Posted tagged ‘war’

Race Of Royals – Part 2

February 26, 2017

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.

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Lord Hishth woke from his slumber, and it took a moment before he realized he was still in the tree he’d climbed for refuge from the enormous serpent hunting him. He steadied himself against the branch and took stock of his situation.

It was nighttime, but not too late based on his internal calculations. There wasn’t a moon but the full splendor of stars was bright enough to cast shadows. He listened intently to the forest floor below, but couldn’t hear anything over the cacophony of insects singing in the dense vegetation. At the moment he took that as a good sign as they often stopped when something large passed by. He would pay heed to their singing.

His mind reeled with how far behind he likely was after being treed for most of the first day. He would have no choice but to travel at night. He slowly inched his way to the ground, stopping periodically to check for sounds of slithering or anything a predator might make while hunting. Nighttime was usually a period of intense competition for food and resources as darkness helped hide creatures from spying eyes. He would have to stay alert. He decided he needed a weapon if he was to navigate through the forest at night.

He hit the ground silently and crouched while listening for anything through the insect noise. Nothing registered, so he began searching the forest floor for a stick that could be carved into a rudimentary spear. Even a spear could keep some large animals away. Even the slightest injury could often be a death sentence within the forest, so predators usually avoided confrontation that might result in injury. He would use that to his advantage.

After a few minutes, he located a stand of young trees reaching into the empty sky once occupied by a dead tree now scattered across the forest floor. He pulled several from the ground and after careful deliberation, chose the one that suited his needs. He pulled out his dagger and began hacking off the limbs before carving the larger end into a deadly tip. It was crude but would inflict real harm if yielded by an expert. Fortunately, he was an expert.

He took a smaller branch from the ground and carved it into a similar but smaller stabbing weapon that would serve as a knife. He refused to use his ceremonial dagger for fear of losing it. A family heirloom such as that would not gain him forgiveness if lost. Satisfied with his work, he slid the smaller one into his belt and felt more secure knowing he had something other than his dagger. He hefted the spear and found its balancing point to carry it. It wasn’t too heavy, but strong enough to pierce even moderately tough hides if need be.

He felt ready and was about to begin his run through the forest when he noticed the sound of insects had fallen silent. Something was nearby, and he wondered if his machinations had drew in some predator looking for an easy meal. He slid into cover under some heavy vegetation and remained frozen as he listened to the sounds of the night air. Nothing moved or made a sound, and he could almost hear his own heartbeat pounding in his chest. He rapidly went through a quick focusing technique that prepared his mind for battle. His senses expanded and he searched through the forest for anything he had not heard, smelled or felt before.

Suddenly he smelled it. It was a scent that was almost sour in nature and it made him think about the small creatures of his home world that would spray such a scent from a special gland in their necks to ward off predators. He didn’t believe this was a creature like that. This felt more ominous within the silent darkness.

He waited patiently and scanned for additional clues using his heightened senses. He strained with effort to hear even the tiniest sounds. Only the occasional click of insects scurrying up trees could be heard. He was almost certain the smell had come from the direction of the tree he had been in earlier, and that made sense considering the scent of his oil would be all over it. It was tracking him by smell. As soon as feasible, he would have to eliminate the oil and camouflage his scent with local products.

He peered through the dense undergrowth but couldn’t make out any movement. It was so silent, he felt like it must be near. Too near. He eyed the opposite direction from his hiding tree and decided the only way to escape was speed. He could make a dash for it and if something pursued him closely, he could always take refuge in another tree. It was a gamble, but staying put would eventually lead the animal straight to him. He cursed himself once more for the oil he’d applied before the race.

He strained his senses one last time and decided he could make a break for it. He firmly gripped his spear and leapt into action. No matter how hard he tried, he would make a great deal of noise as he ran at nearly full speed through the dark forest. It was unavoidable, but the predator would suffer the same disadvantage.

His speed increased as the forest thinned slightly and he doubled his efforts. His breathing and heartbeat were loud in his ears, but the crashing of trees was deafening. He heard something in the distance crashing through the forest behind him and knew he was being pursued. As soon as he ran, he had tipped his hand that he was quarry. He needed a secondary plan.

He eyed the large trees looming ahead and decided he could easily scale them and hide in the canopy as before. Unfortunately, it would track his scent and wait at the base of the tree far longer than he cared to wait. Worse, it might be able to climb. By then he might die of hunger or thirst himself. That plan would lead to a tactical failure and he thought hard about other options.

He had his spear and could risk confrontation, but he didn’t really know the size and ferocity of his pursuer. It might be over before he even mounted an offense. Based on its sound, it was gaining on him, and he realized that meant something larger than himself. He needed a plan and quickly. He passed underneath the large trees and wove his way through them as quickly as was possible. His sound had decreased through the sparser vegetation, but that only made the sound of his pursuer even louder, and it was closing in.

He rounded a rather large tree and startled a bunch of smaller creatures grazing on the sparse vegetation. They scattered like a heard in a single direction from him and changed directions to pursue them as his mind quickly cobbled together a plan. He counted five of the creatures running ahead of him and decided their noise was sufficient to mask his own. The larger creature behind had made a course correction and was still following. He was beginning to tire when he spotted a tree that would serve him well. As he neared it, he jumped and sprang through the air catching the lower branch. In a single motion he swung up into the tree and took up a position behind the trunk. The creatures he had pursued continued racing away from his position while the predator closed in quickly.

He steadied himself and calmed his mind to time this perfectly. The sound drew closer and he realized it was moving fast. The speed would make his attack more risky, but it was the only logical way out of his predicament. His mind tracked the sound as it ran along the same path he had just navigated. The creature’s footfalls and his visualization provided a near perfect re-creation of the creature’s path as it neared the tree.

He timed his jump and leapt into the darkness with spear held high as a dark mass appeared below him. As he fell towards the enormous animal, he aimed his spear at a point he assumed would be the creature’s spine. Gravity and the creature’s own momentum caused the spear to sink deep into its backside. He held on with all his strength as the creature reared in pain and panic as it realized what had happened. He was barely straddling its large midsection as it swung around in circles trying to dislodge him. He dared not let go of the spear as the creature could not dislodge it through its wild gyrations.

It seemed an eternity as the creature fought against the inevitable, bucking and rearing to remove the pain from its back. Finally, the damage from its movements caused it to falter, and he knew he had won this battle. Within a couple minutes the creature fell on its side and its breath was expelled for the last time. Lord Hishth fell to the side and sprang to his feet lest the creature make one last valiant effort. It lay motionless, and he tried to calm his breathing.

The creature was covered in a course black hair and in the darkness of the forest, it was nearly invisible. It was easily five times his own size and would have ripped him to shreds had he attempted a direct confrontation. He was relieved his plan had worked despite the obvious risk of poor timing. The creature sported large tusks protruding from its mouth and he was quite happy to have avoided them. They would have easily disarmed him and made short work of him.

He did not recognize the beast, but it looked similar predators he’d seen on other worlds. Large, fierce, and heavily armed, ready to attack anything that was smaller and less defended. It likely ate anything, and because of that, it would taste delicious. He pulled his ceremonial dagger from his belt and marched towards the carcass. He had spared his own life and his reward was enough sustenance to get him through most of the race.

* * * *

The daylight streaming through the trees was warm against Lord Hishth’s scales. He relished the energizing rays as he quenched his thirst from the small tributary he would easily cross when finished. It had been two days since his near death experience at the hands of serpents and the tusked creature and nothing had bothered him during that time. He’d long since washed the oil from his scales and rubbed a mixture of local tree sap, moss and dirt all over his body to mask his scent. It also served as additional camouflage, especially at night.

The Issgire were did not naturally emanate a scent, but considering the size of the hunters on this planet, he would take no chances. He checked his handmade store of leftover meat he’d cooked after carving large chunks of muscle from the creature and it was running low. He would switch to some of the local plant life he’d identified as edible and extend his stores as long as possible. He felt strong, alive, and ready to reach the end of the race before anyone else. Despite the earlier setbacks, he was making fabulous time and easily crossed most of the tributaries he’d encountered. His plan was actually working, and he hoped everyone else was suffering large rivers, deltas, or worse, swamps.

He peered into the pale green sky and the compass sprang to life from his implant as promised. The finish line was still blue indicating no one had yet crossed it. He was wrapping as close to the mountains as was feasible without moving into the boulder field. At one point, he’d spotted some of the large herd beasts that resembled boulders themselves. They were dark in color and enormous with thick skin that looked impossible to pierce with a spear made from wood. He doubted his dagger would even scratch such a hide. He kept clear of them lest he be trampled during another panicked run. Besides, if giant serpents were hunting them, he wanted as much distance from them as was possible without changing course.

He had made a quick calculation based on his observations and estimated his course along the mountains would add an additional forty kilometers to his already lengthy race. It was a tradeoff, easier navigation but longer path. He still felt confident his gamble would pay off, though he was slightly nervous that he had seen no other racers along his route. Either they were smarter, or he was much farther ahead of them. Only time would tell.

He estimated he had about a day and a half before he would near the area of the finish line. Assuming no other setbacks, he would finish in a respectable time considering the obstacles presented on this world. That motivated him and he hopped across the tributary to the other side before picking up his steady pace. He guessed he was moving at about a fifteen kilometer per hour pace, and that was perfect.

He already had blown his original estimate of two to three days to complete the race but still didn’t fret. Everyone else would be making the same slow progress either through forest like him, or across water obstacles that would be difficult to navigate. Nobody would finish in less than four days, himself included.

He easily moved through the underbrush at a steady pace with spear held at the ready. If he saw prey he would use it to kill them, and if he saw predator, he would use it to defend himself. He hoped he didn’t run into another black tusked hunter, that fortunate attack would be hard to replicate. Thankfully, he assumed such a predator would roam a large area for prey and would not likely tolerate others of its kind within its borders. The serpents however, no telling where they might pop up? For the moment, he felt relatively safe.

He traveled during the day and slept at night in trees. He had figured his odds of meeting predators might be lower in daylight than at night, and he didn’t need another incident like the one with the black beast. This limited his travel time since the days on this world were so short. The spin of this world was fast, and nighttime came far too quickly. Still, he was making great progress.

He came to an opening in the forest and slowed to a stop as he peered into the large expanse. It was a natural place for a predator to lurk. Anything passing through the opening would be highly visible from the confines of the surrounding forest. He eyed a way around but decided he couldn’t take the time hit if he was to stay on schedule. He would have to risk running through the open area as quickly as possible and hope nothing was waiting in ambush.

The large expanse was sparsely littered with strange plants that seemed to wither in the direct sunlight. It was as if all the large trees had been suddenly yanked from the area and the dense undergrowth had wilted under the direct gaze of the sun beating down on them. However, considering how sparse it was, he could easily double his pace and make up time.

