1200 Kansas Time
The first hostile alien vessel to enter Earth’s atmosphere, a Griffin-class assault lander, penetrated the atmosphere at a point two hundred miles to the west of the International Date Line. As a result, the official Day the Earth ended would be 26 June, 2011. Hitting the Earth’s atmosphere at several times the speed of sound, the lead vessel was quickly joined by its three consorts, the large arrowhead-shaped vessels’ bows burning bright enough to lighten up the pre-dawn sky. A full five miles long, two miles deep, and half mile wide, the Griffins were so named because they doubled as both an aerial combatant and a fearsome indirect fire support apparatus. Normally, a size of Earth received the gentle attentions of ten such vessels, but Kwirh’s violent counterattack had seen to it that reinforcements would be a little bit longer in coming.
The collective sonic boom from their passage made many Christians who heard it, those few who were still thinking of religion at that moment, to think of the book of Revelation and the sounding of the final trumpet. To those who were able to look up into the sky, the four bright fiery trails seemed to signify the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the beginning of the end. Across the Pacific, that largest of Earth’s oceans, men and women began to fall to their knees and pray, beseeching their gods for deliverance.
All four ships were detecting a single bright strobe, the source of the signal that had so impudently insulted their sovereign Lord and God of their existence, Emperor Krognar. In the three trail vessels, a thousand each Orionan shock troopers in their brilliantly scarlet power armor waited, nestled in the drop chutes that led vertically through the vessel’s keels. They did not care of numbers—the fact that this planet had not raised its shields the instant their fleet came into system or fired any defensive weapons at their incoming vessels indicated that it was technologically stagnant, its population literally easy meat.
Many of their leaders, those that had survived the numerous cauldrons of nameless battles across the stars against the TEC found themselves sickened with disgust that a race from such a backwards planet had managed to give them a handful of bitter defeats. While King Pyhrrus of Greece was unknown to them, the term Pyhrric Victory would have easily described at least another dozen of the occasions where they had faced the tasty, two-legged beings from this world beneath them. No matter, according to the life scans busily scrolling across their screens, there would soon be enough food to wash away the foul taste of bile that rose past their two tongues. In many cases, their faces broke into feral grins, their vaguely feline features and four-inch teeth making them look like evil Cheshire Cats. If, of course, the Cheshire Cat had had orange-tinged scales, not fur, been fifteen feet tall, had a pair of long, curled horns, and walked on two legs with cloven hooves.
Aboard the fourth vessel, only five hundred larger suits awaited in their drop chutes. Overall black, a black that had been described as so dark it seemed to swallow one’s soul, nevermind all the surrounding light, the power armor had scarlet shoulder armor attachments, the extra bulk making them look like malicious interstellar linebackers. These Orionans were all that remained of the Praetorian Guard, Argnor’s personal bodyguards that had failed in their mission. Krognar, upon hearing of his son’s death, had forbade the Praetorians from committing suicide, the traditional Orionan response to failure. Instead, he had decreed that the Praetorians would be allowed to end their lives once they had brought to account the Human responsible, a man who’s location continued to strobe near the center of the continent continuing its journey to darkness and the point where the final arks of humanity would lift off towards safety.
As the four ships continued down, down to around fifty thousand feet above the tranquil Pacific waters below, they slowed then almost stopped, detecting their first population center of over a million sentient beings. Continuing to twenty thousand feet, the four ships continued their descent towards the islands of Hawaii, slowing even further as they reached the thicker air at lower altitude. It was at that point the hulls of the vessels seemed to come alive, fragmenting in what appeared to be a sudden disintegration. If any human had been present to lay eyes on the event, he or she might have cried out in exultation, thinking deliverance was at hand.
Those cries would have quickly turned to dismay as the fragments, flat flying wings nicknamed Boomerangs due to their distinctive shape, scurried away from their mother ships. The Orionans, while disdaining to use fighters in the depth of space, were quite aware of the devastating effect airpower had within an atmosphere. While far from sophisticated machines, the Boomerangs made up for their lesser technology with a truly devastating forward firepower and a truly robust level of armor. Leveling off, the one hundred and twenty ‘Rangs headed off like a swarm of bats, arrowing straight towards the Hawaiian Island Chain.
Realizing the entry vector of the assault ships, General Connelly had ordered the evacuation vessels at the various Hawaii base complexes to immediately cease loading and retreat to the U.S. mainland. He had only been forced to repeat his order twice, the second time threatening to kill the offending captains himself. With tears in their eyes, screaming their impotent fury at Connelly through their data links, the five men and four women had complied, leaving thousands of trained military individuals to their fates. Of the nine, four would commit suicide in the following years, still hearing the cries of those pitiful few they left behind in their ears.
