<- Back to Index
Hyperlinks in the text are intended as supplemental material, discussing elements of the science behind the science fiction. They are not intended as required reading for the story. Hyperlinks will be provided at the point in the story where it comes up, but all the links will also be collected at the bottom of the post for easy reading.
Thank you for reading! Me and my coauthor Darinost are gradually combining forces and blogs, so the joint comment section for our stories is currently located on discord! Come on in and let us know what you thought, we don’t bite.
The Death of Hope hovered triumphantly in the lonely silence of darkened space, orbiting the enormous space-hulk that had proved the final resting place of its prey. The Midgar-6 — now devoid of both life and cargo — still lay where it had crash landed into its amalgamated bulk. As the spoils of their victory, the Kthid had separated entire segments of its structure to remove the cargo and colonist pods that had been attached to the superstructure, and they were now being towed alongside the alien battlecruiser. With so many human colonists captured, the Warlord now owned a whole treasure-trove of slaves, and he had only thawed out two pods, a little over 150,000 of the humans so far. Within, the victorious space-dragons stored the rest of their ill-gotten gains. Alien engineers in shimmering Aegis fields and sleek-looking armored spacesuits swarmed over it, finishing the work to extend the warship’s Aegis to cover their prizes.
Through the palatial sized view ports, Huntmaster Sarcand observed that downed colony-ship with trance-like solemnity. Once again, he sat seated upon a grand technogothic command-throne that occupied the room’s very center. The Huntmaster was taking one last look at his slain quarry, and the nearby azure Jovian which had perpetually graced the background of this conflict. Unlike last time, however, now a new thrall of the human species knelt by his side. This one was as beautiful, redhaired, statuesque and bejeweled as the first, though slightly younger. Leaning subserviently against his trunk-thick leg in humiliating nudity, she was the symbol of all that he had accomplished.
“Take a look,” the Huntsmaster commanded.
Amara’s eyelids rose slowly, reluctantly, green pupils peering through that vast observation window down at the crashed vessel that she had been given command of and the duty to protect. Sorrow glistened in her eyes like sparkling tears yet to fall, though even that shine was rendered demure by her broken will.
When all this had began, her life had been so different. She had been a Captain. A custodian of a nascent colony in the Terran Federation. Her life had centered around the duties of an officer, and the drive to live up to a long lost sister. She’d had a lover, she’d had friends. In those days, Amara had held no conception of the alien horrors that would come to imperil both her life and her mission. She hadn’t even known that the Kthid existed. Now, she was the Heitera of their Warlord and those she had sworn to safeguard were either dead or their slaves.
And even though she hated it, loathed these intergalactic vandals with every ounce of her being, there was nothing she could do to stop it, to reverse it, to make this undone. She had slain Kthid on alien worlds. She had fought Void Tracers on a doomed vessel. She had struggled and strained and schemed… and she had ended up here, at his feet. Her failure had been the triumph of the monster whose leg she now adorned.
For all her heroics, Amara had ended up just like her sister.
Around them, throughout the command-deck, engineers and technicians were preparing the mighty warship for departure. Aliens worked at many stations, their large fingers flying with surprising dexterity across the consoles as they deployed a huge web of solar panels that more than quintupled the surface area of the ship, gathering the radiation of the sun and their reactor both in a single place as dormant systems on the waiting battleship hummed back to life at their command. Amara watched the technology and aptitude on display with dull wonder, too filled with sorrow to care at the moment. She didn’t even know where they were going. To their godforsaken homeworld, she presumed.
A single Kthid marched onto the bridge, showing little of the deference that everyone else paid to the Huntmaster… his nod was genuine, but he did not dip his head low. He was wearing neither Kthid warrior-caste battle armor nor the simple cloth of the casteless, Amara noted… he instead wore some kind of sleek silver armor that was covered by tools and interface ports. “Ah,” Sarcand said, turning to face the newcomer. “You have your report then, Kaarvaak Vrakash?”
“I do, brother,” the newcomer said, his voice a rich purr through triangular teeth. “The satellites we constructed upon arriving in the system are online and we are collecting the star’s energy. Refuelling is nearly completed, and my men assure me that the slaves will be secured by the time it is.”
“Yes, yes,” Sarcand said impatiently. “And your personal project? The human engines?”
