Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #27

The feeds from Earth had collapsed, from an unscalable wall of information down to fragments. The fragments weren’t pretty, either. “Come on, man,” Doug said. “Don’t keep looking at that, it’ll torture you.” 

“I know, but I can’t stop. It’s just … ” Rand said as he minimized his interface. Doug was right, even outside their tower he couldn’t let his remote connection go. After the microfarmers struggling to feed everyone and the life support techs struggling with oxygen and CO2 balances, their jobs had all become the most important in the colony. The network and connection to the Heimdallr arrays were the only link to Earth, and everyone in the place was trying to get at them for updates. Administrator Cheung had their backs and told them to ignore the individual requests. They answered with a blanket “the administrator will provide an update to everyone soon.” It wasn’t exactly having a calming effect on the other colonists. Rand understood why they held most of it back. If most people saw what Allie, Doug, and him had been watching they’d probably lose their will to live. Releasing general reports of the situation on earth slowly kept the emotional devastation more controlled. 

Doug and Rand themselves were both on the first break they’d had for awhile, leaving Allie in control of the tower for awhile. People were staggering around the promenade that connected the colony’s command center modules to the habitation modules and then the deeper science labs. It served as both a meeting place, a lounge, and a crucial bridge to the different parts of the Europan colony. Its expansive windows peeked just under the frozen surface of Europa’s oceans. Anyone who sat in the promenade’s furniture could see into the clear expanse of water. Rand knew there were single-celled critters out there, the first true “Alien” life humanity had discovered. He almost wished he could see them and reassure himself  about the resilience of life after watching so much death. “Think you’ll sleep?” Doug said. “Allie said she’s got it for the next six hours, so it’s okay if you want to.”

“And what?” Rand said. “Dream about the Ehvow killing everyone I’ve ever known, destroying our cities, coming for us next? I got maybe three hours in two days ago and it was all fire and those screaming Thornseeds in my head. That’s just from watching the video. I can’t imagine if you saw the real thing.”

“You can either dream them or start hallucinating them from sleep deprivation,” Doug said. They both took a sip of their icy drinks. “I really wish this was something besides water.”

“Get used to it,” Rand said. “I think it’s going to be quite awhile before Administrator Cheung lifts that lockdown on the alcohol.”

“It’s bullshit,” Doug said, downing the rest of his water and sitting the cup in one of the receptacles for the cleaning drones. 

“I want a drink, sure,” Rand said. “But could you stop? I don’t know if I could. So many of these people have lost everyone. They’d drink themselves to death given the chance, or at least to alcohol poisoning.”

“It’s no good having them jittery and on edge either, though,” Doug said. “Perhaps running out of all the alcohol and having none left would be the most depressing thing of all, though. I guess knowing it exists, even locked down in the supply vault, is some kind of comfort.”

“Please, Doug,” Rand said. “We have chemical engineers, biologists, and micro-farmers in this colony. If we’re still alive three months from now and they haven’t figured out to make some kind of hooch in secret I’m going to be thoroughly disappointed.”

“Humanity always finds a way,” Doug said. “Didn’t you hear the speech from the illustrious Martian colony administrator earlier today?”

“Oh god, don’t remind me,” Rand said. “Putting himself out there like he’s the boss of all of us since he spoke up first.”

“Do you think that stuff he talked about was all a bluff or real?” Doug asked.

“It’s real,” Rand said, letting himself get lost in the water. “They’ve been sending small-scale encrypted data packages back and forth between us and Mars all day.”

“Really? Some of it I understand, like the rationing part,” Doug said. “They never took those final steps to making us self-sufficient, after all. Damn ‘austerity measures.’ But experimental body modification? GMOing the microfarms even more than they already are to upscale food production? Then there’s the weird tirade about abolishing intellectual property, voiding all the license agreements on all the tech and data we can get our hands on, everyone’s work now being in the public domain. It started out like your typical motivational rally the troops kind of thing and then turned into a political manifesto.”

“Listen, Doug,” Rand said, his eyes following a few of the life support techs and botanists walking by. They were all spending most of their time down in the microfarms. If the plants and yeasts died out, it was game over. “Maybe it was abrupt and high-concept, but I understand where Mars was coming from. The one thing we have a lot of here and there on Mars are the people who could make that happen. Engineers, researchers, and technicians. All of them engaged in some sort of project related directly or indirectly to surviving environments that are very much not Earth. We’ve got to science our way out of this shit or we’re dead. What was it he said? ‘Our governments, our companies on Earth left a gap, and we have to close it.’ I already picked up a lot of message traffic about some cobalt crystal lung enhancement they’re going to be injecting into all us to make us store oxygen better and take pressure off the life support systems. It’s supposed to be an IEI proprietary technology, but Nguyen and our own Administrator Cheung are past caring about that. Allie was actually talking about how it excited her earlier. That’s only the beginning. I saw mention of stuff for hearts and eyes. I’m sure even more will come. The botanists, farmers, and exobiologists are having a huge debate about releasing GMO strands of seaweed out there for harvest. It would make the food problem much less scary and they’ve already spent the last five years engineering a genetic variant that can take the conditions.”

Out there out there?” Doug asked, pointing at the aquatic vista before them. 

“Yep, that out there,” Rand said. “It’s a big ethics problem because it might make the critters out there native to Europa extinct, but ethics is not exactly the strongest place to argue from right now.” 

“I guess I never went in for all that post-human garbage,” Doug said. “People have been talking about post-humanity in some form or another for over 100 years, and I guess we’re finally here. I was hoping to just retire and die an ignorant old man on Earth.”

“Sorry about that, by the way,” Rand said. “I didn’t say anything before because I know you were …”

“Forget it,” Doug said. “I’m here forever. We’re all here forever.” He got up and walked across the promenade, putting his hand against the promenade window. Rand’s eyes grew heavy as he watched Doug stand there. “At least it’s a hell of a view.” 

Rand raised his water to Doug from his slouched position. “To a hell of a view,” Rand said. “And the fact that we’re never running out of water, either.” 

“Rand, I’m going to bed,” Doug said, after a snorting chuckle. “Being a little further along in the years than you, I’m not physically capable of continuing on like this. Sit here, stare at water and stress out if you want, but I’ll see you later.”

“Sure, whatever,” Rand said. Doug waved goodbye to him and disappeared. A few more people passed in front of Rand, and he found himself nodding off. Half-dreams began to flood his half-conscious mind, not of Earth being torn to pieces but of delicious multi-colored seaweed monsters swimming in the oceanic world outside the colony. 

Image Credit:

ESA/Hubble & NASA

spacetelescope.org

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #26

image

The lorry and bus were filling up, as many assemblers and printers as they could salvage from this evacuated piece of Yorkshire loaded inside. “Are you sure about this?” Ros asked. She was loading the crates of metal and plastic feeder kits into the few empty spaces she could find. “We really need to get the bloody hell away from here.”

“You’re right, probably should,” Danny Gleeson said, looking into the graying skies. Yorkshire couldn’t be long for this world. He saw one more area of the lorry he was sure he could fill. “Let me go back for one more, yeah?” he said, pushing the cart back into the mini-factory. It was unwieldy, worn down from the many loads of industrial equipment it had carried out. Danny himself was worn down from the same. 

“I’ll help you,” she said, guilted by his struggles. 

“Hurry up, you two!” Aziz shouted over their interfaces. He started the lorry’s engines. The sound of Ehvow engines was audible from clicks away, but it was hard to tell from the abrasive noises if they were headed this way or circling. “We can’t have much more time.”

“I’m aware,” Danny said. “Raif, you’re filled up so why don’t you get going?” 

“Don’t have to tell me twice,” Raif said, throwing the bus into gear and lumbering the vehicle from the factory space’s loading dock. Both Ros and Danny watched him go. 

“And then there were two,” Ros said. Raif, Danny, and Ros had been the last three MI-5 agents in the area. Really, the last three they’d ever known or talked to, their handlers and organizational structure dead or scattered. Aziz was technically MI-6, but he’d surfaced to help when they all got that emergency communique about the printers and assemblers. It had been the only specific orders they’d received from any sort of command. 

They heaved the cart as far and as fast as they could with what was left of their upper body strength. They passed emptied rows and severed power jacks from all the manufacturing equipment they’d already raided. The only ones left were toward the back. “Guess we should’ve gone from the back to the front,” Ros said. 

