And there it was. Or, rather, there he was.
At the precipice of a miraculous truce to a sudden and violent anti-human campaign waged on human refugees, and he was at the center of it all.
Admiral Josef Thack had successfully persuaded Czar Fomula, leader of the quonquii, to allow the humans to leave Foristi, in light of the increasing hostility and deadly violence. The czar had given permission for the entire human colony to evacuate and temporarily settle on Sijack, a habitable planet in the same solar system used only for mining by the quonquii.
The rapid deterioration in relations between the two species remained unexplained. Twenty years earlier, the quonquii had offered their home planet to the relatively small group of two hundred thousand human refugees when the Earth’s sun showed signs of instability. Many different species offered homes, and the human race split apart. Groups of human refugees went their separate ways to new and welcoming planets.
The quonquii were an incredibly strong species. Froglike in appearance, they had shiny emerald skin, bulbous eyes that never blinked, and wide mouths lined with fat lips. A strip of spiny scales that ran from the top of their heads down the backsides would stiffen and stand up straight during moments of agitation.
The planet of Foristi had no countries, no nationalities. They were one global race led by a family of inherited royalty, the reclusive leader of which the humans eventually referred to as the czar. There had been no borders or foreign places on Foristi until the humans erected their colony.
Strange as they were, the quonquii had been exceptionally friendly to the human refugees. They got along swimmingly for the first decade. Then something changed. And the assassinations began.
No one understood what had happened. And the czar seemed as keen as Admiral Thack was on preserving the peace. The humans had retained their own starship fleet. Why not leave for planet Sijack until a more permanent solution could be found? If they stayed on Foristi, they wouldn’t last. The rate of killings had already surpassed their own natality. And a recent attack at the statehouse in the human city of Eden had eliminated half of their political and military leaders.
Back in his guest room at the Foristi Palace, Admiral Josef Thack found his breath, found the calm of sanctuary, and his faith in the quonquii government held steady.
He sat before his personal terminal, writing a transmission to all captains and members of the restructured human government. Time was still of the essence, he relayed, but he had received permission. Operations would proceed in a covert fashion. Get all civilians to the ships now. They would leave at daybreak. Follow the original protocol.
He ended his transmission with the usual warning and reminder.
“Everything is packed up. Millie is napping right now, but we’re ready to go.” Tina put a hand on his shoulder and bent down to kiss his brow. “I’m so proud of you.”
Josef reached across his chest and took one hand while she rubbed his back. “Not yet,” he said, shaking his head. "Don't consider this a done deal until we're back in Eden. We still have to make it out of here."
He’d brought his family with him to the quonquii capitol of Foristi. If a kill order had been signed, the assassins would find them no matter where they were and his entire family would be slaughtered. He couldn’t bear for that to happen while separated. They would stay together.
Something nagged at his conscience. A tiny feeling that he had missed something. And it was enough to shake him to his feet.
He brushed Tina’s black curls behind her shoulders and cupped her face. They could’ve passed for siblings, had anyone looked at them together. The same silky dark skin, the same golden eyes, the same black hair - one in a military shave, the other in cascading curls long past the shoulders.
The feeling grew stronger. Something was wrong. The memory of a quonquii who had whispered to the czar while they spoke flashed before his eyes.
“What’s wrong,” she asked.
Josef shook the thought away and pinched between his eyes. He then bent into his wife and touched his forehead to hers.
“Tina. I want you to know something. I want you to know that although our life hasn’t been what we imagined, although we’ve lived in these poor conditions that never morphed into the dreams we had, and although I’ve climbed to this rank I never deserved only because of the killings, I want you to know that everything, the good and the bad, everything that surrounds us - are mere trivialities to what you’ve given me. Your love, our daughter, this family. Everything else pales in comparison.”
Tina could always read Josef like an open book. And she understood then. She reached up and took his face. She said nothing, only took his golden eyes in hers, and kissed him on the lips.
Josef took a deep breath and steadied himself. “Get Millie. We need to leave now.”
Tina ran into the next room while Josef packed his personal terminal into its case. He took one look around the room, checked the chronocall on his wrist, and picked up the bags by the door.
Tina had just emerged from the bedroom with Millie wrapped in her arms when an explosion rocked the room. Tina’s wide eyes found Josef and she clutched Millie tightly. Josef peaked out the window.
“Our shuttle?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said. He saw her shoulders slump. Saw the look of complete defeat on her face.
“I will not make it easy for them, my love.”
Josef screamed with all his might as he pushed the heavy stone desk in front of the door and then he ushered Tina into the windowless bedroom. He moved the dresser to block that door and then lifted the heavy mattress off the bed, placing it against the corner wall. “Get under this, now.”
Tina and Millie, now fully awake, crawled behind the mattress. Josef unpacked his terminal and dialed the number for Czar Fomula. No one answered. With a push of a button, his emergency message was transmitted to the fleet and he then stood, preparing for the last stand of Admiral Josef Thack. He heard the front door being ripped apart by quonquii stayzars.
With a second thought, Josef pressed another button on his chronocall and then quickly withdrew the two hidden pulsedaggers from his case. He rose to face the door. Defiant to the end.
His bottom lip buckled but he did not weep.
His eyes widened but they did not release a tear.
He thought of all that could have been, and then he thought of what will still be.
The door to his bedroom disintegrated under the heavy smashes of stayzars and when they broke through, Josef killed as many quonquii as he could with his pulsedaggers.
He took down five of the eight-foot beasts before he was dispatched.
They took their time with his wife and child.