There was a twinkle in the Kthid’s eyes, and Amara understood… he was the ship’s chief engineer, or perhaps scientist. “Their so-called ‘Lilis Drive’ was taken fully intact from the ruins of their colony ship. As you requested, we have been focusing on the creation of the wormhole itself, and the process is not dissimilar to our own singularity drives… we can create one before returning home with ease. The rest, however…” There was something odd in his eyes. “Even pieces of Faliran technology I saw that were more advanced than our own, that involved logical leaps we hadn’t ever predicted possible, were simple enough to understand upon close inspection. This thing, however… I don’t understand how a species as primitive as theirs was able to invent this process. It’s… simply incredible.”
“My previous Heitera mentioned that she was discovered by accident,” her master said with a pensive growl to his voice.
“I believe it,” Vrakash agreed. “Replicating the technology and installing it into the Death of Hope will be simple enough with a year or two of study. Understanding it, however… it might take me decades. When we conquer their worlds, some of their scientists might be worth making sure to take alive. I hadn’t realized it was possible to create a rotating singularity, and the implications are enormous.”
“We will do so.” Sarcand slapped his hand across his chest in a salute, and his brother did likewise before giving another small bow. Then he left to see to the final preparations for their voyage.
Amara listened to this with half an ear, her thoughts wandering. Onboard the Mistrunner, she had heard the ghostly recordings of Talia’s log. On her sidereal voyages, that Captain had encountered some phenomenon in farflung space that she had named the Dark Star. During her captivity with these Kthid, she had oftentimes heard that name spoken with nearly religious reverence… Shau’lun, they called it. Possibly they were journeying to its baleful vicinity, even though the locale included in the logs seemed horribly dangerous. Whatever its nature and relationship to these violent ravagers known as the Kthid, she was fairly sure she was going to find out… now that it was too late for that knowledge to matter.
She stared for hours, lost in her thoughts while Sarcand gave orders and received reports. “Have you taken a long stare of remembrance, my little human?” Sarcand said at last with a small, menacing growl. “Said your farewells?”
Amara Black’s dark thoughts not been betrayed by the placid look of her face. She refocused her eyes on the Midgar-6, that once stately vessel of mankind’s top engineering. Seeing that moribund symbol of her loss stung her heart more than she cared to dwell on. “Yes, Master,” the fallen Captain replied, voice caught between forlorn and fawning.
“Good,” Sarcand responded, raising his fist. He extended one finger. One of the waiting officers slammed his fist against his chest, turning back to the crew and relaying a command that was not translated to his underlings. A moment later, Amara didn’t need to guess… the plumes cutting through the dust and gas that surrounded the strange asteroid betrayed the torrent of missiles the gunnery officers of the ship had unleashed. Amara could see them converge through that frontal window, growing smaller and dimmer the further they got from the Death of Hope, approaching the downed colony vessel. When their glow had grown almost too dim to see, they impacted against her hull. A blinding light flashed across the distance, and the sting forced Amara to squeeze her eyes shut. When they reopened, she could see nothing but a white-hot stain and expanding gas where her ship had been.
Though the void there was no sound which could communicate the ferocity of the destruction, but the sight of it was enough to tell Amara the whole story. Only the faintest glimmers of scattering metal were still visible underneath that maelstrom of rendering flames. For a second its light was like a second sun shining on them, the illumination casting Amara’s face in such stark relief she looked like an ancient painting.
“Target destroyed, Huntmaster,” the armored officer confirmed.
Sarcand placed his strong fist atop Amara’s dome, petting her head like one would console a nervous pet. “Good. Are the drives prepared?”
Another Kthid growled something that the translator didn’t catch. Amara had little doubt that before too long she would understand their words all too well, but whatever he said seemed to please Sarcand. “Then prepare us for entry into deep space. By the Dark Star, we shall return to the fleet in glory.”
Despair settled itself inside Amara’s soul like a stone plummeting towards the depths of some night-black ocean as she watched the solar panels retract and vanish into the armor of the warship. Her life was now void and her husk would exist to be tormented by Sarcand. Miranda hadn’t managed to survive him. How could she? The ship began to accelerate into the interstellar night… frighteningly quickly, actually, and Amara’s thoughts began to stray to where she desperately didn’t want them to. Her palm was placed above her exposed belly button. Beneath that navel was her life-giving womb. The Kthid held only one design for their human thralls. Rape until impregnation. Repeat until death. Already, no doubt, a new life would be growing inside of her. A life wholly Kthid, coming from its foul father as she was forced to extend the bloodline of the conquerer of her ship, her people… and that abomination would be her son.
