Xenophobic

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.

Picture of Leran

Councilman Wo was worried tonight despite the sophisticated alarm system he’d had installed when first elected. As a sitting councilman on the planetary subcommittee for alien affairs, he’d been fearful of infiltration since the Issgire made contact four years ago. His planet, called Relim, had thought they were alone in the Universe much like other species first growing into their technology. But soon after achieving interstellar space flight, they soon met several species in nearby systems they now could reach.

It had all seemed so wonderful at the time, the realization that they were not alone in the vast Universe around them. The other species had been pleasant enough though cautious like themselves when first contact was made. And now, they traded and interacted as though they were longtime friends, never a thought of war between them. That was until four years ago when the Issgire landed on their world with a frightening tale of wars and invasions.

Many on the council weren’t sure how to take the information the Issgire professed was happening in the galaxy around them. Some were instantly afraid and ready to banish the Issgire from their world while still others insisted they should welcome the strangers and their technology to defend our world from the looming threat the Issgire assured was coming.

Wo had remained neutral letting the course of events unfold as they would. His had been a voice of reason and acceptance of the Issgire, at least for now. After their initial contact, the Issgire set up a small embassy on Relim to assist the locals with weapons fabrication and military training. It was new to the people of Relim to prepare for something their world hadn’t seen in several hundred years. Wo asked the same question every day, was it inevitable?

But now, as he went through his evening ablutions preparing for bed, he felt uneasy after being informed by the Issgire ambassador that credible intelligence had been intercepted that indicated the Leran, the race supposedly ready to invade, had a plot to attack and replace a councilman with a changeling as part of their initial invasion plans. It was frightening and brought fear into Wo’s mind that had never been there before. Suddenly, he didn’t trust any outsiders, even those they had considered longtime friends. All of this was being fed by the Issgire who assured them their world and all of their allies’ worlds were on the invasion list.

Did that mean any of the million aliens on their world could be Leran spies, changelings that had killed the host and took their shape? Hiding in plain sight with no reliable method of being weeded out from the real populace. It was distressing, and Wo yearned for those bygone days before the Issgire brought their horrific news to his world. They were all trapped with little else to do but trust the aliens.

Wo had always considered himself an enlightened man capable of looking past another specie’s appearance and strange customs to the underlying soul that resided within the alien body. It was one of the reasons he sat on the subcommittee for alien affairs, he was a reasonable and rational person, not some xenophobe wanting to close the doors to the Universe around them. But now, he was beginning to question that rational thinking. The thought of being replaced by a changeling simply made his skin crawl.

Nonetheless, it was only a fragment of intelligence and had always been in the background since the Issgire arrived. So why couldn’t he relax and get on with his life. Why did it freak him out and make him look at everyone like they were potential enemies? Why did it seem he was the most likely candidate for the Leran to target? Probably because of his reasonableness. He was able to sway people who trusted his instincts, so replacing him was a good step towards convincing the rest on the council that the Issgire were the real enemy, not the Leran.

He got into bed and turned out the lights, checking his alarm system was properly set by the blinking light across the room. When confronted with the intelligence report, he had assured the minister he was thoroughly safe in his own home, but now that he’d had time to think long and hard about the threat, he suddenly wasn’t so certain his electronic system was adequate. Perhaps he should have opted for the security person after all, but the thought of weapons in his house was hard to consider.

Still, he had acquiesced to some degree and accepted a small firearm from the Issgire that was lethal at close range. Unfortunately, he was nearly certain he couldn’t use it. Then again, if the threat was real, wouldn’t he protect himself from harm? He wasn’t so sure.

Lights outside indicated a vehicle had pulled into his driveway and he jumped out of bed to see who it was. He realized the news had him on pins and needles and he was letting the situation take over his better reason. He needed to see this for what it was, a threat and nothing more.

He donned a robe and headed downstairs as a dark figure walked up to the front door. As he descended the final steps he wasn’t certain his decision to live in the forest was such a great idea. His nearest neighbor wouldn’t even hear an explosion. At the time he’d thought he’d found a gold mine for such a nice house away from the hustle and bustle of the city life he was so intimately tied to. But now, it felt spooky.

He switched on the outside lights illuminating the entire front of the house in brilliant white light. He eyed the remote camera feed and looked into the face of an old friend. He panned the camera towards the car and spotted the diplomatic insignia. Har was from Mem and worked in the embassy for his homeworld. He had been a great confidante over many years and Wo owed him a lot considering the inside information he’d provided during crucial treaty signings.

Still, Wo felt vulnerable as he keyed the audio. “Har, what brings you way out here so late?”

Har bowed graciously. “Sorry to bother you, friend, but I just heard about the threat to the council and wanted to see if you were alright.”

His accent was familiar, but Wo wanted to be sure. “You been out chasing flight attendants like we did in Rora?”

Har looked confused. “When were we in Rora?”

“Just checking, old friend, this threat has me on edge.” Wo responded as he unlocked the front door. “Come in, I am glad you stopped by.”

Har removed his coat and stepped into the foyer. “I guess so if you are asking silly questions of old friends.”

“Sorry,” Wo said genuinely, “I am suddenly seeing spies in every shadow.” He opened his arms and indicated they should move into the kitchen. “Something to drink perhaps?”

Har moved past him as he answered with a laugh. “Sounds like you could use it, but sure, I’ll take a drink.”

They entered the kitchen and Har sat his tall frame in the relatively small chair around the small table. Wo moved towards a cupboard where he kept all his good drinks. He pushed a few bottles around and finally settled on an old bottle of the Polem distilled from a root that was toxic to Har.

He turned with the bottle in hand. “Some Polem to take the night chill out of you?”

Har didn’t smile. “Don’t you mean the life out of me?” He grinned. “You really are freaked out about this threat. It may be a good thing I am here.”

Wo dropped the bottle to his side and frowned. “Yes, I am very freaked out about this. I am so sorry, friend, I am just so jumpy. Please forgive me.”

Har smiled. “I forgive you, but please, get me something I can actually drink. What about that fermented Eire juice you used to foist on me? Got any left?”

Wo relaxed as he realized this was his friend. “Yes, I think I have some.”

He fished out two glasses after locating the Eire wine and poured healthy amounts into each. He handed one to Har who quickly took a drink. Wo took a small sip and set it down as he took a seat.

“How did you find out about the threat?” He asked. “You still spying inside our chambers.”

Har laughed lightly. “Yes, but that isn’t how I found out. The Issgire sent someone over to inform us. I just happened to be there with the ambassador when they arrived.” He said as he took another drink. “You know they have been telling us about the same threat for years now.”

“Do you believe them?” Wo asked, curious how his friend had handled such a threat.

Har shrugged. “Who knows? I am one to question the Issgire’s motives in all things, especially this.”

“Why?” Wo said.

“Look at the evidence.” Har said. “After years listening to their tale of galactic war and intrigue, what evidence do we have other than their word?”

Wo nodded. It was true, little evidence of this massive war had been presented other than holographic video of battles on distant worlds. Even Relim could fake such things. “I see your point, but wonder what their game is if it is all fabricated?”

“Who knows, maybe they want to invade our worlds?” Har laughed.

Wo shook his head. “Hardly, old friend, they could have walked all over us when they first arrived. Have you seen their ships and the massive weapons they employ? We were like children before gods.”

“Perhaps.” Har admitted. “But something about all of this doesn’t feel right to me.”

Wo sat up and held up his hand. “Wait here, I have to show you this.” He ran from the kitchen and back upstairs to retrieve the weapon the Issgire had given him. He doubted Har had ever seen one. At least none of the Issgire military Wo had seen carried them.

He carried it gently into the kitchen and set it on the table. “The Issgire gave me this.”

Har eyed it suspiciously. “What is it?”

Wo picked it up and turned it for Har to see. “This is a personal weapon. It is lethal at close range and debilitating from further out.”

“It is so small,” Har observed, “what does it fire?”

Wo shrugged. “I’m not sure. I am not even sure I remember how to fire it.” He said as he placed it gently back on the table.

Har leaned forward to look at the device more closely. “Would you even use this?” He asked. “I have never known you to have a shred of violence in your body.”

Wo laughed. “You’re right, I don’t know if I could fire it or not.”

“Well, you got to say this for the Issgire, they sell a story quite well.” Har said as he raised his glass in a toast. “To the Issgire!”

Wo picked up his glass and took a long drink. He put the glass back down as he noted an odd flavor from the Eire. Perhaps it had turned over the last year since he had bought it.

“How does your Eire wine taste, Har?” Wo asked curious.

“A little flat from a fresh bottle, but overall quite satisfying.” He said as he picked up the Issgire weapon and turned it in his hands. “Why do you ask?”

Wo shrugged again. “I don’t know, thought maybe it was turning on me.”

Har laughed as he continued to eye the small weapon. “Isn’t it funny how things can do that on you?”

Wo wondered what he had meant as his head suddenly swam with spots in his eyes. His stomach quivered visibly as his body rejected something within the wine. He was about to say something when Har stopped laughing and turned the weapon towards him.

“How do you feel, old friend?” Har said seriously.

“I..I’m not sure.” Wo stuttered as the room began to spin along with his head. “Wha…what is hap…happening?”

Har sat back in his tiny chair and smiled. “That would be the poison entering your blood stream. At this point, you should be experiencing extreme disorientation and intestinal distress as the poison makes its way to your nervous system. From there, it will disable your muscles and shut down your brain functions.”

Wo was shaking as he eyed his old friend with fear in his eyes. “Wh…wh…why?” He could barely stammer.

