This Science Fiction short story is a lead-up to the book titled, Onyalum Wars. The book is part of the Science Fiction Onyalum Series written by NB VanYoos.
The small town was quiet except for the Pacifier patrol rolling through the streets. Hasti watched the Issgire patrol out of the corner of his eyes. He knew better than to stare them down in public. Many Manen citizens had died from that mistake. The damned lizards thought themselves better than any other species and looked down upon those they called allies. Hasti’s world was no different.
He had fought alongside the lizards, conquering another world in the name of peace and prosperity under the Issgire banner. But now, he understood them for what they really were: self-righteous, prejudiced, and only satisfied when they controlled it all. Despite each ally world possessing rights with a modicum of prosperity, every citizen knew the illusion only lasted as long as it didn’t conflict with Issgire goals or aspirations. Manen was nothing more than a slave colony, providing young men as fodder for the Issgire war against the Leran.
But that was about to change. Hasti’s underground movement had a new leader, one that had come from out of nowhere. His words spoke truth, his vision sparked freedom, his ideals were the banner under which Manen would march. Hasti had only met him once, but he possessed an uncanny depth of wisdom and knowledge about the empire. He would finally rouse the sleeping citizens of this world into action.
Hasti hurried across the street as the last of the patrol continued its never ending march. He nearly spat at the last vehicle, his town no longer content under a dictatorial rule. This new leader had rallied most to his cause, and those he hadn’t convinced, remained silent, refusing to turn against those of their own kind. The revolution was building momentum, and their new leader would soon bring them out from under the claws of the lizards.
The town was quiet during mid-day rest, and he easily made his way into an alley leading to the local rendezvous. The new leader would attend today, making a special visit to discuss timetables for the start of the revolt. Hasti couldn’t wait to put his Issgire training to work against the oppressors. It was a bitter irony the Issgire wouldn’t see coming until it was too late. In fact, the new leader had already infiltrated training camps, enlisting the Manen recruits to his cause while demanding they complete training under the watchful eyes of those they would overthrow.
He knocked on the door and waited while his fellow conspirators verified he’d not been followed. The local eatery was usually closed until evening, so the locked doors afforded them some privacy. Today, only the regional leaders would attend, the rest of the populace having to wait for details after their representatives returned. Hasti was excited about the unveiling as he had often argued for terrorist tactics to further their cause. But the new leader urged patience until the final battle that would defeat the Issgire in a single stroke.
This leader assured them Manen was not critical to the overall war effort, therefore, a devastating coup by the local populace would escape retaliation as the cost to quell the uprising far outweighed the planet’s strategic value. Hasti admired the man’s thinking. This great leader possessed unusual insight into the enemy considering he’d never fought in their wars. Still, his words made sense, so Hasti remained patient, biding his time until he could have his revenge.
The door finally opened and Nador greeted him, quickly closing the door from prying eyes. Hasti surveyed the dark interior, acknowledging the regional leaders before taking a seat near the front of the bar. He waited patiently, the time for fighting drawing near. How would they proceed? An all-out attack or slowly disabling Pacifier Security until only a thread of resistance remained? He barely held his excitement in check.
He watched the bar quietly, knowing the new leader wouldn’t come through the main door but through the back, cloaked from spying eyes. The town was considered relatively safe despite the regular Pacifier patrols. The leader’s name was Patrutcia, a foreign name to Hasti’s ears. Like so many citizens, he hailed from rural roots, a farming family from the other side of the planet, and this simple background endeared him to those he rallied. He was one of them, a patriotic freedom fighter with a keen intellect and uncanny insight into the enemy’s mind. Despite his less than prominent roots, Hasti embraced him for what he was, the savior of their world.
Lalren, the regional leader, started the meeting without fanfare. “Everyone sit down so we can get underway.”
Hasti knew Lalren since childhood and respected the man who oversaw such a large piece of the resistance. Everyone finally shuffled to tables, quietly waiting for the guest of honor. Their wait was short.
“We all know why we are here, so let me introduce Patrutcia, the leader of our planet.” Lalren took a seat next to Hasti as a hooded figure walked out from behind the bar.
The figure lifted his hood as he took in the crowd. “Thank you, Lalren, but I would hardly call myself a leader.” His accent was thick, but his voice cut through the silence like a sword. “I am like you, a simple man seeking freedom for our people.”
Already, Hasti swelled with pride for someone who would rally the people of Manen. Lalren nodded subtly, clearly excited by the prospects of freeing their world. The day was at hand, and the lizards would pay for their oppression.