It was the last thing in the universe she wanted to think about… but Amara was horrifically aware that it was probably already too late.
As the ship’s course changed, that front window passed by the space-hulk and eventually even the azure gas-giant. Now, its view showed nothing but the glimmer of distant stars. The enormity of the void stretched out before them. “Set course for Maldoror,” Sarcand commanded to his underlings. “We are going home.” He looked down at Amara. “Fear not, slave… the journey back to your Earth will be far faster, now that we have your Terran ‘Lilis’ technology. Clever animals your kind are,” he said with a smirk.
Amara clutched her fist over her belly, trying to wish this child away as her mind wandered… and the Death of Hope rocketed into deep space, taking its prizes, and the political collateral they represented, back towards its homeworld.
And away from Earth.
Just like she had hoped.
Two Weeks Earlier
Amara ran down the hallways, barely feeling the burn in her lungs. “Left!” Atalanta commanded in her ear, and one of the Captain’s hands shot out and grabbed onto the corner, hooking herself around it without losing any more speed than absolutely necessary. Part of her mind told her that her speed wasn’t necessary… that she had either been in time or she hadn’t, and whatever was going to happen had already happened. She told that part of her to shut the fuck up and ran harder. “Right!” the Exalted said, her tone still all business with no trace of her usual mockery as she guided Amara through the cramped engineering tunnels. “This door, Captain.”
Amara hit the door hard, not able to stop in time as she reached for the laser-cutter she had taken from engineering station. Inch by inch, she cut her way into the engine compartment she had been trying to get back to, slicing a rough triangle out of the metal before she began to kick it. One, two, three, four… and then the titanium wedge fell away with a metallic ring and Amara could hear the most beautiful thing she had ever heard on the other side.
The dark-skinned Captain grabbed onto a pair of pipes and used them to leverage her body almost horizontal, shoving her way through the small opening as quickly as she could and emerging among a mass of webbing… and screaming, talking, shouting crewmen. “Amara!” Leila shouted, even as Evy moaned energetically through the void-tracer webbing covering her mouth. Amara’s eyes darted to the airlock, finally sealed… late, but in time.
Frantically, her eyes scanned the dark room until she found what she was looking for… and then she fell onto Ri’she’a’s form as she struggled to escape the binding webs.
“Captain!” she exclaimed. “You’re ali-”
Amara didn’t care who was watching. She kissed the woman, hard… silencing her with her sheer pervasive joy that the Sethis was still alive. For long moments, nothing else in the word existed but the taste and scent of the nearly naked woman beneath her… no fear, no horror at what was to come. Just relief. Then she broke the kiss and pulled her knife, still stained with X’s blood, and started to cut at the Void Tracer’s webbing.
She had been sure she wouldn’t get through. She had only had moments and been virtually unarmed with the biggest Void Tracer she had ever seen in front of her… and perhaps the smartest as well. Not so smart that it hadn’t been a slave to its instincts, though. Amara had learned something interesting then as she stared at the monster… the fear it tried to inspire was a weak thing compared to her fear for the life of her crewmen, the absolute dread of the ticking clock in her mind. Maybe on another day, when she hadn’t been exposed over and over and over again for so long, it would have been different… but today her thoughts were clear. And it expected its prey to be all but incapacitated or dead already.
She had frozen and dropped down to the floor, like its prey was supposed to… overwhelmed and frozen in terror. She had even fallen with her legs spread, hoping to be as enticing to its instincts as possible… and X hadn’t disappointed. The thing had climbed on top of her to rape her. They were used to their prey being incapacitated with terror… it hadn’t expected her to resist as she gathered her legs up beneath her and kicked at the exposed ovipositor with all the strength in both of her legs. The monstrous matriarch’s cruel weapon of sexual violence had cracked with the first kick, and the Void Tracer had let out a shrill scream that shook Amara’s bones under her skin. The second kick had broken it off entirely.
