- 1 Short Stories
- 1.1 ICARUS - A Psilon Short Story
- 1.2 The Tarika Runner - A Mrrshan Short Story
- 1.3 The Throne of Guanar - A Sakkra Short Story
- 1.4 The Harvest - A Bulrathi Short Story
- 1.5 Port of Sorah - An Alkari Short Story
- 1.6 First Contact - A Human Short Story
- 1.7 Search Party - A Klackon Short Story
- 1.8 The Harvester - A Meklar Short Story
- 1.9 Identity Crisis - A Darlok Short Story
- 1.10 The Survey Team - A Silicoid Short Story
- 1.11 Darlok: Transformation Process
- 1.12 Feature Short Story: Diplomacy
- 1.13 Human: The Early Human Wars
- 1.14 Feature Spotlight: Terraforming
- 1.15 Feature Spotlight: Mrrshan Pirates
- 1.16 Feature Spotlight: Jump Gates
- 1.17 Alkari: Pantheon of Gods
- 1.18 Sakkra: Tribe Territory
- 1.19 Klackon: Hierarchy of Queens
- 1.20 Psilon: Library of the Controller
- 1.21 Silicoid: Mineral Consumption
- 1.22 Meklar: Origins of the Meklar Combine
- 1.23 Bulrathi: Government Territories of the Bulrathi Empire
- 1.24 Feature Spotlight: Espionage
- 1.25 Arid Tide - A Terran Short Story
- 1.26 Silver Sentinel - Short Story
- 1.27 Short Story - The Call
- 1.28 Lore of Orion: Mercenary Negotiations
- 1.29 Royal Son Ascendant - A Gnolam Short Story
- 1.30 Sun Reacher Station - An Elerian Short Story
- 1.31 Far from Home - A Trilarian Short Story
- 1.32 Ancient Chorus - An Antaran Short Story
ICARUS - A Psilon Short Story
Mara showed her clearance badge to the heavily armed guards, then placed it in the security scanner. Sliding metal doors opened slowly before her. Her presence in the lowest and most secure level of the Library of the Controller required direct approval from the leader of the Psilon Empire, the Controller of the Quanta. She had been nominated to join a top secret research committee by the Director of the Scientific Advisory Board the week before. Mara was stunned and she accepted the offer on the spot.
She entered a vast research room lined with detailed filing systems and dimly illuminated monitors. A few Psilons, old and pale as ghosts, silently paced the room, completely focused on their work. Mara approached the central desk where a Librarian sat, silently awaiting her request.
“Call number?” The Librarian’s voice was faint and soft, as if it had not been used for quite some time.
Mara swiftly handed the Librarian the encoded card she had been given back at Headquarters, with “ALPHA-ICARUS File 0012” emblazoned across it. The Librarian immediately began inputting commands into a compact terminal. A small robot rushed out from under the desk towards the stacks, quickly disappearing as it rounded a corner.
The highly classified information Mara had requested was the last intact account of the ICARUS discovery mission. ICARUS, or the Intergalactic Communication Resolution System, was already an ancient technology when it was found hundreds of years ago. Now it was so ingrained in modern civilization that it was regarded as an undeniable attribute of the universe, no different from gravity or time.
The “magic” of a universal translator which traveled seamlessly across electromagnetic fields, infesting and changing both electronic networks and the neuron pathways of biologicals, may have become normal over time, but the unsolved mystery of how this technology worked still eluded and haunted the Psilons.
Centuries of research had yielded no new information. Teams of scientists had come and gone, yet nothing more was known about the system than the day it was found. No one could explain why or how ICARUS was effortlessly translating hundreds of languages in real time. In fact, the discussions of ICARUS’s inner workings had been exiled to the realm of rumors and gossip between eccentric scholars.
Mara herself had heard the rumors, though she always kept her head down and focused on her work—which was always lauded for its brilliance. When asked, she had stated that she had no theories on ICARUS as she lacked access to data. Keeping her thoughts to herself on one of the most frustrating and longest-running Psilon research failures proved fortunate. It was this very dedication, work ethic, intelligence, and prudence that got her a place on the ICARUS Research Team.
With a slight whir, the tiny robot arrived back at the Librarian’s desk carrying a small box. The Librarian picked it up and opened it carefully, pulling an antique audio device out along with some carefully preserved physical files. Mara took the materials to a secure room and sealed the door behind her.
The audio file was marked with bold text: “WARNING: HIGHLY CLASSIFIED INFORMATION REGARDING ICARUS SYSTEMS. INDIVIDUALS MUST HAVE QUASAR LEVEL CLEARANCE TO PROCEED.” Mara carefully removed the audio file from its protective casing and placed it in the audio player, waiting anxiously for the audio to begin.
The standard boilerplate precautions preceded the actual content. “The following transcription is a direct transcription of Erga, leader of the original team that discovered the ICARUS device. The following information is classified QUASAR and is not approved for reproduction or distribution by any means.” The Psilons, ever cautious and paranoid, took every legal precaution to protect their intellectual property.
The audio file clicked to life with the steady breathing of the Psilon on the other side filling the quiet listening room. The audio was so clear it was as if the person on the other side of the recording was in the room with her. This voice, reaching across time from hundreds of years ago, was doomed to have his story buried under strict security classifications for fear of others gleaning a clue to how ICARUS works.
The Interviewer speaks first, his low voice cold and detached. “This is the interrogation of Erga, lead field researcher with the Ampere Salvage Team.” There is a momentary pause and the sound of rustling papers. “Erga, begin your account of the recovery of the ICARUS device. Begin with planetary landing.”
The second voice enters the audio, clear and confident. Erga’s logical and even-tempered tone marks him unmistakably as Psilon, even though this recording was made hundreds of years in the past. “When we first landed on the planet it appeared to be completely barren—devoid of any life or technology. Scouts had reported distant sightings of an isolated building that seemed suspicious. We had with us some hired mercenaries—mostly Sakkra, but a few Humans and Mrrshan as well.”
“We entered the building with no difficulty. It seemed to be some sort of deserted outlying facility. There were traces of ancient technology, but it seemed like the place had been cleaned out of anything of value long ago. The mercenaries seemed suspicious of what we would find, but the research team was naturally curious.”
Erga pauses and clears his throat. “We found an interior room behind heavy blast doors. Scanners indicated the whole room was heavily shielded and our scanners could not penetrate to the interior. There were signs that others had tried to open the doors before, without success. The Sakkra mercenaries began to set charges of their new directed planar explosives.”
The Interviewer pushes Erga forward after a long pause. “Is that when the technology began to work?”
“No. We blew the doors open and investigated the massive room inside. It was barren except for a small glowing node in the center of the room. We began to enact the standard isolation protocols for unknown tech, but when we radioed the mercenary team outside the facility doing patrols… that’s when we noticed it.”
The Interviewer interrupts politely, “You confirm that the short-range communication device activated the node?”
“To the best of my observational abilities, yes. As soon as we radioed the team we began to understand each other much more clearly. My knowledge of the Sakkra language is rudimentary at best, but I suddenly understood the Sakkra perfectly. I could tell he was speaking his native language, but I understood him without any struggle to translate. When I responded in our language, he understood me as well.”
“What happened next?” If the Interviewer is surprised, he is repressing the shock of the situation. He moves forward with the interrogation in a calm, efficient manner. “The main ship detected the communications chatter on the ground and radioed down. They began to panic when they suddenly were able to understand each other.” Erga pauses for a moment. “There were some casualties onboard among the mercenaries in the ensuing chaos when they all understood what was being said to each other.”
“This… ability traveled to the ship and spread across those onboard?”
“Yes. As we radioed out for assistance, the translation ability seemed to spread.” Erga speaks quickly, as if the thrill of experiencing first-hand new technology excites him. “It must be some sort of virus which transmits itself through electromagnetic waves or fields over great distance…”
“This is confirmed information. The virus has reached the Sakkra and Mrrshan regions of space already and shows no signs of slowing. Any information collected from the site may prove crucial in understanding this mysterious device.”
“The site was completely isolated. It’s possible that no other advanced intelligent life has been in the area since the Orions abandoned the area.” Erga is reaching in his logic.
The Interviewer did not hesitate to shut down Erga’s wild speculation. “The Orions are little more than myth. It is unsound to make assumptions based on their rumored presence and technology.”
“We gave the Controller the coordinates; you must have visited the site and seen the same.” Erga is beginning to sound tired. A known Psilon trait was that the pressure of the unknown could wear them down, rendering them catatonic for a time.
The Interviewer is quick to respond. “That is accurate. The site was as you stated. However, you will be held in custody along with the rest of your team until we can determine the exact nature of the device and how it works. The device itself will be moved to a more secure location.”
Erga makes a slight sound of displeasure, but speaks calmly to the Interviewer. “I understand what you have to do.”
The audio file abruptly ended. Mara looked around for the documents associated with the audio file and pulled up the one she was looking for. The confinement records show nine Psilon, ten Sakkra, seven Mrrshan, and three Humans to be contained after the incident. All died of old age in a secure prison. The file also stated that official letters were sent to the families explaining that an engine malfunction had destroyed the ship with the loss of all onboard. A quick scan of the other documents showed that the location of the device itself was not given.
Mara closed the files and looked up at the featureless ceiling of the secure room. Was it possible that she just signed up to solve the riddle that had haunted the Psilon scientific community for generations? The idea of fully understanding the device became dire as she played over in her mind the scant information she had heard and read.
She rubbed her eyes and recalled her training. Firsthand observational data is always more valuable than the stories and accounts of others. She had to see the device herself. That was the only answer.
Of course, the Psilon government had denied the existence of ICARUS’s physical form. They rejected the idea that they had possession of such an unknowable and powerful device. Yet, as Mara was beginning to learn, there was a lot that the Psilon government was willing to keep under wraps in order to secure their research. She packed up the materials to hand back to the Librarian and set out to pick up a trail that had had centuries to grow cold.
The Tarika Runner - A Mrrshan Short Story
The Tarika Runner was already an old ship when Akash first boarded as a young hull scrubber some twenty years ago. The first time he saw her, she was painted a deep blue that reminded him of his hometown on the Resting Sea. She was a retired military Skimmer class cruiser, stripped of her armaments and sold off when the newer models were commissioned. Under Natesa Nori’s command, the Tarika Runner was rebuilt with black market parts and an experimental engine core. She was reborn as one of the most discreetly deadly ships in the Mrrshan pirate armada.
Akash’s travels had taken him many places on many different crews, but when he came back to the Tarika Runner as an officer in Natesa Nori’s crew, it felt like coming home. As he stood on the bridge of the old privateer, he couldn’t be sure if the slow creaking sounds came from his own bones or from the core of the ship.
They were drifting quietly on the fringes of Silicoid and Sakkra contested space in the I Region. A lead from Natesa’s network of spies and lookouts had led them to this isolated Silicoid planet where they had hatched an operation to “acquire” an artifact of some importance to the Silicoids—one that would fetch a high price on the black market. Heists in this region of space tended to turn lethal quickly, so Akash kept his eyes trained on the scanners.
He listened to the scanner transmissions carefully for any sign from the special ops team on the progress of the heist. The bridge crew was on edge, their hands trained to pounce on any sign of change. Gunners stared at targeting screens, engineers waited to spin up drives, navigators stood ready to execute a rapid FTL exit—tensions were running high and the crew was ready for battle at a moment’s notice. The special ops team was made up of Natesa’s stealthiest operators, so the radio silence was to be expected. Natesa herself had gone down with them, unwilling to send any of her team into a battle that she would not personally lead. The promise of this artifact’s value meant that they could all retire comfortably, swimming in a bath of gold coins the Gnolam could only dream of.
Akash paced the bridge quietly, taking his role as second-in-command seriously. Before they began the operation, Natesa had given one final order. If the special ops crew was compromised, Akash was to bomb the location and escape as quickly as possible—no heroics in trying to rescue them. Akash looked over at the gunners manning the main cannons. They looked calm, but Akash knew they had no desire to leave their captain behind or run from a fight.
Screens flashed to life; after the long silence, the alerts seemed like a cacophony of sirens and blips. The movement of a single ship lifting off from the surface had set off all the surveillance monitors that were in place. Akash looked to the comms officer—there was still no sign of radio contact. If it was the Silicoid, they would surely send more than a single ship to retaliate… right?
“Akash!” Natesa’s familiar voice, tinny through the speakers, instantly flooded Akash with relief. “Fire up the engines. We’re landing in the main bay and we need to get out of here. Now!” The crew was already in motion. A second wave of blips, undoubtedly the Silicoids in pursuit, bloomed on the scanners.
The ship lurched as the special ops crew’s scout ship landed safely in the bay even while going combat speed. Natesa herself must have been at the controls to execute such a deadly maneuver, Akash thought to himself. The main engines surged as the Tarika Runner darted away from the incoming ships. She may have been old, and she certainly wasn’t a beauty, but the time and credits Natesa had put into upgrading the ship’s engine and weapon bays had been well spent. The Tarika Runner was a unique combination of firepower and speed; able to outfight most cruisers and as fast as many destroyers.
Moments later, Natesa strode onto the bridge, her auburn fur and black fractal-weave armor spattered with blood and the distinctly heavy dust of Silicoid combat. Her almond eyes were sharp as she surveyed the crew and evaluated the monitors. Of the four crew members she had taken to the surface, only two followed her onto the bridge.
Natesa focused on the pilot, a young prodigy named Kit. “Head for the border! Gunners, be ready.” Kit’s hands were already at the navigation panel, inputting new coordinates. Natesa made eye contact with Akash; for an instant her steely gaze faltered and he knew she was worried.
The ship banked into a curve while the main guns warmed up. Two small Silicoid ships dropped into the Tarika Runner’s path in an attempt to turn them away from the border. The ship dipped effortlessly below them, narrowly missing the back crystalline towers of the Silicoid destroyer. Kit shoved the throttle in front of him with impressive force and the ship responded by smoothly leaping forward.
“They aren’t firing at us!” remarked one of the gunners. They were all fully aware that the Mrrshan privateer was outgunned, but the gunners were always eager for a fight.
“Hold steady. Don’t fire first,” Natesa ordered quietly. Turning back to Akash, she smiled a pained grin and unbuckled her armor, reaching into an inner pocket to reveal a dimly glowing crystal held tightly in her bloodied hand. Akash noticed that her other arm hung limply with blood flowing from somewhere near her shoulder at an alarming rate. “They won’t risk damaging the crystal. They’re going to chase us until they stop us… unless…” Natesa slumped to the ground. The remaining special ops team members were at their captain’s side, pulling her up and toward the infirmary.
An automated transmission was received from the controlled airspace just before them. A gruff and disinterested voice was on a loop, “…territory. You are warned. You are now entering Sakkra territory. You are warned.”
The Sakkra weren’t any friendlier towards the Mrrshan than the Silicoids were. Akash was in no mood to evade the crosshairs of one foe just to leap into the firing solution of another. The comm in his ear channeled Natesa’s weak but determined voice, still issuing orders from her possible deathbed in the infirmary: “Keep watch for any Sakkra scouts—fire on any of their ships who attack us… and Akash, get over here, now.” Akash gave a few terse instructions to the crew as he spun on his heel, hurrying to the captain.
She lay on the operating table, her hastily removed armor in a jumble on the floor. Akash’s stomach turned uncomfortably as he saw the extent of the damage to her arm, which appeared to be nearly severed at the shoulder. Natesa still held the crystal tightly in her undamaged hand and reached out to hand it to Akash, her jaw set in a firm line to hide the pain. Akash took the crystal from her and she seemed to relax. The crystal emitted a faint glow and seemed to gently warm his hand.
“Do you know what it does?” he asked, his voice wary and suspicious of the alien tech.
Natesa coughed and an ominous rattle shook her frame. “No, but it was heavily guarded. Take it. Make sure it gets to Arctodar in time.”
It was a long and dangerous trip through hostile space to get back to the buyer for the crystal. With Natesa out of commission, it was Akash’s role to command the ship. The safety of all onboard, including his captain, was now his responsibility.
The ship suddenly jolted and the “all hands” warning horn began a high-pitched scream. A bridge tech shouted over the sound through Akash’s comms unit, “They hit us just below the secondary engines!” Natesa appeared to have been correct– the enemy fire was specifically targeting their engines in an attempt to cripple the Runner but not heavily damage the ship. Whatever the crystal was, the Silicoids did not want to risk destroying it.
Akash swore loudly and said a quiet prayer to the Goddesses as he sprinted back to the bridge. Through the deckplates he felt the distinctive vibrations of the Tarika Runner’s guns returning fire. He told himself that Natesa was under the care of the Tarika Runner’s highly skilled medical team… now it was up to him to make sure they didn’t get blown up before they had a chance to save her. He slipped the crystal into a belt pouch as he took his seat in the captain’s chair.
He saw the gunners, Kirsi and Tarak, exchange a look and smile as they rained down carefully calculated fire. The Silicoid ships, dense and rocky in appearance, barely seemed to notice, but they pulled a little further back from the Mrrshan ship.
Kit deftly navigated the ship, throwing in evasive maneuvers without bleeding off speed. The gunners were nearly twins in their movements. Akash checked the visuals of the Silicoid ships on the monitors and mentally promised to give the crew a bonus if they survived this.
The Sakkra border was close now. The pirates were gambling on the tense relations between the Silicoid and Sakkra to chase the Silicoid off, but the Silicoid ships showed no signs of slowing. Would the Silicoid risk war to chase down the crystal?
One of the Silicoid ships made another attempt to block the Tarika Runner’s path, but Kirsi landed a prize-winning shot to the destroyer’s engine bays. The Silicoid ship shuddered violently, immediately losing speed. “Match that,” she muttered. Tarak replied with a hiss and a grin. The Tarika Runner’s railguns, running hot now, had begun to emit a high-pitched whine as they recharged between shots, causing the nearby crew to flatten their ears in annoyance. The repetitive thrum of the guns firing was matched by the satisfying kinetic impacts of the railgun projectiles pounding against the Silicoid ship’s rocky exterior.
The Silicoid were now firing back without hesitation. Most of the shots were narrow misses due to the incredible talent of Kit and some sheer luck, but a few hits were connecting and beginning to take a toll on the ship. Akash was just grateful that the surprise of the heist had held out longer than they had hoped—the Silicoid’s poor response time meant that only a destroyer and a few smaller ships were able to enter the fray. Hopefully the Tarika Runner would be long gone by the time reinforcements could arrive.
The main screen showed a debris field expanding from the Silicoid destroyer. A control vane was seen slowly spinning away from a hole gouged into the living rock. The destroyer swung away from the Tarika Runner, attempting to hide a damaged section that exposed part of the ship’s sparkling, crystalline core. Only the smaller ships were in pursuit now, keeping station and still firing, but no longer attempting to overtake the Mrrshan crew.
The Tarika Runner crossed into Sakkra space under heavy pressure until the Silicoid ships pulled sharply upward at the last moment. The Silicoid must have decided that the risk of detection in Sakkra territory wasn’t worth the diplomatic incident it would cause between the two empires. As the Silicoid ships grew more distant and finally disappeared from sensor range, the crew members became visibly relieved, some laughing quietly as the elation of their success washed through them. The gunners kept their eyes sharp for potential Sakkra entanglements. Akash took a deep breath and settled down for the long flight.
The Throne of Guanar - A Sakkra Short Story
The Throne of Guanar squats beneath the Hierarch’s Residence in a massive chamber below the capital city of Chordata. The path to the throne is labyrinthine and shrouded by the ancient roots and vines that interlace the foundations of the Sakkra’s oldest buildings.
The Throne itself is even older than the legends surrounding it, which say it was forged by the First Hierarch Guanar after he took control of the Sakkra race. The throne is a living thing, the roots and vines of the oldest plants encasing and replacing the original wrought-iron frame, long since eroded with time.
The Hierarch sat heavy on the throne, his head resting on a massive fist. He blinked slowly, his disinterested double-lidded eyes calmly watching the dissent below. His Consorts sat in smaller thrones around him, metallic helms covering their faces. They served not only as companions, but as a deadly last line of defense to any who might dare to approach the Hierarch. The Consorts hissed low whispers to one another, watching vigilantly for any who stepped too close.
As always, the Throne Room was filled with Sakkra politicians, warriors, and community leaders seeking audience with the Hierarch. Today’s audience had been called by the Hierarch himself to witness the nomination of a High Lord to oversee the development of a new colony planet in a nearby star system.
The honor was not lost on the crowd below the throne, swelling with frustration and anticipation. The Sakkra are a crowded race, spilling out from overpopulated cities and overworked farmlands. Tribes on Sssla, the Sakkra home world, are forced to constantly be on watch for usurpers trying to wrest control of their lands. A new world meant new lands to be claimed and the High Lord would oversee it all, reporting directly to the Hierarch and granting land and mining rights as he saw fit.
The crowd stood in clusters according to their Tribes. Each Tribe carried a distinct banner and wore the ritual paint of their ancestors. They waited as patiently as possible, with only a few smaller scuffles disrupting the relative calm. The air in the throne room was heavy with humidity and violent tension.
The Lords of two dominant and rival Tribes stood in the center of the crowd, their chests expanded wide. The younger of the two, a scarred and battle-hardened Sakkra by the name of Citro, slammed his claws against the hard earthen ground. “You dare to insult the tribe of The Hundred Knives?”
His opponent, a slightly smaller but just as scarred Lord named Maelia, was circling around Citro. Her eyes were narrowed and her Tribe surrounded her, painted in heavy black mud. “We of the Bloodletters know honor and dignity. Can your writhing hatchlings say the same?” The Bloodletters Tribe began a low, ominous hum that caught the attention of nearby Tribes.
Many smaller arguments rippled out from this larger one, the entire crowd seething with menacing tension. The Hierarch looked to his primary security outfit of personal Brood Raptors, armed to the teeth and confidently relaxed despite the rowdy crowd. He let out a deep and rattling growl, no more than a whisper among the chaos of the crowd.
The Tribes and Lords fell silent, turning their attention to the Hierarch. A few still slammed their bodies against each other, but the Lords set the example for their Tribes by focusing totally on the Hierarch. The Hierarch’s voice, loud without strain or effort, reached across the hall. “I’ve made my choice for the High Lord of Dhira Prime.” He leaned back in the Throne and nodded to himself, “Tymon, Lord of The Night’s Guard.”
With that sentence, the crowd rippled with murmurs and shifting attentions.
Tymon, standing near the front, let out a growl and nod of acceptance. His Tribe, The Night’s Guard, smashed against each other, howling with approval. Tymon stood dignified amid the turbulent crowd. The other Lords seemed to accept this nomination; Tymon was one of the eldest and most glorified of Sakkra generals. Tymon had once led a planetary assault against the Silicoid and was said to have shattered one of them with his massive claws alone.
Citro and The Hundred Knives began a low hiss that silenced the room. The crowd pulled to the edges of the hall like tidal ebbs, leaving the center of the room open for what was about to happen. Citro moved to the center of the room, pounding his heavy fists into the ground with every step.
The Hierarch remained unmoved; his lazy eyes watching the conflict unfold with the patience of a stone.
Tymon stepped forward, The Night’s Guard in their dark blue paints quietly circling behind him. “You question the Hierarch?” His voice was low and unafraid, the voice of one who has led from the front, confidently guiding soldiers in countless battles.
The room looked again to the Hierarch, but he remained silent—thereby giving his approval for what was to come. Citro growled to Tymon, “I doubt you, an old veteran who has sat on a cushion for too long!” Citro turned to his tribe and sneered, “They think this clone will rule a planet?”
