“Human,” Admiral Foraker stated, still unable to come to grips with the concept. If Captain Drake Winters, the hive’s senior physician, had had glasses to adjust nervously, he would have done so. Over the past two days, he’d been feeling more than a little like Alice staring down the rabbit hole. Only there was a saying about looking into the darkness too, wasn’t there? He nodded, taking a moment to settle himself. Almost all of BG 97’s senior officers were here, in addition to Special Envoy Diana Pierce and none of them looked entirely happy. A rather attractive redhead, whom he realized was Commodore Archer, appeared the most discomfited out of them all. He’d heard rumours about a disagreement between her and one of her captains during the final moments of the battle for Hyperion Hive and she’d been a consistent voice for more aggressive action against the Lefu. To find out that the ‘alien bastards’ she’d lost friends to over and over again were human themselves… it had to be unsettling.
Clad only in her bodyglove, Denise took a moment to get her bearings. She had her carbine draped over her back and a sidearm in her hands, along with four grenades; two plasma and two flash-bang. Not a lot. She tapped the side of her head, brushing a sweaty black lock of hair back behind her ear. She’d salvaged a portable HUD too, but it lacked the command and communication functions of her Marine helmet. Given that those had been slagged earlier, she wasn’t missing much. Now, if I were the bridge, which direction would I be in? Selecting the most likely passageway, Corporal Denise Rentwell crawled through the bowels of the enemy ship.
“Energy surge from all around us! Defences activating!” Turrets rose smoothly from the floor and descended from the ceiling of the massive hangar, stitching the debarked Marines with heavy fire. Seven soldiers were killed in the opening volley as the survivors scrambled for cover and returned the assault, blasting four of the automatic defences apart. Leibowitz crouched behind Ranger Three’s hull as one of the energy guns fired on his position over and over. “Leibowitz to support – what the hell is taking you so long?” “Debarking now, sir.” The rear ramps of two of the Warhawks lowered as League battle tanks ground out, squat and massive on their treads. Dark Lord – Wraith Two – spun its turret around and stitched the ceiling with railgun fire, ripping the defences there to pieces. Last Hope – Wraith One – took precise aim at the main doors that led out of the hangar and blew them inwards. From the other Warhawks, defence drones, heavy weapons pallets and man-mounted gun pods floated down the ramps, the assault boats lifting off to return to Liberty and load themselves with runts – the second wave of the boarding action. It was not by The Book, but The Book had never imagined this kind of clusterfuck; to take Necromancer, they’d need every man and woman that Liberty could spare.
Dozens of unknown ships were descending upon Cemetery. From the images the recon unit had managed to lift before it was blown to pieces, they were no more friendly explorers than the Lefu were. They were clearly killers, but they lacked the predatory grace of the Lefu warships. There was nothing to the newcomers but ugly steel and sharp edges. Most of them, at any rate. There were a half-dozen ships in the heart of their formation, larger than the rest by half. They lacked the bloated-U profile and the sharp angles of their kin; their ‘core’ was a simple rectangle five kilometers long that bulged with massive protrusions on all facings. Goldstein’s first thought was that they were carriers, but there were no visible hangars on those ovular structures, only windows. Not even troopers, then – colonizers. He was looking at the species that had murdered the world beneath him, come to claim it as their own.
Abigail leaned forward in her chair as the mass of Lefu HAVOCs opened like an unfurling flower. Some of them were braking hard, still on approach to the planet. The rest were shifting ranks as they came about on a course that would take them right to her pilots. What in hell are you playing at? Humanity’s experience with the Lefu was not what one might call vast, but they had the range to slag Hyperion Secundus from thousands, if not millions of kilometers away. Why did they need to decelerate in order to…. Oh. “They’re preparing to break atmo,” the wing-captain realized.
Alarms whined aboard the hive’s CiC and Admiral Foraker gripped the upper mezzanine’s railing so tightly that his fingers ached, watching helplessly as holes were ripped in his defensive formation, more and more Lefu HAVOCs spiraling through those dead zones, towards the shipyards. Their savagery was almost inconceivable; those defences could have stopped dreadnaught squadrons in their tracks, but they might have been made of tissue paper for all the good they did against the alien fighters.