Amara would only have seconds before it recovered enough to literally rip her to shreds, so she didn’t hesitate. The knife in her hands felt like a paltry weapon, designed as a tool first and an emergency weapon of hand to hand combat against an Aegis second, but Amara already knew where the weakest point in the thing’s armor would be. As it drew back, skittering away in pain, she leaped to her feet and plunged the knife down through the X in the center of its forehead, where the natural armor and the shell beneath was already cut away by a laser scalpel and broken.
The violent thrashing that the massive thing went into as the knife sank into its brain broke the nearby walls, ripping huge gouges out of them as it skittered sideways, fell, rose, and fell again, claws raking.. Amara wasn’t sure if that would be enough to kill it, and even if it was, its death throes could easily kill her as well, so she pressed herself against the opposite wall and slipped past it, running into the bridge and hitting the override, locking the door behind her even as she closed the airlock on engineering.
The five minutes it took X to die had been the longest five minutes of her life.
Amara finished sawing through the first cord of webbing, the blood rubbing off the knife. “Atalanta, how long before intercept at the last radar ping?”
There was an unusual hesitation, and for a second Amara didn’t think the Exalted was going to answer. “38 hours until intercept,” she said at last, her voice a little bit more subdued. “But only 128 minutes until estimated visual range.”
Amara started cutting faster. “Time for us to go,” she said.
Getting the surviving crew free of the webs wasn’t easy, but she had pressed knives into the hands of anyone still strong enough to use them after the Void Tracers had finished with them. The eggs inside their victims were a bigger problem, but thankfully this wasn’t the first time the Federation had rescued a victim of the monsters. Removal would have to wait for complete surgical facilities and more time, but the Federation did know how to create an enzyme to stop them from hatching, and that data entry was part of Atalanta’s data-logs and even with most of the medical officers left behind with the colonists they were able to quickly manufacture and use them in the ship’s well-stocked medbay. They would need to continue to continue taking them until they were back in Federation space, but the thirty four of them that had still been alive to rescue would make it.
The other 81 people she had gotten off the Midgar-6 were not as fortunate.
“Have you finished transferring yourself yet?” Amara asked.
“I have,” Atalanta acknowledged, the hologram on the Captain’s wrist speaking with the tinny sound of a remote transmission. One by one, the crew members were pushing inside the last remaining shuttle that the madwoman Talia Icarus hadn’t launched or sabotaged. It was really only intended for use by thirty people or so for a week or so to send a crew back through a Lilis wormhole to trade out with fresh crewmembers on the outward voyage, but they had also been intended to serve as lifeboats and escape pods in the event of an emergency and Amara knew how over-engineered they were for their stated purpose. They might be the smallest ships with sufficient power and mass to operate one of the Lilis drives and reopen the wormhole, but she felt confident that shuttle would manage to make it back to Earth in a few months, back one by one through the wormholes the Midgar-6 had taken to reach here. “I’ve fully transferred myself onto the shuttle’s mainframe. It isn’t really intended for an Exalted so I’m running sub-optimally, but it will do.”
“Good enough to access all navigation information?” When Atalanta clicked an acknowledgment, Amara continued. “You have a copy of the datalog of the attack and of Talia’s journal?” She signaled her agreement once again, and Amara nodded. “Then blow the charges. We leave nothing behind for the Kthid to find.”
Even from here, Amara could hear the dull rumble as Atalanta triggered the self-destruct of the computer’s mainframe systems. There would be no way for the Kthid to access the security logs of the ship now, no way for them to know that anyone had survived… or where they had gone. “The safest way to go,” Amara continued, “will be to have the shuttle drift in a random direction for a week or two before powering up and driving for the Lilis wormhole. There’s enough debris in this system after the battle and the crash that they’ll never pick up the shuttle floating dead-stick.” Ri’she’a walked past Amara, lingering for a second to brush their hands together and Amara had to fight to resist pulling her into another kiss. “Is that everyone?” she said, poking her head in to count. Thirty, thirty one, thirty two, thirty three… and she made thirty four. That was everyone.
Ri’she’a was heading for the helm. “I’ll launch once everyone’s strapped in,” the Sethis woman said. “After initial impulse we’ll power down completely and-”
Amara shut the door and levered the manual airlock into place.
A second later, as Amara was sagging against the wall, the intercom clicked to life. “Amara, what the hell do you think you’re doing!” Ri’she’a said, a note of panic in her voice.