“Probably,” Danny said. “This was a maker space, though. People rented out all these printers for small runs of stuff. All the best and most expensive manufacturing tech was in the front. All the low-scale, pre-Tarrare stuff was in the back.” They finally came to the closest remaining  printer and a stack of material cartridges sitting for the taking, perfect for the last bit of space they had in the lorry. Ros set about unhooking them from the dead power supplies around them while Danny tried to see if he could heave it into the cart. A hum rattled all the machine racks and wires around them. It intensified into an impact that rippled the walls and ceiling above them, causing Danny to drop the small printer on the floor before he could get it on the cart. The machine smashed open, its components spilling on the floor. 

“Shite, we’re out of time!” Ros said. 

“I’ve got to fuck off, you two,” Aziz said through their interfaces. “Six doomblooms are overhead already and the territorials said three of those pod bombers were inbound before they went dark.”

Right as Danny and Ros’ feet began to move for the door, the floor cracked and split. A basement storage level opened up around them as they tumbled and fell below. The entire factory space came tumbling down after that, crushing as the sound of Doombloom strafing went from a roar to a screaming wreck. 

Both of them landed badly, Danny’s legs twisting under him. When some emergency lights flicked on in the basement, he could see that Ros was crouched with her head bleeding. Piles of wood, plastics, and fibers tumbled into the storage, further showering them with filth and covering the hole they’d fallen through. Danny tried to move, but all he ended up doing was involuntary biting his lip and causing his legs to crack a few more times. By the pool of blood leaking from his pants, they were sliced, broken, or both. Ros tried to get back to her feet in the basement level, stumbling and unable to steady herself. 

“Aziz,” Danny said through his interface. “We’re not going to make it.”

They only heard the sound of sighing on the other end. “Go with God, you two,” he said. 

“I hope he makes it,” Ros said, leaning against a pile of crushed building components before she lost her footing and sat down, defeated. 

“Well,” Danny said. “Are you going to tell me how stupid it was to go back one more time?”

“No,” Ros said, the frown on her face showing even in the dark. “I just hope maybe someone, somewhere can use what we pulled out of this place to make these bloody aliens pay.” 

“That’s the general idea,” Danny said. It hurt his neck to look at her, but he did anyway. If he was going to die here, at least she would be the last thing he saw. The collapsed factory shook again, dust turning the emergency light into a fog. “We’re proper fucked now.”

Her frown lifted, the corners of her mouth turning upward. “You ever think about that night? When the MEF ambassador was in for the night and we switched off all the interfaces and comms and took that break?”

“It’s almost all I think about,” Danny said. The two shared a desperate laugh. 

“I was wrong,” Ros said. “It wasn’t a mistake.” They felt heat, Danny’s interface filling his peripheral vision with radiation warnings as they both drifted away into darkness.

Image Credit:

NASA, ESA, J. Walsh (ST-ECF) and ESO

Acknowledgment: Z. Levay (STScI)

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #25

As soon as his eyes opened, Omar jerked his arm. It wouldn’t move. A hard substance was plastered over it, dense and rough like coral. He looked down at himself. Alarmingly, he was naked. More alarmingly, his skin had become dark green. “What the …” he said, but the voice that came out of him was not his own. It was scratchy, a rattle.

“I know,” a woman next to him said. Her voice had the same menacing hiss. Their bodies were upright, cemented on planks with the same abrasive coral substance that restrained their arms. 

Sunshine caressed them from an opening above, but Omar couldn’t see much of anything beyond a few meters in front of him. His hearing felt more sensitive than usual, detecting crunching and shuffling sounds from bulky figures crouched nearby.  From the echoes he imagined a sizable chamber.

The sunshine felt good, better than it should’ve. It warmed him, not just on the skin but down to his muscle and bone. The light refreshed him like sipping coffee or having a bowl of warm oatmeal. 

“Who are you?” Omar whispered to the woman. She was naked too, a fact Omar tried not to dwell on. Her body, skin, and hair had turned green like his. Their skin let off a barely noticeable glow in the sunlight, lightened veins moving below the surface. 

“Lt. Alicia Kent,” she said. “Army, such as it is now. You were the guy on the bridge, weren’t you?” 

“That’s right, the bridge,” Omar said. He remembered emptying his Thunderbolt into that last charging Thornseed after the snipers had gunned the others down. The particles had gone everywhere, burrowing into his skin. It’d easily been the most painful moment of his life. “Name’s Omar Bragg,” he answered. “Were you one of those snipers? If so, then I owe you a lot. If it wasn’t for you my brother and my daughter would’ve been dead.”

“Guilty as charged,” Alicia answered. “More Ehvow fell on us from those dropships of theirs right after they made it across. I opened one up and got hit with those spores they put out same as you. Glad your people made it out, though. It’s what you sign on for.”

“Yeah it is,” Omar said, suddenly feeling like shit for abandoning his post. Even if the Ambassador told him it’s what he had to do, even if it was a strategic retreat that made all the sense in the world, it hurt. If people like Alicia hadn’t guarded the rear, no one would’ve survived.  

“A surprising development,” a voice said. It wasn’t human. The voice’s intonation slipped and slid as it talked. It resembled the cries of the Thornseeds, but quieter and more controlled. 

Windows opened all around them, covering the inside of the chamber in bright sunlight. Omar squinted out of instinct, but his eyes immediately adjusted to the glare, the sudden brightness turning into rapturous satisfaction as the glowing trails under his skin grew brighter. Thornseeds were everywhere, exposed by the light. He saw what the crunching was. They were eating people. Dead people, but people nonetheless. He wanted to be sick. He probably would’ve, if not for the reassuring energy the sun gave him. Alicia retched.

The sunlight bathed a tall, lanky figure who stood in the center of the room. It approached, its skin a golden yellow with patches of red accent. When it got close, it blinked two rows of black-brown eyes at them through membranes. Trails of vine-like growths flowed from its head and back like hair. More followed from the bottom of its body where there were less an feet than a bunch of shuffling prehensile appendages. “Your language is crude, easy to master.” It added from its thin, toothless mouth. Omar thought he caught sharpened things ringing the inside. 

“Exactly what are you?” Omar asked, after allowing around ten seconds for the reality of what he was seeing sink in. 

“I am Ehvow,” it said. “I’m not like the others you’ve encountered, of course. They are our strength, our arms, our thorns. Those like me are their bloom, their leaves, their mindseed.” The slender Alien trailed back and forth as it studied them. “It appears some of your kind can survive our essence. Very unexpected. This has only once before with you younger races.”

“Before?” Alicia asked. “What do you mean you younger races?” Omar hadn’t caught it the first time, but as Alicia repeated the alien’s statement it chilled him. 

“None of your concern,” the Ehvow said. “We came here with a very specific directive, but this changes things. Perhaps some of you can be allowed to live. You clearly photosynthesize,” it said, raising one of its arms and hands. The hand was composed of ten fingers that Omar could count, stubby thumb-like pieces on the ends with with either long, needle-like fingers between. “You have some of the thorns in you, as well.. Lighter, faster, more intelligent than them. Better laborers than our roots. Maybe even hunters. You could serve many purposes.”

“You think we’re going to help you?” Alicia said. “Whatever you are and whatever you’re doing on our planet, I’ll die before I let that happen.”

“I agree with her,” Omar said, feeling a slight headache as he looked across the Ehvow’s many eyes.

“What you will let me do does not enter into it,” the Ehvow said. The Ehvow stepped aside as two of the Thornseeds not eating thundered toward them with collars made from a band of the coral substance, refined into a more smooth surface with a few indicator lights on it. Omar and Alicia both struggled as the devices snapped into place around their necks.

“We’ve had to use this design in the past on our own thorns and roots who stray. I can use them to inject you with a toxin whenever I wish,” the slender Ehvow said, approaching them again. “It will cause you immense pain and, if I command it to do so, will deliver a fatal dose. Do you understand?”

Neither said anything. Omar wanted to believe the collars were a bluff, but he had no reason to doubt the threat. “I’m not used to this body chemistry of yours yet, but I believe this will help you adjust to your new situation,” it said. The Ehvow’s needle-fingers elongated into even sharper points. It plunged both sets of them into Alicia’s torso first, her body shaking and her mouth moaning in scratchy tones. Omar watched pulsing fluids enter, visible through her skin. She quickly stopped struggling, her eyes fluttering as spittle dripped from her mouth. Whatever wounds the needle-fingers left closed in seconds.

Omar struggled more, feeling his hands almost break through the coral restraint him as the Ehvow turned its hands toward him. “We can’t have that,” it said, plunging its needle-fingers into him. 

