining the full truth either. She didn't need to know the details of how the Ecumene processed alien prisoners of war. He would be able to spare her from that at least for now.
"Thank you Admiral." She gave a sigh of what could almost be called relief. But it was clearly tinged with anxiety.
Talaran gave a nod to his men and indicated that the crew should be taken to the brig for holding until the priests were ready to begin. As he watched them leave, a message came through on the HUD of his visor.
"Admiral. Your presence is requested in the Sanctuary. High-Priest Raynald says its urgent."
It was Talaran's turn now to give a heavy sigh, "I'll be right there. Did he indicate what this was about?"
"No sir. Only that you shouldn't tarry."
Minutes later and Talaran, alone, walked into the hallowed Sanctuary of the Righteous Truth, an inner sanctum at the center of the massive ship that was normally reserved only for elite Orionic Priests. It was intended to be a place of prayer, meditation, and introspection. The large room was dimly lit with low artificial light, and its smooth sloping walls gave no impression of elaborate decoration. There were no statues, paintings, or furniture of any kind. The only thing of note was a raised circular dais at its center, where Talaran could see the figure of High-Priest Raynald standing. He approached slowly, and as he walked up the steps to the dais, Raynald turned to meet him.
"I'll leave you alone then." He said simply, showing no signs of arrogance that he'd displayed previously. In fact, he seemed almost a bit unnerved himself.
Confused Talaran watched him descend the steps and then leave out the sanctuary door, the door hissing to a close behind him. As Talaran looked around confused, he suddenly saw the holographic images of seven figures appear around him in a circle, seated on floating chairs. A moment's recognition was all it took, and Talaran fell to his knees.
"Blessed Elders, forgive my impertinence."
The Priests now presenting themselves as holograms were none other than the Conclave. The highest ranking priests of Orion and leaders of The Ecumene. Six of them had their faces obscured by long hoods, but one did not. The Archpriestess of Orion herself, Vayla Dretheen. It was she who spoke first.
"Rise Admiral, there is no need for such shame. You've done well here to bring this planet into the fold of our Holy Ecumene. High Priest Raynald informed me that you acted decisively and without fear in the face of an unexpected enemy attack, and that your losses were minimal. Truly you are favored by Lord Orion. My trust in you is not misplaced."
"I don't deserved such praise from you Archpriestess. I only ask how I might serve The Ecumene further. What do you request of me?"
"The Resurrectionist War with the Scorpines progresses at an alarmingly fast pace," Another of the holographic priests began to speak, "The Martians seek to use the Coalition to intercede on the Scorpine's behalf and supply aid to their forces in an attempt to turn the tide."
Another priest continued, the Conclave priests appeared to be almost taking turns speaking, each one fishing the others thoughts as if they were a single person, "This places The Ecumene in a complicated situation. As official members of the Coalition, we are bound to supply aid when requested and it would look ill if we did not show unity in this matter. However..."
"A Scorpine victory itself is unacceptable. For such non-humans abominations to hold Dominion over a human civilization is the pinnacle of heresy. The Resurrectionists, profane as they may be, at least understand this part of Orion's teachings. An alien's place is beneath the ones who hold The Mantle of Orion. They cannot be allowed to win on such terms."
"Equally so, a complete Resurrectionist victory would be equally unwelcome. To allow their heresy to grow and flourish to threaten our Ecumene is...unwise."
Talaran had thus far been listening quietly with head bowed as the Conclave priests explained the situation, but he had a feeling he knew where this conversation was going. He lifted his head and spoke,
"And so what is to be done then?"
The Archpriestess herself gave the final summation of the plan,
"We will be enlisting certain...unsavory elements, in the galaxy to assist us in our efforts to prolong the war as much as possible. The longer the war continues, the greater the benefit to our Ecumene. Within the Coalition, we will express full support to the Martian's proposal. However, should the Scorpines begin to gain the upper hand, we will begin to supply the Resurrectionist forces with intelligence and munitions through independent channels and criminal syndicate elements that will make it very difficult to trace back to us directly. While also intercepting Coalition supply runs where possible."
"I see...it is not my place to question The Conclave's will, but is this not a dangerous proposition. Should the other Coalition members suspect this sabotage..."
"The Coalition is a useful tool. But its usefulness will eventually come to an end. Without Orion's guidance it cannot last. We must secure The Ecumene's future as humanity's shepherds into a new age. One that will be blessed by Orion's holy teachings as we carry out his Great Plan."
"Of course my lady. I did not intend to question Orion's divine plan. What then do you ask of me?"
"Ready the Fleet of Faithful Intent Admiral. You are ordered to move to the edge of Ecumene space near our border with the Scorpines."
"But surely the Scorpines may see that as an act of aggression and assume we are preparing to attack to aid The Resurrectionist forces?"
"Your official role is to act as a deterrent to ensure that the fighting does not spill over into Ecumene controlled space. The Ecumene wishes for nothing more than to secure its border and protect its people. A perfectly reasonable action. Once Cygnus V is pacified, you are to depart at once. The 3rd Fleet of Enlightened Justice will assume martial control of the system. " Archpriestess Vayla replied.
"Very well. I'll order the fleet to begin preparations immediately."
"See to your expedience Admiral. Orion be with you."
With that, the holographic projections dissipated, and Talaran was left alone in the darkened Sanctuary. The lingering question in his mind was how complicated this war was about to become.