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The Stones of Rondox is the first story in the Grand Design story arc, written by Anti-Umbridge league. The story is set in the unexplored Grimble arm, where the communist Chen civilisation are the most successful empire.
The Chen come under a new threat when an alliance of pirates steal the legendary Stones of Rondox, an ancient weapon, from a team of Chen archaeologists. Worried about the threat the stone poses, a group of Chen specialists are sent to recover the stone.
Meanwhile, an old enemy of the Chen has re-ermerged and is planning its revenge against the Chen. But even as their shadowy leader decides his next move in a long game against the Chen, one of his most trusted allies is plotting his own rise to victory. Now, two empires will come together in a vicous duel for power and glory...
There is a glossary and notes at the bottom. Words which are defined in the glossary or on which extra information is given are marked with a  number by them.
Chapter One: DissectionsEdit
The Lucky Shot, a luxury cruiser, glided through space, as it had been doing for nearly two weeks. The next destination was Agillius, a planet just 3 sectums away. The morning was a normal one, for the passangers at least. Two hours earlier, an announcement had told the holidayers that their two day stop in Agillius would begin that evening, and that they would arrive in 6 hours. But apart from the general air of excitement, the tourist's day was going as planned.
But for the crew, a situation on the brig was quickly spiralling out of control. A warbird-class pirate vessel- heavily armed, extremely dangerous- was approaching- the captain could have said pursuing- the Lucky Shot, and failing to make any kind of transmission. The Lucky Shot was too far from any other ship to radio for assistance, and they would not get to Agillius quickly enough to escape the warbird. The chief science officer, with the captain at that moment, was explaining the predicament to the Captain.
"We cannot escape the warbird. At this speed, it will be on us within firing range within half an hour." The officer paused a moment. "I'd suggest that we prepared passangers to abandon the ship if the need arises."
The captain, careful not to make any rash decisions, acted sceptically. "What if it's a merchant ship, or another completely innocent craft? I don't want to overreact if there is no need."
The science officer wiped his forehead before continuing. "I am not skilled in recognising ships, but I know that particular class of warbird is used by many pirate and criminal organisations. This cruiser itself is worth many hundreds of robles, and many passangers will have a lot of money. They could be considering an attack, and I don't think that, in this situation, you can overreact."
Aware that his time was running out, the captain moved quickly. "Get the passangers into transporters, and signal them to evacuate if necessary. If it does come to battle, the transporters need to head to Agillius. We'll hold them off here."
The line of evacuees was stretching backwards endlessly down the corridor, shuffling slowly into the hangars where several hundred transporters waited to carry people onwards to Agillius.
The first shot was sudden, and took everybody by surprise. The ship pitched down for a second, thrusting screaming Chen into each other. The lights flickered, before cutting out altogether, thrusting the panicking passangers into darkness and chaos. The disorderly crowd, shouting and shrieking, struglled forwards as the cruiser buckled under the force of a second shot, then a third.
The cruiser's structure groaned as shell after shell penetrated the Lucky Shot's armour, shrapnel spreading through the ship and cutting people in half. Bodies were picked up by whaffs of flame, and thrown through the ship wall and into the void of space.
Whilst the passangers pushed and shoved their way to the escape pods and transports, the captain and his men were busy organising the defense of the ship. The captain had slowed down as the warbird open fired on the Lucky Shot to make it seem as though it were damaged. Really, he wanted to draw the warbird towards them, so that they could fight the pirates off whilst the passangers escaped.
His plan certainly seemed to be working. As the last transports sped away from the carnage and runined cruiser, the warbird drew alongside the cruiser and large docking stations punched through the cruiser's walls, into the corridor. The docking stations opened up, revealing lines of pirates, each armed with powerful razor guns. The pirates released a torrent of gunfire into the defender's lines, cutting men down without giving them a chance.