After the initial seconds of shock, it didn’t hurt. If anything Omar surged with elation. All the rage and despair faded away. With it, so did any feeling he had toward doing harm to the Ehvow. “Accept me as your Mindseed,” he heard it say as the calmness and apathy flowed and grew, blossoming into a dull and simple happiness. “I will help you be better than you were. With me, you will become something higher than your species have ever been or will ever be. You will be Ehvow.” 

The Mindseed Ehvow withdrew his fingers from Omar. “There’s much work that needs to be done,” he said to both of them. “We’re going to need to prepare in case the surviving members of your species decide to attack us. With the Tarrare aiding them, they will be a threat even in this weakened state. There are a few others like you, but I’m sure that soon there will be many more. I want you to work as hard as you can. Work until you can no longer move. We need to know everything your bodies are capable. Do you understand?” Omar and Alicia nodded, feeling connected to the Mindseed as if it was their father, mother, and lover rolled into one. The Thornseeds removed the hardened coral-tar from their arms and bodies. The Mindseed gestured for them to leave the chamber. 

Omar and Alicia followed the Thornseeds outside, the crumbling skyline of New York greeting them. More Ehvow, like the Thornseeds but smaller and thinner, were toiling with transformed, green humans like Omar and Alicia. They were spraying and spreading the Ehvow coral all over the sides of nearby buildings from churning engines. The noisy machinery appeared to be coral generators,  grinding up the street below and reprocessing it. Hoses extended from some of the generators like vacuums to suck up more bits of concrete, metal, even scraps of human bodies. More of the smaller Ehvow were operating other machines attached to the generators to process the coral and construct more complicated objects. 

Teams of Thornseeds worked on toppling buildings by smashing into them with whirring hammers and drills. They also carved the streets up from pod-like vehicles that dug into the ground with massive mechanized limbs like metallic tree roots. Up close, Omar could see that everything the Ehvow used was made from the coral, just with different levels of refinement. 

The toppled buildings and piles of debris had more coral sprayed on them to create barricades and the beginnings of structures. A perimeter was forming, with Thornseeds stacking cannons and other artillery weapons. New York was being transformed. Omar, even with his mind dulled under the influence of the Mindseed’s hormones, knew he was looking at a Forward Operating Base. 

Image Credit:

ESA/HubbleNASA, D. Calzetti (UMass) and the LEGUS Team

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #24

<ENCRYPTED MESSAGE>

MEMORANDUM

FROM: GENERAL ADAM SLADE, ACTING SUPREME COMMANDER,  HER MAJESTY’S ARMED FORCES

TO: ALL STANDING ARMED FORCES FIELD COMMANDERS AND SURVIVING MEMBERS OF HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE

ATTACHED: 

TARRARE INTELLIGENCE PACKAGE 5EHVOWC

EHVOW CRAFT SURVEILLANCE DOCUMENTATION PACKAGE

EHVOW NEUTRON WEAPONRY SPECIFICATIONS PACKAGE

Friends, 

I speak to you no longer as a military commander, but as a fellow survivor. The situation is dire. As London and Liverpool have fallen, we fear that Yorkshire and Manchester are likely the next targets. Any recipients of this communique in those cities are to seize whatever printer, assemblers, and CBRN survival gear they can before evacuating. These will be crucial for keeping us all alive and for organizing any form of counter-offensive.

I acknowledge that the Ehvow have dealt us a blow that we will never fully recover from. It may feel like retreat or surrender, but I applaud your rapid disbanding of our larger forces into smaller companies and your diligence in avoiding conspicuous concentrations of military personnel and resources. Those of you who continue to spread the word to civilians to avoid such concentrations as well are doing a service to the entire human race. Soon, I promise, we will find ways to strike back. I have contacted my UAS, AU, and EU counterparts and the Tarrare as we all begin to envision what our counteroffensive will look like, but it will take much preparation and no doubt we will face many trials along the way.

For now, there are many key pieces of intelligence I must share with you accompanied by the relevant annotated selections of the Tarrare intelligence data on the Ehvow and more data we have collected over the past several days. 

First, we witness no end to the depravity of these Ehvow “Thornseed” soldiers. While they exhibit signs of fear, anger, and other emotional expressions when ambushed, wounded, and killed, do not mistake this for a shred of “humanity.” They will not hesitate, they will not show mercy, and they seldom retreat. Communicating with them, approaching them, even trying to surrender to them will end in disaster. Many of you have no doubt witnessed these Thornseeds eat our dead and our living. Whether they do this as a form of psychological warfare or out of biological necessity is uncertain, but understand that it is real and no rumor. 

Second, thermal directed-energy weapons are largely ineffective. It is especially dispiriting that this is the case given the recent deployment of the Sunfire as our standard assault rifle, but it is a reality with which we must live. The Ehvow’s home world, as far as the Tarrare have been able to locate it, is much hotter than this world and exposed to solar storms. As a result, they have evolved a bark and coral-like skin covered both inside and outside by multiple layers of membranes that dissipate thermal energy. They also secrete a resin that further aids in protecting them against heat-based weapons. Instead, use explosives and the older HK Thunderbolt assault rifles if you can locate them.  I’m told a weapon of joint human-Tarrare design that is even more effective will be incoming shortly. This is one reason among many that securing printers and assemblers for constructing these weapons should be considered mission-critical. 

Third, it should be noted that if attacked in broad sunlight, the Ehvow can regenerate from wounds using biological processes powered by their photosynthetic bodies. This recovery is not instantaneous, but prolonged battles in direct sunlight have proven very unfavorable. If combat cannot be avoided, it must be swift and focused.

Fourth, as most of you have reported back to me already, engage the Ehvow from as far a distance as possible. For the few of you out there who have not witnessed it, Thornseed soldiers often rupture when killed and deploy spores as a bioweapon of sorts. It seems that exposure to these spores results in death or some form of coma, though I’ve recently received reports that it changes the survivors into something we’re still trying to understand. We are still awaiting confirmation on this, so more data is appreciated if you have it. The living or dead bodies of individuals who are exposed to these spores should be considered biohazards and avoided for the time being.

Lastly, as we’re all aware, the Ehvow have begun deploying weapons that resemble neutron bombs. These explosives come in both man-portable forms carried by Thornseeds and also dropped from the oval, pod-shaped bomber craft we have seen deployed in the last several days. We have attached surveillance images of these bomber craft and the other types of Ehvow assault craft such as the “doombloom” strafers that have so far claimed total air superiority to aid in reconnaissance efforts.

These neutron weapons have been used numerous times on fortified positions, leaving infrastructure only slightly damaged and killing unshielded personnel in a very large area of effect. Most troublingly, the detonations of these weapons are often difficult to observe until fatal radiation spikes occur. Additional documentation detailing the range of these weapons is also provided with the attachments to this message. Effects on the Ehvow themselves caught in the kill zone of the weapon seem minimal due to the aforementioned thick membranes and bark/coral like skin that seems to protect them from the type of radiation the bombs emit as well. The bombs themselves resemble large rocks covered in lumps, which will open and reveal glowing spheroids when they near detonation. 

To protect against these nuclear-radiological weapons and the spores released by Ehvow Thornseeds, all personnel are advised to obtain any CBRN protection suits from whatever supply caches they may come across and keep them close at hand. Orders are still not to engage the enemy except as a last resort. This should change in the near future, but for now keep yourselves alive and gather what resources you can. We’re going to need everyone and everything we can get our hands on for this fight. 

Carry On,

General Adam Slade

Acting Supreme Commander

Image Credit:

ESA/Hubble & NASA

Acknowledgements: Luca Limatola, Budeanu Cosmin Mirel

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #23

“Are we far enough away?” President Yi Nuan Xun said, thinking about the days they’d spent retreating from Beijing. “Where are we on the Sanctuary?”

“We’re very close, but it’s only 40% complete,” Bu, her economic advisor, answered. “It won’t withstand an attack. They barely finished the outlines of the structure before this happened.”

“So we have a big hole in the ground, then,” she said. The flapping tent around her made her uneasy. The soldiers outside were shouting to one another, the ZTZ-199 tanks all had their engines revving. They were breaking the military camp already to move it again. They were attracting too many civilians looking for anywhere safe to hide. “I blame the Tarrare for this mess. They made all of these hints that we would need these, that we would need their damned meta-tools. It would’ve cost trillions to build the 12 Sanctuaries we recommended. They said it was important, but never this important.”

“Maybe they didn’t think we were ready,” General Zhang said. He was nominally in command of the camp and all the soldiers she had at her immediate disposal, but he hardly kept them in line. “Can you imagine the panic? I can. It would’ve been a disaster. Everyone who heard about the project assumed the Tarrare were going to lure us down into the Sanctuaries and process us for food. It would’ve been political suicide to support it.”

