B-Sides and Outtakes–Armageddon Dawn Part VII

West Point, NY

1330 Central Time

 

“Oh look, it’s the great General Connelly, gracing us with his presence,” General Michael Wallace slurred through the video screen from the Pentagon.  Behind him, General Connelly could see scenes of debauchery occurring that would have made a Roman blush.  At least Michael, an old West Point classmate of his, was still in uniform at he Universal Command Console, a video device installed in the Pentagon’s war room just the previous year.

“Michael, I need your help,” General Connelly said, letting his suit modulate his voice so that it was somewhat more suggestive.

“Oh no, Adam, that mind-control shit won’t work through the damn video monitor,” Michael slurred.  “We made sure of that real special, just for you.  So, try again!”

General Connelly inhaled, then exhaled.

“Michael, I’ve got units on the ground in Kansas getting ready to come to grips with these bastards,” General Connelly said, trying to put a positive spin on things.  “I need assets.”

“Oh, you mean you can’t get one of your great arks to help them out?  I mean, save the best and the brightest, screw the rest, right?!”  Michael’s eyes suddenly cleared up, the man reaching a moment of utter lucidity.  “Even men who have been with you for the last thirty-five years.”

“Michael, you knew.  You knew everything the aliens had given us, and you let that stupid son-of-a-bitch screw over the country and the world.”

“Well as sure as there’s a pretty redhead captain underneath this table,” Michael said, a fierce grin on his face, “I’m not going to lift a finger to help someone who’s going to leave me to rot.  Oh no, actually, leave me to be eaten.”

“Dammit Michael, people are going to die,” Connelly replied.  “We have lost here, but you can help make it less of a loss.”

“Oh, and just why would I want to do that?” Michael asked.  “I mean, I’m figuring we can keep doing everything that we’re doing here until either we run out of supplies or I start hearing alien footsteps upstairs.”

“And then what, Michael?” Connelly asked.  “You going to try and negotiate with them?”

“No, actually I’m going to take this .45 right here on the table,” Michael said, reaching for the pistol.  “Then I’m going to shoot old Samantha here in the head, then myself.”

“Hey!” a muffled voice said from underneath the table.  A head of long red hair popped into view, a quite stunning captain in a state of relative undress struggling to stand up.  “No one said anything about shooting me in the head,” she slurred.  “You’ll mess up my makeup.”

Oh my God, Connelly thought.  Perhaps there’s a reason our race is about to be nearly exterminated.  He thought of several of the older members of the TEC, men and women of the World War II generation.  He suddenly found himself wishing that the Dominionites had come sixty years earlier.  He played his last card.

“Michael…” he started.

“Oh, this oughtta be good.  Are you going to talk to me about Mom, Apple Pie, and how I need to save the flower of America youth?” Michael asked.  “Well, guess what, I’ve got the flower right here, don’t I Samantha?”  With that, Michael kissed the woman who looked a full ten years younger than his youngest daughter.

“I can make it quick,” Connelly said shortly.

“Huh?” Michael asked, suitably distracted by Samantha’s wandering hands.

“I said I can make it quick, you bastard,” Connelly said.  Not that it’ll be any quicker than a whole shitload of other people.

“Oh?  And how is Wünderkinder Connelly going to make it quick?” Michael asked, holding Samantha off for a second.

“I’ll blow you off the face of the planet,” Connelly said.  “You shoot yourself with that .45, especially in your condition, you’re going to screw it up.  Orionans will eat you with half your jaw missing as well as completely whole.”

For a moment, Connelly didn’t think he had reached the other man.  Samantha leaned back in for a kiss, obscuring his view as she moved suggestively onto Michael’s lap.  Connelly found himself wanting to head for the shower and wash himself off just for seeing what was going on.

“How’s dying instantly sound to you, baby?” Michael asked, stopping Samantha from moving.  Samantha looked at him with a pout, then nodded her head.  Connelly averted his eyes as she got off his lap, then turned back to face the man he had once called a close friend.

“I hope you burn in Hell for what you’ve done, Adam,” Michael said somberly.  “You’ve got a deal.  I don’t want to feel a thing.”

“Done.  When?”

“I don’t care, you bastard.  I don’t ever want to talk to you again after you tell me what you want me to do.”

Connelly nodded.

“I need every unit you have in the Colorado area.”

 

Atchinson Kansas

1530 Local

 

“Mommy, will Jesus be mad at me for lying to you about drinking my milk?” Pauline Banner asked, the five-year old’s eyes starting to droop.

Jessica Erin Banner, nee Fowler, felt her heart lurch, the butterflies of fear and loathing flying up from her stomach again.  She felt her control on her emotions slipping, the fingernails of her mind starting to scratch down the cliff face of insanity with the enormity of what she and her husband had just done.

“Why don’t you ask him here in a little bit, huh Pumpkin?” she heard herself answer, brushing her curly blonde hair away from her face.