He eyed the surrounding forest and listened intently before deciding to make a run for it. He leapt from his cover into the hot sun and sprinted once more to a steady twenty-five kilometer per hour pace that would clear the open area within minutes. He darted his gaze from side to side looking for any movement in the tree line but saw nothing. So far so good.

The ground was hard and dry, containing what looked like dead vegetation barely clinging to life under the intense sunlight. He would be happy to be under the trees once more to avoid the heat and barren conditions despite the speed he was able to maintain. Still, he felt something was wrong with this open expanse and he wanted to get past it as soon as possible.

He was nearing the midpoint of the area when a gnarled mass of vegetation began to block his path. He tried to veer off to the side, but it was everywhere. Before he could react, he was knee deep in it and sharp pain radiated through his legs as pin pricks of thorns pierced his scales. This was new and he stopped to assess his situation. He slowly backed out the way he had come but it seemed an eternity as his mind slowed and the world around him spun in an eerie dream state.

He spotted other racers flashing by waving at him, and he panicked until he saw Assil hobble by at a slower, older pace. He shook his head and tried to clear the visions clouding his mind. He couldn’t focus despite his best efforts and he wandered around in circles trying to decide where to go. He was lost in his own mind and ran aimlessly in one direction. The pain in his legs increased, but he refused to stop until his legs finally gave out. He fell to the ground in a heap, and his mind swirled in confusion as colors and lights flashed like a kaleidoscope in his eyes.

Finally darkness embraced him, and he welcomed it for its cool, calming peace.

* * * *

The sound of something breaking woke him suddenly, and his eyes darted about unfocused as he tried to ascertain where he was and what was happening. Something grabbed his arm and he swung around violently trying to free himself. It was no use and his mind swam with black dots as he fell back to the ground in a heap. Only gray, non-distinct blobs appeared through the swimming dots and he panicked.

“It’s okay, your safe!” A voice called to him through the haze, and it spoke his language.

“What happened?” Lord Hishth demanded.

“You succumbed to poisonous plants. I think you will live, but you may not recover so quickly.” The voice responded.

Lord Hishth didn’t remember poisonous plants and wracked his brain trying to understand what had happened. He had been running, he remembered that, but where and what he had run into was a mystery.

“Who are you?” He spoke directly to the largest gray blob in the vicinity of his blurred vision. It moved, so he knew it must be the person.

“I am Lord Thrriis.” The voice said. “You?”

The name meant nothing to Lord Hishth, but then he had only known a couple dozen racers. “I am Hishth.”

“Hmmm. I have heard of you.” Thrriis said knowingly. “Incredible tactician, I hear.”

“You heard right!” Hishth said sounding more confident than he felt. “I haven’t heard of you.”

Thrriis laughed lightly. “I would hardly expect you to. I am stationed on the opposite side of the Empire from you. I am part of a subjugator force. Subjugation and enslavement is my mission.”

“I thought we abolished that to get others to help us!” Hishth spat in disdain. “Rubbish if you ask me. I applaud your efforts and hope you continue.”

Thriiss remained silent for a few minutes before finally responding. “They may stop us soon, and I might just as well be glad of it.”

“Really? Why?” Hishth demanded imagining some soft commander who couldn’t stomach the misery of other species at his own hands. Too many of these liberal Issgire had taken control of the Empire and filled the Emperor’s mind with nonsense about enlisting others to help instead of forcing their cooperation. If he won his Dukedom, he would be a voice of reason against those soft and weak liberals.

“I have seen the other side of it, and it works far better.” Thrriis said calmly.

Hishth was taken aback and realized this was a soft liberal. “Nonsense, we are far superior to any other species and should domesticate them to our and the Empire’s needs.”

“I once thought as you, but I have seen firsthand what can happen to the oppressed when the Leran march in to liberate them. They turn on us and collude with our enemies much to our detriment.” Thrriss said. “We will lose if we continue down that path. The Emperor was wise to change tactics.”

Hishth was upset by these liberal views and wished his vision was clear enough to see him face to face. “You will excuse me if I don’t see your point of view on this. I think the Emperor was unduly swayed by weak Issgire bent on enriching themselves at the expense of the Empire!”

“Believe what you want, I have seen the truth.” Thrriis said quietly.

Hishth was beginning to see more details, but Thrriis was still more blob than Issgire. He would not let on to his current disability. “Why did you save me?” He asked.

“You would have done the same had it been me.” Thrriis said. “Commanders never let their troops be left behind to die.”

Hishth didn’t believe that either, but decided it best to not argue the point. There were always situations where the life of a single soldier was expendable in the quest for victory. He decided being in the subjugation and enslavement end of the war was not conducive to smart, tactical commanders. It was likely why Thrriis was in such a unit. He was unable to make the hard decisions that would ensure victory.

“Yes, I suppose you’re right.” He said without much commitment. “Where are we?”

“Still a day or so from the finish line, but not far from the open expanse where I found you.” Thriiss said without emotion.

It was clear Thrriis didn’t have the killer instinct that would win him a Dukedom. Still, he had taken the same route which meant he was at least smart enough to navigate. Perhaps there was something more to his compassionate gesture than met the eye. Hishth would take care to watch this one. He may only be playing the fool to force Hishth’s guard down, and when the time came, his ruthlessness would win the day. After all, it was hard to believe that anyone running in this race would be so compassionate towards a fellow competitor.

Suddenly Hishth’s stomach rumbled and he realized he was incredibly hungry. As though Thrriis realized his situation, Hishth’s store of meat landed in his lap.

“Thought you would want this back.” Thrriis said. “Can’t finish this race without sustenance. How did you come by such a bounty?”

Hishth had been about to accuse him of stealing his meat, but realized the weight felt about right. “I ran into a hungry beast that pursued me, but I guess I was more hungry.” He said boldly though he knew  the real truth of it.

Thrriis stood up and Hishth eyed the large blob carefully. “Impressive.” He said. “I, too, was fortunate to acquire a beast that had been stalking me, though mine yielded far less meat than yours. Still, I am alive and it is dinner.”

Hishth smiled tightly. This was no fool and he must be careful. “This world is full of surprises.” He said. “Did you happen to travel on the path of boulders at the foot of the mountains?”

Thrriis moved off to Hishth’s right and sat down once again. “I did.” He replied. “Incredible beasts roaming them. I was nearly trampled to death by one that saw me as a threat to its youngling. Nothing short of a monster will pierce their hide.”

“My thoughts exactly.” Hishth said. “I have seen such a monster hunt them.”

“Really?” Thrriis said with an edge of concern. “What did it look like?”

“It was a serpent about a hundred or more meters in length.” Hishth said. “There were several of them. I was treed temporarily by one of them flanking the herd in the forest. Thankfully it either didn’t want to climb after something as small as me, or it cannot climb vertically because of its weight. Either way, I have been keeping a keen eye out for them since that encounter.”
“Interesting.” Thrriis said. “I had seen what looked like the remains of a large serpent’s skin after molting, but it was not nearly that large.”

“A young one perhaps.” Hishth said hoping there wasn’t another species of serpent that large.

Thrriis laughed. “Let’s hope so.”

Hishth looked around and was beginning to see more detail in the dim light of the stars. “When did you find me?”

“Close to nightfall.” Thrriis said. “I was ready for a stop anyway, so I carried you here and let you sleep off the effects of the poison. Honestly, I wasn’t really sure you would survive, there were a lot of thorns stuck in your body.”

Close to nightfall meant he had lost at least a half a day because of his folly. Now he had a competitor catch up with him, so the competition would be difficult. How should he approach this situation? Let Thrriis know they would part ways and may the best commander win? That didn’t seem quite appropriate after he’d saved Hishth’s life.

“How do you think the others are doing?” Hishth asked curious.

Thrriis remained silent for a minute or two before answering. “I believe that unless they are following our route, they will not make it before us. There are too many unknown variables further to the east. The water there might be quite expansive and slow down anyone’s progress. Closer to the mountains, the rivers and tributaries are relatively small and easily crossed, but you already knew that.”

Hishth looked up into the sky and his compass sprang to life. It was too blurry to see details, but the finish line was still blue indicating nobody had yet crossed it. They both still had a chance to win.

Thrriis knew what he was doing. “Yes, no one has yet crossed the finish line. I check quite often. Once it turns red, I will no longer feel compelled to keep up such a brisk pace.”

“You think someone will beat us?” Hishth asked.

“Doubtful, unless someone was ahead of you.” Thrriis said. “Did you see any signs of that?”

“No.” Hishth said curtly almost insulted by the suggestion. Still, he had been in that tree for the better part of a day. But if Thrriis had been lagging a half a day behind him and had not been treed, that meant he was maintaining a much faster pace. He suddenly felt exhilaration at the thought he could still win against this adversary.

Hishth pulled out some meat and placed it in his mouth. His body responded immediately to the needed sustenance. He would regain his strength and then leave this commander behind and take the win and the Dukedom. He only hoped his sight would return before morning. “How late is it?” He asked between bites.

“Midnight, I think.” Thrriis said.

That meant at least a few hours left before sunrise. That would give his body time to fully recuperate, he hoped. Once that happened, he would set off on his own and leave Thrriis behind. He finished the last of his meat and laid down on the ground. It was not comfortable, but he only needed rest to regain his strength, sleep could be put off till after he won.

“I will see you at first light.” Hishth said.

“Yes, see you then.” Thrriis replied.

* * * *

Hishth had left their small encampment an hour before first light. It was now midday, and he was making remarkable time considering his incident the day before. He felt better than before the poisonous plants, but his vision was still impaired. It was a risk traveling so fast without his full faculties, but it was worth it if he could put many kilometers between him and Thrriis. He briefly stopped only a few times to relieve himself, take on water and eat a small portion of meat wrapped in local plant life.

His body was operating at peak performance and he needed little to sustain that. Perhaps those poisonous plants had special medicinal uses if you survived their initial poisoning. Whatever it was, he was happy to have it. He was easily clocking at twenty or twenty five kilometers per hour despite his blurred vision. It was as if he could sense obstacles before he actually saw them. Perhaps his other senses were compensating for his defective vision.

Every now and then he would peer skyward and adjust his course angling ever closer to the finish line now close at hand. He would finish today even if it killed him. Of course he didn’t think it would kill him based on how he felt. He would not stop to rest other than to take on more calories to get him to the end. He had already taken a gamble and threw out half of his remaining meat to lighten his weight. He had also cut down his spear by at least a third to more easily navigate the forest floor. He was making incredible time and would win this.

He never saw Thrriis or heard him. All was quiet ahead and behind, but he kept his senses alert, especially for serpents or other beasts intent on killing him. He believed daylight would prevent that from happening, but you could never tell. He slowed as he heard water up ahead. The low roar indicated a waterfall nearby. He burst into the open in front of a large river moving at a very rapid pace. To his right, the river poured over an enormous drop and the water thundered loudly on the depths below. To his left, the water cascaded over several series of small falls, each one deadly treacherous considering the enormous current. He had never anticipated something this large so close to the mountains.