“Because, you were the target of the threat, old friend.” Har said as he slid the weapon back over to Wo.

Wo picked it up feebly and tried to aim it at Har, but his arms were beginning to fail him. He finally mustered enough strength and fired, but nothing happened.

“Don’t bother.” Har said. “I know how to disarm all Issgire weapons, especially a toy such as this one. Please don’t take this personally, I really do like you since we met all those years ago, but the reality is, there is too much at stake in this conflict for me to succumb to sentimentality.”

Wo began to slump in his chair as he felt the muscles in his back begin to disconnect from his conscious mind. The poison was killing him, and there was nothing he could do about it. He simply stared at Har who continued to talk casually.

“You know, it has been so wonderful to be your friend, to get to know you so well. In fact, I know you so well, I could almost be you!” He smiled an evil grin that Wo could not respond to. “It will be a pleasure being you.” Har finished as he leaned in close with a smirk.

Wo was about to fall to the floor when a large explosion in the foyer made Har jump from his seat in surprise. Wo watched slowly as Har turned to flee amid shots fired from the front of the house. His body was riddled in bursts of bright light. Issgire weapons for sure, Wo’s dying mind concluded as he began to shut his eyes and succumb to the darkness that beckoned with sweet relief.

His head bent over the kitchen floor and his eyes saw the mess of Har’s body falling dead in a bloody heap as Issgire soldiers fell on top of him. Someone grabbed Wo from behind and lifted him up, his head flopping backwards away from the sight of Har and into the eyes of a reptile monster holding a large needle. As Wo’s eyes finally closed, he felt a small, distant prick on his neck.

***

Wo came back from the darkness to the vision of his living room ceiling lit bright. Sounds throughout his house indicated he was not alone. It took a minute before he remembered what had happened. He shot upright and screamed. “Har!”

A high pitched voice came from his right and Wo turned to the visage of the reptilian monster who had appeared before he had fallen unconscious. “Har is dead. How do you feel?”

Wo turned his feet to the floor and sat forward holding his head. “I have a massive headache.”

The reptile grinned. “That is the remnants of the poison being cleared from your system. You are lucky we arrived when we did. Another minute and you’d have been dead.”

“How did you know?” Wo managed between clenched teeth as the full realization of Har’s betrayal sank in. His worst fears had come to pass.

“About Har?” The reptile asked in a lilting tone. “We have suspected for some time now, but were never certain enough to take action.” He paused. “My name is Quiss and I work for Issgire Intelligence. Needless to say, my specialty is rooting out Leran spies.”

“You suspected and never told us?” Wo asked now angry at this alien spy. “You used me as bait!”

“Yes, quite right.” Quiss said casually. “We would never tell the intended target or we might never catch the damned worm.”

“Damned worm?” Wo shouted as his head felt ready to explode as his blood pressure shot through the roof. “Damn you!”

Quiss laughed lightly. “You’re welcome.”

“How long have you suspected?” Wo demanded.

“Several years.” Quiss said. “He was replaced before he ever came to your world to work in the embassy. His mission was to infiltrate your world as Har’s world had already been compromised.”

“Then you know who is Leran on Mem?” Wo asked calming down as he realized the scope of this possible invasion.

“We do not.” Quiss said. “If we did, we would have destroyed them long ago. At best, we can only watch and hopefully learn. Mem’s ambiguous attitude towards us has shielded whoever has infiltrated their government. They will not tip their hand lightly, and you can imagine why we can’t go in with guns blazing.”

“It didn’t stop you here.” Wo said looking at the riddled walls of this home. “How did you finally know it was him?”

Quiss held up the small firearm that Wo had been given to protect himself. Fat good it had done him as he realized the folly of giving it directly to the very enemy it had been supposed to protect him from. “There is a very distinct way of disarming this weapon, and we rigged it to send out a signal if it was disarmed. You never could have done it accidentally, so it was obvious when we got the signal that our hunch had been correct.” He paused. “Sorry about your home, but a small price to pay for your life.”

Wo groaned. “Are there others?”

Quiss laughed again. “There are always others.”

Wo stood up on shaky legs. “You wouldn’t tell me even if there were.”

Quiss stood up. “No, I suppose I wouldn’t.” He handed Wo the small firearm. “It has been reset for actual use, so be careful.”

“So this is it, I will always be in fear of invasion from these worms?” Wo said grimly.

“Welcome to our world.” Quiss said with a reptilian grin. “We warned you and now you have finally seen it firsthand. Your reality will never be the same.”

Quiss moved into the kitchen and towards the front door as Wo followed close behind. The bloody remnants of Har were gone, but the red stains were still covering the tile as they walked past.

“Will we get to examine the body?” Wo suddenly asked. “It would go a long way towards convincing my people of the threat.”

Quiss paused in doorway. “It has been destroyed.”

“Everything?” Wo asked hopeful.

Quiss turned serious and the look was that of a true predator eyeing his prey. “Protocol!”

Wo stood in fear as the reptile closed the door behind him. He had never been so shaken in his life. A friend he’d known for years a Leran spy. The Issgire telling him about Mem being infiltrated. What about his world? What guarantee was there they had not already been infiltrated? He had nearly been replaced but for the help of the Issgire. What if someone else was less fortunate? What if the Issgire already knew or suspected someone? No one could be trusted.

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The Mission

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.

Picture of Trilliu Hunter

NSOIM Transmission Log
ID: 22789

Time: 27.39.101 Date: 44.08.4201
From: Arabata Deep Space Command
To: NSOIM Craft 17, Quadrant 21 Asteroid Belt
Ref: Unidentified Infrared Anomaly
Eyes Only: Captain Frenz, Commander Litx, Science Team Leader Harbt

At 25.01.044 today, deep space infrared telescope, Atan Observatory 3, reported anomalous infrared object occultation by Asteroid 65320 in Quadrant 19. Preliminary analysis indicates object 2 orders of magnitude brighter than surrounding environment in infrared (image and data attached).

Best recommendation is to proceed to Quadrant 19 for further study. Preliminary consensus analyses believe object could be unknown comet approaching from outer solar cloud or highly radioactive asteroid composition not yet seen due to occultation by larger asteroid in foreground. If latter, gravitational perturbation by gas giant may have temporarily shifted object into view.

Current scans indicate object once again masked by foreground asteroid. Require distance scans in far solar sector to eliminate or confirm comet. If eliminated, orbital insertion around Asteroid 65320 needed for advanced analyses of companion object. Core samples a top priority if object scans radioactive.

Orbital observatories currently operating high priority scans and cannot be redeployed for 10 days. Mission objectives include anomalous investigations. Order 22789 supersedes current mission. Established mission protocols still in effect.

∫∫

Captain Frenz cleared the message from his screen while Science Officer Harbt waited patiently. The Captain’s quarters were grand by spaceship standards, but the closeness of the Science Officer left him irritated. Clearly they had been on this mission for too long. He yearned for oceans, fresh air, walks along the beach, and sunshine. They were a long way from the second planet from the sun and still had much yet to do.

This was Captain Frenz’s second mission in ten years, and he was nearing retirement when he could pursue his sport fishing hobby off the coast of Lao with sons and grandsons. After thirty-five years serving his country’s military and space exploration services, he was ready to settle down into a more normal life, albeit less exciting.

“Okay, I assume you have finished the deep solar survey and no comet was located at or near the position command sent us.” The Captain concluded.

Officer Harbt hesitated as if confused by the questions. “Yes and no.” He began. “We did detect a new comet in that sector, but the size, distance, and infrared magnitude don’t match the anomaly detected. Also, its current position would place it in clear view from our planet.”

“So it moved out from behind the asteroid since the original scan.” The Captain said.

“I don’t believe so. The scale of the comet simply does not match, or come close, to the object detected by command.” The officer replied. “We barely detected it and we are a third the distance to it than command. I can definitively conclude it is not the anomalous object.”

Great, Captain Frenz thought silently. They were one year into their two year mission and this new wrinkle would extend their completion time. It would mean more money for all on board, but was a poor substitute for the sunshine and fresh air of their home planet. The one thing about space you never adjusted to was the coldness. It seeped into your bones and no amount of artificial sunlight could thaw it.

He touched his control screen and brought the bridge into view. “Commander Litx, please set a course for Quadrant 19 at delta point-two-five velocity. Begin plot of orbital insertion around Asteroid 65320 at distance…” He hesitated as he looked to his science officer.

“I’ll come help you with the calculations—this asteroid is less than spherical and porous.” Officer Harbt stated.

“Did you get that, Commander?” The captain finished.

“Yes, sir. Do you want me to log this as acting bridge officer?”

“No, I’ll take care of it, Captain out.” He turned to Officer Harbt. “I don’t want us too close to this thing.”

“I shouldn’t think it poses a risk to this ship or crew, Captain.” The officer said.

“You’re not paid to think about that, I am.” The captain said. “I want our orbit barely within the gravitational well of that asteroid, and I want a plotted escape vector updated hourly should we need to leave the vicinity quickly.”

“Sir, that seems a bit excessive considering my team will be busy analyzing the anomaly even before we insert. I believe we will be able to rule out a threat long before we arrive.” The officer retorted.

“Famous last words.” The captain said darkly. “If your crew can’t handle the additional load, then I suggest you do it. Dismissed.”

The science officer hesitated as he was about to respond, but finally left for the bridge with a scowl on his face. After the door to his quarters closed, Captain Frenz stared across the room at the picture of his prize catch landed just before departing on this mission. An overwhelming sense of foreboding told him he would never catch another. He shook himself to warm up. Clearly his military background was turning him skittish.