“How will we find you and Daddy in heaven, Mommy?” Pauline continued, desperately fighting off sleep now.  I’m glad I didn’t give her more, Jessica thought, a tear starting to roll down her cheek.  Her brother, Jeffrey, was already drifted off, having little or no chance against the narcotic laced bottle of formula.  Looking over at the towel-headed toddler, his blonde hair a mess upon his head, thumb securely locked in his mouth, she almost leaped up screaming from beside Pauline’s bed.

No, dammit, no, she thought.  If I’m going to murder my children I’ll be damned if I’m not going to sit here and spend every last moment I can with them.

            “Where’s Daddy, Mommy?” Pauline asked, fighting sleep.

“Daddy’s right here,” her husband, Arie Banner said, his face flush from having run into the house from outside.  Fighting down his own emotions, he rushed over to Jeffrey’s crib, lifting the toddler out and hugging him to his chest.  Visibly relieved, the man sat down next to Jessica and Pauline, wrapping his arms around them both.

“Honey, remember that song we always sing in Sunday School?” Arie said, realizing that Pauline was going to fight the drugs her mother had put in her porridge every step of the way.  C’mon honey, you need to go to sleep, he thought.  Don’t fight it.

            “J…Jesus Loves Me?” Pauline asked, sounding like a record being played far too slow.

“Yes,” Jessica said, just stopping from sobbing out the answer.  “Why don’t you sing it for us?”

“Jesus…loves me…this…I…” Pauline started, then went unconscious.  Checking her eyes, Jessica realized that her daughter would never sing for her again.  Looking down at the child’s light brown complexion and long, unruly black hair, she suddenly couldn’t hold back the emotions anymore.  Her body wracked with sobs, she watched as her daughter’s breathing slowed, then stopped for the last time.  Arie squeezed her hard, his tears falling on her shoulder as he began to weep also.

“It was for the best,” he said.  “She’s with her father now, and soon you and I will be with them again.”

There was a long, painful silence as the two of them sat with the bodies of their children.  It had been Arie’s idea after hearing General Connelly’s broadcast.  A devout Protestant, Arie believed that suicide was a sin, with eternal damnation as its reward.  Murder, however, was forgivable, far more so than leaving his wife and children to be killed by monsters.

Jessica had met Arie at a religious retreat three weeks before she had gone out to visit Eric in Washington.  The two of them had become fast friends, the Dutchman being quick with a joke or witty comment throughout the retreat.  A brilliant architect, the Arie was a self-made millionaire that had designed buildings in Europe, Asia, and South America.  Four weeks later, when the Air Force chaplain and two officers had shown up at her parents’ house in the middle of her bridal shower, Arie had been the first person there to comfort her.  Not two weeks later, she had found out that she was pregnant with Eric’s child, a traumatic event in and of itself.  Arie had been her rock through it all, and after a long courtship the two had been wed in a quiet ceremony in Wichita.

Now, six years later, as she stared down at the cold bodies of her children with Armageddon at hand, she wondered if she even believed in God anymore.

“We have to bury them,” Arie said.  “Quickly, before those monsters get here.”

Jessica nodded numbly, scooping up her daughter.  She would have started kindergarten next year, she thought.  Pauline had shown all indications of being tall, like both her parents.  Now she would never be anything.

There was the sound of thunder in the distance, and Jessica looked out the window at a bright, clear sky.

What is going on? she thought.

 

Colorado

1620 Local

 

It was inarguably the largest dogfight to ever take place over North America.  Outside of World War II, it was the largest dogfight to take place in the entire world.  A special medal, forged out of precious metals and rare gems, would be struck by the Confederation government to commemorate the day.  The few that survived it would wear it would pride, it entitling the wearer to the finest drink in any establishment on Barren.

Like most battles, it would have its share of mythology.  The number of Orionan fighters present would grow as time went on and the few participants exited stage left.  The courage and bravery of the NORAD fighters, private planes and, in a couple of bizarre cases, large airliners present would grow with the telling and retelling of the story.  Like a macabre morality tale whose lesson was unclear, the Walther’s Last Stand would become so famous that it would eclipse all other tales of bravery that occurred on that day, making it impossible for historians to tell the myth from the reality.

 

“Dammit!” Eric muttered, watching as two more Sparrowhawks exploded under a hail of rail gun slugs from the plodding Griffins.  The war machines were moving at a stately fifty miles per hour, the better to give their gunners a stable platform from which to fire.  Humanity had entered the fray with over five hundred aircraft counting his mecha.  Less than seventy-five, counting the fifty remaining mecha, were still present.

On the Orionan side, there were no fighters remaining.  As predicted, once Eric turned his transponder back on the fighters had been like sharks after a wounded whale.  Unfortunately for the Orionans, this whale had had friends lurking in the wings and just waiting for them to get out of support range from the Griffins.  The dead pilots over Hawaii had been avenged in spades.

