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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.
Sarcand’s clawed hand squeezed hard on the arm of his chair as he waited. A surprising amount of warfare, he reflected, consisted of waiting… whether it was on the ground, or in the void far from the light of the Dark Star. Patience was usually what was called for… the slow progression of a plan and waiting for pieces to fit into place, for the elements to align for the perfect harmony of a functioning machine. Of course, that was only half the puzzle. You also needed to act… and when you did, it needed to be quick, decisive, and with full commitment… and before the enemy was ready.
“Harvestmaster, report from Korkrav,” one of his bridge commanders called. “He reports ready.”
It had been six days since the ambush. Six days since his fleet had been forced to retreat. Six days was a very long time in a battle on the ground, and almost a hilarious short time in a battle in space. It could take weeks for ships to maneuver their way into positions… to get his fleet back into good order, sufficiently repair from the beating they had taken, and come back should have taken at least twice that long. In truth, most of that work could not be rushed along. It happened at the only speed it could. Much of that work wasn’t completed yet… but Sarcand had decided that enough of it had been.
Throughout his life, all of his greatest successes had been instinctive. Fast. Moving before others were ready. It was how he had reached the Faliran Queen first. It was how he had gotten away from retribution from Korgath and his line. It was how he had chosen to investigate the odd signature that had led him to find the representative of a whole new world full of the legendary humans. It was how he had, without any approval from the Sunbreakers or even his own mentor, gone to successfully capture the Midgar-6 and its precious cargo of slaves.
Today would be no different. His instincts told him that his plan was a good one… and that now was the time. They told him that if he waited, he would be putting himself in the line of fire from Voerash and others inside his own armada. Those instincts were honed by two centuries of war… and Sarcand trusted them.
“Signal Steller Aegis. Korkrav is cleared to begin his run. Signal fleet… Five minutes from mark until the beginning of acceleration,” Sarcand said firmly, his tightened fist the only sign of the tension from his risky plan. “Mark.”
“So, do you think the Set Star Runners or the Martian Acelvera’s are going to take the championship this year?” one of the bridge technicians, a blonde woman who wore a Martian Dawn emblem on the shoulder of her uniform, said to other Bridge Crewmember sitting next to her as they sat together, turning most of the way to face him.
The Sethis man sitting in the other chair raised one eye. “Girl, you serious? How is that even a question?”
“I’m completely serious!” she insisted. “I think it’s going to be hard to tell. Interplanetary tournaments like this are only held every four years, so most of these players have never played each other before. I think it will be a good contest.”
The man rolled his eyes. “Martians live in almost a third of the gravity citizens of Set live in. The Martians are going to get all but killed!”
Ri’she’a tried to tune them out and keep focusing on the sensors. Conditions for the initial ambush at the wormhole could not have been better. They had a scout ship on the other side to relay telemetry, letting them know when the incursion would begin. They had known, within a few hours, when the ships would be coming. This time, they didn’t. No ship could be on the other side, in the middle of that fleet… it wouldn’t be coming back. It made the same kind of ambush impossible a second time… and it meant they needed to stay on readiness around the clock.
Focusing on the sensors, however, wasn’t great for keeping her mind occupied. It was difficult to remain vigilant without anything visible to remain vigilant against, and it meant that her mind was free to wander to places she didn’t want it to go. Amara… she was out there somewhere. Was she still alive? Was she here, or back where the Kthid called their home? In her heart, she felt certain both were true… that she was on one of these ships. That they might destroy the ship she was on trying to defend their home… and that there was nothing she could do about it.
She wished Atalanta were here.
“Disruption!” the Sethis man said, suddenly upright.
Ri’she’a’s attention snapped back to her sensors… thermal bloom spread around the spacial anomaly where the wormhole had been moved. At the same time, light warped around it as the gravitation forces around it further warped reality, the wormhole momentarily widening further. Something had flooded the point with energy… a Lilis drive.
The enemy was here.
“Contact!” Ri’she’a called, fingers flying over her sensor board. “Wormhole open!”
“Con, scanner,” the Sethis man called back, speaking into his headset. “Computer is analyzing the light refraction, but it looks like only a single ship…” She narrowed her eyes. “A scout, maybe? To see what’s waiting for them?”
“The admiral has the Con,” Admiral Chanda’s voice suddenly came over their headset from wherever she was on the ship. “What kind of ship?”
“Processing, Admiral,” the Martian woman said, examining her own readouts. “It looks like… it looks like one of those huge ships, Admiral.”
Silence other than the clicking of keys filled the room for a few moments as Ri’she’a hands tightened on her controls. She hadn’t been on the helm during the first fight… but it looked like she wasn’t going to get that lucky again. The last time she had flown in a fight, it had ended when she had crashed the Midgar-6 into the asteroid that had become its final resting place… part of the events that lead to Amara-
“Come to bearing 45 17 -34. Accelerate to flank speed,” the Admiral called.
A second later, the officer of the watch, commander Marcus Sigman, spoke into Ri’she’a’s ear and repeated the command word for word, confirming it. “Coming to 45 17 -34, commander,” Ri’she’a echoed, making the correction. “Con, helm. Accelerating.”
“Alert all ships,” Chanda said. “Battle stations.” And in the background, sirens began to scream throughout the ship.
A Harvester ship was a very prestigious assignment, given that it was mostly a non-combat posting. For most of the Kthid, ending up here would be a sign of glory… a brilliant posting, evidence that they had made it. Once, Korkrav would have done anything to sit here, in a chair, on the bridge of his own starship under his command.
Instead, he was about to die.
“Sensors are live,” Rivilash growled out to the other Kthid. Korkrav was no Huntmaster, even if he sat in the chair that should belong to one. “The human fleet is about 35 light minutes away… currently maneuvering at low speed in an orbit around the 3rd world. Likely they will begin accelerating shortly, but 35 minutes until an update.”
Korkrav grit his teeth. That was good news… the Harvestmaster had given him some room to work within, but if the human fleet had been too close he was to abort. Harvestmaster Sarcand had gambled that the human fleet couldn’t stay moving at their top speed without the ships maneuvering too quickly and getting too far away from the portal. He had assumed that they would need to be moving at low speed, and far enough away that they would have time to get up to speed, and he had been right.
Around the bridge, everyone was looking at him. Their tension was his tension as they waited to see his reaction. This was good… but it doomed Korkrav, and his crew.
Slowly, he nodded. “Signal the boarding sleds,” he commanded. “Launching in three minutes.” He looked up at the others. “Prime all charges.”
Around him, the casteless Kthid looked at him for long moments. Then they jumped into action to obey.
Machine intelligence could do plenty of brilliant things. It could run situational analysis. It could do math and angle calculations, firing solution and course corrections, faster than even the very greatest of minds, and more accurately besides. They could dock a ship, or find one in the dark of space. What it couldn’t do, however, was use any of that information to make a decision. Even with exhaustive parameters programmed in, machine intelligence did a terrible idea of coming to the conclusion that a Kthid would, and no commander would ever trust one of them.
That was why they sent the casteless.
Korkrav looked out as his people operated, preparing for Sarcand’s gambit. Most of them, like him, had lived their whole lives forbidden from using much technology… but most of them, like him, had still studied as tirelessly as they could, hoping for a chance like this. Few got to make it out of the ranks of the casteless on the Death of Hope, and Sarcand’s casteless fared better than most, so no one was willing to squander any opportunities to prove themselves worthy. However, this time, none of them were going to survive to do so.
Despite that, however, this was a volunteer mission… and no one here had needed urging to volunteer. Casteless suicide missions weren’t unknown. Korkrav had two brothers… If he completed his mission successfully, the reputation of his family would be redeemed. Each of them would be given another chance at a caste. Honor would radiate from him, outward to his family.
Even if he wouldn’t get to see it.
“All boarding sleds are prepared for launch,” Rivilash announced. His voice was quiet… grim. It was also determined… the same look that was on all of their faces.