Another docking station smashed through the wall of the cruiser, blasting a group of soldiers to bits. The captain was thrown to the floor as he watched, in horror, the doors slide open and pirates clamber out. The captain, a gun in his hand unleashed a shot into the first eager pirate to jump out of the docking station.
The captain fell back behind a piece of wreckage lying on the floor, whilst a multitude of pirates and crooks ran forward towards the defenders and the captain, who let lose a blaze of fire at the pirates. One of the captain's unfortunate men didn't duck quickly enough as a crack shot from a pirate took his head off, and he fell to the floor.
The captain, full of rage and horror, turned, and picked himself from the floor. Screaming a shout full of rage and madness, he picked his fallen comrade's weapon from the floor, and fired straight into the mob. He couldn't see; his vision was impaired by a red, furious cloud, but he fired anwyay, unable to see his enemy's corpses piling up. His gun clicked empty, and he felt a sting just above his heart. The last thing he heard before unconsciousness took him was a voice, saying "I want that one alive."
When the captain awoke, he was lying on a stone slab in a room he did not recognise. He realised he was probably on the warbird. The room was dark, but he could make out an approaching shadow. As he watched, the shadow took shape as a large alien, with an incredibly crushed human face. The alien had one eye, in the direct centre of it's head. The captain realised he was naked.
"Captain Castalona, I presume?" the alien inquired. "You can call me Lord Jagos". The captain simply glared. Jagos sighed, before continuing. "You can drop the act. I am not hear to get information from you. My purpose is not to torture you. I have a far worse prospect in mind.
"Several millenia ago, my people were sophisticated, powerful and a force to be reckoned with. In fact, their only problem was a rival superpower, called the grelp. The grelp ended up destroying my people, and taking their land for themselves.
"Though the grelp presumed us dead, we had fled into the stars, and for years we waited. We tried to rebuild our industry, our economy, our government in peace. But we struggled. Times were hard. There were not enough of us, and we were competing with primitive nations for food and living space." The captain realised he was sweating, and made a conscious effort to control himself. Then, Jagos grabbed a hover table, laden with knives, poisons and chainsaws, and pulled it towards him.
"But we survived. And we promised ourselves revenge," Jagos hissed, practically spitting the last word. "Revenge on the grelp, who destroyed our people. And we have searched."
Jagos walked around to the other side of the slab. "The grelp would have evolved since the last time we encountered each other, but they would bear a close resemblance to the creatures we fought so many years ago. That is why we have investigated the biology of all the creatures we have encountered in our quest for justice." Jagos sighed again. "Unfortunately for you, that tends to work best if they are dead."
The captain was still sweating, but he didn't try to stop it. He simply looked at the blade Jagos held in his hands, that he slowly brought down onto the captain's skin and drew it across, drawing blood.
"Unfortunately for you, it is also a messy procedure, and one that requires a look-see inside you." Two more of the aliens approached, with the hover table's tools in their hands.
"Thank you for volunteering for this project. You have been most helpful," Jagos smiled, but the captain barely heard him, staring as he was at the two new aliens.
"Let the dissections begin," Jagos laughed.
Chapter Two: Set in StoneEdit
Majirix, Capital of the Majirix Union
For the vast majority of people, life in the huge cities of Majirix was uneventful. In the countryside, squabbles over whose farm ended where were frequent; in rural areas, the Majirix Union had outlawed ownership of land.
But in the industrialised cities, where factories and houses stretched endlessly into the distance, there could be no greater control. The CCK, the Majirik Union's secret police and intelligence agency, made sure that no one even spoke out against the government- and if they did, then they were swiftly punished.
But it was an eventful day for Ceryn Knight, commander in the Majirik Archival Service, who, two hours earlier, had been rudely awakened by a group of masked men storming his room, grabbing him and shoving him unceremoniously into the boot of a waiting hover car.
Now he was being dragged up a flight of stairs, blindfolded. Presently, he was shoved through a door that his escorts didn't bother to open first.