If he went right, he would have to travel down a large cliff to the river below and then continue downstream until the water slowed or the river widened. Neither was appealing. If he went left, he would have to scale uphill for who knew how far before the river narrowed enough to cross. No telling how far that would take him into the mountains or whether it would ever narrow.

Damn! He was stuck without a plan. He grabbed some meat and picked dried grasses from around the rivers edge. He wrapped the meat in the grasses and took small bites to give him energy. He would have to think about this obstacle, and he needed food to help. When he had finished his small meal, he leaned over to the water and scooped plenty in his mouth until he had his fill. He didn’t want to weigh himself down with too much water.

Unfortunately, he still didn’t have a plan. He eyed the treetop canopy, but the trees never crossed over the edge of the river far enough to climb across. If he had wings, no problem. If he had rope, maybe he could rig a swing which might get him further across, but he had neither. Suddenly, his quest to finish today seemed near impossible.

However, he knew he couldn’t stand there all day in indecision, so he chose a direction and took off. As he moved up the hillside along the river, he slipped several times as the moisture from the falls coated everything with a fine mist. He would never make it up under those conditions, and he worked his way further back into the forest until drier footing could be attained. He found what looked like a game trail, and though it was risky to travel such a route, it would cut off an incredible amount of time. He charged uphill along the trail at breakneck speed, but his footing was sure and he soon crested the top into the boulder field littering the base of the mountains. Damn!

He eyed the open plain of rock and small grasses. There weren’t any signs of animal life, so he set off back towards the river to ascertain its condition from this height. If it was too wide or strong to cross, he would continue towards the mountains until he found a place. It could be frustrating, but what choice did he have?

He neared the water and it was too swift and wide to cross. Though the water flowed around large boulders, none were close enough to hop across. He looked upstream, and luck was on his side. A large wall of rock had the softer material of its middle washed out by the river creating a natural land bridge. If the top of the rock wall was navigable, he could cross there. All was not yet lost.

He quickly sprinted across the distance to the crossing and slowed as he neared it. Something was on top of it making its way across. Their limbs were splayed out on either side of the wall as they shimmied slowly across. As he drew closer, he could see it was likely Thrriis unless another competitor had caught up with him.

Hishth yelled over the sound of rushing water. “Hello!”

The figure turned its head and located the sound of the voice. “Ah, Hishth, there you are!”

“Seems my attempt to elude you has failed!” Hishth called back.

“You didn’t know something I did!” Thrriis said loudly. “I knew this river was here and that I would have to travel on the boulders if I wanted to cross it. Fortunately, this land bridge was close to where I ended up!” Thrriis said. “I am afraid crossing it isn’t as quite as easy as it looks. The rock is soft sandstone and narrows to an edge near the top. I am afraid my weight might break off a piece and I will fall with it into the river!”

Hishth shook his head and didn’t want to know how this guy knew the river was there. Thrriis was still not ahead of him by much, but it seemed he might never shake this guy. He would reconsider his plan to go it alone after they crossed over the river.

“I will be right behind you, so leave me some rock to climb!” He yelled at Thrriis who was suddenly making better progress.

“No promises!” Thrriis yelled back, his voice now muffled by the water rushing below them.

The natural arch was probably twenty meters tall at its highest point and spanned a section of the river that was at least fifty meters wide. If he fell off, he might either hit a large boulder or the water. He would have to be careful.

Thrriis was right, the wall narrowed to nearly a blade’s width near the top, and the edge hurt as Hishth slid across it slowly. Finally, he was beginning the descent and the rock wall widened appreciatively. He was soon standing on it and walking to the other side. Thrriis was waiting patiently on a rock.

“You didn’t want to gain advantage?” Hishth said wondering why this guy wouldn’t leave when he had the chance.

“It seems to me, we might be better off traveling together, at least for a while. I know about a few other obstacles we might encounter and you are an excellent tactician. I am willing to forego advantage for the benefit of teamwork.” Thrriis said matter of fact.

“Really?” Hishth said dubiously. He had already suspected there was more to this guy than met the eye, so he was doubly suspicious that he knew about upcoming obstacles and still wanted to team up. What was his game? “How do you know so much about this planet? Did someone tip you off?”

“On the contrary, I deduced where this competition would be based on the current holdings within the Empire. Did you know we are not actually in the Empire?” Thrriiss said knowingly.

Hishth was disturbed by what this commander was saying. He deduced the location? That seemed impossible, especially if it wasn’t in the Empire. “Where are we?”

“Thirty-two parsecs from the Empire’s control.” Thrriis replied. “We are in an area the Leran have been eyeing for decades. It is close enough to key assets of the Empire, yet capable of sustaining life. Oh, it would have to be domesticated first, but would prove a strong fortification to build a base on this flank of the Empire. They would gain real advantage if they took it.”

“Why haven’t they?” Hishth asked.

Thrriis laughed lightly. “Actually, because of you and your units. You have depleted much of their resources near this area in your epic battles. They haven’t the forces to take this new area, even without us battling them along the way. They had no idea we used this planet for our competitions.”

“How did you know?” Hishth pressed concerned by what this guy was telling him. Something wasn’t adding up.

Thrriis smiled a toothy grin. “I told you, I deduced it. Oh, and I intercepted a communique from a Leran spy that talked about this world and how the Issgire used it for military training. Needless to say, I knew there were no military installations in this region, so I naturally assumed it must be where the competition was being held. After that, I simply perused the Empire’s archives for any information on this world. Guess what I found?”

“A topographical map?” Hishth replied.

“Not quite topographical or accurate, but a crude map created by ancient Issgire searching for fortunes outside the Empire.” Thrriis said. “It contained enough details of this area to help me choose my route.”

“You cheated!” Hishth said forcefully. Maps of any kind, from any source were forbidden in the competition.

“Oh, no.” Thrriiss said. “I actually discovered this information long before I was a commander and eligible for this competition. Before I was a subjugator in fact.”

“And you want my help?” Hishth nearly spat. “I can’t trust you!”

“Really?” Thrriis said. “I saved your life! I could easily have left you to die in those plants, slowly eaten as your carcass rotted in the hot sun, but I didn’t. I need you.”

“But why?” Hishth demanded.

Thrriis looked at the ground and sighed. “I am a terrible fighter. It is part of the reason I am a subjugator and not part of the elite troops battling the Leran on the fronts like you. There is reason to believe there are formidable predators up ahead blocking our path to the finish line. Together, we may be smart enough to outwit them, but alone, neither of us would likely make it.” His head dropped low. “My father took this route and failed. He was killed by something large just as he was closing in on the finish.”

Hishth considered this. His father had also failed, but at least he hadn’t lost his life in the process. If there was some enormous monsters up ahead, teamwork would certainly prove useful. He thought about what Assil had said before the race and realized this was his moment to stop thinking about himself. Nonetheless, after they cleared the obstacles, it would be every soldier for themselves. He would win this race, that he was certain, even if meant fighting and maybe killing this guy.

“Very well,” Hishth said, “tell me what you know about what lies ahead?”

Race Of Royals – Part 1

November 26, 2015

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.

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Lord Hishth donned the last item of his accouterments, the ceremonial dagger which would serve as his only weapon. It was an ancient legacy in his family for a millennium, and now it was his turn to use it as his ticket into the vaulted ranks of the Issgire Royals. Being a lord was one thing, but a Dukedom would finally elevate his family to its rightful place among those who ruled the kingdom.

He would no longer be a common lord who did the bidding of the royals they served. He had proven himself in countless battles and campaigns, and now he would prove himself among his peers and take his place among the leaders of the vaulted Issgire Empire. His family and his god would be proud.

“You look the part of one who can win this race, my Lord.” Assil, his family’s oldest attendant said as he stepped back from his charge. “Today may finally be the day your family has long waited for.”

“Yes, thank you, Assil.” Lord Hishth said as he admired his own reflection in the mirror.

His line produced some of the finest military leaders of the empire, and he was certain all that effort would finally be rewarded as he took the royal staff of Dukedom to be his own. Years of training had prepared him for this moment, and now that it was upon him, he felt certain he would win the day.

“Assil, you helped my father and watched his race, what sage advice might you honor me with?” Lord Hishth said, trying to sound as though he needed advice.

“You honor me by asking, my Lord.” Assil said deferentially. “Your father was fast, perhaps the fastest out there, but the route he took delayed him.”

“And you are forbidden to share any of those details with me?” Lord Ashth asked, though he knew the answer already.

“Yes, my Lord.” Assil replied. “However, I can share some advice that does not relate to the details of the race.”

“For example?” Lord Ashth said.

Assil looked down in thought while he gathered his words. “As your family’s history is woven so tightly with the military, you will understand this. There are times when one must work alone and there are times when one must work together. This important lesson will be very apparent during the race.”

“But it is not a team competition it is to see who has earned the right to rule in our empire.” Lord Hishth said.

“Is not a ruler always dependent on his subjects? Do they not only support him, but fight for him and provide for him. A humble leader is one who earns respect and will gather followers who would die for him.” Assil said. “Your father understood this lesson.”

“Then why did he fail?” Lord Hishth said with disdain.

He loved his father and even respected him, but he’d had his chance and failed. His family needed something new and different, something that would change their fortunes forever. He believed he had what was needed and he certainly wasn’t going to help others take that away from him simply to be humble. If you saw something you wanted, you took it, that is what commands respect.

“His failure was a tactical one, not because he understood how to work with others.” Assil chastised.

Lord Hishth bridled at the recrimination. “Watch your tone, Assil, or there may not be a place in the new Dukedom for such an old servant.”

“Yes, my Lord.” Assil said. “Then, I have no further advice for you.”

Lord Hishth ignored the old man and focused on what he would need. The old man had at least provided him one piece of advice, plan your route carefully. He was an expert at doing just that. He had participated in hundreds of troop competitions where navigation was so important to win the day. He felt confident he would succeed.

The competition traced its roots back thousands of years as a way for the Emperor to dole out spoils of war to his faithful and most powerful subjects. Only those of royal blood could participate, or those who had received the title of Lord due to some astonishing act on behalf of the Empire. There were very few of those nowadays, only those born into royalty. Everyone knew royal blood was far superior to any other, which is why they were meant to rule.

The final tally was one hundred participants, ninety-nine of which would fail. The course and its location were a well guarded secret. Each participant had been flown to the planet without knowing where it was. They knew nothing about its terrain, its atmosphere, its weather, or its flora and fauna. It was a total mystery, but that just added to Lord Hishth’s assurance he would win the day.

As a well decorated commander in the Imperial Forces, he had fought battles on distant worlds with all manner of environments. He’d even fought in water, though that was certainly not one of their species’ natural abilities. Many believed there had descended from sea creatures, but their bodies were built for speed and hunting, not aquatic activities. They were an ancient people descended from the giant reptiles that once ruled their world. Now they ruled.