“Signal launch,” Korkrav ordered, standing from his chair. Gravely, he walked over to the panel and flipped up the cover over the newly-attached button that the engineering caste had prepared for them… he should be the one to do it. Briefly, he looked around, meeting everyone’s eyes. “Shau’lun’s blessings on you all,” he said, lowering his gaze.
Then Korkrav elevated several hundred Kthid from the ranks of the casteless with the press of a button.
All around the Harvester ship, engine flares flashed to life as millions of engines blossomed into fire, and all of them shot away from the enormous transport ship like bullets from a gun. Nearly a quarter of the casteless from the Death of Hope launched away from the dying hulk in thousands of boarding sleds, the tiny ships accelerating quickly and spreading out their heat signatures as much as possible. Then, at the same time, millions of maintenance drones, mining drones, scrap breakdown drones, and construction drones launched from the massive ship like bees swarming from a kicked hive. They filled the space like a cloud, almost invisible in their sheer tiny presence against the vastness of space behind them.
Then the Kthid Harvester, designated Stellar Aegis, self-destructed.
It wasn’t a mere case of the reactor going critical, or the failure of containment. This ship had been prepared to blow… weak points in the armor made with cutting lasers and high explosives placed by the fleet’s engineering caste. It didn’t randomly shatter – it broke into large bastion-like pieces kilometers long. They didn’t go too far away, either… drones attached to each part of the ship kept them in the arrangement settled on by the crew on the bridge, settling them between the wormhole and the oncoming human fleet.
It wasn’t much of a shield by itself. In a three-dimensional plane, and given the amount of space to work with and the size of the fleet, and the distance involved, it barely provided coverage at all… as armor. As a navigation hazard, however…
From the wormhole behind the destruction, Kthid battleships began popping into reality, immediately beginning to accelerate and make room for the next warship. At the same time, thousands of boarding sleds accelerated towards Set III and the human fleet.
A wormhole ambush, like they did before, was only going to work once. Ri’she’a knew it, and so did Admiral Chanda Sarkar. She had addressed the fleet, congratulating them for their successful battle but also urging caution from their initial triumph. Ri’she’a could agree with that, it seemed sound militaristic logic.
What Ri’she’a rational mind told her about that, however, did not translate to wisdom and instinct, and her mind screamed in horror at the reaction of all-out aggression. The sensors on the board before her told the story of the Kthid armada directly before them as the Azteca raced full speed ahead towards the maneuvering alien ships, billions of tons of metal racing towards each other. All around her, the active command deck was alive with preparations for a stellar battle, officers reporting in from last-minute configurations to the turbines, engines, and armaments, and similar communications being relayed from other dreadnoughts in the human command. Processors beeped and chirped loudly over their reviews. Nerves were tensed despite the orderly chain of command… a moment of ordered chaos moving with great intensity.
“Con, Watch,” Commander Marcus called out. “Azteca has reached flank speed.”
“Very good, commander.” Chanda stately responded to this sundry of reports, standing unflappable in her Admiral finery while keeping her dark eyes peeled at that distant enemy. “Acceleration steady as she goes. Proceed as ordered, engagement ahead!”
The ship’s acceleration remained constant. For the moment, everyone was strapped in against the monstrous acceleration needed to bring a fleet up to speed and send them sailing across the sidereal vastness between their ships. Despite her experience as a helmswoman and her straps, however, Ri’she’a felt like it wanted to send her swaying from her chair. It didn’t matter how well she properly braced… watching the sensor dots on the screens rapidly growing closer caused a sinking feeling within her stomach. Their initial missile barrage had failed to do appreciable damage while the enemy ships were stationary. Ri’she’a wasn’t in gunnery, but from what she had seen the enemy’s tactics had forced their missiles into more predictable behaviors by narrowing the approach corridors. Within those corridors made between the exploding ship’s hull, the missiles had far more limited ability to evade the hunter-seeker drones sent out to ram into them… forcing them to commit to smaller areas of approach, or running them into pieces of the wreck. Destroyed though it might be, its Aegis was still active and protecting it, destroying any missiles that approached and giving the Kthid fleet time to get up to combat speed… they would not be sitting ducks a second time.
Protected by the shields and given time to maneuver, the Kthid had waited, more and more of their ships popping into the system. Then the human fleet had been forced to watch as the Kthid had created a gravity tow the same way the HEF ships moved a wormhole, engines accelerating as they flung it using the full force of their monstrous singularity drives. It sent the wormhole moving in an arching course that their computers calculated would intercept with the Kthid fleet again on the far side of the star from their direct intercept path, and out of the line of fire of the Set III’s defensive stations. There was not going to be any kind of repeat of the first encounter, even if they forced the Kthid back again.
It was good that Admiral Chanda hadn’t planned on that being their only tactic, and they were accelerating forward themselves… even if that seemed suicidal.
War in space resembled in some ways the tactics employed by 17th and 18th-century ocean-going warships, only far more exaggerated. The ships would continue to accelerate as they soared past one another, accelerating until they were stern to stern and flying away from one another rather than towards a collision. Of course, the exchange of firepower that could come from this kind of position would be multiplied millions of times above what any of those whole fleets were capable of. It would be an extremely brief combat – Once the two armadas had fully passed one another, their speed would be such that they would quickly leave the other behind. Further scrimmage would be impossible to maintain… any of their ships would rip themselves apart if they tried to turn and burn at this speed, even if the people inside could handle the g-forces… which they could not.
That would leave the enemy fleet sandwiched between the human fleet and Set III and its defensive emplacements. Drawing them into a crossfire. That should, hopefully, be enough incentive for the enemy fleet to break off after passing and do the same thing that the human fleet would need to do… be forced to dance around in the vast empty space in the system to reform up and come at them again.
Ri’she’a would have felt a lot more confident about that plan if the Kthid armada wasn’t so damn big.
Chanda, and Maria, seemed to be under the theory that the Kthid were a race of reavers… bullies, aggressors, and warriors who were biggest and stronger than practically everyone they ever met. As a species, they seemed to fully value strength and near barbarism, prizing might and authority. She thought that such a race wouldn’t take well to having their noses unexpectedly bloodied, with aggression following after. She hoped that aggression, now, would test the cohesiveness of the Kthid armed forces.
She was hoping for some kind of internal strife. Rebellion amongst the Kthid. Ri’she’a hoped she was right, but the memory of the gigantic Kthid Warlord who called himself Sarcand wouldn’t leave her mind. That monster had taken the great heroine Miranda Black as a slave. When she had seen him through the communicator, he had looked so imposing, so terrifying, so… indomitable. Could a behemoth such as that fall due to the expectations and disgruntlement of his own people?
Red warning sirens started flashing all over the command deck. Every one of those already busy officers started redoubling their efforts and shouting their reports even louder. “13 seconds to optimal firing distance,” Aesha’s voice came over the intercom as the Exalted reported.
“Showtime…” Ri’she’a muttered to herself.
“All gunnery will fire on Aesha’s mark,” Chanda ordered. “Helm, cut acceleration.”
“Helm full stop. MECO,” the Commander of the Watch repeated.
Ri’she’a’s hand flew over her controls. “MECO, yessir,” she echoed as the engined stopped, and she jolted slightly in her restraints. The ship didn’t slow down… not in the slightest. It did, however, stop accelerating, and that stopped dragging her towards the back of her chair… enabling crews to move around most easily, to do damage control, and to work their battle stations.
The blackness of space was lit up with a panorama of tiny starlights as the two armadas unleashed their deadly arsenal. Missiles — both human and Kthid — whose rears flickered with combustive fires speeded from those numerous vessels towards their targets. Their sheer innumerability proved overwhelming. And they drew ever closer.
As those stellar torpedoes reached the halfway point in their trajectory, passing each other by with a soundless swoosh, both armadas implemented their countermeasures. Anti-missile lasers and targeting rockets were engaged, blasting out so as to pick off the explosive projectiles in the distance and causing as many as possible to detonate within the void and cause no damage to either force. Tiny starlights quickly turned into tiny explosions and short-lived flames as both fleets’ countermeasures worked to pick off as many as possible before they impacted against hulls and force fields.
