Collapsing Warmth 126th, 9199
Domain of Shadroni
Speechmistress Vul-reni adjusted her sunglasses as she squinted up into the sky. Sha was only now beginning to peak and the day’s heat was already intolerable, despite the breeze on the plateau. Even at this early hour, her skin was already turning from a lively green to an ugly, tanned brown. The diplomat lowered her eyes to the horizon, everything shimmering as waves of heat poured off the red Balacarnan soil. Given her druthers, she would have held this meeting somewhere far more hospitable, but the First War Minister Jin-ullin had been correct in several things. It was isolated from any population centers, giving the Domain perfect plasusible deniability and should there be any witnesses, their accounts could be passed off as the delusions of the heat-stricken.
Secondly, the scalding warmth made any sort of heatvision scans utterly useless. Even these invaders would be unable to detect the men buried beneath their camo nets. At least, Jin-ullin had promised her that. If he was wrong, Vul-reni was going to reach into his cloaca and pull his testes off. He might be higher then her in the government, but he was not the one out here, risking his own proboscis, was he? No.
“There,” one of the technicians said, pointing to a computer screen connected to a towering, if hastily-erected, waveguide dish. A single blip was upon it and judging from the noises of awe and appreciation made by the scientists and their military companions, it was moving very quickly. But then one had to, to navigate the far darkness, didn’t one?
Vul-reni knew several in Science Committee who were salivating over the chance to peer upon the invaders’ artifacts and for their support in her leading this expedition, she had promised first choice to them and their teams.
Ah, she could just make out the incoming craft if she squinted. It was a design that she had never expected to see capable of flying; a jutting spherical cockpit enfolded by the swept-forward ‘arms’ of an open circle. Vul-reni was mildly surprised; she had thought that their craft was much larger then this, but Tracking had confirmed for her that their vessel was no longer in orbit. Perhaps she’d only assumed it to be larger, given the amount of fuss made over it. And she supposed, it was quite large compared to Shadroni flyers.
The unaerodynamic craft banked, dipping one ungainly ‘wing’ towards the welcome party as it circled the plateau and Vul-reni’s valve pulsed in her chest. She did not know how much firepower the invader’s ship possessed, but even a jet fighter could handily wipe her and her team out before they could properly greet any attackers. Had they discovered the sniper teams that lay buried in the sand?
It appeared they had not, as the craft finished its orbit and hovered in mid-air before the Speechmistress and her team, flat-footed landing gear extending from several spots on its lower facing as it slowly lost altitude, gently setting itself on the Balaka Plateau’s soil.
Vul-reni let out a breath she had not realized she’d been keeping, reaching up to remove her sunglasses. Despite the sun’s glare, it would hardly do to greet these aliens so informally. An aide took them from her and the Speechmistress clasped her hands behind her back as a ramp beneath the bulbous craft’s opened, allowing the alien vessel’s occupants to step onto the soil of her world. She’d known that they were ugly before, having seen the pictures of them, but it was something else to see them in person. Smashed-flat faces with miniscule proboscides, manes of fur on their heads, eyes with distinct irises and sclera. It amazed her that such repugnant creatures had ever evolved beyond their most primitive state. The diplomat did not approach the party, letting them come to her, as was only proper – and was necessary.
One of the creatures strode at the fore, flanked by two larger invaders in what was obviously their form of armour, others following in their wake. Vul-reni focused on the being at the forefront; she had no idea how to tell these beings’ genders apart, but that one had smoother facial characteristics, longer head-fur and its jacket swelled over the two round protuberances on its chest. It was also smaller then the two that followed it, which made her think it was a male.
It – he? – bowed curtly to Vul-reni, babbling in its bizarre, flowing tongue – it was impossible to tell where one word ended and another began. But the invaders had not come unprepared and a voice in the Shadron tongue cooed from a pin on its collar, using feminine inflections. “I am envoy Shiiri Telii of the offspring of the ether. It pleases me to be able to speak with you, to meet this day under a banner of friendship and peace.” It gestured to the unarmoured beings with it. “These are my assistants Jirdin Reneili and Sabrin Utilii. Might I know your name?”
Vul-reni squinted a little bit, considering the creature. It was female, then? Or just another deception? “I am Speechmistress Vul-reni, of the House of Ren. I speak for the Ministers of the Domain of Shadroni and am pleased to welcome you to our world.” As she spoke, she saw the alien nod at her words, though the device on her lapel did not translate verbally. Perhaps cochlear implants? Vul-reni looked over the shorter creature to the idling vessel beyond. “Your vessel is most impressive, to have crossed between the stars. Our greatest minds have predicted that it would take ships far larger with far greater crews to master the far darkness. This is your entire team?”