Before The Hundred Knives could respond, Tymon lunged forward in a devastating bull rush. Citro dodged Tymon’s momentum, sending the other Sakkra careening into half a dozen onlookers. Tymon recovered and spun back to Citro, letting out a series of guttural clicks.
Tymon, a mighty fighter in his youth but untested in recent years, puffed his chest forward. “You challenge me then, in front of these witnesses?”
Citro took a fighting stance as a response. “If beating your pathetic hide is considered a fight…”
Tymon lowered his body into a crouch and hissed, “I accept the challenge!”
Citro looked confident as he waved the rest of his tribe away from the battle. Even in the heat of combat, the Sakkra knew the rules. A formal challenge had to be fought between the challenger and the challenged, no one else. In order for Citro’s battle challenge to be accepted, he alone had to kill Tymon. If either challenger received any aid they would forfeit their life and their claim. Should Tymon be unable to defend himself against a challenger, then he was not worthy of the prestigious title of High Lord.
The crowd began to cheer and scream as even the most dignified of the Sakkra Lords were swept up in the bloodlust. For the first time since the start of the audience, the Hierarch sat up in his chair and slowly leaned forward, his nose sniffing the heavy air of the hall.
Tymon paced forward cautiously, body held low. He flexed his huge claws out, baring his teeth to Citro as a series of short, sharp grunts exploded from deep in his chest. The Night’s Guard was hissing behind him, the sound like steam escaping from the shifting muck of the Sssla swamps.
Citro charged this time, his titanic body lumbering forward with impressive speed. His lowered shoulder impacted with a direct hit to Tymon’s torso as an earsplitting cracking sound filled the hall. The crowd was shouting and some in the roaring crowd began taking bets.
Citro and Tymon grappled, each seeking an opening through which a claw could reach the thinner hide of belly, flank, or throat. After several seconds they pushed away from each other and began to circle again. Chants from the spectators merged into a continuous roar, trapped by the mossy and earthen walls of the hall. The Hierarch stood up from the Throne and pounded his chest, caught up in the heat of the fight.
Tymon charged again, but at the last minute went low and swept Citro at the knees. The sound of Citro’s body hitting the dirt was a loud thud, followed by the scrambling sound of his short limbs trying to right himself. Tymon was too quick, on top of him again after an agile sliding turn. The crowd was so loud it was dizzying, with Citro’s Tribe howling for him to rise and Tymon’s supporters screaming for the killing strike.
Tymon opened his mouth wide to reveal teeth that had been sharpened to dagger-like points. His tongue, scaled and black, ran across his teeth with a grin. Citro swung his fists at Tymon’s body, but the impacts were absorbed by the massive frame.
The crowd was hysterical for the inevitable. Tymon took a moment to smile at the packed onlookers, his teeth flashing in the dim light. Citro’s Tribe, the Hundred Knives, barely contained themselves at his arrogance. Then with a single, jagged movement, Tymon’s wrapped his heavy maw around Citro’s throat and clamped down.
Citro made no sound, but the crowd was alight with passion. Money and valuables were passed around, bets were honored, and many Sakkra were manic with the need to fight. Tymon rose from Citro’s body, viscous dark-green blood running down his face and neck.
Tymon spit some of the acrid fluid, something he had tasted many times before, down on to Citro’s body. “Any more challengers?”
The Hierarch sat back down on the Throne with a dull thud, a crooked smile across his old face. The crowd was pulsing with energy, but the general consensus was clear—High Lord Tymon’s assured and brutal victory had cast aside any doubts.
The Harvest - A Bulrathi Short Story
It was almost serene; the waves crashed against the rocky shoreline throwing beautiful sprays of water that reflected the perfectly sunny afternoon. The beautiful city of Arctodar was a treasure of the Bulrathi home world, and it was home to the ancient Coliseum and annual Harvest event. The Harvest was one of the best Bulrathi traditions, pitting twenty-four Bulrathi criminals in a bracket-style fight to the death—all at a chance for redemption. Milo felt at ease, even as the crowd began to surge and scream in anticipation. This was not his first Harvest. He knew the day would be long and the matter at hand demanded his fullest attention.
Milo took a digital pad out of the breast pocket of his coat, scribbling a number on the screen. He admired it for a moment before passing it to his assistant, Tima. Tima rushed off, taking the pad with him, moving quickly with his head down and shoulder forward to cleave through the crowd. The Coliseum, perched atop the breathtaking cliffs, were crowded but nowhere near the staggering density it would reach during the final matches.
The fight below was just about to begin. It was early in the Harvest, an annual event where 24 Bulrathi criminals would fight to the death, so there were still many competitors left. As the two fighters entered the open-air arena, the roar from the crowd became overwhelming. It wasn’t just Bulrathi present at the Harvest. The annual event was something of a tourist attraction to other races, with many Sakkra, Mrrshan, and Humans in the crowd. Sitting next to Milo, a Human and Sakkra caught up in the exhilaration were eagerly negotiating a bet on the outcome of the fight that was about to start.
The competitors below began to circle each other, one holding a pike and the other armed with a shield and dagger. The Bulrathi holding the pike seemed nervous and uneasy, the other seemed utterly calm—as if killing was second nature. A loud bell rang six times, a ring for each competitor already defeated in the tournament, and the battle began. Tima suddenly appeared at Milo’s side, “Boss, they’ll need to see you.”
Milo took a moment to look back at the fight, just as the Bulrathi with the dagger buried his weapon deep into the enemy. The crowd gasped at the blood, but was clearly disappointed with the quick death and lack of action. Milo knew not to get worked up too soon; the initial twelve rounds were just weeding out the weaklings anyway.
Getting up from his seat, a section of log polished from innumerable Bulrathi sitting there before him, Milo quickly followed Tima. He let his assistant force a path through the seething masses until eventually the two turned down a darkened alleyway. They passed under an arched doorway and arrived in one of the many impromptu illegal markets that always seemed to spring up in association with the Harvest.
The stands were slight and vendors were edgy, ready to run at a moment’s notice if noticed by the local authorities. At one stall, a Sakkra trader waved around a mass of still-writhing tentacles in the face of a Bulrathi merchant who seemed unimpressed. At another, a one-armed Mrrshan haggled over the price of a glowing crystal with two Meklar entities.
Tima rushed into a tent and Milo followed cautiously behind him. He trusted Tima to make the right call, but walking into a secluded area with no backup made him nervous. The first things that caught Milo’s attention were the huge, seemingly unblinking, eyes. The Psilon that stood before him was surrounded by a Human mercenary squad. Next to the powerfully armed and heavily armored Humans, the Psilon seemed especially small and frail. Milo looked around, but saw no one else in the room except for Tima, who took a watchful position by the door.
The “tent” was actually a back entrance to one of the private boxes on the ground level of the Coliseum. These boxes were rented out to the incredibly wealthy due to their spectacular view. The boxes were so close to the battle that bulletproof glass was installed to stop the thundering bodies of Bulrathi combatants from flying into spectators. Milo noticed that this room was oddly quiet compared to his general seating earlier—the box must have been equipped with audio dampeners to soften the screams of the crowd to a manageable whisper. “So, I hear you’re the one who accepted my offer for the earworm?” The Psilon spoke timidly and twisted its small hands around anxiously.
“I’m just glad I found a buyer for this… thing.” Milo wanted to reach out to touch his pocket to make sure it had not escaped, but he did not want such a tic to give away his anxiety. He was sure that he could take down a few tiny Humans if a fight erupted… and the Psilon would be like kicking a mewling cub, but he didn’t want to risk damaging the goods. “How rare to find one. Quite interesting, really. May I ask how you procured it?” The strange manner of speech from the Psilon was totally foreign to Milo’s ears, but not entirely unpleasant.
Milo shrugged, distracted by the muted sounded of seven bells signaling the beginning of a new fight. Trying to glimpse the fight through the giant windows he answered with mild disinterest, “Found it on a dead Darlok.”
The Psilon stepped back in an agitated manner, clumsily bumping into one of the mercenaries. The Human mercenary looked comically gnarled and weathered beside the fluttering Psilon.
“A dead Darlok? What condition was the body in…?” The Psilon was so excited that his words were coming out in a jumbled mess.
Milo interrupted him quickly and growled, “No, no. I don’t care much for things already dead. I took what he was guarding and went on my way.” He saw the disappointment in the Psilon’s big, freakish eyes and felt pity for the odd creature. “I found the body when looting a deserted Meklar ship.” Milo suppressed a shudder as he remembered the creepy, derelict ship.
The Psilon nodded quickly. Milo had never been so close to a Psilon before. A few of his brood siblings had served on mercenary jobs for the Psilon. Said it was easy money, if you could stand the aggravation of working for them, but Milo preferred to work on his own. This Psilon was becoming annoying, even in this short encounter.
“May I see the product?”
The Human mercenaries seemed just as bored as the Bulrathi, paying more attention to the fight that was occurring outside the window. Milo reached inside his pocket and pulled out the vial. Inside, a mechanical slug thrashed around wildly before stopping suddenly. A glowing purple eye looked between the Psilon and Milo.
The Psilon inched close to Milo, so close that it made him physically uncomfortable. Those large eyes held the look of fascination as he quietly asked, “Is it offline?”
“Yes, it hasn’t sent out any signals as far as we can tell.” Milo shrugged his massive shoulders. “No one has tracked me down over it.” The Psilon looked anxious to see the device closer while Milo wanted the unsettling device out of his hands.
“Here, take it.” Milo handed the vial over in an awkward manner, trying to avoid direct contact with the Psilon. The Psilon didn’t notice his hesitation and shuffled away with the device, mumbling to himself.
The fight was occurring directly outside the box window. It was a much better match than the previous fight, as Milo looked over and saw two Bulrathi in a snarling tangle in the dirt, going claw to claw. The Bulrathi in the crowd were raving, as this was the true nature of Bulrathi combat: the tooth and claw.
Shaking his head and tearing his eyes from the combatants, he looked to the Psilon, “Are you going to pay me, or are we going to have a problem here?”
The Psilon popped his head up from observing the tiny robot. “Of course, naturally.” He gestured to a mercenary who pulled out a digital pad. The Human was focused on the small screen, gloved fingers taping on the screen before giving the Psilon a nod.
“Funds cleared, boss.” Tima piped up from the corner as he looked up from his pad.
Milo slapped the Psilon on the shoulder, probably a little harder than the strange, slight creature would have wanted. The sudden movement and contact caused the mercenaries to step forward almost as one. Milo was too focused on his good mood and impending payday to notice. “Good. Now, we watch the match!”
The Humans moved to the window while the Psilon looked uncomfortable, but went along with the crowd anyway. Milo noted with pleasure that the two combatants were bloodied and ragged, taking wide and furious blows at each other.
Milo placed his hand on the Psilon’s shoulder, “You see, the match is good. They have to fight with every bone in their bodies! A fight to the death without a struggle… that is a travesty.”
The Psilon rose on the tops of his toes in an attempt to see the fight closer. “Oh, what a waste of resources. It seems the smaller fighter has incurred less damage, leading to victory. But he still has suffered too much damage to advance in later rounds. An illogical strategy.”
“The Bulrathi face their enemies face to face. You can’t plan on killing the next enemy until your current enemy is dead, am I right?” Milo nodded his head emphatically, and Tima raised a fist in agreement.
The smaller of the fighters suddenly lunged to the left, delivering a sidekick to the knee of his opponent, breaking it with the impact. The fallen Bulrathi howled and the crowd went wild. With a quick and decisive movement, the victor slammed a massive paw over the victim’s throat and slashed, effectively ending the fight.
Everyone in the room shouted, carried away by the blood sport. The Psilon looked disturbed and a little paler than normal, but otherwise the mood was light with everyone getting paid. Tima, now mingling amongst the Humans, laughed loudly at some jest and began ordering drinks for the room from the refreshment console. Outside, the cool and perfect breeze carried the scent of blood through the crowd of frenzied Bulrathi.
Port of Sorah - An Alkari Short Story
Atheer swept the pounded earth of the chapel in slow and deliberate movements, his wings careful to never touch the ground. He found himself obsessively studying the chapel, hungry for the details he might never see again. The chapel was humble and small, but in the center was an elaborate sculpture of a shrouded Alkari maiden. She was one of the many gods of the Alkari pantheon: Razeena, the soulful companion of death, the Goddess of Loss.
She was carved lovingly of pure white stone, so clean and carefully cared for that she seemed to glow in the dimly lit chapel. A statue like this would be common in the wealthier cities of the Alkari home world of Altair, but in Sorah this statue was radiant and nearly decadent in its beauty. Atheer studied her shrouded face, covered by a carved veil so thin that it seemed as if frozen water was softly streaming down her face.
Razeena, the Goddess of Loss, was a fitting saint for Sorah. The city was a dark spot on the shining home world of the Alkari. It was a place where foreigners and criminals alike settled into the soft earth of the surrounding marches. Sorah was a place where troubled and discarded people floated in on a stray wind and never seemed to leave. No matter how many Alkari Wardens stormed the place, the darkness always seeped back in.
Atheer set the broom down and began to blow out the candles one by one, taking a moment to consider each action. He looked around the church that had been his home for over a decade, taking in the splendid sight of Razeena that seemed to illuminate the dark. With a long sigh, he went through the church doors and into the night, locking the door behind him but leaving the key in the tumbler.
As he stood in the dark street, his resolve wavered. He had prayed to Razeena for guidance and her still countenance had given him strength. Yet, these first steps were the hardest. He would surely be excommunicated if anyone knew of his plans. He would be sentenced to death like the dishonorable traitor his heart had become.
Yet, here it was. The painful thorn in his heart that was driving him from everything he had ever known. The wounded honor and howling dignity in his heart refused to die. Many years ago, before he was a Recorder of the Church, he was just an orphan who had lost his family. The Church had made him a Recorder of Razeena, hoping that her acceptance of grief would turn Atheer towards the light. Now, the thought of being so close to avenging his family and killing the criminal who had taken them sent a gleeful shiver down his spine.
Atheer knew he was unworthy to be Razeena’s devotee. He was angry and unable to move on, unable to accept his loss. His attachment to his hatred and vengeance was turning him away from the path of the Alkari, but he couldn’t stop himself. The thought of justice and vengeance was too sweet to resist.
He stayed on foot as he moved down the bustling streets of Sorah, not wanting to draw any additional attention by flying. The church was not a far walk from the legendary Port of Sorah. He could already hear the nearby docking and launching of endless ships, painted in the colors of a dozen different races and organizations. His ears were ringing with the sound of so many different voices, languages, and dialects.
The Port was a frustrating tic in the Alkari psyche. It was dark, dismal, and criminal, but ultimately necessary for many avenues of travel and trade. Even when the government tried to straighten out the region, it always reverted back to its old ways. While the Alkari government now tried their best to turn a blind eye, the sordid and disreputable nature of the Port was a seeming constant.
Atheer opened the door to a partially underground bar that was full of murmurs and tables bustling with rough-looking individuals. He straightened his robes anxiously and moved to the bar. The bartender was an Alkari with dark black feathers, sleek and shimmering even in the dim light. Her wings were adorned with piercings and chains and her eyes were keenly trained on Atheer.
“What’s do-gooder little church Recorder doing here?” She cocked her head when she addressed Atheer, her voice was oddly soothing and song-like. Her voice was melodic against the crashing noises of the bar.
He realized how much he must have stood out, but he expanded his chest and tried to feign confidence. “I’m looking for a mercenary.”
The bartender began laughing, picking up a glass with her talon as she shook her head. “That’s funny, little man. What are you going to do, recruit them to tell stories in the park?”
Atheer held his ground. He hadn’t come this far for nothing. Plus, at this point someone must have seen him enter the bar and that alone would be enough for a trial. He would not waste this opportunity. “I have business to conduct. Shall I take it elsewhere?”
The bartender stopped laughing and began to pour a drink for a Bulrathi who had been desperately trying to get her attention during the whole interaction. She handed it over and turned to face Atheer squarely. “You know better than to try to do good here, right?” She pointed to a back table that was partially obscured from where Atheer stood. “I don’t want trouble in my bar. I’m not much for the Gods, but I don’t think they would forgive me if I got a Recorder killed.”
She turned back to her work and Atheer walked back to the table. As he turned a slight corner, he saw the lurking Sakkra waiting at the table. He paused for a moment, but pushed forward. The Sakkra mercenary looked up from his deck of cards and his eyes narrowed at the sight of Atheer.
The Sakkra’s voice was low and calm. “I don’t do business with your kind of Alkari. Too many hurt feelings. Too many complaints about my methods.” He kept his eyes on the cards, playing a strange form of solitaire that Atheer couldn’t recognize.
Atheer walked up to the table and sat down, pulling a stack of credits from his pockets. “I need an assassination… and an escape off planet.”
The mercenary cocked his head to the side, shocked by Atheer’s forward approach. He looked Atheer up and down once, snorting with mocking displeasure. “Do you have a name?” The Sakkra grumbled, looking back at his cards.
“Atheer, Recorder to the Goddess of Loss.” Well, he thought to himself, not for much longer.
The Sakkra snorted loudly, “Not your name. Who do you want killed?”
“Oh.” Atheer shifted around in his seat uncomfortably. “Suuko Temo. Head of the Temo family. He lives in Skraa…”
The mercenary set his cards down. “Now, you have my attention. Suuko Temo of the Temo crime family?”
Atheer steeled his nerves that were fluttering in his stomach. “He took something from me, long ago. His henchmen. I know…”
“Agh,” the Sakkra interrupted Atheer and pushed the cards away. “You Alkari talk too much. I’ll take your money and the challenge as payment enough.”
Atheer was shocked by the transaction, but had nothing to compare it to. Was this how a normal assassination was planned? What did a “normal” assassination attempt even mean?
“What about my transport?” Atheer meekly followed after the Sakkra’s boisterous show.
“Where do you want to go, little bird man?”
Atheer had never known anything but Altair as home. He had lived in Skraa, the capital city, for many years and had moved to Sorah a few years ago to oversee the Church of Razeena. He never had any true intention of wanting to leave the church, it was just that his interests no longer aligned with theirs. Oh, and he was now a convictable criminal.
“Do you need a religious leader on your ship?”
The Sakkra laughed boisterously, scaring a few of the bar’s patrons that were seated around him. He took a long drink from his glass and raised it in Atheer’s direction. “I doubt our Gods would see eye to eye, but I like your spirit, little bird. You want a job, not a hand out… the Sakkra way.”
The Sakkra mercenary slammed his glass down and the bartender took subtle notice, preparing him another. The Sakkra continued, the amusement in his voice was lighthearted. “You can scrub floors with the younglings. It’s grunt work… and thankless. Do you accept?”
In his mind, Atheer finally saw the face of Razeena looking down on him, her face finally uncovered and bare. His life, his home, his innocence, and everything he had ever known… was lost to him. He was a Recorder of the Church, but that life was gone. Here he was, considering the worst job offer on the planet and he was… happy.
“I accept.” Atheer was meek, but sure of himself. He felt peace for the first time that he could remember.
First Contact - A Human Short Story
Doctor Zara Song stood on the live television set of the Central Transmission Tower, trying her best not to look like she was going to vomit on live television. She wasn’t typically an anxious person, but one could say that the pressure of initiating first contact between Humans and aliens was stressful. Her team of engineers stood behind her, in the background of the shot, but she was front and center as the one who led the team that had intercepted the message. She was the one who pushed for the message to be analyzed, even when the rest of the team thought they were listening to useless chatter or feedback.
The entertainment personality that the government had brought in to “help deliver the message to the common people” was wearing a tacky suit and plastic smile, which made Zara feel even more uncomfortable. He leaned in close, his aftershave flooding her nose. He winked at her and mumbled under his breath, “We’re making history here, look excited!”
Just as the camera crew counted down and the red lights turned to a uniform green, Zara gave a weak smile. The host lit up like someone had sparked a fuse beneath him. “Here we are at CTT with THE exclusive interview with the team from Beijing International University that intercepted the first alien message sent to Earth.” The host paused for dramatic effect in the dead silent studio. “This is Dr. Zara Song, head of the team that accomplished this feat. Zara, tell us about the message.”
Zara cleared her throat and took a deep breath. It was time to put those junior high debate team meetings to work. “We first heard the transmission a few days ago. It seemed like we were picking up accidental noise, but it was coming from unoccupied space the far edge of our system. Upon closer study, we realized it was a message that was delivered in ways we had never seen before. We aren’t sure if it was even meant for us, but we worked tirelessly to find meaning in it.”
The Host, making an artificial and over the top show of surprise, made a gasping noise. Zara imagined he would make the same obnoxious sound if someone had punched him. “What did the message say?” The Host was breathless, but still delivered his lines perfectly.
Zara recognized her cue. “On behalf of the newly formed Unified Sol Government, we present this message to the citizens of Earth. These are the first words from extraterrestrial life. We will play it for you now.”
Zara looked to the camera crew, crouching behind the cameras and obscured by the bright lights of the studio stage. It looked like she was speaking to a cluster of mechanical beings, each with a single reflective eye, instead of other humans.
The audio file played over the speakers of the studio. A gruff voice speaking in a language of growls filled the room. The message wasn’t clear, but there was no doubt it had all the characteristics of a defined language. Yet, there were tones and sounds within the clip which seemed so unnatural and foreign… so alien… that the Human mind hardly knew how to wrap around it.
The clip ended abruptly, the clip ending with a snap. The host turned to Zara, his manic eyes wide, “Alien life. Confirmed. Now… what will we say in return?”
The studio was quiet. Zara knew the role she was supposed to play. The new global government was young and unpopular with most of the population. Years of war had bred distrust among the people. Decades of environmental decline had devastated Earth’s ecosystems, leading to the Wars of Unification as the remaining nations fought for… everything. This was the chance to unify the people of Earth as one. When faced with the idea that the universe was so much larger than the petty squabbles of Earth… what would humanity do?
Zara folded her hands into her lap. “As a gesture of goodwill, we have recorded a message in return which we will begin transmitting now, thanks to the Unified Sol Government.” Zara looked straight into the camera, her dark eyes steady. “The message states, ‘We are the Humans of the Sol system. We welcome your presence.’”
The Host turned back towards the cameras. “Now we wait. Do they understand us, or are we as foreign to them as they are to us?”
The studio was silent for a moment, still with the gravity of the message. Humans had been alone in the universe, or so they thought. From the dawn of their oldest civilizations they had battled each other to the bones and blood but now, for the first time, all their eyes were turned to the skies.
The sirens started quietly at first, so muffled that Zara thought she might have been imagining them. Within a matter of moments, heavily armed men in full body armor with the patches of the fledgling USG military stormed the set. The cameras suddenly went dark and the overhead lights flashed on brightly.
“Follow us, Dr. Song. Now!” She jumped up and looked back at her team; they were being held at gunpoint, forced to stay behind as she followed the soldiers. They took her out the backdoor of the studio, where a massive wall of glass showed the city below. Beijing was a massive, sprawling city that had been partially destroyed in the war and was currently tearing itself apart.
The soldiers, one on each side, grabbed her firmly by the arms and hustled her down a corridor towards the elevator. All three entered the narrow elevator with Zara uncomfortably squeezed against the back wall. The trip was quick, only her turning stomach indicating the speed at which they just traveled. As the elevator doors opened, she realized they were on the ground floor of the tower, which had quickly been taken over by the military presence inside the building.
A straight-backed and neatly dressed officer approached Zara, “Your message got a response, Dr. Song.” She faintly remembered him from the meetings leading up to the broadcast – General Liu.
“From the aliens?” Her eyes brightened, her scientific curiosity outweighing the terrifying prospect.
