A good few years back I had this up on Amazon Direct Publishing. It's not there any longer, and I decided to put it up here. All 25 Chapters including a prologue and epilogue have long since been written, but I'll be giving each chapter a once over before posting. Been years since I looked at this, so it'll be good to re-read it myself.

Hope you enjoy

-Andrew Hallgarth


Prologue

The massive blue-tinted star slowly drifted towards the flat, distant, dusty and seemingly endless horizon. Long dark shadows were cast across the smooth paved surface that made up the forecourt of the old, centuries since abandoned alien mining facility.

The only features beyond the large windows, on an otherwise featureless world, were a few small buildings that held the on-site controls for things such as the large water reclamation tank, and the oxygen recycling tank. Other than those, and various other structures that had no apparent purpose, there was nothing but endless desert, which stretched out as far as the eye could see. Out there, beyond the walls of the facility, there wasn't even any breathable atmosphere, nor was there any water. The planet truly was barren, in every sense of the word.

For the black-haired, brown-skinned Arab born Union President Jaul Nasser, it meant it was the end of the fourth day on this wretched planet. Four whole days of nothing.

The ones that had requested his presence here had yet to make good on their own arrival. This left him to sit around and wait for them to show, while he could be doing something far more fruitful and constructive back home on Earth. It honestly made him feel somewhat uneasy, anxious even. There had to be a reason why they weren't here? Something that he was currently unaware of? Still, he remained, awaiting their arrival. If they even bothered to show.

How much longer would he stay here, twiddling his thumbs? Ultimately, he didn't know. Perhaps until he was convinced to give up and leave, as his head of security had been trying to do, since the second day. Until then though, he would stay put. He would wait for those who might not even bother showing up.

President Nasser was brought out of his thoughts by a buzzing at the door, followed by a knock. At a guess, it was his security chief, as he was the one who primarily came to talk.

He slowly turned around, facing his back towards the giant window. After squaring up his slumped shoulders, Nasser made his way towards the overly tall doorway, heading down a series of long shallow steps that lay just in front of it. With a press of a button, the door slid open, revealing Special Agent Christopher Harlow, who was the one in charge of his personal security force, and someone who Nasser thought of as a friend.

"Evening, Mister President," Harlow greeted with a nod of his head.

Christopher Harlow was a rather stocky man, with dark-brown hair and a tanned-white complexion. Despite his youthful appearance, he was in his forties, having served previously as a marine in the Union Navy. His body was clad in red and light golden coloured armour, as well as a rifle on his back, that shared the same colour scheme. On his right hip lay a pistol, which again was in red and light gold. He also had a few other toys hidden away, though the major had never been given the opportunity to use any of them in a real fight. The president hoped he never had to.

"Any word?" Nasser inquired, expecting the response to be the same as it had been since he had first arrived here.

The man grunted before he delivered the predictable verdict. "None sir." He shook his head. "This has gone well beyond reason, sir. Four days? Something isn't right here."

"Think we should leave?" Nasser asked him, already knowing full-well what the answer would be.

"Sir, you know what I think. We should never have landed here in the first place." Harlow rested his hand on the side of the door frame; his arm raised slightly above his head. "When we arrived, and they weren't here, we should have-"

"Think it was foolish?" Nasser questioned, interrupting him, his voice almost monotone.

Harlow let out a sigh, removing his hand from where it was resting, placing both behind his back. "I'm not in your line of work, sir," he put simply, while maintaining his politeness. "You know what you're doing. I'm just giving extra options."

Nasser found he no longer had time for pleasantries. He wanted to know his bodyguard's actual opinion. The version that wasn't hidden behind niceties. Harlow had become something of a friend over the last year, and he had found that in being so, he had become less honest. To put far too much thought into his words, and on how they might affect their friendship. His bluntness had been the reason why he had hired him in the first place. He wanted the man that was in charge of his safety, to be more than just a nodding head. He wanted someone who could give him a different, more grounded point of view. He wondered if Christopher knew that becoming a nodding head, risked their friendship more than being brutally honest ever would.

"Tell me what you think?" Nasser asked him. "What you actually think. And be honest, please."

Harlow clenched his jaw, as he brought his arms from behind him, folding them over his large armoured chest. "Sir, I think we should leave," he said sincerely. "I don't like the fact that they aren't here. At best they're making you wait to intimidate you, to make themselves look superior by them not being punctual."