Admiral Alicia Hunt stood on the command deck of UTCNS Warlord, a Kali-class dreadnaught. Imperator was of the same class, but Invictus was an Ares. Thunderer and Conqueror were Camulus-class; missile variants, outfitted with fortress tubes and the warheads that went with them. “Status of April Fools?” “All ECM systems read green, admiral. We know what to look for and even our sensors are having trouble sorting them out; the Lefu should be in for a bit of surprise when they open fire.” “Let’s hope so. Status of their advance?” “They’re ignoring the outer-system colonies, coming right for us.” “Their scouts must have reported in, then. I doubt they would have done so otherwise.” The Lefu targeted military ships and facilities first, then took out any spaceborne civilian vessels or installations. If they didn’t know that Hyperion Hive’s outer-system sites were harmless, they’d have started culling them. As it was, they were planning on dealing with BG 97 first.
The images kept coming; the planet had been bombed ruthlessly. Not with nuclear weapons, but with asteroids. Something had sat above it and hurled rocks – little ones, big ones – at a defenceless world over and over. Analysis put the first strike and the last one 2, maybe 3 days apart. “They wanted it,” Jacob mused. Karen looked up from her readouts. “What?” “They wanted the world. Look at this attack – it was meticulous. Here, this island city – first, all the bridges connecting it to the mainland were taken out with smaller meteors, then the city was blasted with one big one. No one was supposed to get out. But the dams, the nuclear power plants, the oil rigs – they haven’t been touched. There’s been collateral damage from the tsunamis and earthquakes, but whoever did this tried to leave as much of the infrastructure intact as possible.” “Without those pesky inhabitants,” the younger woman replied bitterly. Jacob nodded. The asteroid bombardment had been followed up with the atmospheric dispersal of a bio-weapon. One specifically targeted to the dominant species on this planet. It was unlikely that many of the inhabitants had survived the relentless bombing, but those that did wouldn’t even have had a chance to die from starvation. “How much of their industry survived?” he asked. There’d be time to feel like a grave robber later; right now he had a dying ship to fix and not enough resources to do it.
“Ah, Mrs. LeFay. How kind of you to join us,” Captain Lucas Tankersley quipped. He was a decorated Navy officer, who’d been given the job of ‘herding cats’ aboard the Aurora as an easy way to finish up his career – and keep him away from the front lines. At least, that’s what Alex had heard, but she didn’t know why. She guessed that the perpetual cup in his hand had something to do with it. “Sorry, sir.” “Well, as long as you’re here, take your station. We could use your expertise.” “What’s happened, sir?” Tankersley nodded towards the main viewer. Alexandra followed his gesture and gasped. There, frozen on the screen, was the grainly, black-and-white image of an alien’s face. It looked male, though Alexandra had no way of confirming that without a more extensive examination of its anatomy. It also possessed a sleek pelt and pointed ears on the top of its head. Its features were startlingly similar to human interpretations of anthropomorphic animals. In this case; a cat. “Copernicus detected the first radio transmissions from their world less than a hour ago,” Lucas informed Alexandra. “We have a triangulation on them; only ten light-years away. We’re moving out, immediately.”
The combat golem shook and staggered back, internal systems processing the force of the kick. It determined that it had not received lethal damage and continued the attack, stabbing down at her viciously. She hissed as one of its claws pierced her tunic, withdrawing with traces of blood upon its edge. The golem was not allowed to inflict lethal wounds, but it could injure an unwary opponent all the same. She was slowing down. Sensing weakness, the golem pressed its offensive, jabbing at her with its many limbs. She grabbed its forearms tightly, servos hissing as the unit attempted to pull itself out of her grasp. She brought her knee up into its underside and the golem shuddered, but again it determined this not to be a lethal-level attack. She threw the golem back, buying herself the time to climb to her feet, a single drop of blood slipping down her side from where the unit’s claw had broken her skin. Her arms and legs felt as if they were made of lead and the golem still functioned. Damp with sweat, her outfit clung to her skin. The automaton prepared to a charge, but she held up a hand. The machine froze in its tracks, recognizing the order to abate. It was only a training match; there was nothing on the line, nothing to prove against a simple automaton. But it kept her fit, kept her toned and ready. Another moment was coming, one in which she wouldn’t be pitted against a simple device, but against flesh-and-blood Enemy. In that fight, there would be no surrender, nor could there be. It was what she was, what they all were. There was no creation without destruction, no glory without sacrifice. No survival without murder.