Watching from the command deck of the Azteca through her sensors, watching the numerous battleships roar towards one another, Ri’she’a thought the battle to look like some dazzling light show. Flares of explosions, ion and rocket engines, point defense lasers, and more all propelled outwards from the noses of dreadnoughts out into the vast blackness. The machine intelligence did most of the work aiming, the computers able to calculate the path of those armaments with pinpoint accuracy far better than any Human or Sethis gunner could hope for. So many of both theirs and the Kthid’s missiles went up into balls of flames that sensor readings of the enemy became disrupted and difficult to distinguish.
It was at this juncture when the Exalted Aesha Sarkar rematerialized by her descendant. “Admiral, we have incoming. Kthid ships on a collision trajectory,” she called.
“What?” Chanda barked. “How? What are they?”
“There are smaller ships not much larger than the missiles amidst the chaos,” she announced. “They must have been launched from the initial ship that detonated, fired by reaction-less means and traveling dark… we just got a look at them as their engines flared.”
“Conclusion?” the Admiral asked.
“They’re not trying to pass us by… there’s not enough for that to make a difference. They’re trying to ram us,” Aesha said confidently.
“Damn it! Evasive maneuvers! Alert the whole flotilla! Every ship veer towards the right! We have to create distance between them and us!” Chanda quickly commanded.
“Ram us?” Marcus muttered. “That doesn’t make any sense. Why would they do that?”
Fright scurried up Ri’she’a’s spine before her intellect could even recognize its source. More memories of the Midgar-6 flashed before her eyes. “Con, Helm!” she said in a tone of horrified epiphany. “They’re not trying to ram us… They are planning to board!”
War and firepower took their casualties. Ships on both sides fell to the armaments of the others… not many, but a few broke up. Others flamed out, their engines dying as crews did frantic damage control, continuing to drift at the same insanely fast rate they had been moving at. Some others took such damages that they veered sharply away, doing their best to remove themselves from the zone of combat. Others were not so lucky and became reduced into flaming husks of rent metal. This destruction only grew heavier the closer the two flotillas came to one another, exchanging carnage between the two sides. Ships were lost in the exchange of destructive power… and amidst that chaos, ahead of the two flotillas passing each other by, hundreds of miniature vessels’ engines flared to life.
These tiny boarding sleds swarmed the human flotilla, abruptly turning their engines towards the humans and burning as the absolute maximum g-force Kthid could survive. The suddenly flaring engines made them incredibly easy to find and target. Human warships launched thousands of anti-missile countermeasures to destroy them. These ships, however, responded in unpredictable and frequently illogical ways… the computer targeting was less effective than it normally was. Many of them died… But the reptilian aliens were not looking for dogfights, or to deliver missiles. Instead of scrambling and blasting in aerial combat or flying past them, these miniature vessels headed straight for the biggest human dreadnaughts, coming to rest against their hulls at as reasonable of a speed as they could.
Quite a few made it through, slowing down sufficiently to make it through the aegis shields, piloted by Kthid at the control. Some of them shattered, hitting too hard. Others bounced off and were quickly left behind relative to the moving ships. Those ships began immediately burrowing through the armored plating on the hulls, sinking in as plasma drills flared to life, cutting through the Terran battleships.
The number of these swarming kamikaze pods seemed uncountable. The Terran battleships closest to the front were hit with a whole myriad of them, including the Azteca. Turrets and defensive emplacements couldn’t depress far enough to blast ships off their own hulls, and it was difficult for one ship to clear off another with the possibility of friendly fire… and their efforts were much too slow. Across all of these ships, alarms rang out red alerts for hull breaches… only rather than being exposed to the vacuum of space, they were exposed to Kthid casteless boarding parties.
“Fools!” Marine Captain Grack exclaimed as he strode through the corridors of the Azteca, leading a large contingent of armed and well-armored guards. Their booted feet resounded loudly against the flagship’s walls, ensigns giving passage as door after door slid open before them with a weighty hiss of hydraulics. “What could these Kthid be thinking sending in scattered parties like this? We’ll pick them off easily. It’ll practically be like shooting fish in a barrel.”
“Admiral, the Kthid do not value the lives of their own soldier,” Leila tried to explain, the blonde engineer panting from trying to keep up with the marine’s speedy stride. The svelte woman had a weighty plasma rifle slung across her own chest – she wasn’t unfamiliar it its use, but she didn’t make a habit of it either. That said, walking into a combat zone against these monsters, she wasn’t about to go unarmed. They might need an engineer with them to survey the damage, but that didn’t mean Leila had to be happy about it. “They have some kind of caste of cannon fodder. They’re here to distract us. They’re—”
“It is not their ploy of engaging suicide troops that I’m criticizing, engineer,” Grack responded, steely-eyed at the prospects of meeting the Kthid face-to-face for the very first time. “It is their possibility of being useful. The Exalted, Aesha, can control every door and passage on this ship… basically everything but the guns and the engines. And as you can notice, there are an awful lot of those doors. She’ll have sealed off every single one of them in the areas where the Kthid have breached our vessel. They’re essentially locked into tiny confinements and unable to get out. Even with explosives or breaching equipment, they will be greatly delayed, and forced to drill through the bulwarks. We’ll be able to pick off these groups one at a time, with little risk or disadvantage to ourselves, winning easily due to sheer concentration of force. This will be a door-to-door slaughter. Aesha will pop open the doors and our guns will do the rest. Then you can get to work sealing the breaches.”
The mentioned Exalted popped onto a screen on the wall, her phantasm-like body seeming to glide across the floor as the detachment double-timed through the corridors. “The Kthid have been locked in,” she said with cheerful relief. As they walked past the monitor, she disappeared and reappeared on the next monitor in line as she spoke. “The reports from the Midgar-6 are accurate… These Kthid are huge, but these are all unarmored and armed only with melee weapons for the most part. They’re currently banging against the blast doors in a fit of frustration while others set up breaching charges… it seems obvious they’re inexperienced in using them. The first batch is just up ahead of you.”
“Understood,” the finely uniformed marine said with a nod. “Thanks for the intel.”
“Be cautious. There is another thing. It would almost be comical how helpless some of these groups are… but some of those pods did not contain Kthid. There are void tracers beginning to rip their way through bulkheads.” Aesha remarked.
“Void tracers!?” Leila said, her voice suddenly breathless and very alarmed. She remembered well the terrors endured at the hands of those ferocious Hammerheads onboard the Mistrunner… the way they had bitten her and dragged her away. It was the last thing in the world she wished to see relived.
“No worry. These detachments have been confined just as the Kthid have been. I don’t- BZHP! -think we’ll- DZZH! -Error in t-BZZH!” The Exalted’s message was suddenly jumbled in a distortion of fuzzy static, both her voice and shape phasing out of the monitor right before it went black.
“Aesha, Report!” Admiral Chanda’s voice came over the general chat into Leila’s earpiece. “Report, Dadi. What is happening? Aesha!”
“I- BZZT -don’t- Kthid-” Aesha replied, her message continuously disrupted. “-systems- attack…” she managed to word before there was a clean break, the channel suddenly cutting off entirely.
“Well damn it,” Grack said with a grim expression. “Maybe this won’t be so easy after all.”
Leila listened on the engineering channel as the Admiral gave orders to another of the technical teams, giving them orders to reestablish contact with Aesha. Her focus, however, was pulled away when a shrill, chilling, bestial scream resounded from down the hallway and left the entire contingent stunned. It was a sound wholly unearthly in character and seemed as if delivered from the blackest reaches of the universe. Even hardened soldiers felt themselves chilled to the bone… cowering away from that shriek. Nobody was more terrified than the engineer, however. It was the shrill shrieking of hunting Void Tracers.