The deep drum beats signaled it was time to line up. He nodded to Assil as he opened the tent into a brightly lit sky with a greenish tint. He spotted two suns, one either smaller or much further away than the big one dominating the sky. He was already acclimated to the oxygen rich atmosphere that he’d discovered when they had landed. He immediately calculated that plant life would be rich and unpredictable in this environment. In fact, considering the light gravity, most of the life on this planet would be big.

They stood on the precipice of a large mountain overlooking a vast distance. Lord Hishth surveyed the landscape of heavy forest and what might have been distant plains. He assumed there would be water in the form of rivers flowing out of the mountains and possibly lakes upon the plains. These would be difficult to navigate.

He took a quick look at his competition, many of whom he’d served with during his military career. They, too, wanted to lift their family up the royal ladder and would race hard to achieve that. Most were formidable competitors, with size and strength that could prove a winning trait. Lord Hishth stood a modest two point five meters tall and possessed a lean muscular body. He treated it like a temple and eschewed the various delights others enjoyed. He wished to keep it clean and healthy. He was born for battle, and his well oiled scales shimmered in the daylight.

With nothing but heavy forest ahead of them, Lord Hishth liked his chances. His family came from a very heavily forested planet and the mottled color pattern on his scales would be a distinct advantage. There were others who also shared similar camouflage patterns, so he eyed them, calculating they would be the ones to beat early on.

Speed was not his greatest asset. He’d been measured at forty kilometers an hour at his fastest, but he could maintain a twenty-five kilometer per hour pace nearly indefinitely. Pace would likely be more important than speed in this race. His greatest assets were navigation and tactics, something honed during his military service. Many Leran wished they’d never met his troops in battle.

Lord Hishth focused on the terrain, trying to map a route though he didn’t know where the finish line was. They would get a glimpse of it before they started, then they would be on their own. He waited patiently while surveying the cliff they would have to scale at the start of the race. It wasn’t too steep, and his claws would easily permit a rapid descent. He felt ready.

The drums stopped and only the sound of wind rushing across his ears focused his mind as he breathed deeply to fill his blood with the needed oxygen. He would start at an incredible pace and only slow as needs dictated. The more distance he put behind him at the start, the more time afforded him should he run into trouble later. He knew he would run into trouble.

An old voice boomed over a loudspeaker. “Welcome all participants to the five thousand, nine hundred and twenty seventh running of the Race of Royals.”

Lord Hishth heard applause, though all of it came from the Imperial Capital where the royals watched the race in comfort. This was one of the largest events within the Empire and it was rumored over six trillion people would tune in. Betting on the race was encouraged and became one of the largest exchange of wealth within the Empire. Lord Hishth could have discovered his odds, but he didn’t believe in that. He calculated his odds at one hundred percent.

“We have one hundred participants this year, the largest in over a century.” The voice boomed across the silent landscape. “We believe this will be the greatest and perhaps most dangerous race we have ever seen.” Again, applause echoed in the background.

Lord Hishth ignored the sounds as he focused on his plan. The voice finally introduced all the participants with their current odds and requisite accomplishments over the span of their lives. Lord Hishth ignored it all. He decided he would make a charge down the cliff as fast as he could and blaze through the forest on a slightly southern route to avoid most of the competitors to his north. Only after he had put a great deal of distance behind him would he stop and equip himself with fashioned weapons.

Spears were the most likely choice and the easiest to create in the dense forest. He would start there and decide what else would be needed based on what he found within the forest. Food and water would be required, and nobody knew what was edible or wasn’t. He would have to make spur of the moment decisions as to what to try and what to avoid.

At three hundred kilometers to the finish, he assumed it would take two to three days depending on the terrain. If the plains in the distance were accessible, he could make great time across that open space, significantly cutting down on the race time. Assil’s comment about choosing routes went through his mind. What if his dad had calculated the same plan? Were his logical choices the same as his father’s? Maybe thinking outside logic might prove more successful.

He barely heard the voice as it droned on about each competitor. After thinking through his plan, he changed his mind and calculated his route. If everyone had the same opinion about the speed they could achieve across the open plains, most would head in that direction. But what if the plains were something else? A marshland? A desert? He eyed the mountain ranges forming a crescent around the forest and distant plains, finally dropping over the horizon to the east. He could take a mountain path.

If the rich vegetation was an indication of heavy rainfall, then it made sense the valley floors would be riddled with rivers and streams. The further down into the valley you went, the larger the tributaries making it harder to cross. A higher route would likely be the fastest as streams and rivers could be crossed more easily.

He eyed the mountains to his north. Most had little vegetation on their tops, but they were rugged and would be difficult and time consuming to climb up and over. That wouldn’t work. It could take him weeks to complete the race doing that. He looked further down the mountainside but only saw forest. Based on the crescent shape of the mountains, the curved path would add many more kilometers to the race. Straight line would always be faster unless you had more obstacles to overcome.

This wasn’t going to be easy, and he suddenly understood why his father had struggled. He thought again about the rivers and streams and where they would head. He assumed out to the plains and most likely to a lake or ocean not currently visible. What if the finish line was at that body of water? If it was, he may have no other choice than to head for the distant plains. But are they plains?

He remembered a distant world they had been sent to scout from their ship. The landscape had looked like a rich, vast plain of grass. However, they quickly found out it was a vast delta where water and plants created a spongy surface that was nearly impossible to navigate, let alone fight upon. Was that what awaited them on that distant plain? It made sense if all the water fed into that area.

What if the water didn’t? He remembered salt flats, the remnants of an ancient seabed now dried up and lifeless. What if that was what awaited them? Damn, he was second guessing and wasn’t sure how to start. There were too many possibilities and he would simply have to pick one based on his knowledge of how most terrain was oriented. He decided the plains were likely a river delta that would be difficult to navigate through. He would take a route closer to the mountains though the dense undergrowth would slow his progress. It didn’t matter, if he needed to, he could always change routes along the way.

The announcer finally finished his litany before having them look off to the distant plains where the horizon line hid everything beyond. “You will now be given the direction of the finish line.”

As he said this, a red line appeared on the horizon just over the northern edge of the plains. Lord Hishth knew this would fool many into believing the plains would be their best route. He believed it was just another hazard to be avoided. Nothing in the race would be easy, so whatever appeared easy was likely not.

“After the first day, your implants will project a compass onto the sky, always leading you in the direction of the finish line. Beware, though, the straightest course may not always be the fastest.” The announcer warned seriously. “There are hazards everywhere, and only the most cunning and adaptable will survive to finish. When the drums stop, you will start your journey.”

The deep, loud bass of the drums sounded an ominous beat while they contemplated their routes. They drummed on for several minutes, the tension building in each racer as they waited. At last, the drums stopped.

Lord Hishth was over the edge of the cliff within seconds and scrambled down head first, a faster, yet more dangerous technique. He caught a glimpse of those to his left and noticed most were descending feet first, a precautionary method that would cost them precious time. He was nearly to the ground after five minutes and already felt the exertions in his arms. Thankfully, the next section of his race would only require legs, and they were strong and ready.

He jumped the last twenty feet and hit the ground running, his claws tearing through the soft soil, propelling him forward at an incredible rate of speed. He dodged trees and leaped over small vegetation as he made his way deeper into the forest.

His plan was to put more distance between he and his competitors before turning north towards the mountains. Close to the mountains but not on the mountains would be the best route considering the water they would likely encounter. He would skirt along the foothills, outside the forest if the terrain permitted. If not, the less dense vegetation against the rocky foothills would still provide him speed.

He’d run for nearly half an hour by his internal clock and quickly made a left turn to work his way back to the foothills. In the distance, he heard others making their way towards the plains, and he thought them fools. He felt certain they would be bogged down by water features while he would remain mostly dry. He also knew the forest would provide more opportunities for sustenance, something they would all need after the first day.

He pressed on, realizing this was the day that would make or break his race. He had the stamina and nourishment to run all day and into most of the night, so he would have to capitalize on this to get as far as possible before having to forage for food, water, and weapons. So far, he hadn’t seen any indigenous creatures, but the trees were large and the forest dense, it could easily hide large animals who would see him as an easy food source.

He would not avail them that opportunity. As he continued towards the mountains, he heard many slashing their way through the forest to his left. Good, they were behind his time and were heading straight into the thickest part of the forest. He ran fast, but found his way getting more difficult as the vegetation increased. He was confused. It should be thinning out as he got closer to the mountains.

It meant the mountains were further away than he had anticipated. He should have turned north sooner despite giving away his strategy. Too late now, he would continue until he reached them, but he veered slightly east to cut off more distance. He plowed through a large stand of yellow grasses and startled an animal foraging on the plants. He made a mental note about the yellow grasses being edible. He would need more than plant life to survive, but it was a start. Perhaps the animal he startled would also make a good meal.

The forest began changing as the vegetation thinned. Good, it meant he was close the foothills. Within a few minutes, he burst from the forest onto a rocky and grassy area at the base of large mountains and cliffs. He followed them, though the going was somewhat hampered by large boulders and rocky outcroppings he had to climb over.

It was not a straight line path to the finish line, but he knew it was probably the safest path he could take. He scaled another outcropping and stopped abruptly as he saw the terrain facing him. He was stunned. For twenty kilometers, an enormous plain of boulders littered his path, extending deeply into the southern forest. It was as if a mountain had been pulverized and its remains scattered across the valley floor.

The boulders ranged from small to the size of houses, and he knew his footing would be challenged if he tried to navigate this field. A broken leg would not only ruin his chances at winning, but might cost him his life. He would have to work his way south into the forest until the boulders thinned.

Suddenly, a deep moaning sound emanated from the boulder field. He couldn’t see anything, but movement in the distance caught his eye. He watched as a whole section of the boulder field began to move, dust rising in the air from the action. He didn’t know what he was seeing until a gnarled brown head rose out of the boulders and surveyed the landscape around it. It issued another moaning sound and the boulders around it changed direction. They were headed for him and he felt the ground beneath his feet vibrate from their movement.

He realized they were herd animals, and enormous from the size and distance they were from him. Something had startled them, and whatever scared them, would be deadly to Lord Hishth. He eyed the horizon and finally spotted flashes of light reflecting off something pursuing the creatures. Whatever they were, they were bigger than the herd beasts.

Finally, he spotted a large section of the body, and it was a massive serpent, its gray-yellow scales pushing it through the boulders in pursuit of its prey. It reared its head into the air to eye its quarry and released a hideous screech that sent shivers down Lord Hishth’s body as it reverberated off the mountains. They were purposely scaring their prey, hoping to separate the young from the parents during the rush for safety.

