It was 2003. For two years, I had been working on this great idea for a story where aliens come to Earth, seeking humanity’s help in dealing with a rabid, angry race of cat-lizards that enjoyed eating intelligent species’ flesh and soul. Having been at peace for thousands of years, the friendly aliens had no idea how to make war, and thus needed Mankind to save their highly advanced asses. Why, it was going to be an epic blend of battle armor, mecha, desperation, and…
*from the peanut gallery* “Hey man, this sounds just like John Ringo’s Legacy of the Aldenata series!”
Yeah, thanks for that. Guess who had never heard of John Ringo before he put the first chapter of this in the Baen Slush Pile? *points both of his thumbs inward* This guy.
To say I was pissed is an understatement. I mean, John Ringo’s an awesome guy in person, but at this point all I knew was that not only had he beat me to the punch, he’d KILLED IT. Seriously, go read the Posleen Series, starting with A Hymn Before Battle. I have never been simultaneously thrilled and sick at the same time.
At any rate, the story was mostly done, minus some polishing. So I still tried to truncate it and send it to some markets. No dice. Indeed, this is the story that got the famous, “Your character sounds kind of white…” comment. Yeaaah.
Anyway, seeing as this will likely never be published…you guessed it, I’m sharing it here with you all. Everything is still copyrighted to me. I’d also like to think I’ve gotten slightly better at this writing thing since the early 2000s. However, if you’re looking for a complete arc rather than snippets, l present to you…
Chapter 1: Arrivals
June 25, 2011
“Colonel Walthers, the Orionans are here,” Star Admiral Kwirh Tobarakh’s hologram intoned solemnly. Projected into an image barely six inches tall, Kwirh looked almost human, specifically like someone who would be easily lost amongst the population of Sub-Saharan Africa. Of course, given that the image was one fourteenth his normal size, that was understandable. While humans and Dominionites had 99.2% commonality of DNA, there were some minor yet striking differences, namely that the Dominionites’s eyes were completely irised, giving the impression of jewels emplaced in their dark faces. In Kwirh’s case, the pale blue organs stared out like a pair of sapphire searchlights in a field of black.
“Dammit, they’re over three days early! We don’t have enough time to evacuate everyone!” Colonel Eric Walthers replied, his voice almost frantic. He looked at his watch, the beat-up Timex telling him that he hadn’t somehow fallen asleep for forty-eight hours.
Oh God, there goes our orderly evacuation. The one we haven’t officially begun yet.
He looked down US 75, watching the long line of vehicles stretching towards his Phoenix-class mecha from Topeka and behind it towards the evacuation ships sitting like massive beached whales on the Forbes Field tarmac. His bipedal war machine, looking all the world like a malevolent linebacker, stood just outside the Gate F entrance, and so far the vehicles had been moving by him at a fairly steady clip since the prepared news announcement that had been made the night before.
That “extras” excuse was a stroke of genius by Karin, Eric thought to himself. His wife, Major Karin Towalsva, was rather shrewd for a Dominionite. Realizing that telling the greater Topeka Metro area carnivorous aliens would be arriving within the next ninety-six hours to consume every person they could get their hands on probably wasn’t the best plan, Eric had polled his colleagues for ideas. Karin had come up with the idea of putting out an open casting call for at least fifty thousand or so “extras” to take part in a global disaster movie. The fact that his wife had even been watching Earth movies, much less figured out the intricacies of casting, had completely floored Eric. But hey, she’s a Dominionite—just because they’re the Confederation’s muscle doesn’t mean they’re stupid.
The remainder of Eric’s 1st Shock Brigade, Terran Expeditionary Corps, was scattered in a loose perimeter around Topeka. Several of his subordinate leaders had not agreed with trying to keep the whole brigade under wraps, thinking that the more people who knew about the aliens the better. As a member of a minority, Eric was well aware how ignorant some human beings could be. While the thought of some ignorant rednecks getting in a fight with a Dominionite was enough to bring a smile to his face, Eric had made the call to try and keep humans and aliens as separated as possible until someone of higher rank figured out how they wanted to announce things.