Amara swallowed her dread and shame. “Just what it looks like,” she said. “I’m staying behind.”
“Captain! Amara… that’s insane!” Ri’she’a protested. “No! There must be some other way!”
“No. There isn’t,” Amara responded, voice grave by the ultimatum she was speaking. “I’ve been thinking long and hard on how to escape the Kthid… and if I did they would never stop hunting. Their Huntmaster needs those colonists, Ri’she’a… Miranda was very clear on that. There are politics in play here… if I vanish, one of two things is going to happen. Either he will hunt us down with everything he has, and succeed, and none of us will reach Federation space… or the invasion he plans will launch immediately with someone else in command of it.” She swallowed. “And we’re not ready, Ri’she’a. If they attack us now… we’re dead. The Federation will burn… every one of us.”
The rest of the crew stared back at their Captain from inside the escape shuttle, crammed so close to get a view through the diminutive viewport that they were all touching. Some of them looked indignant. Others looked panicked. Worst of all, however, were the looks of pained, hollow sadness… the ones that understood what she was saying. The ones who understood what she was doing.
“I’m not leaving without you!” Ri’she’a said firmly. “Atalanta, override the door.”
“She can’t,” Amara said, her voice tired. “She blew up the computer systems, remember? There is no link left anymore.” She sagged back against the wall. “Ri’she’a… I’m sorry, but we have no choice. We have less than half an hour before the pursuit gets within range to potentially detect the initial impulse, and if that happens no one will get away. Earth will get no warning of the impending threat, have no time to prepare. This is the only way.”
“It doesn’t have to be you!” Ri’she’a cursed. “It could be me! I’ll stay behind!”
“You don’t have the code for the colonists, love,” Black said quietly. “Only I do… and I won’t give them to you, or to anyone else. If he gets them, he’ll be able to offer them to his superiors to get his position as the head of the coming invasion… and that will stall them, long enough for him to reach their system at least. I am the only one that the Kthid are after. If they do not find me on this ship, they will keep looking for me. They need to find me, or it’s all for nothing.”
Amara rubbed at her temple. “Someone has to make it back to Earth and warn the Federation. The Kthid are an existential threat. Unless the Federation is warned and has time to prepare, then humanity itself probably has less than a decade left to exist. You’ve seen what I’ve seen. You all know I’m right.”
The many female faces of the crew darkened as they all privately pondered on the stakes at play. The existence of their entire species hung in the balance. If they didn’t make it home, then it wouldn’t merely entail their own personal deaths, but the undoing of mankind itself.
“B-But,” Leila Evangeline stuttered. “What about the colonists? If they have you then they’ll possess all four Officers that are needed to undo the password.”
“Yes,” Amara said, forced to confront the darkness of her plan. “They will.” The colonists… those she had sworn to protect… had to be sacrificed. The warlord needed his prize to stall the invasion of the Federation, or the million captives would be joined by tens or hundreds of billions more. The mere thought of sacrificing so many people caused her haggard heart to feel like it was tearing, her stomach to want to empty… but it was only easy to argue against morality by the numbers when the numbers were small. She was sacrificing a million to potentially save a trillion. If what Miranda had said was true, Sarcand could use her colonists as political capital to take control of the invasion… and that meant nothing could happen until after he’d returned home. The enslavement of her and all those under her care could, hopefully, stall Sarcand’s rapacious attack, even if only for a little while. This way, the Federation would be given more time to prepare. Against an opponent as horrific as the Kthid, they would need every single hour Amara could give them.
Amara would be giving them up to the immolation of Kthid enslavement. She would willingly sacrifice the very civilians she was oathbound to protect. Her one consolation would be that she would be joining them in that inferno. The Captain held no delusions that she would be able to resist the Kthid torture. If they could break Miranda, then she would probably snap as well.
Amara didn’t say that, though. Ri’she’a needed hope. “You need to go,” the red-haired Captain commanded. “Now.”
“I won’t do it!” Ri’she’a swore. “I can force your hand too, Amara! Thirty minutes, you say? What if we just stay right here? Think you can watch the clock tick down until it’s too late? Get in the damn shuttle Captain, I’m not leaving without you! I can’t leave without you!”