That had left the Griffins, those spectacularly equipped engines of doom.  Whereas the fighters had been heavily armed, the Griffins had carried more collective airborne firepower than an entire USAF fighter wing.  What they had not counted on was nukes coming into play, which was all right because Eric had been unaware that nukes were in play until an F-16 with a 100kt bomb strapped to its belly had gone hurtling by him into the fray.  There had been just enough time to call out warnings before a rail gun blotted the fighter out of the sky, tripping the deadman switch the ingenious pilot had rigged up.

One of the Griffins had been destroyed outright, the blast snapping it in half and sending it to Earth with debris and Orionans streaming out behind.  Another Griffin had been so badly damaged it had headed down towards Denver, spewing out battle armor as it went.  That particular event sucked for Denver, but it had given Eric a limited amount of hope that they just might get the last of the civilians out of Fort Riley.  Looking at his watch, he realized that the time to disengage was rapidly drawing near.

“Colonel Walthers, they’re accelerating!” someone shouted.

“Crap!” Eric said, pulling up just out of range of the main batteries.  It was true, the Griffins were picking up speed and turning to take an angle towards Fort Riley.  Looking down at his combat display, he realized that he was almost out of railgun ammunition.  His defensive computer was sounding a constant warning tone, indicating that he was low on shield power and needed to exit the battle to recharge.  If he was that low on power, it meant that there was no chance he’d get an effective charge on most of his energy weapons.

“Jack, how much battle armor can you fight?!” he asked over the direct comlink.  To his front, two Canadian CF-18s flamed out and fell out of the sky, their pilots ejecting.

“Eric, you know the answer to that one!  I can’t fight the Praetorians without another battalion of tanks!”

Out of options, and now those people are going to be dead anyway, Eric thought.  He realized that the Griffins were starting to pass six hundred miles per hour, and most of the conventional Human fighters were running out of fuel trying to catch them.

“Jack, listen to me—you know what happens if this mecha gets destroyed.  Start falling back towards the ships!”

“Eric, what are you going to do?” Karin broke in from her mecha.  Her Grizzly was located with the rear guard, ensuring no leakers flanked the 6th Shock.

“I’m going to ride the lightning,” he muttered, watching as another pair of conventional fighters fell out of the sky.  “Computer, no power to shields, all to propulsion and energy lance.”

“Estimate a…” Olivia began.

“I said sound like my mother, not be her!” Eric shouted, shoving his throttles forward and climbing.

The shift of power was like goosing his mecha with an atomic blast.  He shot upwards, gaining ten thousand feet with such quickness it would have made an ICBM envious.  Rolling inverted, he arced his fighter down towards the rapidly advancing Griffin, choosing the right hand of the Orionan assault vessels.

Time to come to papa, he thought, passing double the speed of sound as he descended like a black streak out of the sky.  The Griffin’s guns opened fire on his fast moving mecha, but he had chosen his arc for a reason.  In space, the Griffin could easily roll to maintain heavy fire in any direction.  In atmosphere, such a maneuver was dicey, to say the least.  While it seemed as if every gun in the world was shooting at him, in reality the ship’s hull protected him from most its fire.

Not so from the lead Griffin.  He felt a rail gun slug slam into his aircraft’s fuselage, the armor ablating back to disappear in his slipstream.  Out of the corner of his eye he watched the lead Griffin start to turn to expose its entire broadside to him, causing his target to slow to avoid a collision.

“Oh shit…pull up Eric, pull up!” he dimly heard Jack say.  Ignoring him, he looked at his indicator for the energy lance.  A flashing 100% was in his field of view, then the Griffin was impossibly close, too close to pull out.

“Transform!” Eric said, his voice utterly calm.

No one had attempted what he was about to.  Mecha that transformed in the middle of firefights tended to make wonderful targets, as they were unable to use any of their weaponry or shields.  Eric had no need for either, but the sheer force of slipstream would have ripped anything but a Phoenix to shreds.  Not that it was an easy move by any means for his mecha, the scream of tortured metal indicating that he would not be transforming back to fighter anytime soon.  With a tortured whine, his repulsor’s kicked in, and that was when the g-forces nearly blacked him out.

He came to just as his mecha impacted, slamming so hard into the decking that his head bounced around the canopy, causing him to bite a portion of his tongue.  Blood filled his mouth, and he was forced to spit it out into the cockpit.  Moving his arms in the control straps, he pressed up to his feet, feeling the Griffin shuddering underneath him.  Turning, he found himself looking into the armored viewport at the Orionan captain and his bridge crew.  The tall aliens were scrambling, several of them pointing at his mecha as he hovered in the slip stream.

“Power levels dropping.  Power levels dropping,” Olivia sighed in his ear.  He raised his mecha’s right arm, pointing the closed fist at the viewport.