"And at worst?" Nasser inquired.

"At worse, this is a trap of some kind."

The president opined on what he had said. "Perhaps so," he conceded, after a moment of silence. "The first scenario is the likeliest. However, I seriously doubt the latter regarding this being a trap is plausible at this point. We're the hostile race, comparatively speaking, not them."

"To be blunt, Mister President, you're basing that assumption from what we know, which is very little."

"Think what we know is all lies?" Nasser questioned, interested in hearing his friend's opinion.

"I just think we should leave, that's all," Harlow told him sincerely. "Everything about this place feels wrong to me. The blue sun, the endless horizon beyond the facility's limits. It's all just so, wrong."

The president took a long look back out of the sizeable window. The sky was now an odd pinkish colour. "Ask me tomorrow, and you'll have my answer," he said, turning back to face him.

"Same as today, sir?" Harlow asked sceptically, clearly believing they would be here for some time to come.

"Perhaps not," the president assured him. "If I'm honest, I'm starting to really despise this place."

Christopher Harlow nodded in agreement. "Goodnight then, Mister President."

"Goodnight, Christopher," Nasser said in return.

Once the Special Agent had moved off down the corridor and out of sight, the president hit the door control, causing it to slide shut. Slowly, he made his way back to the window, staring out of it as the large blue star finally disappeared beneath the horizon, the pink sky glowing brilliantly overhead.

The ones in question, the people that had called for his presence here, were a species known as the Pavorans. Their adopted scientific term was Populous Fortis, which stood for the 'strong people'. It was fitting, or rather it seemed to fit when they had first met.

Their coequal term 'Pavoran' was named after the Pavo constellation, where the Union had originally thought they were from. It had quickly become apparent, however, that they were from much farther. Alpha Pavonis was simply the system they had an old previously disused outpost, nothing more.

Fifteen years ago, the Pavoran Empire had warred against the Earth Planetary Union. It had been initiated because of an incident with the Bakalar-Ibarra Alliance. The Alliance, or BIA as they were also known, was a conglomerate of four human systems controlled by the worlds Bakalar and Ibarra, which lay in two different systems, at either end of two more they had politically conquered.

The events that had started the conflict began well before anyone in the EPU even knew for certain that there was intelligent life out there in the cosmos. The BIA was in search of resources and had initially pushed unknowingly into Pavoran space, which lay roughly sixty light-years from Sol.

Once the Alliance had discovered that not only was there intelligent life out there but that they were a potential enemy, the Alliance had then knowingly attacked Pavoran civilian shipping and colonies for their technology and resources. No effort was made by the Alliance to make peaceful contact. All they had cared about was what the alien technology could bring them in terms of military strength.

The Pavoran Empire had then struck out, almost completely decimating the Alliance military within four months. They then re-established their foothold in Alpha Pavonis, which now lay within Union space, and had attacked what they believed was the main force behind the attacks on their ships and colonies. That force was the Union, who knew nothing of what had transpired. The Pavorans had assumed that the Alliance and Union were the same entity, mainly due to the fact they were both of the same species, both human.

The Union took heavy casualties. Systems were lost as they were pushed back. In feats of ingenious military planning, however, they were able to take back some of those systems, even though the Union was technologically inferior to the much older, and more advanced Empire.

In the end, the Pavorans had called off the war. They had discovered their mistake, that the Alliance and Union had not been the same entity. Unfortunately, the damage had been done. A year had gone by since the war had begun and over four-billion humans were dead.

The only reason the Union had managed to survive the onslaught, was not only due to masterful tactics, but because the Empire was bloated in size. Communications, for instance, were slow when compared to travel. While a vessel could almost instantaneously traverse great distances, it was impossible to have interstellar communications without either a direct translight link-up, or to send the message via an FTL drone.

Due to the insecurity of drones, most messages had been sent via direct TL-link. While they were secure, they tended to have more transmission cut-outs or failures. The reason for this, was because the link-up required a direct link between both sides of the conversation via a spacial fold. This meant that the one initiating the transmission or conversation, had to know precisely where the recipient was location-wise, or else communications could not be established. As a result of this fact, the vast Empire had taken large amounts of time to react when compared to the smaller, more nimble Union. Of course, the Earth Planetary Union had its share of military bloat, which often made reacting difficult. Thankfully, it was less than that of their then enemy.