Realizing that their last hope for getting off planet had left, scurrying off at high speed low over the Pacific, many of the remaining personnel resolved to defend their families. The Griffins were closing far too quickly to have a hope of attempting to sail any ships from Pearl Harbor, but there were the roughly two hundred serviceable Navy, Marine, and Air Force combat aircraft stationed in the Hawaiian Islands. As the Orionan fighters accelerated away from the Griffins, their pilots sighted the approaching human aircraft and howled their joy at opening the hunt.
Due to the limited introduction of retrofits by the United States Armed Forces as well as the basic level of Orionan technology, the mismatch was not as great as it could have been. Instead of a modern jet fighter engaging a biplane, it was more a case of a 21st Century warplane engaging the early, much more primitive models flown at the closing stages of World War II. While the Orionans had yet to develop an effective atmospheric laser, the devastating combination of rail guns, anti-matter missiles, and short-range plasma cannon was more than enough to stack the deck in their favor.
The fight took all of 45-minutes, broadcast live to the world. Only slightly better than a massacre, it left the major cities of Hawaii in flames and all military power in the state broken. For the Orionans, it cost twelve ‘Rangs. Given that all the humans in Hawaii were now the property of the bypassing Griffins, it was a small price to prey. Hawaii would continue to be a tourist mecca, except when these tourists returned it would be to gorge themselves on human flesh.
Eric could hear the cries of shock and dismay from where he sat, his armor open so he could enjoy the breeze as it blew around him. He could hear the buzz of the bees as they went about their business, and the rattle of small arms fire and the occasional boom of a main gun in the direction of Manhattan as the Reservists and Guard went about theirs. Well, at least it was quick for most everyone around Pearl Harbor, he thought grimly.
Now wouldn’t it be ironic if we had some 50’s sci-fi movie shit go down and we find out the Orionans are allergic to bees or something? he thought. We like evacuate the planet, come back, and find everyone we’re leaving behind alive, well, and really, really pissed off because we left them to face a bunch of psychopathic walking cat lizards? Oh wait, let’s not forget rabidly carnivorous, and with an acquired taste for Human flesh.
Someone nudged him in the back, causing him to jump and startle several nearby bees. Looking up, shading his eyes, he saw Jack standing above him. The man held two cups in his hands, extending one towards Eric. In complete shock, Eric saw the logo familiar to anyone who had lived in the Puget Sound area for more than twenty-four hours.
“Holy shit!” Eric shouted, causing several nearby people to turn and look from where the last of the orderly queues were heading into the rear of the evacuation vessels. One mother covered her child’s ears and favored Eric with a glare, a move so quaint it caused Eric to break out into laughter. Stopping, he took a deep pull of the latte, savoring the Hazelnut.
“Okay, laughing at a woman who’s probably just left her entire home behind is probably not the smartest thing you ever did,” Jack said, seeing the woman staring hard at Eric as if memorizing his face. “I think when we get to Barren someone’s going to get the ass-kicking of their life.”
“Right,” Eric scoffed. “Hey, my name’s Eric! Eric Walthers, Star Colonel, one each!” he turned and shouted to the woman.
“Eric!” Jack said. “Get a freakin’ grip.” Eric turned and looked at Jack, a smile on his face.
“Oh yeah, get a grip my hovertank friend says. You just don’t get it, do you?” Eric asked. “This is it. This is the last freakin’ cup of Starbucks I’ll ever have. I’ll never see DisneyWorld again. Never go for a midnight swim in the Pacific, as incredibly stupid as doing that is. Nope, not Star Colonel Walthers, the most wanted man in the Universe—he just keeps getting the schlong!”
Jack was about to open his mouth, then closed it. Pondering for a moment, he thought of a different tack.
“What do you think the Reservists are going to think when they see these ships lift off?” Jack asked, the small arms fire at the main gates picking up again. General Connelly had made the call not to inform the men that they were to be abandoned, realizing that it was absolutely critical that the gates to the post be held to the last possible moment. Eric found himself stunned once more at the utter cold-bloodedness of his commander, but there was a reason he had been tapped to lead the TEC and it hadn’t been his sparkling personality.
Bet POTUS is regretting that decision right now, Eric thought. If not, he will be really, really soon. While Colorado Springs wasn’t a major population center, it was probably pretty high on the Orionan target list thanks to NORAD. Only the nearby presence of Denver would probably delay the inevitable. The Orionans’ tremendous appetite for fine dining, which they considered the Humans, usually colored their decisions.
“I’ll be sure to ask them,” Eric replied sarcastically. He saw Karin striding up behind Jack and nodded towards her as he drank the last of his latte, trying to make the movement seem casual.
“You haven’t told Karin yet, have you?” Jack asked quietly, not seeing the signal or realizing the Dominionite woman was right behind him. Eric winced, mentally wishing that his friend knew when to shut up.
“Told Karin what?” the Dominionite asked, her features calm and imperturbable as always. She held a bundle of dandelions in her hand, the yellow flowers strangely quaint for a woman decked out in her armor.
