In the quiet morning hours, before the hyper-city’s residents poured out of their homes en masse on their way to work, a small space plane took off from a magnetic runway of a seaside spaceport. The flight was approved in secret. The common, everyday jaunts into orbit were suspended after the Nation arrived. Earthlings didn’t need to know what was unfolding above their heads just yet.
As the space jet left the atmosphere, its passengers, Steve Robbins and Christine Hayes, took one last look at the classified documents they were given an hour before liftoff. They anxiously watched as the distant red stars in far orbit slowly grew into sleek, wide, jet black shapes with shimmering red auras framing their outlines against the stars. The generals who briefed them weren’t exaggerating. The Nation’s destroyers were huge, bigger than even the largest aircraft carriers in service. In the gloom below, two fighters shot across the top of a destroyer’s hull and angled themselves towards the rest of the fleet. On the side of the giant spacecraft, a narrow slit shining with a soft, reddish light indicated a docking bay.
The space plane shut down its engines and softly drifted into the bay. It touched down among the fighters, assisted by magnetic strips in the floor. As it powered down, the docking bay silently slid shut. Steve and Christine were now sealed in the belly of an alien ship. Taking a few moments to steady their nerves, they turned on their space suits and opened the hatch.
To their surprise, the destroyer had gravity almost identical to what they were used to on Earth. They looked around the long, narrow bay bathed in dim light and dotted with sleek, jet black fighters. None of them had a cockpit. Robotic fighters, thought Steve. In his days of reverse-engineering the technology used by separatist militias he’s seen his share of unmanned aircraft. But these were probably much smarter than anything on Earth.
Above him and Christine, the ceiling opened up and a circular platform came into view. Standing on this platform were their hosts, Ace and Dot. The platform floated down until it merged with the floor and the ceiling sealed itself shut once again. The cyborgs were shorter and leaner than they expected. Ace was just a little over six feet tall. Dot was only five foot five. Up close and in person, the Nation’s representatives weren’t nearly as intimidating as they were on screen.
“Welcome aboard,” smiled Ace as he and Dot slightly bowed.
“Thank you,” replied the humans in unison, returning the bow.
“Please feel free to take off your helmets,” said Dot. “The ship is pressurized and ready for you.”
Steve and Christine carefully removed their helmets and took in the fresh air created by specially engineered bacteria circulating through the docking bay.
“How about a little tour of the ship?” offered Ace.
“It would be our pleasure,” nodded Steve.
Ace glanced at the ceiling. His eyes and runes flashed with a bright red glow and a tunnel similar to the one that brought the cyborgs down to the bay opened up. A larger platform rose from the floor, carrying all four of them upwards.
“You know, the rest of us just push buttons,” noted Dot.
Steve and Christine smiled.
“How does this elevator tunnel change shape?” asked Christine.
“The most important thing to know about our spaceships is that nothing is solid,” explained Ace. “The whole ship is made out of a flexible carbon gel with tiny machines that can manipulate its shape and density. We give the nanobots a command, they build whatever we need, from a bedroom to a tunnel. When we don’t need a structure or a room, like in the middle of combat to help reinforce our external shielding, the bots seal the space.”
The tubular screen-like wall of the elevator shaft showed the intricate innards of the ship as they entered it, giving an instant map of where every room and every vital component of the destroyer lay. Two thirds of the enormous ship were dominated by twelve titanic engines and several independent reactors, about the size of a city block each. This enormous, complex assembly generated enough power to bend space and time around the ship, propelling it along at such incredible speeds, the ship didn’t just seem to defy the laws of space and time, it seemed to actively mock them.
However, in reality, it did no such thing. The engines provided just enough energy to create a warp bubble and start pushing the craft towards its destination at relativistic speeds. Then, its shields would redirect the radiation generated by tiny particles in the universe’s quantum foam interacting with the warp bubble’s event horizon, using it to propel the ship to superluminal velocities.
Thanks to the complex rules of quantum mechanics, the radiation intensified the faster the craft went, and even more energy would be channeled into its engines and dissipated back into space as it normally would. The Nation’s fleet basically picked up its energy as it went along and the faster its spaceships flew, the more energy they could pick up. The only limits were the intensity of radiation their engines and shields could withstand (which is why both were designed with a simple but very effective delimiter which was impossible to override), and the immense, but ultimately finite amount of radiation that could be generated by their accelerating warp bubbles without violating the basic laws of thermodynamics.
As an engineer, Steve was awestruck by the size and complexity of the ship’s engines and reactors. While the small platform slowly crept upwards to the bridge to give the humans a good look at the truly impressive sight before them, he turned to Ace.