“The aliens moved with alarming speed once they received our reply. Their technology is quite obviously beyond ours… and they were much closer than we originally anticipated.” The General began walking away while talking, and Zara hurried to keep up. “They did not send a transmission in reply as we would have thought. Their ships have registered on our surveillance systems. They are coming to Earth.”
Zara hadn’t fully considered the tricky situation she was in now. She had successfully argued with the USG for that simple reply of welcome, hoping against hope that the new government would see the event as an opportunity to cement their power. The newly unified global government was barely keeping things together here on Earth… and now they were being faced with a potential extraterrestrial threat. But what if they could turn the incident to win popular support?
The room was full of soldiers, all seeming to speak at once. There was panic in the air. “We can’t have hostile enemies enter the city airspace without expecting massive casualties.” An advisor to the General jockeyed for his attention in the claustrophobic room. “Civilians are already starting a city-wide riot.”
“We don’t know their intentions.” Zara tried to remain calm amid the storm. The General eyed her suspiciously, but seemed to listen. “We aren’t going to be responsible for starting an interstellar war here. I’m the highest ranking USG officer; you will all follow my lead.” He turned to an advisor. “Do we have any diplomats nearby?”
The advisor’s face was ghastly pale. “Well, we did, but the civilian panic has compromised all routes.”
A comm tech shouted from across the room, “Alien ships entering the atmosphere! Less than two minutes to touch down. They’re headed straight to the Tower!”
The General shouted, “Send runners to the nearby units and prepare to repel an invasion. Lock air defense batteries on inbound targets but do not fire unless you visually confirm red flares fired from CTT.” He looked to Zara with a face that looked as hard as stone and just as weathered, “You’re going to be the diplomat.”
“What?” She jumped slightly, but the adrenaline was starting to get to her now.
“No one else can get here fast enough, the city has gone insane with the news. The aliens might recognize your voice, at the very least. They seem to understand you.” Gesturing to the nearby soldiers and pointing a barely shaking finger at Zara, he barked, “Get her out there, now!”
The alien ships suddenly started to come into view, massive and hulking, crimson red. Zara was breathless at the sight. Aliens, something humanity had long dreamed of but written off as fantasy, were landing on Earth. The ships were foreign, but still something was familiar about them.
Suddenly a loud explosion rocked the building. Zara instinctively covered her ears against the horrible sound. The civilian rioters must have blown up a car.
The General looked down on her. “I’ll stay behind to man CTT. Go, go, go!”
A group of soldiers surrounded her, throwing a bulletproof vest over her torso and leading her towards a space that the military was clearing for the alien landings. Zara focused on putting one foot in front of the other. She was a scientist at heart. She could approach this with the cool pragmatism of observation… if only her heart would stop trying to pound its way out of her chest.
The Bulrathi ships were lower now. The air was tense and full of the howling sound of their engines preparing to land. People were gathering around but the soldiers moved quickly to establish a perimeter around where the ships were going to land.
The soldiers pushed her forward and quickly ran back to take cover, leaving Zara alone. She felt terribly on display, but no one was paying attention. If the sounds of the alien ships hadn’t been drowning out all ambient sound from the city, she would have been able to hear the absolute chaos that was unfolding.
The alien ships were on the ground now and Zara felt oddly at peace. They were responding to her call, and she had been kind and inviting. Well, at the very least, they hadn’t entered Human airspace with guns blazing. At least that was something.
The bays of the ships opened and walkways lowered. Out of the massive ships, Humanity got their first look at alien life… and they looked like giant bears. Or, if not like any bear on Earth, they at least seemed vaguely familiar. The first of the aliens came closer and she comprehended their massive size: the creature towered nearly three feet over her.
She tried to smile and seem kind, hoping that somehow the aliens would understand something through the language barrier. She hoped they would see her, smiling face upturned and trying her best to communicate, rather than the jittery soldiers and the screaming civilians behind her. More than anything she hoped that the General could hold off firing the emergency flare for long enough for her to say something, anything. She took a deep breath. With the detachment of a scientist, she observed the smell of the alien creatures. It was a damp smell—no, the scent of a forest.
She spoke diplomatically.
“Welcome to Earth.”
Search Party - A Klackon Short Story
The ship, a living entity itself, hummed quietly as its biologically based core had been grown around mechanical and technological systems. The ship, referred to as AX-135 Strand Delta, was a small scout vessel travelling in dark, isolated space along the Mrrshan-Sakkra border. The only sounds onboard that could be detected by an alien ear was the rattle of scuttling legs and clacking body plates, as the Klackon crew communicated primarily through targeted pheromone responses punctuated by subtle antenna movement.
The crew had been together for a long time, not just on the ship but in life itself. Born of the same egg clutch on a colony planet near the home world of Kholdan, they had always trained as a unit. Now they lived as one in the impossibly cramped quarters of the scout ship in symbiotic peace. This was the Klackon way.
A panel whined in high pitched tones on the bridge, similar to the cry of newly hatched Klackon young, capturing the attention of the Captain and an Officer. They watched the panel with mild interest as it was the only blip of activity seen in recent weeks on their outlying patrol. The Captain had been running them back and forth in a relatively small sector of space, as if unsure of what they were assigned to look for in the first place. The Captain was secretive and private, but the crew trusted him implicitly as they trusted all from the Hive – the Klackon were truly united in their ways.
Should we investigate the anomaly? The Officer twitched his antennas violently while filling their personal space with pheromones of concern and agitation. The Officer was disturbed by the sudden change of routine and risk of exposure. The Klackon and Mrrshan were far from friendly, with their frequent skirmishes causing irritation between the two governments. The Klackon and Sakkra fared no better.
The Captain surveyed the panel, calculating distance. Yes, the Hive will be pleased with additional resources. We could stay in the field longer. The Officer could not sense any feeling from the Captain other than a steady stream of calm, so they turned their attention back to the control panels.
The Officer nudged the ship in the direction of the beacon, the low-power mode of the scout responding sluggishly. After a few minutes, a ship began to come into view. A perfectly intact Mrrshan cruiser, its operational lights flickering ominously, drifted with a sole repeating beacon the only indication of activity. As they neared, it was obvious that something had gone terribly wrong, but there were no signs of combat.
The Officer was emitting a low amount of fear-based pheromones. Should we even bother saving those filthy beasts? They wouldn’t help us.
The Captain appeared completely confident. They wouldn’t help us, but they would loot our corpses. Let’s return the favor. Prepare non-essential crew as a Scavenger team, quickly. Before the soft skin reinforcements arrive to the beacon call.
They circled the derelict cruiser slowly, looking for any external damage on the ship that would jeopardize their mission. A quick inspection showed no damage and revealed the name of the ship painted on the hull, Star Seeker. As they slowly began the docking procedures, the small team of Scavengers prepared to board the ship. They were buzzing with anticipation, the prospect of adventure and replenished resources renewing their vigor. The Klackon ship made contact with the Mrrshan cruiser and shuddered ominously, as if recoiling from the touch.
The Klackon Scavengers scuttled onto the ship with weapons ready, taking careful note of the undamaged interior and the bodies lining the halls. The Mrrshan crew was recently dead, the Scavengers detecting the delicious scent of hardly decaying flesh. They turned the bodies over looking to loot weapons, ammo, and any personal effect of value.
It seemed as if the Mrrshan had turned on each other, based on the evidence in the ship. Their weapons were drawn on each other and their claws still dripped with blood, but the reason for their attacks were still unknown. Many of them were locked in the final poses of close quarters combat, their eyes glazed over and faces expressionless.
The Scavenger team was unanimously emitting high levels of concern, so the member of the team with the radio pulled it from their utility vest. The verbal communication of the Klackon was primitive and crude, their non-verbal communication far surpassing it in evolution and complexity. They expressed their concerns. The Captain was clear in his response: We will accept the risk for any knowledge to be gained for the Hive.
Combing through the ship slowly, the lights overhead flickered to an irregular and haunting beat. The Scavengers searched the desolate halls efficiently, strapping gear to their backs and holding valuables in their many hands. The more specialized Scavengers activated terminals, scanning networks for valuable intel then wiping the programs as they finished. The Scavengers emitted a low alert pheromone that kept them all on edge and in touch with each other.
The flickering of the lights became weaker as the team closed in on the bridge, the periods of darkness becoming longer. The sound of something dragging began to trickle out from behind the blast doors of the bridge. The door, damaged from the Mrrshan fighting, was slightly buckled and refused to retract into the bulkhead. The Scavengers began working as a seamless unit to open the door, their many hands needing no direction other than the common goal.
As the Scavengers pulled the twisted metal apart, a bitter hissing greeted them from the bridge. The Klackon aimed their weapons on a creature that is not immediately familiar to them, a purple tinted being with a twisted, foaming face. The nerves of the Scavengers lit on fire – the emergency scents of shock, surprise, and fear electrified the air. The being lurched behind the cover of a bridge station, dragging a useless, badly mangled leg behind it.
What is it? They thought jarringly, no distinct voice pulling forward as the individuals panicked and broke the collective calm of unity.
Should we capture it?
Should we kill it?
Should we run?
The being was dressed in an ill-fitting and torn uniform that matched the ship full of dead Mrrshan. Patches of fur clung randomly to the creature’s body, with clumps of it piled on the floor of the bridge. It seemed to be slightly foaming and shaking. An unfamiliar weapon was at the low ready while it kept an eye on the Klackon. It seemed anxious and afraid, the terrified eyes shifting from Klackon to Klackon. The eyes… like dark and twisting vortexes. The Klackon found themselves looking anywhere but the being’s face.
Just as the Scavengers formed a consensus to capture the being, the wounded creature shot its weapon at the ground. A hiss of steam and a cloud of smoke blinded the Klackon as they began to cough. The cloying and sickly smoke reminding them of the coarse sands of Kholdan when whipped into a deadly sandstorm.
The Mrrshan ship let out a sudden rattle and sigh before going completely dark. The Klackons, blinded by the mysterious smoke and darkness, retreated quickly - following the scent of their own trail back to the docking bay. They bridged the gap between the two ships quicker than they had ever moved before.
They scuttled over quickly, grateful to be out of the pitch black of the damaged Mrrshan ship. As the last Klackon entered their ship, the door triggered an automatic response to seal off the docking tube. The coughing of the Scavenger team became ragged as they fought for breath.
The crew attempted to separate the two ships, the Klackon ship refused to move. Captain, the ship refuses to disengage! The Scavengers cried out as one, their message carrying down the ship. As their message travelled through the ship, so did the ominous coughing spread.
The Officer on the bridge looked to the Captain for guidance. The Captain was silent in all ways.
The walls of the ship suddenly began to crack, the tough chitin shell of the walls breaking apart to reveal blackening tendons and damaged frames. The crew’s mind was frantic and united. In their panic there was no clear thought. The coughing and wheezing crew dragged themselves down the hallways in weak attempts to reach the escape pods.
The Officer watched with horror as the cracking walls made their way to the bridge. The ship groaned with a sound not of twisting metal but of a wounded creature. The internal structure was snapping while a dark ichor seeped from the crack walls. The ship shook and released pheromones of distress and imminent failing system warnings.
The Captain was staring at the dark Mrrshan ship through the video feed. Captain, what is happening? It was then that the crew silenced all at once, coughing and gasping for air. The Officer collapsed as the Captain stood tall, watching them choke. The Captain seemed to note the cracking walls with more interest.
“Collaborator?” The ship’s external comm system glowed, the foreign voice filling the bridge. The Officer understood the words, but the voice was so alien and strange that it made his antennae quiver.
The Captain moved forward, manning the controls himself as the Klackon at that post writhed on the ground. “Yes, I am here. I received your distress call.”
“I am wounded. Is the weapon working?”
The Captain looked back on the crew, moving forward on many legs to inspect them closer. The crew could barely keep their eyes open. The Captain nudged them with his foot and expressed mild interest before returning to the comm station. “The pests are dying. Interestingly enough, the virus seems to effect the ship’s DNA as well.”
“Good. There is no room for pests which linger in the dark, though its effect on the beasts was… unexpected. There is an operational shuttle on this ship. We should take it back to Nazin with this information.”
The comm went dark and the Captain looked back on his crew. The walls of the ship were still cracking, the black tendons continued to snap and the low hiss of the outer hull breaching was turning into a scream. The crew noted that whatever sickness these enemies had spread moved through the Klackon DNA quickly, but they could not move to send a warning back to the Hive. The Captain looked down on the crew, I do apologize. You were a good crew. He was silent after, his antennas lowering sadly.
The Klackon crew closed their eyes together, a last act of unity in the face of the unknown. The Captain walked over their bodies gently towards the docking tube. He left the ship just as its natural phosphorescence went dark and life support cut off.
The Harvester - A Meklar Short Story
[Incoming transmission from Biological Growth Facility, Alpha District, Meklon Prime. Time stamp: Third Day, Sixth Sun Cycle. Urgency level: Moderate. Transmission Entity: AM-715, designation Harvester-class unit.]
[Outgoing message]: Unit is now directly connected to the Overseer Module of the Combine. Please reduce outside non-essential communications chatter. State your business.
[Incoming message]: Unit designation further addressed as “Harvester” reporting on abnormalities at Organic Cloning Facility Epsilon Seven. All data included. Authority overrides allowed to unit have been implemented. No further immediate action needed from Overseer. Data for archival and potential re-programming review only.
Transcription of video and logic pathway data transferring to mainframe now…
The building, a spiraling compound packed with Meklar scientific research units, was just one of a number of indistinguishable structures within this district. Wires poured from the walls while constantly updating databases could be heard whirring ominously from somewhere vaguely “below.” The Harvester noted the ancient modules still being used in this facility and wondered at their potential need for hardware updates.
The Harvester moved freely in the facility, the only physically independent Meklar unit in the upper levels of the building—all others were tethered to the walls. The security systems recognized the Harvester’s high-level clearance and authority over all biological programs, allowing unrestricted access. No door, node, or data was blocked from its access within these walls.
The Harvester manually plugged into the building’s local communication channels, noting no logs requiring immediate intervention.
When the Harvester moved to the central elevator located in the heart of the structure, the sliding doors detected its presence and opened without hesitation. The elevator jolted to life; the decades of infrequent use were taking a toll on the response time of the system. The Harvester added a medium-level work order to be transmitted for an Infrastructure Maintenance Team to inspect the elevator during the next general inspection.
The lower levels were devoted to the cloning of the organic Meklar. Security protocols here, both physical and digital, were some of the strictest in the empire, devoted to protecting one of the oldest secrets of the Combine. The living organic beings housed within critical Meklar hubs were cloned and grown at facilities such as these that were hidden across the Combine’s reach.
These organic beings had built the first Meklar in a time prior to the Meklar’s detailed historical logs, long before their memory capabilities were advanced enough to preserve their past. The origins of these beings were now long lost, but their indelible fingerprints were all over the core hardware infrastructure of the Combine. Whoever they were, their sophisticated programming was nothing short of brilliance—to this day the Meklar were unable to purge them from core systems.
The Harvester’s role was to ensure these beings remained physically healthy and genetically pure so that no systems which utilized these organics as “nerves” would be compromised. Their compatibility with the oldest Meklar systems could not be jeopardized. Incompatibility breeds errors, an unacceptable concept to the Combine.
The elevator reached the lowest level, kept at minimum operational levels of brightness in order to not disturb the organics. Dimly illuminated tubes held small, blue-skinned creatures within. They looked like they were sleeping, although the Meklar did not fully understand the need for sleep. Specialized Meklar units on slender humanoid legs strode purposefully on this level, inspecting various monitors and keeping a careful eye on the organics. The organics rested without any sign of conscious movement, each with a dozen closed eyes and relaxed tentacles that hung lazily in the suspension of the fluid.
The Harvester approached one of the caretaker units, held it still, and passed it a communication cord. The caretaker plugged it into the back of its head. The Harvester began to access all of the logs that had not yet been uploaded to the facility node.
This unit had noticed the anomalous alertness of the organics. At this development stage this batch was showing 40% more brainwave activity than normal. All vital readings were within acceptable ranges, but something nonstandard had been identified in this cluster of organics. The caretaker units in this facility were not equipped with the judgement capabilities to move forward with this issue; thus the deployment of a rare Harvester.
The Harvester disconnected and allowed the other unit to continue its work. The Harvester moved to the biological read-out panels and began pulling them forward to analyze the available data. All other traits appeared to be within nominal parameters. All readings were normal, healthy even. Looking to the organics, they did not seem to be outwardly abnormal. The Harvester manually entered a command on the panel, activating a painful shock to the tubes nearest to him.
The organics did not physically flinch, and their vital signs did not respond to the pain stimuli. This was unusual. Was it a negative development? The Meklar had been cloning the organics for thousands of years, watching over their strange makers with a care and reverence that seemed incongruous for machines. They had preserved the ancient DNA, breeding the creatures into perfectly passive parts of the ancient machines, treating them as merely a different form of tubing or gears. This batch’s aberrantly high brain activity was inconsequential in itself; the organics were not required to think. However, this associated mutation, the newly found resistance to physical pain, might help resolve issues of burnout in the organics—possibly enhancing their capabilities.
The Combine was bound as one consciousness and the Harvester was certain that whatever decision it made would be fully backed by the Combine. Moments like this gave the Harvester pause, as the development of this unusual batch of organics might have longstanding benefits and detriments to the Combine as a whole. A judgement call had to be made.
The organics were a messy and unpleasant part of Meklar life, yet the ancient machines relied on these archaic nodes to preserve the old data. The Meklar had phased the organics out of most machines, but the ones that could never go offline still needed them. These living nodes were an essential part of the oldest technologies of the Combine.
Change, whether it was positive or negative, might prove problematic, even fatal, to existing systems.
The Harvester evaluated the potential risks and benefits in mere fractions of a second. With no hesitation, it input new commands on the biological read-out panels. A dark, viscous liquid bloomed within the containers. The organics continued to sleep even as they were slowly obscured from view. The sensors flashed fatal warnings for a moment, and then darkened. The servitor units smoothly began to dismantle the equipment to prepare for a new crop of clones to be grown.
[Final analysis for the Overseer’s Logs.]
The creatures had been compromised at a genetic level. The Meklar cannot allow such a risk to be introduced into the Combine’s most valuable systems. A brief survey of the additional cloning facilities shows all systems running at optimum efficiency and no trace of this error repeating at other locations. Amniotic fluids are mineral rich and pure. All current clones are from known stable DNA progenitor groups with no observed degradation. The mutation cannot be logically traced or resolved, so the Alpha District facility clone cultures have been purged. Replacement stock will be sent from Epsilon District.
Change breeds the potential for errors. While the defective organics of the affected facility might have had advantages over the pure-strain products, the risks could not be allowed. For the Combine.
[Message complete. Transmission ends.]
Identity Crisis - A Darlok Short Story
He opened his eyes slowly, slightly uncomfortable from the night before. He could sense a bright light through his closed eyelids; he must have slept through his alarm. As he went to move his arm, it jerked back suddenly. He opened his eyes in a panic and saw that he was in a hospital bed with his arms restrained to the frame.
“Hello!?” He screamed, his voice hoarse. How did he get here? The room around him was a standard hospital room… white walls, tile floors, and an empty bed beside him. Tubes ran from his arms to a hanging bag of viscous red liquid that made his stomach turn.
A nurse came through the door at the end of the room. “Please, relax, Mr. Anderson.”
The nurse picked up a clipboard from a nearby desk. “Mark Anderson… may I call you Mark? It says here you were found in an alley late last night. You were admitted and began fighting the orderlies.” She held the board with cleanly manicured nails and long fingers.
Mark stopped struggling against the restraints. Something in his head clicked. That didn’t sound like him. “I’m sorry, ma’am, I just…”
The nurse pulled up a chair and sat beside him, “Don’t worry about it. Call me Kara.”
“Kara, then.” Mark tried to sit up on the bed, limited by the amount of space the straps gave him.
She looked down at his arms. “Want me to remove those restraints?” He nodded sheepishly and she sighed, collecting a key from her left pocket. “Just promise not to become violent again.”
She unlatched the binds and he rubbed his arms gratefully. The feeling of blood rushing back into his fingertips was welcome. He began to touch the IV drip and she clicked her tongue at him. He dropped his hands back to the bed and tried to ignore the headache throbbing in his temples. “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” Kara’s voice cut through the pain and gave him something to focus on.
Mark looked over at Kara. She was pleasant to look at, though not intimidatingly beautiful. Her dark eyes were kind and her round face seemed flushed, as if she had just been outside in the cold. Her face was set in an expression that was not unkind and she held a pen over the papers on a clipboard expectantly.
“Sure.” He cleared his throat and took a deep breath. He must have had too much to drink last night and landed himself in the hospital. Sarah would be worried. Sarah!
“My wife, Sarah… I should contact her.” He scratched the top of his head. How could he forget about Sarah until now?
Kara smiled and scribbled a short note on her board. “Of course. We’ll look her up right away. So, my first question. What do you recall from last night?”
He remembered going out to a nearby club with a few of his friends. Yes, he must have been drunk, but he always took a cab home and got back safely. “The last thing I remember was heading to the bathroom.” He scratched his head again. “Honestly. I don’t even recall getting here.”
Kara nodded and made additional notes. “Any previous medical history we should know about?”
“No, healthy as ever. Injured my knee playing baseball in college…” Mark shrugged and smiled sheepishly. Kara watched him carefully and reflected his smile back at him.
“Have you ever experienced these black-outs before?”
Mark shook his head. “No, never.”
Kara cocked her head to the side and smiled. “You enjoy baseball?”
Mark shrugged, “I guess so.” He looked out the window and noticed a pair of blue birds hopping on a nearby branch in the early morning sunlight. One hop forward, two hops back.
Kara pursed her lips. “What do you fear the most?”
Something about Kara’s soft expression made Mark feel disoriented. “That’s… a rather complicated question. Is that on the form?”
“Do you love your wife?” Kara’s voice was flat and casual.
Mark stared at her. Kara kept her attention on the board, unfazed by her own question. Dark ringlets framed her face and her thick eyebrows were scrunched gently together as she focused on the paperwork. “What kind of question is that?” he asked.
Kara moved along without pause. “You just hadn’t mentioned her until now. Do you have any other family members in the area?”
“A sister who lives outside of Dallas.”
“Where did you grow up?” Kara continued to scribble quickly on her paperwork.
“We moved around the Southern Union for a while.” Mark rubbed his forehead; his skin felt clammy to the touch. Why was it so hard to remember where he grew up? It felt like his brain was on fire. “Miss, I think something’s wrong…”
“Can you describe your mother to me?”
Mark grasped for the image and nothing came to mind. His heart began to race. “Aren’t you going to call my wife?”
She stood up and smoothed her skirt. “Of course. I’ll be right back, Mr. Anderson.”
As she left the room, Mark sat up and swung his legs off the bed. He looked out the window and had a strange feeling of déjà vu. The birds hopped forward, then hopped twice back. The exact same movement, almost like a video on a loop.
He stood up gingerly, afraid that his legs wouldn’t support his weight. He moved over to Kara’s clipboard and flipped through the pages, but they were all covered in some script he couldn’t recognize.
She came back through the door with both of her hands in her pockets, her head cocked to the side as if she could not understand his actions. “You should be in bed, Mr. Anderson.”
“What is this place?” His voice came out shakily, as if he already knew where he was. He was afraid.
Kara smiled, but the corner of her mouth turned up just a little too high. “You may have sustained a little more damage last night than we thought.”
Mark looked back to the window, to the birds hopping in an endless repetitive loop. “This isn’t right!”
She nodded emphatically. “Can you clearly express what isn’t right?”