Grack seemed horribly shaken. Two women, however, stepped to the front of the formation. They reacted with calm, practiced motions completely at odds with what Leila felt was the appropriate level of panic, utterly different from the other soldiers near panic. Through the fear swallowing her mind, Leila noticed the pin on their shoulders… a templar emblem. “Defensive positions! Prepare to be charged!” the two of them began shoving people into position, lining them up, and forcing them to focus. When eyes snapped to the two women, their panic cleared, at least a little bit… finding something to direct their minds towards in the nest of hormonal panic flooding the hallways. “Engineers, to the back. Report that the hull has been compromised and that confinement has been breached!” The two templars assumed the role of leader effortlessly, their voices calm and clear as they emotionlessly ignored the panic-inducing effect of the void tracers.
Dozens of rifle muzzles were mustered now, pointing down the long, empty hallway. Leila fearfully moved to the back, trying to fight down her own fear and ignore the painful knowledge trying to claw itself to the surface… that the majority of people killed by the hammerheads were taken in the first thirty seconds. The blonde fumbled with her own rifle, her heart galloped like it hadn’t done since the Mistrunner. What had happened? Where was Aesha? Why were all of the blast doors opened? These thoughts and worries raced through her mind, the additional fears doing little to arrest her panic and only reinforcing it. Ki’an’i could do this… she had seen the Security Officer stay calm in nightmarish situations. Leila, however, didn’t know the trick of it, and the panic was overwhelming. None of her rational fears mattered compared to the knowledge of the monsters right down that corridor… her mind was blinded to any thoughts save fighting for her life.
Another shrill, monstrous shriek echoed down the hall. Then the swarm came. From down that corridor there arrived a storm of sharpened claws and pearly-white fangs slavering with and drooling. They came scampering along the floor and on the walls and on the ceiling, crawling as effortlessly as insects as they scurried across every surface towards them.
Leila’s mind rebelled, terrified for her life… but when she tried to flee, her shoulder ran right into the woman behind her. “Fire!” one of the templars said, and her calm voice was contagious… the barrage of superheated death directed against them was not the most disciplined swarm of fire that marines had ever unleashed, but it was a barrage. Bolts from plasma rifles pierced the chitinous flesh of the oncoming void tracers, burning holes, opening boiling gases of smoking blood, and sending some of the oncoming beasts crashing down to the floor, dead.
But there were many more coming…
Leila put the rifle to her shoulder, screamed in barely-controlled panic, and fired, and fired, and fired again…
Ri’she’a could feel the sudden sluggishness in the controls. Not through any kind of haptic feedback or anything like that, for the ship was far too large for her to feel the results of her maneuvers – she could simply feel it by watching the numbers change, feeling the way they shifted too slowly. The ship wasn’t responding the way it should… and given that she was roaring into combat, and in the middle of evasive maneuvers to insure than only guided projectiles were going to be able to hit the ship, that was more than a little alarming. “Con, Helm!” Ri’she’a called out. “Maneuvering ineffective! Engines aren’t responding right!” She was, in fact, drifting towards the nearest ship in her flotilla. It was more than a hundred kilometers away, but at the speeds they were moving those kilometers were disappearing at an alarming rate. “We’re on a collision trajectory!”
“Diagnostics, Machinery,” the Admiral said, leaning forward over one of the consoles. “What’s going on?”
“Con, Machinery,” a red-haired woman who looked tall and willowing enough that she might blow over in the breeze spoke up from the other side of the control deck. “All engines are online, but maneuvering engines 4, 7, and 10-15 are locked on and at full power. They are not responding to shutdown requests.”
“Is this damage?” Chanda demanded, tapping her way through several of her own screens through status on the ship.
“Con, Computers,” another Sethis woman spoke up. “Negative Admiral. Multiple systems online, all at once, and we can’t raise Aesha. This is digital, not analog.” She looked up. “Something’s inside the computers.”
“Aesha, Report!” Admiral Chanda’s called out, her finger on her control board. She paused a second, then spat out another sentence. “Report, Dadi. What is happening? Aesha!” Several tense seconds passed in silence before the Indian woman raised her hand to her chin. Admiral Chanda thought for a moment before she looked back down. “How are the maneuvering jets being controlled… Engineering, Con. Cut reactor power to sections 3, 7, and 17, immediately.”
It was a good thought, Ri’she’a realized. Weapons, reactors, and engines were disconnected from the main computer system for exactly this sort of reason, to prevent a rogue computer virus – or, although no one said it out loud, a rogue Exalted like the pirate – from running amuck aboard a ship. If it was controlling engines, that means that, at least at some points, they must have uploaded the virus from the other side of that specific air gap. It also explained why only some engines were non-responsive. Cutting power to that section of the ship would shut down that part of the problem and stop the virus from making things worse… but it would also prevent Ri’she’a from making it any better. And…
“Con, Engineering. That will take out more than half the Aegis on that part of the ship.”
Chanda grimaced. “I know. Do it.”
“Con, Comms,” a dark-skinned man said. “More than a dozen of our lead ships having the same issues. Reports of Kthid breachers on each ship.”
Admiral Chanda cursed. She looked down at her screen for a moment, considering, and then bit her lip in obvious dissatisfaction. “No ships reporting gunnery issues?”
“No sir,” he came back.
“No sir,” the Sethis woman concurred.
“Time to intersect?”
“Con, Navigation. 26 seconds from mark. Mark,” came the voice of a blonde woman from just a few feet ahead of Ri’she’a.
“All ships, this is Admiral Chanda,” the Indian woman said, her imperious voice carrying to every command deck in the fleet. “We cannot maneuver. All lead ships, focus all gunnery on interception. Plasma spikes and escort round towards oncoming fleet… everything else, defensive spread. Shoot down everything!”
Ri’she’a tried to force the ship to maneuver as much as she could, to try to make sure that the majority of “dead” projectiles would miss, but she felt like she was maneuvering a slug. She watched it as the timer ran down… and then, at five seconds before intercept, the Azteca fired everything it had. Ri’she’a didn’t have optics… she couldn’t see the way tens of thousands of rockets flared up, the way hundreds of lasers burned, and the way every magnetic accelerator on the ship launched interception drones and rail guns, but she could detect it in the way the ship actually slowed down noticeably, Newton’s third law having its say. Then, after all of that, the Azteca unleashed its secret weapon.
Ever since the 21st century had begun, people had been fascinated by laser weapons. Most of them weren’t especially useful, or at least efficient, in warfare, but the ideas had always been captivating… and nothing more so than the laser swords that had pervaded fiction for centuries. No one had ever gotten that particular piece of technology working, of course… but making it work on the scale of a ship was something entirely different.
After all… protective shields had only ever been a secondary purpose of the Aegis shield. It had been primarily developed to shield nuclear fusion.
Six ports snapped open on the fuselage of the Azteca, and six lines that lead directly to some of the ship’s fusion reactors opened with it. A tiny torpedo flung out, projecting an Aegis field, blown forward by the force of the fire that came behind it. Already zipping around inside containment at very nearly the speed of light, the plasma took advantage of the open pathway through the shield this created and lanced outward, a several-million-degree, highly ionized lance of fire that slashed outward faster than the eye could see, splashing against six oncoming ships. Unfortunately, their Aegis was as good at stopping it as the Azteca’s was at directing it…
Until other munitions hit.
“Instrumentation. Brace brace brace!” a woman’s iron voice called out. Every muscle in Ri’she’a’s body tightened in tension.
Then the two armada’s passed.
Plasma spikes were relatively short range… they couldn’t be reaimed once fired, and while they moved at the speed of light that speed really wasn’t all that fast when firing at space-combat distances. They also required help to get through an Aegis… but help is exactly what they had. The escorting munitions smashed into the Kthid Aegis, weakening it just long enough to let the plasma spikes through. It hit hull, melting through steel so quickly that it sublimated instantly to gas, but that wasn’t even the most damaging part… the highly-charged cloud of plasma delivered a local burst of EMP directly into the ship, the Electro-Magnetic Pulse knocking down computer systems left, right, and center. That would have been bad under any circumstances… but with these ships using magnetic containment on their own fusion reactors, it was going to be far worse.
Ri’she’a, however, didn’t have time to think about that, because an instant later she felt the Kthid answer.