Someone pulled the blindfold off his head, and showed Knight the room. In front of him, 12 people sat on chairs, all looking, their thoughts incomprehensible, at him.
After a few seconds, Knight realised he recognised one of the men. Anderus Tattoo, head of the Archival Service, the historians' caste in the Majirik union.
In the union, everybody was born into a special caste- and Knight presumed the 12 men sitting in front of him were the Admirals, the leaders of each caste.
"Sir..." Knight started, only to be cut off by Tattoo.
"You would be wise to speak only when spoken to," Tattoo snapped. Knight closed his mouth, bowing, whilst Tattoo took out a small datapad. Tattoo pressed a button on the datapad, and Knight's face flashed up as a 3D image so realistic it fooled even Knight for a second.
"Commander Ceryn Knight, graduated from the Academy of Historians with the title 'Distinguished graduate', one of only 23 students to attain that reward in that year group of over 30,000 people. Went into the archival services as a first-class private in year 5143 of the third age, promoted to lieutenant and then lieutenant commander in 5145. Acheived captain in 5148, then commander in 5150. He's retained that rank for two years, and next year he will be considered for immeadiete promotion to the next rank in recognition of ten year's service." Tattoo turned the datapad off and turned to the other Admirals. "He has focused on expeditions into former Cheltrix territory in order to find artifacts from the Grelp-Cheltrix war during the first age."
This led to silence in the room. After a long time, one of the Admirals- Admiral Pheonix, Admiral of defense and leader of the warrior caste. "Are you sure he's the right one? It doesn't seem right to me to entrust such an important mission to such an inexperienced man. Only 9 years service..." Pheonix muttered.
"Trust me, Admiral, no-one else who has devoted their life to researching the first age is as experienced as this officer. The only person with higher learning than Knight was Major Welbeck-"
"Shh!" A man Knight didn't recognise interjected. "No need to tell him about that until we are sure he will be joining this mission." The man's nameplate said he was Baxter Rubble, and his job was "Admiral of Internal Security". That explained why Knight didn't recognise him; he was the head of the CCK.
"I agree with Mr. Rubble," another new face announced. "Though I do believe that the best course of action is to trust in Mr. Tattoo's judgement."
"I concur," said yet another Admiral.
"I hope, then, that we are agreed?" Tattoo asked hopefully. "I do not think that there could possibly be anyone better suited to advising McCoy on this operation."
One by one, each of the Admirals gave their consent, though Pheonix did so rather grudgingly. "I suppose that I'll have to trust you on this one, Tattoo," he grumbled. "And we don't have the time to squabble over who should do what."
Tattoo turned to Knight. "You know about the attack on the Lucky Shot two weeks ago?" Knight nodded, before Tattoo continued. "Following the raid, the pirates turned their attention to the nearby planet of Agillius. They were able to overwhelm the security forces on the planet and sack the colony. The questions we have to ask is, how did they do it, and why?"
Tattoo went on. "Agillius was sparsely defended, and there is evidence that many pirates took part in the battle- many criminal organisations, in fact, seemed to be in an alliance for the attack. Unlikely as that seems, it is also strange that they chose to attack Agillius. Though it was poorly defended"- Pheonix glared at this statement-"It was not particularly wealthy, and it has little to attract a pirate organisation. In fact, the only interesting thing on the planet was a shuttle commanded by Major Welbeck. Welbeck had important research on the Stone of Rondox with him."
Tattoo licked his lips nervously. "The Major believed he had found the location of the Stone from a large amount of research he had done."
Knight was surprised, to say the least. The Stone was meant to be a legendary item, that the Cheltrix had used in the Grelp-Cheltrix war. Though the Cheltrix could use psychic powers, these powers were actually quite weak, and had a small influence. They could not read the thoughts of anybody standing more than a few metres from them.
The Stone changed this. The Stone was believed to have a pair, and if someone were to use that stone, they could control whatever was happening near the other stone. However, none of Knight's research led to any evidence that this second stone actually existed.