A former United States Air Force officer, Eric had been the first human to encounter the Dominionites, flying a Homeland Security patrol when the aliens had made planetfall a little less than years before. Eric had played defensive end for the Air Force Academy, being named All-WAC his graduating year in 2004. Standing three inches over six feet, Eric was often confused for a shorter-than-average Dominionite by other members of the Centauri Confederation, his lighter skin and shorter height distinguishing features of aliens from Dominion’s Southern Hemisphere.
Another individual’s hologram popped up just above his other knee, the projector besides his head whirring softly as it added the second image. The Phoenix was intended as a command mecha, which meant that the projector could present up to six images into Eric’s cockpit. While Eric appreciated the efforts of the Dinotilians, a hive mind race that provided most of the Centauri Confederation’s technology, he had found that any more than three images projected in the cockpit at one time made him feel like he was trying to listen to everyone in a crowded elevator.
“Kwirh, how long can you prevent the Orionans from making planetfall?” General Adam Connelly, head of the Terran Expeditionary Corps, asked. Kwirh’s response was a humorless laugh.
“Human, your race has killed the Crown Prince of the Orion Empire. Even if I had every warship in the Centauri Confederation here I probably would not abe able to prevent the Orionans from making planetfall,” Kwirh said. “I would just be able to make it prohibitively costly.”
“Dammit Kwirh, you know what I am asking!” General Connelly replied heatedly. “Argnor’s dead, and good riddance to the bastard. Now tell me how many of my people you are willing to save.”
Eric closed his eyes in agony, realizing that the largest the number could be was a little over a billion. By my hand, I have killed over five billion people, he thought. But General Connelly is right—Argnor had to die.
“The battle computer states that with a loss of thirty percent of this fleet, the best in the Confederation, I can buy you four hours once the Orionans attack. For another ten percent, the most I am willing to risk, I can give you five hours,” Kwirh replied.
The Dominion Battle Computer was an innovation that was barely a hundred years old, conceived shortly after the beginning of the Second Orion War. The Dominionites had always excelled at single combat, dueling being the preferred method of settling disputes in Dominionite society. Unfortunately, at the beginning of the Orion War, they had been found to be generally inept at large-scale battles. While individual and even groups of Dominionites had made the fall of each system very costly for the Orionans, in all but a few exceptions they had still lost the systems for the Confederation.
After horrendous losses, the kind that made World War II’s Eastern Front battles look like minor incidents, too minor for even the local news, the Dominionites had devised factors that helped them judge how an engagement would go before it was fought. After a dozens of battles against the Orionans that had led to a steady retreat through Centauri Confederation space, the Confederation’s finest minds had devised programs that used these factors to present various courses of action and their likely result. Battle Computers were seldom wrong, and when they were their errors had been on the side of caution, something no commander would really argue with.
The Battle Computers had initially led to several decisive victories, the bloody noses causing the Orionans to pause in their slow but steady gobbling of Centauri Confederation systems. That respite had allowed the Confederation to begin fielding more advanced systems and gradually regaining a warrior spirit among its races. It was the length of time this last process was going to take, with the bulk of losses in the meantime falling unevenly upon the Dominionites, that had led to controversial decision to contact Humanity, that race of warlike savages that was still nominally protected by Confederation laws and treaties after many centuries of abuse. Eric still found it sickening to realize how many great mythological stories had basis in alien visits before the Confederation’s Congress had put a moratorium on such events.
