This was it. The enemy had taken system after system, world after world, and now, the enemy was landing on their home planet. Their civilisation had fallen, and their way of life was now just a memory of what it had been a short few months ago.
Somewhere out there in the blackness of space, was a flotilla of ships, all heading towards the only people that could help them now. Even then, it would only be for a short time. The enemy that had pulverised the Empire would soon be turning its attention on the Union.
Warning them would have been prudent. However, when the attack had first come, he, the Emperor, had deemed it unnecessary. By the time it became clear that the humans should be warned, their communications network had fallen, and their peripheral star systems, including those near Union space, were already under enemy control. They had tried to send ships out to the human systems, but they had never returned.
Interestingly, they had faced an enemy like this before. It was written and catalogued that a great war was fought over a millennia ago. There had been many terrible defeats, but eventually, they had won, though at a great cost. That cost was the loss of an entire race, one that the humans didn't know existed.
The Pavoran Emperor wondered if this was that same enemy? They used a different name, but they were just as driven, just as relentless. It seemed it was now the Pavoran's turn to become extinct.
The Emperor turned as his aide entered his chamber, bringing him out of his fatalist thoughts. "My Lord, the enemy has breached the inner city."
"I am well aware of what they are doing," he responded coldly. "Did the fleet manage to escape?"
"They left the system. As to whether they will make it to Human space is uncertain."
"We can only hope they do. If they do not, then the only Pavorans in existence will be the slaves under the Sovereignty's rule."
The sounds of explosions and gunfire drew closer. It wouldn't be long until they were at the palace gates. The Emperor would prepare, but there was nothing really to prepare for, except for death. He would most likely be executed as a final demonstration of their power.
"My Lord, are you not preparing for the battle?" his aide asked.
"What is the purpose of fighting an enemy that we cannot defeat?" the Emperor asked right back. "Regardless of whether I do or not, it will surely result in my demise."
"Are you suggesting we surrender, my Lord?"
"Would it make a difference now, if we did?"
"Perhaps not," the aide lamented.
With a heavy heart, the Emperor made the only decision available to him. "Tell the people that they need no longer waste their lives. Tell them it is time to lay down their arms and surrender."
"My Lord. Do you think that is wise?"
"We cannot win, so to fight is a futile effort. All we can do is lay down our arms, and hope they are lenient and merciful."
"If it is your wish, then it shall be so. I will go tell the general."
"No, we shall go tell him together."
The Pavoran Emperor rose up from his throne and dusted off his robes. Then, with a deflated posture, he left his chambers, his aide by his side.
The war room was an antique of a bygone era. It had been kept in functioning order only as a reminder of their past. It had never occurred to the Emperor that they would ever need to use it again.
But they did.
The general turned to his Emperor and saluted, by looping his multi-jointed arms, around each other and raising them up.
"They have begun the final assault on the city," The general informed him. "Twenty of their ships are in orbit, and hundreds of shuttles are descending upon us."
The Emperor looked at the mass of display equipment, showing all of their sensor data. Some of it was garbled by the enemy, though they had discovered a way to compensate.
"I have my final command for you, General."
"You are to tell your men to surrender. There is no need for any more to waste their lives."
The general's posture slumped, his eyes sunken. "If that is your command, it shall be done."
"You are not going to argue?" the Emperor asked in surprise.
"You are our leader, and I must obey. Besides, I am tired of this massacre. It is time we lay down and let the end take us."
"I am tired also," the Emperor agreed forlornly. "No more need to die by my command."
With a press of a holographic button, the general had given the command to surrender. His eyes closed shut as he took in a deep breath, his nostrils, which lay beneath his mouth, flaring as he did so.
"It is done, my Lord," the general said in a whisper. "Not everyone will lay down arms, though."
"It matters little, now," The Emperor told him. "If it is their wish to keep fighting, let them. It is all some of them have left now."
"Yes, my Lord."
"We must go wait for the arrival of the Sovereignty in the Hall of Legends."
The general looked around the room, at the mass of faces. "We will all go with you."
"My thanks, General Zalan. And to each and every one of you. You all tried your best. Unfortunately, it was not enough. Still, I am proud of you all."
The Emperor turned and left. Forty-odd Pavorans following him out of the large room, and down towards the Hall of Legends. There, they waited for the end to come.
Admiral Delmar Okiro sat in the small conference room aboard Orbital, which was a military and a governmental space station that orbited Earth. With him was Admiral Park, the Defence Secretary Michelle Cook, and President Hill. They were waiting for the Admiral of the Pavorans to arrive with a select few of his officers.
