Commander Alder lies perched against a Gyza Nebula tree, weakened from the wounds of battle...
Mankind was extremely vulnerable in its first century of deep space travel. To better prepare for an unpredictable universe, earth’s governing bodies deemed it necessary to establish a united military force. This new service, referred to as the "United Terra Defense Force" (UTDF), was sworn in to protect all migrating Earth Colonies. Each division would not only assist during the actual migration process but also in overseeing colony security. The UTDF was made up of splinter cells that integrated soldiers from every country, nationality, and geographic region on our planet. The brave soldiers were also accompanied by diplomatic representatives from each country. Both parties were then dispersed within each new deployed Earth Colony (EC). This was done to ensure that every human soul within the new settlement would be able to communicate with their EC officials and UTDF service men and women.
The UTDF military was comprised of volunteer soldiers from all walks of life and from every continent. Because of the eclectic spectrum of military training, it boasted some of the toughest survivalists ever seen. For centuries, this united force looked after the human race as their protectors, with some UTDF individuals eventually becoming elected EC officials. While these militia men and women were well respected within the colonies, eventually the duties of defending their race took a toll on the policing troops.
While the UTDF was intended to be nonaligned, a new, emerging industry began requesting their services. As humans spread themselves across the universe, the need for economic stability started to become a topic for discussion. It was during this time that the Earth Colonies began developing their commerce and trade, eventually expanding past each new galactic border. Updated technology eventually allowed human representatives to establish extraterrestrial communications, thus ushering in the intergalactic trade industry.
There were many in the UTDF that wanted to begin earning more money by taking work for trade businesses. The remaining troops thought it best to stay nonaligned and only serve to protect the earth colonies. All the while, the dutiful soldiers found themselves embroiled with every new interplanetary conflict. These conflicts all arose from humans entering foreign star systems, some less peacefully than others. These diplomatic squabbles, along with a gross lack of compensation, allowed for cracks to start forming within the ranks.
This time of disunion was seen as a catalyst for change by a rogue UTDF cell, led by an assertive general. He thought it was time to forge a new, forceful destiny for the humans amidst an increasingly dangerous universe. The general took control over additional cells that supported his cause, amassing a large legion in quick fashion. This began a destructive civil unrest within the UTDF, resulting in a great loss of colony life and resources. The power-hungry general led his defected ranks into an all-out war against all opposing cells that lasted for decades.
All of this turmoil culminated in the year 2605 when him and his troops departed from official UTDF duty. His divisions were then pulled together as a new, lone army known as, “the Legionnaires”. Any remaining cell groups stayed loyal to the UTDF and the peaceful protection over EC settlements. This new, Legionnaire army began promoting their services as “for-hire” protection amongst the wealthiest of their race, fit for any business entities that would pay enough. The bloody civil war that resulted in the deaths of millions of human lives did not stop then. The war continued on through the humans’ intergalactic trade routes, swallowing every planet and star one by one...
Thirty-four hours have passed since the private debriefing in the general’s war room. Kyran has settled into his newly promoted rank, preparing the Reaper Division platoon for their upcoming mission. Lieutenant Colton Aftin has been given additional specifics on the mission while Kyran preps the soldiers. The lieutenant has also been provided the platoon’s drop point coordinates and old models of Volta’s communicator mouth pieces. The latter included so that the native Zarbrïct people may be able to suitably speak with them. Both men are in their platoon’s barracks, Colton having just given a rousing speech to all forty men before suiting up. The transport arrives in less than two hours.
Colton looks across the room to his commander who is talking with a couple of Legionnaire soldiers. He begins walking over to Kyran who is on the other side of the room.
“Troopers,” the lieutenant asserts, “excuse us for a moment. The commander and I must continue prepping solo.”
Both soldiers stand at attention, salute their officers, and turn to leave the two alone. Colton begins walking slowly down the middle of the barracks towards the door, motioning Kyran to follow suite.
Lieutenant Colton Aftin looks to his left at Kyran.
“We should go over the mission objectives again before transport arrives.”
Kyran looks back at Colton with a trace amount of confusion. They had already gone over the mission briefings some six hours ago. It was unusual to go over the mission briefings twice within such a short span, especially right before boarding transport. Perhaps the lieutenant has received some additional news? Or perhaps he is still unclear on some minor points? Either way, another review of specifics would not be a bad idea.
The two men reach the front of the barracks now with Colton pausing underneath the doorway. He looks away from Kyran to scan the entire room of moving soldiers. They are still gearing up and preparing for the transport that will arrive shortly.
“There have been some small changes to the timeline leading to the drop point,” Lieutenant Aftin begins, “They are subtle, but we should go over everything once more.”