∫∫

Captain Frenz entered the bridge to a flurry of activity and chaos. Everyone ignored him as they stared frantically at their consoles and the main screen filled with static. He calmly took his seat and waited until everyone noticed him and began calming down. It took a few minutes, but Commander Litx finally came to his senses and called everyone to order.

In the silence, the captain surveyed his crew and saw concern written on most of their faces. Something was wrong and they were scared. “Alright, what is the status, Commander?” He said forcefully as several were about to respond.

Commander Litx turned clinical as he reported. “Sir, we are still two days out from orbital insertion and have suddenly run into interference with our scanners. As you can see on the main viewer, we have lost visual reception although we believe the problem is the data feed back to us rather than the scanner itself.” He said. “We are looking into equipment problems, but we also have rather disastrous readings from the x-ray, gamma-ray, infrared, and ultra-violet sensors as well. We have even lost our communications tether with command.”

“So a shipwide breakdown of computer systems or networking?” The captain asked.

“Maybe, Captain, but we also discovered something curious.” The commander replied.

“Such as?” The captain said.

The commander nodded to Officer Harbt who brought the captain his ComPad. The captain took the device and stared at a grainy picture of an asteroid and colorful spikes radiating from it. “And this is what?”

Officer Harbt jumped in. “This was a scan of our target asteroid before communications and sensors went amok.”

“So there is something radiating behind the asteroid.” The captain said. “Command’s anomaly exists?”

“Yes, but that isn’t the curious thing we found.” Officer Harbt said guardedly.

“Continue.” The captain said quietly, tired of this being drawn out.

“This image is not in the infrared spectrum…” The officer began before being interrupted by the Commander.

“Sir, those are radio waves emanating from the anomaly!”

The captain’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “Random?” He asked.

The Commander looked around the room nervously before answering. “No.”

Captain Frenz eyed Officer Harbt knowingly before barking orders. “I want everyone on these ship wide problems so we can fix them. I want a new trajectory that will take us far afield the backside of this asteroid so we can see what this thing is.” He stared at Officer Harbt. “I don’t want us within a million kilometers of this thing. Understood?”

Everyone nodded before turning away to begin working the system problems. He nodded towards the door as he signaled Commander Litx. They were silent down the corridor until they were inside the captain’s quarters far from prying ears.

“What did they teach us at the academy, Commander?” The captain asked as he worked his glitchy console.

The commander responded crisply. “Based on current probabilities, anything emitting a patterned radio signal without repetition has an eighty-seven percent likelihood of constituting intelligent life.”

The captain eyed him with concern. “Was there repetition, Commander?”

“No, sir.” The commander replied. “From my vantage, these were not natural emanations.”

The captain nodded as his console finally came into focus. “We have a protocol for this.”

He quickly scanned the protocol before letting his first officer look at it. When both were finished they stared at each other grimly. “Okay, not the welcoming committee I was expecting.”

“You really believe any civilization able to reach us must be hostile?” The commander asked incredulous.

“Look what they already did to our ship.” The captain replied.

“But they could be trying to communicate with us.” The commander insisted. “Until we understand what or who it is, I can’t believe we should assume it is hostile.”

“Why not?” The captain countered.

“I don’t know, I suppose I imagine a ship full of scientists doing what we are, just on a grander scale.” The commander concluded. “Surely you don’t travel hundreds of light years just to fight.”

“You might if you believed you could easily win that fight.” The captain replied.

“But why?” The commander said. “What would they gain from killing us?”

The captain spread his arms wide and looked at the ceiling. “This. We ourselves are out here surveying this asteroid system for the very raw materials our world needs. Suppose they are traveling through the cosmos and need to stop and replenish periodically. What better place than an asteroid belt.”

“But that doesn’t make them a threat.” The commander said.

“It does if they wish to stop for a while. Why stay out here in the cold when a habitable planet waits where you can rest and replenish. Our world!” The captain emphasized.

The commander nodded. “Okay, what do we do until we contact command?”

The captain nodded, pleased his first officer was ready to move. “First, and most important, we don’t talk about this protocol with anyone else in the crew. Second, we get our ship back in order. Once that is done, we contact command and continue our mission, although from a safer vantage point. Lastly, we analyze this signal and look for telltale signs of any attempt at communications.”

∫∫

The last forty hours had come and gone far too fast, but progress had been made. The captain walked quietly to the bridge waiting for the good news his first officer had promised over the comm. He hoped they had figured out a way to contact command. Their home world needed to know there was an alien presence within their solar space. Hostile or not, it represented an unprecedented discovery of incredible magnitude dwarfing all others to date.

The question had been answered, they were not alone. The new question was, were they friendly? He entered the bridge and took note of the viewer with a clear picture of the distant asteroid. No object could be seen.

“Is this the good news?” The captain asked as he pointed at the screen. “I don’t see anything.”

“We think the object won’t be in view for another couple hours.” The commander reported. “But as you can see, we have isolated its signal and have filtered it out within the network before our computers crunch it. We have all sensors back online and they are reporting a multitude of anomalous readings.”

Officer Harbt walked forward before signaling one of his team members. The main viewer changed to a fuzzy picture of the asteroid with rays emanating from the top and bottom of it. “These are x-ray beams emanating from the object from behind the asteroid.” He signaled again and the picture changed once more. This one was even grainier but more colorful. “This is in the infrared similar to command’s but without the object visible. Notice the heat signature. Whatever it is, it is emanating a large amount of heat into the surrounding space.”

“Anything natural explain this?” The captain asked.

“Not that we know at this point.” Officer Harbt replied. “Could be an as yet unknown radioactive process considering the wide spectrum it is releasing.”

The captain turned to the rest of the crew. “Great job getting our ship back up and running properly. Communications?” He asked.

Commander Litx bowed his head. “Everything is working, but the strength of radiation at this distance easily overwhelms our small transmitting capacity. Our signal would be lost in the noise.”

“But command would hear the noise?” The captain asked hopefully.

“Yes.” The commander replied.

“Excellent, I want you and the science team to figure out a way we can embed our signal into the noise. One way or another, we need to communicate everything to command.” He stood up. “Contact me when we have a visual on the object.”

∫∫

Captain Frenz woke from a restless nap as someone rapped lightly on his door. “Come in.” He said groggily.

Commander Litx and Officer Harbt entered. Commander Litx took charge. “Sir, we have ruled out a communication attempt from the signals emanating from the anomaly.” Officer Harbt nodded in agreement.

The captain spoke to Harbt directly. “The commander appraised you of the protocol?”

Officer Harbt nodded. “I had my own suspicions that I shared with the commander and he told me what you two had discussed.”

“Sorry we couldn’t bring you in earlier, but protocol dictated this was a military matter, therefore only command staff were to be alerted.” The captain said.

“I am science team leader.” Officer Harbt said, perturbed.

“Noted.” The captain dismissed. “What has the science team come up with for our communications?”

Commander Litx took control. “We believe we can embed our signal on their noise such that command could theoretically interpret it. We can embed an identifier so they know it is us.”

“Great news, how soon?” The captain asked.

Officer Harbt interjected. “A few hours to reconfigure the transmitter, but there is a problem.” He said.

“What is it?” The captain waited patiently.

“The power we will need to make the signal match the strength of the anomalies will quickly burn out our transmitter.” He said with concern. “We would be without communications permanently.”

“We already are.” The captain said seriously. “Based on protocol, contacting command is our number one priority, whatever the cost.”

“But captain, we don’t even know what this is yet.” Officer Harbt argued. “This may be nothing and I don’t think jeopardizing our mission for protocol over nothing is warranted, regardless if this is an alien entity.”

“You don’t?” The captain said sarcastically. “We have already had our ship wide systems interrupted, you confirm to me the signal is not an attempt to communicate, the object just happens to be hiding behind one of the largest asteroids in the belt, and you think it is nothing?” He paused. “Clearly our backgrounds prevent us from seeing this in the same light.”

“Maybe, Captain, but I don’t think destroying valuable equipment is warranted in this situation.” Officer Harbt said firmly.

The captain sighed. “Noted, Officer Harbt. Commander, begin the reconfiguration of the transmitter and let me know when it is ready.” The commander nodded. “Okay, is the object in view yet?”

Officer Harbt nodded. “Yes, Captain, we are already analyzing the readings from it.”

“And?” The captain asked.

Officer Harbt continued. “Nothing definitive yet, we are still too far from it. However, it is a quarter the size of Asteroid 65320, emanates heat, x-rays, and what looks like a neutron beam.” He stopped without embellishing.

“And what could produce such a thing?” The captain pushed.

Commander Litx interjected. “I believe it is a power source, Captain!”

“A power source?” The captain said as he stared coldly at the science officer.

“That is pure speculation, Captain, but yes, we do know fusion reactors would produce such a thing.” He begrudgingly admitted.

“And you think this is nothing?” The captain asked.

∫∫

Captain Frenz entered the bridge and stared at the impossible on the main viewer. Half the view was dominated by the dusty gray Asteroid 65320 showing little of interest. The other half was an occulted view of their anomaly. His first impression was it couldn’t be natural. It looked like a stack of concentric rings tapered at the top widening at the bottom. The color was gray like the asteroid, but it almost appeared polished as the feeble sunlight reflected off the top of the object.

The bottom, however, was another matter entirely. It was hewn from solid rock as if the object had grown from an asteroid and been ripped from it violently. The jagged edges jutted out from the fat bottom like a broken bottle, and its decidedly dark and rough exterior clashed with that of the upper portion. It belied an unbelievable advancement in spaceship design. They were far more advanced.