Shiiri-Telii inclined her head. “Yes, we felt it was better to send only a small team and vessel to our first meeting. We did not wish to unduly alarm your government or your people.”
The Speechmistress bobbed her head. “That is good to know. Thank you for your forthrightness.” Before she had even finished speaking the code word, thunderclaps rolled over the Plateau. The two assistants went down in sprays of blood as high-velocity sniper rounds blew through them. The Department of War had not known whether or not their rounds could pierce the craft’s hide and had insisted both on targeting the craft’s weak points and using their advanced HEAP rounds. Such discipline had not been wasted; missile fire from the buried assault teams punched through the invader craft’s cockpit windows, reducing whoever was unfortunate enough to be inside to charred bits of bone.
The envoy was down in a writhing, crying ball of flesh, her shoulder blown open. Instructions had been given to take their emissary alive and medical corpsmen were already running towards her, to prevent the creature from bleeding out. One of the envoy’s bodyguards had been knocked off its feet, its head only barely attached to its body; their armour was obviously not effective at the neck. The second… the second had been spun around by a glancing blow and it brought itself to its feet, grimacing hatefully behind its clear visor. Vul-reni gaped, torn between the desire to flee and anger at the gall of the alien to survive the ambush and for Jin-ullin’s ‘expert-rated’ snipers to have missed their target.
Luckily, the creature appeared not to notice her; its wrath was dedicated to the hastily-reloading sniper teams. The weapon in its hands hissed for a moment; there was a flash, far brighter then Sha’s glare and a crack far quieter then any weapon discharge that the Speechmistress had ever heard. One of the sniper teams yelped, and when Vul-reni looked up, the site where the soldiers had been buried was smouldering, the sand melted into glass and a pair of charred skeletons slumped over one another. The alien threw itself forward as sniper fire spanged into the dirt around it and it raised its weapon a second time. Another hollow crack, another lick of an incandescent beam, another burst of static and aborted cries. It raised the weapon to its shoulder and fired into the third position. One of the snipers tried to run, but the alien’s weapon found him, burning him in half, leaving nothing but a twitching, charred upper torso and an equally scorched set of legs.
One of the officers was shrieking for his men to kill the alien and Vul-reni flung herself into the dirt as the men behind her opened up, spraying bullets through the air above her head. The alien staggered under the multiple blows, but did not fall. It fired again; this time it was the waveguide technicians who had only an instant to cry out in terror and an abbreviated death-scream before they were transformed into vapourized meat and scorched bone.
Sniper rifles cracked and something hot and wet spurted onto Vul-reni’s head. She felt rather then saw the alien stagger, blood seeping from a hole in its lower torso. It turned to fire a final time, but the rifles’ thunder clapped once more. The creature staggered backwards, its chest blown open. Finally, whatever infernal strength kept it upright failed and it sagged onto its knees, holding in that position for a moment before pitching face-forward into the dirt.
One of the soldiers was there, helping the Speechmistress to her feet and she stared around in shock, at the still-smoking remains of several hidden positions, the waveguide computers and their helpless monitor crew. Something caught her eye and she looked down at the alien envoy, blood bubbling out of her lips, as the medical personnel restrained her. “Why?” the creature demanded.
Vul-reni did not bother answering such an obvious question. She strode away, furious. Jin-ullin and his ‘perfect’ ambush!
Fifty thousand kilometers above the Balaka Plateau, the scout cruiser Song of War orbited the Shadroni homeworld. Commander Akan Tellii, brother to the betrayed Shiiri, laced his fingers together. Though it had not been fully repaired and remained crippled from its battle with the End of Dawn so many months ago, his vessel could still unleash untold devastation upon the aliens’ world. Nothing those treacherous creatures had could find his vessel, let alone stop its attack. He could burn their cities to ash, boil their oceans and set fire to their very sky and right now every instinct of his that was a brother urged him to unleash that rage.
What was an officer in him denied himself that outlet. He wanted to; oh, how he wanted to. He wanted to take his vessel down into their skies and show them the price for what they had done, but he had been ordered not to; in the event of hostilities, he was to inform the Fleet and let the Command Structure determine the course of action. He could not even exact the smallest of vengeances and mercies; Song of War was running on the barest of crew. If he attempted to reclaim the bodies of his brothers and sister, the forces the Shadroni were moving in would prevent him from doing nothing but sending more of his kin to their deaths. Forbidden to strike, unable to save.
With a supreme effort, he gave the order to retreat from the alien world, setting a course back to the Fleet. The Shadroni would pay for this. The Angel would see to it. Stroking the arm of his command chair, Akan smiled tightly. So will I.