“Please don’t hate me, Ri’she’a,” Amara whispered. “I’m sorry. Atalanta… override launch procedure.”
For a long moment there was nothing. No one spoke. Then, her voice quiet, solemn, horrified, Atalanta responded. “As you command… Captain.”
Amara caught one last glance of Ri’she’a’s wide blue eyes as the impulse drives activated, and then the shuttle blasted free of the ship using the inbuilt drive system. The separation came with a bout of instant hurt. Though she knew that she headed for assured destruction at the hands of the Kthid, it was not the physical danger that troubled her the most. It was the knowledge that this was the final sight she would ever have of Ri’she’a.
The escape-shuttle ejected. Almost immediately the thrusters went dead… that would be the Exalted woman shutting down the main reactor and the drives, making the ship as stealthy as it was possible to be in space. Unseen, that vessel sailed away and vanished utterly against the black, away from the doomed Mistrunner and towards safety. Her heart cheered that after all this death… at least those few would survive. Silently, alone on the ship, Amara took the time to seal the shuttle bays so that even if Ri’she’a could convince Atalanta to let her reactivate the ship’s reactors there would be no way to dock back with the Mistrunner.
Then she began to walk to her final resting place. The Captain turned around and headed back into the corridor. Alone, the ship seem suddenly even more silent, even more lonely. On her journey she passed by many lasgun-murdered Void Tracers and the occasional body of her own crew. One step at a time, she returned to the cadaver of the huge, dead monster that had been called X and wait for the Kthid to arrive.
Her wrist beeped, and a second later the hologram of Atalanta lit up. “This is… a very brave thing you’re doing, Captain,” the Exalted said, looking up at Amara with a strange look on her face.
Amara took a moment to confirm that this was a tight-beam laser transmission from the shuttle, that Atalanta hadn’t lied to her and remained on board. “Is that what it is? It feels more stupid than brave.” She kept walking.
“It’s remarkable how often they collide,” the ancient heroine said. “I… didn’t think you had it in you,” she admitted. There was an odd tone to her voice… it took a moment for Amara to place it. The Exalted was ashamed. “I’m… sorry. Rest assured, I’ll see to it that the Federation will remember what you did.”
Amara scoffed. This was the very first moment she had shared what felt like affection with the damnable woman. “I don’t care about that,” she said quietly, giving a sad smile. “They… aren’t going to understand, are they?”
“They say that heroes sacrifice themselves for their people,” Atalanta whispered. “And that’s true… but the fact is they rarely sacrifice themselves alone.”
The two women were silent for a moment before Amara spoke again. “I want you to do me a favor, Atalanta.”
“I won’t say anything about Ri’she’a,” she promised.
“Thank you,” Amara sagged a little. Ri’she’a didn’t deserve to have her reputation polluted by association with what she had done, or sleeping with a superior officer. “I also want you to find out what that… thing… is.”
Atalanta’s face darkened. “Absolutely,” she promised. They didn’t have to say more… they knew what they talking about.
There had only been the one corpse of the former crew on board the ship, one body the monsters hadn’t eaten. The corpse that had been Katherine Mori… and had not been. The Void Tracer eggs that had hatched inside her had ripped her apart, revealing cables and gears and circuits rather than blood and bone. Her head was gone, blasted off… destroying any record that was there.
Dr. Katherine Mori hadn’t been Katherine Mori. She had been someone else… an artificial android body that shouldn’t have existed… that as far as either of them knew, humanity had never successfully manufactured. Whatever had happened on this ship, it was that woman’s fault… and Amara couldn’t shake the feeling it was connected somehow with the fate that had befallen the Midgar-6.
But most frightening of all, Amara and Atalanta could think of only one thing capable of using one of those bodies to perfectly emulate a human. The real Katherine had to have been one of the Exalted… and there just weren’t many of them. They were all incredibly competent, intelligent, and well connected citizens of the Federation, well known heroes from its history.
And one of them was a traitor.
“I’ll find her,” Atalanta promised. “Whatever happened on the Mistrunner, I’ll figure it out, and I’ll avenge them.”
“Good,” Amara said softly. She swallowed, suddenly terrified at the enormity of what she had done. “Is it… always this hard?” she asked the heroine.
Atalanta looked at her knowingly. “Usually,” she said, voice grim.
