The Councilors listened to Ace’s summation of what happened in the depths of the Milky Way in the last 1,400 years with disbelief. It’d be impressive enough if extra-solar astronauts returned with tales of alien spaceships passing just a few thousand miles away from them, but here was a lost chapter of human history that threatened to turn their world upside down in one fell swoop.
“So how come we didn’t know about any of this?” asked Jensen when Ace’s tale was over.
“We couldn’t let you know,” replied Ace. “It would’ve put Earth at risk. If any alien race knew that there were billions of potential Children or Shadow Demons on a small blue planet that, for all intents and purposes, is defenseless… Suffice it to say that we would’ve met a lot sooner.”
“But we would have to find all this out eventually.”
“Yes. The idea was to let you return to space travel and discover all this on your own, slowly, in due time, over a few centuries rather than finding out like this, with an alien horde knocking on your front door with fusion bombs and Marvin the Martian with an eye infection giving you a history lesson.”
“Marvin the Martian?” asked a confused Councilor.
“Don’t worry about it,” sighed Ace with disappointment.
“It’s pretty amazing what gets away from us on Earth,” frowned Grey shaking his head.
“I have to say that you made the information gap worse when the economic powers that be decided that interstellar travel was too long, too expensive and simply didn’t have a quick enough return on investment,” noted Ace. “It’s amazing that with even a 300 year lifespan, humans still think only about what happens in their lifetimes when making important decisions.”
Suddenly, Ace’s face relaxed. He shook his head and the corners of his mouth twitched as if he was trying to smile but couldn’t.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “That outburst was very inappropriate. I’ve never been very good at keeping my mouth shut when necessary.”
“No, I can understand,” said Grey. “After all, we basically left 17,000 people to their fate trillions of miles away from Earth and assumed that if they didn’t like it, they could’ve just come right back on their fuel reserves. We just said ‘hi’ every century or so when the stars aligned.”
After a few moments of silence, Ace perked up.
“Ok ladies and gentlemen, let’s not dwell in the past. The past is behind us and we should leave it there for now,” he suggested.
“So, where do we go from here?” asked Grey. “Looks like someone with a grudge wants to wipe out the human race to make sure we won’t work with you.”
“Yes. The Dark Gods,” replied Ace. “In the last few years we’ve been experiencing a shall we say… strain in our relations. I really wouldn’t be surprised if it was them.”
“But didn’t they create you in the first place?”
“True, but things change. Why, I’m not sure. Our treaty worked for over a thousand years.” He scoffed. “I know, I know… Famous last words.”
“So we’re going to keep getting attacked because some alien monsters feel like it?” asked Hertz.
“No Councilor Hertz. It’s a lot more complex than that. To do something like this is a declaration of war. When the treaty was drawn up, Earth was placed on the list of protected worlds along with Abydos, Sigma 6J, and Epsilon Omega 6XP.”
“What are those two other worlds?” asked Hertz.
“Strategic resources. Earth-like planets capable of supporting life and that have only benign bacteria. Just the right mix of oxygen and nitrogen. We can live on any rocky planet since we don’t breathe and our bodies are immune to radiation and pathogens. Essentially, we’re machines with a few human organs. But normal humans need very special and very rare planets with very specific conditions. You know, liquid water, strong magnetic field, thick atmosphere and so on.”
“So if humans ever had to leave Earth…”
Ace winked at the Councilors.
“Nice to have guardian angels, isn’t it?” he laughed.
“More like guardian demons,” noted Grey slyly.
“Good catch,” Ace said, throwing in a pity chuckle.
“Is there a plan Ace?” asked Councilor Newman.
“We protect you with our fleets,” replied Ace. “In two days, the rest of the Rexx will be here. They’ll try to hurl as much firepower as possible at our destroyers. But we can take them. Our main concern is a stray bomb that can scorch the Earth.”
“What happens then?”
“Well you told me that Earth has about three billion people living in those hyper-cities, right?”
“They get to see another planet about 11,000 light years away, as close to our territory as we can put you.”
The Councilors nodded in silent agreement. Ace smiled, carefully trying not show his fangs again.
“Well, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I hate to cut our reunion short, but I must be off. If you need me, I’ve uploaded instructions on how to get in touch with us. There only a few of us here and most destroyers are robotic so they’ll reroute almost every call to me.”
“Before you go Ace,” started Grey, “could you tell us who this is and whether she’s from your team?”
Grey held up his plastic sheet. On it was a picture of the silver skinned girl who hacked into the building’s IT system and taunted the technicians. Ace laughed at the picture and shook his head.
“Oh yes, I know her,” he sighed. “That’s Dot.”
The holographic screen which displayed Ace’s face went blank, leaving the Councilors alone in the twilight. They sat silently for a few minutes, trying to process what they just heard. When they started talking again, a common theme started to emerge in their discussions. They needed to get a lot closer to the Nation than just talking to their emissary.