The captain eyed Officer Harbt darkly. “Well?” He asked sardonically.

“Okay, Captain, it appears this is a very advanced spaceship of clearly alien origin.” Officer Harbt replied.

The captain sighed. “Give me all the details you have so far.”

Commander Litx interjected. “Object is approximately twelve kilometers long, four kilometers in diameter, partially composed of iron and granitic rock and partially composed of an unknown, polished metallic substance. High reflectivity from upper portion confirms metallic structure. No opening in object obvious from current readings, but, as already noted, emitting high energy readings across the entire spectrum.”

Officer Harbt nodded in agreement. “There hasn’t been any changes in its output since coming out from behind the asteroid.”

The captain slowly nodded as he stared at the dark object dominating the screen. What were they doing here? How long had they been here, and what did they want? Questions he feared they would never answer. Any civilization that could create such a monstrosity, fly it across the galaxy, and park it behind a large asteroid like this clearly possessed more knowledge of physics and engineering than their world. Regardless of its intentions, it posed a threat. Obviously their leaders had foreseen this and thus why the protocol for such an event was created.

“How close will we pass by it, Officer Harbt?” The captain asked.

“Based on our current trajectory, about two million kilometers.” Officer Harbt replied.

The captain turned to Commander Litx. “Communications?”

“We are nearly done with our reconfiguration, but we still need a message to send. We won’t have much time before the system burns out.” The commander replied.

The captain nodded. “Very well, meet me in my quarters so we can draft the message. Officer Harbt, I want our pass by this object doubled and I need a planetary return trajectory plotted based on using the remaining fuel we have. Our mission is over and we must find a way to get home quickly.”

“But, Captain, we don’t even know if there is anyone alive on this thing.” Officer Harbt argued. “We can’t just leave before completing a more rigorous investigation.”

“We can’t?” The captain said. “You know what protocol stipulates, let them send some other ship to investigate. We are neither equipped, knowledgeable, nor prepared for this type of investigation, Officer Harbt, and I won’t jeopardize this ship on your hunch this is not a threat.” He stopped and eyed the anxious faces of the crew before stepping down his rhetoric. “Look, I understand this is the science discovery of the millennia, but we are not capable of performing the initial steps required for first contact. We must return, report our findings, such that they are, and let the powers back home decide the next course of action.” He quieted down and grew more regimented. “Please calculate the new trajectory and report to me when you are done.”

He signaled to Commander Litx and left the bridge. They were quiet as they marched to his quarters. Once inside, the captain spoke rapidly. “I realize Officer Harbt is simply doing what a Science Team Leader should do, but this is far too monstrous for us to handle in this tiny science ship with no weapons, no shuttle, and soon, no form of communications. Our only hope is to floor it back home and let others decide.”

Commander Litx agreed. “He misses the bigger picture when confronted with the fantastical science this object represents. Maybe he is right, maybe this has been here a long time and there isn’t anyone left alive, but it feels tactical to me. Hiding behind a large asteroid doesn’t scream friendly.”

“Exactly.” The captain said. “What chance would we have against something like that? Okay, about our message to command. How much time will we have to broadcast before our equipment fails?”

“Hard to say.” The commander replied. “But my gut says maybe a couple hours.”

“I’m going to assume less than that.” The captain said as he began typing on his console. “Send this.”

The commander eyed the short message and nodded solemnly. “I’ll make sure it is repeated with our identification over and over until our transmitter fails, Captain.”

∫∫

The Captain sat quietly on the bridge as the crew continued executing their escape plan. Based on current levels of fuel, they could slingshot past the third planet and rendezvous with their home planet in less than a month. It would be a long and lonely month as communications with their home world wouldn’t exist. He already had Officer Harbt working on some other non-traditional form of communications.

The object dominated the viewer and looked as lifeless as always. They had been transmitting the message embedded in the alien interference for about a half hour, but they would never know whether command deciphered it unless they found another way to communicate. It was a risk, but all his experience told him the risk was worth the cost. If they were lost, their planet had to know what was out here.

Flashing lights an annoying buzz interrupted his thoughts. He looked over at the crew member whose console was lit up like a dance floor. “What is it now, Lant?” He asked.

“Sir, every emission spectrum just went off the chart from that thing!” Lant said excitedly.

The captain eyed Officer Harbt who moved next to Lant and began reading the data. “He is right, Captain, radio, x-ray, infrared, everything has doubled in intensity from our baseline readings.”

“Theories?” The captain asked hopefully, but Officer Harbt shook his head.

Lant looked between them nervously and the captain noticed his discomfort. “What is it, Lant?”

“Well, sir, it looks to me like it is powering up.” He said sheepishly.

Here we go. The captain thought darkly. “Is it moving?” He asked.

Both Lant and Harbt turned back to the equipment and the wait was long and excruciating. Finally, Officer Harbt turned back to the captain. “We believe it is, Captain.”

Damn it, he’d never catch another fish. Everything he had feared was playing out just like protocol indicated. The alien ship was moving because they had detected his pathetic attempt to communicate with command, and he had no illusions about what they intended to do.

“Commander Litx, I want every ounce of power we have at our disposal to move this ship faster.” He said quietly.

“Yes, sir.” The commander replied. “But, sir, our ion propulsion won’t be able to accelerate us fast enough to elude something like that. As it is, we won’t even increase our velocity ten percent for another two days. This ship just isn’t built for that type of maneuver.”

The captain nodded. “I understand, Commander, but I want everything firing to make this ship go faster. Use our maneuvering jets, anything!”

The commander nodded and began getting the crew moving on the orders.

“Is our message still being broadcast?” The captain asked nervously as he began to discern movement of the larger ship on their viewer.

Commander Litx replied. “Yes, but power output is beginning to fluctuate. It won’t be working for much longer.”

As if being chased by some large predator, their tiny ship tried to move beyond its design range, but the monstrous alien vessel was gaining ground. They weren’t going to make it.

“Sir, something is happening.” Another crewman said with fear in his voice.

“What is it?” The captain asked.

“We are seeing a flurry of infrared radiation coming from the central section where the upper part merges with the rock.” The crewman responded.

“Put it on the main viewer.” The captain ordered.

The viewer went blank for a moment before another view of the alien vessel appeared in infrared colored images. As the crewman had said, a hundred brighter dots appeared to emanate from the central part of the ship. It was like a swarm of insects leaving the nest.

“Not sure what they are, Captain.” The crewman said hopelessly.

The captain knew what they were, and he braced himself as he prepared to inform the crew. “I am afraid those are smaller ships sent to intercept us.”

“But there are hundreds of them, Captain?” The crewman said in disbelief.

The size of the force being sent after them was both overwhelming and unjustified. The intent was clear. Overpower your enemy with superior force to establish the tone of the engagement early on. His academy training came back to haunt him. “They want to make sure the job is done right.” The captain said with finality.

∫∫

Shindi Rasses had been working for over four days straight trying to unravel the mystery of the radio noise coming from quadrant 19 after the communications disconnect from NSOIM Craft 17. They had been investigating the anomaly near an asteroid in that quadrant before all the noise began and communications ceased.

He had tried every single filter he could think of to eliminate the noise from their standard communications frequencies, but to no avail. After so many failed attempts he had almost given up when an idea struck him. What if the noise was the signal?

He searched every one of the thousands of frequencies representing the noise to see if any patterns emerged from the background. But everything was random, no patterns distinguishable. His final scan was nearly complete when his computer gave a mournful beep. He put down his astronomy magazine and looked over the noisy chart the computer displayed. At first he didn’t see any patterns until he zoomed in closer. There wasn’t just a pattern, it was a digital pattern.

He began to decipher the digital elements, but it was jumbled and not every symbol could be deciphered. After about an hour, he had as much as he could pull out of the noise. He confirmed the initial sequence was an identifier for their missing craft, but then the signal was crushed again. It picked up again later, with only part of the identifier and a single word. Again, it disappeared before another word was extracted.

He jotted all three on paper and ran back to the command center. He didn’t observe protocol as he burst into a command meeting discussing the reallocation of orbital observatory assets to investigate the anomaly and disappearance of their ship.

“Sir, I have something!” He blurted out as everyone turned to him in surprise.

“What is it, son?” General Pantin asked calmly.

Shindi handed the paper over to the general before explaining. “This was embedded in the noise coming from quadrant 19, sir.”

The general read the three items carefully before staring down the brash young man who had given it to him. “Are you sure about this?” He asked.

“The signal was weak, hard to find and degraded, but yes, I am sure about this.” Shindi replied.

The general turned to the rest of the command staff waiting patiently. The look of concern on his face was not lost on the others. “The signal starts with an identifier that could only be NSOIM Craft 17” The general began. “After that, there are only two words: alien invasion.”

Trophy

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.

Picture of Issgire
Petima placed the ceremonial paints back in their pouch and bowed once more to the image of Krak, the god of war. With the intricate war paint completed, he was a formidable visage despite his youth. He had just turned twelve and was on his sacred quest to become a man by facing his fears. Those fears would be formidable, but he would not fail on his quest.

His people were primitive by any standard, but they ruled their world as the dominant species. Descended from arboreal creatures, they left the trees to take advantage of the greater food sources available on the ground. As tool development, and eventually weapons development evolved, their species rose in prominence and intelligence. Soon, all creatures of the forest feared them and gave way.