“What does this ship run on?” he asked.
“Deuterium and tritium fed into black holes,” replied Ace.
“Yes. Small, stable black holes. We feed them and they give off more than enough power to run the ship’s systems and produce the particles that create the energy waves we use to move the ship. We just aim their emissions with lasers.”
“But what if they get too big?”
“They’re so small that without us constantly feeding them, they’d just evaporate away in a few minutes.”
“And the fuel is the same as we use for fusion?”
“Exactly. The black holes sip the hydrogen isotopes in vapor form and give back heat, light and high energy particles we then re-direct for propulsion. It’s very, very efficient. More than half of the matter turns into pure energy, ten times more effective than most fusion techniques.”
“These two are sure hitting it off,” noted Dot, nudging Christine.
“Yes,” agreed Christine. “Steve’s in awe of all things high tech.”
“He’ll have a lot of fun with Ace then.”
Finally, they ascended to the bridge and the platform that carried them locked itself into position, merging with the floor as the tunnel below it sealed itself, separating the docking bay from the bridge by several hundred feet of flexible, dynamic armor.
The bridge itself was a semi-circular structure of modest size in sharp contrast to everything else on the ship. Its curved wall gave a crystal clear 180-degree panorama of what was happening in front of the ship though the bridge itself was located in the ship’s midsection, towards the top layers of the dense hull. Resting against the far wall was a large, curved commander’s chair reserved for the cyborg in charge of the destroyer. Between the chair and the wall were four terminals that fused with the area right under the holographic screen. Each terminal was separated by a sleek protrusion which housed access panels. A comfortable chair similar to a bucket seat of a sports car was attached in front of each terminal. Technicians and officers on manned destroyers would often occupy these seats during combat.
The bridge itself was a pod anchored inside the thick armored hull and could be interchanged with the bridge of a robotic destroyer piloted by a special machine. When the commanders fought alone, the terminals were absorbed into the pod and the bridge contracted to add extra armor for the sole occupant.
The platform carried Christine, Ace, Steve and Dot to the middle of this bridge. They sat down in the available chairs with Ace taking the commander’s seat.
“All right,” Ace started. “Here’s how we’re going to do this. This is going to be more or less an informal arrangement. You’re not going to be under Dot’s, mine or anyone else’s command.”
Steve and Christine nodded.
“However…” Ace raised his index finger, “in combat, all that is overruled. I will become your direct CO and you’ll obey our orders for the sake of your own safety. We will teach you how to use our weapon systems so you can defend yourself. Are we all clear?”
Christine and Steve sprang from their chair and gave Ace picture perfect salutes.
“Sir, yes sir!” they confirmed in unison.
“At ease,” said Ace. “You’re civilians for now.”
“But you’re probably not going to stay that way for long,” noted Dot accessing a terminal, activating a wide, translucent holographic screen that floated a few inches above the computers and exploded with diagrams and statuses of 5,000 destroyers and their payloads. “So here’s what you’re going to need to know to control our squadron…”
And so, two humans signed over by the International Council to the enigmatic Shadow Nation began their first lesson in alien warfare as the Rexx armada was closing in.
Somewhere near the Shadow Nation’s territory, a massive fleet of spiny neon green pods was traveling towards a white star shrouded by a cloud of blue-green dust. Because of the angle of their approach, the fleet was able to see a small, dark, round object through the cloud. As the pods passed through the thick dust, the dark spot revealed itself to be an Earth sized planet. Unlike Earth, however, it had a super-continent that stretched from pole to pole. The vast, blue ocean made up a little less than half of the planet’s surface. Thick bands of tropical storms hovered over deep waters, lighting up the air around them with blue and white bursts of lighting.
Floating around this world were two moons. The first moon looked like a dry, barren piece of grayish rock and dust much like the Earth’s. The other was a bizarre shade of green similar to tarnish. The fleet of spiny pods turned towards the dry, dusty, barren moon and began slowing down to land on its dark hemisphere.
As each pod landed, it drilled deep into the dry rocks, anchoring itself. When a pod’s artificial intelligence decided that it was secure, the back of the probe peeled open to reveal a monstrous engine. In a matter of minutes, the army of 29,000 pods activated their immense thrusters, sending out a blinding white light.
In the planet’s sky, there was no hint that something was horribly wrong. The majestic dust cloud took up much of the night sky. Both of the moons were clearly visible in great detail. The best view of the night sky was from the rooftops of a huge hyper-city, a maze of high rises and spires that towered into the sky like mountains. This hyper-city was literally grown out of the ground by the Nation’s nanobots which changed the chemical structure of the planet’s rocks and fused them together into one, mountain-like structure that was the city.