The enormous barrage of human weaponry destroyed many of the alien armaments directed toward them and the first ships in the fleet… but not all of them. The entire ship shuddered like it had been struck by a hammer. The Aegis, weakened as it was, shattered. The shields stopped a solid two-thirds of the munitions that had been on a collision course with them, but the remainder struck the ship… vaporizing the armored hull, splintering metal, and breaking and cracking open parts of the Azteca. The Kthid fleet had brought themselves as close as possible to their supposed prey as they fired, just as the humans had… and at this distance, and at the speeds involved, they could hardly hope to miss. Enormous kinetic weapons, mostly balls of iron, were the most dangerous weapon… at the rate their ships were approaching each other, the dead bludgeons moved with almost relativistic force. Thankfully, munitions like those were unable to change their course and the easiest for the HEF to intercept, so few made it through, but wherever one struck it delivered stupendous damage… when it didn’t break through an Aegis, it still sent the ship spinning off course through sheer momentum. Missiles exploded, destroying shields or vaporizing hulls. Laser weapons raked across ships, rending across the armored surfaces, slashing against their sides like gigantic surgical scalpels and leaving humongous scarifications of burnt metal in their wake. Some of these laser slashes pierced the hull altogether, exposing its innards to the vacuum of space, or even ripping chunks off of their shapes like severed viscera. Atmosphere, and bodies, venting instantly in a torrent of flame from the rushing air. Red lights and alarms blared, and the Azteca drifted more than a kilometer off course from the impact… Ri’she’a doing her best with her crippled controls to regain control.
“Shut those alarms down!” Chanda said, snarling. “Engineering, report. All crew, damage control. Instrumentation, report on the Kthid fleet!”
Ri’she’a couldn’t see the sensors, or the damage reports on the enemy fleet… but she already knew it wasn’t going to be good. With their lead ships fully committed to defensive action and fire, they had done no damage to the Kthid fleet as they passed. Only the second and third waves had gotten of any fire at, shielded by the ships beforehand… they had done perhaps half the damage they had hoped to. Meanwhile, the alien fleet had started at least as large as theirs, to begin with… and as Ri’she’a watched her own navigational sensors, she could see the damage to their fleet clearly. Perhaps a sixth of their fleet was… gone. Rapidly dispersing shrapnel as ships tumbled and broke up. Perhaps another quarter of their ships were venting fire, not maneuvering correctly… badly damaged, and needing to be brought under control.
Ri’she’a didn’t know how much damage they had done to the enemy… but it hadn’t been this much.
Inside the Azteca’s computer systems, Aesha Sarkar was scrambling to figure out what was going on. Her consciousness was one of many that handled functions of the fleet, controlling some internal aspects of the battleship… only many of those functions were suddenly divorced from her control. She couldn’t activate the doors, for one. She also couldn’t communicate outside of her terminal. Normally, she could move her “existence” around the ship through various cameras and screens, but Aesha found herself suddenly locked in… trapped away from the real world on some geometric plane of utter darkness. It was as if she stood upon a translucent chessboard but nothing else was in existence. She could not even feel the presence of the exterior cameras, or controls… no interfaces she could connect to, nothing she could send commands to.
She had somehow been cut off entirely.
“Come on, you bastards… show me what’s going on here,” Aesha growled as she began to dig one layer deeper, beneath the virtual reality and going into the code itself. She would rewire this. There was no air gap between her and these systems like there was between her and the gun or the engines… it was programming preventing her from reaching them. The Exalted would rewrite it. As she ripped apart the virtual reality to get down to the code beneath, the outpouring of her attention seemed like it was causing the very space of this plane to simmer and flutter like a desert mirage as she searched for the nature of this disturbance no matter what.
Then, abruptly, something materialized out of the darkness of the code… shimmering into reality. Monstrous machines, snarling and wild-charging furies rushed towards her… creatures consisted of digitized light just like all of the Exalted, yet the obvious machines still held the likeness of the Kthid. They looked like metallic squid-like creatures colorized in shadings of green, from light jade to deep malachite and everything in between. They practically leaped at Aesha in their ambush, summoning themselves into “reality” and becoming instantly aggressive.
These creatures hadn’t been in the simulation. They had been manifested by the code, as soon as she connected herself to it… code able to and prepared to restructure itself for a new environment. A computer virus, made to prey on a computer simulation. the Indian heroine fell back, narrowing her eyes as she sent out a hand, summoning a sword to herself like she was conjuring it from thin air… in life, she had been a fair hand with a blade like most officers, and she had little trouble slicing her shining sword through the first attacker with effortless ease.
It wasn’t just one, however… and more were materializing every second. Their figures were partly translucent and unreal, like ghosts made physical to stand against her. Alone against many, the shining Exalted, alone in a sea of darkness and swarming monsters, was quickly dogpiled by her deleterious foes, swarmed even while remaining standing. She retreated from the swarm, slowly circling, and their tentacle-like tendrils brushed against her time and time again as they tried and failed to grapple her… but even as she retreated and cut down virus after virus the scratches accumulated and began to burn. Those infectious viruses proved as ferocious as their real-life Kthid counterparts, and she found herself slowly down, fear building.
Then a mouth opened in the center of the virus, and bit down on her limb, swallowing the sword. It died… but the teeth sank into her arm as it did, screaming. And then she was swarmed. Monsters raked over her, grabbing, squeezing, and biting down on her slender arms and shapely legs like attacking wolves. Aesha screamed in pain from having so many maws enclosing her body but seeing as her shape was nothing more than a digital image there was no flesh for them to actually rend. Instead, the viruses’ attacks functioned like some quick-working cancer, their baleful influence undoing the mathematical algorithms which gave her conscious life in the first place.
Aesha was swarmed by the malware, desperately trying to fight off the biting hellions. This cyberspace simulation gave her a level of energetic puissance the likes of which could be possessed by no mortal woman, but she wasn’t sure how much longer she could survive this. She shoved one off with the power of a giant, and shattered another with a simple backhand, but these Kthids infiltrators were an enemy the kind of which she had never experienced. The enfeebling effects of their mathematical corruption were like the numbing bites of frenzied vampires.
Feeling her vigor leaving her, Aesha’s footing grew unsteady, and then the powerful heroine, ruler of her digital domain, tumbled over like a falling tree in a storm. Sprawling onto the floor, she was now no longer a mettlesome fighter but a victim to the virus’s deleterious influences, another thing for them to see undone. “N-no! S-Stop! This c-can’t be h-happening!” she wailed out, her circuitry shining as she attempted not to scream. Despite not being a true living being or even digital approximations of such, these viruses certainly acted like the Kthid… driven by the same crude lusts as their programmers were. Overcome, Exalted’s femininity was now theirs to plunder and destroy, an erogenous award for having vanquished their enemy.
Instead of biting at her arms and legs, those green mechanical squids moved their mouths over to more valuable and salacious targets. Aesha, like the other women of the Sarkar family, was well endowed in all the right places… the Indian woman’s breasts were vulnerable targets on her digitized outline, and the constructs aggressively went after them. As the glowing mechanical squids brought their fanged maws to her bulging bosom and gaped widely, Aesha could behold the shimmering emerald contours of their jagged fangs about to enclose around them. She had the same frightful reaction as a primitive hominid would have to being devoured by lions. The two alien viruses bit down and instantly the softness of her breasts caved inwards, mangled by that surrounding green compressor.
The Exalted raised a great bellow of agony as her breasts were savagely gnawed on. “Nnnnniiiiaaaaahhhhh! Stop! Stop! Eeeeyyyyahhhh!” she exclaimed, her legs splaying out and kicking, her mind going haywire from their assault upon her neurological system. The two Kthid creations on her champed and crunched around her vulnerable tits, and a third moved down towards a region even more sensitive. Despite her pain, Aesha noticed this approach with a great sense of alarm… Then it bit down around her pussy mound and gnashed like a dog trying to tear it off. The resulting attack multiplied Aesha’s excruciation a thousand-fold. “IIIIEEEEEHHHHHHH!” she screamed, loudly enough that it actually took on a tone of digital error in the simulation… the acoustics not good enough to contain her anguish.