They were bipedal, had incredible binocular vision, and shed the fur so dominant in other creatures. Tan in color, they possessed small heads with two ears capable of independently swiveling one hundred eighty degrees to detect sound from nearly all directions. Their very large eyes were adapted to daylight but darkness was where they excelled, when hunting was best. Petima was nearly a perfect specimen of their species.

Petima’s smooth skin was marked from head to toe in the ceremonial colors his people wore when preparing for a hunt or battle against neighboring tribes. His only clothing was a simply loin cloth protecting his genitals and a small belt to hold his weapons. He was free and unencumbered for this quest.

Each boy within the tribe must complete a series of tests, each difficult and perilous. Many did not return from these quests, but those that did were welcomed into the tribe as a man and a warrior. Only then would they be instructed in the powerful art of battle and take their rightful place beside their elders protecting the people.

Petima had thought about his chosen fear to confront since first seeing the great lizard people when he was only eight. He and his sister had been out gathering nuts for his mother’s bread when a powerful light ignited the sky with a roar like thunder. They ran as far as they could and took shelter in a small stand of bushes as a great white monster fell to the ground spitting flames that destroyed all they touched.

His sister had cried and he held her mouth to keep her sounds from betraying their location. He watched from a distance as the great beast came to rest on the ground before belching forth lizard people in dizzying numbers. Hundreds descended from the beast’s belly, each wearing ceremonial garb and carrying strange weapons.

Though fearful, he had wanted to see more of this mysterious beast and its kin, so he released his sister who ran back to their village in stark terror. He crept closer to the large monstrosity, keeping low in the vegetation to conceal his location on the ridge overlooking the great beast. As he drew closer than he dared, he stopped behind a large del tree, its enormous branches spreading out above him, blocking the sunlight that might reveal him.

He watched from behind its great trunk as the lizard people unloaded strange equipment and supplies from the belly of the great beast. Several of the lizards had broken off from the main group and walked into the surrounding forest. Their eyes were covered in darkness and they wore large packs on their backs with mysterious devices in their arms. Petima was curious.

After walking a short distance, the lizard men aimed their devices into the forest and belched forth green flames of such brilliance that Petima was blinded and fell to the ground in shock. As his vision returned, he watched a towering inferno of fire engulfing the forest around the great beast. He ran as the flames licked at his heels. Large trees, thousands of years old were ignited in a pyre of horror, and Petima feared he, too, would be consumed by the strange fire.

He shook as he remembered that horrible day when the lizard people had arrived. At first the tribe had believed them to be gods sent to punish the people for their poor offerings. But later, after many had died at the lizard’s hands, they came to know them as demons sent to consume their world and all the life within it. They dug enormous holes in the ground, stealing the very life force of their world while laying waste to anything that stood in their way, including the tribe’s village.

It had been a sad day when the village was forced out of their home and chased across the land to another location far from their birthright. They cursed the lizard people, but against their power and magic, the people were no match. But Petima was determined to face them, bringing back a trophy that would prove his worth as a man and a warrior.

He placed his ceremonial equipment back in the hollow of the tree where he’d made his camp and set off into the forest toward the distant camps of the lizard people. Their numbers had grown great since his first encounter, but he was not afraid. He had faced many reptiles as a child, some large enough to swallow him whole, but he had always won because the people were intelligent, and reptiles were dumb animals.

He was a descendent of the great tree spirits, and from the moment they had descended to the ground from the high branches, they had grown to be the rulers of the forest, greater than all animals that crawled, climbed, or flew. This was their land, and although he might never see the end of the lizard people, he would let them know he was no coward, he was a warrior.

He made good time as his heart beat strong and his legs ran free. He knew these forests and was one of the fastest creatures on two legs. He came equipped with his boomerang, a knife carved from the great crystals of the mountains, and a small sling with which he was deadly accurate. But his mission was not to fight, his was to use stealth to make off with one of their prized weapons right from under their noses.

He stopped and surveyed the perimeter of their encampment as the sun began its eventual quest for bed that the moon may have its time in the sky. Twilight would be best for his quest. He slid beneath their barrier and made his way toward structures where many of the lizard men gathered. As he neared, he heard their insidious voices hissing demonic words while sitting around a fire cleaning weapons.

This was his chance, a perfect trophy for his quest. He eyed the strange metallic weapons reflecting light from the fire and he narrowed in on a small, handheld device that didn’t look too large to carry. The lizard men were large and strong and he was small by comparison. Their weapons could be heavy, and he needed speed to escape with his prize.

Convinced the smaller weapon would be manageable, he eased around the edge of the building, trying to still his heart from the pounding in his chest. He closed his eyes and chanted the sacred prayer of fear.

Fear is but a feeling, not an enemy. But like an enemy, it can beat a man down until he is defeated by only a feeling. Only an enemy is real, and only an enemy can cause death. Fear not death, for a warrior will rise again to join all the warriors that have come before him. Fear is but a feeling, not an enemy.

He checked his quarry once more and determined the path he would take after gaining his trophy. He took several deep breaths and focused. Sprinting from his hiding place, he was a dark blur through the lizard men as he grabbed the weapon in one stride, leaping into the air off the table they sat around. He heard their sharp hisses as he sprinted across the open road and slid beneath a piece of large equipment sitting idle.

Clearing the heavy machinery he was at full stride as he heard the lizard men curse him as they pursued him across their encampment. He passed other lizard men, his appearance causing shock as he sped past faster than a chitaca being chased by a lek. He was nearing the barrier and was prepared to slide beneath it in one deft move, putting more distance between him and his pursuers. Only two more steps and he was free.

His body went rigid and he fell in a heap, sliding into the barrier, its sharp edges cutting his skin. He lay motionless, stunned by the change in his circumstance, his mind reeling as he felt little but the blood oozing from his wounds. He could not control his eyes and he stared blankly into the darkening night sky, the first of many stars beginning to make their appearance.

His breathing was shallow and rapid, and his heart felt like it would burst through his chest. Fear gripped him as he realized he had been caught. He had faced his fear only to have it consume him. He would die and it was fitting, though he might never join the warriors before him. Suddenly, a large silhouette appeared above him, its demonic grin and razor teeth ready to eat its unlucky prey. He would be strong to the end. It raised a taloned foot and placed it on his neck, and Petima knew it would suffocate him as did the lek when it finally caught the chitaca.

∆ ∆ ∆

Seraar had just come from his hut when he spotted the commotion by his men. A small, dark figure was darting through the camp, and it carried one of their weapons. His eyes narrowed as he focused on the dark flash. He went into battle mode and sprinted from this hut on a path to intercept the local creature. Although they mostly kept to the woods, several of his men had been attacked as they patrolled the region around their mining operations. Fear was their best method of keeping the locals away.

Issgire were built for speed, and he easily clocked the local with little effort. It was small and would be difficult to catch, so he pulled his weapon and set it to stun. As he rounded a large tanker, he intercepted the small creature as it was preparing to slide beneath the perimeter fence. If it got into the forest, they might never find the small being. He aimed and fired twice, the second knocking the creature to the ground, its body sliding into the fence, the sharp wire cutting it severely along its arms, legs and neck.

Seraar slowed his pace and holstered his weapon as he approached the stunned creature. It was small, most likely an adolescent. The paint colors made it from a local tribe they had chased off years before. Why do they always come back against such impossible force?

He placed a foot on the creature’s neck and applied pressure. If it regained its strength, he didn’t want it to escape. He picked up the weapon as his men approached. It was a small handheld, but capable of killing on the highest setting. He flipped it over and read the name on the handle, Lisoor.

“Lisoor, step forward please.” He hissed in angry tones.

The young soldier stepped out from his peers and looked down in deference. “Yes, sir?”

Seraar wasn’t sure whether this incident warranted disciplinary actions or not, after all, no one expects a small creature taking off with your weapon in the middle of your armed camp. Still, it was best to make sure his men understood even these small creatures posed a valid threat. It wouldn’t have been much effort for the creature to turn the weapon on his men instead of just stealing it.

“I believe this is yours.” He hissed as he threw the weapon at the soldier’s feet. “How is it such a diminutive creature can make off with your weapon?”

“Uh…I do not know, sir. It came out of the darkness and was gone before we knew what had happened.” He picked up his weapon slowly and placed it in his holster.

Seraar felt the small creature beginning to stir beneath his foot and he made his decision. “I will not tolerate such sloth in my unit. This world may not possess real enemies, but the local wildlife can be just as dangerous when you do not pay attention!” He pulled his own sidearm and shot Lisoor with a stunning blast. The young soldier fell in a heap.

“Pick him up and make sure he is assigned exterior perimeter patrol for the next five nights.” He holstered his weapon and looked down at the now squirming creature beneath his foot. It feebly tried to bite him, but his scaly feet were far too hard to penetrate. “As for you my poor friend, I admire your tenacity and courage. However, we cannot have you wreaking havoc on the order of my camp.” He placed his large claw against the creature’s cheek and pulled his foot back, slashing a deep tear in the creature’s face.

Blood spread from the wound and the creature barely silenced a yelp from the pain. It was a bloody and muddy mess as it backed against the wire fence trying to flee from Seraar. He laughed as he picked it up by its neck and grabbed its flailing feet. “You won’t be bothering us anymore, and that scar will remind you who is in charge in this region. Tell your tribe to keep away or we will wipe you out!”

He tossed the small creature across the fence and it landed with a thud on the hard ground. He stared at its stunned form as it tried to recover from a demoralizing capture and release. “Run little animal, run!” Seraar hissed through the fence as he brandished his weapon, firing into the night.