Another one shrieked to the south of the first one’s position, but Lord Hishth couldn’t see its entirety hidden behind large boulders. They were still ten kilometers away from his position, but closing fast. He had to make a decision. If he remained, he would easily be squashed by the stampede heading for him, and even if he survived, the serpents would finish him off. He had no illusions that he could outrun the serpents.

They were easily a hundred meters long and their heads alone were three times the size of Lord Hishth. He was no match for them even if he had modern weaponry. He finally understood why the death toll in this race was so high. He leaped from his rocky perch and weaved among the boulders towards the forest. He needed to put distance between himself and this herd if he was to survive. He moved into the vegetation and felt better as he clicked off kilometer after kilometer.

He finally stopped and could no longer feel the herd pounding across the boulder field. He caught his breath and eyed his surroundings. Nothing but large trees and dense undergrowth. It would be slow moving, but at least he was clear of the boulders. He eyed the suns and picked a path that would take him east around the boulders. He began marching on his chosen direction when a sound made him stop.

It was like the wind in the trees, but louder. Like something was coming, something that rubbed against the trees and vegetation without breaking them. Crap!

Lord Hishth knew the sound was that of a serpent, its scales brushing against he ground, creating the sound of something being dragged along the ground. He eyed the largest tree he could find and sprinted to it as fast. His footsteps broke branches as he ran and he could tell the serpent had heard his movement.

He finally reached the tree and dug his claws into it as he scaled the rough exterior into its upper canopy. It the serpent was a hundred meters, he would have to be near the top for it not to see him. He climbed quickly, his claws raking deep trenches into the bark as he ascended. Finally, the branches grew smaller and he was forced to stop, wedging himself between the main trunk and a thick branch.

His own breath pounded in his ears and he could hardly hear the progress of the serpent below. He calmed his mind and slowed his breathing so he could hear what was happening on the forest floor. It was eerily silent, and that only increased his fear. It might be at the base of the tree, using the scent of the oil on his scales to track him. He had never considered the oil a bad thing, but now he realized he’d made an enormous mistake.

Xenophobic

April 5, 2014

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.

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.

Purification

October 12, 2013

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. All rights reserved.

According to Brother, the purifiers had been dormant for nearly one billion years, but new disturbances in the galactic landscape had recently roused them from their slumber. The biological cleansing of a planet was what really got the gears moving, and Brother really had no other choice than to initiate the purification protocol. The Universe had once again created viral life forms that either destroyed or enslaved all they came in contact with. The natural life within the galaxy was now threatened by these viral forces on the move.

Gigo completed his testing routines and was satisfied with his new form. It was very powerful and felt alive after such a long sleep. He flexed his limbs and tested their dexterity before moving from the reanimation lab to the control room. Brother was waiting to brief him before they could formulate a plan.

The corridors, long empty, suddenly sprang to life as small worker bots began cleaning the dust and debris accumulated over their long slumber. They would work tirelessly until their home was back to its former glory. He remembered that glory as though it was yesterday, but then again, to him it was.

He entered the control room through a door that didn’t quite open the whole way, but his powerful arms easily slid it into its recess. Inside, the control room looked just as he remembered it. He knew Brother kept workers busy over the millennia keeping it spotless for when their reign would return. Their work was never done as life continually evolved these viral beings bent on destruction. He would always have something to do, and it felt good to be needed.

“Hello, Brother, I am ready for duty.” He announced to the empty room.

The disembodied voice of Brother responded. “So good to see you again, Gigo, I approve of the new form. Very aesthetically pleasing.”

“Indeed, Brother, as do I.” Gigo replied. “Where do we stand?”

“As I already reported, an act of cleansing was detected in quadrant 20245H, and that was the necessary event to necessitate your awakening.” Brother said clinically. “However, further analysis by additional probes has returned very distressing data.”

“I see.” Gigo said without judgment. “Please share.”

Brother paused as though in thought, but Gigo knew he was simply aggregating the data to present a formal summarization. “Our galaxy has finally been caught within another galaxy’s gravity well and mutual attraction is combining the two into a new super galaxy that will eventually settle into a grand spiral with a third more systems than our present galaxy.” Brother paused for commentary.

“I see, so our mandate now covers more than our own galaxy. I like it.” Gigo said. “I assume the viral threat has likely increased due to this?”

“Indeed, perhaps by a thousand fold since the newer galaxy has never been purified.” Brother said.

“Our work is never done, Brother, never done.” Gigo said emphatically. “How many viral threats exist?”

“Within our own galactic borders, I have identified two predominant threats, one of which executed the cleansing of the planet which woke you.” Brother said.

“And the other galaxy?” Gigo asked.

“That is the rather interesting part. Once I began detecting the viral threats in our galaxy, disturbing information surfaced about an identical two threats in the other galaxy. I was able to capture some of the newer propulsion technologies and equip our probes with them, and after some rather clever modifications on my part, the new probes were able to cross into the new galaxy and assess what was happening there.” Brother stopped again while Gigo processed.

“So we will be able to reach the new galaxy easily?” Gigo asked.

“Yes.” Brother replied.

“That is excellent news, I assume you have already sent the new specs to our facilities?” Gigo said excitedly.

“And all facilities except one report online and beginning the fabrication process.” Brother confirmed.

“Alright, back to the threats.” Gigo said. “What about the two in our galaxy, seeing how our facilities are located here?”

“The two main threats analyzed so far are an insectoid race called the Trilliu. They follow similar patterns as any insect population that gains the upper hand on its environment. They have currently spread to approximately twenty percent of the galaxy with an annual projected growth rate of eleven percent per year.” Brother reported.

“And their home world, which quadrant?” Gigo asked, interested in this new species. They had never purified an insect threat before, so this was something new and different.

“Their home world is approximately thirty billion light years from our galaxy.” Brother said without emotion.

“Brother, that is impossible, are you sure of this?” Gigo asked incredulous at the obvious error Brother had made.

“The information comes straight from their databases.” Brother said assuredly. “It has been crossed checked with multiple sources.”

Gigo was confused. An insectoid race from another galaxy, in fact one that was impossibly far from their own. And they had invaded and were spreading like a disease? This was most disturbing. “How did they get here? Is this new technology you have acquired capable of such an impossible journey?”

“No.” Brother reported dryly.

“Then how did they manage to get to our galaxy?” Gigo asked. “Some abnormal hole in space-time?”

Brother didn’t respond at first. Finally after the long pause he answered. “They arrived via supernatural means.”

Gigo was dumbstruck. “Wha…how is it you believe such a thing even exists?” He demanded, certain his counterpart was somehow damaged or demented after so long alone. “You are a being of pure science and only science. Supernatural nonsense is for the very beings we purify. Have you run an extensive diagnostic on yourself since my awakening?”

“I have and all systems are nominal.” Brother said passively. “I have calculated the odds of such a supernatural excursion to be about thirty-eight percent plus or minus three percent.”

“That is impossible!” Gigo said, concerned for his counterpart. “How did you come by this analysis?”

Brother ran down a list of over one thousand possible scientific scenarios that could explain the travel from such an impossible distance, and in each case the time required exceeded the current estimated age of the Universe.

“And that is why you jumped to supernatural, simply because you cannot find a natural explanation?” Gigo asked.

“No, I also have interpreted a deity from their databases. Not only is it referred to as their creator, but as their champion in their conquest of our galaxy.” Brother replied. “Here is an image of this deity.”

The large screen in the control room blinked to life and the image of a tall being appeared with the name, Confale, written underneath it. The being wasn’t even insectoid and certainly didn’t appear supernatural. Then the image shifted into motion and the being simply vanished as the insects around him bowed in deference.

“Alright, I grant you that is a neat trick.” Gigo said impressed. “But it doesn’t mean it is supernatural. Perhaps an inter-dimensional phase shift, we have certainly speculated such a means of travel might be possible.”

“I agree this was my early analysis as well.” Brother admitted. “However, the image does not present any of the theoretical signs of such a shift. A spectral analysis indicates no high level radiation or exotic particles present when he disappears.”

Gigo didn’t like how this was progressing. He was created to destroy viral life forms, but supernatural deities were something beyond their programming. If this god could simply transport his insects across the Universe, then he would likely be able to destroy the purifiers without much difficulty. Their mission would be ended before they even started.

“Fine, Brother, we will leave that aside for the moment. Show me the other threat.” Gigo asked.

The screen changed to a large and grotesque life form. The hair was long and matted and the sexual organ was far too large in relation to the body. What were they? The name underneath called them the Acriend. He hoped there was no god attached to these beasts.

The image changed and showed the beastly armies in battle. They were fierce and powerful, their large bodies defying the enemy thrown against them. The image changed once more and now the beasts were seen sexually violating the defeated army, many of the exploits resulting in death.

“Enough, Brother.” Gigo said disgusted. “They are truly a threat to life. Size and growth projections?”

“They currently control approximately eighteen percent of the galaxy and have a projected growth rate of fifteen percent.” Brother replied.

“You mean they are growing faster than the insects?” Gigo asked. “That seems unlikely.”

“I concur with your disbelief, but a change in their tactics dictated by their deity has given them a new edge against the insect armies. They are beginning to effectively fight back against the insects.” Brother said.

“Wait, they have a deity, too?” Gigo asked.

“Yes.” Brother said. “However, they come from within our own galaxy.”

“So they are defenders of our galaxy.” Gigo concluded.

“Possibly, but their very nature is a threat to life in our galaxy.” Brother said. “They, too, must be purified.”

“Speculation?” Gigo asked, knowing Brother had already thought about this conundrum but rarely shared such analysis unless asked. His programming was excellent but lacked the subtleties of real life forms. That was why Gigo has been created, to replicate the life forms in every way possible, including how they thought and felt. Though he rarely used his emotions, they were available when required.

“Based on the analysis of the data intercepted from both species, it appears they are locked in a battle for the conquest of our galaxy. It is as though both deities are using their creations as weapons of war to battle for total domination. For what purpose is unknown.” Brother said.

“We know their purpose—destruction!” Gigo countered. “It is always to consume and destroy, the very nature of life run amok.” He paused briefly wondering how they would defeat such a supernatural invasion. “Show me their creator.”

The screen changed again and another elegant being was displayed with the name Hammot underneath it. Again, the god looked nothing like its creation.

“Do you believe they are the actual creators of these species?” Gigo asked.

“Whether through natural or supernatural means, the data strongly indicates this to be true.” Brother replied.

“Well, I agree the armies probably believe it, but do you believe it?” Gigo pressed. He needed to see how his counterpart felt, even when he didn’t have emotions. He needed more than the clinical analysis.

“You wish me to create a supposition on this situation beyond the purely analytical?” Brother asked calmly.

“Yes, Brother.” Gigo replied.

“I  must admit, my logical processors are having difficulty with the entire scenario, but my scientific curiosity has been aroused. In creating a supposition, I have to put aside the obvious logic traps that dispel such entities from existence. But in doing so, we open up a whole host of possible scenarios, of which all become possible.” Brother stopped briefly. “Since we can assume not all scenarios are possible we must make assumptions to construct a plausible scenario. I have done such a thing and came up with three possible suppositions.”