Nothing like finding out werewolves do exist, they just don’t shift shape. Gotta love holographic projections. The Lupinians had been publicly censured by the Confederation Congress after their transgressions had come to light, the offending aliens banished to the Confederation prison planet of Hades. Upon initially hearing the name, Eric had thought his translation chip had malfunctioned. Then the TEC had been tasked with holding it against the Orionan Fourth Offensive, the Confederation’s prisoners being formed into an emergency corps in exchange for general amnesty. One visit to the planet had helped him rediscover Christianity, as he had absolutely no desire to spend eternity in the place. The Battle Computer’s had factored in the prisoners’ almost suicidal resolve in its calculations and accurately predicted the Confederation victory, futher validating its analysis of “soft” military factors such as morale or leadership.
Unfortunately, it had been a Pyhrric victory, as it was during the climax of the battle for Hades that Eric had killed Argnor, the Crown Prince of the Orion Empire. While it had given the Confederation a six-month respite, it was also the reason the Orionan Fleet was currently folding out of hyperspace near Pluto with grim resolve and murder on their mind. This would have been a problem if Earth had been a fully developed Confederation planet, but at least they would have likely caused such bloody losses that they might have stopped the war right there.
So, when Kwirh said he was likely to lose a third of his fleet, that meant over a hundred warships were going to be turned into debris while keeping the Orionans from landing and simultaneously keeping a corridor open for the evacuation ships’ withdrawal. Looking at the Star Admiral, Eric could see the wheels turning behind his blue eyes. Kwirh had been one of the exceptions in the early dark days of the Second Orionan War, having a handle on large group tactics before his first engagement with the Orionans, and came from a family of foremost Dominionite strategicians. ‘Before you duel a Tobarakh, hug a star—it will be less painful’ was an ancient Dominionite proverb, one of many apt ones that came from that particular race.
“Five hours gives us an additional three hundred million people,” Eric said. “Although it’s going to get ugly once we inform most of this planet they get to be food in the larder.”
“How many ships do you avoid losing if you do not attempt to stop Griffins from making planetfall?” General Connelly asked.
Kwirh started to laugh, the sound extremely strange coming from a Dominion.
“You can’t seriously be expecting to fight the Praetorian Guard!” Kwirh barked, his teeth flashing against his dark face. Narrowing his eyes, he looked into the his holocamera.
“Your species has squandered the six years graced to it by my brother. You have as much chance versus the Orionans as your historic knights on horseback would against your world’s current weaponry, and I do not wish to sacrifice valuable ships on a forlorn hope.”
General Connelly returned Kwirh’s hard look with interest.
“Even knights get lucky, especially if they can bait the enemy with the most wanted Human in at least half the galaxy,” Connelly replied. “The Orionans know Eric’s transponder code and mecha. They will land on this planet to kill him if he is still here in thirty-one hours.”
“No, Emperor Krognan will utilize the Heart of Orion to blast Eric and the continent he’s standing on from beyond your satellite’s orbit once he arrives! Even if he doesn’t, what do you hope to accomplish?”
“Argnor would do that, Kwirh, which is why Eric killed him when he had the chance. Krognan is a bereaved parent and an Orionan Emperor with no current heir. Not only does he want Eric freakin’ alive so he can watch this planet razed to its mantle, blasting him to atoms would likely be perceived as an act of fear. Nothing is more likely to start a civil war than appearing weak in the face of an inferior race without a current heir to the throne.”
“You argue using your species’ logic, not Orionans’! What better way to demonstrate his power than to utterly destroy the slug that killed his child?”
“Kwirh, regardless of who is right, we need more time. You know each ten humans we save will give us at least four good fighters, if not more.”
“Yes, in a few years! Is this worth risking the life of the greatest fighter in the Confederation and vessels that will take years to replace?!”
“I’m in,” Eric said, cutting off Kwirh before the Admiral could respond. “Get me the most likely link to that bastard, and let’s get this on.”
There was a moment of silence as Kwirh regarded him. Finally, with a barely perceptible nod, he signaled his affirmation.
“Just in case Kwirh is right, Eric, where is Jack?” General Connelly asked, referring to the ranking battalion commander in Eric’s 1st Shock Brigade.