Patrutcia pulled up a bar stool, sitting casually as he looked out at the gathered crowd. “We have planned and waited so long, and our day has finally arrived. I come to you with news we have the final piece in place. Our military leaders have pledged allegiance to our cause, informing us they will back whatever play we make as long as they are involved in the planning. They don’t want to lose more troops than necessary during the reclamation.” He paused as the group shifted restlessly, surprised by the wonderful news. “Again, this was the final piece necessary to ensure victory.”
“Will they provide us weapons, then?” Lalren asked boldly.
The man hesitated before answering. “No, but I assure you weapons are coming.” He stood from his stool and paced before the bar. “We have another source able to provide what we need without compromising our military.”
Another voice bellowed a challenge from the rear of the room. “What source?”
Hasti turned to Lasto standing as he addressed this new leader. Not one to follow orders easily, Lasto was a man that would have to be convinced before he’d throw in with any plan. Hasti turned back to Patrutcia, also wondering who would provide the weapons. The Issgire notoriously controlled all military weapons, barely trusting the local military commanders with such possessions.
The new leader sat down, his gaze steady as he surveyed the room. “Let’s just say the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
Lasto groaned. “Oh god, tell me you didn’t negotiate with the Leran! You want us to trade in one oppressor for another?”
Patrutcia was unperturbed by the dissent as he leaned into the crowd. “Let me assure you now, they want nothing more than to remove the Issgire shackles from our world. They have freed hundreds of worlds within our galaxy and stand ready to help us defend our home, no strings attached.”
“Says you!” Lasto spat. “Why should we believe you?”
Hasti was mesmerized by the exchange, surprised Lasto was so vocal in his criticisms. Still, the man had a point and Hasti wasn’t certain he was ready to trust the Leran anymore than the Issgire. Though the battles he’d once fought were against the followers of the Leran, one couldn’t tell if they’d been coerced or willing to be used in the war effort. Would these same warriors truly free Manen, no strings attached?
Patrutcia refused to be stopped by a single man and stared at each one as he continued his speech. “I have met with others who have fought alongside the Leran, and they assure me their planets enjoy total autonomy, even refusing to fight for the Leran without repercussions. They are a free people joining other free people to free our galaxy of the Issgire, once and for all!”
Lasto remained unconvinced but less cynical. “You have met with the Leran?” He asked.
“Yes.” Patrutcia replied.
“What are they like?” Lasto pressed with less force.
Patrutcia sat back down, relaxing. “They are an old and wise species, attaining their wisdom through eons of fighting oppression wherever it raises its ugly head. They are a tall, regal species, humble before those who join them, but fierce against those who oppose them.” He paused. “We need them as our friends.”
Lasto sat down as he considered these words. Hasti had seen a couple Leran only briefly in one battle he’d fought as a young man. They were tall and regal, their demeanor calm in the face of adversity. The rest of the tale, who knew? Still, the Leran had nearly infinite resources and could provide Manen with everything they needed to win this struggle. He wanted to hear more, but the sound of breaking glass drew his attention to the front window as a blinding light consumed the bar and its patrons.
Hasti stirred restlessly, fighting the binds holding him against the wall. His eye’s slowly focused on a room full of Issgire Pacifiers, weapons held high as they threatened those awake and bound on the floor. Hasti looked past them to Patrutcia being held between two soldiers while a third placed an electronic device on his head. The Issgire officer pushed a button and lights swirled around the ring as though it were analyzing Patrutcia’s mind. What were they doing? Reading his thoughts?
The swirling lights stopped, and the device glowed yellow as the officer replaced it within a special case. He promptly pulled a communicator from his belt to signal others outside. “It’s him, Prime.”
Was he speaking to a Prime Adjutar? Hasti grew nervous as he realized the scope of their situation. This was not a simple Pacifier dispersal of an illegal gathering, this was a full blown military operation. He eyed the door as the Prime Adjutar entered, scanning the conspirators, most still unconscious from the concussion charge. He looked directly into Hasti’s eyes, but Hasti refused to look away—not this time. He stared back defiantly, rebellious to the end.
Let them kill me, he thought, my death will martyr the cause!
The Prime Adjutar looked amused by Hasti’s obvious hatred and walked over. His cold eye’s peered into Hasti’s, and for one brief moment, an instinctual fear of being eaten flashed through Hasti’s mind. It was quickly replaced with seething hatred for the arrogant lizard.