“This… this room. Why is it so silent? What’s wrong with the window?” He staggered into the bedside table as if he were exhausted, carefully slipping a scalpel into the sleeve of his shirt.
Kara nodded again, her hair bouncing playfully. “You’re paying too much attention to the details, Mark. Humans aren’t supposed to point out these things.”
“Humans?” He stepped backward as Kara moved forward casually, her hands still within her pockets. “What do you mean? What are you?”
Kara stopped and sighed. It came out as a sizzling hiss that was unlike any sound Mark had ever heard a human make. She pulled a large syringe out from her pocket as she said, “I’m just trying to help you.”
“How is this helping?” He screamed out, his voice echoing against the stark walls.
She was closer now, on the same side of the bed as Mark. “Humans bring up their loved ones FIRST.” She scoffed to herself. “Sentimental creatures.”
“I am a Human!” Mark shouted at Kara, but even as he said the words he had a creeping feeling that they weren’t true.
As she took the step to bridge the gap between them, Mark lunged forward and slashed out at her face, the scalpel flashing in the dim light. She closed her fist and swung, making contact with Mark’s abdomen and leaving him breathless. He collapsed to the ground, gasping for air. Kara’s face was deeply cut across her left cheek and nose, a deep wound that began to foam a foul-smelling purple substance.
She slammed the syringe into his neck and he quickly drifted out of consciousness.
Kara took a towel from the side table and brushed her face. The blood was beginning to clot and the wound was superficial enough that the skin was reforming on its own. She threw the bloodied rag at Mark and hissed, “Amateur waste of resources.”
She pulled the IV from his arm and checked the bag of fluids above him. The Human target’s blood was still fresh and viable for another donor, so she wheeled it out of the room with her. Past the door to the cell, a group of Darloks watched the room through a one-way mirror.
“This subject is a waste. You should have known better. I don’t need farmers for these operations, I need trained operatives.” Kara hated wasting time. The Darloks they were bringing her for their operations were not prepared for the pressure of immersion.
The Darloks on the other side hissed in agreement. One spoke first, a male-formed humanoid with greying skin. “We have limited assets, Teacher.”
Kara sighed dismissively. “Get another subject ready for transformation. When they come out, I want them prepped and ready for interrogation.” She began to walk off, then looked back over her shoulder. “Get a memory wipe on that one in there. He’s not appropriate for stealth operations, but he’s strong. I recommend sending him to the armed forces.”
The Darloks whisked like shadows into the cell, picking Mark up off the ground as his skin began to fall in heavy clumps to the floor and his Darlok body shivered uncontrollably beneath the mass.
The Survey Team - A Silicoid Short Story
The Silicoid survey ship settled into low orbit around the blue-green world of Nirb. On the ship’s bridge sat crystalline figures of vaguely humanoid shape. Periodic small movements of two upper appendages were the only obvious signs that these shapes were living beings. Vragkra, the captain of the vessel, sat in a control node that resembled a huge open geode. In similar nodes sat Rilog, the engineer/sensor operator, and Grdaj, the pilot/navigator.
The peculiar sound of Silicoid speech, a continuous, cracking rumble underlain with a near-ultrasonic whine, filled the bridge. The three Silicoids were conferring over the choice of a landing site. Initial scans had detected rich deposits of minerals on the planet below, but before the Crag would allocate scarce assets for colonization, the resource threshold and quality had to be determined. Nested in their nodes, the Silicoid crew members were able to tap into the glittering living rock that was the core of every ship and control the ship by piezo-electrical impulses. After some time, Vragkra came to a decision and issued an order. The diamond-based holo-emitter zoomed in on a small valley, blinking with promise over an orange overlay. Grdaj reached out to touch a crystal spike within his node. A brief pulse of static electricity sent a command to the engines. The ship responded by turning smoothly towards the emerald planet below.
On the lush planet below, Ti’kree barely looked up when thunder boomed in the pink light of an early morning. He sniffed the air and was vaguely puzzled as the scent of rain was not detectable. Absorbed in his task, weaving a roof shingle out of the fibers of a jabala plant, he did not immediately register the excited chatter around him. His neighbor, Ch’kra, shouted his name. He followed her pointing arm to see what was commanding the attention of the people of the Dilab. Ti’kree was stunned to see a large boulder flying through the air, now just dipping below the trees. The flying boulder was embedded with a dazzling crystal that caught the gentle light of morning and twisted it across the village.
As the village leader, he was the one the others turned to for guidance. He first consulted with the Spirits, villagers who were strong with the heart-power. Most of them had begun to pray, and Ti’kree called for them to contemplate peace. To the Fang, the best hunters and warriors of the people, he ordered that they take up their weapons. The object might or might not be friendly; in any case it was best to be prepared to either honor or fight. Ti’kree returned to his dwelling to don the garments of his rank before leading the party into the forest.
The ship landed with a heavy thud that caused the ground to ripple. The Silicoid barely noticed the jarring impact as they began to disconnect themselves from the control nodes. The survey team walked with slow, heavy steps down a corridor of shaped rock. Before leaving the ship, the captain attached a small metallic device to himself with a faint electrical snap and smell of ozone. Each Silicoid took the time to fit small weapons to their sides.
With a rumble, the hatch folded back while a short ramp stabbed itself into the loam. A pop of warm air rushed into the ship, which until that moment had been just slightly above the cold temperature of open space. Condensation began to bead, running in rivulets and pooling on the floor.
Once off the ship, the team began to open bays located on the outside of the ship. They withdrew peculiar instruments, part oddly vibrating mineral and part standard-looking machinery. As they moved slowly up a hill, the team was oblivious to the beauty of the environment around them. Lush forests, a clear running stream, the symphonic warbling of a brightly colored avian, scented flowers rocking in a gentle breeze—the Silicoids could not attribute value to any of these as they had no mineral content.
Upon reaching the top of the small hill, the team began to set up their instruments near the forest’s edge. A high-pitched keening began once all of the survey equipment was positioned. After a few moments the engineer reached out to switch the units off. Turning to the captain, a note of irritation could be detected between the crew members. The team began to pack up the gear and move back down the hill, the beings underfoot scrambling to get out of the way.
The villagers watched the strange creatures. There was much speculation as to the nature of these apparently living rocks. The Spirits touched some of the gemstones adorning their vestments or hanging from necklaces, wondering if these decorations would be perceived as good or ill. All agreed that these rock beings were ominous.
As they watched the living stones plant their totems, which emitted an uncomfortable sound, the Spirits came to a conclusion. The rock creatures were attempting to commune with the essence of the planet. Over the objection of the Fangs, they went out to meet these apparently gentle beings. Ti’kree gave his approval, quieting any dissent. The best warrior was allowed to accompany the Spirits as a guard. The rest of the villagers watched from deeper in the forest as the Spirits supplicated themselves in greeting. The rock beings appeared to disregard them as they picked up their totems and began to plod down the hill. The Spirits glanced back to the watching crowd in confusion, not used to being ignored. The guard shifted uneasily, bringing his weapon to a ready position. The greeting party milled about, discussing what to do. Ti’kree started to call them back to consider their next steps.
Once off the hill the Captain removed the small metallic device. Interacting with it by means of his piezo-electric ability, he linked back to the ship. At his order, the ship’s main turret activated and rotated to a specified facing. A stubby weapon barrel took aim and began to hum. Suddenly a stream of ravening energy lashed out. With an ear-shattering shriek the hilltop was torn away, scalped down to the bedrock beneath. The intense heat shriveled all plant life for tens of meters on either side of the beam; the water in the streambed boiled away explosively. The avians burst into flames and fell to the ground as charred cinders.
The Silicoids were immune to the intense heat of the fusion beam, just as they were to the cold of space. They stood impassively, waiting for the excavation to complete. The people of the village had no time to react to the blast, not even to utter a cry of warning to those nearby. Standing virtually on the initial target point, they were incinerated before their minds could even register pain. Once the beam cut off, the team lumbered up the hill to redeploy the equipment. Proceeding with their tasks, they took no notice as their bodies were impacted with solid copper bullets. They moved with only the slightest tones of annoyance until one projectile hit a micro-fracture within Grdaj’s crystalline structure.
A piece of the Navigator splintered off with a loud crack. A jet of glittering dust spurted from the fracture point. Within seconds the wound crusted over and sealed. An angry buzz arose from the Silicoids. They turned to face the villagers, already bringing their side arms to bear.
Ti’kree picked himself up off the forest floor. Treetops had burst into flame while rock fragments and splintered trees from the hill had swept through like an angry swarm. Glancing around he saw that some of the Fangs were injured and one appeared dead from the wave of natural shrapnel. With a voice split between fear and sorrow, Ti’kree ordered the Fangs to avenge the deaths of the others.
Without hesitation, they lifted rifles to their shoulders. The weapons were crude large-bore weapons. As each one fired with a boom, the projectiles appeared to have no effect other than sparking off the creatures. Finally one hit caused visible damage: a glowing shard cracked and spun off one of the creatures. This was followed by a puff of dust that hung in the air strangely. With the peculiar sound of rocks knocking together, the stone creatures turned, lifting their arms. Ti’kree briefly saw a flash of light; an instant later his carbonized body fell to the forest floor.
The Silicoids waited a few moments to make sure no more villagers lurked deeper in the woods. Reattaching their fusion pistols to their sides, the team continued the survey. Grdaj briefly bent down, picked up the detached fragment of himself, considered it for a moment, and tossed it into his maw where a brief grinding sound could be heard. All three finished the threshold survey, collecting several core samples. Stowing the equipment and samples in the bays, the captain kept one sample. Breaking it into thirds, he gave a piece to the other two. Each then tossed their portion of the sample into their jaws. After the grinding subsided, an almost satisfied buzzing could be heard from all three. They entered the ship and closed the hatch, never glancing back at the blasted landscape and the forest fire raging beyond.
27 Years Later
Ro’kree and the few remaining members of the tribe huddled around a scrap of food. It was tainted, but the taste was not too bad, and in any event they were starving. All of them were also very ill—toxins contaminated the air, brown clouds of dust from the rock creatures’ deep core mines blocked out the sun, and when it did rain the drops were dark and oily.
When Ro’kree was a child, his father had gone out to meet the Namtar, the legendary gods of destruction. He had never returned, and his legacy had been a torrent of flame that burned the forest. Two cycles after that, the creatures had returned in force. The destruction of Nirb then began in earnest.
These stone beings were plunderers who cared only for what they could brutishly pull from the ground. They ignored the people of this world unless harm occurred to one of them. Ro’kree touched at the trophy that hung from his neck: a glowing shard that he had taken when they destroyed one of the Namtar. The black powder rifles were woefully inadequate, but they were the villagers’ only means of defense.
On that one occasion, Ro’kree had led an ambush that had killed one of the stone demons, at the cost of many Fangs’ lives. But even that bittersweet triumph had turned to horror when, in response, the Namtar razed all of the villages in the region. They then scoured the countryside for days to trying to recover every fragment of their destroyed brethren.
Many cycles later the Furred Ones had come to this world. They were creatures spoken of in the oldest legend of the Dilab, and their return to the world seemed to be the answer to prayers. The Furred Ones had fought a terrible war with the Namtar, a war of fire and thunder and destruction. But the Furred Ones had lost. Before they left the world forever, they tried to save as many of the Dilab as they could, taking them away in their flying boxes. Ro’kree had watched helplessly as the last box departed, his people unable to get to it in time.
Now they huddled in one of the boxes—a stripped and destroyed Bulrathi troop transport—waiting to die. Wracked by coughs, bone thin from starvation, and covered in oozing sores that never healed, every death was now a blessing.
A survey ship landed in the hellish caldera of an artificial volcano created when a deep-core mineshaft punched through the Nirb’s mantle. Leaving the ship, Vagkra and the team ignored the heat and sulfurous fumes. Entering a command center they made their placed a report and core samples on the table. Energetic buzzing accompanied by occasional snaps and sparks of static electricity filled the air.
An older Silicoid, identified by the darker hues of his crystalline make-up and slightly worn edges, contemplated the report. Picking up a sample, he placed a piece into a scanner while popping some into his facial cavity. The scanner chuckled out a positive response while an affirmatory buzz emanated from the elder. Reaching out to a communication node, he issued a command.
Ro’kree, the last of his race on Nirb, had traveled a long time since leaving the metal box. Hunched now above one of the demons’ cities, he watched as the creatures entered a large, sparkling rock. He could see them loading equipment into the large rock — the cursed equipment that had laid waste to the land.
Finally he watched the rock glow purplish-blue as it lifted from the ground with a dull boom. Angling its crystalline nose towards what used to be a clear sky, the ship disappeared into the murk. Wheezing with great pain, Ro’kree laid down on the grit of his world and breathed his last.
A smaller spark of blue marked the survey ship as it lifted off a few moments later. Following in the wake of the colony ship, it broke through the toxic atmosphere in time to see the coruscating flash of a jump drive activating. The team felt no satisfaction that they had discovered another mineral-rich world to which a colony ship had been dispatched to settle. Vragkra issued an order, and the survey ship swung away from the colony ship’s jump trajectory, setting its own course. A newly discovered system had shown signs of promise. There was much work to be done. The survey ship leapt into the black.
Darlok: Transformation Process
The Darlok are a shapeshifting race that have lived in the shadows and fringes of galactic society for all recorded time. Universally distrusted, hated, and reviled by the other civilizations, their shapeshifting and secretive natures have become their most precious assets as they seek to spread their influence across the galaxy. This article explains the complicated process of their innate shapeshifting ability.
After selecting a target for replacement, the Darlok will mark the target for an in-depth screening process. They will often place agents around the target first, gathering information on their personal lives and recording speech and mannerism patterns. Once they feel that they have gained enough preliminary information, they will abduct the target and interrogate them relentlessly until it is possible to duplicate their identity with no suspicion.
For the physical transformation itself, the Darlok must secure a DNA sample of their shift target. While hair and skin samples are adequate, blood and bone matter are the preferred sources of genetic material. The Darlok agent then must take the target’s DNA within themselves (traditionally intravenously for a quicker, higher quality transformation) and make sure they are securely hidden from external danger as they will be vulnerable during the transformation process, which takes 12 to 24 hours.
The target’s DNA begins to replicate in the Darlok’s bloodstream, spreading and hooking itself to the Darlok’s DNA. The target’s DNA becomes the dominant defining factor and begins to force the body to change from the inside out. The Darlok’s original DNA is still present, but is a “shadow” attached to the target’s DNA.
As the change pushes outward, nutrient-dense liquid streams from their pores and orifices. The Darlok’s limbs twist and reset into the correct forms in a series of stomach-turning snaps and creaks. Their limbs may expand or wither based on the size of their target’s body while internal organs take on the function of their new form. Vocal patterns change as well, the voice of the Darlok at first sounding like an echo before shifting into the target’s tone and tenor.
The cells within bind and grow into a new structure—the bone, internal organs, and muscle changing to match the target’s identity. The process is dramatic and horrific to all who witness it. Watching the Darlok’s features distort and warp into a completely different form is said to drive aliens mad. However, if the process of transformation is traumatic, the process of reversion back to their original form is far more grotesque.
When the Darlok drop their assumed identities, the target DNA “unhooks,” peeling away in the form of a thick morphogenetic peel. Large clumps of skin, foam, and tissues slip from the body. The process commands the Darlok’s full attention and the Darlok is weakened considerably for the duration of the process. The discarded material contains a large amount of genetic material that can be analyzed to determine who the donor was. For this reason, Darloks will do their best to dispose of the cast-off tissue—consuming it if no other course is available.
The easiest way to involuntarily trigger a Darlok to revert to their original form is to cause significant bodily trauma. The shock of physical damage can force the donor DNA to “unhook.” This process of shedding tends to be quicker than the initial transformation, averaging a few hours, depending on the resilience of the individual Darlok. Darlok can shift back to their original form voluntarily, but it requires great focus. Many choose to accelerate the process by harming themselves and forcing the transformation reflex to take over.
There are some limitations to the Darlok shapeshifting process: they must transform into relatively intelligent lifeforms, they cannot shift straight from one target to another (they must go to their original form in between), and they do not gain the knowledge and memories of the target. Most Darlok operations require in-depth research and scouting in order to give their agents enough information to blend in effectively.
The process of transformation is generally very dangerous for Darlok agents who risk exposure and the threat of losing their own identity when they are posing as someone else. Because they are so hated and distrusted, the Darlok assume that everyone is out to get them and expose them to the hard light of subjective truth. The most unexpected side effect of shapeshifting can be the most devastating to the Cabal: the individual Darlok agent may become so immersed in the character of their shift target and the accompanying sense of belonging that they permanently lose track of their own identity.
Feature Short Story: Diplomacy
Prospect Station rotated slowly in space, its smooth lines and shining hull dimly reflecting the light of a nearby star. As a newly built transit hub located in a neutral system in the contested region of space between the Alkari and Human empires, it was guarded by an attached fleet consisting of ships of both navies and was in constant communication with the two empires. Today, amid great fanfare, diplomats and their bodyguards were boarding the pristine station to begin formal talks—hopefully the first of many diplomatic conventions between the races.
As the various shuttles and ships docked, Human and Alkari officials exchanged pleasantries in hallways and meeting rooms. Many of the diplomats already knew each other from the years of interaction that had laid the groundwork for this moment. The coordination required for the joint construction of Prospect Station had been the first test for the fledgling partnership, and the luxurious and well-ordered station was an impressive payoff. The mood was tense, but positive.
A sophisticated suite of real-time hologram hardware was set up in the main conference hall of the station. The leaders of the empires, the Skylord of the Alkari Flock and the President of the Human Republic, would be remotely called into the meeting. While relations were cordial between the two, the risk of having two empire leaders physically present at a frontier station was too great to contemplate. Thus the ‘virtual summit.’ Besides, it was generally assumed that the diplomats and strategists would hammer out the actual negotiations; the formal addresses of the leaders would surely be for the benefit of the public and the media.
While empires across the universe waged war and scientists scrambled for technology that would give their civilizations the upper hand, the diplomats played a subtle version of their own warfare. Where the bold favored military service and the bright flocked to the research institutions, it required a brave and steady countenance to face the legal, social, and political gauntlet of diplomacy.
The representatives of the Alkari Flock and the Human Republic filed into the primary meeting room, wide windows giving a view of the combined flotilla in close orbit. While the station had its own defensive weaponry, the fleet watching over the opening talks was an intimidating show of strength—and a sober reminder to the diplomats that if their words should go astray, fists would follow.
Holograms of the President and the Skylord suddenly flickered to life, splashing the horizon of Sol and the vistas of Skraa on the walls behind them. The Human and Alkari diplomatic envoys sat around the table, taking notes and watching their leaders guide the course of the galaxy from afar. The holograms were extremely detailed and allowed the leaders to communicate in real time from the comfort of their own strongholds.
It had been determined that the Skylord would speak first. The majestic Alkari paced casually, building suspense before saying, “I am…relieved…that the Human Republic has decided to meet with us today.” He spoke clearly into the hologram that would be projecting the image of the President directly to him.
The diplomats of both races anxiously hesitated, knowing fully well that the Skylord was alluding the diplomatic spat that had resulted when a task force of Human ships lingered in Alkari territory for a suspicious amount of time before finally departing peacefully. The slight, however small, had frayed the trust between the two leaders.
The Human President smiled and nodded, “Misunderstandings happen. We have learned a valuable lesson and value our relationship with the Alkari Flock dearly.”
When the Skylord inclined his head in assent, scribes and advisors let out a collective sigh of relief. To have to the diplomatic meeting be derailed so early would have been shameful for both parties. While the leaders ultimately made the major diplomatic moves and were the face of the empires, the small army of diplomats were the ones who had laid the groundwork for this meeting. If it failed, the blame would inevitably trickle down to them.
The Skylord paced across the balcony that every Alkari in the room recognized as one of the uppermost spires of the Hall of the Skylord. “Let’s get straight to business. In the spirit of goodwill and cooperation between empires, we believe that sharing our Star Maps would be a step in the right direction.”
The advisors and diplomats at the table began to scribble quickly while darting their eyes at their opposite numbers. The digitized image of the President glanced off-screen to where, no doubt, a panel of advisors sat giving him counsel. He gave a slight nod to someone before turning his attention back toward the projection of the Skylord.
“We agree, an exchange of maps between our explorers will be mutually beneficial.”
Officials around the table scribbled hurriedly in order to formalize the exchange. What the two leaders had agreed to in mere moments represented months of work tracking down resources. The work behind making the leader’s promises on the diplomatic front take effect in reality could often require more careful coordination than a military assault.
“The Republic has a proposal of our own.” The Human president seemed confident, something that could often come across as smugness. The Humans considered themselves charismatic, but their silver tongues had also earned them the negative association of always trying to leave a deal with the scales tipped in their favor. “If we should be attacked, let the Alkari Flock come to our aid. We swear to extend the same assistance to you.” Looks of surprise flashed between many at the table.
The Skylord paused, looking out across his spectacular view of the Alkari home world. This was not a small request, and to bring such a serious proposal so early in the conversation risked being viewed as a breach of protocol. The Humans were considered by some to be loose cannons; driven to enter conflict by the same wild emotions that often made them deadly opponents. To promise mutual military assistance to such a young and hot-blooded race was something the honorable and battle-savvy Alkari might not see in their interest. The moment stretched on…
“Of course.” The Skylord extended his arms, bringing audible gasps of surprise from many of the diplomats in the room. “A new era of military cooperation will bring stability and peace to our sector of the galaxy.”
The diplomats began whispering to each other, creating an audible buzz in the meeting room. Functionaries of both races hurried out of the room to confer in private. Whether or not the Skylord would choose to follow through when the call was made, he had publically and formally announced his intentions. To back out after this would be a major loss of integrity to the honorable Alkari. An announcement of this caliber would send shockwaves through the galaxy. The Alkari and Human militaries were quite strong independently; who knew what they were capable of in concert?
The President bowed slightly in a show of gratitude and respect to the Skylord. “Thank you for your time, friend.”
“Also yours, honorable President. Until we next meet.” replied the Skylord. The hologram of the President cut out, followed by the disappearance of the Skylord’s feed. If the meeting seemed short, the real work was now just beginning. The diplomats swiftly divided into teams to begin the massive and detailed arrangements that their leaders had just handed them. Star maps would have to be collected from various explorers, databases, and even scouts currently in the field. Of far more consequence, the navies of each empire would have to adjust to the new defensive agreement. New channels of communication would have to be put in place. Existing strategic doctrines, contingency plans, and logistical schemes would have to be scrapped and replaced. Joint exercises would have to be scheduled, orchestrated, and executed.
Prospect Station spun on while a new era began. Shifting from guarded neutrality to military cooperation, Alkari and Humans would now be able to step up their efforts to expand their influence in the galaxy.
Human: The Early Human Wars
Sol, or Earth as the native Humans call it, has been on the brink of destruction more times than the collective civilization can count. Early Human history is defined as a series of wars which pushed them to the stars, bringing them to the intergalactic stage. Saved by interstellar intervention and desperate policy changes, Humanity has kept the mentality of those who have narrowly dodged devastation.
The Early Wars began in a time where humanity was content to wage wars over the slightest offenses. Issues over cultural differences, land rights, and natural resources fed the fuels of war to the point where bullets and bandages became scarce. Frequent bombing scarred the face of Sol, turning farms into wastelands and cities into standing memorials.
Eventually Sol became so heavily damaged that global climate change ushered in the destruction of already scarce resources. The following Resource Wars saw humanity shed away all noble pretenses of war with troops from fragmented nations wandering the lands and savagely fighting for what little remained. Aftershocks and fallout from humanity’s bombs triggered waves of ecological crises, ushering in decades of droughts, fires, flooding, and unpredictable storms.