"I came to the conclusion that the Stone didn't exist, Sir," Knight said.
"Major Welbeck thought that it did. And his research suggested it was on the planet of Silikamar. In fact, he even had the exact location, apparently. And now that research is in the hands of organised criminals. As the leading historian is this field, your job will be to assist and advise your leader, Marshal McCoy, on anything that could come in helpful whilst recovering the research- and the stone."
Behind Knight, the door to the room opened, and someone walked in. Admiral Pheonix stood up. "All rise, for the honourable Dagger MacCoy," he said, bowing. The Admirals all followed suit, and Knight quickly bowed as well. He didn't know that the Admirals ever bowed to anyone- then again, this was Dagger MacCoy, war hero and former Admiral for defense. MacCoy was tall, red haired, like the rest of the Chen, and had a rifle slung over his back. His uniform was that of the defense corps, and was immaculate.
It was only after Knight got over the surprise of seeing Dagger MacCoy in real life that he noticed others had walked in after him. A man whose face was covered in a mask so that only his red eyes were visible; a woman standing next to a short, silent man whose arms were crossed and face expressionless.
The Admirals, one after another, saluted the group. "Good luck," Admiral Tattoo said. "You'll be needing it."
Chapter Three: KubaliEdit
The Nebula, Deep Space
"The research suggested Kubali was the location of the Stone," MacCoy explained to Knight. "So that's where we're headed first."
The rest of the team had given their name as they flew to Kubali. The woman's name was Isolde, and she was the pilot. Then there was Guardsman-Major Vegas Mural, a member of the secret police. His job was to make sure that Admiral Vale was kept informed of the mission's progress. The final member of their group was the silent warrior, Ricky Cook. Though Ricky's defect made him shorter than other Chen, he was still strong and could lift a gun nearly the size of him. He served MacCoy unquestionably.
"The research that Welbeck sent to us gave us the exact location of the Stone, or so he claims. We will go down and verify the claim."
"What is it's not there?" Isolde inquired.
"Then we return to the council, and report that nothing happened," MacCoy replied.
"And if it is there?"
MacCoy turned to Isolde. "Then we prepare for battle."
Kubali was an icy wasteland on the fringes of existance. Nothing could survive there, apart from the monstrous, mutant dragon creatures and the sea-snakes which plagued the arctic wasteland. Apart from them, there was nothing.
Except, it seemed, the legendary stone of Rondox.
MacCoy sat at the co-pilots seat, tapping a long, complicated formula into the computer.
"I've triangulated the position of the stone. If it can exist down there," MacCoy said, obviously wondering how anything could be kept safe down there. Then again, a dead, barren wasteland was certainly a safe place.
The ship softly set itself down on the ice, despite the icy wind blowing against it and unbalancing it.
As the group left the ship, the wind blew even harder, threatening to take Knight off his feet. The wind howled in his ears, and within seconds he couldn't feel his fingers or feet. As he struggled onwards, the snow blurring his vision, he fell forwards onto one knee, and then fought his way back up. Noticing that the others were all ahead of him, he ran quicker, hoping to catch up with them. He stopped suddenly, when he realised what they were looking at.
Incased in a glacier was a huge metal door. MacCoy looked at the towering door, that dwarved all present.
"You know we're going to have to open that somehow, don't you?" Isolde pointed out.
MacCoy nodded, in total awe of the iceberg. Something caught Knight's eyes.
"What's that?" he asked, pointing at a small nook on a rock he noticed. Racing over to it, he grabbed the rock and ran his finger through it.
To anybody except a Historian-Commander of the Majirix Archival Service, the nook would have been a natural formation, probably created by the movement of gaciers in this area. However, the nook cut all the way down the hole. It had a smooth wall- perfectly smooth, and the bottom of the hole was at an exact 90 degree angle. This could not have been formed naturally. Realising that he had recognised the sign instantly, he recalled something a professor at the Historian's academy had once taught him.