While the Pavorans ships which they had parked their fleet at the edge of the system did have military vessels among them, it was overwhelmingly civilian, which didn't bode well. That meant they were fleeing, and since they were here in Sol, that meant there most likely weren't any more Pavoran worlds to escape to.
Jane Kato, the former prime minister of the now Sovereignty controlled system of Vesta, had been here earlier. Still, it had been decided that she would be more useful at the Magnus system, helping to deal with the Vesta refugees there. She had taken the loss of Vesta quite hard, as had Okiro himself. He was supposed to protect the star system. Instead, he had allowed it to fall into enemy hands. What made it worse was that they hadn't even known of the Sovereignty's existence barely a week prior.
The pressure hatch on the far side of the room opened, and three Pavorans were escorted in, followed by four Pavoran guards. Okiro watched the odd-looking aliens as they were given a chair to sit on, the guards standing over by the hatch looking more than a little nervous. The three Pavorans perched themselves awkwardly on their seats, which were most definitely not designed for their alien posteriors.
The dark-skinned Admiral put on his translator, which was an earpiece and microphone and turned it on. Everyone else did the same, including the Pavorans, who had thankfully brought their own. It was unlikely that the human earpieces would fit their alien ears.
Hill was the first to speak after clearing his throat. "I am the newly appointed Union President, Matthew Hill."
The senior Pavoran bowed slightly, before his nostrils began to flare as he spoke, something that was quite odd for the humans to observe.
"I am Admiral Aegeus," he greeted, the earpiece translating his words into English.
Pavorans, unlike humans, had separate passages for their mouth and nose. As such, they spoke through their nose, a sight that was as alien as the Pavorans themselves.
"Pleasure," Hill said. "Let me introduce you to General Michelle Cook, Admiral Shin Park, and Admiral Delmar Okiro."
Their eyes focused on Okiro over the others, making him feel uncomfortable. There was no doubt in his mind that they remembered him from the Pavoran-Union war. He had taken many Pavoran lives during the conflict, something he couldn't say he was particularly proud of. He didn't tend to think about it, either.
Aegeus, the Pavoran admiral, introduced the two with him. "This is Ambassador Delyth and Captain Tadeas."
"Pleasure," Hill said nodding. "I suppose we should get straight to it."
"Yes, we should," Aegeus agreed. "We are here because the Empire has fallen to those that call themselves the Sovereignty."
"We know of them," Hill said. "They have taken one of our systems."
"The Vesta system," Ambassador Delyth said, her eyes focusing once again on Okiro.
"How bad is it?" Hill asked them.
"Most of our systems have fallen," Aegeus said "The ones that haven't are small colonies out on the frontier. They do not have the military presence to defend themselves if the Sovereignty does decide to attack. We are certain they will, hence why we came here."
"Why didn't you warn us about them?" Park demanded, his tone accusatory.
"It was our Emperor's decision," Aegeus said. "To explain further, we thought that we could deal with them without having to involve you. By warning you, we would end up alerting them to your presence. Unfortunately, by the time we realised our mistake, they had set up measures to stop us from being able to. None of our ships or comm drones made it through, not even our stealth drones. We are amazed that we managed to arrive here, though we fear it is only because the Sovereignty allowed it. We have been looking into ways of improving our combat capabilities against them, and we ask your assistance in this. We also plead that you grant us safe harbour for our civilians."
"And what do we get in exchange for offering your people safe harbour?" Hill asked.
Admiral Aegeus's expression changed. It was unreadable to all the humans in attendance. Okiro didn't know if he looked angered, confused, or simply had gas.
Finally, the alien Admiral answered. "We both know that if we don't work together, we stand no chance against the Sovereignty. We are going to give you some of our technology, including advanced shielding systems, antimatter warheads, sensor systems, and all information regards to how they block scanners."
"And in exchange for all that, you want us to help protect your citizens?" Hill inquired with more than a hint of scepticism.
"It will be an exchange between both of our peoples," Ambassador Delyth said. "We will work together for the betterment of both."
"So, a mutual exchange?" Cook asked.
"It is the only way we can hope to survive," Aegeus put simply. "We need to bring your ships up to our level and quickly."
Park frowned. He looked insulted. "What do you mean by that?"
"Your ships use fusion plants. They are very inefficient," Aegeus explained. "You need antimatter reactors."
"But isn't that dangerous?" Hill asked. "What if containment was breached? The thing would go up like a massive bomb."