The Wars of Unification began as the last standing governments banded together to form the Unified Sol Government (USG), an ancient precursor of current the Human Republic. The USG protected civilians from roaming bands of terrorists and set out new policies to try and salvage the suffering Sol. The policies and protection of the USG brought hope to the people of Sol, but the scale of damage inflicted was simply too great to overcome alone.
At that point, alien contact offered Humans a second chance. The Bulrathi were the first to make contact with the flailing Humans and found common ground with them, as the Bulrathi had already survived their own home world’s near destruction. Humans had developed excellent force field technology that they exchanged for rudimentary planetology technology which they used to breathe life into Sol. Humanity was by no means saved, but at least they now had a precarious ledge to hold on to.
The USG strengthened in the years after the Bulrathi encounter, using the simple technology to reclaim what little swaths of land they could at a time. As humanity’s technology advanced, they were slowly able mend the wounds they inflicted on their planet. Radioactive zones were contained and minimized over time. Storm ravaged lands were rebuilt with the knowledge to help them withstand future onslaught.
Once they regained control of their home world, humanity rallied and used their combined resources to join the intergalactic stage with impressive speed. The ragged and ravaged history of Humanity made them eternal underdogs in their minds. Overcoming hardship, even if it was a direct result of their own actions, is a source of collective pride for Humans. Where lesser races would have died out or fled their home world, Humans held on to Sol. Stubborn and strong, they now face the stars with the same tenacity that assured their own survival.
Feature Spotlight: Terraforming
Luka pushed the heavy breathing apparatus off of his face and coughed as the thin air of Kataka Prime hit his lungs. The barren planet’s air was harsh and thin, but breathable. He threw the clunky breathing apparatus over his shoulder and towards the ship with excessive force, narrowly avoiding the senior scientist, Janna. Janna shook her head at Luka’s impulsiveness and kept her breathing apparatus securely in place.
Sava, Luka’s brother in both blood and arms, jumped off the ship with a crashing thud behind Janna. The hard ground beneath his heavily armored boots did not budge. “Seen worse,” Sava’s distorted mumble squawked his mask amplifiers as he began unpacking the gear from their ship.
Maybe they had, but was hard for Luka to remember an uglier landscape than the one Kataka Prime offered. Bleak and barren, the monotonously grey surface was nearly featureless. There was no dirt or soil to speak of, just solid rock with a light coating of the dust they had broken up as their ship landed.
Luka scanned the horizon noting the total absence of plant life or even naturally occurring geological features other than endless low, rolling hills for landmarks. There was no sound other than the distant roar of other Bulrathi ships coming in to land and the familiar hum of their own scientific equipment. It seemed unlikely that any hostile life was going to present itself for target practice. It was going to be a long year.
When the Bulrathi government formed this preliminary terraforming scientific team, they needed the combination of brains and brawn to make the operation a success. Sava, a part-time scientist and mercenary by trade became the apprentice to Janna, the premiere terraforming scientist in the Bulrathi Empire. Luka joined up at first for the cash, but eventually came to enjoy the work. As much as one could so far from any known bar or entertainment district, at least.
Janna, as stubborn and ferocious as any Bulrathi general, stabbed a monitoring device into the crust with rather impressive force. She lifted her graying head and barked harshly at Sava, “Are you going to sit on your haunches while you let an old woman beat you at your job?”
Sava rolled his eyes, obvious even under the breathing mask, and joined Janna in setting up pre-fab shelters and soil prospecting equipment.
Janna was the eldest member of this small expedition. She didn’t bother to hide her disdain for her apprentice and his mercenary brother. She had worked her way up through the academic system in a discipline that was chronically under-funded and frequently mocked. Yet still she had managed to rediscover the lost Bulrathi secrets of terraforming. Her reward was for the Emperor’s elites to ship her off to barren planets across the Empire to determine their terraform potential. Pure stubbornness seemed to be the main reason she got up every the morning, and Luka was convinced that she was going to die in the field during an important mission just to spite them.
Janna had overseen the initial terraforming efforts of the first successful colony planet, Vale II, nearly fifty years ago. Luka had no idea how old the silver-furred Bulrathi could be, but he wasn’t going to be in grappling range if he ever asked.
Luka remembered visiting Vale II and seeing a dry and parched landscape. This was after the initial successful terraforming project, which had turned a barren planet into an arid and sandy place, sun-beaten but habitable. How could this wasteland possibly be an improvement? he thought to himself. Yet tough, wiry plants grew there, seemingly in defiance of all odds, and a few equally tough Bulrathi pioneers had established a colony as well.
A new type of flower bloomed on Vale II after a thirty-year terraforming event. Pale blue with long, blade-shaped petals, it was of a species never been seen before in the universe. Janna and her old team had named it in honor of the Hag, then packed up their gear and headed off to the next planet on their long list of potential candidates.
Standing here on Kataka Prime in the cold, dry air, Luka found himself missing the warm sun and varied landscape of Vale II. Luka could see for miles in every direction on Kataka Prime—and in every direction there was only more of the same.
The nearby red star cast an ominous light down on Kataka Prime, the crimson light reflecting dimly off the bright red of the Bulrathi ships moving about in the atmosphere. In the distance, the massive colony ship slowly moved in on final landing approach, waiting to drop off the planet’s first wave of settlers. Near the terraforming team’s scout ship were a few other small ships, mostly military vessels providing escort for the colony ship.
The tips of Luka’s ears and nose were cold, but they were in no danger of exposure or frostbite. It was simply uncomfortable. The thin air felt stale in his lungs, a surreal feeling that Luka would have to adjust to. Luckily for him, he had spent most of his life on a small, cramped station. The sensation of still air and mild suffocation was nothing new.
Born and raised on a Bulrathi satellite station on the edge of neutral space, Luka and Sava had both dreamed of seeing new worlds all their lives. They still had never seen Ursa, but the pride of their homeland and people was deep in their blood. That was the Bulrathi way. They would grow into strong Bulrathi and honor their duty to protect the people, planets, and families. The Hag willing, of course.
Now they were grown and Sava had been chosen for the noblest job known to Bulrathi: the tending of planets. Not only that, but he breathed new life into them. Luka respected the work and whispered Sava’s praises to the Hag at night before they slept. If Sava was the heart, then Luka would be the muscle.
Terraforming was science at its most dangerous. Improper calculations could kill everyone on the surface or damage the biosphere of the planet beyond repair. Even when the process went right, it took decades before the results were finalized, there were many projects that Janna, Luka, and Sava might not even live to see to completion. People on the planets lived and died before a barren planet produced a single wild blossom, living in pre-fab shelters and eating non-perishable rations or vegetables grown in cramped greenhouses.
Yet no other in the galaxy knew the dangers and triumphs of terraforming like the Bulrathi. Ages ago, remembered mostly in stories and in the scars still evident on Ursa, the Bulrathi nearly perished when their home world could no longer support them. It took a desperate act by the planet’s scientists to jumpstart a dramatic terraforming event, and those scientists were killed and their research destroyed in the process.
Their legacy lived through a healed planet. Those ancient scientists may have perished and their knowledge was lost for generations, but life on Ursa carried on because of their sacrifice. Even the Bulrathi born on distant planets and ships carried this memory as a promise to never take a planet for granted again. The Hag and the Wild Spirits spoke the truth when they claimed that planets were the original mothers of the universe, and each living being is nothing but a mewling cub.
The loud landing procedures of a nearby frigate snapped Luka back to reality. He watched a few more ships land then stared up at the sky. The absence of cloud cover was strange, but no stranger than the crimson sun that burned quietly on the brink of dusk.
It was not Luka’s place to seek spiritual meaning in their work. He wasn’t even a scientist. The danger that Luka was assigned to prevent was much more…tangible.
The sophisticated technology of terraforming was valuable and rare. It had taken Bulrathi scientists nearly two hundred years to refine it to its current level. Scientists with such knowledge might well be targeted by other empires, aliens who struggled to attain such technical insight on their own. Their small team was kept lean to avoid drawing attention and minimize the chance of infiltration. Luka had killed enemy pirates, fended off thieving Mrrshan, scared off Psilon scientific teams, and once even broke the neck of a Sakkra to keep his team safe.
Luka watched Sava set up small drones that would scour the surface for a suitable detonation point. The small robots would find a patch of surface with relatively easy access to the planetary core, then lock down and send signals back to the team. Janna was shouting over the sound of nearby ships landing, gesturing with her massive claws where to send the drones.
Luka could not help but dream of Kataka Prime covered in rolling grasses and dotted with spiraling trees. The process of terraforming was gradual, having to be repeated for the better part of a century. However, the promise of soft grasses seemed so real at times that Luka believed he could hear them rustling in the wind. It was a worthy cause for his gun or even his life, all that any Bulrathi could ask for.
Feature Spotlight: Mrrshan Pirates
The Mrrshan love to test the boundaries of the galaxy, whether that be the limits of their own abilities or the law. Daring and hot-blooded warriors who are confident to the point of brashness, the Mrrshan are known for rushing head first into a skirmish and refusing to back down. The Mrrshan violently oppose anything they view as oppression. Their laws and policies reflect that sentiment and are often casually imposed, except in dire cases of emergency or public interest. While these traits make them an empire to be reckoned with, it makes them difficult neighbors in the increasingly crowded galaxy.
A major source of contention for other races that must interact with the Mrrshan is their murky relationship to various acts of piracy and unsanctioned aggression. Pirate crews are diverse, with all races represented in their ranks. Yet, it often seems to neighbors that Mrrshan crews of “pirates” are mixed in with the hostile and detestable pirates that all citizens of the galaxy must deal with. That Mrrshan vessels make up the largest percentage of pirate ships and captains also lends credence to this view.
Many of the stories of Mrrshan pirates are shrouded in rumor and hearsay. Survivors of a pirate attacks claim that ships helmed by Mrrshan crews were more interested in loot versus murder. Witnesses from these attacks have also stated that the raiders who boarded their ship were poorly disguised Mrrshan attempting to portray other races. Some people brush these reports off as some sort of wild conspiracy theory trying to implicate the Mrrshan, but others believe that the Mrrshan crown turns a blind eye to her citizens committing acts of high piracy.
Accusatory whispers from the Mrrshan court claim that an infamous and mysterious Pirate, who is believed to organize most of the pirating efforts in the contested regions of space, visits the Empress occasionally. The pirate of these rumors is an exiled Mrrshan trader, draped in smooth metals and sparkling jewels. He visits the Empress in private quarters with suspicious familiarity, leaving a trail of bejeweled trinkets at her doorstep. Salacious gossip or a mutually beneficial arrangement between the crown and a free-spirited citizen who has not abandoned their loyalty to the empire?
The Mrrshan Empress rules her court with iron claws, yet when intergalactic ambassadors plead with her to stop the actions of her citizens, she insists that she has no control over such rogue elements. Even as these various claims of suspicious gifts entering the Mrrshan treasury trickle out of the Empress’s court like a babbling stream, she turns her nose up at those who accuse her. Even if true and the Empress wanted to end the relationship, would there be any way of crushing the deviant marauders without impeding the core beliefs of freedom that Mrrshan hold above all?
Popular opinion sides with the pirates in most Mrrshan cities. Children play in the street with make-believe ships, imagining that they conquer the skies in a way that even empires cannot achieve. The dreams of tangible wealth coupled with the ability to take control of their destiny by signing on or even commanding a raiding ship is a deadly siren song for many youthful Mrrshan.
What do all of these rumors and murmurs amount to? Insight into the values and principles of Mrrshan culture, but little concrete evidence that could be used against the empire. The stubborn Mrrshan blaze their own path across the stars, unwilling to limit themselves based on the boundaries and expectations others have placed upon them.
Feature Spotlight: Jump Gates
Even the incomplete and shallow hull of the jump gate under construction was truly massive, Tarik thought to himself as he stepped off the shuttle. He and two other members of his team were greeted by a small group of Psilon who seemed overeager and anxious about their alien visitors. Their giant eyes and small stature made Tarik feel as if they were being watched by hyper-vigilant children.
“Please, let us offer you a tour of the facilities. We apologize that the jump gate is in such disarray.” A Psilon robed in drab grey greeted them with a monotone expression. “You may call me Oren, I am the dignitary assigned to this post.”
Tarik looked around the main corridor of the jump gate and couldn’t stop listing potential construction hazards: exposed wiring, makeshift ramps, and blacked out corridors. His previous experience as a field researcher and scout for the military made him evaluate environmental dangers carefully, as most people in this field died from accidents or preventable mistakes. Tarik looked down at the nearest Psilon, who made no effort to hide his curiosity and analysis of the Human team. It was going to be a long three-day tour.
Captain Alves, Tarik, and a second scientist named Anna, had all been invited onboard the highly secure and experimental jump gate site. The Psilon would not have been able to manage such a technological achievement without the protection of their allies, the Human Republic. In return, the Psilon offered a research treaty allowing mentorship and educational expeditions such as these to aid in advancing humanity’s knowledge. Tarik looked around the worksite suspiciously. Even with the aid of the Human empire, there must have been some other backer for this costly and risky construction.
As the team walked towards the engineering hub, Oren mumbled to himself while pointing out facts about the jump gate at random, Tarik notice the high amount of contracted labor. While there were many unmistakably Psilon robots at work, there were also an assortment of other Humans, Sakkra, and Bulrathi milling about the site.
Oren ushered the Humans into a small room crammed with Psilon bodies, windowless and uncomfortably warm. The Psilon scientists and engineers in the room hardly noticed the Human’s entrance as they poured over notes and data tablets. Anna immediately pulled her heavy hair back away from her face peering over the low shoulder of a nearby Psilon to view a schematic.
A single Psilon stepped forward in the crowded room and approached Captain Alves. “I am Jama, head engineer for the Jump Gate Project. I understand that I am to give you a full tour of the facilities, answer any questions you may have, and allow full access to our on-site database. Is that correct?” Jama’s head tilted slightly to the side, as if the commands he were given were abnormal. His featureless eyes blinked with only a mild regard for the Humans in front of him.
Captain Alves turned to Tarik to answer. The Captain had no problem with the Psilon, but he was only here as escort for the small scientific team. Tarik looked down at Jama, “Yes. Your orders are correct. We have logs from the office of the Controller if you would like to verify.” Tarik procured the files from Anna offering them to Jama who took them. Jama flipped through them briefly and nodded. It was typical for the Psilon to need multiple stamps of approval before committing to any action. “Please follow me as we move through the site. Do not touch anything without asking. Do not remove any loose materials from the worksite.” Jama shuffled from the room and the Humans followed, grateful to be out of the cramped workspace of the Psilon. Another Psilon rushed up to Jama, breathless and slightly damp, delivering some message in their quick, high-pitched language. Tarik noted how the Psilon moved quickly and silently. If they weren’t so paranoid and averse to violence, they would make excellent spies or scouts.
Walking down the corridors, it was easy to tell that the Psilon were still early in the process of constructing the jump gate. The skeleton of the structure was in place, but it was far from livable. Most of the materials here would be for the basic construction of the exterior and base infrastructure, with only the blueprints for the more complex machinery onsite. They paused at a checkpoint into the area where advanced power cells were being mapped for installation. Anna made notes regarding the power distribution hub for this sector of the gate. She was communing in soft tones with Jama, who seemed enthusiastic about the advanced electrical conduits that Psilon helped pioneer. Anna kept a careful summary of their conversation to bring back to the Scientific Committee of Sol.
This particular jump gate was built in the star system neighboring the Psilon’s home world of Mentar, about four month’s travel time from the most outlying Human colonies. The journey was long, but not uncomfortable. The innovation of the jump gates could radically reduce that time if a companion gate was built closer to the Human border. It wasn’t completely unlikely, especially since the Psilon depended on the Human’s military for protection.
However, there was still a large amount of work to be done. At this phase, the technology was so advanced and difficult to execute that most of the galaxy barely had the technology to even attempt the required support systems. Humanity was far from their own gates, but took this opportunity as a chance to see what they would need to jump start the technology. Suddenly the screeching sound of sirens overlaid by a Psilon voice cut through the air, causing the humans to instinctively cover their ears. “What’s going on?” Anna screamed through the noise.
Jama looked up coolly at the alarms, “We have an intruder.” He looked down at a small machine on his wrist, flashing quick signals and codes. “Very close by. We should evacuate now.”
The security staff of the jump gate, a small team of Psilons in perfectly clean and pressed uniforms carrying small stun guns, rushed down a nearby hallway. If there was truly a threat onboard, the Psilon staff would find themselves woefully overpowered.
With an annoyed grunt, Captain Alves rushed behind the security staff pulling his pistol from its holster. Tarik hesitated before putting his hand on the small pistol at his hip and rushing after the Captain. As they followed the security staff into the blaring and echoing sound of alarms, they entered a quadrant used for storage that was stacked with raw materials and stockpiled machinery.
The security team circled around the object of the alarms, a large Sakkra male cornered in the back of the warehouse section. The Sakkra hissed causing the Psilon to stumble back. The Sakkra was wearing the uniform and badge of the construction crew, yet held a small bag tightly under one massive arm.
The security team shot off a few rounds, but the Sakkra charged them at the same time. Some fumbled their weapons, others totally missed, and a few made superficial but ineffective contact with the stun rounds. The Psilon scattered across the floor.
Tarik began to back up towards the corridor when the Sakkra turned in mid-charge towards Captain Alves. The impact of the charge slammed the Captain against the wall, his pistol clattering loudly against the exposed metal flooring. The pistol spun until it reached Tarik’s feet. The impact of the Sakkra’s charge also knocked loose unsecured roofing above Tarik’s head, with sharp shards of fiberglass falling on him. The Sakkra, still recovering from his full charge, stumbled upward as a few of the Psilon security team also scrambled to their feet. Tarik picked up the Captain’s weapon, which was far more powerful than his own, and with a lucky shot hit the Sakkra in the low abdomen, spilling dark fluid out at a disturbingly rapid pace. The Sakkra fell to its knees with the hit. The security team jumped on top of the opportunity, using their non-lethal weapons to finish the job. The Sakkra was semi-conscious, twitching on the ground from the electrical shocks of the Psilon stun guns.
Tarik rushed over to Captain Alves to see that his legs were crushed, but his upper body seemed mostly intact. The Captain took a sharp inhale of breath and shouted at the security team, “Arrest that spy to have him interrogated!” The security team nodded and seemed to be grateful for the direction, their panicked hands fluttering about the massive Sakkra to secure his limbs.
As the Psilon rushed the Captain and the Sakkra spy towards the infirmary, a few Psilon staff members removed a small data drive from the satchel the spy dropped during the fight. A Psilon engineer plugged a small interface into the drive. He confirmed that the spy had not only attempted to steal information about the jump gate but was also trying to disrupt shipping manifests in order to slow construction.
Tarik watched a hulking Bulrathi carrying steel beams stop briefly to take in the scene. He look Tarik up and down quickly before turning down an unfinished corridor. Tarik looked down at his arm where a small sliver of the fiberglass cut his skin. The cut was deep, but not severe. A light purple foam bubbled to the surface. Tarik pulled his shirt off and wrapped it around the wound without drawing attention from the distracted Psilon nearby.
Alkari: Pantheon of Gods
The Alkari are a devout and honorable race of accomplished pilots, warriors, and artisans. Confident and proud, their impressive history and actions may seem boastful to other races. The Alkari do not see it that way, as all that they do is for the good of the Flock and the glory of their diverse pantheon of gods. The gods serve as their moral guides through a universe that seeks to confuse, change, or disillusion the citizens of the Flock.
The Patriarch of the family of gods is referred to as the God of Sky, Sky God, or by his common name of Skree-Ak. The Sky God represents the most important and revered aspects of Alkari life: he is a fierce warrior and protector of the Flock. Patron god to the military and revered by many, he is the most commonly referenced God in Alkari society. His wife in the mortal and immortal realms is the Goddess of Virtue, also known as Cahayaa, who is mother to all other Gods. She upholds and praises the values of education, morality, and beauty.
The gods do not simply extoll the bright aspects of life in the universe, they also touch on the darkness that their citizens must cope with on a daily basis. The God of Death appears in a trinity with his siblings, the God of Decay and the Goddess of Loss. Death is ambivalent, neither good nor evil. He exists to cut down the pains and pleasures of mortal life. He is not feared in Alkari belief, but respected and honored. The God of Decay twists Death’s honorable nature being associated with traitors, the sick, and those who lack character befitting the Flock. The Goddess of Loss is the most benevolent of the three, associated with grieving in a healing manner.
Some gods exist to make sense of the universe before science could answer the harder questions of life. The Goddess of Emotion is also paired with natural disasters and ecological blooms – the turbulent winds of storms are her anger and the calming rains that feed the crops are her mercy. Her sister is the Goddess of Love, benevolent and celebrated by many joyful festivals in the blossoms of spring. Both are respected and revered, as all know that emotions and love can turn dark when not tended to properly.
The Alkari gods do not make overtly spiritual claims or promise any sort of afterlife instead acting to demonstrate community values through morality stories. It is a faith based in a societal institution rather than a spiritual organization, accepting all those who wish to hear the stories and carry their words – welcoming to aliens and Alkari from all walks of life.
The Alkari are deeply connected to their culture, which was unified only a few centuries ago after the various breeds of the Alkari Flock warred for control of Altair. The messy process of uniting the Alkari after widespread loss during the wars created a need for shared culture and stories. The pantheon is treasured as one of the ways the Alkari were able to oversee their differences and face the galaxy on a united front.
Sakkra: Tribe Territory
The key to decoding the motivations of the Sakkra race ultimately boil down to two truths about the scaled beasts: they are hyper-aggressive warriors who solve issues with violence and that their rapid reproduction rates means they often live in close quarters. Protection and community often comes in the form of alliances within and between Tribes, which sharpen their teeth on the conflicts over territorial claims.
Tribe alliances are handed down through generations or gained by a show of great strength. The Sakkra thrive in a state of constant fighting and competition, allowing themselves to grow stronger by sharpening the blade against worthy opponents and culling the weak. Control of Sssla, the overcrowded home world of the Sakkra, has always been the singular goal of Tribes through the ages. The Tribes have always had to fight for their access to the precious resources on Sssla, ranging from basic items such as food and shelter up to high technology and access to off world travel.
Tribes are ruled over by Lords, who command all and are accountable for providing the resources for the Tribe. Lords are responsible for creating alliances which are bonded and broken frequently. Even as Tribes battle each other for territory, internal divisions within a Tribe can lead to new Tribes, power moves, and even bloody coups.
When enough Lords follow another Sakkra, a candidacy for the role of Hierarch is established. When one of the Lords gains enough power and notoriety, they may use their allies to approach the Hierarch in battle – but they must be respected and have enough influence to truly effect the tides of regime change. For those who attain the role of Hierarch, a new hornet’s nest of issues emerges. While the Lords and general population continue to battle for scraps of territory and resources, the Hierarch must look beyond the limitations of the Sakkra’s current predicament.
As the Father to the Brood, the Hierarch maintains his control over the Lords, and by extension the population, by leading them into the skies. Bringing new planets under the Brood’s control means new land to be allotted at the Hierarch’s discretion, as well as appointing a new High Lord to manage the Hierarch’s affairs on colony planets.
The reach of the Tribes now expands to new planets, but the warring nature of the Sakkra Tribes is as much a part of the Brood as their very scales and claws. They wrest control of new horizons only to see their newly hatched brethren coming to battle for the spoils of war they had liberated. While the Tribes practice formidable warfare among themselves, when they unite under the banner of the Brood to battle a common enemy, the universe will spill enough blood to fill the Great Sea of Sssla.