“The plan to extend the schedules and spread the costs out was a sound one,” Bu said. “We had no idea we were on a timetable this urgent. We did the sanctuary in Hong Kong, but the orbital strikes rendered it inaccessible until we can bring the right excavation equipment there to carve our way through the collapsed structures. I’m being assured by our people on the ground there that it’s possible.” 

“Not in any timeframe that’s going to save us,” President Xun said. 

“Last we heard, the Ehvow were landing in Hong Kong, same as New York. It’s going to take more than excavation equipment to remove them,” Zhang said. Zhang and Bu were not exactly her best people. Both were loyalty picks. Sons of rich families that supported the party. All of her good advisors had been killed off or went missing when Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai fell. Bu had become her advisor on everything non-military since he was the only one around. Zhang was the highest-ranking military officer still alive in all of the Greater China Confederation that obeyed orders. His chief attributes were having a pulse and representing a disintegrating chain of command. 

“General, President Xun,” her acting Chief of Staff said, another person who’d succeeded into his job via attrition. She didn’t even know his full name. “We’ve detected Ehvow craft inbound.” The three of them left their fruitless discussion and stuck their head out of the tent. The camp had grown during the night, more civilians gathered outside of it, trying to take refuge. The energy fields and fencing designed to hold the perimeter were overwhelmed with a ring of informal secondary camps around it. Tents were spread everywhere along with makeshift tarps and shelters. Buses and troop transports were dotted around. These people wanted protection, but they were only endangering themselves more.

“There it is,” General Zhang said, calling up his interface. pointing out the fast-moving shape on the horizon. “We’re completely exposed.” The ship was one of the rounded ones that faced forward with its dark green exhaust pouring poison out of the back, the “Doomblooms” as they were calling them in the feeds. Hundreds of strafing weapons jutted from the pulsing core of the ship like the points of a flower’s petals.

The ZTZ-199s angled their thermal cannons and missile batteries to the sky. The tanks had shot down the Ehvow ships before, but she could picture the soldiers on the inside. All the targeting software and sensors in the world couldn’t outweigh the panic in the gunner’s mind, especially when they hadn’t slept in over a week. The thermal cannons of the tanks fired, red pulsating beams and clouds of tiny missiles. President Xun allowed herself to feel relief for a moment as the Doombloom took a series of direct hits and began to fall, plumes of smoke and burning spitting out. 

The breath was stolen from her again as the damaged craft righted itself. Its turrets boomed the crushing sounds of Ehvow guns as it worked over the camp. The strafing dug trenches through the ground as people were gunned down in a ruby mist. The Ehvow ship shelled two of the ZTZ-199 Tanks into explosive shreds. Cars, trucks, troop transports and buses were similarly snapped and broken like the toys they were.

President Xun grew lightheaded when she realized she was still alive and the strafing had missed her. The Doombloom kept going, the remaining ZTZ-199 firing haphazardly at it as it disappeared.  Two more shapes appeared on the horizon. More Ehvow craft, this time to finish them off. 

She’d seen the Doomblooms, she’d seen the cone-shaped dropships that the Thornseeds dropped out of when they attacked cities in her intelligence reports. These were different. Oval pods that were long with protrusions coming out of them and green and red trails burning out of the back of them. Their underbellies were open. “Bombers,” was all General Zhang said, before they dropped dimpled, egg-like scraps on the camp. 

The round bombs rolled like miniature boulders, crushing people and crashing through tents and barriers. Xun left Bu and Zhang agape at the ruins and bodies around them, dashing through blasted out energy fields and puddles of dirt, trash, and blood.  She didn’t see the Ehvow bombs open, revealing the spinning and glowing orbs inside. Heat and a flash came from them, the radiation dropping her as it swallowed them all.

Image Credit:

Wolfgang Brandner (JPL/IPAC), Eva K. Grebel (Univ. Washington), You-Hua Chu (Univ. Illinois Urbana-Champaign), and NASA/ESA

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #22

“Of course,” was all Sandra Abreu said. They stood outside secured gates. On the other side of them were blasted-out buildings, vehicles, missile batteries, and downed Ehvow starships. They’d traveled so far. Burning through a few cars, then a military transport when they met some soldiers until they ran out of usable road. They finished on foot for two days through the New Mexico desert. Thankfully it wasn’t the middle of summer, the heat merely hovering between intolerable and unbearable. The moisture-leeching Hydralator bottles and other survival gear the soldiers had with them were the only reason they’d survived.

“Welcome to Colin Powell Proving Ground, everybody,” Sandra said. She opened the gate, the secured fence nearly falling apart from the force of her hand. An aerial drone had crashed into a portion of it about ten meters from where they were standing.

“This place is supposed to be a sanctuary?” was all Julia could say. She was too tired to be angry. “This is what my lost-ass parents have been trying to drive to the whole time?”

“It was,” Sandra said. “I didn’t know much about it except they were supposed to be a shelter of some kind. I saw lots of redacted reports. Senator Alvez was opposed to the project.” She let out a sad, single chuckle thinking of the debates over it. 

“But isn’t that Tarrare colony underground? Like in the mountains or something? Maybe this is too,” Julia said. She pawed at her interface, trying hard to access something. Sandra imagined she was trying to contact her parents. 

“It’s worth a look, isn’t it?” Lieutenant-Colonel McCorvey said. He was average height but muscular, his dark skin glistening with sweat. His voice was low but soothing. “We came all this way. Might as well check it out. Even if there’s no sanctuary maybe we can salvage some supplies.”

“You’re right,” Sandra replied. They walked inside, weaving around the road barricades. Lieutenant Rivers marched beside Sandra. She was an imposing young woman at two meters tall. She’d been really quiet so far but Sandra had heard her crying last night in her tent in a covert display of emotion. Sandra couldn’t imagine what all of this would’ve been like if she’d still been in the military. It was bad enough being a civilian. Being told to abandon your post while watching your friends and fellow soldiers fight for their lives and lose had to hurt. She understood the logic, the futility of making a big stand right now when they were still understanding the threat. Logic never soothed raw trauma, though.

They walked past a burned-out Ehvow starship, keeping their distance. It was one of the smaller cone-shaped ones ones, a dropship that Thornseeds would jump out of. Julia using her interface to take pictures of it. “Rivers, give me an SAA, overlays with the Proving Ground Map.”

“Yes, sir,” Rivers answered, thumbing at the sensor-laden goggles over her eyes to bring up her advanced interfaces. Wires followed down her neck and into the electronics situated in her field pack. “About a klick ahead we should take a left. There’s activity.”

“Hostiles?” Sergeant Kekes asked, his scrawny body charging forward. He scanned the horizon for any fight he could find. Like most short men given an assault rifle, he had a real inferiority complex and the violent impulses to make it sing. She’d known a lot of men like that during her tours of duty, but not many of them kept it all the way to middle-age like Kekes had. 

“No hostiles,” Rivers answered. “It’s some kind of active power source. Giving off a faint thermal signature and I’m seeing what might be encrypted comm signals coming from it. I can’t make out any more than that. Partial ID that it’s Tarrare, but not certain. Maybe when we get closer.”

Julia gave a sigh of relief, digging through her interface more. “My dad,” she said, to no one in particular. “He and my mom are still alive, but they just had a really close call and are back headed this way.”

“That’s great,” Sandra said, forcing a smile. “First good news we’ve had in a long time.” 

They passed the husk of a burned personnel carrier. “I should be used to it now,” Julia said, choking on the smell of burning bodies inside. “But I don’t think I’ll ever be.”

“Neither will I, if it’s any consolation,” McCorvey replied. They prodded forward to the site Rivers had identified. It was a small out-building, like a pump station or storage shed. Even from a distance Sandra could see reinforced blast doors on its front. 

“Dead Weeds,” Sergeant Kekes said, their feet squishing in a brown trail. 

“They sure are,” Rivers answered. A sizable pile of dead Thornseeds were clustered around the entrance to the building. 

“There have to be almost a hundred of them,” Julia said, counting the burned piles. It almost looked like they’d cooked from the inside out. Sandra tied to imagine what sort of weapon would do that to Thornseeds.

“They’re all in a single spread pattern,” McCorvey said, finishing Sandra’s thought. “Something took them all out at once.” 

With a roll of clicks, camouflaged plates in the ground around the entrance opened. Six rod-like arrays with spinning appendages emerged. The arrays bathed them in flashes of light. Sandra winced, expecting something terrible was either happening or about to happen to her body. 