"If containment's breached, then you've lost the ship anyway," Aegeus said. "An antimatter reactor, in tandem with your Impactor Cannons, would increase their recharge time by a factor of ten. These cannons you have are a technical marvel. They represent a foray into energy weapons that we don't have, yet the Sovereignty does."
Okiro webbed his fingers. "Are you saying that our Impactors could be the key to success?"
"Not on their own, no," Ambassador Delyth said. "Together, though, we will figure out how to defeat them."
The Pavoran Admiral cut in. "I shall get to the point. We need to retake your Vesta System, and we need to do it quickly."
"Is that even possible?" Hill asked. "They annihilated our forces there, and quite literally."
"We need to make it possible," the Pavoran admiral said. "Currently, they are working on a timetable. Drive them out of Vesta, and it will interrupt that timetable, buying you more time."
"But we can't even put a dent in their defences," Okiro argued. "How are we supposed to drive them out of the system when we can't even hurt them?"
"Your ships will need upgrading," Admiral Aegeus answered.
"You've said that already," Okiro muttered.
"Yes, and that will take time," Cook pointed out. "Time we don't have. They gave us one month, that's it."
The Pavoran Admiral coiled his multi-jointed arms together in some kind of gesture, one that looked quite strange to the humans in the room.
"If that is the case, then it is imperative we start as soon as possible," Aegeus said.
"I agree," Okiro said.
Park looked at him. "Of course you do. They say they can save Vesta."
Cook glared at Park, before turning her attention to the Pavorans. "We will need to discuss this among ourselves, Admiral."
"Of course," Aegeus agreed.
Hill nodded. "We will convene with you again in three hours."
"Earth hours, I presume?" Delyth asked
"Yes, Earth hours." Hill looked over to the guards that had escorted them here. "Please lead our guests to the lounge."
The Pavorans left the room, and the group remained silent until the hatch had been thoroughly sealed. None of them knew if they could trust the Pavorans, but they also didn't know if they had any other choice. Both of which were verbalised.
Park was the first to speak, "Can we trust them?"
"I don't know," Okiro answered honestly. "But do we have any other options?"
Cook agreed, "Regardless of whether we can or not, we actually don't have much of a choice, do we? We simply don't have the ability to hold off the enemy, let alone defeat them. We need technology, and the Pavorans can give us that technology."
"They won't give us anything for free," Park warned.
"Of course not," Okiro agreed. "And we'd be stupid to expect them to. This could be hugely beneficial for both our cultures. We need help in dealing with the Sovereignty, and the Pavorans need help just to stay alive. If we refuse their help simply because we have to help them in return, then we should consider ourselves beaten already, and lay down our arms and let the aggressors steam-roll over us."
Hill, who had been quietly listening, decided to speak up, "It's true. We are so far behind the Sovereignty, technologically speaking, that we don't have a choice. That's not to say we should give in to all of the Pavoran's demands, but we need their advanced weaponry if we're to even hope to stand a chance."
"We're forgetting something," Park reminded them. "We're forgetting that the Pavorans lost to the Sovereignty. I doubt their tech can do us much good."
"So," Okiro concluded, "what you are saying is that we should keep using our inferior tech because what the Pavorans have to offer isn't advanced enough beyond what we already have?"
"I didn't say that," Park rebuked.
"Regardless," Okiro continued, "they mentioned our Kinetic Impactors. Indeed, it takes forever to recharge them. If they give us more advanced antimatter technology, then their recharge time will be cut way down, and they become a lot more powerful."
"Are you forgetting that antimatter technology has been banned since forever?" Cook reminded him.
"We can't let that hold us back," Okiro warned. "Antimatter technology is hugely dangerous, that's true. But I'm not sure we have a choice."
"Antimatter bombs nearly destroyed us," Cook said.
"We were still all trapped in one system and fighting petty wars when antimatter technology was banned," Okiro pointed out. "We need something to help level the field, and pursuing antimatter tech might give us an edge. Or at least give us a chance."
"I don't trust them," Park said. "They're after out Kinetic Impactor Energy Cannons. They don't have that tech, so they're using this as an excuse to get it."
President Hill webbed his fingers. "Like it or not, we need what they have to offer. We need to work together to improve our tech. Perhaps together, we have a chance."
"It could turn out to be a mistake to trust them," Park said.
"Could be a bigger mistake not to," Cook said. "There are risks, we understand that. We know it might bite us later, but right now, we cannot combat the Sovereignty. That is the simple fact we have to face."
"So, we give the Pavos access to our technology," Park surmised.
"Yes," Hill said, nodding his head. "It's about time we became proper allies, not ignorant neighbours."