“Lance ready!” Eric barked.  Just above his mecha’s gripping hand, a small circular device swirled open.  There was an unearthly purple glow, a field of condensed anti-matter swirling within its containment field.  Realizing the danger, a crewman clawed for his sidearm, preparing to attempt to shoot Eric through the viewport.  Behind him, it was déjà vu for those Praetorian gunners that could see him, his mecha in the exact same posture as when he had killed Argnor.  Before any of them could fire, Eric gave his final command.

“Engage lance!”

The energy lance was an experimental attempt to focus anti-matter and plasma in a combined beam.  The first attempt had vaporized a continent on Dinotilia, a significant emotional event for a species with a hive mind.  Once the shock and horror had been erased, the Dinotilians had managed to create a beam for ten milliseconds, long enough to cut two scientists and six sections of massive battleship armor in half.  Eric’s lance was the fortieth attempt, and Argnor’s death had been its first operational use.  Much like his current situation, desperation had eased his fears.

There was no armor that could withstand the lance.  Limited by safety protocols to fifty meters in penetration, the lance shot from Eric’s arm through the bridge into the forward battle armor bay.  Whipping his arm to the right and left, Eric used the full three seconds of lance power to utterly immolate the bridge and with it the attitude and altitude controls.  With a whine, the Phoenix shut down, automatically sensing a ferrous metal and magnetizing itself to hang on.

Eric’s reply to Jack had been apt.  As the Griffin descended from the heavens, he indeed found himself riding the lightning, a 225,000 metric ton bolt of it.  Cursing at the top of his lungs, he did the quick mental math of how long it would take the vessel to fall from their 25,000 feet perch.  He didn’t like the numbers, and they began to get worse as the Griffin accelerated towards the ground.

“Power reset.  Computer reset.  Analyzing battlespa…” Olivia started to say.

“Shut the Hell up, all power to thrusters!”

With a clunk, the Phoenix released itself.  Eric had a horrible moment as he watched the length of the Griffin hurtle past him, projections a blur on either side of his mecha as he got clear.  Wth a terrible clarity, he realized the ship was twisting, its hull swinging towards him like a bat as it tumbled and accelerated out of control.  A startled Orionan gunner’s face was the last thing he saw as he managed to steer clear, his left arm being ripped off by the vessel’s extreme stern.  The blow spun his fighter around, away from what he knew was coming next as he continued to fall.  Spying a depression, he accelerated his mecha towards it.

“Opaque and get us down!” he screamed in terror, knowing he was a dead man.

Amazingly, the Griffin’s fusion bottles did not explode.  Orionan safety protocols had always accounted for collisions with solid objects or other ships, and they performed as advertised in the current situation.  The anti-matter warheads on the one thousand suits of battlearmor, however, did not.

 

Arie cocked the rifle, taking careful aim at the back of his wife’s head.  Jessica was kneeling in her grave, having made her peace with Jesus and cleansed her soul.  The contrails and explosions of the battle were clearly visible, the massive Griffins stark agains the sky thirty miles away.  The nuclear explosion over Denver had occurred just as they were finishing putting the dirt in Pauline’s grave.

“Honey, I love you,” he sobbed.  “Oh God, I can’t.”

“Think of the images Connelly showed all of us,” Jessica said quietly, not turning around.  She knew her husband, and knew that he would never be able to shoot her as he looked into her eyes, no matter what the cost of his hesitation.

Arie took a deep breath, then brought the rifle up.  An avid hunter, he knew exactly what the .30-.06 would do to his beautiful wife’s head.  Reconsidering, he lowered the rifle, then started to take the slack out of the trigger.  May God forgive me, he thought.

In the next instant, he got a chance to ask his Maker himself.  The anti-matter warheads did not explode as one concerted blast, which was fortunate as they would have excavated a significant portion of Kansas and Colorado.  What they did do is explode and fling debris for several dozen miles, to include the massive portion of armor that neatly cleaved Arie’s left side off on its way over Jessica’s head.  The impact both spun Arie’s corpse and caused him to fire the rifle, the sound lost in the roar of the explosion.

The bullet slammed into Jessica’s back, snapping her lower spine.  Hit hard, she pitched forward, stunned by the sound wave that passed overhead.  The world went black.

B-Sides and Outtakes: Armageddon Dawn Part VI

Chapter 3

 

Pacific Ocean

1200 Kansas Time

 

The first hostile alien vessel to enter Earth’s atmosphere, a Griffin-class assault lander, penetrated the atmosphere at a point two hundred miles to the west of the International Date Line.  As a result, the official Day the Earth ended would be 26 June, 2011.  Hitting the Earth’s atmosphere at several times the speed of sound, the lead vessel was quickly joined by its three consorts, the large arrowhead-shaped vessels’ bows burning bright enough to lighten up the pre-dawn sky.  A full five miles long, two miles deep, and half mile wide, the Griffins were so named because they doubled as both an aerial combatant and a fearsome indirect fire support apparatus.  Normally, a size of Earth received the gentle attentions of ten such vessels, but Kwirh’s violent counterattack had seen to it that reinforcements would be a little bit longer in coming.