“This can’t be good,” Kekes added. They all had their weapons pointed at where the arrays were, but they were gone. Too fast. Sandra realized that, miraculously, she was intact. The blast doors made a series of zipping noises, hissing open. 

“Subjects identified as human, standard,” a synthesized voice announced. It sounded close to the “voices” the Tarrare used to speak when they interacted with humans. “Welcome to Sanctuary B. Others await you inside.”

“Oh my God!” Julia said, almost hopping up and down. “It’s real!” 

“I’ll drink to that shit,” Rivers answered. 

“Entrants, please note that this facility is only 70% complete,” the synthesized voice continued. “In case of full-scale assault, safety not guaranteed.” 

“I’ll take that over the outside,” McCorvey answered. “What does that 70% mean,  Ms. Abreu?”

“Tough to say. I couldn’t glean much with all the redaction on the status reports. Last progress report I saw, there were mentions of supplies, sensors, an arms cache, and communication systems,” Sandra answered. “I assumed it was the post itself, not something like this.”

“What’s it supposed to have at 100%?” Rivers asked. 

“Way above my security clearance,” Sandra answered. “The Senator was allowed to see complete schematics only once. The project charter promised self-sustaining algae and micro-farming techniques that could deliver a food supply that would last decades, a power source based on Tarrare tech, even manufacturing.”

“Sounds like a doomsday prepper’s wet dream,” Kekes muttered. “Wonder why they didn’t finish it.” 

“Alvez said they were money pits,” Sandra said. The group of five crossed the threshold and followed the steps down, the doors sealing themselves behind them. Lights swelled as they approached and faded as they passed to guide them down the tunnel’s steps.  “He insinuated that it was a Tarrare plot to build something we wouldn’t understand the purpose of until it was too late. He noted that they were strategically placed, maybe secret Tarrare command centers for an invasion.”

“Or as muster points to defend against one,” Rivers whispered. “I’m willing to bet these stairs are loaded with more hidden defenses.” 

“Yeah, seems obvious now,” Sandra said. 

“I can’t believe I volunteered for that dick’s campaign,” Julia said. “Both of my parents wanted him to be President.”

“I told myself he was a good leader with one weak point,” Sandra said. “He became obsessed with whatever hidden agenda he thought the Tarrare had. That obsession cost us all. Wiped out all the good he did in his career.”

“Politicians for you,” Kekes said. “They have a gift for making the worst call at the worst time.”

They came to another secured door, a yellow grid of energy passing across them before more blast doors hissed open. A wary bunch of soldiers stood on the other side with Thunderbolt assault rifles trained on all of them. 

“Easy, brothers,” McCorvey said. “It’s been a little while since I’ve showered but last I checked we don’t look much like Ehvow.”

“The Alien system told us you weren’t hostiles, but you can never be too safe, sir,” the ring-leader said. He was auburn-skinned and muscular. He saluted McCorvey, noticing the LTC’s dust-covered rank insignia. “I’m Major Ralston. You’re welcome to come in. This place is really impressive and there’s lots of room to spare. Too bad we didn’t find out about it until after nearly the entire post was lost in the attack. The Post Commander sent it out over the comms right before he and all the MPs were KIA. I was the highest-ranking officer in here until you walked through the door.”

“At the moment I’m not so concerned about rank and more concerned with shelter,” McCorvey answered. He stepped through the inner doors, the rest following. The inner blast doors obediently shut and sealed. The rest of the soldiers dispersed and setting down their weapons on an improvised rack to return to whatever they’d been doing

“It’s good to see some friendly faces, “ Ralston said. “The comms and feed access we have here are telling us we’re not alone, but it’s hard to see it that way. Some of us managed to get our families down here during the attack. Others weren’t so lucky. Anything we can get you?” Ralston said. 

“Right now, I think we all want some rest,” Sandra answered. “We might have more survivors coming soon, though.” Relief crossed the teenager’s face. “Looks like you can finally point your parents at something real.”

Image Credit:

ESA/NASAESO and Danny LaCrue

Spacetelescope.org

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #21

“Riko, is everything okay? Are the children okay?”

“They’re scared. I’m scared. I’ve been checking the feeds. The Ehvow are still only around Quebec and Montreal, but what if they head this way? How much longer are you going to be gone, Hena? Half the staff left in the past few hours. I think they abandoned us to go find their families. I’ve been trying to hold everyone together, but I hardly know half of them.”

“I should be back soon. I found a bus and a bunch of cars parked near a hotel. I’m trying to get the bus to start, but the fuel cells are low and there’s some sort of password to unlock it. I’m reading the instructions on the feeds for doing the emergency override, but it’s not easy. I also need to drain all the fuel cells in the cars here to charge it back up. This isn’t exactly something I’ve done before. Once I get that I can load the supplies from my car and head back to the school. Don’t worry about the Ehvow yet. We’re in Seskatciwan, the middle of nowhere. All the Tarrare files say they’ll focus on major populations first.”

“There’s something else you should know. Some of the children’s abilities are manifesting stronger than we’ve seen before. I guess it’s the stress. It’s just small stuff now, knocking things over, moving chairs, rattling windows, but I’m worried it’ll get worse.”

“They’ve never dealt with anything like this before. Whatever they can do, this is definitely going to bring it out. All you can do is to try to keep them calm.”

“We’re almost out of meds. I know we’ve been trying to ration them, but should I just go ahead and give them all their normal doses? Just to help control it?”

“Riko, I have a confession to make.”

“I don’t like the sound of that.”

“The meds have been placebos for the past two month.”

“No, that can’t be right.”

“It’s right, Riko. I was only clued into it two weeks ago by IEI. The treatments we’ve been giving the children for the past two years were Phase I. Phase II they go to placebos and see if the results stick. At least with these kids, apparently. There’s some other school in Mexico where they were keeping the children on the meds, but our school was the control group.”

“And you didn’t tell me, Hena? I know you’re the school administrator, but I’m their doctor. I need to be in the loop. How can I care for them effectively if I don’t even know I’m giving them sugar pills?”

“I know, Riko, and I’m sorry. I was going to tell you even though IEI made it abundantly clear they’d sue me into oblivion if I did, then all of this happened. At least we know the children can survive without their meds. Whatever their abilities are, the neural regenerations have worked. Their conditions and neural damage are gone and then some. They’ve stabilized. Good thing, too, because I don’t know if there’s ever going to be meds again with the Ehvow out there.”

“Hena, this is a lot to absorb. It changes everything. I thought we were treating conditions and helping these kids learn like everyone else. I didn’t know this was all part of a sinister corporate plan with phases.”

“I hear what you’re saying and I’ve been thinking the same thing since they told me. It makes me wonder what the hell they had mind for Phase III. I was told there were five phases to the program.”

“That’s … unsettling.”

“I know. I took this job knowing that it was going to be a special needs school and that there were going to be some innovative treatment programs using Tarrare science against terminal diseases, debilitating injuries, and chronic conditions. We thought we were helping these kids. In reality we were accomplices in an illegal biotech project.”

“But I think of where these kids were and where they are now. Most of them couldn’t walk on their own, some of them couldn’t even form words.”

“That’s the only thing that helps me sleep at night.”

“Hena, there’re people pulling up outside. I’m going to see if I can get a look.”

“Be careful. I’ve seen a lot of stuff on the feeds about some violent people taking any shelter and supplies they can get. I’d like to believe they wouldn’t go after a special needs school, but you never know. Thank god, I finally got this bus unlocked. I just need to recharge it.”

“There’re vans and an armored carrier. Looks like one of those new tanks. They’re all armed, but they don’t look like military. There’s someone in a suit leading them. He looks familiar.”

“Riko, can you take a picture of him?”

“Not a good one, but I can try. Here, I’m sending it.”

“Not good. That’s Pheng, our IEI handler and the one who always comes once a month to tell me they’re not seeing enough progress. That’s why he looks familiar. He’s bad news. You can’t let him inside.”

“What am I supposed to do? They have assault rifles and a tank.”

“Listen, you can’t trust him. Hey? Are you there? Dammit, recharge! I’ve drained two cells into the bus, one more and I should be able to head back. You’re talking to him, aren’t you? I know you can hear me even if you’re on mute. All Pheng cares about is what IEI wants. If he came armed he must want to take the children. You can’t let him do that! Riko, come on, tell me what’s going on or switch to speaker or something. I can’t take this. I think I’ve got enough to come back, so I’m starting the bus.”

“Hena, I can’t stop him. They want the children. Wilson tried to stand up and they stunned him with one of those microwave guns. They said they’ll do the same or worse to any of us who try. They’re using sedatives on the kids to knock them out. They said they have to take them somewhere safe. Pheng is going on and on about IEI’s investment.”