"Not just that," Cook began, "but we need what they have to offer if we want to still be here this time next year. Hell, if we want to be here this time next month."
Hill leaned forwards, resting his elbows on the table. "So, are we all in agreement?"
Park shook his head. "No, but I defer to your judgement."
"I'm in agreement with you, Mister President," Okiro said.
"As am I," Cook agreed. "We need this if we want to survive."
"Then we accept their help," Hill said. "Provided I can get Congress to agree. This is a decision I am not allowed to make on my own."
"Let's hope they see reason, then," Okiro mused.
"Let us hope," Hill agreed.
Jane Kato, the former Prime Minister of the Vesta star system, shook the hand of Tsukino, the lead pilot of Vesta-One. In the next twenty minutes, they would be taking off and heading to the edge of the system. Once there, they would start the long trip to the Magnus system, leaving Sol behind.
Tsukino released her hand. "I was hoping we'd be returning to Vesta when we first got here. I never expected this."
"No," Kato agreed. "Do you have family back on Vesta?" Kato asked him.
"Yeah. Luckily, me and Ray heard that ours got out fine. King hasn't heard from his family yet."
Kato grimaced. "I hope they got out."
"We all do," Tsukino agreed.
"Have you met them?" Kato inquired. "His family, I mean?"
"No. Still would be a shame if they didn't get out of the system."
She agreed wholeheartedly. "Yes, it would."
"I better get up to the cockpit," Tsukino said. "We're scheduled to depart within the next twenty minutes."
"Okay, I won't hold you up any longer."
He moved off, while Kato stepped over to her head of personal security, Gareth White, who was speaking to another of her security team, Callie.
"How are you two doing?" she asked.
"Good as we can be," Gareth replied, rubbing his face. "Still no sign of the ship carrying my family. Macario's family was on the same ship," he said, mentioning another member of Kato's four-person security team. "As for Ian, he hasn't said much."
Kato looked at Callie. "How about you?"
"Some got out. Others weren't so lucky. I'm dealing with it the best I can," she said.
"I'm sorry, for both of you," Kato offered.
"Thanks," Callie said.
A chime sounded over the ship's intercom. "This is Captain Tsukino. We will be taking off in ten minutes, thank you."
"I suppose we should get ready and take our seats," Kato told them.
"I'll go fetch the others," Gareth said, as he moved off.
Kato took a seat by the window and peered out. There wasn't much to look at. There was just the spaceport and the sight of other transports taking off and landing. It was far busier here than it was at Vesta. The flow of space-traffic was constant, the sky swarming with ships. It almost looked like a hive.
When the time came, they all seat-belted themselves in, and the ship took off. They were heading to Magnus, a star system Kato had never been too. In fact, before she came to Earth, she had never been out of the Vesta system. What would happen when she got there, she wasn't entirely sure. But she had an obligation to those displaced from her system. She had been elected their leader, and she couldn't let them down, not again.
Major Renata Thomas's head was pounding like her skull was encased in a vice, and she wasn't alone. Everyone looked miserable, and she couldn't blame them.
Thankfully, the small transport they were in, known as a Scuttlebug, had made its final transition into the Magnus system. It was a good thing, too, because Renata was convinced that a few more jumps and she would have died of a brain aneurysm.
Major Thomas had left Kent and Hamilton in the cockpit, and moved aft into the main passenger cabin. No one looked particularly happy. Actually, everyone looked positively miserable. The problem was that the old Scuttlebug's were small, and the transition drive was not shielded properly, and even if it did have up-to-date shielding, the craft was still too small to have it a safe distance from the compartments. The result of all this was that everyone felt like crap.
The bug was designed for short transitions around a star system, not from one to another. It had been nearly sixty years since it had been made illegal to have an FTL drive so close to the compartments. It wasn't like they had much choice, though. The bugs had been their only way off of the planet Atrium, in the now Sovereignty controlled Vesta star system.
"Just to let you all know," Renata told everyone. "The USV Corvus is five minutes out. We will be parking inside their hangar bay, and the shuttle will be being searched. We will all most likely be escorted somewhere, where we will stay until we're taken to either the planet Meridia or the Magnus asteroid station."
She looked at all the tired, pained faces of the sixty-odd people, her eyes stopping when she saw her husband James, and her two children Colin and Lorraine. She offered a smile, and they returned it. Once they were on the Corvus and everything had been dealt with, she intended on spending a little time with them. Her sister too, who was sat next to her family, with her husband Marco, and son, Dom.