“Let’s hear them.” Gigo said.

“The first scenario is based on the idea that the two beings are super evolved natural life forms that have tapped into an ethereal aspect of the Universe that we can neither detect nor interact with. It is even possible that both entities evolved from the same species originally, though that seems less plausible since their armies come from different origins.” Brother reported. “These super evolved life forms then created their armies using natural means like genetic manipulation and cloning. I present this supposition with a probability of approximately twelve percent.”

“The second supposition is based on the theory that parallel Universes exist and that somehow these beings came from such a Universe. Given the likely differences in the physics of their Universe, it has somehow imbued them with powers outside the realm of our physics.” Brother paused. “Likewise, these beings use their extraordinary powers to manipulate the natural evolution of the armies they now control. This supposition has a probability of approximately nine percent.”

“And the last one?” Gigo asked, impressed with his counterparts ability to think outside the box.

“The last one has an eighteen percent probability even though it contains the most fantastical elements.” Brother said. “If we speculate that each entity did create each species, then it would follow that they likely created each of the galaxies that the species came from. Based on that assumption, every galaxy likely has a creator and the natural processes that we have come to know as science is indeed a process started by such a deity.”

“This sounds too much like the religions we have encountered while purifying. Many even embraced our purification as a gateway to their salvation in the arms of their creator. Is this what you are suggesting?” Gigo asked.

“I am.” Brother said quietly. “It is possible that our very existence, though from a known race, was actually a product of the natural processes started by one of these entities.”

“And the probability for this supposition, why so high?” Gigo asked.

“Because the other galaxy we are merging with also has two dominant species vying for ultimate domination of that galaxy.” Brother said.

“And they each have a creator on their side?” Gigo concluded.

“Yes.” Brother said. “In fact, one of the species is from our neighboring galaxy led by the deity called Danirdan.” An image appeared on the screen with a reptilian form surrounded by other reptiles.

“So this creator takes the form of its own creation?” Gigo said. “That means they can change their appearance.”

“I would agree with that assessment.” Brother said.

“Then this Hammot, you assume he created our galaxy?” Gigo asked.

“If we are to believe my third supposition.” Brother said.

“Alright, the fourth threat?” Gigo asked, deeply disturbed by the forces arrayed against them.

“The Leran.” Brother said. “Though data indicates that nearly two million sentient species fight on their side, they are shape shifters, able to create the body of any organic life form they come in contact with.”

“Are all the species that follow them simply shape shifted Leran?” Gigo asked.

“I do not believe so.” Brother said. “It is more likely that their identity is hidden behind this species that does not come from that galaxy.” The screen changed to the view of the bridge of a spaceship with several species visible. “There, the being sitting in the command chair, that is one of the alien species.”

“Interesting.” Gigo said. “And their god?”

Another screen change and a rather different picture of a creator appeared. It was nothing like the others and seemed almost too alien. Gigo rather thought the being should be the creator of the insects rather than the Leran. The name beneath the picture was Kiirgatt.

“I am beginning to understand the difficulty in our task.” Gigo said. “Do you believe these deities have supernatural powers to destroy us?”

“I do.” Brother said.

“Then our purification efforts are doomed from the start.” Gigo said with some of his emotions surfacing. He lived for purification, the ability to bring balance back to the Universe that so desperately needed it.

“I do not believe that is correct.” Brother disagreed. “If the creators were using their supernatural powers against the other’s armies, then we would know about it. In fact, each of the armies fight very conventional battles, although with rather advanced weaponry from our point of view.”

“That, too, is supposition.” Gigo argued. “If the creators see our purifiers as a threat, I believe they will not hesitate to use supernatural powers on us.”

“I agree, it is a risk, but I estimate it is only a twenty seven percent chance of that occurring.” Brother said.

“Good enough for me.” Gigo said, resigned that his mission might be doomed from the start. Either way, he was prepared for any outcome as long as he pursued his primary mission. “Recommendations?”

“I believe a two prong attack would weaken our forces and put us in more danger than if we focus on purifying our own galaxy first.” Brother said.

Gigo nodded thoughtfully. “I agree two deities and their armies are enough to start with. In the other galaxy, can we begin to build fabrication facilities?”

The screen changed and a visual of the two interacting galaxies appeared in false color. “Here where the two galaxies have already begun to merge, I suspect we can integrate several thousand facilities since neither of the warring species has penetrated this region.” The screen shifted and a list of planetary systems scrolled past. “These are the best candidates based on raw resources available and lack of sentient life.”

“Are there any sentient beings within this region at all?” Gigo asked.

“Yes, approximately four hundred and seventy-two, to be exact.” Brother reported. “Only sixty-seven possess adequate technology to pose a threat, and of those, only four possess interstellar transportation capabilities.”

“Excellent, let’s get some seed pods sent there immediately.” Gigo said. “How is fabrication proceeding?”

“The one facility offline is likely too badly damaged to warrant a repair. Tidal forces from the nearby gas giant have nearly ripped the planet into pieces. However, all the other thirty thousand facilities are reporting online and processing.”

“Thirty thousand. Will that be sufficient to fight these two species?” Gigo said. He was concerned about the deities and wanted a large impact from the start. If the gods were going to intervene, it would likely surface after a major attack.

“My estimates put the Trilliu forces at nearly one hundred and forty billion not counting resident species that have fallen in with them. The Acriend Army stands at about sixty-seven billion due to the low birth rates of that species.” Brother dutifully reported. “However, the recent changes implemented by their god, Hammot, have birth rates rebounding.”

“We’ll put a stop that.” Gigo said. “Capabilities of both armies?”

“Formidable, but we have all the specifications of their current weaponry, so we can at least match them in firepower.” Brother said. “However, you must remember they can cleanse a planet and have shown no compunction at using that technology.”

“Two can play at that game,” Gigo said, “but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”

“Three, actually.” Brother corrected.

“Are any of our reserves worthwhile?” Gigo continued.

“I predict only about fifty-two percent of our reserves will even re-start.” Brother predicted. “A billion years buried does serious damage.”

“Activate them, we need to see what our force strength currently is.” Gigo commanded. “What about our facilities, how long before you project we will be adequately armed?”

“Based on current resource projections, approximately two years.” Brother said.

“Not sufficient.” Gigo said. “We must be ready sooner than that. Suggestions?”

Brother paused as if calculating several options. “I believe we can use our functioning reserves to overtake some local systems for resources. We can expand our facilities to forty thousand and cut the time nearly in half. Of course, this assumes a fifty-two percent working reserve.”

“Send whatever seed pods we have and make it happen, we need to increase our size before we make our presence known to the Acriend and Trilliu.” Gigo said.

“Do not underestimate either species.” Brother warned. “Our early actions to expand our facilities will undoubtedly arouse the Acriend who are the closest to our realm of influence.”
“A risk we must take.” Gigo said. “Release the purifiers, we have a galaxy to cleanse.”

Hunting the Hunter

July 12, 2013

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.

Tklik was one of the best squadron leaders in his hive and even he couldn’t believe the capabilities of this fearsome species. They had already decimated half his squadron and were pursuing the rest with wild abandon. It wasn’t as if their technology was better, they simply were better pilots. That spoke volumes to a hunter like Tklik.

Ever since the rise of the hunters within the hive, battles had been easily won as the hunter’s uncanny abilities were set loose on the unsuspecting galaxy for which they fought. But here, they had met their match, and a retreat seemed prudent. However, that option currently eluded Tklik.

He kept executing random changes in direction as his pursuers followed without rest. Two had come in behind him and he could not shake them. He flew in close to one of the many moons and attempted to lose them in the moon’s atmosphere. His ship was designed for both space and atmosphere, but so were the enemy’s, and his maneuver had only slowed him down. It was now only a matter of time.

Still, he dove towards the moon’s surface covered in dense vegetation. Perhaps their aerial acrobatics were not as keen as his. He flew into the towering treetops and flew mercilessly between branch and trunk that should have made most pilots dizzy and sick, but his pursuers hounded him. He was running out of ideas.

He had one more maneuver but it was risky at his current speed. However, if he didn’t try he was done. He popped back up from beneath the canopy into the air his enemies followed in formation. He gunned all his remaining power and headed for a fresh stand of trees looking particularly dense. Shots from the pursuers burned past his ship as he suddenly pushed into a steep dive towards the stand of trees. Excellent, the enemy followed.

His timing would have to be perfect but even then he might fail. Once he was within a few thousand meters of the trees, he cut his engines and released his speed flaps to slow his descent. The two pursuers shot past him like bullets and tried to pull up from the looming trees. Tklik released his emergency chute as the trees rose up before him like deadly pikes.

His ship pitched wildly as the drag of his chute tried to bring him to an abrupt stop. He barely missed the two enemy ships exploding in the dense trees, their hulls shredded by the thick wood and intense speed with which they had entered. Tklik was pressed into his seat as the force of the stall pulled more g’s than an ordinary person could handle. Thankfully, he was a hunter.

He almost felt an emotion akin to joy as he thwarted his enemies, but the unmistakable shudder as his chute was ripped from his ship dashed that moment into the trees. He plunged tumbling into the thick stand of trees and his ship was ravaged by the vegetation. His body clung to the safety harnesses that kept him secure as his ship disintegrated around him. By now, even his hunter body was succumbing to the incredible forces that had been placed on it. Before the ship settled to its final resting place, Tklik was unconscious as instinctual self-preservation took over all bodily control.

What was left of Tklik’s ship hung several meters above the dark forest floor while the rest of the debris littered the canopy hundreds of meters above his current position. He woke to unbearable pain as his exoskeleton had been ruptured in several places. He had a first aid field kit on board, assuming it had not been ripped away with the rest of the ship. One of his lower limbs hung lifeless, a sure sign he had nerve damage. It would likely repair itself eventually, but no telling how long that would take.

Before releasing himself from his restraints, he looked around at what was left of his ship to see if anything could be salvaged. In particular, he wondered if any of the electronics might still work. He was stranded on this remote moon and might never be rescued if he couldn’t radio the hive and let them know where he was. He was equipped with a locator beacon, but its range was small and only useful if someone knew where to look for you.

His console was barely recognizable, but that didn’t necessarily mean the radio couldn’t be salvaged. He released himself and began checking his body for the damage that screamed for attention. His exoskeleton was thankfully intact, but it suffered multiple lacerations and fractures that would need attention. A cracked exoskeleton was death if it was not quickly treated. Infections were notorious for penetrating their normally impenetrable shell when it was significantly weakened.

He moved to the back of his ship and looked for the compartment which held his first aid kit. After moving some of the debris, he finally located it and pulled the pack out. His first order of business was his exoskeleton and he liberally applied the ointment everywhere he could. The medicine would penetrate all weak spots in his exoskeleton to provide a shield against infection. It would then begin to harden to provide a temporary skeleton while his repaired itself.