Kyran’s ears perk up when he hears that there has been new changes. He has never known briefing specifics to change so suddenly prior to boarding a mission transport.
Alder meets his friend’s eyes. “Oh? What’re the changes?”
Lieutenant Aftin peers off to his left,
“The general and admiral want you as the point man to lead a recon team in first”, he articulates softly, “Once we set-up after the drop zone, you’ll take the first team to Point B along the upper ridge and look for signs of those wells, deposits, or caverns.” Colton’s prolonged eye contact unsettles Kyran, sensing a rising passion in the lieutenant’s voice. Colton continues, “You report any signs of landmarks or areas that could contain the precious substance, are we understood? We need those confirmations before the negotiations take place.”
Commander Alder shakes his head in agreement, quick to leave no delay between Colton’s question and his response. However, Kyran is now intrigued. He has been point-person before on ground missions, but it has been a while ever since he began training duty with the new recruits. He is confident in his abilities, but the original plan was to touch down on the planet together. From there, they would follow the coordinates to the nearby Zarbrïct settlement where the representatives would be awaiting them. The fact that Aftin was given the news first with little to no time before the mission makes this development curious to say the least.
“So, once our parties meet back up, we are still to proceed to the Zarbrïct representatives?” Kyran inquires, “Or are there any other changes that I should be aware of?”.
Colton, able to read between his friend’s subtle quip, offers an affable grin.
“Spit it out, Alder” - Colton places a hand on the commander’s shoulder
- “What’s on your mind?”
Kyran has been staring off towards the platoon, but now redirects his attention back towards the lieutenant.
“Does any of this feel weird to you?” Kyran gets outs, “Why all the sudden changes and this ‘Reaper Division’? What is the real purpose of this mission?”
Commander Aftin looks inquisitively at Kyran. “What do you mean, Ky?” Alder peers at their surroundings, leaning in closer to his comrade. He utters low, “Well, how is it possible the Zarbrïct’s have become open to business all of a sudden? I mean, they’ve avoided our advances all other times, so why the change now?”
The lieutenant backs away from Alder, seemingly thrown off guard by his friend’s line of questioning.
“Alder,” Colton uttered low, “The general is no fool. He knows the importance of gaining the Zarbrïcts’ business, and you know better than most that he does not give up so easily.” He looks away for a moment before continuing, “This planet is El Dorado, the planet of gold, and it’s our duty to make a deal with the Zarbrïcts that’ll benefit both of our species. Volta wants what’s best for the greater good, right?”
Kyran straightens himself up, looks to Colton, and shoots him a half smile. “I know you’re right,” Kyran confidently states, “Guess I’m just still adjusting to everything at once.”
Colton extends a hand towards his friend for a firm handshake before the two head back to finish gearing up. They will give one final run-down on the mission timeline before assembling the crates and loading up at the docking bay. Transport arrives in two hours.
Hyper-space is just as cold, if not colder, than open space. There are some who claim that on an older model ship, you can feel the space outside of the hull moving backwards. It is almost as if time is skipping past your face and it gives you a nauseating headache to even imagine. The transport is coming up onto the Gyza Nebula system, dropping out of hyper-space above the opaque blue planet. Once they arrive, Reaper Division will deploy the landing transports with a course set for one of the planet’s forested field regions. The timeline then calls for the commander’s recon squad to make their way up to Point B on the upper mountains to do a complete sweep for signs of any mineral deposits. Beyond that point, Lieutenant Aftin will reconvene with Commander Alder’s party and make way to the Zarbrïct settlement. The time until touch-down is approximately 90 minutes.
Alder’s squad has reached Point B, however, they find no signs of caves, wells, or significant landmarks. Kyran pulls out his multi-purpose tablet but still finds nothing on the scanners. He is not even getting proper electro-magnetic readings; something is not right.
Kyran brings his hand to his helmet to activate his comm-link,
“Lieutenant Aftin, come in. Lieutenant, do you read?”
“Commander, I read you,” Colton replies through the static, “Status report. What have you found out there, Kyran?”
Alder takes another look around the lush, forested horizon before responding, “Nothing here, lieutenant-“ he looks down at his empty scanner tablet,
- “Nothing at all, in fact. No caves, no pools, can’t even get an electro-mag reading without the meter getting thrown off.”
There is an unsettling rush of wind that picks up, providing the slightest whistling noise to an otherwise silent environment. Lieutenant Aftin comes through again over the comm-link, “Keep at your positions, commander, we’re on our way to rendezvous.”