The collective sonic boom from their passage made many Christians who heard it, those few who were still thinking of religion at that moment, to think of the book of Revelation and the sounding of the final trumpet.  To those who were able to look up into the sky, the four bright fiery trails seemed to signify the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the beginning of the end.  Across the Pacific, that largest of Earth’s oceans, men and women began to fall to their knees and pray, beseeching their gods for deliverance.

All four ships were detecting a single bright strobe, the source of the signal that had so impudently insulted their sovereign Lord and God of their existence, Emperor Krognar.  In the three trail vessels, a thousand each Orionan shock troopers in their brilliantly scarlet power armor waited, nestled in the drop chutes that led vertically through the vessel’s keels.  They did not care of numbers—the fact that this planet had not raised its shields the instant their fleet came into system or fired any defensive weapons at their incoming vessels indicated that it was technologically stagnant, its population literally easy meat.

Many of their leaders, those that had survived the numerous cauldrons of nameless battles across the stars against the TEC found themselves sickened with disgust that a race from such a backwards planet had managed to give them a handful of bitter defeats.  While King Pyhrrus of Greece was unknown to them, the term Pyhrric Victory would have easily described at least another dozen of the occasions where they had faced the tasty, two-legged beings from this world beneath them.  No matter, according to the life scans busily scrolling across their screens, there would soon be enough food to wash away the foul taste of bile that rose past their two tongues.  In many cases, their faces broke into feral grins, their vaguely feline features and four-inch teeth making them look like evil Cheshire Cats.  If, of course, the Cheshire Cat had had orange-tinged scales, not fur, been fifteen feet tall, had a pair of long, curled horns, and walked on two legs with cloven hooves.

Aboard the fourth vessel, only five hundred larger suits awaited in their drop chutes.  Overall black, a black that had been described as so dark it seemed to swallow one’s soul, nevermind all the surrounding light, the power armor had scarlet shoulder armor attachments, the extra bulk making them look like malicious interstellar linebackers.  These Orionans were all that remained of the Praetorian Guard, Argnor’s personal bodyguards that had failed in their mission.  Krognar, upon hearing of his son’s death, had forbade the Praetorians from committing suicide, the traditional Orionan response to failure.  Instead, he had decreed that the Praetorians would be allowed to end their lives once they had brought to account the Human responsible, a man who’s location continued to strobe near the center of the continent continuing its journey to darkness and the point where the final arks of humanity would lift off towards safety.

As the four ships continued down, down to around fifty thousand feet above the tranquil Pacific waters below, they slowed then almost stopped, detecting their first population center of over a million sentient beings.  Continuing to twenty thousand feet, the four ships continued their descent towards the islands of Hawaii, slowing even further as they reached the thicker air at lower altitude.  It was at that point the hulls of the vessels seemed to come alive, fragmenting in what appeared to be a sudden disintegration.  If any human had been present to lay eyes on the event, he or she might have cried out in exultation, thinking deliverance was at hand.

Those cries would have quickly turned to dismay as the fragments, flat flying wings nicknamed Boomerangs due to their distinctive shape, scurried away from their mother ships.  The Orionans, while disdaining to use fighters in the depth of space, were quite aware of the devastating effect airpower had within an atmosphere.  While far from sophisticated machines, the Boomerangs made up for their lesser technology with a truly devastating forward firepower and a truly robust level of armor.  Leveling off, the one hundred and twenty ‘Rangs headed off like a swarm of bats, arrowing straight towards the Hawaiian Island Chain.

Realizing the entry vector of the assault ships, General Connelly had ordered the evacuation vessels at the various Hawaii base complexes to immediately cease loading and retreat to the U.S. mainland.  He had only been forced to repeat his order twice, the second time threatening to kill the offending captains himself.  With tears in their eyes, screaming their impotent fury at Connelly through their data links, the five men and four women had complied, leaving thousands of trained military individuals to their fates.  Of the nine, four would commit suicide in the following years, still hearing the cries of those pitiful few they left behind in their ears.

Realizing that their last hope for getting off planet had left, scurrying off at high speed low over the Pacific, many of the remaining personnel resolved to defend their families.  The Griffins were closing far too quickly to have a hope of attempting to sail any ships from Pearl Harbor, but there were the roughly two hundred serviceable Navy, Marine, and Air Force combat aircraft stationed in the Hawaiian Islands.  As the Orionan fighters accelerated away from the Griffins, their pilots sighted the approaching human aircraft and howled their joy at opening the hunt.