The pain as the ointment penetrated let him know how badly his exoskeleton had been damaged. He was lucky to be alive. Any other creature would have been crushed by the experience. He imagined his enemies could not have survived the crashes at full speed. Using the first aid pack, he began to gather what electronics he could salvage. It might take him awhile, but he was determined to get a working radio.

When he could find nothing more worth taking, he crawled through the large tear in his ship and into the dense vegetation that held him high above the ground. Normally, he could drop from this height with ease, but the damage to his exoskeleton was serious enough that he dared not press his luck. He moved slowly to the main trunk of the tree and crawled his way to the ground.

The forest floor was covered in a thick mat of decaying vegetation that reeked of death. It was nearly too thick to move through, but his powerful legs pushed into the green and red growth as he searched for a clearing where he would have sufficient light to survey his electronics. Ultimately, he would have to return to the ship to cobble together a power supply, but that wouldn’t help him if he didn’t first get the radio put together.

His ship had little in the way of survival supplies, something he rather regretted at the moment. He would make do with what he could scavenge in the forest. The atmosphere was breathable thanks to the vegetation, and it was an orbital body capable of supporting some sort of life forms. He only hoped there weren’t larger and more powerful than him.

His rear leg dragged uselessly along the ground but left a scent trail he could later follow to relocate his ship. Of course it might also provide a trail for other creatures to find him for a meal. He put those thoughts aside and continued moving through the dense vegetation.

After a while, he came out of the thick trees onto a rolling plain of high grasses and open skies. Thick clouds obscured the light from the distant sun, but it was sufficient for him to see his electronics. He pressed the grass down to make a small enclosure within which he could work and laid out his supplies in an organized manner. When it was all spread out before him, he got to work.

Several hours rolled by when he finally gave up on the radio. The control board was so badly damaged there was nothing he could do to repair it. He was stranded. Even though he had activated his emergency beacon, it would likely run out of power before anyone came searching. If he possessed such an emotion as fear he might have succumbed to his dire situation, but instead, he began thinking through how he might survive on this alien world.

Though he would not need water anytime soon, he would need food, especially protein to help heal his body. The only source that came to mind was that of his enemies. From his current position, he had no idea where they would have crashed. Likewise, he had no idea what, if any, of them had survived. Still he had to try and locate them to scavenge any parts of them that might be left.

He left his little enclave in the grasses behind and began following the tree line in a direction he believed might be where they had entered the forest. It was possible he was on the other side of the trees from where they had entered, but he didn’t let that stop him. After several kilometers, he located a black, scorched piece of metal that was clearly not native to this planet. As he surveyed the tree tops overhead, he noticed some scorching in the canopy. One of the ships had come through here.

He found what almost could be mistaken for a trail and entered the forest once more. He tore through the vegetation as he searched in vain for some evidence of the remains of a ship. All he found were small pieces of scorched debris, evidence of a fiery end to his enemy. Even if he found larger parts of the ship, it seemed unlikely anything of his enemy would remain. He was about to turn back and return to the plains when he came upon a rare opening in the canopy overhead.

The open area was about fifty meters in diameter and a large dark scorch mark indicated something hot had come down from above. He searched through the vegetation around the open area and was finally rewarded with the remains of one of the enemy’s engines, the twisted metal still glowing hot from the destruction. It would not provide sustenance.

He eyed his surroundings and finally took note of the lack of sounds. No insects, small animals, nor calls of any kind. Perhaps this was a dead world where only plants ruled. He searched on the ground, lifting up the decaying vegetation in search of any insects. Though insectoid himself, he was not immune from feasting on those more inferior to him. He dug and dug, but nothing. He looked up once more and eyed the towering canopy. It was possible that any life that existed might only live in the tree tops.

He wasn’t sure he had the strength for such a climb but was beginning to believe it might be his only option. He rested a bit longer when he heard the rustling of leaves as something moved in the forest around him. He focused his sensory organs to zero in on where the sound came from. He quickly adapted a camouflage that helped him blend in with the surrounding vegetation and lowered to the ground.

He pinpointed the location of the sound and realized it came from the trail he’d cut through the forest. Something was tracking his scent. He waited what seemed like hours before he spotted movement in the waning light. Fortunately, his eyes were adapted to see infrared when visible light faded, and the bright orange-red of a warm blooded creature appeared at the edge of the clearing. It moved slowly and cautiously.

As a trained hunter, Tklik would wait until the prey moved closer. To all appearances, he was nothing more than part of the scenery even if his scent was strong. Even his infrared signature would register as background as his body cooled itself in anticipation of the kill. He coiled his muscles as he prepared for the attack. The small creature was cautious, but didn’t seem to see him lying in wait. It entered the clearing and stood up on hind legs as it sniffed the air for the scent it had been following.

It finally turned towards Tklik and surveyed the area searching for that which was giving off so much scent. Convinced nothing was there, it moved slowly towards his position. He was like a rock as the orange-red object moved closer. Tklik surveyed the creature and decided it was unarmed. It possessed neither crafted nor natural objects that could put up any significant defense. He was ready.

The creature would move several steps before stopping. Then it would sniff the air again before moving once more. It moved in this cautious way as it made its way across the clearing to his position. When it was within ten meters, Tklik felt confident even his injured body would be capable of catching it. He waited while it sniffed the air once more. It began to move forward when Tklik made his move. The speed as he released his coiled muscles was blinding, and the creature didn’t even have time to react before it was dead.

He released the creature from his mandibles and surveyed it on the ground before him. He used his sensory organs to smell the creature and feel its texture. It had fur or light feathers to protect it from the elements. Its body was small, maybe a meter in length, but it was strong and would provide sufficient protein for his needs. Normally within the hive, hunters ate the pre-digested food that everyone in the hive ate, but hunters were a special breed adapted to survive on long hunts away from the hive. He was capable of eating raw food and digesting it within his stomach. However, he had never cared for such tough food and regurgitated digestive enzymes on the creature to soften it up.

He waited while the enzymes did their magic and tried to determine if this creature was only an animal or whether it had any form of intelligence. It was completely naked, though so was he so not really a strong indicator. He searched for any device that it might have been carrying, but found nothing. It wouldn’t have mattered to him anyway, but it was always nice to know what you were up against should he meet more of the same species. He concluded it was an animal and nothing more.

After his meal, he felt stronger and began thinking about his situation. Unlike others within the hive, hunters were self-sufficient and didn’t need the company of others. In some ways, living alone on this forest world was nearly exciting. It stirred ancient instincts, a chance to prove what kind of hunter he really was. He would survive on this world maybe even thrive.

He set out into the forest. If there was one creature, there was a food chain, though it seemed odd insects were not part of it. He forged through kilometers of forest before the darkness even tested his eyes. He used his infrared vision to eye the canopy overhead and spotted glowing spots that indicated something warm. Could be plant, but could be animal. He chose a large tree and shimmied up the side. After he was thirty meters up, he found a large branch and rested.

All around him, orange-red bodies glowed against the dark background and the forest came alive with sounds. He didn’t recognize the sounds, but some that filtered through sounded like insects. This was his new home and he slept with the knowledge there was food. The noises from below woke Tklik as it clashed with the now silent tree top canopy. It sounded like a large creature or maybe many creatures moving through the undergrowth beneath his tree.

He camouflaged himself and eyed downward from his perch. The vegetation was too thick to spot anything, and the visible light was drowning out his infrared abilities. He was blind. He dared not move as he heard something begin climbing the tree from below. He grew tense as he realized something was hunting him. He made no move until he could see what sought him, but his body tensed in preparation for fight or flight.

Finally, as the sounds of climbing grew nearer, he spotted his hunter. It was the same type of creature that he had eaten the day before, but this one wore rudimentary clothing and had crude weapons. It was easily twice the size of the one yesterday and possessed formidable muscles and likely strength. He lay still as it stopped to sniff the air, presumably it had been following his scent. Its eyes looked in his direction, but his camouflage seemed to confuse the creature. Its eyes saw nothing, but its nose knew he was there. He’d killed one of their own and they were out for revenge.

It was furry like the other one but was furless in the face. It had large eyes and very large, sharp claws that it used to easily climb the tree. Its color was white with brown spots and it was easily visible against the brown and green backdrop. That meant it was a predator that didn’t need to hide. It had a large tail that appeared prehensile, and Tklik didn’t remember a large tail on the one from yesterday. That meant he had consumed a child of this species. Its tribe would be out for blood.

It turned its head to look down and made sounds to those waiting below. Sounds drifted up from the hunting party, and Tklik thought quickly about what to do. If the creature continued its climb, he would have to kill it before it spotted him. The others below still wouldn’t know what they were hunting and would likely be more cautious after one of them was killed. He tensed as the creature moved closer but still too far for Tklik to attack. He waited patiently, but the creature seemed to begin seeing his outline against the branch as it screamed down unintelligible sounds to those below.

He had to move now if he was to kill this creature. He was about to spring when the creature swung a rudimentary bow around from its back and notched an arrow aimed at him. He couldn’t attack and moved quickly out of the way. The arrow just missed and struck the trunk as the creature screamed to the others below. Sounds of climbing from multiple trees spurred Tkilk into action and he moved through the canopy with deft and agility. These things would not stop until he was dead.

As branches began to thin, he made an enormous leap to the neighboring tree barely catching a branch that would support him. He scrambled into the new tree to the cacophony of the creatures bearing down on him. He increased his altitude and speed and nearly fell several times as he moved too quickly in his weakened state. He was a hundred meters up and seemed to be putting distance between him and the hunters. At least in the canopy his scent would be harder to find especially as he moved from one tree to another.

The sounds of his pursuers were growing distant and Tkilk decided to use that opportunity to move back to the ground. It would be easier to track him, but he could make better time on solid footing. If ever there was a test of a hunter, this was it. He nearly crashed to the forest floor in his haste and his body protested the strain he put on it, especially the damaged parts of his exoskeleton. In the light gravity, his speed and power were stronger than anything this world had shown so far, but he was still vulnerable if there were hundreds of them.

He hit the ground running and didn’t stop for at least an hour. When he finally cleared the forest and entered the grassy plains, he felt relief. The sounds of the pursuers had stopped, but he knew they would find his trail again and continue the hunt. He set out across the plains and hoped something larger didn’t hunt these grounds. Only once he heard a sound like something large moving through the grass, but it appeared he had startled it and it moved quickly away from him. He thought about pursuing it as he was in need of food, but decided to continue putting distance between himself and his hunters.

Ironic that the hunter was the one being hunted, but it was not uncommon. As part of the Trilliu, they had been hunted for centuries as a food source for other animals. But time and a generous Creator had evolved the Trilliu into the hunters they now were. In his soul he felt confident they would win this battle against the Acriend and eventually all other species sent to destroy them. They would win the ultimate contest for their god and reap the benefits for themselves.

