It had taken Senate technical specialists several days to process and translate all the data from the Votheen’s secret outpost. They’d brought a body of the new type of Votheen back with them for research purposes and the autopsy had been done promptly. Arkan had grown increasingly impatient and anxious over that time as fears had grown about what the survivors had seen. The Votheen were mobile and scheming and it had taken them until it was too late to see it. The picture was so vastly detailed that he almost wished he could play ignorant to it. After the Senate had imprisoned the surviving Votheen on Sayloch for their crimes it appeared that they had settled secret installations out in wild space that they had never recorded. Enough Votheen were outside the cordon that they were allowed to flee to planets their ancestors had long since conquered and forgotten about. There they worked on protecting themselves against the bioweapon that had been their undoing. Evolving separately from their home world brethren they had altered their own genetic material. Once they had decided they had lived in hiding long enough they broke the cordon and returned to their home world to a shock civil war. After a very brief period of infighting, the weak inbreds left on Sayloch bent their knee to the new Votheen conquerers. It had hit Arkan like a lead weight. They weren’t just dealing with angry freedom fighters of a long dead generation, they were fighting bitter and twisted monsters with the brains and capacity to do the Senate and its people real harm. The data packet the recon team had taken was full of star charts with points of interest that Arkan had passed on to the director of Senate Security for operational consideration. It also contained numerous references to humanity, a race they should have never met. Why the supposed leader of their xenophobic movement was behind enemy lines was troubling but also very fortuitous. Arkan would see Senator Wilhelm burn if he failed to bring him the answers he needed, he had no excuses now. It wasn’t all gloomy news however. The vials brought back contained an incomplete vaccine for Aurora. It was designed to work with Votheen physiology but it was a thousand times better than engineering one from scratch, although Arkan was still concerned at how long it may still take. By attacking Caboona they had no doubt accelerated the pace of the war.
The Senate Security interrogator had given Leon Winter a rough time in the five minutes he’d been ordered to watch over him. High Senator Alexander Wilhelm was in a forgiving mood from the actions of the Human officer, he’d have done it himself if he hadn't wanted to keep his job. He looked over the man he had once considered a friend with complete disdain. Even through the exhaustion and wounds, Alexander could tell the facade had dropped. The eloquent public speaker had been swapped out for a bitter old veteran scared of change. “I hear you confessed straight away.” The Senator let it hang in the air but when he didn’t get a reply he pushed the subject. “Out of guilt or did you think the punishment would be leaner?” Leon smiled in such a dark way that it made the Senator’s skin crawl.
“I answer to no crime. I have done what is best for humanity. What have you ever done for us? I mean, really? Something that mattered as much as this?” Alexander was dumb struck at the accusation. His jaw gaped as Leon prepared another verse, “We came across the Votheen and they offered to spare our race if we aided them. Their success is inevitable, I have seen the true scale of what they have waiting for the Senate. Would you have denied humanity the chance of survival so readily? Are you that blind? So eager to whistle to Arkan’s tune?” Leon probed, so confident in his stance that he began to stand up.
“So why the hell were they trying to kill you, you stupid man!” Alexander demanded as he forced the ex-politician back down.
“A simple misunderstanding. They thought the Senate recon team were with me. I have to admit it was very ill timed.”
“Perfectly timed. We grabbed us one smug son of a bitch. They’ve played you for a fool, Leon! They don’t plan on saving anyone!”
“You’re a pet to these aliens, Alexander, and a narrowed-minded one at that. Humanity deserves better than you. They will call me a hero when I honour the arrangement we have.”
“Really?” Alexander lulled which fooled Leon into thinking he’d gotten one over on him if that was his argument. “Then pray tell why a Votheen invasion fleet is laying siege to Atlas right now? You’ve doomed us all, you fucking asshole. You’ve probably damaged our standing with the Senate beyond repair and without their backing the Votheen will pick us off first.”
“You always were a poor liar, Alexander, once I frame you for my death the Senate will have to re-elect a new Senator and I know just the man for the job,” Leon threatened which really took Alexander back, who else was in on this maddening scheme and how exactly did Leon plan to frame him.
“I don’t think you’re in any position to make threats.”
“Oh, aren’t I? It should upset you to realise how little you know your friends.” The noise came long after the shooting pain that shuddered up his arm from his shoulder. The guard had been Alexander’s own for his whole tenancy. Carl Walker was a damn good man, or so he had thought. He had spent time with Alexander’s children often times on trips off world. Another shot and Leon hit the floor, willing to die for his ridiculous plan. “The Senator has shot the captive!” Carl yelled as he rolled Alexander over with his boot planning on ending the lie’s loose end where he lay. He didn’t plan on the Senator also having a firearm, one he’d carried on him ever since Senate Security raided his office. The round took out Carl’s right eye as the body swayed for much longer than it should have. When the calls for help were finally answered there were a lot of questions. No one really knew what to believe and as Alexander was treated for his wound he found himself drifting off into thought. In a perverted way he could see what Leon’s logic had been. What would he have done if he thought humanity’s survival could have been guaranteed? Saving humanity was one thing but condemning the rest of the galaxy was very much another. Darker thoughts crept in then. Was humanity afflicted with a selfish natural tendency to protect itself among all else? Maybe the Caliterrian had been right all along, maybe humanity wasn’t ready for all this. He shuddered at the thought. He wondered what Arkan might have to say to all this and what the subsequent punishment might be. In that moment humanity’s progress had been swept aside and set back a hundred years.