Nasser himself had never met the Pavoran Emperor, or indeed even a Pavoran. He had not been president back when the war had ended, some fifteen odd years ago now. During his presidency over the last six to seven months, the Pavorans had been completely silent. Probes had been sent to passively scan the Pavoran systems closest to them, and everything seemed fine. No unusually high number of warships, and nothing that indicated anything was amiss. It seemed that they simply didn't want to talk.

The question was, why had they been so silent? Ultimately, no-one knew. He simply hoped that it wasn't anything nefarious and that they were just a hermit race. It did fit with the reports he had read about them. While there had been some cultural exchanged and trading between them, it had been very scarce. Then around six months ago, they had closed their borders suddenly, practically vanishing without any word as to why.

It seemed certain, at least to him, that they had absolutely no interest in keeping an open dialogue with the Union. If that was the case, then why had they contacted him to set up this meeting? Why do that, after all these months of silence and then not show up?

When the message came that their emperor had wanted to meet with him, he had felt nervous, scared even. How did one talk to something so alien? Something that required a translation device just to be able to understand one another? Neither side had the means to make the vocal sounds the other made. On top of that, they knew next to nothing about them, such as their history, culture, or even their true size as an interstellar entity.

Nasser had decided, despite much protest, that he would not only come but that he would also keep it low-key, as per the emperor's request. No one but a few knew he was out here, sans a handful of officers aboard the ships currently in orbit. The crews of course, were being kept in the dark. Not even his wife and children knew where he'd gone. They only knew that it was important. He hadn't wanted unnecessary attention, and he still didn't. The last thing he wanted, was media ships here in the system, lording over the planet with their sensors, detailing everything they could. That event would definitely cause the emperor not to show. Much like now.

Despite their hosts not showing, Nasser hadn't let himself fall into idleness and had kept himself busy. Since arriving, he had spent most of his time researching everything he could about them. Unfortunately, he hadn't found much beyond what he already knew. The information on them was scarce at best.

The president wondered how he would react when, or rather if they arrived. Just looking at a three-dimensional image of a Pavoran had sent shivers down his spine. While they were bipedal with two arms, a mouth, nose and forward facing eyes such as any predator species including humans, these parts were different enough to look strange. For instance, each arm had five joints, or elbows. At the end of each arm, instead of hands, their fingers seemed to just come straight out of the end of their wrists. Their fingers were longer and they also had seven of them, with more joints. Also, instead of one thumb-like digit per 'hand', they had two which opposed each other.

Another difference was how their necks arched forwards and were quite a bit thicker than a human's. He supposed it was because they had to accommodate two throats. One that led from their mouths and the other from their snouts. Unlike humans or most other animals on Earth, Pavorans couldn't choke as the passageways were completely separate. This meant that they spoke through their nose, as that was where they drew breath. This led to the last oddity, which was how their nose was beneath their mouth.

Nasser stared out, as the final light from the setting sun began to fade from the horizon. He thought to his task here and felt the frustration of not being able to complete it or even start it.

He looked up at the darkness beyond. Up high above he saw small flashes of light. The president watched them for a minute or so with fascination, wondering what they were.

It didn't take long for him to find out.

The door to his room suddenly slid open, as Special Agent Harlow stormed in with his full detachment of security in tow.

"What's going on!?" Nasser asked them, alarmed by their sudden intrusion.

"We're under attack!" Harlow informed him heatedly, rushing over to him.

"The Pavorans?" Nasser asked, his mind starting to race. Had his friend been correct? Had this indeed been a trap?

"According to Captain Alvarez, the attacking ships don't match Pavoran construction."

"Then who?"

"The Aether has already been destroyed, and from what I gathered from the brief communiqué, the other ships are struggling to hold them off."

Nasser was stunned. He couldn't believe what he was being told. "Who are they?" he questioned more forcefully. "Who's attacking?"

"No idea, but we have to get you out of here, now!"

"Yes," Nasser agreed as he moved forward, following Harlow out of the room.

His head was spinning over what he had just been told. The USV Aether was, or rather had been a cruiser, and was the command vessel of the five vessels that had escorted him here to this remote star-system.

He glanced back into the room, towards the large window, remembering what he had seen up in the sky only moments before. "I saw flashes," he said.

"Our ships being pulverised," Harlow said bluntly. "We need to go, sir. Now!"

