The forces of the Shadow Nation descended on the Rexx like a dark, supernatural plague. The first planet to fall was a small world identified as Xi 13Jb by the Nation’s computers. A swarm of destroyers from the Fifth Fleet with a planet killer in tow unleashed a hellish firestorm on this Earth-sized planet the second they slowed down enough to enter orbit.
Their cannons and lasers sliced through Rexx ships with horrific ease and terrifying precision. Since the Nation’s ships caught them off guard, the Rexx were just lifting off from their spaceports. There was no time to mount a proper planetary defense and the destroyers were taking full advantage. Soon, shockwaves from IGF blasts rocked the planet, bathing the surface in bursts of red light.
On the bridges of robotic destroyers, SERV robots faithfully followed a strategy created in Rie’s simulator. Their huge eyes watched the holographic wall and a cube between the wall and their terminals that gave the SERVs an overview of the entire battlefield at a glance. At almost nine feet tall, they looked like a strange version of OctoBots at first, but their tentacles were anchored to a large, sleek protrusion from the bottom of the sphere. Instead of one giant eye, they had two smaller eyes that responded to an array of mind-bendingly complex instruments. Their tentacles locked into inputs in their terminals, fusing the SERV with the ship.
Suspended over semicircular consoles, locked into compact, dark bridges, they commanded the destroyers, fighters, and bombers of the Nation, the backbone of the cyborgs’ military. Connected to a network of supercomputers, they were constantly fed with instructions generated by user input or automatic commands from battle simulators.
The SERVs released the troop carriers tucked away in the bellies of some of their ships. The carriers shot out with the destroyers locked down into their near-spherical compact shape and zoomed towards their targets on the planet’s surface like guided missiles, twisting and turning in space, trying to home in. The destroyers covered them with heavy fire, shredding any Rexx ship that dared to get near them.
As the carriers entered the atmosphere, they clumped together in a set of large clusters. Flames from the heat of reentry enveloped them, setting their electromagnetic shields ablaze. The clusters slowed down to just one percent of their original speed as fighters zooming around the battlefield swiftly converged into swirling vortices protecting the carriers during their descent. As the carriers touched down, they quickly unfolded. Their heads and arms unlocked, their bodies spun open, letting the machines they carried quickly descend to the ground, lightest to heaviest, each unit laying cover for the next against incoming Rexx forces.
The ground units lit up and went to work, setting their sights on a Rexx city reminiscent of a termite mound made from granite and cut into a mountain. In moments, the plateau in front of the city turned into a battlefield with the Nation’s robots unleashing a torrent of red lasers and particle cannon fire against the blue lasers of the Rexx. Above them, the Nation’s ships turned the sky red with their terrifying weapons, blasting away at incoming Rexx reinforcements.
The destroyers sent their IGFs to hunt down the squads of Rexx flagships that were able to withstand the initial onslaught. The smart, guided IGFs dodged and weaved Rexx fire to get to their targets. As they exploded, the skies of the planet below them erupted with a red, blinding light and ripples of ionized gas when the atmosphere was perturbed by blast waves too close to its upper layers.
The Nation’s ground forces strained the Rexx’s city shields and mowed down the city’s defenders. Siege Machines stepped on scared Rexx with their enormous feet, crushing them with a sickening crack of shattering bones. The fast, nimble rovers buzzed through the Rexx army, unleashing a volley of rapid fire laser sweeps, separating the Rexx into small pockets in which they were quickly surrounded and slaughtered by roving bands of OctoBots. The troop carriers sent lasers and missiles deep into the city, slowly hovering towards them, keeping a watchful eye on the robots they just deployed.
As the shields around the Rexx city fell, Siege Machines opened fire from their powerful cannons, shattering the city walls and letting the OctoBots rush into the city, slicing through anything in sight with their lasers. The Rexx fought back with their shearing claws and particle busts, killing plenty of invading robots but not nearly enough to stem the tide. When the OctoBots got stuck in swarms of Rexx soldiers and their mobile laser cannons (odd hybrids of walking robots and rovers) a helpful bomb or two from a passing bomber, or a laser sweep from a troop carrier would quickly turn the tide back to the Nation’s machines.
But the overkill wasn’t finished yet. The silent planet killer came to life and aligned itself towards the planet. Its artificial star began to rotate faster and faster around its axis, trembling as it was compressed, its corona getting ever brighter. The fusion inside its core was reaching critical mass needed by the planet killer to fire. The craft’s engines drew away from the miniature sun and slid backwards to counter the intense recoil of the upcoming burst. Extending forward, the curved spikes lit up with an aurora traveling along the magnetic field that would focus and direct the immense energy pulse.
On Xi 13Jb, the Nation’s machines looked up at the sky and ran back to their carriers, blasting off for space. The confused Rexx didn’t know what to make of it. All they noticed was that something in the sky very much like sunlight kept getting brighter and brighter. Shimmering protuberances of plasma became faintly visible.
The artificial star of the planet killer trembled violently, emitting a shockwave of faintly lit, electrically charged particles cast off during a powerful star-quake. A horrific pulse of plasma and gamma rays followed, loosed into the magnetic tunnel of the planet killer’s spikes. Inside the magnetic fields, the trapped plasma and radioactive rays were bent, condensed into a beam and unleashed at the planet below with devastating results.