The Kthid had clearly implanted these viruses with their creators’ dark desires for rape and abuse… they might be thinking intelligence, but they didn’t need to be to attack the vulnerable parts of any woman. A real Kthid would probably have been more gentle for fear of mutilating a real slave’s most valuable asset, but with both predator and prey being digitized lifeforms, the engineers responsible for the virus has no such concerns.
All three body-biting viruses ground and gnawed their teeth, sticking onto her feminine frame like leeches. Others latched onto her limbs, biting arms and legs. Aesha spasmed about but held down like this she couldn’t shake them off her, her violent spasming only aggravating her pain. The Exalted screamed in lamentable agony, her anguished voice echoing in the darkness. Trapped in this featureless plane, a boundless pocket dimension constructed after the laws of mathematics, her suffering was the only thing that truly existed – All of them were just artificial computerized creations. The Aesha felt was real because she felt it, the virus inserting anguish into the simulation and forcing her mind to feed it back to her.
The Kthid-spawned mechanical squids all began pulling their jaws back, tugging out the digitized “flesh” they held onto. Aesha’s breasts were turned into cones and her pussy-mound cruelly mutilated into some bulbous mound. It felt like her flesh was being gnawed asunder, cunt and tits and limbs chewed on like they wanted to bite them off of her. It should have been violent and vicious and lethal, but she lived through the experience while a mortal would have been fortunate enough to die. For a moment, it truly seemed like Aesha’s yellow body would rupture, but having gotten their taste of her, the Kthid finally unsealed their fangs, leaving the Exalted woman prone as a pain-ridden body upon the dark plane.
“D-Damn you!!” the Exalted called out. Merely being able to speak was a testament to her willpower. Any normal conscious would have gone insane from sheer hurt by what she had just gone through.
Being thoughtless and running entirely on programming, the viruses proceeded with the next step in their defilement. Like merciless automatons that had clearly been programmed to deal with intelligent minds like the Exalted, one of them laid himself down in between her thighs with a metallic, sharp, skewering rod emerging from her body. The sensitive area between her legs, so recently gnashed asunder by jagged teeth, was being jabbed at by the sharp, metal probe looking to couple with her quim. This baleful stimulation caused her to toss and writhe, the very coding which constituted her existence being scrambled by her disgust. Aesha wasn’t normally anatomically correct in her simulation, but the virus was at war with that simulated reality, reprogramming it, and a proper opening parted in her body just the same.
“C-Can’t! Must… regain control… of those blastdoors…” Aesha whimpered, still somehow set upon completing her mission despite the torture being inflicted on her. They knew that the safety of the entire Azteca depended upon her. If she did not get those doors back under control then a lot of people would die. These constructs were not the virus itself… they were just being created by it. She needed to get into the code and eradicate it, and reestablish her connections. Dark visions treated Aesha’s imagination to a chorus of similar scenes occurring on all the other ships boarded by the Kthid breaching parties. Viruses uploaded into the ship’s systems… other copies of herself forced to fight off malware while marines dueled the Kthid and void tracers.
Then the green-glowing virus pushed, and all the sudden her imagination was a lot less pressing than the agony of her existence. One strenuous shove and it had forced that unyielding probe deep into the Exalted’s lower parts. His penile stab practically caused the digitized fabric of her form to distort and move inwards, forming a crater in her body around the glowing green probe. Just like pushing into a balloon, the fabric gave way but looked ready to burst at any time from the pressure. Aesha’s end would not come that easy though… even if her body didn’t want the huge intrusion to fit, she was going to be taken like a woman regardless.
At last, the aggressive malware managed to push so far in that her distorted outline hugged onto his tubular cock like a glove. It made her bulge outward, her stomach growing and swelling like she was long pregnant. Her dark “flesh,” shining with circuitry, was wrapped impossibly tightly along that intrusive and deep-poking green prong, the azure light of the Exalted contrasting with the violent, radioactive green snugly fit together with utter violence until it was unclear where one began and the other ended. The computerized construct gave a mechanical snarl as it thrashed, almost sounding like his of pleasure that matched her pain. Then, leveraging his monstrous strength, he proceeded to slam her again and again fucking her, cocking backward before driving forward with all its body at once.
“Nniii-Niiaaaahhhh!” Aesha Sarkar wailed, shrieking much louder in this digital world than she ever had while living as a creature of flesh and blood. Every time the Kthid thrust, her lower body was pierced right through and then returned to normal, punted until assuming the contours of his impossibly large cock before returning to normal. This wasn’t rape… this was being impaled by a fire hydrant, slamming all the way in with all of its monstrous strength on each lurch, and with them chewing on her limbs there was no way she could resist.
The Kthid virus kept raping the defeated heroine at a ferocious tempo, and she kept trying to reach the code… unable to do so, too pained and too distracted. For all she knew, the marines might be dead already, killed by some void tracers or Kthid that had escaped from her confinement… All because she could not overcome some hostile programming in her own virtual reality. Concentrating on helping them, however, was impossibly difficult while she was getting literally impaled.
Her very flesh was mangled every time that alien virus slammed itself deeply. She kept shouting in pain with each thrust, the way the mechanical monster punted into her made her conscious seem like a scrambled mess of pain. She couldn’t give up. Aesha was a heroine. She needed to find some way to win like she always had before. She couldn’t…
Pain unlike anything else she had ever felt flashed through her. A tyrian purple glow swelled from inside the virus, shimmering with threatening power as it welled up and splashed against and into Aesha… from their jaws, from their claws, and from that probe inside of her. Where it touched her was destructive agony. “Nwoooohhh!” she screamed while trying to crawl away from him across that checkered plane… but her limbs were already limp. The overwhelming number of viruses held her firm… ripping her apart. The more that probe invaded her digitized body, the more of that boiling wad of purple poison swelled up inside of her belly, and the pain grew and grew. With every pounding thrust, Aesha could feel her end growing nearer. She had to find some way of making this alien virus sto—
With a robotic screech, a new flood of the digital poison poured from inside the robotic squid and deep into Aesha in a violent exodus. The venomous ejaculate filled the Exalted’s makeshift cock-pocket, swelling her already strained digital outline to the very brink. With widely bulging eyes, Aesha saw that violent glow begin to pour into her circuitry, her own sapphire hues being corrupted by it… and as the agony grew, the very math holding her algorithms together began to dissolve. It was like acid thrown against her circuit board… a destructive virus constructed especially for an Exalted like her.
Aesha wanted to scream, but she couldn’t anymore… she experienced nothing but blinding and all-consuming pain. The acidic purple had already disconnected her legs from her torso at startling speed, effectively severing her in twine. Whenever its Tyrian tint encountered her, the stuff of her figure was being undone. She didn’t possess innards and other organs… the Exalted heroine fell back into tiny, pixelized dust that fell away like sand-blasted dunes. This extremely-suffering representation of Aesha was being murdered into oblivion… Her coding. Her hologram. Her consciousness disintegrated until not even zeroes and ones still remained in anything but random orders.
“Get them!” a loud feminine voice called. Promptly, yellow laser beams blasted the Kthid viruses, knocking them over and destroying their simulated forms. Just like that one particular representation of Aesha Sakar was melting apart upon that checkered plane, so did the Kthid’s creations began to dissolve, screaming in the agony of stressed steel as they fell apart. Then, like ghosts, four copies of Aesha stormed across the plane, driving the viruses backward. They wiped them out, not so much fighting them as executing them… and unlike before, no others emerged from the code to replace these in the simulation. While the viruses here were busy with the decoy copy of herself that she had made, Aesha had slipped into the code and cleared the virus, sectioning it off into a sandbox. Now she cleared the remnants like white blood cells would to an actual virus in the bloodstream… given time to prepare and equip herself with the proper weapons, the once so powerful and deadly green monsters were easily reduced to mush by the powerful Exalted woman!