“Can you…” her voice broke. “How… long will you be in range?” she asked.
The Exalted shook her head. “Only a few minutes longer,” she said, managing to look sorrowful. “Then you’ll be alone.”
“Can you…” Why were the words so hard to say? “Can… you stay with me until then?”
“I will, Captain.”
Amara crouched down by the monster she had slain and sank against the wall, her eyes blurring with tears that made Atalanta’s avatar begin to lose resolution. Then, a few moments later, it began to flicker in truth. “G-d -ck, Capt-” Atalanta told her. Then she was gone, and Amara was all alone with her thoughts.
She would need to maintain this rouse even under Kthid torture. Never let them know what she had done for years. Could she manage it? The Captain honestly didn’t know. Her one advantage would be that the Kthid had no reason to expect the deception. Faced with the terrors of enslavement, Amara Black inhaled deeply and braced herself for the task ahead… one where she felt she had no idea what she was doing.
This was the last path she had ever wanted to walk… Amara had lived her life content in her sister’s shadow, happy to let others take the glory. Now, however, her sister was gone, and she was committed… Self-sacrifice, for the greater good of humanity.
Whether she liked it or not, Amara Black was going to have to be a hero.
-The End of Book 1-
Technical Entry – Singularity Drive
Technical Entry – Lilis Warp Drive
7 thoughts on “Point of No Return Epilogue – The Sacrifice”
My money’s on humanity still being screwed.
Early warning didn’t help the Alicians, and the survivors that reach earth don’t have the full story, either.
Just the diary of a madman and a brief glimpse at a force of angry lizard folk.
I’m not sure if any of the survivors saw anything of the Kthid, besides the breach and clear teams.
I guess there’s hope;
But I’m betting on humanity’s future being as bleak and twisted as the Dark Sun.
Speaking of which;
Are we going to find out anything else about the Dark Sun thing anytime soon?
You tend to write in trilogies, with the lore being in the second book, so I’m hopeful.
I still can’t decide if I want it to be an Eldrich Being, or just a massive collection of entropy.
It’s a pity that Amara’s plan for her sister failed;
But Sarcand seems to grow bored with his toys easily, so I kinda saw it coming.
Just wait for the (possible) third sister to appear;
Then Amara gets yeeted, no matter how good she is.
Maybe that’s how she’ll find Miranda again?
Or is Amara an only child now?
This is an interesting story so far.
What’s the next one that’s taking this one’s slot?
They have a bit more. Mostly stuff that Atalanta stored, technical readings of the battleship that attacked them and its weapons, what their soldiers were capable of, Amara’s testimony of the words of her sister, and like you said the Talia’s journal, mad as it is.
Humanity definitely is going to have one hell of a struggle on their hands… in fact, harder than it appears at first glance because Amara and the others have come to understand that they are out-teched, but they haven’t really wrapped their heads around how badly they are OUTNUMBERED yet.
But we’ll deal with that in book 2.
We are indeed. Atalanta’s investigation into what Mori-but-not-Mori was doing on the Mistrunner, and what she was trying to hide by destroying the ship, is going to be a large part of discovering that info. The rest is going to be through what the Kthid know when we start seeing more of the bigger picture. The Dark Star, what it is, and whats going on with its radiation and why is going to be a much better focus of book 2.
I’m very glad you’re enjoying… it was a great pleasure to bring this story to life, and I retaught myself to draw in large part to put art for it together. As for what takes its slot, nothing immediately. Black Fur Black Heart is going to continue going up, but I need to work on commissions for a bit… then I will pick one of my mostly-written-but-not-edited works to start going up after that. My goal, tentatively, is to have book 2 of this done by the start of next Summer.
Thank you for all your comments, and I hope you and TDF continue to enjoy!
I realized that I couldn’t do a review for each chapter, so I figured I’d leave one to wrap up the story.
Said this already, but Amara killing the biggest Void Tracer ever seen with a knife (and some trickery) continues to be awesome. Given how I reacted to Ki’an’i being completely destroyed by the fear aura, I appreciated that you explained Amara as having been desensitized by repeated exposure; I would have been kind of frustrated if she just shrugged it off.