Within seconds, the planet’s magnetosphere collapsed and much of its atmosphere boiled off. The sheer magnetic vortex generated by the weapon tore apart any living organism on a continent sized area hit with the blast. Colliding shockwaves all over the planet merged and bounced around the thin crust, cracking the rocks and creating new fault lines. Across the surface, giant fissures snaked their way across the continental shelves, erupting with noxious gas and flows of superheated lava.
Finally, the death ray was exhausted and the planet killer’s light faded. The world known as Xi 13Jb was now a burnt, scarred wasteland covered by red and orange lava pools and clouds of noxious gas. Its reconstituting atmosphere, drawn back by the planet’s gravity, was alight with random green and blue auroras. Over a million miles away, the Rexx probes recording this event scattered. Their commander on the Rexx home world decided he had seen enough.
On a holographic cube in a dark room of the space city orbiting a white gas giant with gray storm swirls on the edge of Rexx territory, Ace, Dot, Steve and the rest of his crew watched the incident unfold. The chamber itself was a typical control room with a 360 degree holographic wall and black marble floors and ceilings. Sleek, curvy chairs were placed around a brushed metal table attached to the floor by an elegant metallic stem. The holographic cube was projected from the table’s center.
“And that is why we call it a planet killer,” said Nelson to Steve and Christine who looked in awe at the blast the powerful craft created.
“So, wait a second,” started Steve. “That thing has enough power to create a miniature hypernova?”
“Well, it’s not a hypernova,” clarified Ace. “It’s more like a gamma ray burst at point blank range.”
He waved his hand and the holographic cube changed to a close up view of the territory in which the Rexx lived. A set of black, translucent spheres that enveloped stars started appearing one by one. Each sphere was a system that was now under the Nation’s control.
“You’re moving pretty quickly…” noted Christine.
“These are just outlying systems,” said Dot. “Buffers that let them know if an invasion is coming. The actual, well defended outposts will come later.”
“So, what’s your strategy?”
“We’re going to split up and tackle individual missions which in this case will be to get the Rexx away from a swath of systems. Attack, scatter as many as you can, kill the rest, plant a probe and move on. We’ll move in a spiral pattern around their borders and try to squeeze them in as much as we can.”
“Do we need to actually secure the planets?” asked Steve.
“No,” replied Ace. “I wouldn’t worry about it. Just keep on moving. The probes will alert a roaming squadron and they’ll take care of it. Try and raise as much hell as you can, keep in touch, and don’t be a hero. No sense getting killed by some alien insect just to finish a raid.”
“Yes sir,” nodded Steve and Christine, slipping back into their military modes.
“All right then,” Ace rose and glanced at everyone in the room. “Tactical ops will run some numbers, give us the right trajectories and we can get to work. Meanwhile, let’s get ready to go. Good luck and may the Architects help you.”
After a few hours of preparation, groups of destroyers began to break off from the main armada floating around the space city and warp off into the starry, cloudy space beyond a small, icy moon in the distance.
Three months seemed to fly by in an instant. In those months, the million strong allotment of the Nation continued its overkill. Even though the Nation’s commanders knew that the Rexx were just slaves of an alien spawn of some sort, a servant of the Dark Gods who had no problem sacrificing hundreds of thousands of these hapless creatures, they tried to appeal to the Rexx’s primal instincts. With every slaughter they saw, the Rexx recoiled in fear and became more and more unruly. With every new battle it became more and more obvious that the Rexx no longer wanted to fight.
Battles became shorter and shorter, and ever more Rexx retreated instead of fighting with wild abandon as they did before. The Rexx who escaped were never followed to make sure that the enslaved Rexx queens saw a way out of this mess: to refuse to fight and turn on the alien controlling them. Unfortunately for the Rexx, the control chips implanted deep within the queens’ brains clouded their judgment, interfering with their decision making process and forcing them to obey the alien’s whims regardless of what would happen to their numerous offspring. And so, millions of Rexx kept dying as the Nation kept boxing them into an ever smaller area in the search for their home world.
In interstellar warfare, the home world was a prime target for an invading armada. Typically, space faring creatures expanded to other worlds only after the infrastructure on their home planet was fully established, and that infrastructure was crucial for expansion and maintenance. Once a home world was captured, outlying colonies quickly starved of vital resources to continue a war, unable to adequately supply themselves without enormous industrial complexes usually found on or very close to their home worlds. An industrialized space faring species that lost its home world in a war generally surrendered to the captor soon after the loss.
Its forces would either be too scattered to continue and its outposts would be too small and vulnerable to serve as a centralized base of operations, and with their enemies now in control of superior infrastructure, and the vast majority, if not all, of their military secrets and technology now accessible to their foes, the odds would be stacked too heavily against them. Hence, the home world consistently remained the most important planet for any space faring species and played host to most of the biggest and bloodiest battles in all of recorded cosmic history.
As the Nation continued its steady march for this traditional grand prize, Ace wondered about the quickest way to get there. It should’ve been somewhere at the center of the Rexx territory but there were a lot of stars in that region of space, and without any idea what it might look like, they could end up wasting another month or two chasing after some spawn. It was far too expensive and resource intensive to justify letting this war drag on any longer. The Nation needed more certainty in their search. They needed someone, or rather, something, to ask for directions…