Ordinarily, Ace wouldn’t have paid much attention to the sunrise. In his long life, he saw thousands of beautiful sunrises over innumerable worlds from every imaginable angle, in every possible orbit. But this was a sunrise over the Earth’s equator. In the holographic screen that displayed conditions outside the ship, the bright light of the sun was dimmed so Ace could admire the vast expanses of shimmering blue water and the thick swirls of white clouds drifting over the continents and landmarks he still knew by heart. This was home. Finally, after almost a millennium and a half, he found his way back home.
He was in a wide, long, low bed having just woken up. Sleeping next to him was Dot, hogging the sheets as usual. Ace softly slid his hand under the thin comforter and gently touched her bare waist. He continued sliding his hand down her lower abdomen as if he was on a stealth mission until his hand was exactly where he wanted it. Dot squirmed in her sleep. He pressed in a different spot and she sprung up with a sleepy and surprised look on her face.
“Is it time to get up already?” she asked.
“It is if you want to see the sunrise.”
“Oh…” she was less than excited. “Well, it’s pretty.”
“And we have things to do. We should get up and get dressed.”
Dot jumped out of the bed and stretched. Her body was as taught as a bowstring, perfectly shaped and extremely well trained. Her soft breasts fit ideally on her small frame and had a recognizably human form. Over her shoulders and traveling down to her breasts were two black, jagged runes like those on her face, but slightly larger. On her back, between the shoulder blades was a black, tribal marking of a sun that incorporated a thick, spiral design for the disk.
She got the sun disk when she graduated from the military academy and became a career soldier. In the thousand years that followed, this petite and seemingly innocent girl became one of the Nation’s elite killers, second only to Ace in body count.
She walked across the bedroom towards the holographic wall on which the curvature of the Earth was illuminated by the warm rays of the sun. The bedroom was very big and sparsely decorated. The huge bed with two elegant nightstands on each side and a wide, curvy sofa that faced the holographic wall were all that stood in this room. Bathrooms and closets were behind sliding doors that blended in with the black chrome and brushed aluminum color scheme of the walls.
She stood next to Ace who was deep in thought as he looked out on the Earth and placed her hand on his back. He put his arm around her shoulder.
“So where were you born?” she asked.
“That city is gone now,” replied Ace with a disappointed sigh.
“I’m sorry… I know I should be more excited than that, but it’s kinda hard to get excited about a world I can’t remember anymore.”
“I was something of a lab animal on Earth. They just threw me in the Endeavor to see if kids could grow up on another planet.”
“I know. That’s humans for you.”
Ace lightly touched the holographic wall and turned away.
“We have to get in touch with Nelson and the rest of the High Council, tell them how everything’s going,” he said.
Just like their counterparts on Earth, the cyborgs wore duty uniforms when not in combat. Made of extremely strong polymers interwoven with specialized metallic fibers, they provided some measure of protection against small arms fire and bladed weapons while remaining light and flexible. All of the uniforms were black and gray, lightly decorated with red, sharp, angular markings. Rank was indicated by the symbols worn on a sash tied around the waist, with fewer markings indicating a higher rank, each symbol a stand in for a lesson to yet to be learned as a proper warrior. Ace’s belt had a single rune on each end. Dot’s had two.
“What do you want for breakfast?” she asked.
“Eh, I think I’ll just have coffee for now. I’m not really hungry yet,” replied Ace.
There was a ping on the destroyer’s intercom.
“Incoming call from Earth,” announced a computer.
“Put it through,” requested Dot.
A floating, holographic screen with an audio scope animated by small digital blocks came into view in front of Ace. The scope began to move along with a now familiar voice.
“Ace, this is Councilor Grey speaking.”
“Morning Councilor Grey.”
“Morning to you too. Hope you’re enjoying your view of Earth.”
“It brings back quite a few memories. So how can I help you?”
“Well…” started Grey. “You see we’ve been thinking and if we’re going to work together, I and the rest of the Council believe that it would be good if a few humans were to… umm… tag along.”
“Ok…” Ace scratched his chin in thought.
“They would of course be highly trained military personnel since we wouldn’t want to slow you down.”
“Would that be ok with you?”
“I don’t see a big problem. Dot? What do you think?”
“I really don’t know. It could be a potential safety issue,” opined Dot. “We wouldn’t want to place your people in high risk positions.”
“I assure you, they know the risks,” said Grey. “We’re giving the Shadow Nation complete custody of them. You get to design all the protocols they’ll follow during their stay with you.”
“So you’re basically signing their lives away to us,” noted Dot.
“Basically,” admitted Grey.
“Well Councilor… I will be in touch with the High Council a little later today and I’ll bring it up for their consideration,” offered Ace.
“Of course, take your time,” exhaled Grey. “I’ll let you do what you need to do. Take care and I hope to be in touch with you later in the day.”
“We’ll certainly let you know Councilor.”
The holographic player’s scope went flat and faded away. With a quick poke of his index finger, Ace turned off the floating image.
“I was hoping they’d do that,” he smirked.
“All according to plan?” asked Dot.
“All according to plan,” he confirmed.
[ illustration by Romain Trystram ]