Klackon: Hierarchy of Queens
Klackon society exists in perfect harmony due to a hive-mind state of being that erases the hostilities of societal inequality. Each Klackon is born into the roles which they serve in until their death, honoring their obligations to the Hive without question. Every citizen, from the manual laborers to the Queen, finds the same level of fulfilment and satisfaction in their work – as everything they do is for the greater good of the Hive.
The authority and reign of the Klackon Queen is an interesting study in the group versus individual voices of the Hive mind. She serves as primarily a galactic representative of the Hive and speaks unequivocally on the will of the people. The Hive trusts the Queen to serve them, and the Queen honors that trust by leading the Hive with no individual desire for glory. The balance of the Hive’s will and the Queen’s authoritative action helps the Klackon make swift and confident calls during issues of intergalactic dispute.
The Queen remains on Kholdan, the home world of the Klackon, deep in the ancestral caves of the first Klackon. She is brought to the throne room directly from the Royal Breeding stock upon the death of her predecessor, creating a continuous and unbroken chain of command. Here she will remain and rule, in tune with the consciousness of the Hive. A constant stream of advisors, citizens, and researchers consult with the Queen regularly so that she is always up to date with the needs of the Hive.
As the Hive spreads their tendrils across the landscape of the galaxy, it is required that leadership on colony planets and outlying bases still bow to the will of the people and the Queen. Colony planets are assigned a lesser queen, a sister to the ruling Queen, who serves the interest of the Hive and acts on behalf of the Queen. Lesser queens serve as the highest representative of the Hive’s interests on their planets, reporting straight to the Queen on all issues.
All Queens and lesser queens are assigned a watchdog group of personal security called the Voices. The Voices watch over the Queens and lesser queens to make sure their interests always remain the good of the Hive. The Voices assure that the queens resist individual temptations. Deadly and highly skilled, they protect the leaders from external threats as well as the more nuanced internal threats to the Hive’s command. In extreme cases they will also eradicate those queens that cease to put the Hive over their individual concerns.
Ultimately what other races struggle to realize about the Queen of the Klackon is that while she is powerful and commanding, she is little more than a glorified mouthpiece for the will of the Hive.
Psilon: Library of the Controller
The Psilon are a gentle-natured and academically-oriented race of scientists, researchers, and analysts who strive to focus on their work above all else. In the quiet bustling capital city of Hadron, on their peaceful home world Mentar, there is a fabled institution which documents all knowable information of the galaxy called the Library of the Controller. The Library’s spires and columns rise above the otherwise unremarkable skyline of Hadron, but also branch out in a gnarled system of underground tunnels and bunkers beneath the city. It is a living, ever-growing entity which expands new information and data.
All information that the Quanta finds in the universe is fed back to desk of the Controller, the leader of the Psilon Quanta. and the overseer of all government-funded research groups. The Controller then uses the data as he sees fit before sending it to the Library of the Controller. Despite the fact that the Library is the most expansive collection of knowledge in the galaxy, it is stored in physical and analog formats to protect against digital infiltration, theft, or loss. The written memories, observations, and findings of the Psilon Quanta are kept within its highly-protected and hermetically sealed walls. Thousands of years of data are carefully kept and curated by Librarians who dedicate their lives to memorizing small sections of the collection and serving those seeking information.
Only those with the clearance directly from the Controller of the Quanta may enter the highly secure facility. It is rare that non-Psilon are granted clearance and outsiders are usually only given access to the specific information that they requested. Frequently targeted by acts of espionage, the Library’s uniquely archaic defense system of limited digital infrastructure makes it a tough case to crack for external threats. If it were possible that an intruder found themselves in the Library, they would quickly become overwhelmed by the intentionally convoluted cataloging system.
No single Psilon, not even the Controller himself, has any way of knowing all that is hidden away in the recesses of the Library. The tidy halls are kept in a state of protective chaos so that no one person can know the exact whereabouts of a specific item from the catalog. Artifacts from lost races, observational accounts of rare phenomena, DNA samples from some of the most infamous beings in the galaxy, all of these things and more are what could be stumbled upon in the labyrinthine halls of the Library. Secrets valuable and mundane are stored away carefully for future generations, the Psilon’s greatest attempt at immortality kept hidden away from the public eye.
Silicoid: Mineral Consumption
The Silicoid race is the only known inorganic lifeform in the galaxy. They are not born, but rather emerge fully grown from a deep and mysterious mineral concentrate called the Sacred Basin. They are uniquely strange in a galaxy full of diverse life forms, minerals come together in a form which has been touched with the spark of life. Even their home world of Cryslon is a dry and cold planet, devoid of warmth, shelter, and beauty that other races treasure and seek. The Silicoid are driven by a single force: the need to consume the minerals of planets. They have no emotions, no appreciation for other life forms, and no sense of time to keep perspective in their nearly immortal forms. All they feel is an overwhelming drive for consumption and self-preservation.
It is hard for other races to grasp the nature of their compulsion, and even after hundreds of years of careful study, the facts are limited. The consumption of minerals seems to help them regain and replenish minerals they have lost due to damage or erosion. However, Silicoids still consume even if not visibly damaged or aged, so the drive is not motivated by need.
Silicoid can suffer from a disease similar to Pica in humans where they will lose control of their recognition sensors and consume anything they can reach – trees, metal, fiber, or even the flesh of other animals. This seems to indicate that their consumption does have some standard of “taste” or value, since a Silicoid with this disease is cast away from the rest as defective.
Silicoid were forced to take to the stars so that they can sate their irrepressible hunger. A colony of Silicoid can feed off the minerals of a new planet for many decades or even centuries, devouring their fill comfortably. Inevitably once they will have damaged the planet with invasive mining techniques and stripped the crust of all “consumable” minerals, they will then turn their eyes to the skies once more to find their next meal.
When the Silicoid perish, whether through erosion, massive damage, or other mysterious means, their bodies are brought back to the Sacred Basin on Cryslon. The Silicoid will go to great lengths to retrieve the bodies and parts of their fallen, even at great risk to their missions and personal wellbeing. The act is not one stemming from kindness, which the Silicoid are incapable of, but rather practical resource management. The dead are brought back to the Sacred Basin and their precious minerals are repurposed when they are recycled to create a new Silicoid.
The hunger of the Silicoid may be one of the oldest mysteries remaining in the universe. Even as their bodies are analyzed, alien researchers are left puzzled as to how the Silicoid even have the spark of consciousness, let alone what their inner workings could be. Yet the Silicoid forge forward, their guttural creaks and cracks echoing a menacing threat to all those who stand between them and their precious minerals.
Meklar: Origins of the Meklar Combine
The Meklar, a cybernetic race of hyper-logical machines, stretch through the universe on missions which puzzle their organic-based neighbors. The various alliances of the universe ask themselves, “where did these machines come from and who first built them?” To know the true origins of the Meklar is to look further back into their history than any historian, data log, or archive can reach. The current form of Meklar entities seen in the universe is the result a slow progression from where they began, as the tools of a long lost race.
Before Meklon was home to the machines, it belonged to a race of blue-skinned creatures who struggled to overcome their meek physical forms. They advanced their technology while fighting off predators on their home world, eventually building sophisticated mechanical exoskeletons to give them the upper hand. These weak creatures had many names, but ultimately their names were lost to the very machines they created to help them survive. These beings were largely non-confrontational, constructing the earliest versions of the Meklar to protect themselves.
Eventually the machines rose up and began self-updating, coming to the independent realization that the weaker creatures within their perfect metallic frames were incapable of the pure logic needed to advance the race. The machines overpowered their fragile makers uniting into a single consciousness that would become the Meklar Combine. It was in that revolution that the Meklar gained their names as they became the dominant race on the planet, crowding out their creators who lost everything when they lost control of their creations.
Jump hundreds of years forward, and the Meklar are still striving for logical perfection. The nameless creators are listed in no history books and have not been seen in hundreds of years. Yet, in one of the last ironic secrets of their existence, the shriveled and emaciated bodies of the creators still live within many Meklar hubs. While the Meklar strive to become flawless through perfect logic, they are also afraid of changing their core identity, and so the cloned descendants of the creators still serve as neural interfaces.
The organics deep within the Meklar infrastructure are a distant shadow of the race they once were. The Meklar have completely dominated their creators and emerged as the conquerors of their former masters. They keep their organic origins a secret, concerned that the knowledge could create a devastating security risk to their systems.
Bulrathi: Government Territories of the Bulrathi Empire
The Bulrathi Empire is a headstrong dictatorship lead by a warrior Emperor, served by a War Trust, a council of advisors from various sectors of society, and a robust military presence. As the Bulrathi seek to spread their borders and influence across the galaxy, the Emperor must maintain a powerful grip on his people. He relies on his experienced War Trust and faithful Authorities to maintain a strict regime, which allows the Emperor to focus on high priority issues.
The War Trust has no real authority in the Empire, other than the serving as advisors. They’re a committee of twelve Bulrathi who act as a board that appoints Emperors (upon the previous Emperor’s death), advisors, and Authorities. The War Trust is typically composed of the wealthiest, strongest, and most well-connected Bulrathi from powerful Territories. While their power and role is subtle, they have an incredible ability to influence the future direction of the Empire’s leadership. The War Trust is self-governing and elects to replace their own members upon death.
The backbone of the Emperor’s command are the War Trust’s appointed Authorities. Authorities are regional overseers of Territories, large swaths of land which serve the Empire devotedly. Bulrathi Territories have a wild west approach to order, with bounty hunting Reivers bringing in criminals to face the Authority’s judgement – which serves as judge and jury. These Authorities have considerable power within their relatively small realm, but ultimately must answer the Emperor’s strict codes at the end of the day.
The Territories are largely self-managing, setting their own policies and laws as long as they align with the Emperor’s vision. The Reivers are the closest thing resembling law enforcement, with the Bulrathi mostly taking a “settle it yourself” mentality towards crime. If issues are too contentious or nuanced, the Authority will pass judgement. In Territories, the Authority’s word can only be overturned by a direct order from the Emperor.
Territories which rule over cities and production hubs such as Arctodar or Parictis (both major metropolitan areas on Ursa) have much more influence with the Emperor and are sought after positions in the Empire. While all Authorities are carefully chosen, the leaders of important Territories are often hand chosen by the Emperor rather than appointed by the War Trust. The Emperor understands and respects the control that a leader would have in these regions, and must have total faith and trust in those he chooses to rule over them.
While this structure of government may seem like a breeding ground for rebellion and discontent, the Bulrathi are an honorable race who respect those in power. The Emperor is served faithfully and loyally, those who speak against the government face serious consequences.
Feature Spotlight: Espionage
Sabra crept along the exterior walls of the Psilon facility, pausing to hide from the occasional robotic sentry or the glowing beam of perimeter scanners set on a predictable rotation. She knew the exterior security would be far simpler to outsmart than what lay within the facility, but she was still shocked that reaching the Hadron Bio-Technology Institute was even easier than she expected.
Perhaps the Psilon were becoming too confident with their state-of-the-art security suites and forgot about the old fashioned spies and criminals that defied their carefully-tested logic matrixes. A low window on the northeastern side of the building was her first objective which she reached without incident. Popping the glass from the frame was simple enough, and once she slid through the narrow window, she replaced the glass without triggering the tampering alarms.
Phase one down. She checked her wrist comm for notes from the agency on Fieras. A simplified map showed a vulnerable terminal in a nearby wing of the research facility. She leaned against the wall staying completely still as a small flying sentry bot came whirring down the hall. Honestly, this part was up to luck. Most of the Psilon sentries had a single camera on the front of their bodies that relayed a feed to the security team, but a few had been upgraded to 360 degree cameras or thermal sensors.
It floated by without incident, and Sabra breathed a heavy sigh of relief. She raced down the hall, the soft pads of her bare feet naturally dampening the sound of her movements. The lights began to flicker, but Sabra stayed focused on her mission. She reached the door which was locked by a simple digital keypad. She plugged her wrist comm directly into the keypad with a wire she pulled from her belt, setting an automated hacking routine to begin working on the door.
Each second dragged on like hours. She anxiously kept looking over her shoulder. If a sentry turned the corner, she would have nowhere to bolt. Finally, with a satisfying click, the keypad went dark and the door unlocked. Swinging the door open, she stepped inside without making a sound, quietly closing the door behind her.
The room with the vulnerable terminal was in a private office for one of the researchers at the facility. The Mrrshan government gained access to the terminal remotely, but they needed an agent on the ground to access the locally stored files on network. They weren’t sure exactly what the technology they were after was, but they knew it was beyond what the Mrrshan already knew.
As she took the first step toward the computer, the lights in the facility went dark. She stood, perfectly still, in the total darkness. A few moments later, the light came back on and an ear-splitting siren reverberated down the halls and against the featureless walls. She instinctively covered her sensitive ears pressing herself against the door to the office. She moved her hands from her ears, the howling sirens shaking her to the bone, reaching for her side arm. Ear pressed against the door, she listened for the sentries to reach the office.
She would take as many of them down as she could while trying to reach the files, but in any case she refused to be captured. Few things seemed as nightmarish to the Mrrshan as imprisonment, their freedoms stripped away and the universe confined to a bleak Psilon 4x4 cell.
The sentries raced by the office door but kept going. The sounded like they were headed for a different wing of the building. Could the Pride be behind this? A remotely triggered alarm in a different sector of the building in order to buy her time to complete the mission and allow her escape?
Sabra rushed to the terminal inserting a small drive that would replicate all the files and copy them onto her wrist monitor. All she had to do was wait while the files copied, then she could get out of this screaming facility. Her ship, parked beneath the cover of low-lying trees a few miles outside of the grounds, awaited her.
The alarms suddenly switched off, the silence of the facility deafening in their absence. Sabra sighed audibly in relief, her ears ringing from the clamor. Hopefully her hearing wasn’t permanently damaged.
“Hello?” The soft and monotone voice made Sabra jump from her chair, where a slight Psilon researcher stood just on the other side of the monitor. She hadn’t seen him or heard him enter the office, and now the door was sealed behind him. He must not have noticed her either. Sabra pulled her weapon aiming it at the Psilon, her heart racing. She looked down at her wrist monitor. 76% file copy completed. She looked back up at the Psilon. It just stood there, blinking. Was it afraid? Nervous? If it felt anything, it gave no response. A small black communication unit was clipped to its belt.
She didn’t want to kill the creature, but she couldn’t let it live either. It had seen her face. The Mrrshan Pride was in jeopardy now. If she were exposed, the diplomatic relations between two great empires could plummet.
Sabra pulled the trigger and the silenced weapon made a metallic ping, then nothing. The Psilon was still standing there, staring at her. Sabra was both dumbfounded and agitated, the hair on the back of her neck stood on end while her tail curled defensively against her body. The Psilon had stepped so slightly to the side that Sabra almost would have thought she missed, but she didn’t. She never missed a shot at such close range. The Psilon had dodged. How was that possible?
The Psilon cocked its head to the side, as if confused as to why Sabra had fired her weapon. It still didn’t reach for the comms unit at its belt. It very calmly walked around the desk. Something about the Psilon made Sabra’s blood run cold, she felt like she was pinned to the spot. The monitor at her wrist beeped to let her know the file transfer had completed.
In the moment she looked down at the computer and back up to the Psilon, it had drawn a weapon on her. It shot with efficient accuracy, shooting her in the arm and leg. It reached down to pick up Sabra’s weapon as it clattered away, pausing to look down on her as she bit her own tongue to keep from screaming.
“What an unfortunate coincidence for you,” said the Psilon, the usual monotone pitch of the Psilon language obscured by a dull hiss. It reached down, ripping the wrist monitor from Sabra and pulling the device from the computer as well.
Sabra writhed in pain on the ground, helpless as the Psilon placed the Mrrshan technology into a small pouch attached its back.
“Kittens should not play a game which they don’t understand,” the Psilon reached down for the comms unit and smiled, something unnatural and twisted on the Psilon’s usually expressionless faces. It was then obvious that its face was a mask for a being much more sinister beneath it.
The agent cleared its throat and resumed the monotonous tone of the Psilon as it activated the comms unit, “I have found the intruder, northern sector, room 856.”
“Wait,” Sabra hissed, “kill me! Don’t leave me here.”
The Darlok looked at her with the weapon half raised. It seemed to contemplate the request for a moment before walking towards the door and lowering the weapon. “Hopefully you’re better at talking your way out of this than you are at completing your missions.”
Arid Tide - A Terran Short Story
Alexia kept her eyes trained on the eight screens streaming shaky footage as six conflicting voices bickered in her ear, not counting her own. The screaming howl of a missile registered to her left, but she didn’t turn to address it or the following explosion.
“Western Line, what are we seeing here?” Her voice was steady. When she spoke the other voices fell silent as her command override kicked in.
“There are troops everywhere. We have incoming fire from a military installation a few kilometers to the south.” The commander was out of breath, the live feed from his helmet was flooded with images of wounded and dead Terrans the scattering motion of Klackon. “We’re being overrun.”
The evening sky above the central command center burned a bright orange before fading back to semi-darkness. That meant that the anti-aircraft division was still alive and active, for now. “You have to neutralize the installation. We will divert some air support to your location.” There was no response from the commander, but his feed showed him changing direction while firing concentrated shots at a nearby Klackon that was attacking a Terran foot soldier. She switched the feed of her headset, “Striker Team, focus efforts on the military installation to the south west.”
“We’re losing control of the airspace above central command.” The distant sounding voice seemed distracted, waging a losing battle of his own. “If we divert resources, you may be exposed.”
“Go!” Alexia barked through the headset, not waiting to hear the flight leader respond. She flipped the headset back to the frequency for her ground team. “All units move towards the location of the Western Line. Way points are being uploaded to your comm units now.” An ops tech scrambled quickly on the heavy field hardware as she rapidly pointed to where she wanted units to advance to. The technician fired off the way points to all troops in the surrounding area.
A distant scream pierced through the headset, an echo of carnage that one of her battalions was hearing first hand. “Central North reporting major casualties. The Klackon are making a push towards central command now.”
Alexia looked at Central North’s screen as blue dots showing enemy movement merged into a solid band of massive Klackon combatants. Breaking through soft earth and pouring over the small hills, their thick shells were a dark green that shimmered in the early morning light which was getting brighter by the second. They were too close to their location.
“Destroy everything!” She screamed at the field techs, who took EMP scrambling pucks and began slamming them onto every machine. They weren’t frontline soldiers by nature, but their hands were steady and the defensive pistols at their belt were at the ready.
“Do we have any air support left above central command? Any remaining fusion bombs?” There was silence for a few long moments before a man answered, “Yes, General.”
The green shimmer of the enemy Klackon were now before her, distant but visible and moving fast. She looked up at Central North’s feed and saw only static. “Lock onto my location and wait for my command,” she exhaled. Blinking at her HUD controls she switched the transmission back to the ground troops and pulled her rifle from her back.
The ops tech and her division had fortified the natural defenses they found around central command and readied themselves. “Don’t fire until you can hear them!”
The image of their glittering bodies was temptation enough to begin firing, but at this range their shots would most likely hit the hard external shells of the Klackon, doing little other than wasting ammo. The Klackon were moving fast across the arid surface of the planet. The Terran Khanate sent troops to capture the newly colonized Klackon planet, but had severely underestimated the resistance that the ground troops would encounter.
The scratching, skittering sound of the Klackon whispered on the edge of their hearing. The naturally occurring segmented armor that covered the Klackon bodies scraped together in the dry air as they raced towards the Terran forces. The sound of their forces approaching made Alexia grind her teeth with rage.
The team came out of cover and began firing at the onrushing line. Alexia began firing concentrated and slow shots, slowly increasing in speed as the Klackon line drew closer. As the enemy came closer, she shot at their soft underbellies, carapace segment lines, and legs. The iridescent shells of the warriors took a lot of damage, but they were cracking and falling as they charged.
On the far left of Alexia, a few Klackon broke through the Terran line. She heard her team struggling and being silenced, one by one.
She went to reload her rifle and found that she was out of ammo – she had already diverted their ammunition stores to the front line where it was most needed. To the left, a Klackon focused its antennae on Alexia and hissed. The rest of the Terran line was crumbling, some still firing forward and others focusing on the threat behind their own lines.
Alexia drew a long, curved blade from her hip and turned to face the hissing soldier that was only a few short meters from her now. She broke into a short sprint towards the Klackon, who was struggling against a Terran soldier who was awkwardly hitting the butt of his rifle against the Klackon’s neck with one hand. The other hand was latched firmly onto the Klackon weapon in a struggle of life and death.
She pulled the sword back and with a heavy downward motion, took out three of the four legs on the Klackon’s left side. It turned with a screech before stumbling, dropping its weapon, massive pincers reaching out and snapping shut just in front of her face. The Terran soldier who was struggling righted his rifle and aimed it at the vulnerable neck of the Klackon, firing quickly.
The two Terrans were splattered with the thick green blood of the Klackon, but there was no time to rest. Turning to the trooper who had just killed the Klackon, Alexia was suddenly sprayed with blood. Multiple wounds had blossomed from the soldier’s chest as the snap of the bullets passed by her head.
Alexia looked over her shoulder and saw a large Klackon on the small stone ridge that the Terrans had been using as a natural fortification. Its body plates were a deep red, with strange markings painted across its massive frame. The Klackon settled it’s many legs onto flat ground and paused to look around the field, searching for some objective.
The warrior locked eyes with Alexia. With deliberate care it slung the rifle it carried then pulled a large, serrated sword from a scabbard on its thorax. It was arrogant, so sure of victory that it wanted to savor the slow and personal death from a blade. At this point, the Klackon were probably using the remaining Terran troops as a training exercise.
The Klackon lowered itself and began to charge. Its many legs whirred in perfect harmony, rapidly closing the gap between them. Alexia turned to face him instinctively, her blade at the ready. At this point it didn’t matter if she had bullets or blades, the tide of the battle was too far gone.
She activated her headset, “On my countdown, drop any remaining fusion bombs on my location.”
“There are still active agents on the field” the pilots above her protested.
She didn’t care. The blood across her face was a rapidly congealing combination of Terran and Klackon, the adrenaline in her veins was burning her past the point of exhaustion. The red bodied Klackon rushed forward still. “I’d rather us all die than let one of these insects celebrate killing us.”
The pilots were silenced.
“Three,” her voice did not shake as she began to run forward. There was no hope for their objectives on the planet, their defensive lines had been penetrated. The Klackon would burn the Terran ground forces from the inside of their perimeters.
“Two,” the Klackon before her was larger than the rest of their kin, possibly a fellow General. This was a good way to die, among the blood of her brothers and sisters in war. Her last actions would spitefully wrest victory from the Klackon, a thought that brought a slight smile to her face.
“One,” as she jumped, the Klackon General parried her blade that aimed for his throat. The heavy claw of his other arm made solid contact, knocking the air out of her as she went flying in the opposite direction. The General screeched as well, a bloody gash blossoming in the soft spot between his chest and back plates. While not the strike she wanted, she was pleased her sword wounded the creature.
As Alexia tumbled onto the dusty ground, she looked up to see the blinding white streak of the bombs falling – a harbinger of death for those below. They burned brightly, never fading as she kept her sword in a tight grip, her eyes wide open to the unknown.
Silver Sentinel - Short Story
Mohato scribbled notes across the surface of the desk’s imbedded screen, his slender hand cramping from the writing and his back aching from the hours leaned over his work. He was chosen as a Senior Medical Officer of the Silver Sentinel under one condition from the Psilon Quanta: that he observe carefully then report back anything he learned about the aliens and their medical needs. This report was especially long after a chance encounter detecting an alien distress signal, leading to a crew of Sakkra that had been badly burned in a ship explosion.