The Prime Adjutar stopped in front of him and laughed. “You really think your conspiracy would have succeeded?” He walked casually to Patrutcia. “You think this man was going to lead you to victory? This imposter?” He turned back to Hasti a feral grin filling his features. “This worm isn’t even one of your kind!”
“He is not dead yet, Prime.” The officer said quietly as the Prime moved to an open chair still standing after the explosion.
The Prime Adjutar eyed a young soldier who immediately cleaned off the chair and held it for his superior. “Thank you, Pacifier.” The Prime said casually as he sat down. He studied Patrutcia with great interest. “Do you suppose we can get anything out of him?” He asked coldly.
The officer shook his head. “I doubt it, Prime, they are as hard as diamonds.”
“Hmmm.” The Prime hummed softly. “Even a diamond will succumb to the proper pressure. However, I suspect we’ll have to turn him over to Danirdan. Perhaps our God can shake something useful out of him.”
Hasti’s mind reeled in confusion from the exchange. If Patrutcia had been correct in saying Manen was not strategically valuable, then why would the Issgire god interrogate the leader of the resistance? Hadn’t they just successfully crushed the resistance?
“Why is he so important?” Hasti spat before he could stop himself.
A Pacifier next to him threatened to strike with the butt of his rifle, but the Prime stopped him mid-swing. “What is he to you, traitor?”
Hasti seized the opportunity. “He was our hope, our inspiration!”
The Prime laughed louder, his men joining in. “He was a Leran spy who killed the man you think you see, replacing him with this disgusting replica. That is what they do! They infiltrate worlds, taking over someone within the populace, gaining trust before turning them against their leaders. He doesn’t want freedom for your world, he wants to use it for Leran gain!” He stood up and walked over to the crushed leader. “Don’t feel too sorry for yourselves, though, you idiots were fooled by the best.”
“He is a great man, something you’ll never understand!” Hasti argued, pressing against his binds.
The Prime moved closer to, his feral grin turning angry. “I understand all too well, traitor, it is you who do not! They are not who you think they are.” He moved back to his chair and sat down, brushing the dust from his uniform. “The Leran are parasites. They learn everything they can about their victims before disposing of the body, growing a new one from the DNA of the original. They are mimics of the highest caliber, and they serve only their own needs. If this world weren’t important to them, they would just as soon destroy it.”
“You lie!” Hasti said in frustration. “I have seen the Leran, and they are not mimics.”
The Prime laughed condescendingly. “You have seen the image of those they want you to believe are Leran. Those false Leran are a race conquered ages ago, before your world was even a ball of dirt! No, traitor, trust me when I say this impostor is a Leran spy sent here to infiltrate and turn your world inside out.”
“Why should I trust you?” Hasti demanded with less force, the thought of an infiltrator making him nervous. Had they really been fooled by the Leran?
“Don’t trust me.” The Prime said as he stood once more, signaling a soldier to bring him a communicator. “I don’t care. My only concern is that he was caught!” He hefted the communicator, turning away from Hasti. “This is Prime Adjutar Misses, please tell our Lord we have caught the infiltrator and need his assistance.”
He handed the device back to the soldier and sat patiently waiting for their god. Hasti eyed the rest of his conspirators as they slowly came to. He needed them to witness the same thing he was, to verify or reject the notion they had been infiltrated. Was their savior nothing more than a plant? Doubt began to surface in his mind, and he wondered. Patrutcia had been so convincing the Leran were friends. Was it because he was a Leran? He shook his head as the thought made him ill.
A flash of light blinded him momentarily as the Issgire god materialized in the room. He was spectacular, regal in dress, and fierce in form. His reptile eyes took in everything, lingering momentarily on Hasti as the man refused to back down even from a deity. The god finally turned away, staring intently at Patrutcia while he hung limp between two soldiers.
“Get up worm!” He demanded. “I don’t believe you are unconscious for one moment. Face me now!”
Patrutcia stirred, before lifting his head. “Danirdan, how wonderful to finally meet the god of those we will vanquish.”
The words stung Hasti as he began to realize the Prime may have been right, Patrutcia was Leran. Danirdan walked over to the man, taking his head into sizable hands. It would have been easy for the god to kill him right there, denying him the pleasure of fighting back, but Danirdan held his hands in check.
“What is your name, worm?” Danirdan asked, his grin lined with razor teeth.
Patrutcia hesitated, but came to a conclusion. “I am Nethra.”