 ∆ ∆ ∆

Petima placed a large heja leaf against his face to stop the bleeding and prevent infection. He spit blood from his mouth as he limped through the forest towards his village. He had failed but survived. His face was torn badly, and he feared a broken leg as pain shot through him with every step. He had a long way to go but refused to give up now. Despite his lost trophy, he had faced his fear and lived to tell about it.

He didn’t know why the lizard had released him, but he suspected it was to warn others who might try such a daring quest. The lizards would step up their vigilance, and any attempt to penetrate their perimeter would be more difficult to virtually impossible. But he had faced them and no longer feared them. They were not demons as his tribe thought, but only warriors from a distant land in the sky.

He had witnessed his captor shooting one of its own, presumably for letting Petima steal his weapon. He smiled at the memory, but this only caused pain across his torn face. He stopped to steady himself as spots swam through his eyes. He had to keep moving and reach his village before his wounds felled him. If he fell in the forest, he would not last long. As it was, the smell of his blood would draw predators looking for an easy meal.

The stars above lit his path, and he yearned for the moon to rise, its brilliant light a beacon he could follow home. He drew his knife and held it tight as he continued to limp through the forest. He might not survive the night, but in his mind he was a warrior. He had faced hundreds of the lizard men and could tell the tale. Perhaps he hadn’t failed in his mission after all. He thought about the other boys in his village and knew his quest had been far greater than any they had survived.

He had no trophy like the tooth of a lek or paw of a teer, but he had faced the lizards and lived. As the moon finally peered over the trees, he smiled once more, grinning at the pain this caused. He felt the hot blood beneath the leaf and realized he would wear his trophy forever.

Decisions

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.
Link to Podcast

Picture of LeranSeelzra quietly listened to Ambassador Molfe’s arguments against aligning with the Leran, a species he aptly pointed out was not from this galaxy. Seelzra shook his head slowly, as if any species’ origins dictated their intent. Whether they were homegrown or imported, they both posed threats that this world had to avert, the question was how?

He eyed the Council, the wizened elders listening to the arguments dispassionately, waiting until all was laid before them before making their monumental decision. Seelzra had already made his, and the Leran were the lesser of the two evils.

Ever since being assigned this critical mission shortly after their world had been contacted by both species, Seelzra had realized his world was only one more conquest in a larger than life strategy game, the ultimate prize unknown. He wasn’t naive enough to believe everything the Leran told him despite their obvious age and technological superiority. They appeared non-threatening, and the alliance of worlds they had gathered from this galaxy was impressive—worlds that had once been under Issgire oppression.

He had dutifully spelled it out to the Council, trying his best to leave his own prejudice out of the presentation of his fact finding mission. But his colleague was not as professional, and his presentation reeked of promises of personal fortune should his side sway the vote in favor of the Issgire. It was inevitable, especially in politics. Even Seelzra had been offered bribes throughout his career, but he took pride in declining such offers, his own personal financial situation secure thanks to his family.

But the Leran had not bribed him, perhaps another vote in favor of their side. He would have mentioned as much if he had proof of his colleague’s collusion. Alas, it would come down to the merits of the situation at hand, the Council voting it’s conscience as always. If he held any doubts of their objectivity, he would have retired years ago. It was the one positive in a world increasingly moving towards the negative. This new development would not end well regardless of the vote, of that Seelzra was certain.

Inherently, something sinister was at play between the Issgire and the Leran. Seelzra didn’t truly believe the Leran were generous saviors from another galaxy sent here to free the poor souls under the claws of the Issgire reptiles. They wanted more and those that threw in with them might just prosper when all was said and done. Seelzra looked at it as an insurance policy, pick the right side and you might just ensure the future of your species.

He had left these dire predictions out of his analysis and presentation. Though his gut told him he was right, he had no proof to back up his feelings. Any attempt at deception or obfuscation with the Council would be seen straight away, easily defeating your arguments because of your poor choices. He believed Molfe was making that mistake. He smiled as he saw the scales of victory slowly tilting towards his side.

Despite holding back his own personal feelings, he hadn’t held back those of the species now aligned with the Leran. One such species, a particularly ugly one from a distant dirt ball on the other side of the galaxy, had claimed their people were slaves under the rule of the Issgire, forced to create weapons for the lizards using their own precious resources from a resource-poor system. The representative had even claimed the Issgire used the dead to create food for the enslaved, saving the real food only for themselves.

It was a gruesome thought indeed, but Seelzra rather believed the man had been lying about that part. Interspecies hatred would make most say outlandish things about those they were pitted against.

Nonetheless, as world after world presented their experience under Issgire rule, a clear picture of a brutally superior species emerged. Seelzra’s world had been spared the experience of Issgire rule, but word of the lizard empire had spread to their system, though many believed the tales were just that, tales to scare children at bedtime. Beware the monster lizards who will eat your young and have their way with your women! They appeared ridiculous at first glance, but Seelzra now wondered if some of those tales might actually be true.

Ambassador Molfe’s presentation was winding down and Seelzra listened to man’s final words. “…and without such protection, our world will be swept up in this insidious invasion of our galaxy by imposters posing as our saviors. They will take over our bodies, our world, our way of life, and our species will be erased from this Universe forever!”

Seelzra thought that was a nice touch, though overly dramatic for the Council. Still, he obviously was speaking about the supposed Leran’s ability to take over other species through some sort of possession or duplication, eliminating that species while maintaining their appearance. Seelzra scoffed at such a fantastical idea and mentioned as much to the Council. He believed the species that were part of the Leran Alliance were real and not duplicates created by the Leran. A ruse of that magnitude would be impossible to perpetrate.

Though the Leran were technologically advanced, Seelzra didn’t believe they were capable of replicating every single species he’d met, creating the illusion of an alliance that didn’t actually exist. Though he wouldn’t be surprised if they explored genetic research with other species they aligned with, he didn’t believe they were capable of possession or replication at the level the Issgire insinuated. After all, he’d met them, and they were a real species, old and from a distant galaxy for sure, but they were a real peoples.

The Ambassador finally finished his summation. “In closing, we must protect the integrity of our world and our way of life, accepting an alliance with the Issgire Empire to forge a future of mutual respect, protection, and sharing in the wealth this galaxy has bestowed upon us and our peoples. Thank you esteemed Council, as always, your wisdom will prevail.” Molfe bowed deeply before taking his seat.

Lead Councilor Catilosl spoke deliberately. “Ambassadors, you have given the Council much to deliberate, and we will discuss this matter in private before rendering our decision.” She rose from her seat followed by the other Councilors as they walked from the main chambers.

The secretary rose to her feet and made the prescribed announcement. “Please rise as the Council adjourns to private chambers.” The crowded room rose quietly as the Councilors made their way to the inner sanctum and quiet deliberations.

Seelzra felt rather confident he would win this decision. The Issgire, though a local species, simply didn’t offer as much as the Leran. The Leran alliance had already succeeded in recruiting many thousands of systems to their cause, and their momentum would crush the Issgire whose past was riddled with inequities and a reputation of supremacy over all they ruled. Their message may be peace and brotherly love now, but their true intentions were likely far from that reality. The Council would see this.

~

The Council retook their seats before everyone sat down per protocol. The press took up most of the public seating behind the Ambassadors, but cameras were forbidden in the Council Chamber, so artists scribbled quietly, trying to capture the Council’s mood as the decision was rendered.

Lead Councilor Catilosl read from her notes of their deliberations. “The Council has thought long and hard on these proceedings and we are not without passion for the import of our decision. Many on the Council expressed that passion as we discussed each side’s arguments extensively, no fact or innuendo left un-mentioned. Our world is on the brink of a new era, one in which we will become embroiled in a conflict started long before we even understood our place in this Universe. Now that conflict has caught up to us, or perhaps us to it.” She paused.

“It is more than our survival that we must ensure with this decision, it is the survival of our culture and our freedoms. Once we align ourselves in this conflict, we will be forever bound by that decision, the results unknowable, the future unknown. For that reason, our charge has been difficult at best, impossible at worst. But a decision has been made.”

She paused once more as the hushed crowd leaned forward to hear the results. Only the sounds of the artists sketching furiously disturbed the eerie quiet. “By the power invested in us by the fair people of Wazcatrain, we hereby declare an alliance be formed between our world and the…”

The blinding light that lit the chamber was followed by a rush of sound that crushed the ears and shredded everything in its path. Seelzra barely registered a thought of surprise before he was thrust into a world of utter darkness and silence.

~

“Are we on? Can they hear us? Okay, this is Jarila outside the destroyed remnants of the Wazcatrain Council in the capital city of Lathrone. Minutes ago, a bomb detonated inside the Council Chambers as the Council prepared to deliver their decision concerning the future alliance of our world with either the Issgire or the Leran! The explosion was enormous and knocked us to the ground as we waited on the steps outside. As you can see behind me, the entire roof of the structure was brought down, the remaining walls looking as though they, too, will fall inward trapping even more victims and thwarting rescuers efforts. Hey, wait! You can’t do that! We have a right to…”

“Apparently we have lost the feed with Jarila but will try to the reestablish that connection momentarily. At this time, we have no idea what caused the explosion and whether any of the Council or others inside the chamber survived the blast. We will attempt…wha…wait, this just in, we have received a video from an organization identifying themselves as the Wazcatrain Freedom Fighters who are claiming responsibility for the attack. We’re…yes, we will now play the video unedited in its entirety.”