“This can’t happen. They can’t take those kids and stick them in some dungeon somewhere while this war is going on. I’ve started the bus and I’m on my way back.”

“Hena, it’s too late. They locked me and the rest of the staff in one of the supply rooms. I can hear the kids crying and screaming out there. Nefertiti lashed out, knocked a few of these armed soldier-types down, but they sedated her before she could do more. There’s nothing we can do.”  

 “I’ll be there soon, Miko. Maybe we can catch up to them. Maybe we can find them.”

Image Credit:

ESA/Hubble & NASA
Acknowledgements: D. Calzetti (UMass) and the LEGUS Team

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #20

“We can’t hold it!” Sergeant Kilmedes bawled, tears streaming down his face. He was smeared with blood. His face and body with the red kind. His feet with the dark-green sludge from Ehvow. 

“For fuck’s sake,” Chief Inspector Downes shouted back at him. He didn’t really have anything to follow that exclamation up with as his verbal and mental arsenals were very much out of ammunition, much like the single clip left in his gun.

“We’ve been fighting these damn Ehvow for almost a week,” Private Liz Jameson said. “We’ve lost every piece of ground we’ve stood on. Typical that we’d die here. Backed into godforsaken council flats that’re almost an exact replica of the building I grew up in.” 

“South London isn’t exactly where I planned to end my days either,” Downes replied. They’d started out under command of some Captain in the SAS, pulling in territorial military, police, basically anyone he could into some impromptu militia. Of course as soon as they’d really engaged the Ehvow the dashing SAS officer’d been killed promptly. Their group of hundreds had fallen to 18. 

“Trying to think of everyone else,” Jameson said. “Those civilians hiding a few floors up. There’re almost a hundred of them. We’re all that stands between them and those things out there.” 

“No way in hell we can save them,” Private Roarke said. “Or ourselves.” Downes had thought Roark a psychopath when they’d first met. He still did, but psychopathy was starting to sound more and sensible. 

“It’s all bollixed up,” Bob Finch, an MI-5 agent with them mumbled. “The chain of command’s become so diluted no one’s really in charge anymore. Take our merry little band. Highest up is technically the Sergeant over there, and he’s clearly broken. We can’t even follow the orders to evacuate and disband or rendezvous with other poor sods still in this city. Nowhere for us to go that doesn’t involve cutting our way through hundreds of those Aliens out there, and there’s no way the civilians left in this high rise can follow us through that even if we could make it out alive. We have no choice but to make a stand here.” 

A chugging whir started outside. Eric Downes crumpled even further to the floor as the Ehvow guns pulverized the walls and windows near him, the Thornseeds firing into the building from the streets. “Christ,” Private Jameson said, trying to cover her ears even over her helmet. The sound was like hundreds of tiny jet engines coming at them. “If I survive this there’s no way I don’t go deaf from those guns.” It stopped after awhile, like it always did.

“Like I said, all bollixed up,” Bob Finch said. He was the only one who’d kept them alive this long. He really knew the city,  leading them around passages and back-alleys not even Downes knew from all his years on the force. 

“What are they doing?” Jameson asked. 

Downes decided to be the brave one. He slid across the floor and peeped out a gaping hole in the exterior wall. “Nothing,” Downes said. “They look like they’re waiting for something. Maybe more so they can charge the building.” He counted around thirty outside, far more than their group could handle and certainly more than the unarmed civilians in the floors above them could face. 

“Probably doing their equivalent of calling in an airstrike,” Private Jameson said. 

“She’s probably right,” Finch said. “Last I checked the MI-5 feeds they were hitting military and civilian convoys trying to leave the city. Only remainders like us left now.” 

“Wait,” Downes said, seeing two new Thornseeds arrive, each of them holding something. The other Thornseeds tried to take up a more defensive posture around them. “They’ve got boxes of some kind and they’re headed into the lobby.” There were two loud pops as the improvised bombs they’d placed in front of the lobby entrance went off, taking a few more Thornseeds down in a splash of sludge and glowing particles. 

“They’re really coming in,” Roarke said. “I think this is it.”

“Whatever they’ve got must be explosives,” Finch grumbled, after thinking it over for a minute. “For all we know, they’ve got tactical nukes or worse.” Finch rose to his feet. Everyone did the same, following him instinctively at this point. The group gathered themselves, all of them smelling ripe from the blood and sweat they hadn’t had a chance to wash off for the past week. “Territorials, you’re the best armed so I’m going to need you to go first.” Kilmedes had gotten back to his feet, but looked shaky as he lurched toward the stairwell.

“Yes sir,” Private Jameson said, pushing ahead of her Sergeant. Downes followed them, marveling at the pyramid-shaped tunnels taken out of the walls and stairwell from the barrage of the Thornseeds’ guns. The cheap construction wouldn’t stand for much longer. 

Downes thought he could almost taste his heart beating in his throat, his London police uniform and riot gear looking worse than the soldiers’ given all the filth he’d waded through. He heard the gunfire, remembering his tactical training as the territorials lit into the room. They were using old Thunderbolt caseless assault rifles. Eric himself just had one of those new SMGs they’d deployed a few months ago. He wasn’t up on gun manufacturers, but they seemed to be at least slightly effective. 

The gunfire resumed, the Thornseeds doing the usual and barely taking defensive positions. Casualties didn’t seem to matter to the Aliens. As he fanned to the side and leveled his gun he saw Kilmedes take a direct hit from a Thornseed weapon. It took his body completely apart, some of it splashing off the wall and onto the side of Downes’ head. His interface on the right side was clouded with a red film. The combined fire from the soldiers was precise, drilling into the Thornseeds’ midsections in squeals and toppling bulks. They’d learned a lot from all the skirmishes they’d had with the Aliens, Downes himself cutting into the middle of one in a way that burst it open and painted the big windows at the front of the lobby a dark brown-green. As he found his way to a small hallway near the elevators. Cover was minimal, a few load-bearing columns and drywalls all that protected them in the lobby. His weapon stopped firing, the last of his ammunition gone as he ducked through a half-collapsed maintenance room. 

 The Thornseeds began to back away, retreating with shrill warcries. “Got them!” Private Jameson shouted. When Downes crawled from the maintenance room he saw everyone backed as far from the lobby entrance as they could, clouds of spectral yellow-green bits floating around. They settled to the ground after a few minutes, fading to a harmless dull. “I think we took down four of them,”  Jameson said. The broken remains of three of the plant-based creatures were on the ground leaking everywhere. 

“They got six of us,” Private Roarke said. Downes scanned with his interface, identifying Kilmedes among the loss, four others, and then a name in critical condition that made him stop. 

“Fuck!” Downes shouted, seeing Bob Finch’s body on the ground trembling. Downes looked down at Finch’s body, watching blood leak from his eyes, nose, and mouth. The glowing spores pulsed under his skin as they filled his bloodstream. He was dying. 

“He almost made it,” Private Jameson meditated. “It’s not enough that they shoot you, when you’re lucky enough to take them down that happens.”

“That may be the least of our worries,” Downes said, realizing that they’d overlooked the obvious. The two boxes the Thornseeds had dragged into the building were opened, a floating orb popping out of them. The orb was spinning faster and faster. “Anyone have a clue how we shut something like that down?” 

Jameson went to his side, the other soldiers starting to back away. He searched through his police interface and found the the bomb disposal application. “Alien Object Detected” was all it said back. “Really now?” Downes said, pounding his fist into it. There were no buttons, no control panel. 

“I’m out,” Private Roarke announced, sprinting out of the building as fast as his legs could carry him. Downes didn’t think as he watched the energy in the orbs grow brighter and their spinning orbit turn blindingly fast. Instinctively did the same as Roarke, scrambling out of the lobby. The Thornseeds were running in the opposite direction down the street, uninterested in taking any shots at them. 

Downes ran a hundred meters or so in a blur before he stopped. No one was with them, the other soldiers and police officers all still in the building. Then he remembered the civilians. He’d just run, leaving all those families in there. He’d abandoned everyone. Roarke kept running, leaving Downes far behind. 

A flash, brighter than any Downes had ever seen, rumbled the council estates building as it pulsed out of every one of its windows. It hurt Downes eyes even though he hadn’t been looking directly at it. Heat and wind flowed up the street. He had expected the whole building, maybe even the streets to be disintegrated or on fire or covered in spores or some other deadly scenario. 