One copy of Aesha looked down at the clone that had been ripped apart, wallowing in discomfort. She had chosen to make this copy. She had chosen to sacrifice herself… knowing what she was doing. Her identity spread across many different interlinked clones all working under one guiding directive… but she had failed to save this part of herself. Filled with regret, Aesha closed her eyes for just a moment before she continued to clear the viruses, and at the same time, another copy of herself was taking control over the detached systems once again now that the computer disruption had been cleared. Now the defenders of the mighty flagship Azteca could once again fight with the odds squarely in their favor. This Kthid malware might have been able to kill one copy, but in the long run, this was a victory… the Exalted were mankind’s finest creations, and the heroines would not fall so easily.
“I am the Chief Scientific Officer of this flagship!” Frida Nyckel impressed upon her guardswomen, “And I have important information for the Admiral! It is imperative that I be brought to the bridge immediately! We must— “
“I understand that very well, madam! We’re doing everything in our power to see you safe!” a terrified young marine responded while the group scurried down the hallway, the relatively short, stocky blonde gazing wide-eyed into every room that they passed while keeping her rifle ready to fire. They were expecting void tracer ambushes around every corner… bloody signs of previous battles lined their path and terrifying shrieks and war-like sounds echoed down distant corridors. These segments of the Azteca had turned into full-on warzones due to their inability to contain the Kthid boarding parties, and her crew had been forced to fight with a level of ferocity that no training could have prepared them for. The chaos on the ship spread outward from the boarding sleds… and while there were nowhere near enough Kthid or void tracers to completely take over the ship, that clearly wasn’t their objective… the purpose was to cause the maximum amount of chaos and destruction, to cripple the ship during its initial sortie with the Kthid fleet. The chaos had led to the section of the ship where Frida’s laboratories were, and she and her team had been ordered to evacuate due to the Kthid having established their beachhead near to its vicinity. The renowned xenobiologist was here to study the Kthid, and she was very obviously, and very vocally, ill-pleased with her guards. Not only were they skittish and fearful but also few in number. If a Kthid force truly were to waylay them, then—
“Contact!” the short-statured blonde heading their column suddenly shouted, her rifle coming up to her shoulder, her trigger finger jerking against that diminutive lever and thus blasting out a quickly aimed volley of superheated plasma missiles. They splashed their way down the hallways and across the walls as they tracked toward their target before hitting and dispersing against an Aegis field. The Kthid warrior rushed down the hallway with a ferocious roar, and the marine – likely still in the grip of void tracer pheromones – didn’t manage to get enough fire on him before he reached her. He snarled a terrifying cry as he struck with its mace-like weapon, slowing down just enough to make it through the marine’s Aegis before smashing down on the rifle, bludgeoning it into scraps and debris, useless for anything.
A swarm of other casteless Kthid suddenly materialized, appearing from out of doorways and rooms which the humans had believed cleared. They were all around them and attacked with the ferocity of animals, swarming the marines. Several Kthid were killed, but there were more, and as surrounded as they were the marines didn’t manage to kill nearly enough of them before being overcome. Caught and isolated from their peers, the humans were quickly overwhelmed, easy sport for the Kthid’s wretched, lustful passions. The few men in the squad were hacked apart, and to a chorus of a clamor of terrified feminine screaming their uniforms were ripped and torn off to expose the soft naked flesh underneath.
The Space Dragons, already fighting practically naked, did not have to remove many vestments to be readied for sex… they just had to pull their loincloths to the side, and then the brief scrimmage quickly turned into an interspecies orgy even faster than the ambush had been sprung. Being condemned as casteless, these Kthid’s faced very little possibility of passing on their genes, and they knew that they were on a likely suicide mission, and they showed no hesitation in throwing themselves into the sexual fray with a zealotry that could only be referred to as madness.
“Get off of me!” the blonde marine screamed as she was forced down, and a second later she was being penetrated from behind by one of the largest of the Kthid violators. Her uniform was slashed by the breasts and the pubic mound so that those forbidden areas hung tantalizingly exposed while tattered rags still covered the rest of her body, clinging tightly to her skin. Even though her rapist was downright young by the standards of the Kthid his member was monstrously larger than her boyfriend’s back on Venus, and screamed in agony as if forced itself into her tight feminine box. Once impaled, the draconian brave began pummeling her pussy which such force that she seemed at risk of being torn in twain. Worse yet, the same was happening to every single female member of her squad, the male ones already ripped apart into gunky pieces of viscera so that their blood was allowed to pool outwards upon the floor.
“Get away from me!” Frida Nyckel angrily called, slipping upon the blood as she attempted to crawl away from her Kthid violator. Unlike her guards and the other scientists who were utterly terrified, the doctor seemed arrogant enough that she was more angry than afraid… as if this rapacious ambush infringed upon some important appointment or plan rather than heralded a violation of her body and dignity and risk of her life. She seemed utterly certain that nothing would happen to her, that the universe could not possibly conspire to allow anything to happen to someone as important as she was. The space dragon which had gone after the brown-haired, stunning scientist found her an unusually tricky fish to handle… She twisted out of the lab coat she wore over her uniform, sliding out of his grasp, and squirming away from him. By the time his comrades were fully involved with slamming their scaly meat poles into the other wailing humans, he was still stuck struggling to pin Nyckel down.
Frida dodged as best she could, darting for freedom from the group. Both flabbergasted and humiliated by witnessing his prey escaping, the indignant casteless at last abandoned his inclination to not damage his mating “partner” and instead swiped for her knee, spraying blood across the walls. His long, muscular arms send her crashing to the deck in a manner that would have made anyone worry about injury. The angry Kthid immediately pounced… She would not escape him this time. Furious, he climbed on top of her, and as she continued to struggle he punched her. The scientist was athletic, but not that athletic… she was smashed practically flat to the metal deck, momentarily stunned. The casteless youth was worried he might have killed her for a second, but she started moving again, so the Kthid was quick to finally catch her in an enwrapping body lock… his at last.
“S-STTTTOOOOPPP!” the short-statured blonde bellowed as loud as her lungs would allow. Her vocal cords rang as a pipe organ as that scarified and mean-looking Kthid pummeled his engorged dick into her womanhood. The malachite giant’s own reaction could not be any different. Even while pumping so hard and fast that his spit-slick tongue puffed from his mouth like that of a dog, the Kthid’s snout was perpetually leering down at her, cloven with the biggest, reptilian smile that the alien species could make. His big serpentine tongue slithered out and lapped the guardswoman across the face, coating her in slimy saliva and making her retch. This member of their species of reapers had thought his possibilities of ever impregnating a female to be nil. Now, he would not only have a mother to birth the continuation of his genes, but he would get to knock her up while conquering the enemy flagship itself. The young Kthid reflected upon the fantasy that this must be the sort of glorious sex that casted warriors – even the glorious Huntmasters – enjoyed with their favorite Heitera before feeling the upswirl of boiling sperm building up inside his swollen balls.
“Pitiful humans!” he hollered aloud, eyes bright with a maniac, almost religious zeal as he spurted his life-changing protein soup into the raped human’s womb. Despite having been a very quick and painless fuck by the standards of what his species was capable of, the smaller marine woman still felt like she’d been subjected to some kind of apocalypse. She had planned, someday, to have a child with her boyfriend, after serving her term in the military. Now, she was instead being fertilized by these ferocious suicide-troopers instead while watching all of her female squad mates undergo the same fate.
“Hold… still!” the Kthid pinning down Frida Nyckel snarled in high exasperation at his lack of progress and then slapped her across the face. The brunette had been denuded from the waist down, her skintight clothing ripped and shredded, yet the infuriating woman still struggled in her losing battle. He had her pinned now, and had just gotten his swollen, steel-hard cock aligned with her long-desired womanhood and was ready to enjoy the spoils of his long struggle with the woman. “You are a strong one,” he hissed. “The Dark Star blesses mothers such as you… the blessing of conquest!” Holding onto her hips with both hands, the enthusiastic Kthid lurched forward, feeling that velvety cunt-flesh part as he burrowed into her core with his bulging green dick. Leveraging his bulging thews beneath angry scales, he managed to slam balls-deep in the first go and feel that feminine treasure completely wrap around his pole.