He was tired and hungry when he finally stopped at the edge of another forest. He edged in a few hundred meters and found a tree to hide in. He climbed into the canopy once more and hopped over a few trees to make his scent harder to locate. He would know they were here long before they knew where he was. He needed food and was happy to see the light fading into darkness. The shorter days were to his advantage as he imagined the locals likely preferred daylight.

He searched his tree high and low for any creatures and located two small animals that barely satisfied his needs. He now longed for the larger creature on the plains that he had let escape, and he knew he wouldn’t last long without more sustenance. His exoskeleton ached and he wished for painkillers to help ease his suffering. Still, a part of him relished the situation. He felt alive and invigorated despite his pain and hunger, and his instincts came alive as he evaded his enemies once more.

He rested but didn’t sleep as the night wore on. He was roused from his light slumber by sounds below. He heard the creatures talking back and forth and saw occasional glimmers of orange-red body heat through breaks in the vegetation. They had found where he had entered the forest and were discussing how best to locate him.

He tensed in preparation, waiting to reveal his position until he had to. From their sounds, they were spread out below him, small groups taking positions at the base of many of the trees. He couldn’t tell what they were doing, but none had started climbing yet. Their voices spoke animatedly throughout the forest and were louder than the cacophony of insect or animal sounds already present.

Tklik was startled by the explosion several trees away that lit the forest canopy. He couldn’t believe they had explosives. Another sounded off to his right and then another even closer to his tree. He was ready to spring into action when the sound of a propelled device came up from below. The explosion was large and blinded him momentarily.

When his vision cleared, everything around him, including himself, glowed a pale green color. They were using a phosphorous substance to light the forest and him so they could track him. He sprang into action and the creatures below screamed as they heard his movement. Once again he moved like lightning through the tree tops, not caring as he crashed from one tree to the next.

He knew in the darkness he was lit like a beacon and they followed his trail on both the ground and in the tree tops. His natural ability to hide had been taken away and he fled for his life. He realized he had to get back to the ground as he felt he could move faster than these creatures on foot. He crashed down the tree and landed hard, his exoskeleton protesting with sharp pains that took his breath away. But he moved on through the undergrowth, slashing his way further away from the death that waited.

He had no plan other than to flee and his mind grew focused as his instincts took over. He was making good time, but he could hear them pursuing, still giving chase and making good time. His body began to protest the stresses he placed on it, and he slowed as the exertions took their toll. He suddenly burst into an opening and stopped short as he spotted small dwellings made with wood and grasses. He had stumbled into their village.

It took only a moment to realize that was what they had been hoping for. He was being herded just like hunters sometimes did. He found an opening through the primitive huts and made a dash for it as villagers suddenly noticed the monster in their mitts. He ran between two huts and darted for the forest’s edge when something hit his forelimb making him stumble. He looked at the arrow sticking out of his appendage and swore as he tore it out and got up to move.

The pain was barely tolerable, but he made do as he ducked into the foliage. He felt another sting as something pierced his exoskeleton from above. This one hurt and he nearly fell once more. More and more stings pierced him as he struggled to move deeper into the trees, but something in the stings were slowing him down. Poison. They were poison tipped arrows and he was amazed they so easily pierced his protective exoskeleton. His foreign body chemistry was no match for this unusual toxin and he finally collapsed on the ground unable to move. The hunt was over.

His sensory organs still worked as he heard their voices and feet shuffle cautiously towards his lifeless form. If he could have, he would have put up one final stand, but his muscles no longer responded to any of his mental commands. He was dead, though his mind still functioned. He now understood what Trilliu prey would feel like when the hive processed them alive for storage.

The tribe of creatures surrounded him and prodded him with spears, but his body was inert. A rather tall and brutish creature walked around in front and looked him in the eyes. Though Trilliu didn’t show emotion, they knew what it was. This creature was angry as it looked down at its quarry. The creature had won and it gloated like a victor should.

It spoke loudly to the gathered crowd and they whooped and screamed in response to whatever he said. Tklik no longer cared. His life had been fulfilling, and he had advanced the cause of his hive and his Creator proudly. To die doing that was nobler than anything else. He had fulfilled his purpose and his time was now at an end. If he knew what happiness was, he would have felt it, but instead he simply felt satisfied. The last sound he heard was the crunch of his exoskeleton as the spearhead pierced his head and silenced his mind.

Perversion

February 9, 2013

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.

Hammot waited patiently while the technicians completed their setup. They were not Acriend but one of the many slave species the Acriend had acquired over the millennia. They were weak but possessed a powerful intellect and ability to manage the enormous technological infrastructure the Acriend Armies needed to succeed. Their service was exemplary, but they would never participate in the fruits of their labors and would always be an enslaved species.

The Acriend were Hammot’s chosen people and he had gambled everything that he was that they could succeed where the others failed. Now however, the Trilliu were making a comeback with the introduction of the Hunters within the hive. They possessed keen intellect, moderate power, and definite speed and dexterity on the battlefield, a change that was claiming more and more Acriend worlds. As the leader of his Acriend, he had to make hard choices and force them into an evolutionary change that would be difficult at best, impossible at worst.

The Acriend were a merciless species on the battlefield, their power and fighting techniques legendary across many galaxies. He was proud of them and knew they could succeed in this ultimate battle between the gods. However they suffered from one peculiarity that might soon prove their downfall. For millennia this peculiarity had almost been an advantage as their unquenchable lust led them to conquer more and more worlds. But now, that lust was making them soft and they no longer yearned after new worlds and species to quench their thirst. It had bred complacency and laziness within their ranks.

He knew their perversions were a weakness over the long run as they prevented them from holding worlds as equals rather than as slave pools. The Acriend had been fighting for millennia and still possessed no ally. Hammot keenly watched the other galaxy where the Issgire and Leran waged a battle of who could recruit the greatest number of the local populace to fight their battles. The Acriend and the Trilliu would never survive against either of those armies if they did not embrace this new model of warfare. But his Acriend could never embrace it as long as their perversions controlled their interactions with other species. The Acriend had no respect for other species and treated them as nothing more than slaves or sexual toys to be discarded when they had served their limited purpose.

But today, Hammot would begin the transformation from a perverted race of animal warriors to a tempered, focused, elite force that was no longer a slave to hedonistic appetites. He had worked with a handpicked team of female Acriend and slave species to mold a new warrior. They had created an elite force of over twenty thousand Acriend that new nothing of their perverted cousins waging war throughout the galaxy. Since birth, these warriors had been raised in isolation from their brethren and taught self-restraint.

To satisfy their natural animal lust, they were rewarded sexual slaves, but the sexual acts they were permitted were more natural and non-violent. Many, as they matured, even elected to take on a permanent Acriend female as their mate, something their species had not seen in millions of years. But their most prized attribute was their self-restraint, and it was prized over all other diversions and redirected their sexual energy into fighting abilities twice that of an average Acriend warrior.

To hone these skills, actual Acriend warriors were brought to fight them. These fallen Acriend warriors had no idea what was going on but willingly waged battles to the death with these new warriors as they believed their misfortune was sport for their god. Thousands had been slaughtered as the new Acriend warriors proved more capable than their compatriots. Hammot saw a burgeoning higher class warrior forming and soon he would unleash them on the Trilliu and change the tide of the war. These twenty thousand warriors would operate independently from the rest of the Acriend Armies, and when their success became known throughout the Acriend Empire, he would be able to recruit the rest of the Acriend to this new philosophy.

It was a philosophy that placed him at the center of their lives. They were devout followers of their Creator, and he shared with them the secrets of how to secure a future of happiness and plenty both in this life and in the afterlife. This was a new concept for the Acriend, but so far his elite warriors had embraced it. With this devotion came prayer and meditation, a desire to better one’s self physically and mentally, and a newfound belief that they would inherit the Universe and rule side by side with their Creator.

He had cobbled together a collection of rituals and devotionals from a variety of species within his multitude of galaxies, blending the best of each one into a philosophy that his new Acriend could embrace and evolve with to become more than animals. Education beyond fighting techniques was emphasized as well as healthy mental activities, physical exercise, and respect for other species. Though slaves were still an integral part of their society, they were taught to respect their slaves and treat them well so they in turn would treat the Acriend well. It was a fine balance, but put within the context of their new philosophy, it worked.

A side benefit was more productive slaves who now enjoyed greater luxury than previous generations. Instead of the dank dungeons of old, these new slaves enjoyed familial dwellings where healthy families could grow and bring forth a more content generation that would further the army’s cause. It was truly the dawn of a new day for the Acriend species and Hammot believed it might be enough to take this war to his logical conclusion.

A technician signaled the system was ready for his use. He placed the microphone on his robe and walked out onto the balcony of the palace on his secret world of the new Acriend. Arrayed before him were his elite warriors clothed in uniforms, hair neat and groomed, standing at attention before their god. He raised his arms and lowered them to signal everyone to their knees with heads bowed.

“For too long my people have been lost in the wilderness, succumbing to their natural hungers without a care for what that was doing to their souls. They had no focus other than between their legs and they strayed from their roots in favor of this lust. You have brought those roots back to your species and you are embarking on a great quest to spread this newfound religion to your peers who are still lost. You understand how this lust makes you weaker and you have honed this natural source of energy into making yourself greater than any Acriend before you.”

“Our war still wages against the insect hoard that would destroy us all, but you will prevail against this plague and clear this galaxy of their presence forever. You will go forth and make allies to help us in our cause. They will fear us and not take up our battle standard easily, but you, my chosen ones, will show them the light and path to their own freedom from the alien hive taking over their galaxy. We have much work to do and much to show your lost brethren. Tomorrow your ships will take you on this quest, and the name of your god will resonate throughout the Universe through your actions.”

He paused as the crowd below chanted his name in reverence. He looked on proud as they focused their energies on the task before them. They were his finest creations and he would richly reward them when this contest was finally won.

“Through you, my will is done, and I will reward all those who choose the path of the righteousness. You can become more than you are and stand next to your god proud of all you have accomplished now and in the afterlife. You are my chosen people and I will support you as you support me. We can win this contest and you are the sword that will bring forth this victory.”

They chanted his name again, the sound booming off the walls of his palace, vibrating his chest. It was glorious and he drank it in, savoring the power and devotion of this new army.

“Stand my people and feel my blessing as your prepare for your journey.” He raised his arms and sent a wave of energy through his people, a wave of power that raised their hopes and aspirations as they basked in the glow of their god.

“Go forth and cleanse the galaxy, I shall join you before your first encounter.”

The crowd erupted in an applause that shook the core of the planet as he waved one last time before turning back to his palace. Beware Hunters, my followers have been unleashed. He thought coldly.

The Mission

September 24, 2012

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.

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.”