Her plan is pretty good as well. It’s not often that you stall the bad guy by actively giving him what he wants, but in this case it actually works out that way. It has a pretty horrible cost, 800,000 women made breeding slaves, and 200,000 men dead…but that’s the hard part of leadership: sometimes even the best choice you can make is still horrible. Atalanta clearly knows this, and I’d imagine that’s part of what’s going on as she stays with Amara as long as she can there at the end, a sense of shared experience, and how much this hurts. It is a really great moment seeing those two drop all sense of hostility, and how we get to see Atalanta really respect Amara.
Of course, the consequences of the decision are pretty horrible. The Sethis woman was probably the worst. At least the lesbian couple Anna recognized can both be rescued when the time comes, and they have each other for support until then. The Sethis woman doesn’t realize her husband was murdered before she even woke up.
So where we leave our characters:
Amara is honestly in the best shape of all. She’ll have to grapple with the lives lost because of the decision she made, but ultimately she just gave the Federation its best shot at victory, and she knows it. I’m not saying nothing bad will happen to her, but I think, emotionally and mentally, she’s in better shape than anyone else.
Ri’she’a, Evy, Leila and wristcomp!Atalanta have an adventure in front of them back on Earth. Honestly, it sounds like a spy thriller, and that should be a lot of fun to watch.
Anna is in for a very rough time, dealing with guilt over the colonists as well as whatever emotional damage Charnametros decides to do to her. She has a powerful sense of empathy, though, and she needs to hold to that. A lot of these characters are going to need someone who’s kind and understanding in the days ahead.
Ki’an’i and her fate definitely made me tear up. She’s suffered horribly, is a shell of her former self, and it will get worse. It’s going to hurt me a lot to read more of what will happen to her, but I’ll stick by her, and hope for the day when she knows a measure of peace, and while I have a hard time imagining it, for the day when she gets to be the awe-inspiring, cheer-inducing woman I met back in Chapter 2 again.
Atalanta is in a very bad way right now. The family scene so many people mentioned is bad, not least of all because it shows her conditioning in progress. She actually smirks at one of the victims as she betrays them, which is the kind of expression seen sometimes on Miranda. She was a heroine, a woman others looked up to, and some day I hope she can be that again.
And finally, Miranda…the moment when she was thrown to the Casteless is, I realize, coded like it’s some kind of karmic retribution, what she deserves for all her sins, but my stomach turned over when it happened. She’s done bad things, but so much of this is what she’s been made to be; what she feels is her only option, that I can’t possibly enjoy watching that happen to her, and knowing what’s going to happen to her now, every moment of every day for year after year after year. Miranda is, with the possible exception of Atalanta, the most damaged person in the entire story. Out of all the characters, she feels like she has the longest, most painful road to walk find respect, from others or herself, and a chance at happiness. It’s going to be a heartbreaking, agonizing journey.
And I’ll be with her every step of the way.
We’ll see all these characters, hopefully, next story.
I loved this story. Hope that in the book 2 we will see more torture and snuff. Not to the main cast but to the secondary characters. A Colosseum where girls are made to to fight monster and each other and the prize for the champion is to be forever frozen in stone han solo style and be placed as a decoration to the Colosseum.
Technology that keep a slave alive well past normal limits of reasonable body harm. Strange creatures.
I’m really looking forward to it.
I’m glad you enjoyed 🙂 I suspect book 2 will be similarily to your liking. Probably not quite as snuffy as you might like, but a lot of stuff in spirit with your suggestions… or outright like your suggestions… are included.
Coming out sometime next year I think, I will also be publishing a prequel story about the fall of the Faliran Empire to the kthid, and you can expect that one to be extreme on the scale of End of Elves.
The extreme as the End of Elves sounds promising! I will be looking forward to that one.
I rewrote the ideas above in a more organized format.
Hope you will have a look. Included is a big folder of space opera porn I collected over the years. Hope you find it to your liking.
BTW what isnpired you for this story? Art/movies/other stories?
I will give a look! Never enough space porn!
Major inspirations for PONR comes from all the places you’d expect – star wars, star trek, firefly, warhammer 40k etc – but the single biggest inspiration for this book is probably the movie Event Horizon, which the second story shares a name with… for rather unrelated reasons, as the next story doesn’t really have a lot of reference to the movie. The movie mostly is what inspired the whole Mistrunner sequence and the audio-log, which made the plot for PONR click into place for me.