“Who gave you the flowers?” Eric joked, attempting to change the subject. “Point him out so I can go kick his ass.”
“Your feeble attempts at distraction never work with your own females, what makes you think it would work with me?” Karin asked flatly. “Tell me what?”
“I asked you a question first,” Eric replied. Dominionites hated it when Humans were utterly illogical, almost to the point of homicidal rage. Given that a completely irate Dominionite was going to be the end result any way one sliced it, Eric figured he might as well go for broke.
Karin took a deep breath, her eyes starting to deepen in hue, then suddenly caught herself.
“I have been watching a great deal of human interaction today, Eric,” Karin said, her voice approaching the Dominionite standard for humor. “While I have always thought your race bizarre despite individuals being completely, as you say, loveable, I never realized the complete range of your species emotions and communication techniques until this morning. From your sheepishness when I admitted we coupled, and quite enjoyably, last night to the strange female child that handed me these flowers ‘because I looked sad’, I have seen much.”
Eric realized he was screwed. Dominionites were not happy unless they had someone in what his old wrestling coach had called the “old hucklebuck”, completely helpless and in a world of hurt. If Karin was happy, that meant the hammer was coming down.
“So, I recognize your tactic for what it is, an attempt to make me upset so that you may avoid telling me whatever it is you have neglected to tell me. I laud your efforts.”
Eric looked over to find Jack, and found much to his surprise that his friend had disappeared from beside him. Typical, he thought.
“General Connelly has asked me to be the last pilot off Earth,” Eric said quietly. “I was going to wait until your mecha was stowed, then tell you.” Better to tell you a half truth than a whole lie, he thought to himself.
Karin turned towards him, her eyes literally flashing so brightly it looked like summer lightning. In times of extreme emotions, Dominionites generated a minor static electricity field throughout their body, manifested in their eyes and at the tips of their limbs. Touching one at such a time was like grabbing onto an old joy buzzer, slightly tingly and very surprising. Needless to say, it made cross-species relationships rather interesting, and more than once Eric had been glad he didn’t have a pacemaker or undiagnosed heart murmur.
Okay, not the time to think about sex, he thought, Karin’s hands balled into fists.
“If I had told you the information that I was about to share with you,” Karin spat out, “I would think that you would be staying behind to die with your former love.”
“What?!” Eric asked, shocked.
“The woman who still owns a part of your heart, no matter how much you try to fight it,” Karin said, her voice low and angry. “The one you refuse to find so that you can finally end your relationship in your mind.”
Eric was shocked once more. His face obviously showed it because Karin favored him with a slight mocking look, the equivalent of a full sneer with humans.
“What, you didn’t think after one of your years of marriage that I would not know you so well, Eric Walthers of Topeka? For the first year you were with the Confederation you thought of little else, even telling my uncle that you wished you had never been flying the day we came to your world,” Karin thundered. Eric started backing up, a mistake as it caused Karin to cover the distance between them in two steps.
“Oh, I hated you, and what I considered your pathetic whining. You killed my bethrothed, albeit through is own arrogance and stupidity, and you had the audacity to complain about unrequited love? You have no idea how often you flirted with the Dark One while in the middle of your self-pity.”
“Karin, you know I did not intend to kill Qatran,” Eric stammered, never having seen his wife so angry. “The collision…”
“Do you really think, after six years, that I still have feelings for him? He was arrogant, the marriage was arranged, and you would never have rammed his fighter on purpose—until today you were never so determined to die. But can you say the same about this Jessica person?”
“She’s as good as dead, honey,” Eric replied, starting to wave Karin’s concern away. Karin reached out and snatched his hand, her eyes locking with his.
“I will not allow you to take the easy route out, Eric,” Karin snapped. “You wish to allow the Dark One to choose what woman you shall spend your life with because you lack the courage to do so yourself. This is cowardly, and I have never known you to be a coward.”
“What difference does it make?” Eric asked. “General Connelly…”
“Put out very strict rules regarding who could be taken. I have done the work you would not,” Karin said fiercely. “Her DNA is of a superior strand.”
“How do you…?” Eric asked, his eyes suddenly widening.
“Foolish Human, you of all people should realize how bad I am when truly determined,” Karin replied, her voice low and primal. “You will have to decide, not Death. I will go get her myself if I have to.”
“What?! Are you insane, the entire Orionan Fleet is getting ready to begin bombarding this planet, the world is such complete chaos they are having to shoot down people at the gates to this post, and you are talking to me about going to find an individual?!”
Karin’s comment was interrupted by the sound of a couple hundred screams from the direction of the Potemkin, four hundred yards to their south. Simultaneously, Eric heard the screech of his communications speakers and realized that the last of the civilians had been loaded. Karin released him, her look clearly telling him that their conversation was not over. As he sprung for his armor, he saw Jack sprinting towards him from the Wizard of Oz, cycling his helmet back as he came. Eric finished slipping on his suit and cycling his helmet on just as his friend reached him.