“Fort Riley, on personal business,” Eric replied. “Which is good, because he can start getting folks to move their families onto post. We’re going to have to shift more evacuation ships there from Kansas City to get all of the troops and their families out of there, and we’re going to need the National Guard to set up a perimeter.”
“What are you planning on telling the governor?” General Connelly asked.
“I’ll tell Governor Ralls it’s time for triage, as we’re probably going to hosting the entire Praetorian Guard right here in Kansas. Good land for follow the leader, it’ll take them some time to trap me on the plains. The rest of the Corps should be able to get off planet with the survivors just as Praetorian Guards are catching up with me. Once the evacuation ships are clear, I’ll make a break for it.”
I hope I at least sound convincing.
“Eric, I don’t think…” Kwirh started to say, his features softening.
“Admiral, we are spending lives arguing,” Eric barked, cutting his uncle-in-law off. Most Dominionites appeared so cold and logical they made icebergs look like the center of the sun. Personally Eric did not think that comparison was severe enough. His wife was considered a hothead among her people, and Eric thought she was a bonified ice princess even if he loved her. If Kwirh was showing concern for Eric, it meant that the shit was really about to hit the fan.
“What of your current duties in Topeka?” Kwirh asked.
“Karin can handle overseeing the filling of these ships, I have a message to prepare. With your permission, gentlemen?” Eric said.
“Good enough, Eric. Good luck, we’ve got some work to do here at Mount Weather anyway.”
Eric nodded at the last comment, terminating his transmission. Looking out his cockpit canopy at the lightening sky, he suddenly realized that this would probably be many people’s last full day of life. The world’s governments, informed rather bluntly of the evacuation plan by General Connelly, had initiated an immediate news blackout. The local networks, those that had not been peremptorily cut off, had either put out just enough news to make people believe it was all a big hoax or, like Topeka, made some noise about it all being a Hollywood production. Many people would be dead within forty-eight hours and never know the real reason why.
Oh my God…Jessica!
Pulling out his wallet, he flipped it open. It was a picture of a much younger, especially in the eyes, Eric in his dress blues. Leaning into him was a beautiful woman with a beautiful girl-next-door face, her green eyes bright and lively even in the picture. Her curly, dirty-blonde hair ran to the middle of her back, held together at her shoulder by an ornate jade brooch that had once belonged to Eric’s great-grandmother. Standing just a couple of inches beneath him in the flat pumps she was wearing, the woman had a wry smile on her face. Even six years later Eric got the sense the only reason he had survived through the photos was the presence of the photographer and the irrefutable proof that the pictures would have provided to the police.
Although Jessica Erin Fowler had known Eric for over ten years, he had always had a knack for pulling things over on her. The pictures had been a complete surprise to her, taking place during her two-week visit to him at McChord Air Force Base just outside of Seattle, Washington. It had been one of many, the final one coming when Eric proposed to her in the middle of the United Airlines concourse to the applause of the gathered flight crew and passengers. Stunned, Jessica had broken down into tears as she looked down at him. Eric had taken the tears to be a bad thing until she had finally choked out a happy yes and embraced him.
Thought that was the end of almost ten years of friendship, Eric thought, feeling the tears welling up again. Who would’ve thought me getting abducted by aliens would actually take care of that?