The sky overhead was tainted a fierce crimson as the superheated sub-orbital strikes ignited the air it cut through. The aliens had come in vast number and with no intention of showing mercy. Atlas was to be an example to the rest of the galaxy. The bombardment had come only two days after Tobias had survived his venture into the headquarters of Alenda Technologies. He’d spent a night at home before setting out on foot, fully stocked, in the direction of the Fort. The only safe place on the planet he had assumed. The invasion had halted his progress and now he found himself with the grateful hospitality of a young woman and her infant daughter. She had offered him refuge in their cellar from the cold and fighting when she had found him curled up on her doorstep the night before. Her name was Holly Warren and she did her best to keep spirits up but her and her daughter’s activities were often drowned out by gunfire. Tobias sat in a corner quietly and observed how close the two were, but mostly he just caught up on sleep. That’s how it had happened the last time. Holly was sitting with Leanne on her lap as they played ‘I spy’ with the very limited amount of visual targets at their disposal. Tobias was asleep, drained by the watch he kept from the sky light in the loft space of their house. The girls were afraid to go up there, wary of drawing attention to their humble abode. He couldn’t blame them one bit. He couldn’t see much but more often than not it was unpleasant. He was jarred by a force which turned out to be Holly’s hand placed firmly on his shoulder. The other was clasped across Leanne’s mouth as her wide eyes refused to budge from the dead ahead position. The hand moved slowly and made a singular upward finger and that’s when Tobias heard the footsteps on the floorboards above. Door slamming soon followed as it seemed as though the intruders were looking for something, or someone he thought grimly. The adults kept very quiet, Leanne tried her best but the odd whimper kept creeping out the side of her mouth. The footsteps grew louder until finally they began to creak down the stairway that led to the cellar. The little girl scampered extremely light-footed across the cold hard concrete floor and hid underneath a pile of clothes which she blended into quite nicely. It was well rehearsed. Holly took her leave in the wardrobe which Tobias was positive they’d check but it was marginally better than standing out in the open. Tobias drew the short straw and ducked behind a couple of large cardboard boxes which seemed to house things they’d never unpacked since they moved to the property. The seconds ticked by like self-contained eternities until the door finally began to lurch open. The figure in the doorway was no more alien than Tobias and he recognised the man as one of the recruits from the academy. The one they had all had bets on to finish top of his class. His bio-scanner swept and blinked green at all their hiding places, Tobias emerged seeing no point in staying hidden for much longer. He smiled and let out a big sigh as Holly joined him. Leanne didn’t even flinch. Tobias moved toward the pile of clothes and lifted it up just enough to find her watery Frisbee-sized eyes. “Don’t be shy, these are friends.” He smiled as he picked her out slowly. The officer looked Tobias up and down with surprised eyes.
“Tobias Sterling, isn’t it, sir? We had orders to bring you in.”
“Difficult order to carry out when there’s no one to bring you to,” he said with an ironic cock of the head. “They hit the Fort first, like they knew we’d all be holed up in there. It’s nothing more than a flaming hole in the ground now. I guess it wasn’t designed to withstand an armada.” Tobias’s world rocked. All he knew had changed forever and all the people he had cared about were gone. He swayed but a gentle touch on his forearm prevented his collapse. He’d forgotten all about the two ladies present.
“So where are we going?” Holly asked, pulling her daughter close. The officer nodded toward the stairs and the message was understood immediately. The ground floor of Holly’s home was gutted, bullet holes riddled every wall, the fighting in the street had caused horrendous amounts of collateral damage. He could see it in her eyes how thankful she was for the basement. If they hadn’t have had it they would have almost certainly died.
They emerged out into the dusty air of the street. It was midday and the sun should have been high in the sky but the black clouds made it feel like the dead of night. The world seemed hostile and surreal. A small convoy of armoured trucks sat on the street waiting for them, loaded up with refugees and survivors from neighbouring streets. “We’re moving to the old storm bunkers that we used when we colonised this planet. They survived terraforming conditions so what’s a little invasion,” the young officer joked dryly as they loaded onto the second rearmost truck which was completely empty, in fact not many of them were full. Tobias knew from his ranging days that is was about a three hours’ drive south but he had to agree. If the Fort had fallen, the bunkers were the next best thing. He didn’t have much hope for the plan but he didn’t wish to worry Holly and Leanne. They looked like they had seen enough already. That was when a hot chill swept across the back of his neck. The vehicle behind them exploded into molten metal and showered around them in a violent storm. A scream carried by the thick air caught Tobias’s ears and he suspected it was from Leanne but the little wide-eyed girl sat silently stunned. The origin had been a Votheen fighter overheard as it wound up for a return run. “Move!” bellowed an officer as the trucks fired up with thunderous vengeance. As plasma rained down on them Tobias closed his eyes, he’d already given up on long-term survival.