Kyran assumes that the plan will continue as scheduled. Unfortunately, their report back to Volta will have to include that they were unable to find sources of the precious Zarbrïct matter. He wonders if maybe the previous intel might have been incorrect. Kyran checks his wrist gauntlet for the mission time, about sixty minutes have gone by since he last transmitted to Colton. That same uneasy feeling washes over his entire body, causing him to anxiously recheck his scanner. Suddenly a loud blast echoes from his three o’clock position, just over the south ridge. Another blast drills through the still air.
“Soldiers!,” Kyran booms, “Let’s move!”
Commander Kyran Alder and company run towards the blasts as quickly as they can, the light weight of their Volta tech gear affording them more speed. Another three blasts sound off while they are running, Kyran picking up pace with his men following behind. Up ahead they spot a cliff ledge that allows them to pan out over the landscape, spotting the blast origins. They are coming from an area within the wooded valley. Kyran and the rest remove their individual grapnel hooks from their gear bags, finding a rocky border to sink in their metal claws. They deploy the steel wires and begin making their decent down the cliffside into the valley. Once they reach the bottom, they eject from their grapnels, reposition, and follow the blasts into the woods.
What Kyran sees ahead of him beyond the trees almost immobilizes him. He sees Lieutenant Aftin and the remaining platoon in defensive position, fighting unidentified adversaries. The commander runs towards the rest of Reaper Division, his men taking cover behind some rock formations. Kyran makes swift movements between oncoming fire to join Colton who is pinned down behind a smaller rock.
“What the hell happened?!” Kyran shouts over the blast fire, “Who are the hostiles?!”
Kyran leans out to his right to fire off several shots before returning to his low position. Lieutenant Aftin roars back, “We can’t confirm!” He then takes a few shots from behind their cover before leaning back to safety, “We think it’s the Zarbrïcts!”
Kyran looks alarmingly at Colton after removing his helmet to breathe in the oxygen-heavy air. He takes a quick breath before snapping, “The Zarbrïcts attacked us?!”
None of this makes sense. They were supposed to meet with the Zarbrïct representatives peacefully and come to terms on a mutual business agreement. Granted there were some sudden changes to the plan that might not have been officially reported to the delegates, but that does not warrant an all-out attack. Why would they ambush the lieutenant’s men without even allowing them to open the discussions?
Colton confirms with a shake of his helmet before both men take fire in unison, Kyran replacing his helmet to use the target tracking. Then, just as suddenly as Kyran’s team arrives, the fire ceases and all residual blasts ring through the air. The echoes continue until there is nothing left but silence. Kyran and Colton look at each other, the lieutenant raising his clenched fist in the air. He alerts the Reapers to hold their positions.
Kyran hears a faint sound getting closer to their position, something is coming towards them. Without warning, a horde of Zarbrïct warriors riding enormously large beasts charge Reaper Division! Each enemy armed with all different forms of the weaponry documented in the holo-files! Kyran counts at least fifteen Zarbrïcts in the cluster, none curiously toting any blasters. Instead, they wield varieties of energy staffs, maces, and lethal pulse bows. The blast fire that Kyran heard earlier came from their mortar rounds, these beaming orbs of concentrated energy that burst on impact like frags. The glow appears to be coming from the use of that sought-after material that was briefed on in the war room. They are all highly skilled combatants, taking on the Reaper soldiers with ease.
Just as Kyran begins to stir, Colton stands up from their position. He removes his helmet, takes aim, and opens fire on the horde! The Zarbrïcts scatter to the best of their abilities, several being thrown from their companion beasts. Commander Alder looks at the lieutenant, his sullied face seething with rage and anger. Lieutenant Aftin places his helmet back on and fires off more shots, skillfully clipping several of the beasts with deadly precision. Just as the Reapers manage to gain the upper hand, the remaining Zarbrïcts cease their fighting. Colton now activates his communicator on his helmet before speaking the natives’ language. He booms,
“< Zarbrïct clan, you have fought valiantly. But this will be my only offer! Lay down your weaponry and order your beasts to stand down! >
Alas, the lieutenant’s generous offer is met with unwavering resistance. When they do not follow the order promptly, Colton shells out a single blast, hitting a lone Zarbrïct and knocking him to the ground. Kyran reaches out to grab his friend’s arm, pausing his fire instantly.
“Colton, stop!” he shouts to the lieutenant, “They have no blasters!”
Lieutenant Colton rips his arm free from Kyran’s grasp, sending him crashing back to the ground.
“What the hell difference does it make!” Colton snaps, “I gave them an order and these creatures ignored it!”