Danirdan released his grip and stood back. “A fitting name for one who should be crawling in the dirt.” The god signaled to the two soldiers who tied Nethra to the bar, arms and legs spread wide. “Tell me, Nethra, what were your plans for this world?”
The Leran laughed lightly. “You realize I can kill this body at anytime I choose. Why should I tell you anything?”
Danirdan spun back towards the prisoner. “You realize I can bring this body back to life anytime I choose!”
Nethra looked nervous, but responded to the threat. “That would be a violation of the rules.”
Danirdan smiled. “Perhaps, but it would not be the first time I broke the rules. Considering this is the first time we have caught one of you worms alive, it might be worth the penalty. Besides, I know you do not want to die, not even for your fellow brethren.”
Nethra squirmed as he realized his tenuous position. “You would forego this world? For what?”
Danirdan waved his arms around the bar, his toothy grin sneering at the Leran spy. “This dung heap? I would trade it for even less, worm! Now tell me, why was this world so important?”
Hasti didn’t appreciate the tone of the conversation. Would his world be destroyed simply because the Leran would not talk? Was their world really so meaningless? Suddenly his desire for revolution seemed insignificant. They truly were nothing to this god.
Without thinking he spoke. “Please, do not destroy our world!”
Danirdan spun on him, his fierce gaze making Hasti feel small, like prey caught in talons. But he stood his ground, refusing to let his world be parlayed for nothing more than trivial intelligence.
“Why shouldn’t it be destroyed?” Danirdan asked, curious by the upstart who would dare cross a god. “Weren’t you just planning to kick us off this rock? Why should we care about you and your pathetic world?”
Hasti hated to admit it, but he was willing to plead for survival. “Please, I once fought alongside the Issgire, helping you defeat others that stood against you.”
“And you expect loyalty for those feeble efforts? After you plotted to destroy us?” Danirdan dismissed him, turning back to the Leran captive.
“We can change!” Hasti yelled.
Danirdan hesitated but finally turned back around. “How?” He asked.
Hasti wasn’t sure what to say. Could they pledge allegiance to those who had oppressed them for so long? He eyed his fellow captives, now watching the exchange intently, nervous as they awaited the outcome. “We can help you find the information you desire.” He said.
The god scoffed. “You? You couldn’t even plan a revolt.”
Hasti was cornered but had to gamble for whatever chance they had to survive. “We have a way.”
Danirdan looked to his Prime who simply shrugged. “Local magic?” The Prime suggested.
The god snapped his fingers and a soldier injected the Leran spy, knocking him unconscious. “You can keep him from killing himself while extracting information?” He asked more curious.
Hasti nodded. “We have special drugs that will loosen his tongue while removing his self control. He will willingly give us everything we need.”
The god paused, considering the offer. “And if it doesn’t work?”
“Then, you can bring him back to life and sacrifice our world.” Hasti replied. “Your Prime said it himself, the body was constructed from our DNA. If that is true, then our drugs will affect him as they do us.”
Danirdan turned to his Prime Adjutar. “You believe him?”
The Prime stood from his chair and walked over to Hasti. “Tell me what is this drug you speak of?”
Hasti swallowed hard. “It is extracted from a local plant. We use it to treat mental patients we cannot control.”
The Prime nodded before looking back at his god. “What have we to lose, my Lord?”
Danirdan considered the request before speaking. “And in return for this service, I spare your world so you can revolt against us once more?”
Hasti was negotiating with a god but couldn’t fail his planet now. He considered his words carefully, finally deciding he had to go for it. “We will fight your war side by side as equals. You free our world of all Pacifiers and we will willingly provide the troops for your war.”
A deep, incredulous laughter rolled from Danirdan. “You are suggesting you are equals to my Issgire?”
“Maybe not.” Hasti said. “But we will be treated as though we are.”
Danirdan sneered. “Release him!” He said to one of the soldiers. “Bring me this drug, traitor, and I will grant your request, assuming it works.”
Hasti was released from his binds and bowed deeply before this god before moving out of the bar. He ran through the quiet streets, already thinking about Doctor Yassi and his wonder drug that might save their world. He’d been so excited when he’d first made his way to meet their supposed savior, but in less than an hour he’d become the savior of his people. Patrutcia had been proven nothing more than a Leran spy! If Danirdan upheld his end of the bargain, so would Hasti. It would be a small form of freedom for his people, but at a cost. Despite the failure of their revolution, this new resolution to their crisis was palatable. Hasti believed the compromise of freedom from the Pacifier presence was revolutionary.