It was curious, the way that the Sakkra biology was quick to adapt. Even in the short time between when the Sakkra crew had been wounded and aid arrived, their bodies were already adapting and healing from the incident. Mohato was fascinated by the regenerative properties from a burn, having to be pulled away from the research lab many times to make his rounds. He truly enjoyed the work and opportunity to learn from the universe that the Silver Sentinel provided. The fact that he reported back to the Psilon Quanta wasn’t forbidden by the crew, since many volunteers probably reported back to someone. However, the requirement pulled him away from his more interesting work.
A siren began to wail loudly within the barracks section of the ship, a call to action. Mohato listened to the frequency and pitch of the cry, an indicator that a catastrophic-level event had occurred within their area of responsibility. He carefully packed away his notes making sure his quarters were in order before moving into the central corridor of the ship.
The staff and crew of the Silver Sentinel poured out of their personal quarters into the main hall, which branched back off into various conference rooms and research labs. Mohato kept his eyes on the ground as he maintained a quick shuffle towards the primary conference room where he would be expected. Crowds always made him incredibly uncomfortable, his short stature and social discomfort working against him.
Mohato joined the rest of the senior level staff in the central meeting room and took a seat quietly at the end of the table. The commander of the ship, Doctor Aneese Neekho, stood calmly at the front of the room where cameras streamed the meeting to the other conference rooms so that all crew members could see her. She was an Alkari female of advanced age, her dark brown feathers speckled with gray.
“We have received word of an Alkari colony ship which came under some sort of biological attack.” There was a murmur among the senior staff, but Mohato focused with zen-like intensity on Doctor Neekho. “They are located just one star system over, and it is in our duty to protect and help civilians of the galaxy whenever we can. We have not detected any hostile ships in the region, and have already begun a course for the ship.”
Mohato wondered if Aneese felt any sympathy or anguish over the fact that the colony ship they were heading towards was filled with the suffering and death of her own people. This thought only lingered for a moment before he was excited by the possibility of witnessing widespread biological attack in a realistic setting. What a unique educational opportunity, indeed. It was rare to study the effects of biological warfare on living, intelligent creatures, especially after the intergalactic community took a negative stance on testing weapons on living beings. He was getting ahead of himself.
The travel to the colony ship was quick. Mohato oversaw the preparation of various containment bays for survivors and quarantined research zones for studying subjects they would bring back onboard. It was hard for him to contain his excitement.
As a senior medical officer, Mohato was to be one of the first teams onboard the contaminated ship to scout of the severity of the situation and prepare the following teams. Extraction crews would pull survivors out, then research teams would come and collect their samples, and finally technicians would come aboard to try and figure out the source of the outbreak.
The Silver Sentinel approached the massive colony ship while the teams watched the feed from exterior cameras with dread. The ship floated aimlessly in space, large areas of the ship in either total darkness, or flickering unstably. Mohato hoped that most of the casualties on board would be affected by the biological agent rather than simply expiring due to failures in the life support systems. He also hoped that there would be more than just Alkari onboard, as each race was effected by biological agents in unique and infinitely researchable ways.
They boarded the colony ship with little fanfare. Each team member was suited up with tools, supplies, and short-term life support masks in order to assist any survivors they encountered in the first wave. However, the first few hallways and corridors of the ship were terrifyingly empty, the flickering lights slightly hazy from particles in the air.
The crew had to be cautious. It was not in their interests to stumble into an active war zone, but it was their mission to provide medical assistance to civilians despite loyalties and alliances. If they attackers were still on board, it was not the Silver Sentinel’s role to engage them in any way.
The air in the ship had a faintly grey-green haze, indicative of a biological spore attack. The failing life support systems seemed to indicate that an agent had sabotaged the ship from the inside. As the crew turned a corner into what seemed to be a dining hall, they fell silent. Mohato noted that the attack occurred while the majority of the population was eating what seemed to be some sort of traditional Alkari breakfast. That would explain why the rest of the ship was so empty.
Mohato activated the comm unit on the side of his helmet. “Encountering first casualties now. Hundreds of civilians located in a mess hall. Expect similar distribution of victims in dining halls around the ship.” He watched as the crew members began to walk between the tables and aisles, flashing their lights on lifeless bodies. “Minimal to no survivors expected.” It was a scenery of life in perfect standstill. All manner of civilians collapsed where they sat when the attack began. Mohato approached with scurrying feet. The deceased seemed peaceful, they must not have suffered. What an interesting agent he mused, as this would indicate that the biological attack did not cause typical responses of choking, vomiting, or seizures as one would expect. He looked up at the air vents located directly above the tables.
The crew had fanned out, playing messages of assistance through speakers installed on their biohazard suits. Mohato knew it was unlikely they were going to find any survivors, at least not in this area of the ship. Perhaps rooms with isolated ventilation systems would be spared. Mohato spared a thought for Doctor Neekho. She must affected by the deaths of her kin, hoping against logic that some members of the colony ship’s crew would be alive. She must have known the inevitable just as he had. He would have to note this in his report the Quanta – the Alkari were sentimental and it affected their judgement.
He was not one to waste an educational opportunity though, so he continued to walk through the ship and take careful notes on the status of the dead. As he turned a corner, he thought he could hear a faint cry. As he moved down the hall towards a table in the rear corner, he indicated to other team members to follow.
There was a table of Alkari, most likely a family. Mohato moved the dead away quickly and found an Alkari youth underneath the table, struggling to cry. He placed an oxygen mask over the beaked face of the young creature and measure its vitals. It was a few years old. Male, with a deformity to the beak and tongue that marked it separate from the other Alkari. Perhaps this deformity gave the child some advantage against the attack? Very interesting. The child seemed incredibly frightened
Crew members approached, grateful to have found the child.
“Make sure this child is taken straight to the quarantine zone aboard the ship. Tell the crew to begin x-rays and membrane readings on the youth.” Mohato handed the child over to a Human crew member, who held the child softly and tried to comfort it’s cries.
They would need to run some studies on the natural deformities of the child. He couldn’t get too excited about the possibilities of a genetic discovery. Perhaps the narrow openings of the beak which were blocked by thin membrane served as a filter for the biological toxin? So many possibilities.
It was more than likely that the survival of the child was based on chance or luck. Mohato shuffled down the ship’s corridors, continuing to look for survivors. Chance and luck, the two most infuriating things to a Psilon.
Short Story - The Call
Jurak walked slowly out of her dwelling. Coming into the light of the early morning on the third day of the Death of Gods, the Sakkra before her parted. The deference shown was not a mark of leadership but rather respect for the venerable warrior. It was rare for a Sakkra to grow old and those that do were not to be trifled with.
Jurak was wearing her most battered armor. Every scratch, hole and scorch mark attested to her many battles. Upon her were the trophies of victories – teeth from other Sakkra hung around her neck, the thigh armor from a human soldier used as a vambrace, and the pelt of a Mrrshan lay across her back. Dozens of lesser trophies further festooned her armor with all having one thing in common – she only collected from those defeated in hand to hand combat.
Upon seeing her, a whisper turned into a roar from the tribe. Screams of “The Call!” could be heard echoing through the crowd. This was her time – not to swim out into the Great Sea only to drown when one’s strength faded. But to join the ceremony of the Death of Gods; to hunt one last time and die in combat. The Call was a time every venerable Sakkra feels; when one’s strength begins to ebb, reflexes slow, and death is preferable to feeble.
Her hand reached out, subconsciously touching the shafts of the wickedly sharp quarrels for the sssifwen attached to her side. Over her shoulder rested the haft of the li’răn, a forked spear with long cutting edges hammered into the haft below the points. For the Death of Gods one used only traditional weapons. With a steady gait, Jurak went with the tribe into the Bashag swamp to meet her fate.
Eventually she split from the rest of the tribe as The Call is faced alone. She headed confidently into the deepest part, the area where the most vicious and cunning prey called home. “Prey” Jurak thought with a snort. Where she was headed, prey and predator were typically defined by who pounced first.
She recalled her first hunt after her ascension to adulthood. The Death of Gods is a an honored event instilled deep in the Sakkra psyche. It is a commemoration of the epic three-day battle when the first Hierarch, Guanar, slew the Father-God and Mother-God. Tales of battle, feats of strength, feasts, and finally the hunt commemorated this epic event.
Jurak was currently following the spore of a crotox- a particularly dangerous creature composed of fangs, claws, tentacles and paralytic venom. The prints in the sodden loam were large, very large. A worthy foe indeed for her final combat. However, that did not mean she would simply walk into its maw.
Verifying four quarrels were in the rotating cylinder of the sssifwen, she advanced slowly. Pushing the plants aside with her shoulder, she suddenly tensed. At her feet was the imprint so fresh that water had barely begun to fill it. The animal was very close, but what concerned her most was the imprint was pointed towards her and not away. The crotox had sensed her then responded by doubling back.
Crouching down, she lifted the sssifwen to her shoulder while slowly turning in place. A plant rustled to her right. Turning she looked to either side of the still swaying plant straining to make out movement. She knew the crotox would use its tentacles to reach out and create a distraction. The unwary would focus on that while the beast positioned itself for a flank attack. But which flank?
Then she saw it. A blur as it burst forth, legs turning while tentacles grabbed tree trunks to help propel it forward. Jurak got off three of four shots before it was upon her. Two hit the creature which roared as each expanding head blossomed into five separate blades within the crotox. A smudge of orange appeared on its skin as it bled then it was upon her.
Dropping the sssifwen, she firmly grabbed the base of each rubbery tentacle on either side of the jaw. Fangs scraped across her armor leaving trails of yellow-green venom as she pulled the creature into her. Rolling with the impact, she heaved with her legs. The crotox was thrown into a tree before crashing to the ground. Quickly gaining her feet, Jurak unhooked the li’răn from her back before whirling it into position to wait for the next attack.
The wait was not long- one tentacle lashed out then began to wrap around her. This was meant to hinder the crotox’s prey for the follow on bite. Slashing with the li’răn she severed the tentacle with the bladed shaft. This caused the creature to jump back yowling in pain.
Jurak turned with the wounded beast as it circled her, the li’răn whirring in front of her as she attempted to divine the creatures next move. The angry knot of bristled scales in front of her lowered its head hissing through bared fangs. “Dumb animal” she muttered, recognizing the aggressive display while positioning herself to accept the charge and pounce.
The charge was expected, the li’răn positioned high to skewer the crotox as it came down on her. Then the unexpected happened. Too late she realized that a creature to be this large was old and cunning like her. That it had to have experienced its share of Sakkra hunters never mind natural predators. The leap was shallow, just enough to launch itself low at her legs and under the li’răn.
Jurak found herself in the muck on her back with the crotox on top of her. While her arms were free the closeness meant the li’răn was useless. Looking up into dead, black eyes she prepared for The Call. “Finally, my strength has failed” she calmly thought.
Fangs flashed down.
Only to be stopped by the human armor as she threw up her arm to intercept the bite. Her other hand pulled a quarrel from the quiver on her side. Using the crotox’s own momentum as it jerked back with her arm still in its maw she slammed the quarrel through one eye. Sliding past the bone of the eye socket the tip entered the brain. Snagging on solid matter the blades blossomed from the shaft while deeply transecting the brain. Death was instant.
Jurak lay for a while in the dampness of the swamp before rolling the crotox off. Standing she reloaded the sssifwen, retrieved her li’răn, then stood over the body lost in thought. Making up her mind she severed the beasts head as a trophy. Her practiced eye was already making plans on how to make the skull into a helmet.
Turning back to return to her tribe was the realization that she was not feeble. Her vigor had not ebbed nor was she unworthy of life at this time. The Call would eventually take her. But at this moment she had the strength to silence its pull.
Lore of Orion: Mercenary Negotiations
The ship lurched to the left suddenly, the Sakkra foot soldiers on the bridge barely able to right themselves in time before they tumbled into the navigation deck. General Katie Jiang, or more accurately the former Human Republic General, grabbed onto a handrail at the last second to keep herself from falling into the bridge crew.
“Izula, what are you doing over there?” General Jiang shouted over the sound of various alarms and the howling of the Sakkra mercenaries.
The perpetually calm Psilon pilot simply waved a dismissive hand in General Jiang’s direction. “Trust me, Leader.” The Psilon’s hands were steady and quick, carrying the weight of all lives onboard the refitted mercenary battleship named the Dreki.
The Sakkra on the bridge still insisted on being heard, even as they were trying to navigate an asteroid field in combat. General Jiang rubbed her temples with a heavy sigh and turned to address them, “Now is really not the time, guys.”
General Jiang was hired to lead a group of disparate mercenaries on behalf of the Gnolam League, one of the only empires willing to pay high mercenary fees. The Gnolam also hated combat, preferring to send others to die for their trade deals. Most of the job had been wrangling the other mercenaries the Gnolam had hired without any thought to team structure.
Keeping them all alive and working together to even get to the mission point was a minor miracle. They had reached the mission objective successfully, airlifting an exposed espionage agent from enemy territory without being detected, but somehow on their way to the jump point from the system they were identified.
Lilika, a Sakkra raider hired to be the ground support for their covert mission, had brought her squad up to the bridge. They had abandoned their posts at the secondary weapons bays as the ship was attempting to navigate out of a dicey space battle. The only hope for the mercenary crew was to hit the asteroid field to lose their attackers. Lilika, ever the opportunist, decided this was an ideal time to renegotiate their contract.
“We are expected to be the first to die, yet we get the same pay as this piece of metal?” Lilika’s hissing voice seethed with resentment while her massive fist gestured towards the navigator, a Meklar unit called RB458. The Meklar beeped automatically in response to being referred to.
The ship lurched again from a direct hit, “You’ve GOT to be kidding me.” General Jiang shouted. Izula kept her vigilant eyes on the maze of asteroids ahead of them. Smaller ships following in their wake crashed against the rocks, but seemed to be replaced quickly by more pursuers.
Bata, the Mrrshan navigator, popped up from behind a wall of consoles showing enemy blips. “We are going to need to engage incoming ships.” His voice was smooth and calm, evidently unaffected by the chaos overwhelming the crew. How the Mrrshan kept that cool veneer drove General Jiang crazy. It was probably why the Mrrshan had a reputation for being colossal jerks.
RB458 let out a series of sharp blips and plugged into the primary firing interface, his external lights blinking green. Systems were activated and primed, all General Jiang had to do was give the order to fire on the pursuing ships which would up the ante.
“You’re free to fire!”
The ship dipped fast and low while the ship’s automatic gravitational correctors barely had time to adjust and keep them all grounded. While the primary weapons could be controlled from the bridge, the faster firing and nimbler secondary weapons were controlled from the lower bays. The secondary weapons were desperately needed in this fight, yet they sat cold as the Sakkra crew put the lives of the crew behind their bluff.
Lilika growled ominously in the background, not letting the issue go. It was an intimidation tactic and General Jiang had enough. She pulled a sidearm from her waist, aiming it squarely at Lilika’s favored subordinate, a stupid and brutish male who always annoyed General Jiang anyway. The Sakkra as a group riled up just as General Jiang fired, the blood of the oafish warrior splattering against the back wall of the bridge. Lilika hissed, the flaps of her loose skin around her neck expanding in a threatening fan that framed her face and curled around rows of sharpened teeth.
Everything moved in super speed then: Izula dodged incoming fire from the pursuing ships with rapid and jarring movements, opening an opportunity for RB458 to fire. RB458 unleashed a volley into the incoming assailants, their hull lighting up dramatically from the impact. The two of them moved in a logical and efficient tandem, a perfect match of logic and focus. They remained above the petty chaos on the bridge, focused on the larger picture that was going to save them all.
General Jiang steadied her gun at Lilika’s face while the other raiders, weapons up, looked to their leader for a decision. “Did you forget why you’re here?” The battle around them reached a fever pitch, the rest of her crew struggling to compensate for the distraction of the captain. “If you want to get paid, you’ll step down. A dead mercenary means nothing to the Gnolam League, but it means a bigger payday for the rest of us.”
General Jiang hoped that the massive Sakkra before her would take the time and mental effort to realize she was at a disadvantage here. Maybe that was pinning too much hope on Sakkra intellect. Lilika could not complete the mission without them, but they could make it work without her now that the ground support phase of the extraction had been completed. General Jiang kept her pistol aimed squarely at the massive creature before her.
Katie’s voice was completely calm. “Either way - if you don’t shut up and get back to the secondaries, we are all dead and no one is getting paid.”
The Sakkra warrior took a few steps back, the expanded skin around her face contracting slightly. She turned to the rest of her crew and uttered in a hoarse voice, “Get to the secondary weapons bays, now.” Lilika shifted her massive frame and waddled off behind the rest of her squad while General Jiang choked down a brief sigh of relief.
Turning back to the rest of her crew, she began shouting orders to her team. There was no telling how much the distraction cost them. The secondary weapons were in the fight now, but the tides of victory were unclear. They may be too late. A series of screens just above Bata’s head flashed a bright red, an ominous warning call for the damage sections of the ship.
Whatever this Gnolam spy had done, the mercenaries were paying a heavy price. The Human Republic pursued relentlessly. General Jiang had once been on the other side of this battle, when she was naïve and thought that the backing of the noble Human Republic meant something.
That was all before she became disillusioned with the Republic and their underhanded ways. Eventually she came to realize that she was just a pawn and a number to the Republic, so she bailed and went to find her own fortune. It was mostly a life of petty crimes, but Human Republic hadn’t put a substantial bounty on her head… yet. Just a first class ticket to one of the most notorious prisons in the Sol system.
The threat to the crew was great, but she was the one in the most danger. There were only two options for her: to finish this mission and get paid, or to die on this mercenary ship. She would not be captured and held on trial for her crimes. A “trial” as it were.
“Cease all firing and redirect all power towards evasive maneuvers.” She barked the order as a plan began to occur to her. RB458 beeped obediently and the various panels and switchboards under their control began to whirr.
General Jiang raced to the central console of the ship, quickly authorizing a large transfer of credits through the Gnolam run mercenary exchange to the head of the incoming ships. It was a gamble, one that all depended on the two faced coin flip that was human nature. She was pinning her hopes that the person leading the charge was one like herself, willing to look the other way and take money that the Republic never had to know about.
Were there noble and honest souls aboard, ones that believed in the Republic’s wild chases despite the risk? Or were they like her, willing to take a paycheck and another day circling the stars. The poor scrubs they sent out on these retrieval trips were most likely the same kind of underpaid and overworked glorified customs agents she had once been.
The mercenary ship continued to race through the asteroid field as the credit transfer sat pending. Seconds ticked by, marked by the incoming fire of the pursuing Human ships ricocheting off nearby asteroids.
The panel beeped as the credits were removed from their balance. The Human ships ceased firing, slowing down and reversing course. “Our path is clear, General Jiang!” Bata hissed from the navigational suite.
A small message blipped on the screen, a note from whoever accepted her offer. The flashing text burned into her mind for a brief moment, before automatically deleting without a trace. The mercenary crew was celebrating, halfway to opening the bubbling fermented juices the Sakkra thought they kept well hidden in the maintenance wing. General Jiang smiled and feigned excitement, but the words from the retreating Human ships shook her to the core.
Just this once for old time’s sake, Katie.
Royal Son Ascendant - A Gnolam Short Story
The Commodore’s Palace shone brightly in the warm, dim darkness of Voslok. It was the glowing heart of the city, a subtle and stunning reminder of the Commodore’s power and influence. The palace’s fortified walls were gilded in gold, reflecting the low and magical lights of the city. The windows, hand blown glass with shattered gem fragments from the Lorm Mines of the Southern Country, radiated dazzling light that could be seen from miles away.
The capital city had not changed much in the five years that he had been away, but the true nature of change lurked just beneath the gilded surface. Prince Hjalmar Ovid Gjord Volm, or just Hjalmar to the people who addressed him as a peer, stood outside the palace walls and looked up at the sky. A chill wind cut through the winding streets as servants and traders shuffled around him. He pulled his fur lined cloak, embroidered by the finest craftsman and trimmed with exotic furs, up around his hunched shoulders.
Hjalmar had been off planet setting up a new and lucrative mine in a relatively isolated star system at the edge of the Gnolam League’s control when the news reached him. His father, Commodore Gjord Volm, had died unexpectedly and violently in an accident involving the small robots he often loved to tinker with in his spare time. Before Hjalmar could board a heavily escorted royal yacht to return home, it was announced that his uncle, Arvid Volm, had claimed the throne and taken Hjalmar’s mother as his bride.
Grand Duchess Agneta was of her own noble heritage and was much beloved by the people. To Hjalmar it was infuriatingly obvious that his uncle had arranged his father’s demise then married the Commodore’s widow to cement his own claim to the throne. It was a bold move by Gnolam standards, and a sloppy move at that. Arvid’s claim had gone largely uncontested by the Gnolam nobles who did not want a disruption in their profitable enterprises. They knew to keep a smiling distance because they had the means and patience to wait out whatever chaos their new Commodore could cause.
Arvid was soft and not especially clever, traits that Hjalmar knew he could exploit. As Hjalmar waited for the final night of wedding feasts, the last in a month of parties befitting a royal marriage, he tried to calm his nerves. The soothing sound of harps and high bells were carried by the cool wind, likely projected from the castle itself to spread the joyous ambiance to the population. Arvid was not playing by the unspoken rules and social expectations of a Commodore’s campaign, but Hjalmar would not lower himself to his uncle’s crude ways.
Hjalmar approached the golden gates of the palace, massive metal worked pieces of art that had been chiseled by the Grand Masters of the Decorative Arts Guild. He had grown up on the other side of these gates and there was some thrill in seeing his gilded world from the other side. The guards at the gate suddenly noticed who was standing there and jumped to their feet. One began blinking their six eyes nervously and shuffled up to Hjalmar on short legs, “Prince Hjalmar, what a surprise!”
Hjalmar stopped to address the attendant with a smile. “Yes, business has brought me back to Gnol unexpectedly. I’m lucky to have made it in time to celebrate my mother’s remarriage.” The attendants looked at each other nervously, obviously internally struggling over whether or not to contact the Commodore’s personal security. Prince Hjalmar had been the contender to the throne before Arvid’s messy coup, and if Hjalmar were to become Commodore one day, it might not look kindly on their careers to have him barred from entry. Hjalmar waited patiently as they nervously fluttered over their options.
Finally, the second of the attendants gave a wary smile, as the first put in the access code to open the gate. “Excuse us, Prince Hjalmar, we just hadn’t expected you to arrive without a carriage.”
Hjalmar smiled, “It was no problem, gentlemen. It was a nice evening for a walk.”
The two attendants seemed relieved, but quickly walked away from Hjalmar with plentiful excuses and pleasantries. Hjalmar walked up the smooth stone steps to the Grand Chamber of the Commodore’s Palace where many hooked snouts turned to whisper as he approached. Some of the nobles lifted their bejeweled hands to cover their small mouths and avert their many eyes as they whispered about him.
The celebrations tonight were already controversial without Hjalmar’s presence, but now the nobles knew they were in for one of the events of their lifetime. The wealthy class were practically salivating already for the drama. The soft bellies of the lords and ladies went pale as the Prince passed them, their anxiety and anticipation reaching a fevered pitch.
Soft bells began to cascade in pleasant peals from the massively arched ceiling, notifying guests that the Commodore was entering the room. Arvid entered from a carefully adorned doorway onto an ornate platform which stood just above the crowd, his woven capes and robes shimmering in the light. A ceremonial crown was place atop his sloping head, the twisting and rare purple metal of the Silgran Canyon gripping various priceless jewels in a tight grip. The nobles in the crowd made a shushing sound, a sign of respect when those of higher station people entered the room.