What he saw was not good by half. Thank you, Murphy, may I please have another? Eric thought, the weight of the world suddenly heavy on his shoulders. The Potemkin, one of the first vessels loaded with over two thousand family members, had just suffered a critical powerplant failure. The vessel wasn’t going anywhere for at least three hours. In three hours, the Orionans would be over the Earth’s horizon and able to engage the vessel as the attempted to take off. While fighting one Griffin was a fair fight for the evacuation ship, four was far from it.
“Olivia, General Connelly, priority line, right fuckin’ now!” Eric barked to his suit.
“Swear word count now at…” his mother’s voice, recorded from the Birthday CD she had made for his 15th Birthday, started to chide him. Eric had been trying to improve his temper and command presence as befitting his promotion to Commander of 1st Brigade. As several of his now subordinate leaders had pointed out, Colonels and above didn’t swear every other word—it started to make people believe the situation was worse than it actually was.
“Olivia, now!” Eric said desperately.
A moment later, General Connelly’s visage appeared in mid-air in front of Eric. The screams and cries from the Potemkin were growing louder, then suddenly ceased as her captain got on the intercom.
“Sir, we have a problem,” Eric said, then quickly recounted his issue. Connelly looked as if Eric had struck him, seemingly aging five years in a matter of seconds. I wonder when the last time he slept was, Eric thought to himself.
“Star Colonel, you need to leave the vessel,” Connelly said tiredly. “Get the other four out of there.”
“What?! Sir, I will not…”
“Dammit Eric, it’s only two thousand people. We are talking the deaths of billions in a matter of hours. The Heart of Orion just folded out of system with half of the Orionan Fleet. You know what that means, don’t you?”
Eric felt as if the bottom had dropped out of his stomach. He physically staggered, then looked up at both Jack and Karin. Their faces were similarly shocked, Jack’s a total and complete pale.
“We killed Krognar, and now whomever was next in line of succession…” Eric began.
“Is preparing to take possession of this planet, yes. It will be a blood orgy the likes of which the world has never seen, and what remains of the Orionan Fleet is closing with you as we speak.”
Eric closed his eyes, suddenly absolutely aware of every smell and sensation around him. It would be the last time he felt Earth’s gravity beneath his feet, saw the rolling green plains of Kansas in front of him. The Orionan Prophecy had come to pass—Earth had caused the fall of the House of Krognar. The remainder of the Prophecy, however, spoke of the blue green planet being swallowed in a tremendous orgy of flame, its ashes to be scattered to the solar winds. The Orionans were big into prophecies, almost as big as they were into eating. The new Emperor had probably sent away all but those who were most in his favor, the better to dine on the delicacy that was mankind.
Time to run as if the Devil himself was behind me, Eric thought, then stopped. No, I’m tired of running.
“Sir, if we leave these people, we’re not better than our former leaders,” Eric said firmly. “First Brigade will buy ourselves time.”
General Connelly’s face colored as if he was going to override Eric, then he stopped. Sighing heavily, seeing the determination on Eric’s face, he nodded.
“Sir, I’ll need additional elements,” Eric said, doing the calculations in his head.
“No,” Connelly replied. “You want to play Jim Bowie, I’m going to play Sam Houston. You fight with what you have there with you, at Riley. Uplink me your plan.”
“Why? So you can talk about how brave I was at my eulogy?” Eric asked bitterly. “Or so you know which way no to run.”
Connelly’s face was set in stone as he looked into Eric’s eyes.
“I will ignore those last remarks and chalk them up to stress, Star Colonel. Do you have the package?”
“Yes, I have your damn package, it’s aboard Nikita,” Eric replied, referring to his mecha’s nickname.
“Good. I am rerouting the Hawaiian ships to your location. Get the rest of the ships out of there, now.”
“Wilco,” Eric said, not quick enough to catch Connelly as he disappeared.
“Karin, I need Commander Wallaby here now,” Eric said, turning to his wife. Karin nodded, heading towards the Shangri-La. Jack looked at him, shaking his head.
“Eric, this is insane,” he said darkly. “You, especially you, cannot be risked in combat right now.”
Eric looked back toward the Potemkin, its hatches opening to allow people to file out from its sides.
“I’m not leaving anyone here, Jack. Go see to your men.”
“Dammit, I don’t feel like getting blown to smithereens because you’ve got a hero complex,” Jack said, not moving. Eric turned to look at him.
“Jack, Amy’s on that boat,” Eric replied. “You want to leave her here? You want to tell Jason that you left his freakin wife to die?”
“Fuck you, Eric,” Jack said fiercely, tears in his eyes. With that, he turned to go get his battalion ready.