“Good people of Wazcatrain, we are the Wazcatrain Freedom Fighters, an organization of concerned citizens who refuse to let our beloved world be sold to the highest bid from galactic trash like the Issgire and Leran! We will not stand by while our world is destroyed by those politicians who would line their pockets with the blood of our brethren, selling their souls along with our world! Today’s attack on the Council serves as warning to all who believe their backdoor deals will be tolerated by Wazcatrain’s peoples. We will fight and we will die for our just cause, and anyone who stands in our way better prepare to die with us! We will not let those dirty, off-world species pollute our culture with their lies and deceptions intended to fool us into aligning with their perverse armies and unknown purposes. We have our own armies and we will use them to fend off these invaders. It is freedom or die in this conflict—no other choice exists!”

Cut Off The Head

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.

Picture of AcriendThey say, cut off the head and the body will die. Swirtoo was hoping it held true for the Acriend Subjugation Force occupying his home planet. He had been an ordinary citizen until the invasion, the occupation enlisting him into the insurgency as they stung the invading horde of monsters. His previous life had been filled with science and technology, a fine life despite the lack of socialization so many others enjoyed. At this point, those fanciful musings were long gone.

Swirtoo had been a weapons designer for his country’s military, creating new ways to kill in the name of protecting their precious borders. Now those borders had been shattered by the Acriend, a brutish race whose savagery was only eclipsed by their perversions. Swirtoo had watched many of his fellow Andanaens ravaged by the sexual assaults these beasts inflicted on those they captured. Swirtoo made a promise not to let that happen to him as he carefully stroked the suicide device strapped to his chest.

His race was not one to take life lightly, but since the invasion, little could prevent them changing into the savages they now faced. They simply would not be subjugated, young men and women picking up weapons dropped by those generations before them. But did it make a difference? Could they defeat such a massive force with so many overwhelming technologies and an army filled with monsters that could survive nearly everything they threw at them? Cut off the head, Swirtoo thought darkly.

His home world, a planet called Woorlta, was just another conquest in the Acriend’s merciless march across the galaxy. Before the brutes had arrived, everyone on Swirtoo’s world had believed they were alone in the Universe, a tiny island of life in a swirling galactic sea of hostile stars and deadly radiation. But they were wrong, and now they were nothing more than a prison planet subjugated by those more powerful and less moral than the people they crushed beneath their boots. He would do anything to strike back.

He and his people were the dominant species on their world, a rare, six legged mammalian species that had evolved in the equatorial forests encircling their planet. Over time, they had spread across their world, filling every niche possible as their intelligence grew in exponential leaps and bounds. They had believed themselves evolved to the highest level possible, capable of controlling the very world around them. But they soon learned they were nothing more than worms just crawling out of the mud looking to the stars in awe.

But these worms had teeth and they would use them to bite at the offenders occupying their rightful place on this planet. And they would not stop until they were all destroyed or their enemy chased from their soil. Swirtoo crawled through the dense underbrush quietly, his stealth camouflage hiding him from all but thermal sensors. Thankfully, he’d been given a map of those sensors and currently positioned himself on the hillside in a gap between them.

The hill overlooked the massive base camp of the Acriend Army. In the distance, a large field was filled with landing craft, the carriers of the beastly horde now silent as they enjoyed unencumbered access to the resources of this planet. But today, the rightful owners of this world would strike back, disabling as much of their craft as possible in one brilliant raid. But he was the key, the linchpin that would set their plan into motion. Cut off the head, he murmured silently to himself.

His six limbs pulled him through the grass, his primary weapon strapped to his back, fully charged and ready for its debut. If it worked, a whole arsenal of the weapons would be deployed, a new terrorist device with which to attack their enemy at the heart of their subjugation.

He heard a sound to his left and stopped. The deep voices of two Acriend security guards held him breathless as they moved nearby, ignorant of the threat nearly beneath their feet. He wasn’t a soldier, but he’d been instructed on how to move without being seen. His commander, a wonderful leader of his insurgency team, had not wanted Swirtoo to take on this mission. He’d seen the value of Swirtoo for his brilliant mind and weapon’s designs, but Swirtoo had insisted on getting a chance to finally get back at the monsters that had destroyed so many he had known. He might survive, but the odds were not in his favor. In any event, his coworkers could carry on his efforts. He’d left behind a whole raft of designs for even more deadly weapons. One way or another, they would chip away at the beastly horde occupying their world.

The sounds of the guards splitting up and moving in opposite directions made Swirtoo relax. With both so close, he would have to take them out before completing his final mission. He moved a bit further up the hillside, stopping at a large boulder that would make an excellent position. He carefully removed his weapon and placed it on the ground before preparing it for firing. It was a bulky weapon, but using the Acriend power sources easily acquired through inside sources made its capabilities far exceed its bulk. Without the Acriend technology, its size would easily be that of a small vehicle.

His four hands quickly ready the weapon, a green light signaling it was at full strength. He turned to his right and searched the area for the first guard, his thermal scope easily piercing the gloom of night. Within seconds he spotted the hapless brute standing on a large outcrop surveying the plains below. Swirtoo swept the area around the soldier looking for anyone or anything that might detect his attack. It was clear.

He attached the scope to his weapon and lined up the soldier in his sights. Once the large head was in his crosshairs, he pulled the trigger, a slight hum the only indication the weapon was working. Swirtoo watched through his sight as the soldier began to notice the initial tingling effects of the microwave radiation entering his cranial cavity. Unfortunately, by the time you detected the effect, you were dead. The view of the head popping from the boiling fluids was silent yet showy through the scope. The body fell from the outcropping into a small boulder field below. Cut off the head, Swirtoo said silently.

He swung the weapon back around to his left and removed the scope once more, quickly scanning the area for the other guard. Damn, nothing! The guard must have found a position of concealment, forcing Swirtoo to either ignore him and focus on the primary mission, or hunt him down to remove the threat. He eyed his watch and didn’t like how little time was left before sunrise. In daylight, the Acriend were deadly. The mission had to be completed before sunrise. He repacked his gear, deciding to let the guard be. It would probably cost him later, but he had to get the attack underway.

It took another fifteen minutes before he had found a satisfactory position wedged between two boulders overlooking the command bunker. As usual, many of the officers were gathered under a small tent awaiting their leader for the morning debriefing. Swirtoo would give them a surprise this morning. Cut off the head, he repeated one more time as he setup his weapon, steadying it between the two rocks. Although he had slipped into their sensor net, the boulders were hiding him from detection.

He remembered his many briefings, the picture of his target clear in his mind. The specially colored sash, the brutish features, and the overwhelming gray hair the seasoned veteran sported. He might as well have been holding a lit beacon as far as Swirtoo was concerned. The beast had no chance of surviving this attack. He put down his binoculars and pulled up the thermal scope, eyeing the area for the guards and snipers that surely were surrounding the area.

He quickly spotted two snipers on another ridge overlooking the base. Each was several kilometers away, but still capable of killing him if given the shot. Unfortunately, his microwave was ineffective at that distance. He turned to the plain below him and surveyed the forces on duty. He counted four regular guards and two towers manned by the slave aliens the Acriend employed. Would they attack or let their masters die? Time would tell.

He pulled up the binoculars once more and eyed the officers. Finally, their commander was coming up out of the bunker with his slave aide to begin the briefing. Swirtoo put the thermal scope back on his weapon and checked to make sure it was ready to fire. The dull green glow confirmed its readiness. He put his eye to the scope and took aim as his target sat down at the head of the table. Perfect, Swirtoo thought darkly as his target’s stationary position would make the shot easier.

With the beast’s head in his crosshairs, he pulled the trigger releasing the deadly radiation that would superheat the cranial fluids to deadly pressures. He watched intently, the drama stretching the time out in what seemed like an eternity. Finally, the leader scratched his head as the sensation was detected too late. Once again, the popping was silent but sweet as the body fell off the chair in the midst of a confused crowd of officers.

Job one done—now to signal the attack. He took aim at a large fuel tank near a collection of vehicles. Once his weapon was charged, he pulled the trigger. He wasn’t certain if it would ignite the fuel, but he was hopeful. The metallic container would absorb much of the energy, but he was banking on some of it superheating the fluid inside. He ignored the sounds of the base coming to life as they realized they were under attack. He kept his focus on the fuel tank in what appeared to be a vain effort to ignite the fuel.

He didn’t give up despite shots firing into the dark near, but not at his position. He was about to give up and flee when the tank exploded in a fantastic fireball lighting the base in an explosive fireworks caused by a chain reaction of explosions through the nearby vehicles. It was more than he had hoped for. He packed up his gear as shots ricocheted off the rocks around him. They had found his position.

He moved back up the hill towards his only escape, ignoring concealment in favor of speed. Shots came close to his retreating form, but none could find their target as he dodged and jumped to evade. He was nearing his final route, a backside cliff with a dark crevasse he could climb down when a sudden pain ripped through his side quickly followed by the loud retort of a nearby rifle. He felt his energy drain away as he fell to the ground, his lifeblood spraying out in fountains his feeble hands could not suppress.

The red of blood blurred his vision as a dark figure appeared above him blocking out the starlight now fading in the red sheen of his life draining from his body. He smiled at the dark shape, his lips moving in an attempt to say something witty. He wasn’t certain anything came out as a dark coldness swept through his body. He laughed inwardly, his mission complete despite costing him his life. Even now, the rest of his insurgents would be sweeping through the base, his distraction the necessary ingredient to conceal their sabotage. This sting would be significant.

He sensed more than saw more figures surround him as they stood proudly observing the death of the assassin of their leader. Cut off the head and the body will die. It was Swirtoo’s final thought as his heart stopped beating, the absence of electrical impulses triggering the device on his chest. The Acriend standing around him didn’t even know what happened as the fireball lit the top of the hillside sending thousands of pieces of each back to the base below.