The two of them had been best friends throughout High School in the 501 School District right there in good ol’ Topeka. Jessica had been co-captain of the cheerleading squad their last three years at High School, while Eric had played football, basketball, and baseball all four years. The two of them had found themselves together on so many long bus trips that it was almost inevitable that they had become fast friends, almost like brother and sister by the time they graduated High School. For whatever reason, despite the their friends’ advice to the contrary, both of them had made great efforts to keep their relationship platonic. While there had been a few instances when they had rubbed right up against that fine line of remaining “just friends”, ultimately neither one of them had been willing to risk the friendship. Their ability to remain just friends had provided a hidden strength to their relationship that neither one of them had realized until both of them had experienced particularly rough relationships their final years in college, he at the Air Force Academy, she at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
For Eric, it had been a fellow cadet who had added so many ripped up hearts to her showcase she was nicknamed the Black Widow. Veronica Delovega, a.k.a. V.D., had seemed like a perfectly normal woman when they had started dating his Firstie year. A year behind him, she had ripped his heart out in a particularly brutal and callous manner that had nearly convinced him to swear off women for life. Sleeping with one of Eric’s best friends at a party less than two days after the couple had broken up hadn’t helped matters any. Fortunately it had happened during football season, and Eric had been able to excise his anger in the remaining four games of the season, culminating with a devastating game against Notre Dame, a performance so powerful that it had actually led to his being drafted in the sixth round of the NFL Draft. Aware of the problems in Eric’s personal life, members of the Air Force football team had made Veronica the honorary MVP for the football season that ended with a resounding Aloha Bowl victory.
In Jessica’s case, it had meant an emotionally and, in the end, physically abusive boyfriend named Gareth Osborne. That relationship had ended when Eric had come by for a surprise visit to find Gareth choking her. Eric had nearly beaten Gareth to death, Jessica’s desperate pleas the only things that had stopped him from finishing the job. Fortunately for Eric, the responding officer had been a former victim of domestic abuse herself. Taking one look at the bruises on Jessica’s neck and the rather large mouse growing over her eye, the cop had given thirty seconds to get out of her sight before she would be forced to arrest him. In the end, Eric’s beating had been so savage that Gareth’s vision had been permanently impaired in his right eye.
When Gareth had awoken from a week-long coma, he had threatened to press charges against Eric. Before the cops could be summoned to take his statement Jessica had quietly informed him Colorado’s domestic abuse laws were far worse than the charges for simple battery and assault, and they just loved woman beaters in prison. Furthermore, since she was the only witness and not inclined to testify on his behalf, it would be his word against Eric’s who threw the first punch. Finally, he could find what little remained of his stuff down at the local landfill, and if Eric or she ever saw him again, someone would be dead. Since Gareth was now half-blind and the first fight hadn’t exactly gone well, Jessica doubted it would be Eric. In her case, should Gareth be foolish enough to violate the restraining order that was in the process of being worked by a local woman’s rights attorney, Jessica would be sure to shoot him in a sensitive area that would likely result in his bleeding to death. With that last promise, Jessica had left the hospital and never seen Gareth again. No charges had been filed in the case, a change of heart that had left the police utterly baffled.
Surprisingly, Jessica and Eric had then awkwardly avoided each other for the next six months. Jessica had seen something horrible in her old friend, his thrashing of Garety so cold-blooded it had been an almost scientific demolition once Eric had established his dominance. For his part, Eric had been utterly disgusted that a girl as smart and beautiful as Jessica had allowed herself to be treated in such a manner and simultaneously stunned at the depths of his savagery. While they had exchanged infrequent e-mails, both of them had always been too busy to talk on the phone or meet in person when Eric came home to Topeka for a short leave. Eric had finally decided to end the sidestepping when Jessica had found herself out in Spokane, Washington for a job interview.
With her Masters Degree in Structural Engineering, Jessica had been interviewed by Prometheus Construction, a newly created construction company. Its owner a financial contemporary of Bill Gates, Prometheus had won the bidding for a contract to construct additional military housing in Yakima, Washington for units formerly based in Europe that were moving back to the United States Her mother Cindy, ever the meddler, had given Eric Jessica’s flight information and even sprung for the flowers he had carried with him when he had met her at the Spokane airport. The only way Jessica had gotten rid of him was to promise to come back out to visit in the next couple of months whether she got the job or not. When she had come out in July 2004, it had been the best two weeks in both their lives.
Looking back, one would think that I would be used to Fate screwing me by now, he thought sardonically. But no, every time is just like the freakin’ first time. Why should the fact that I will be responsible for killing over eighty percent of the world’s population be any different?