His interface began to flash warnings, everyone in the council estate’s life signs flickering out. His own body began to fail him, heart racing as his skin flared in itches and then burns. He turned back in the direction Roarke had run and saw that he’d slowed down.  “Warning: Lethal Radiation Levels,” Downes’ interface told him, far too late for him to do anything about it. He fell to his knees as his legs ceased to work and all he could feel was fire, pain, and nausea. His eyes settled on the completely intact buildings around him as he started to go into spasms before they went blind.

Image Credit:

Akira Fujii

spacetelescope.org

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #19

ENCRYPTED DISCUSSION CHANNEL – AFRICAN UNION SECURITY COMMITTEE

TOPIC THREAD – EHVOW INVASION – WHAT SHOULD WE DO

SUBJECT: CAPE TOWN ATTACKS

SUBMITTED: YESTERDAY, 02:32 SAST

Dearest Friends,

We have suffered devastating losses in the last few hours. I, for one, have lost nearly a third of my ground forces, the South African President and parliament, and half of my command’s air force drones in an attempt to save Cape Town. I was not successful. Please see attached images and casualty reports. I hear that conditions are similar for Cairo. The conditions for the UAS, EU, GCC, and RUF are severely worse, as it is for many other highly developed nations. It seems obvious to me that the Ehvow are focusing on destroying every strategically important city they can locate. I have read additional reports of them targeting concentrations of military activity. I’m only halfway through the intelligence packet provided by our allies the Tarrare. I have seen the cables from the UAS Secretary of State, now Acting President, suggesting disbanding of the militaries in order to avoid them becoming targets of the Ehvow. I wholeheartedly concur with this policy and have already given orders to my own officers to commence such a disbanding and to produce communication plans. I have identified areas of low population density in neighboring nations and areas of South Africa where I intend to send my troops and to encourage civilians to evacuate. I have given orders to my soldiers to fight defensively if attacked but not to seek out further engagement with the Ehvow at this time until we have a clear strategy in place. I encourage you all to do the same and to tell your own militaries to stand down from attacking soldiers from our friends and neighbors who are simply looking for safe haven. We must disperse as much as possible and avoid areas of concentrated populations to avoid making ourselves targets. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and concerns.  

<attached files redacted>

Best Regards,  

General Mongane Tafari House 

African Union Armed Forces

SAC (South African Command)

SUBJECT: RE: CAPE TOWN ATTACKS

SUBMITTED: YESTERDAY, 02:58 SAST

General House,

Thank Allah someone has addressed this madhouse of a situation. I have finished the entire Tarrare intel package provided and have demanded my top officers do the same, and given what I have learned from it I concur with your strategy. I have ordered my military and militias to behave as you have suggested. Tripoli has already received some minor strafing and bombardment, but the mass of this Ehvow fleet has not focused on Libya as of yet. We will be staging in neighboring Mali and several other countries, as well as in encampments near our smaller cities as an interim measure. I hope I will be accorded a similar latitude by our friends and neighbors in the other commands even though such actions step outside of our national charters and could provoke certain questions of sovereignty. We should share our tactical positions once a secure method of doing so can be found. If our forces all converge on similar locations the likelihood will increase that the Ehvow take notice and attack. The so-called round ‘Doombloom’ ships the Ehvow have sent, with their hundreds of strafing guns as points, can inflict mass casualties on encampments in mere seconds. They did so to a substantial camp of refugees and my own forces outside Tripoli. We must avoid giving them easy targets.

Sincerest Regards,


General Mahmmoud Karaman
African Union Armed Forces

LMC (Libya-Mali Command)

SUBJECT: COMMAND PROTOCOLS

STATUS: URGENT

PRIORITY: HIGH

SUBMITTED: YESTERDAY, 05:12 SAST

Generals House and Karaman (and other esteemed colleagues),

Need I remind you of the proper protocols in this situation? Your commands are not yours to do with as you please. The resources you have flow from the African Union’s Defense Committee, as do your command appointments. Both can be easily removed. Please consider the men and women who serve under you and refrain from implementing such a highly risky and dangerous strategy. We must come together and work through this crisis. We cannot have our commands dispersing and behaving on their own without regard for the orders and priorities of the African Union or its member countries’ national borders. This attack is just beginning and we must deliberate on what it means and what will occur before such drastic steps are taken. I urge calm on all sides and for us all to respect each other in such times as these. I am already drafting up a schedule for all of us to meet at a secured and undisclosed location to sort this situation out and come to a common understanding and agenda to avoid misunderstandings as we deal with the current situation.

Sincerely Yours,

Alphonse Zuma

Executive Director

African Union Defence Committee

SUBJECT: RE: CAPE TOWN ATTACKS

SUBMITTED: YESTERDAY, 05:15 SAST

General Karaman,

Excellent point. We do not want all of our military, as it disbands, to gather in similar locations or locations of close proximity to one another. The Ehvow are likely to work their way to smaller and smaller population centers after they have finished eradicating the major cities. Moreso, I have deeply disturbing reports coming out of Paris, London, and New York about these Thornseeds, including that they consume the dead. Have you heard this? I’m unsure what is real intelligence and what’s rumor. I have heard rumors that they are attempting to establish a base of sorts and are making landfall in Cairo as they have in New York City of the UAS and in a few other places. I imagine our Egyptian colleagues would weigh in on this if they had been included on this discussion group, as I believe you and I both articulated the need for to our esteemed chair Mr. Zuma long ago. I will work on sending encrypted information regarding my troop positions as I receive them and transmit them securely upon request. Disseminating them through even a secured forum like this may be unsafe. As far as we know, these Ehvow have hacked our networks and could be reading these very conversations.


Best Regards,
General Mongane Tafari House 

African Union Armed Forces

SAC (South African Command)

SUBJECT: RE: COMMAND PROTOCOLS

STATUS: URGENT

PRIORITY: HIGH

SUBMITTED: YESTERDAY, 06:00 SAST

FOLLOW-UP TASK: DUE YESTERDAY, 09:30 SAST

General House (and esteemed colleagues),

Have you not received my previous posting on this secure thread? We must not continue with this very risky strategy you are proposing. And, as I explained to you at the time, our supposed colleagues in Egypt ARE NOT PART OF THE AFRICAN UNION. They joined the Arabian Union. We have not, as yet, finalized the memorandum of understanding with them, let alone the appropriate interdepartmental protocols for the sharing of intelligence of this magnitude. I will reiterate that it is key that we must have a strategic summit to focus on this problem and to articulate a unified strategy going forward. The Acting President of the AU has a great many ideas he has directed me to share with you all regarding this war effort.

Sincerely Yours,
Executive Director

African Union Defence Committee

SUBJECT: RE: COMMAND PROTOCOLS

STATUS: URGENT

PRIORITY: HIGH

SUBMITTED: YESTERDAY, 06:23 SAST

FOLLOW-UP TASK: DUE YESTERDAY, 09:30 SAST

Hey Mogane,

What kind of drug do you think our friend Alphonse is on? The world is crumbling around us, and he wants to have a meeting? God help us all. What a prick. I’m with you and will direct my people to do as you suggest.

Sincerely,
General Ali-Ben Grizard

African Union Armed Forces
ZC (Zimbabwe Command)

SUBJECT: RE: COMMAND PROTOCOLS

STATUS: URGENT

PRIORITY: HIGH

SUBMITTED: YESTERDAY, 06:27 SAST

FOLLOW-UP TASK: DUE YESTERDAY, 09:30 SAST

General Grizard,

You have replied to the entire discussion group as opposed to General House individually via direct message, as I assumed you were planning to do. I believe my request is quite reasonable! Also, I do not appreciate the name-calling. If anyone is a prick, it is you.



Sincerely Yours,
Alphonse Zuma
Executive Director

African Union Defence Committee

SUBJECT: RE: CAPE TOWN ATTACKS

SUBMITTED: YESTERDAY, 06:47 SAST

General House,

I think this sounds like a good way forward. Let’s keep the communication flowing.

Mr. Zuma,

I don’t believe there’s a need for such meetings. If we can communicate directly with one another, I’m sure we can resolve this. If there are those who dissent with us other than yourself, I invite them to express their concerns. I also think the idea of a summit would be irresponsible at best. If the Ehvow have any strategic sense they would find a way to attack such a summit. I recommend you get the Acting President to a secure and isolated location and then you can find a way to communicate his vision to us all.

General Mahmmoud Karaman
African Union Armed Forces

LMC (Libya-Mali Command)

Image Credit:

ESA/Hubble & NASA
Acknowledgements: R. Sahai (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), Serge Meunier

Spacetelescope.org

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #18

image

He paused in the stairwell to check the social feeds on his interface. All of his friends and coworkers from the city, their faces full of smiles from their avis, simply said “offline.” They’d said that for hours. Only one lone message, from Nika, had come across. Was that a bomb it had said, right before the second barrage had hit Moscow. None of his messages had been returned. He’d begun to accept that they weren’t going to get returned. 