Renata turned and headed back into the cockpit, and closed the hatch behind her. "How're we doing?" she asked them.
"The Corvus is in visual range," Kent said, pointing her finger at the translucent screen.
Renata looked out. Sure enough, there was the outline of a dark object in front of them, growing closer. The only illuminations were from the name, registry and the union military symbol on the dorsal wing.
"They're hailing us," Hamilton reported.
"Put it on."
"This is the USV Corvus calling Scuttlebug. Please hold your position and await further instruction."
Renata leaned forwards and pressed down the talk button on the front console. "This is Scuttlebug. We acknowledge."
The three of them watched, as the cruiser slowly came about, showing them their aft. The hangar bay doors slid open, and the order came for them to land. Hamilton gave the Corvus control. Five minutes later, the shuttle had touched down on the deck, and the hangar door ad closed and the bay was pressurised.
Renata left the cockpit and told Bergstein and Wolfe to come with her, as she opened the shuttle's outer hatch, and stepped down onto the deck, where the Corvus' marines were waiting for them. The three marines of the Arcturus saluted to the group of marines on front of them. The Corvus marines reciprocated the gesture.
The leader of the Corvus marines stepped forward, offering his hand to Renata. "Major Graham," he said.
She took his hand. "Major Thomas, Arcturus marines."
"The shuttle will have to be vacated and searched," Major Graham informed her.
"Of course. That is what we were expecting to happen."
"How many are on the shuttle?"
"Sixty-three civilians, sixteen marines, including us, and two pilots."
"Okay, you can start bringing them out."
Renata turned to Bergstein. "You inform Wheeler that we need to start bringing the civvies out onto the deck."
"Understood, sir," Bergstein said with a salute, before heading back into the shuttle.
"I take it you have somewhere you're going to be putting us?"
"Spare quarters," Graham told her. "But only once the shuttle has been searched."
"You know where we're being taken?"
"Meridia, once the shuttle's been checked out. Not that it's necessary. We did a sweep of it as it came through the hangar doors. The only thing it detected was your firearms, and a warning on the outdated FTL drive."
Renata rested her hand on her still pained head. "Yeah, we know."
"Not a pleasant trip, then?"
"Not even remotely."
Renata turned around as Lieutenant Commander Denise Wheeler stepped out of the shuttle, followed by the first civilians.
Major Graham pointed. "Have them stand over there for now," he instructed.
It didn't take long for the shuttle to be vacated. While the Corvus marines searched the shuttle, they all stood around and waited, all chatting amongst themselves.
Renata wasted no time reconnecting with her family. "I'm so glad we're outta there," she said.
James smiled. "So am I."
"How are you all holding up?"
Lorraine folded her arms. "I'd rather be back at home."
"I know," Renata said in understanding. "But that's not going to happen. We just have to take things as they come."
"What happens to us now?" James asked her. "Where do we go from here?"
"I don't know," Renata said. "But I'm going to keep you all together," she told them, locking eyes with her sister. "Things are tough enough, without you being split apart."
"What about you?" her sister, Alaia asked her.
"I'm in the service. I go where I'm ordered."
"Even if it's to your death?"
Renata sighed. "It's tough, but I signed up for a reason. If I die protecting my loved ones, then it was all worth it."
Alaia looked away. "So you're willing to die?"
"No, I'm not willing to die," she said firmly. "I will fight until I can't anymore. I've just accepted that it's a possibility."
"Mom, I don't want you to die," Colin said.
"Me neither," Lorraine added.
"You're all acting as if I want to. I assure you all, I don't. To expect others to fight for you, but not me is selfish. You have to accept that."
"We know," James said. "It's just hard for us."
"Listen, I don't see you all that often any more. I'd rather talk to you about something positive."
"Is there anything positive to talk about?" James asked earnestly. "We've lost our homes. We're refugees."
"You're all alive," Renata pointed out. "But yeah, there isn't really much to sing about is there."
James pointed to the shuttle. "How long will it take them to search?"
"Could be an hour, depending on how thorough they are."
"You know where we're heading after this?" Alaia asked.
"Planet Meridia. Not sure how they're going to deal with the increase in population. The planet's surface is well over ninety per cent water, so it's not like there's a lot of space to put people."
"My guess is that we all won't be staying on Meridia," Alaia said.
"Most likely," Renata agreed.
"Major Thomas?" A masculine voice called from behind.
Renata turned around, to see a captain approaching. "Captain," she greeted saluting.
He returned her salute. "I require a report from you."
"Understood." She turned to her family. "I'll be back later."