Eric had been in the middle of planning their wedding when he had been tapped to fly a Homeland Security mission with Major Abigail Davies, a new section leader. Taking off from McChord on a routine patrol on August 12, 2004, the two of them had been vectored out over the Pacific to identify an unidentified contact closing rapidly with the Puget sound area. Twenty minutes later, Davies and Eric were both aboard an alien craft and a member of the Dominionite royalty had been killed in an air-to-air collision with Eric’s aircraft. A week later, after being trapped in enforced quarantine at Area 51, Eric had found himself an unwilling astronaut and his wedding plans on permanent hold.
Even six years later and in the midst of a marriage to another…being he deeply, truly loved the what might have been tore him apart. He loved Karin, his “Little Warrior Princess” as he liked to call her. Of course, calling a woman that was less than an inch shorter than him and stronger than most NFL lineman little was a bit of a stretch. Gotta love a woman from a world that has two and a half times Earth gravity, Eric thought. The nickname had arisen from the first time the two of them had met, when Karin had attempted to introduce Eric’s face to her fist, and he had introduced her to the wonders of aikido.
Ever since then, Karin and he’s relationship had been as stormy as his with Jessica’s had been stable, and the last thing he wanted was to complicate things. Dominionites took a very, very dim view of adultery. If a spouse even suspected an improper relationship, they could challenge the other party to a fight to the death. The other party got to choose the weapons, and Dominionite custom was to have the duel take place before sunset on the third day. That didn’t leave a lot of time for training if, for example, the other party happened to be a former cheerleader who had great difficulties with smooshing spiders, much less killing another sentient being.
Which is why I haven’t looked Jessica up. Looks like I’m not going to get the chance. The thought of Earth’s now rapidly impending doom suddenly had tears running out of his eyes. Tired of fighting it, Eric gave in to his emotions and wept for a good three minutes. Unlike most of his gender, he had realized long before that sometimes holding in the pain had a far worse effect on his efficiency than just letting it out. If my wife was Human, I’d probably be considered “sensitive”.
That sensitivity had come from an early realization that one had to let emotions and hurt out, or go insane. Getting orphaned on one’s sixteen birthday tended to do that to a person. In a freak accident, a semi-trailer full of gasoline had suffered a brake failure while trying to make the 21st Street exit off of I-470. Occurring at five in the morning, the flaming wreck should have only been unfortunate for the driver of the semi. However, since Assistant District Attorney Donald and Dr. Ophelia Walthers had decided to surprise Eric with a used car for his birthday, they had stopped and picked up some breakfast as well as the car that morning. As a result, they had the intense misfortune to be consumed in the resultant fireball. Four million dollars worth of settlement money and life insurance had not even come close to replacing his parents. Jessica had been there for him during that time period to, making him think of her again.
For some folks the hits just keep on coming, he thought fiercely, taking a deep breath. Not that money’s going to do anyone much good in about forty-eight hours. Looks like Bill Gates gets to keep that “Earth’s richest human” title forever. Shaking his head, Eric decided he had done enough crying, it was a luxury he could no longer afford. Starting to think of the taunting message he would be beaming up to Emperor Krognar, he utilized the Phoenix’s internal medical functions to remove the evidence that he had been crying from his eyes.
Never let them see you sweat, he thought.
“Opaque mode,” he ordered. The canopy immediately shaded, turning the cockpit into a dark cocoon. Taking a deep breath, Eric looked directly into the holocamera and pressed the activation button on his control stick. He allowed his features to become hard and unforgiving, a look that Gareth and a few select others could have testified was not a good tiding.
“Greetings Emperor Krognan,” Eric intoned. “I wanted to welcome you to Earth and recognize your intense stupidity for coming to a planet that your own prophets have told you will lead to the fall of your line. Since it is apparent where your son’s lack of brains was hereditary, let me outline a few of his other faults for you.”