Nasser nodded. His heart felt like it had leapt up into his throat. "Let's not waste any time, then," he said as he followed his security team out of the room.

"This way," Harlow said as they rounded a corner.

"Where're we going?" Nasser questioned. "The landing pad is in the other direction."

"The pad is too far," Harlow explained. "I had the shuttle moved to the courtyard side, your secretary and the others are already headed there. Don't worry, the airlock on that side is functional, we won't have to go get any suits and go outside. We'll be able to go straight into the shuttles."

"What about Union-One?" the President inquired.

"Readying its fold-drive to get us outta here as soon as we're aboard."

The sound of an explosion rang out down the corridor. Harlow who was in the lead, halted, gesturing for the rest to do the same.

One of the agents shook his head, fear creeping into his voice as he spoke, "That came from where the shuttle was relocated!"

It was quite clear that they weren't escaping. With their only vessel off of this wretched planet most likely obliterated, they were stranded.

Reason said it was the Pavorans that were attacking. They were the only known race that they knew of, though the security chief had said quite vehemently, the attacking vessels didn't match Pavoran construction. But if it wasn't them, then who else could it be? Could it be the Alliance, or was it something else entirely? Nasser knew that they would soon find out, for or against, whether it was the Pavorans or not.

They heard footsteps behind them. They turned around to see strange alien figures in thick armour approaching, their body shapes different from either Human or Pavoran, with long arms, and longer legs. Adding to their differences, was a weapon which jutted out of their left arms, as though it was built into the appendage. Leading the group was a much larger creature. It was clad in full armour much like the others, except this one appeared to be the one in command. It also looked different from the others, with a far larger torso, and squatter legs. Even though it was almost impossible to gauge how they looked beneath their armour, it appeared as though the leader was a different species from the others.

The guards pushed the president to the ground and opened fire. The alien troops, instead of firing bullets, shot strange beams of crackling energy, which tore through their armour as if it was nothing. Their shouts of pain echoed down the corridors and within moments they were dead, leaving Nasser alone, laying on the cold hard floor with only the hostile aliens for company.

The largest of them, who Nasser had suspected was the leader, stared at him from behind his strange angular mask. Its eyes were odd, creepy even. It spoke, its words strange, unknown. He had no idea what would happen next. Would he be killed like the others, or would he be taken prisoner? For the first time in his life, he truly felt afraid of death, of his own mortality.

The leader spoke again, this time to the soldiers that stood with him. Two of them walked forwards, gripping him harshly by the arms, their hand weapons folding away into their suits.

He wanted to run, to flee as fast as his legs could take him, but he found that he wasn't brave enough. Or perhaps it was because he wasn't stupid enough to try.

He went with them against his will. Where they were going to take him, he didn't know. But he desperately wanted to be back home on Earth. He realised that he should have listened to Harlow and returned home when he'd had the chance. Now, he might never see home again. Just the thought made him want to cry. He felt weak, pitiful. He was a leader, not a combatant. His job was to make decisions and right now he decided to not resist. It was the only thing he could do, as it was the only real option available to him. To do otherwise would surely mean his instant death.


The small strange alien shuttle, ascended upwards, away from the old abandoned Pavoran mining colony, away from the place where Nasser had last known freedom.

Around him sat the alien soldiers, their leader staring at him with a coldness in its eyes. A coldness that made Nasser shiver with fright.

Once again he cursed himself for not listening to Harlow. They should never have landed when the Pavorans weren't there. He should have done the smart thing and called it off.

Had it been a trap? A trap set up by the creatures that now held him hostage? If so, then what had happened to the Pavoran Emperor? Had he ever been involved? There were so many questions, most of which he didn't expect to ever be resolved. At least not to him.

The leader made a sound, drawing Nasser's attention. That's when walls of the craft suddenly turned almost entirely transparent, allowing him to see everything that lay around them. At first, he didn't know why they would bother doing such a thing, but it quickly became apparent.

As the shuttle continued its ascent beyond the planet, he saw a mass of objects burning up in the atmosphere.

The shuttle changed course, taking them towards a slowly spiralling hulk. His captors wanted him to see the devastation the small fleet had suffered in such a short time. He didn't recognise the destroyed Union ship they flew past. Only that it was enormous, with huge mounted rail guns and point defence turrets.

That's when one of the alien soldiers touched something against his skin. The shuttle around him began to spin, his vision blurring. Then everything went dark.