Due to the limited introduction of retrofits by the United States Armed Forces as well as the basic level of Orionan technology, the mismatch was not as great as it could have been.  Instead of a modern jet fighter engaging a biplane, it was more a case of a 21st Century warplane engaging the early, much more primitive models flown at the closing stages of World War II.  While the Orionans had yet to develop an effective atmospheric laser, the devastating combination of rail guns, anti-matter missiles, and short-range plasma cannon was more than enough to stack the deck in their favor.

The fight took all of 45-minutes, broadcast live to the world.  Only slightly better than a massacre, it left the major cities of Hawaii in flames and all military power in the state broken.  For the Orionans, it cost twelve ‘Rangs.  Given that all the humans in Hawaii were now the property of the bypassing Griffins, it was a small price to prey.  Hawaii would continue to be a tourist mecca, except when these tourists returned it would be to gorge themselves on human flesh.

 

Fort Riley

1245 Local

 

Eric could hear the cries of shock and dismay from where he sat, his armor open so he could enjoy the breeze as it blew around him.  He could hear the buzz of the bees as they went about their business, and the rattle of small arms fire and the occasional boom of a main gun in the direction of Manhattan as the Reservists and Guard went about theirs.  Well, at least it was quick for most everyone around Pearl Harbor, he thought grimly.

Now wouldn’t it be ironic if we had some 50’s sci-fi movie shit go down and we find out the Orionans are allergic to bees or something? he thought.  We like evacuate the planet, come back, and find everyone we’re leaving behind alive, well, and really, really pissed off because we left them to face a bunch of psychopathic walking cat lizards?  Oh wait, let’s not forget rabidly carnivorous, and with an acquired taste for Human flesh.

            Someone nudged him in the back, causing him to jump and startle several nearby bees.  Looking up, shading his eyes, he saw Jack standing above him.  The man held two cups in his hands, extending one towards Eric.  In complete shock, Eric saw the logo familiar to anyone who had lived in the Puget Sound area for more than twenty-four hours.

“Holy shit!” Eric shouted, causing several nearby people to turn and look from where the last of the orderly queues were heading into the rear of the evacuation vessels.  One mother covered her child’s ears and favored Eric with a glare, a move so quaint it caused Eric to break out into laughter.  Stopping, he took a deep pull of the latte, savoring the Hazelnut.

“Okay, laughing at a woman who’s probably just left her entire home behind is probably not the smartest thing you ever did,” Jack said, seeing the woman staring hard at Eric as if memorizing his face.  “I think when we get to Barren someone’s going to get the ass-kicking of their life.”

“Right,” Eric scoffed.  “Hey, my name’s Eric!  Eric Walthers, Star Colonel, one each!” he turned and shouted to the woman.

Eric!” Jack said.  “Get a freakin’ grip.”  Eric turned and looked at Jack, a smile on his face.

“Oh yeah, get a grip my hovertank friend says.  You just don’t get it, do you?” Eric asked.  “This is it.  This is the last freakin’ cup of Starbucks I’ll ever have.  I’ll never see DisneyWorld again.  Never go for a midnight swim in the Pacific, as incredibly stupid as doing that is.  Nope, not Star Colonel Walthers, the most wanted man in the Universe—he just keeps getting the schlong!”

Jack was about to open his mouth, then closed it.  Pondering for a moment, he thought of a different tack.

“What do you think the Reservists are going to think when they see these ships lift off?” Jack asked, the small arms fire at the main gates picking up again.  General Connelly had made the call not to inform the men that they were to be abandoned, realizing that it was absolutely critical that the gates to the post be held to the last possible moment.  Eric found himself stunned once more at the utter cold-bloodedness of his commander, but there was a reason he had been tapped to lead the TEC and it hadn’t been his sparkling personality.

Bet POTUS is regretting that decision right now, Eric thought.  If not, he will be really, really soon.  While Colorado Springs wasn’t a major population center, it was probably pretty high on the Orionan target list thanks to NORAD.  Only the nearby presence of Denver would probably delay the inevitable.  The Orionans’ tremendous appetite for fine dining, which they considered the Humans, usually colored their decisions.

“I’ll be sure to ask them,” Eric replied sarcastically.  He saw Karin striding up behind Jack and nodded towards her as he drank the last of his latte, trying to make the movement seem casual.

“You haven’t told Karin yet, have you?” Jack asked quietly, not seeing the signal or realizing the Dominionite woman was right behind him.  Eric winced, mentally wishing that his friend knew when to shut up.

“Told Karin what?” the Dominionite asked, her features calm and imperturbable as always.  She held a bundle of dandelions in her hand, the yellow flowers strangely quaint for a woman decked out in her armor.

“Who gave you the flowers?” Eric joked, attempting to change the subject.  “Point him out so I can go kick his ass.”

“Your feeble attempts at distraction never work with your own females, what makes you think it would work with me?” Karin asked flatly.  “Tell me what?”