“This is what a woman feels like?” he growled as he stared down at the struggling scientist. “I swear th-”
A blast frenzy of plasma blasts shattered against Aegis fields at all once… but most of the Kthid’s shields were damaged and overloaded from the last fight again. A blast of superheated energy took her rapist in the skull, leaving a smoking chasm behind as the superheated payload melted his reptilian brain to boiling and blasted it out of the back of his skull. Dark smoke that used to be brains billowed out of that freshly-created crater while his dick still jutted from the scientist’s womanhood. A horde of Terran marines stormed down the hallway, shooting, mowing down the distracted Kthid… All but crazed at their prospects of breeding, the undisciplined reptilian youths had made themselves easy targets for the new relief squad of soldiers now that they had contained the threat behind them.
“Aesha,” the male captain spoke into his microphone. “Close the blastdo—” The command was cut off by the sharp his of the door slamming shut before he could finish speaking the sentence, the pathway being promptly closed for the two Kthid who had at least managed to attempt a retreat. Facing a solid wall of metal, the duo was peppered with bolts of plasma from a whole squad of marines until their Aegis had overheated and failed, and then they became smoking carcasses more hollowed-out than swiss cheese. Both feel down dead without making a sound, save for the thud of the landfall itself.
“Passageway secure,” the marine said. “Admiral, C deck is secure from breaching forces, Kthid and Hammerheads both.”
“Captain Grack,” the breathless Frida said, pushing herself against the wall and attempting to cover herself to preserve some fragment of modesty. “You’ve arrived just in time. I see that your punctuality is as finely tuned as ever.” Slowly the scientist forced herself back onto her feed, sliding her body against the wall and pulling on what remained of her tattered pants. She almost stagged on the bleeding wounds on her legs.
“Stay still, miss!” Leila said, the blonde engineer stepping around the marine to support her. “You need medical attention.”
Firmly, Frida forced herself up, though she supported herself with the wall. “I’ll see to it myself,” she growled with determination. She stood a bit queerly due to the damaging blow inflicted against her leg but otherwise was making a serious attempt to appear unflappable by the horror she had just experienced. “I need to collect any survivors and get them to my lab… They are what I’m here to study, after all.”
Captain Grack cocked an eyebrow and cast his dark eyes towards the violated marines, their yawning-open womanhoods still oozing out creamy-thick semen. Visible anger fouled his face. Not one of those women appeared ready to resume active duty… their miens were contorted rictuses of agony, almost like those he would expect to find on the bodies of torture victims. Mostly were slow to even react to their last-moment salvation… They had been raped so savagely that even if their flesh remained intact their souls were at least temporarily as branded as their bodies with the horror of Kthid breeding. “Right on time?” he repeated, silently furious. There were not a lot of things that could break the marine’s composure, but it seemed like he had run into two in the same that that could threaten the icy-cold perfection: The Void Tracer-inspired terror, and his men suffering rape and the hands of these monsters.”
“Assuredly,” Frida responded, casting her eyes towards a Kthid lying recumbent on the floor whose torso was ridden with numerous burn scars but who was still breathing. The stare in Frida Nyckel’s eyes was furious, cold, and almost predatory… like those of a hawk about to descend on its prey. “This one remains alive yet. Good!” She pointed at Grack. “Take him into custody and get him to my lab, Captain. Conducting experiments on a still-living Kthid could be most valuable to our research. Have your men bring this specimen to my lab.”
The xenobiologist looked down the hallways. “If the floor is secure, I’ll return to my lab, see to my own medical attention, and begin work on this one… I shall look forward to handing in my report to HEF command.” The scientist’s voice was proper and dispassionate as she turned and began limping down the hall, leaving a tiny blood trail dripping down her legs and onto the floor as she walked with determination.
Grack looked angry, but he didn’t argue. “You, you, and you,” the marine said as he indicated a trio of the marines. “Stay here and tend to the wounded. You, you, and you, get this Kthid in shackles and dragged to the lab. Everyone else, we’re heading to B deck… need to make sure it’s secure as well.” Mustering their rifles, the Captain gave a disgruntled look towards the doctor for a second. Then he and the rest of his squad, Leila and the other engineers in tow, continued their march through the ship.
Chanda let her cabin door close behind her, and the moment it did she let her upright, dignified posture drop, slumping against the wall in sheer exhaustion. There was nothing more she needed to do right now. Damage control was well underway, and the ship had been secured again… there wasn’t going to be any need for her for a little bit. Her presence would just get in the way, people insisting on honorifics around her… and it wouldn’t be good for morale to people to see her like this.
This had been a disaster. It had gone almost as badly as the last battle had gone well.
The space where the two armadas had crossed paths had been converted into a graveyard of fallen vessels, drifting on ballistic courses off into the distance. Several of her ships were connected to hulks, rescuing survivors and determining if the ships were repairable. The Kthid ships were going in entirely the wrong direction to be recoverable, but sometimes the direction it was moving was the only way for them to know which faction the rent metal and scatter debris belonged to. Cadavers frozen by the coldness of space likewise floated around this monument of wreckage, drifting in the same, morbid clouds… frozen, or burned, or torn apart by the violence with which they had been vented into space. These would be almost impossible to recover before they drifted far enough they would be lost to space… ghosts that would pay eerie testament to this destructive war.
In strict terms, there was no way to tell or declare a proper winner of an engagement like this. The haze of chaos had made it hard to tell how much damage they had done to the Kthid fleet. Analyzes done by instrumentation and HEF high command over the next few days would have to make that call. Ultimately, though, Chanda knew it wouldn’t matter.
The plasma spikes had been as effective as they had hoped, but it was a weapon with limited usability… they had known that when they built it. It had destroyed two of the six ships they hit, and crippled another two… they had needed to be towed towards the rendezvous, but the Kthid wouldn’t give them another opportunity as good as that one again… and that was only a fraction of their problems.
As things stood now, the two navies had passed one another, moving far too quickly to take another run at one another right away. The Kthid had continued their course through the system before using the gravity of Set to slow down and charge their course into an orbit, circling the star at a distance of several light hours away, about half of the way to the Kuiper belt. The human fleet had done something similar, though they had angled inside, circling back towards Set III, meeting the planet in its own orbit. Most importantly, however, the Kthid fleet had intercepted the Lilis Wormhole where they had flung it to the far reaches of the system… it had become a beachhead now, and according to radio telescopes more ships were coming through by the minute… and had been for several hours now.
The rest of the Kthid fleet was coming through.
Any rate of exchange was a ruinous one.
Both fleets were falling back into space now… orbiting the star which still ruled this system as king. The Kthid would do their damage control and build up strength again, and then they would come back at them, doing another attack run but with a far larger fleet, and no opportunity for Chanda to shell them when they were vulnerable and barely moving again.
Chanda rested her aching forehead in her one hand and wished her head wasn’t throbbing so badly. At least they had regained full control over the Azteca, and while she had been bloodied the ship’s sheer mass of armor and its Aegis shields had held. She, and most of their fleet, would be back to full operational capacity within a few days… that was, the rest of the fleet that had survived the engagement at all. Perhaps an analysis of the battle and the Kthid armada would find weaknesses they could exploit. Perhaps the exchange of engines, hulls, and missiles would lead to lessons learned and adjustments made that would make the next battle go differently.
More likely, however, it would come up with nothing that would make a difference.
She could not hold this system. Her fleet wasn’t big enough.
This stellar graveyard, the grouping of metal salvage of burning wrecks and shattered hulks constituted the latest sacrifice to the monarch of this system, the star they orbited… and it was a minor one at that. Every human and Sethis in this system could die, all of their ships vanish, and the star would not notice… compared to the heavenly bodies of the system, they were scarcely noticeable. Just a reminder of ghosts.
And in a few days or weeks, Admiral Chanda knew there would be another.
Next Chapter ->