Suddenly, a white stream of plasma came from behind one of the moons. Slowly and steadily, the moon began to get bigger and bigger in the sky, accelerating as it went along. As the moon ripped through a previously stable field of asteroids, it started attracting huge rocks that slammed into its surface with incredible ferocity. Some of these space rocks were sent tumbling to the planet below, sending towers of white hot and red hot dust deep into space as they hit. The ocean, yanked by the sudden increase of the lunar pull, inundated the hyper-city docks like a tsunami at high tide.
The moon which was turned into a battering ram now took up as much as two-thirds of the sky. The planet was about to face its end, vanishing in an apocalyptic blast and its sky exploded, setting the rogue moon’s surface on fire.
Then came the sound.
It was an unholy roar that shook the ground and perturbed every molecule of air, sending shockwaves across the planet. A concentric ring of hot lava shot out into space and the planet’s crust cracked. It was followed by more lava flows that poured out into space at hypersonic speeds. Both the planet and the moon cracked into immense slabs.
A blinding flash obscured the view for an entire minute as those huge slabs came undone and shattered, exposing the red hot innards of the planet and the cold core of the moon. The slow motion break-up sent a plume of lava from the opposite side of the planet, followed by a massive chunk of rock that smashed into the second moon.
As this beautiful, almost cinematic scene of destruction was over and the slow motion of continent sized rocks melted from the impact began to settle down, all that was left of this rare, habitable world were molten, smoldering rocks and white dust. In orbit around the Earth, Dot, Ace and the humans watched this terrifying event on a video module on the destroyer’s holographic window with horror. Tiny spy probes used for deep space surveillance by the Nation had a perfect view of this apocalyptic scene from just about every angle.
“Ah shit…” cursed Ace.
“What happened?” asked Christine.
“That was Epsilon Omega 6XP.”
“Until ten seconds ago,” corrected Dot.
“But isn’t that planet 22,000 light years away and this happened about 22,000 years ago?”
“Yes, it’s 22,000 light years from Earth, but it happened now.”
“We use a phenomenon in quantum physics to send information instantly across almost any distance. The probes send us an encoded signal with photons. The photons are linked together via a simple quantum entanglement. The signal we get is when these photons’ states are being changed and we read the actual sequence of changes.”
“So we’re watching what’s happening halfway across the galaxy in honest to goodness real time?”
“Yes. And because we know how and why these photons are linked together, this method of communication works…” Ace paused to look at what remained of Epsilon Omega 6XP. “And I can’t believe those bastards just blew up a planet on the protected list.”
He turned to Dot with a weary sigh.
“Sometimes I wonder why we bother making treaties…” he began.
“Before we wonder that,” interrupted Dot, “we’ve got company.”
“Size and ETA?”
“Probe reports 350,000 BFUs in three hours.”
“Excellent. Let’s power up and load weapons.”
“BFUs?” asked Christine.
“Base fleet units, the number of what seem to be the typical ships for an alien fleet,” explained Ace.
“Oh and there’s something else,” said Dot looking at the screen. “The Rexx are dragging something in their formation… It looks like a… UDXP object…”
“UDXP?” asked Steve.
Ace and Dot turned to him with the same stone cold expression.
“That’s highly classified,” they barked in unison and went back to their instruments.
“Let me get a visual,” said Ace.
He pressed a few buttons on the armrest of his chair and a small holographic screen appeared above the keypad. It showed a massive cube of blue gel which encased a horrifying creature, a barrel-chested alien skeleton as big as a two story house. It was armed with huge claws and had a pair of short, but very sturdy legs with menacing talons. The eye sockets in its blocky head looked empty. Hanging off of its numerous ribs were rotting bits of grayed flesh. Finishing its unsettling look were a pair of horns facing forwards.
This monster was towed by a small fleet of ships that could only be described as flying ribcages with sleek, fanged skulls. These odd contraptions were shrouded by a cloud of Rexx pods. Tonight would be a very long, restless night for the Nation’s fleet. The alien insects were ready for a siege and assembled their attack fleet with the Earth’s new defenders in mind.
“0673UD,” chuckled Ace. “They dragged 0673UD all the way out here…”
“What are you going to do about him?” asked Dot.
“I’ll kick his bony ass, what else?” shrugged Ace.
He turned to the humans.
“Ok, you want to give this a try?” he asked.
“Absolutely,” said Christine as Steve cracked his knuckles.