“I asked you a question first,” Eric replied.  Dominionites hated it when Humans were utterly illogical, almost to the point of homicidal rage.  Given that a completely irate Dominionite was going to be the end result any way one sliced it, Eric figured he might as well go for broke.

Karin took a deep breath, her eyes starting to deepen in hue, then suddenly caught herself.

“I have been watching a great deal of human interaction today, Eric,” Karin said, her voice approaching the Dominionite standard for humor.  “While I have always thought your race bizarre despite individuals being completely, as you say, loveable, I never realized the complete range of your species emotions and communication techniques until this morning.  From your sheepishness when I admitted we coupled, and quite enjoyably, last night to the strange female child that handed me these flowers ‘because I looked sad’, I have seen much.”

Eric realized he was screwed.  Dominionites were not happy unless they had someone in what his old wrestling coach had called the “old hucklebuck”, completely helpless and in a world of hurt.  If Karin was happy, that meant the hammer was coming down.

“So, I recognize your tactic for what it is, an attempt to make me upset so that you may avoid telling me whatever it is you have neglected to tell me.  I laud your efforts.”

Eric looked over to find Jack, and found much to his surprise that his friend had disappeared from beside him.  Typical, he thought.

“General Connelly has asked me to be the last pilot off Earth,” Eric said quietly.  “I was going to wait until your mecha was stowed, then tell you.”  Better to tell you a half truth than a whole lie, he thought to himself.

Karin turned towards him, her eyes literally flashing so brightly it looked like summer lightning.  In times of extreme emotions, Dominionites generated a minor static electricity field throughout their body, manifested in their eyes and at the tips of their limbs.  Touching one at such a time was like grabbing onto an old joy buzzer, slightly tingly and very surprising.  Needless to say, it made cross-species relationships rather interesting, and more than once Eric had been glad he didn’t have a pacemaker or undiagnosed heart murmur.

Okay, not the time to think about sex, he thought, Karin’s hands balled into fists.

“If I had told you the information that I was about to share with you,” Karin spat out, “I would think that you would be staying behind to die with your former love.”

“What?!” Eric asked, shocked.

“The woman who still owns a part of your heart, no matter how much you try to fight it,” Karin said, her voice low and angry.  “The one you refuse to find so that you can finally end your relationship in your mind.”

Eric was shocked once more.  His face obviously showed it because Karin favored him with a slight mocking look, the equivalent of a full sneer with humans.

“What, you didn’t think after one of your years of marriage that I would not know you so well, Eric Walthers of Topeka?  For the first year you were with the Confederation you thought of little else, even telling my uncle that you wished you had never been flying the day we came to your world,” Karin thundered.  Eric started backing up, a mistake as it caused Karin to cover the distance between them in two steps.

“Oh, I hated you, and what I considered your pathetic whining.  You killed my bethrothed, albeit through is own arrogance and stupidity, and you had the audacity to complain about unrequited love?  You have no idea how often you flirted with the Dark One while in the middle of your self-pity.”

“Karin, you know I did not intend to kill Qatran,” Eric stammered, never having seen his wife so angry.  “The collision…”

“Do you really think, after six years, that I still have feelings for him?  He was arrogant, the marriage was arranged, and you would never have rammed his fighter on purpose—until today you were never so determined to die.  But can you say the same about this Jessica person?”

“She’s as good as dead, honey,” Eric replied, starting to wave Karin’s concern away.  Karin reached out and snatched his hand, her eyes locking with his.

“I will not allow you to take the easy route out, Eric,” Karin snapped.  “You wish to allow the Dark One to choose what woman you shall spend your life with because you lack the courage to do so yourself.  This is cowardly, and I have never known you to be a coward.”

“What difference does it make?” Eric asked.  “General Connelly…”

“Put out very strict rules regarding who could be taken.  I have done the work you would not,” Karin said fiercely.  “Her DNA is of a superior strand.”

“How do you…?” Eric asked, his eyes suddenly widening.

“Foolish Human, you of all people should realize how bad I am when truly determined,” Karin replied, her voice low and primal.  “You will have to decide, not Death.  I will go get her myself if I have to.”

“What?!  Are you insane, the entire Orionan Fleet is getting ready to begin bombarding this planet, the world is such complete chaos they are having to shoot down people at the gates to this post, and you are talking to me about going to find an individual?!”

Karin’s comment was interrupted by the sound of a couple hundred screams from the direction of the Potemkin, four hundred yards to their south.  Simultaneously, Eric heard the screech of his communications speakers and realized that the last of the civilians had been loaded.  Karin released him, her look clearly telling him that their conversation was not over.  As he sprung for his armor, he saw Jack sprinting towards him from the Wizard of Oz, cycling his helmet back as he came.  Eric finished slipping on his suit and cycling his helmet on just as his friend reached him.