Kyran has never seen heard such ferocity in his friend’s voice. He stands up to Colton’s level and reaches up to activate his own helmet’s communicator.
“Lieutenant, give me the chance to talk to them,” Alder counters, “it makes no sense why they would attack on sight!”
Colton motions his men to hold their positions, before returning his line of sight back to the commander.
“There is no reasoning with them,” Colton fires, “They meet a diplomatic party with open fire?! That is an act of war, not peace!”
Colton is not aware that his communicator is still activated on his helmet, as the Zarbrïcts begin to mutter in low tones with each other. One stands up from his crouched position on the ground about ten kilometers away. He speaks,
“< Your officer tells lies! You have no business here after your last attacks burned down farm regions! >”
Alder hears the words translated through his own helmet comm-link. The last attacks? Burned farmland?
He turns to Lieutenant Aftin, “What the hell is he talking about, lieutenant? What last attacks?”
Colton shoots a fiery glare from behind his visor, directed right at the lone Zarbrïct. He then turns his attention back to the commander, “He is speaking nonsense, commander. The only returning party never reported such findings! That is the whole reason why we-”
Colton stops himself, not making eye contact with Kyran who has now removed his helmet once again to look at the lieutenant. Kyran replies, “I thought our mission was dually-tasked with assisting negotiations and ground observations? Is that why changes were made?”
Colton swings his Volta blaster up to refocus on the Zarbrïct standing across from them. He retorts, “Our mission, Commander Alder, is to complete the job entrusted to us by Volta! In order to that, we first need to trust them...”
The Zarbrïct boldly steps forward before replying,
“< We know nothing of your negotiations! The last humans that came here observed our settlements, stole from our mines, and burned the land! We never wished any contact! >” His stance as strong as any of the planet’s trees that contour with the surrounding forest’s edges.
Colton receives the translation through his comm-link just as Kyran does through his own. His face tenses in detest, his forehead frowning down. “They lie!” Colton shouts back to the Reapers, “They wish to hoard what has been promised to us! The lives of your brothers and sisters back home are spit on by their withdrawn dealings!”
Suddenly, the Reaper soldiers erupt in loud roars, all chanting at their irate lieutenant. Without hesitation, all the men raise their weapons in unison, targeting the startled Zarbrïcts. Kyran looks on in horror at Colton and yells, “Wait!”
He fixes his gaze on the lieutenant who still has his weapon drawn at the Zarbrïct. Kyran asks, “I thought Volta hadn’t confirmed any caves or mines on the planet yet?” The unsettled commander now stares at Colton, “I thought we were here only to confirm if that intel was true?”
Lieutenant Aftin shoots his weapon around and gives the commander a hard look. He booms, “They are lying, commander! These negotiations were never intended to continue. We cannot let them keep that substance matter and go back on their promise to Volta. Reapers, weapons up!”
Kyran is now visibly shaking, mortified at the lieutenant’s genocidal decrees. His eyes widen before dropping his weapon.
“Colt, no!” he screams as he reaches for his friend’s arm. Kyran feels a blow connect with the back of his head, sending him crashing to the ground. There is a ringing that pierces from the center of his head and extends outwards through his ear canals. All the continuing combat is muffled into indistinguishable noises. His vision blurs until everything he gazes out at sweeps side-to-side, his entire body now rocking back and forth. Kyran turns around to observe what struck him before he feels another blow once again make contact, this time with the top of his head. He stumbles backwards and collapses to his knees. Kyran’s body manages to perch himself against one of the several trees that line the forested battlefield. He can make out more blurred shadows, splattered with bursting colors of mortar rounds and blaster fire off in the distance.
Another blaster fires off yet again, this time seemingly closer than before. Kyran feels an intense, stinging vibration on the left side of his chest. He envisions the sensation as a suspension rod on a Volta vehicle absorbing the shock from a rocky terrain. It takes a few seconds for him to realize that the terrain, in this imagined comparison, is in fact his own skin. He has been shot at close range! Kyran feels a pooling of liquid cascading down the inside of his already drenched body suit. Then it all goes to black. The ringing, the blurred human forms, everything ceases as he crashes to the ground.
His eyes open slowly. Kyran turns his head to the right, the ringing picks up again instantly upon this subtle movement. Whatever corrected vision he is briefly afforded only allows him to make out more blue-tinted explosions from all directions. Silhouettes of bodies are sent flying and large divots of ground burst around him. He can make out the image of what appears to be Colton leading soldiers away from him, retreating in quick fashion. Then it all goes to black again. Everything goes numb. His sight closing with the blacks of his inner eyelids. Shadows begin approaching him. The vibrating sting in his chest, however, does not cease.