"Archaeologists always look out for things which seem too perfect. It's a sure sign that something is hidden.
Knight frowned. This was one of the things he'd been taught to look out for. And it just turned up here. Was this some sort of message?
Knight pulled back on the rock with all his strength. The rock clicked, and, behind the iceberg, the door began to pull open.
"Incredible!" MacCoy shouted.
But the thick ice of sheet blocking the door began to crack, and then broke off altogether. Realising what was about to happen, Knight shouted "Run!"
It was too late, just as Knight realised too late that it was not an ice sheet covering the mysterious door, but a frozen waterfall.
The ice cracked, then broka altogether, and a torrent of water flowed from above the door, crashing over the cliff, and raging down towards the group. They split in a mass panic and frenzy, each seeking safety somehow. The wall of water hurtled towards Knight, and he leapt forward, managing to clutch hold of a nearby rock as the water slammed into him, threatening to pull him down after the onrushing river.
He scremed as the water dragged him off one bit at a time, water rushing over his face. It was dragging him off. Someone screamed, and he realised just how easy it had been to kill them all.
Just then, when all hope seemed lost, someone grabbed him by the back and he was accelerated through the howling, falling tower of water and deposited on the other side. He saw the people who had helped; MacCoy held a harpoon gun in his hand, and in his other he was grabbing Isolde. Isolde herself was clutching Knight's coat.
"Where are the others?" Isolde asked.
"There not here anymore," MacCoy said, his voice gruff.
"You mean they could be dead, and we're just abandoning them?" Isolde practically shrieked.
"We're not abandoning them, we're completing the mission. Now spread out, look for..." MacCoy trailed off.
"What is it?" Knight asked.
MacCoy was glaring at a broken robot on the floor. He leant down and felt the robot. "It's still warm. Which means it's only just been destroyed."
"Which means..." Knight was gripped with terror.
MacCoy took out his gun, and loaded it. "Someone else is here."
Chapter Four: Divided we FallEdit
Mural looked up at the sky as he laid on the cold snow.
SLowly, he realised that he was alive, that he was still breathing. He looked up, at a roaring river that had swept him up on the side of a large bank.
He noticed that Cook had also been thrown by the force of the river next to him. He pulled his accomplice up, before investigating his body for injuries. His leg was slightly aching; that was it.
"Where are we?" Cook asked.
Mural checked around him. "I'm not sure, but we should be able to make it back to the others by following the river back to its source." Mural stooped down to check the river.
"Easier said than done," Cook growled. The river had quickly grown into a complex maze of water. "It will be difficult to know exactly where we came from."
Mural looked up. "Leave it to me."
Knight, MacCoy and Isolde walked down a narrow stairway, MacCoy in front. He was pointing a blaster in front of him.
Eventually, the group came across a metal door, locked with a massive metal bolt.
"What do we do now?" MacCoy asked Knight.
Ceryn walked forward, feeling the bolt. "The door's thick," he concluded. "It's far too strong to break through with explosives. We'll need to find out how to get through manually."
"What if we can't get through?" Isolde asked.
"There's got to be a way through, or there wouldn't be a door."
Knight examined the door, the perfectly smooth stainless steel, for nearly half an hour. Finally, he was forced to decide that there was no way in. "I'm going to do something really, really stupid," he said, and knocked on the door.
For a second, nothing happened. Then, the bolt opened up to reveal an eye piece. "WHAT DO YOU SEEK?" asked a computerised voice.
"The Stone of Rondox," Knight said, then...
His head was filled with a strange being, shifting through his memories. Nothing was hidden, the alien mind was completely in control...
Then he dropped to the floor, gasping. "I HAVE SEEN INSIDE YOUR MIND. YOU HAVE HONOURABLE INTENTIONS. YOU MAY ENETER."
The bolt unlocked, the door opened. A room lay beyond, a perfect circle, and at the centre was a large spherical rock...
Then, a voice behind him. "Put up your hands. Surrender."