What he saw was not good by half.  Thank you, Murphy, may I please have another? Eric thought, the weight of the world suddenly heavy on his shoulders.  The Potemkin, one of the first vessels loaded with over two thousand family members, had just suffered a critical powerplant failure.  The vessel wasn’t going anywhere for at least three hours.  In three hours, the Orionans would be over the Earth’s horizon and able to engage the vessel as the attempted to take off.  While fighting one Griffin was a fair fight for the evacuation ship, four was far from it.

“Olivia, General Connelly, priority line, right fuckin’ now!” Eric barked to his suit.

“Swear word count now at…” his mother’s voice, recorded from the Birthday CD she had made for his 15th Birthday, started to chide him.  Eric had been trying to improve his temper and command presence as befitting his promotion to Commander of 1st Brigade.  As several of his now subordinate leaders had pointed out, Colonels and above didn’t swear every other word—it started to make people believe the situation was worse than it actually was.

“Olivia, now!” Eric said desperately.

A moment later, General Connelly’s visage appeared in mid-air in front of Eric.  The screams and cries from the Potemkin were growing louder, then suddenly ceased as her captain got on the intercom.

“Sir, we have a problem,” Eric said, then quickly recounted his issue.  Connelly looked as if Eric had struck him, seemingly aging five years in a matter of seconds.  I wonder when the last time he slept was, Eric thought to himself.

“Star Colonel, you need to leave the vessel,” Connelly said tiredly.  “Get the other four out of there.”

“What?!  Sir, I will not…”

“Dammit Eric, it’s only two thousand people.  We are talking the deaths of billions in a matter of hours.  The Heart of Orion just folded out of system with half of the Orionan Fleet.  You know what that means, don’t you?”

Eric felt as if the bottom had dropped out of his stomach.  He physically staggered, then looked up at both Jack and Karin.  Their faces were similarly shocked, Jack’s a total and complete pale.

“We killed Krognar, and now whomever was next in line of succession…” Eric began.

“Is preparing to take possession of this planet, yes.  It will be a blood orgy the likes of which the world has never seen, and what remains of the Orionan Fleet is closing with you as we speak.”

Eric closed his eyes, suddenly absolutely aware of every smell and sensation around him.  It would be the last time he felt Earth’s gravity beneath his feet, saw the rolling green plains of Kansas in front of him.  The Orionan Prophecy had come to pass—Earth had caused the fall of the House of Krognar.  The remainder of the Prophecy, however, spoke of the blue green planet being swallowed in a tremendous orgy of flame, its ashes to be scattered to the solar winds.  The Orionans were big into prophecies, almost as big as they were into eating.  The new Emperor had probably sent away all but those who were most in his favor, the better to dine on the delicacy that was mankind.

Time to run as if the Devil himself was behind me, Eric thought, then stopped.  No, I’m tired of running.

“Sir, if we leave these people, we’re not better than our former leaders,” Eric said firmly.  “First Brigade will buy ourselves time.”

General Connelly’s face colored as if he was going to override Eric, then he stopped.  Sighing heavily, seeing the determination on Eric’s face, he nodded.

“Sir, I’ll need additional elements,” Eric said, doing the calculations in his head.

“No,” Connelly replied.  “You want to play Jim Bowie, I’m going to play Sam Houston.  You fight with what you have there with you, at Riley.  Uplink me your plan.”

“Why?  So you can talk about how brave I was at my eulogy?” Eric asked bitterly.  “Or so you know which way no to run.”

Connelly’s face was set in stone as he looked into Eric’s eyes.

“I will ignore those last remarks and chalk them up to stress, Star Colonel.  Do you have the package?”

“Yes, I have your damn package, it’s aboard Nikita,” Eric replied, referring to his mecha’s nickname.

“Good.  I am rerouting the Hawaiian ships to your location.  Get the rest of the ships out of there, now.”

“Wilco,” Eric said, not quick enough to catch Connelly as he disappeared.

“Karin, I need Commander Wallaby here now,” Eric said, turning to his wife.  Karin nodded, heading towards the Shangri-La.  Jack looked at him, shaking his head.

“Eric, this is insane,” he said darkly.  “You, especially you, cannot be risked in combat right now.”

Eric looked back toward the Potemkin, its hatches opening to allow people to file out from its sides.

“I’m not leaving anyone here, Jack.  Go see to your men.”

“Dammit, I don’t feel like getting blown to smithereens because you’ve got a hero complex,” Jack said, not moving.  Eric turned to look at him.

“Jack, Amy’s on that boat,” Eric replied.  “You want to leave her here?  You want to tell Jason that you left his freakin wife to die?

“Fuck you, Eric,” Jack said fiercely, tears in his eyes.  With that, he turned to go get his battalion ready.

B-Sides and Outtakes– “Armageddon Dawn”–Part I

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…

Armageddon Dawn

Chapter 1: Arrivals

 

Topeka, Kansas

0400 Local

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 evacuationThe 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  upLooks 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.”