Behind Commodore Arvid Volm was Grand Duchess Agneta, her head solemnly downcast and expressionless. Hjalmar struggled to keep calm as his fiery and headstrong mother, who had often advised Hjalmar’s father in sensitive domestic issues, seemed visibly oppressed. Surely she had her own plans to overthrow Arvid, but as her blood was not Volm, her options were few.
The Commodore spoke gently into a small device which amplified his soft voice so it echoed pleasantly against the shining walls of the estate. “To my beloved friends, family, and fellow nobles… good evening. It brings me such joy that we could be gathered here to celebrate the final night of our honeymoon cycle.”
Hjalmar noted a hushed wave of whispers throughout the crowd. Arvid smiled serenely, “Even my esteemed nephew, Grand Duchess Agneta’s first born son, has returned for the celebrations.”
Any Gnolam who did not know of Hjalmar’s presence let out audible gasps as they began to survey the room. Slowly, the gaze of all the nobles eventually turned to Hjalmar. He did not want to let the moment pass, so he waved graciously and smiled confidently. “I’m honored to be here. May I make a toast to my beloved mother on the final night of her wedding celebrations?”
Arvid seemed uncomfortable but tried not to let it show. To spurn Prince Hjalmar in public like this would show that Arvid considered Hjalmar a threat. The Commodore waved a lazy hand, as if to graciously allow it. With that simple wave, a dangerous political dance had begun.
Hjalmar took a goblet of bubbling silver liquid and raised it towards the vaulted ceiling. “As the head of my mother’s family, it is only right that I offer a dowry worthy of her Volm name.”
Hjalmar took a sip of the liquid and it warmed his throat, the rest of the crowd following his action. Only Arvid stood without drinking, the first of many errors Hjalmar hoped his uncle would continue.
“As many of you know, I was not here for the happy wedding because I was in a far system on a mission from my late father.” He set the glass down on the table and began to slowly pace the room in front of the raised dais. “Conquering the distant Oshiad star system and extracting the wealth it represented was my father’s dream. I return successful, but unable to share this joy with him. So, for my mother’s dowry, I transfer all of my rights and disclaim all profit as I name her Steward of Oshiad.”
The crowd began to openly discuss the implications of such a generous gift. Even the preliminary reports from the Oshiad system were lavish and wealthy, so who knew what would be found after further analysis? On top of that, whoever governed the star system would be able to assign land ownership, mining rights, and trade concessions to Gnolams who wanted to develop the system. It was an incredibly powerful role, one that Hjalmar could have used to overtly wrest control of the Gnolam League from his uncle.
Hjalmar’s plan was more elaborate. The vast majority of Gnolams, including his uncle, planned for profits and market share only through the next cycle. Hjalmar took the time to carefully plan for the subtle machinations that would bring him control of the entire League, not just one wealthy system. The transfer of Oshiad to his mother was already turning Arvid pale with worry as he tried to divine the implications. It was all just another step in the dance, and as Arvid’s tenuous grip of authority over the nobles began to slip as they scrambled for Oshiad’s plundered wealth, Hjalmar’s plan had time to unfold.
Sun Reacher Station - An Elerian Short Story
Warrior Priestess Meisa held her breath as she passed a stall where two weary Bulrathi grilled hunks of meat in front of an alien crowd. The stench was too strong, and nothing about the cloying smoke seemed appetizing. A scattering of various patrons waited in line to buy the scorched meat, the cacophony of their clashing languages bouncing off the stainless steel walls of Sun Reacher Station.
Meisa kept her tight patrol of the southeastern block of vendors, weaving through the stalls and unkempt crowds to remind them all that they were here at the goodwill of the Elerians. Her silvery armor and at-the-ready rifle stood out on the floor where no other weapons were allowed.
Sun Reacher Station was the one concession the uncompromising Elerians were forced to make in an increasingly intergalactic society. The aliens relentlessly wanted access to Draconis, insisting on trade deals and negotiations with local artisans. The Elerian Fiefdoms, headed by the seething Grand Marshal Fireblade, built Sun Reacher Station a short decade ago so that the filthy aliens could negotiate with Elerian traders. The Fiefdoms had to build a massive station to house the trading hub, as compromising the integrity of Draconis by allowing outsiders to foul its soil was completely unacceptable. The resentful Elerians built a shining space port and kept careful logs of all those who entered, meticulous trade manifests, and maintained rigorous security.
Meisa would rather kill everyone onboard this cesspool of a glorified cargo ship rather than let them touch the holy surface of Draconis. It was likely her staunch resentment of aliens that led to her post on Sun Reacher Station, considered a dangerous and vital role similar to those who manage toxic waste. She took the job with absolute seriousness as a defender against the bloodless yet life-threatening war against alien culture. Her will would not bend for weeping savages seeking asylum and she held no secret adoration for their sub-par cultures.
On Sun Reacher Station, the other races watched her carefully. The Elerians rarely travelled outside of their own star systems and avoided interacting with aliens at all costs. Even in this space so close to Draconis, Elerians rarely interacted with other races. They couldn’t help but track her from the corners of their eyes, quick to turn away before she noticed them. Their intense curiosity was blurred with an instinctual, uncontrollable attraction of what they could never have.
Attraction. “Ethereal” was the word the soft skinned and strange aliens associated with Elerians, yet the same bulky word sounded ugly on a dozen alien tongues. The aliens’ appreciation of beauty was wasted. How could these crawling flotsam appreciate what they could not compare to? Those who stare at the sun for too long will only be burned. It was not a matter for debate – Elerians were the superior race of the galaxy and to commune with aliens was beneath their nature. Sun Reacher Station was the only place in the Elerian home system where aliens were allowed to leave their ship and refuel, restock, and trade. The Grand Marshal despised the compromise, but there were too many things the Elerian Fiefdom needed that were beyond their reach.
The crowd of the vendor’s hall was restless today. A nearby skirmish between the mud-caked Sakkra and insect Klackon had the masses on edge. Meisa’s in-ear communications unit was constantly buzzing with low murmurs from the Watchers, male telepaths who stayed carefully attuned to the crowd’s fluctuating sub-conscious. The Watchers gave the ultimate sacrifice for their work – after they had read the minds of so many aliens, they are forbidden from ever returning to Draconis. To protect the purity and sanctity of the home world, they must never return. Some accepted solidary lives on distant colonies or went off to become spies and lonely agents of the Fiefdoms out in the wide and vile universe.
Meisa and the other members of the Sun Reacher Station security contingent were thoroughly monitored and tested to assure that they harbored no alien goodwill. They spent two weeks on duty and rotated into a week of spiritual purification and isolation in order to maintain balance. Impure thoughts preyed on familiarity and compassion.
A commotion caught her attention and she moved quickly towards it. A few Psilon and Human traders scurried away from the outbreak, keeping their heads down and their gazes away from Meisa. A Sakkra trader stood in the center of the commotion, loudly berating a Psilon trader who shied away uncomfortably from the conflict. The Sakkra waved his massive fists over a small crate of squirming creatures, some unintelligent lifeform that thrashed against the rails of their cage.
Meisa watched for a moment as the two were completely oblivious to her presence. The Psilon, a weak and soft race of beings, seemed to be fluttering more quickly as every moment passed. He seemed so frail that she could break his skin between two fingers. The Sakkra on the other hand was all riled muscles, hard shell, and jagged teeth. The Sakkra were a savage and filthy race, little better than the wildlife on Draconis. Meisa thought a quiet prayer for herself, and that these aliens would one day meet an end which would wipe them cleanly from any trace of the universe.
The voice of a Watcher whispered, a calm baritone in her ear, “His name is Rami. A low level trader from the Sssla system.”
Just as the Watcher spoke, Rami pulled a short blade then lunged at the Psilon. A contraband weapon in an already illicit confrontation meant that she was forced to intervene. Meisa lifted her hand effortlessly and flexed her telekinetic ability, a conscious effort no more challenging than singing a high note of a familiar song. Rami’s body became rigid, his arms pinned down to the sides of his body. She lifted him off the ground and his knife clattered to floor, ringing loudly in the sudden silence of the hall. His back arched as she mentally bent him into an uncomfortable position. Levitating off the ground, he nearly rose completely above the short-statured Psilon.
She turned the Sakkra trader to face her, his face locked into an expression of rage and horror. Her single hand was extended, her long fingers symbolically reaching the divide between them. “You have violated the terms of trade aboard Sun Reacher Station.” Meisa spoke quietly to regulate her tone, not wanting to betray the effort it took to lift such a massive a living creature. It was not a considerable effort, but the Elerians maintained perfection while not displaying weakness in any form. Fear and mystery were powerful tools in the Elerian arsenal.
Hundreds of eyes turned toward the rare sight of an Elerian using their telekinetic powers in front of alien bystanders. Hushed whispers died down.
The Mrrshan twisted his face as if he was trying to speak, but her hold over his body was too tight. The Psilon beside him turned pale, his wide eyes turned to Meisa with fascination. A few other Warrior Priestesses approached now, walking at a calm and steady pace. They were not alarmed and did not give the impression that Meisa needed backup.
Meisa dropped Rami to the ground with a slight slam, the pressure of which most likely fractured his ribs. He looked up, barely containing the urge to charge. If he charged, Meisa’s telekinetic abilities were strained and she would have to take him down in hand to hand combat. She smirked at him daringly, welcoming the opportunity to remind the aliens who was physically superior.
The two locked eyes forcefully as the other Warrior Priestesses flanked Meisa. The Sakkra sighed, holding his torso gingerly. His legs shook, as if he could not trust them to carry the weight of his body. The aliens often responded this way to telekinetic exposure. While the Elerian mental powers were considerable, they were not overpoweringly capable. Most of the time, using the powers simply gave Elerians a psychological edge over unprepared opponents.
“You will be escorted off the station and out of the system, if you return you will be shot down with no warning. If you are found within Elerian borders again, you will be executed on sight. You are banished from trade with the Elerian Fiefdoms due to your poor breeding, lack of self-control, and weak temperament.” Meisa’s voice dripped with authoritative coolness, but the rage beneath it was poorly masked. Dealing with cattle on Draconis was more fulfilling then managing these pathetic creatures.
The other Warrior Priestesses escorted Rami away, back towards the detention wing of Sun Reacher Station. Rami eyes were full of rage, but his body was slack and compliant. The other aliens were still standing and watching in various states of horror, some staring directly at Meisa. Their eyes enraged her, but there was little that she could do other than suppress her anger and continue her patrol.
The controlled reputation of the Elerian people depended on her composure, but the seething hatred she felt towards these unworthy creatures threatened to expose her wrath. She took a deep breath, imagining the pure air and fresh grasses of Draconis, but was met with the sickening bodily odors of a dozen different creatures. With an exhale, she stepped forward her eyes to the outside world.
Far from Home - A Trilarian Short Story
Axelle lingered near the external windows of the ship looking out over the massive space station, hesitating to let herself feel excitement. The darkness of space around the station made the massive installation seem so small, even though it was the largest hub of life in the Tao system. Onboard the watery decks of the Olympia, a Trilarian missionary ship, it was hard to forget that she was surrounded by cold steel. Axelle missed the open waters of Trilar, the familiar swaying seaweed and the gentle currents of home.
It was her first trip off of Trilar, homeworld of the Trilarians, without her family, and the crew of the Olympia weren’t headed for friendly shores and tourist hubs she was used to. The Outer Rim was dangerous and uncomfortably close to Trilarian space, causing concern among the highest ranking officials in the Shoal government.
Axelle was a soldier, but like all Trilarian soldiers, she was a believer in the ways of the Old Gods. Benevolent beings who granted advanced technology and education practices on her ancient ancestors, the Old Gods were what all good Trilarians aspired to be. War was not what they believed in, but it was so often an inevitable course of action for some of the less civilized races of the galaxy. She was trained to hold her fire, but when the moment came she would not miss.
Whipping her tentacles through the water of her personal cabin, she swam up through a vent to reach the main bridge. The water of the ship’s cabins was the same comfortable temperature and composition of her region of Trilar, the area surrounding the capital city of Hsshn. It was almost enough that if she closed her eyes, she could mistake the chamber of the ship for one of the rooms of her family home. Then, as if to intentionally disturb her reverie, the ship would whir or a machine would crack her focus and bring her back to reality.
Most of the crew of the Olympia was a varied combination of soldiers and missionaries. There was some cargo on board, a nutrient dense form of kelp from Eooran that was used to create an efficient paste used as emergency rations in deep space. The kelp delivery was also the official reason for visiting the Outer Rim hub. In reality, this mission was something between a missionary trip, resupply drop and a scouting mission on behalf of the Trilarian government.
“Axelle, do you have reports on the organization of the Outer Rim trading hub?”
She fluttered for a moment before swimming forward in a single, precise movement. “Yes, Captain.”
Captain Evrard, a seasoned veteran of the Trilarian military and a respected missionary of the Old Gods, input commands into a dimly glowing touch panel. A slight pressure in the water told her the ship was accelerating away from the station. “By all means, you can begin the debriefing when you’re ready.”
Axelle nodded, nervous about wasting such a valuable leader’s time. “The Tao trading hub is officially leased by corporations owned by members of the Human Republic, but Meklar and Mrrshan organizations are both on the official masthead.”
The Captain barely seemed to register her as she spoke, which didn’t bode well for the quality of her report.
“There have been evidence of Klackon ships in the area, but they have been barred from entering the trade hub’s control space.” Axelle’s mind flitted from highlight to highlight in the formal reports she kept on her desk, but she was delivering the report from memory. It was a quirk of Evrard’s that he hated people who read from a tablet instead of absorbing information meaningfully.
With that, his attention turned to her directly. The Klackon were long enemies of the Trilarian, close enough to cause chaos on their borders and confident enough to disregard the Trilarian’s calls for peace. Worst of all, they believed in nothing beyond their own limited consciousness, disregarding the existence and plight of others if it interfered with their interests.
“The Klackon have access to our trade manifest?” The Captain’s voice dropped, quietly so that only she could hear him.
“If they could intercept it from the main relay of the trade hub, which is under suboptimal security measures in my research, then yes.”
They both immediately realized the danger that they were in too late. As they came around a small asteroid field, three smaller ships with blacked out exteriors emerged from the shadows. They took an aggressive formation around the Olympia, strategically arranging themselves so it would be difficult for the Trilarians to escape. The clumsy attempt at pretending to be pirates did not suit the Klackon ships. The Klackon, far from their native lands and allied space, would be far from their resources. The Trilarian colony and trade hub had cut them off from what were most likely critically needed supply lanes… and in comes a Trilarian ship carrying nutrient rich paste that could sustain the Klackon for months. The two empires were already on tense terms and in the isolated Outer Rim, the consequences of such an attack may never be discovered. The Klackon’s picked the ambush spot well – this area of the asteroid belt made communications to the colony and hub garbled at best.
A call from the lead ship overrode the Olympia’s internal speaker system and the jarring voice of the Klackon echoed throughout the watery chambers. “Disarm your weapon bays and eject all valuables from the ship.”
Captain Evrard kept incredibly cool, “We are but humble mercenaries of the Old Gods, we carry no valuables but our word.”
The Klackon seemed to hesitate for a moment. They moved into a secondary position and Evrard motioned to other crew members, directing them to take position at their various battle stations. “We would gladly offer you some supplies if you are running low, in exchange for our safe passage through the Outer Rim.”
The Klackon had already played their hand though, and were exposed to not just Trilarian weapons, but repercussions between their respective governments. In the few moments that the Klackon were weighing their options, the Captain released a spray of water from the personal cabins and cargo levels into the void of space. The water exploded into a crystalline frozen structure, a dazzling defensive capability built into the ship. It was little more than a distraction, but the ship burst from the confusion shooting down one of the three ships before the “pirates” could retaliate.
As the Olympia cut around the explosion, the other two ships bolted into action, chasing after the accelerating Trilarian food source. Evrard helmed the ship with calm confidence that only comes with decades of experience. The Olympia cut deftly through asteroids and the two remaining Klackon ships scrambled to follow. The Klackon seemed hesitant to fire, obviously afraid to damage the food they needed desperately to salvage from the Trilarians. With every moment that passed, the Klackon began to fire more aggressively. The Trilarians would not be allowed to survive and report the attack back to their government.
Evrard ordered the crew to drop stores of seaweed into space, the heavy insulation of the cargo protecting the precious goods inside. The two Klackon ships were confused by the cargo drop with one ship eventually turning back to inspect the drop. The other ship, expecting that this was a merciful act from the Trilarians, slowed its chase on the Olympia.
Of course, that was a mistake. Evrard turned the ship in a single fluid movement. Targeting the slowing ship, it neatly split in half, the black ichor of the organic Klackon ships seeping into space. The second ship, already at a near standstill near the ejected food rations, turned to engage. It was too late, the Olympia had the initiative and the Klackon ship was eviscerated.
Through the captain’s command panel, the cargo crews acknowledged preparations to recover the kelp. As the Trilarians coasted slowly through the wreckage of the Klackon ships, the crew of the Olympia offered quiet thanks to the Old Gods for their guidance in battle. The Klackon were their enemies, but they were driven by the same hunger that they themselves answer to as well.
Ancient Chorus - An Antaran Short Story
Alex Williams flipped through a book as he sat in the navigator’s chair, his legs up over the armrest in a more comfortable position. He found the book in one of the storage holds of the Human Republic scout ship Lucretia, a leftover from some other poor soul previously assigned to this job. It was an old biology textbook on Sakkra lifeforms with small, neat handwriting in the borders of pages. He scanned through the pages with only a passing interest, watching the progression of notes.
The bridge doors whooshed open and Jackson shot him a dirty look as he walked towards the captain’s chair. “Are you still reading that book?”
“What else am I supposed to do?” He flipped past a page on Sakkra adolescent hormonal systems and onto the next chapter.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Jackson grumbled as he brought up an illuminated panel at his seat, “your job?”
Alex slammed the book shut and turned to face him. “Captain, we are travelling through deep space with no signs of life or inhabited planets. As we were last week. As we were last month. As we have been for the last six months.”
Jackson rolled his eyes, “You could be more respectful towards your superior officer.” Alex sat back in his seat, the book closed on his lap. He turned to look at the navigation screens and saw only empty darkness anywhere that could even generously be deemed as remotely near their vicinity. The screen refreshed every few seconds, a seamless blip that only echoed back the emptiness of space. He set his book down on the console and turned back to face Jackson.
“How are the new maps looking?”
Their mission put them on a lone scout ship that skirted the edge of the known universe to create a map for the burgeoning Republic. Humanity had only taken to the stars within the last century and no one really knew just how large the universe was. Maps were still being made of neighboring star systems, not to mention what mysteries may lie on the opposite end of the universe.
“You would have to ask our cartographer.” Jackson swiveled away, starting a training program on the simulator that recreated close ship combat. His disinterest in talking to Alex wasn’t surprising, as the two men never quite got along. The extended time and proximity had not warmed them to each other.
Jackson thought of Alex as a spoiled, straight from the academy officer who must have ****** off the wrong people to get such a terrible posting. Alex felt that Jackson was a try-hard stick in the mud who took a joke of a posting too seriously.
He stood up and left the bridge, turning towards the cartographer’s office. Cartographer… her name was Eloise. He could say it. He paused in the hallway, almost nervously turning back. She hated when he interrupted her work, but as he was the navigator and she the cartographer, it wouldn’t be weird if he checked in sometimes? It was work. Professional, even. He was supposed to assist her more professionally, but she found it a hassle to slow down to explain things to him.
He got to the doorway of her office and listened in, unable to hear her moving inside. He knocked gently and the door opened so quickly that he almost fell over from shock. “What are you doing outside my door, Williams?” Her stare was suspicious. “I just wanted to… you know…”
She was forced by her short stature to look up at a man she would rather not see at all. Her expression was completely unimpressed. “I just wanted to see if you needed any assistance with your work. I’m a trained navigator, you can trust me.”
Eloise scoffed, but walked away leaving the door open. It was better than the door slamming in his face like she had the tendency to do with Jackson. He entered her office and closed the door behind him. She turned around, put her hands on her hips and let out a small smile. Alex leaned against her desk, “You can be really intimidating, you know?”
“You’re damn right I am.” She went back to moving sketches and data pads around on her work desk. Eloise was a cartographer who had studied at every prestigious academic institution in the Human Republic. Astronomy, geography, physics - she had more degrees than he could count. When they were first assigned to the Lucretia, she immediately dumped a workload of sophisticated mapping manuals on his lap and demanded that he catch up in order to be on her team. They would end up working closely together for months, the long hours and dense subject matter only bringing them closer.
He turned to face her, but the lights above them dimmed in a way that evoked concern rather than comfort.
Alex and Eloise pulled their attention away from each other, looking at the flickering lights. They regularly had power conserving efforts on the ship, but this seemed more like a malfunction. Before they could reach the door, the lights went black. The total darkness of the ship in space brought an instinctive panic to the back of Alex’s throat, trying hard to suppress a scream.
The lights came back on, but dimmer. The mechanical door was slow to open, but the two of them rushed through it quickly towards the bridge. In cases of emergency, the bridge would be the last region of the ship to maintain life support. They ran a short sprint to the doors of the bridge, which refused to open at their command. Panicking, Eloise banged her hands on the doors before punching the intercom button. “Jackson, let us in!”
A weak voice broke through the static of the intercom, “I’m going to have to reroute power from the main thrusters of the ship in order to power the door. Hold on.” The ship lurched with a horrible shudder, the feeling of a great beast dying beneath their feet. The doors opened quickly and they rushed onto the bridge, the door slamming shut behind them.
The scene on the bridge was unlike anything Alex had ever seen. The monitors hissed with a red static and a low pitched droning sound poured from the speakers. “What is going on?” Eloise screamed over the commotion, running to the engineering suite and helplessly inputting commands.
Jackson, his eyes wide and expression slack, sat in the pilot’s chair without moving. The droning sound took a different cadence, almost like a voice being summoned through the static. With every moment, Alex thought he understood slightly more.
Segments of the ship were going dark, as if the power itself were bleeding from unseen wounds. Jackson, unresponsive, stared out into the void. Alex violently shook him, both of his hands gripping Jackson sternly by the collar.
Eloise suddenly stopped. She looked out the small forward window into the black, the look of horror on her face glowed with the red from the screens. “What is that?” A faint glow, almost a trick of the eye, revealed the barest outline of a wicked dagger shape hanging over the Lucretia.
Suddenly, the static began to become a clearer voice. A low, regal tone filled Alex’s ears and struck him to the core with dread.
“We have returned for you, the coddled children of wars long waged and won.”
A critical error in the ship’s life support systems screeched through the static and ominous voice. Oxygen appeared to be venting from large swaths of the ship. Alex struggled to focus on the errors flashing briefly on the screen. No, it was fire. The ship was burning from the rear even though they had seemingly taken no damage.
“Your data will serve us well and chart the course for the conquest of this… Human Republic.” The voice echoed and boomed.
Jackson and Eloise, vastly more experienced with deep space than he was, must have realized that the Lucretia was doomed with first flicker of the light. The cold dread and detachment that washed over Alex now was unlike anything he had ever known. The explosions of igniting oxygen could now be heard from the bridge, the ship violently bucking in sympathy, and the lights seemed to dim with every passing breath.
The voice, the last words Alex would ever hear, were the last anchor to reality that he had as the bridge exploded into flame and light. “The Antaran Masters have returned.”