Gift Wrapped

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.
Podcast

Picture of Trilliu HunterShreshlin remained quiet as distant crunching signaled the approach of his enemy. The metallic sound of their voices caused him to tense as he relived past battles and injuries, but he remained still, the ruse critical to his mission’s success. In these final moments of life, he recalled the voices of the doctors and leaders who had urged him to sacrifice so much in the hopes of freeing his people from the tyranny they had suffered for so long.

“We don’t know why they are here or what they hope to gain!” The main leader had insisted, his emphasis on gain ironic.

“Indeed,” another officer agreed, “we have lost many, and still they remain elusive and mysterious.” His voice insisted desperate measures were required. Shreshlin would be their desperate measures.

The main leader had leaned close, his breath thick with liquor. “Soldier, we cannot afford to lose anymore. We must stop them now, before everything we hold sacred is forever lost.”

Their fear had been a wakeup call, and it steeled Shreshlin’s resolve to strike against his oppressors, the personal cost irrelevant in the face of such indomitable odds. He would make the sacrifice, sparing his world the fate of countless others that had succumbed to the insect horde.

His mind wandered back to the present as his targets surrounded him, their grating voices prickling his nerves while he maintained the ruse. He felt the insect soldiers moving bodies as they sorted the dead from the unconscious, saving the living as sustenance for their hive. But Shreshlin would change that, providing them a gift that would change the course of their occupation of his world.

“Your legs were too badly damaged, son.” The doctor had told him after his unit had been overrun by the insect army. He and two others were the only survivors. “We had to amputate or you would have died!”

At the time, he had felt the ghostly presence of those lost limbs, the words of the doctor not meshing with his sense of reality. But seeing the stumps brought the message home with a newfound vengeance he nursed for the enemy that had denied him his proper life. A life of love, children, and a future that didn’t include a wheelchair.

Love. He would never know anything more than the love of his family and friends. He would never know the intimate touch of a woman, the warmth of their shared bond, and the pleasures of their shared bed. He would forever be a virgin, sacrificing himself to the gods of war, hoping his meager offering would turn the tides of their fortune.

He settled his mind as he felt the dead body above him moved to the side. Alien appendages gently lifted him, their voices indicating he lived. His dead weight was thrown onto a hover-cart with the rest of the meat harvested from a unit that was sacrificed for his mission. They hadn’t even known what was happening, their unit forced to advance against an impossible foe with overwhelming strength.

He had been added to their unit at the last minute, his disability hidden inside his exoskeleton armor. His orders were simple: advance with the unit, survive, and await capture. At the time, it had seemed easy, but the reality had been far worse when the unit came under heavy fire. It took every ounce of energy to remain breathing during that onslaught, and he watched in horror as so many were easily felled. During the unit’s final moments of valor, he had covered himself with the bodies of those that had fought beside him, whispering a prayer as he lifted their lifeless forms to hide his own. His death served a higher purpose.

The inner voices replayed his final days as the cart moved on to the next pile of dead. “Why, son? Why must you fight after losing your legs?” His mother’s voice barely held back tears as he told her of his final mission. Though he hadn’t revealed the details, she understood he wouldn’t return.

“Mom, you know I can’t sit by while more are killed or captured by those abominations!” The tears streamed down his face, but the anger in his voice had been real. “I can’t let you and everyone else in this town be overrun by those mindless monsters!”

She’d taken him in her arms, both sobbing as they remembered the losses they’d suffered at the hands of the insects. Srilin, his older brother, had been the first to die, the early battles clearly indicating the superiority of the insect forces. His father had been next, refusing to stay at home while his world and everyone he’d loved was taken over by aliens. He’d lasted longer than Srilin, returning several times to recount the battles to Shreshlin when his mother was not in the room.

When the letter had come to the house announcing his death, Shreshlin had enlisted that day, forcing his mother to sign the age waiver. She had cried then, too, her tears forming pools of grief on the table as she signed her last child’s death sentence. But she knew what was at stake, and she would not hold him back from duty.

The cart stopped one last time, and Shreslin felt another tear stain his cheek as he relived that final farewell to family and friends. Many hadn’t understood his need to enlist so young, but then, they hadn’t lost so much. He recounted his father’s tales of the enemy, his friends listening silently as they tried to imagine such creatures existed. But now, the broadcasts were open and candid, no longer hiding the reality facing their world. The invasion was complete, the insect city a dark sentinel in the distance, swarms pouring forth in sickening raids to consume the people of this planet.

Shreshlin wouldn’t have it. He’d told his friends he wouldn’t remain passive while innocent lives were torn apart by the plague sweeping over their land. After that, many had joined, their own families dismayed yet proud of their young sacrifice. Most never returned, alive or dead.

His childhood friend, Litishin, had attended training with him, those weeks passing rapidly as they learned everything their world knew about war. He had trained hard, with purpose, and was rewarded with rank even so young and inexperienced. The military’s ranks were being decimated, and anyone showing aptitude to lead was quickly promoted to lead others into battle. And Shreshlin had been one of those leading the charge.

But more often than not, he led them to death, his squads cut down by the merciless insects, their technology and weapons too great when paired with their size and strength. They were impossible to defeat with conventional warfare, and so unusual measures were being employed. His sacrifice might save millions, and that filled him with renewed purpose as the cart hovered across the decimated landscape towards their hive.

He felt a transition as the air became antiseptic and cool. He was inside and his sacred moment drew near. He recalled the briefing of what to expect, the information barely discovered from a soldier who had miraculously escaped during a rare raid on the city itself.

“My injuries had been mostly superficial.” The sergeant had spoken in a cold, clinical voice as he recounted the grotesque processing of live prisoners. “The monsters had repaired me before beginning the processing.” The poor man had witnessed his unit undergo the sickening preparation, and Shreshlin was amazed he could retell the story without breaking down.

“After I was healed and cleaned, I was stripped of all clothing and attached to a rack that carried me into the main processing center.” He voice was precise and distant as he relived the gruesome experience. “Other racks around me were filled with men from my unit, most upside down with their feet shackled to a chain driven line moving us into position.” He paused, the first sign Shreshlin had seen that the experience haunted him. “Thankfully, most were unconscious.”

“I was opposite the men, watching in horror as each was moved into position and processed.” His voice had caught, and Shreshlin had thought he would finally break. But he had swallowed hard before resuming the tale. “After being sprayed with powerful disinfectants, they were positioned beneath a device of needles and hoses. They injected them with an orange substance, the effect immediately causing spasms until the body finally succumbed to the poison. But the needles would not stop, the hoses filling their bodies until they bloated like a balloon, their eyes turning a ghostly white as they bulged from their sockets!”

Now the retelling took its toll, and Shreshlin had been mesmerized by the horrific process that turned ordinary men into food for the hive.

“Finally, their bloated corpses were moved onward, probably into storage.” The sergeant had stopped, his eyes downcast. “Thank you for doing this.” The man’s gratitude had shook Shreshlin, especially after the tight embrace that took his breath away.

Shreshlin felt his cart stop and bodies removed. He was lifted off the cart and placed on a table, his armor and clothing beginning to be stripped from him with surgical precision. His muscles wanted to react, wanted to flee the horror that he knew awaited, but he had taken the muscle relaxant as ordered, his lifeless form appearing unconscious. He wanted to open his eyes, sneak a peek at the monsters who were preparing his unit for dinner, but he remained still, his eyes shut against the ministrations of his captors.

Their voices were like a wire brush against a sheet of steel, and anger surfaced as he imagined them treating the men like meat in a butcher shop. He quickly ran through the process he was to follow, the insect’s discovery of his missing legs soon to occur. The instructions were simple, he only hoped he had enough strength to execute them.

He felt his pants being removed, and the insects began screeching to each other as they spotted the unusual limbs beneath the special, lead-lined cloth. Like gray columns of steel, his legs were made from a metallic substance of particularly high density. He hadn’t really understood when the process had been explained to him, but the metal had properties that could be catastrophic when brought together in sufficient quantity.

Each limb had been carefully machined, the weight nearly impossible for him to move without the exoskeleton. He felt heat radiating from the smooth surface as light and sparks formed between his legs when the two, exposed masses came into close proximity without proper shielding. The final step was simple: Ignite the shaped charges on either side of each leg, slamming the false limbs into each other, creating a critical mass.

The insects clamored as alarms rang through the facility, signaling others of the danger facing their city. Their arrogance and greed had unwittingly brought the destruction into their hive, and like a birthday present, they had opened the gift wrapped device without first identifying if it were man or weapon. It was the last mistake they would ever make.

He barely could move his arms as he opened his eyes to see his enemy before they were obliterated. He inched his fingers down to the center of his waist where the trigger was hidden inside a false waist attaching his metallic legs to his body. He clutched the small trigger with his forefinger and hesitated. The moment slowed as he realized his destiny was about to unfold just as his life ended.

He wanted to say something, to spit in their faces and laugh at their folly. But nothing came to him. He heard the screech of their voices as soldiers were dispatched to avert the logical conclusion. He couldn’t fail now, not when he was so close to success. He opened his mouth slowly, the relaxant making the movement slow and difficult.

“Eat this!” He slurred as soldiers grabbed for his hand.

But they were too late, and the explosion that tore Shreshlin into a million pieces was followed by another that lit the horizon like a new sun dawning.

Revolution

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.
Link to Podcast

Picture of IssgireThe 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.