“Viktor, what the hell are you doing?” he heard as he stepped outside the apartment building. Viktor Pasternack couldn’t take it anymore. He’d been hiding in their apartment for a whole day since the Aliens had started to attack, and he wanted to see. 

“Nothing,” he spat back at his aunt. 

“Don’t go outside, Viktor,” Aunt Natasha yelled down the stairwell as he reached the ground level. “It’s not safe.”

“I want to see for myself,” Viktor said, walking outside. The site of Moscow loomed in the distance, a wall of fire pouring and smoke straight into the sky. Another series of energy bursts fell on it, shaking the structures around him and cracking windows even though they were kilometers away from the strike. His apartment building was on the edge of the city, such as it was after the Ehvow. It was on a high hill with a lot of other dilapidated high rises, so it offered a good view of everything going on in the streets below below and the ruins of Moscow. Distant columns of destruction and ash were all that remained of the city’s core.

Military vehicles rolled through nearby roads with the Russian Unity Federation symbol. He recognized them as the BTR-150. His father had worked in one of the factories that had built them. They were all going different directions, their all-terrain tires and axels crawling over sidewalks and even smashing over abandoned cars. “What’s going on out there?” Natasha said. She had come down to the ground floor, but was still too wary to come outside.

“First you don’t want me to come out here to find out what’s going on then you want to know what’s going on?” Viktor shouted back. “You’re sending mixed signals.”

“Since you’re already out there,” Natasha said. 

“They’re abandoning it,” Viktor said, hoping it would coax his aunt outside. He’d gone to live with her after being laid off a month ago, both of his parents long dead. “The soldiers, everyone, they’re all leaving.” The traffic was only going one direction. Natasha finally ventured outside.  

A few other people had collected outside of the apartment buildings. Many were getting in their own cars or even bikes and leaving. “Are they stealing a bus?” Natasha said, pointing to a gang of people down the block who were loading suitcases and bags onto a sizable piece of public transportation. 

“Looks like it,” Viktor said. If they were the type to steal buses, he wondered how many of the suitcases and the bags were actually theirs. There seemed to be piles of belongings coming from the lobby of the building.

“I don’t think the powers coming back on, it’s been hours,” Natasha said. Victor nodded in agreement. 

“What are those things in the sky?” Victor asked a young girl watching what appeared to be tiny flying specks in the distance chasing each other. Viktor thought her name was probably Mishka. He’d seen her standing around outside at night when she probably shouldn’t have been, sneaking stimsticks. 

“They’re the bad aliens,” the girl said. She seemed to be around 12 or 13, but Viktor wasn’t sure. 

“The drones are fighting them,” an older man, presumably her father, said. He seemed to come from nowhere, abruptly standing behind Viktor in a way that made him flinch. “Not very well either, by the looks of it. They’ve sent thousands of them at the alien ships and they just keep getting shot down. I think they’re trying to cover the retreat.” 

“How do you know?” Viktor asked him. 

“I used to be military,” he responded, his voice worried. “Or something like that.” Victor trembled with anxiety as he saw some of the specks getting larger, coming toward them. He could also see bursts in the sky as the smaller ones, likely the drones, were shot down by the round and spiky Alien ships. “This is a retreat. They’re abandoning the area. We probably should too.”

“And go where?” Natasha said. 

“Away,” Viktor said. The ships zoomed ever closer, some looking like big round balls with spikes jutting out the side and front and other looking like a small, broken and thorny branch. They were strafing everything, ruins and roads. High-rise apartments that looked a lot like theirs collapsed on themselves after seconds. The Ehvow ships even caught some of the military vehicles, the tanks and crawling all-terrain trucks popping in clouds of fire on a faraway road.  

“Do you know where our family in Crimea lives?” Viktor asked Natasha, his aunt stepping back at the suggestion. 

“That’s a long way,” Natasha said. “Are you sure it won’t be the same there?”

“I don’t see another option,” Viktor responded. “It’s looking like, at best, we’re about to be homeless.”

“Crimea is good. Not so many cities. Less targets. Do you mind if we go with you?” the girl’s father said. “My name is Yegor Krupin. This is my daughter, Mikka. What was left of our family and everyone I knew was there.” He pointed in the general direction of Moscow. “Not so much reason to stay here anymore unless you feel like dying.”

“You said you were with the military?” Viktor asked. 

“Or something like that,” Yegor corrected.

“What did you do?” Natasha asked. Mikka sighed, grinding her foot in the sidewalk and starting to wander away.

“Many things,” was Yegor’s answer. His face was set in a slight frown. He didn’t seem menacing, but Viktor wasn’t sure he could read the man. He did know that Yegor probably knew a hell of a lot more about surviving out there than he did. 

“You can come if that’s what you want,” Viktor said. “I can’t promise you much. Aunt Natasha, let’s go get everything we can carry.” She spent a long time looking at the Aliens flying in the sky, watching them strafe more ruins, ever closer to them. “I have a car, but it’s small. Let’s meet back here soon, twenty minutes.” 

Yegor nodded, then leaned in close to Viktor. “I recommend you bring any weapon you have,” Yegor whispered. “Knife, pepper spray, stun gun, regular gun, whatever, it could be quite useful.”

“Pepper spray, against them?” Viktor whispered back, rolling his eyes toward the Alien ships flying in the sky in the distance.

“They’re not what I’m worried about just yet,” Yegor said, swiping his eyes side to side at all the other people collecting on the sidewalk. Yegor collected his daughter and led her back into the building. Neither of them seemed too broken up about whoever they had known in Moscow. Viktor checked his social feeds again, the smiling faces of his friends and acquaintances and the offline statuses looking back at him. No messages, once again. 

“Strange that I was depressed when I had to leave Moscow to move in with you,” Viktor said to his aunt. “It looks like I’d be dead if I hadn’t.” The woman smiled, a rarity. 

“And to think this shitty apartment was just starting to feel like home,” Natasha said, following him as they went back inside.

Image Credit:

Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI/NASA/ESA)

Spacetelescope.org

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns #17

“Thornseed” was what was coming over her interface’s radio. She didn’t care for the name, but people were using it all over the comms.  As dawn rose over the landscape of toppled buildings and fire, Sergeant Alicia Kent stared down the scope of her sniper rifle. It was anti-materiel grade, the Hecate IV. Affectionately known as The Witch, or the Motherfucking Witch if you were so inclined. More lances of light fell onto New York from the sky. She hardly noticed the bombardments since they’d been coming every few minutes for almost a full 24 hours. 

There’d been 18 more snipers in the area with her until one of those orbital bombardments had fallen on them a few hours ago and an Ehvow starship had come by and strafed them to make sure. Even the small ships had guns so powerful they tore building supports apart. Only Corporal Danae Malvo and Alicia had survived. They had been assigned to watch and guard the George Washington Bridge after three national guard units had been wiped out. The bridge had almost collapsed but the Ehvow ships zipping by had left it standing so far. She wondered if it was just to lure as many people to it and kill them. If so, their strategy looked to be working. It had been hours since they’d seen anyone even try to cross it. 

Alicia looked sickeningly at one of the dead, Lieutenant Keith Lin. He was still bleeding out and had exposed, broken bones from the triangular gouges in his body. That was the wound the Ehvow guns left. Over the comms they’d been saying that the Ehvow bullets expanded after firing into spinning, three point objects that were about 15 cm long. Made it hard not to miss your target, which the skyrocketing UAS military casualties in Alicia’s combat interface feeds told her. She hated to even think about the number of civilians. The Thornseeds killed everyone they saw, regardless of whether they were armed or unarmed, adults or children. Alicia had positioned herself behind a scorched series of drop barricades that normally stopped every small arms fire humans had designed but were more of a mild annoyance to the bigger Ehvow guns. They weren’t cover so much as a hiding place. 

They came into view, four of the lumbering things. Their blocky bodies surged forward, squatty limbs holding their guns. “You ready, Danae?” Alicia said over her comm. “We’ve got some friendlies that need help.” They were chasing two men and a little girl. “Christ, a child.” One of the men was wearing the shambled remains of a UAS uniform. Her combat interface identified it as diplomatic security. 

“Got them in my sights, ma’am,” Danae said. “Nothing’s happening to her on our watch.” She had a larger Steyr anti-materiel railgun that packed more of a punch than Alicia’s but it couldn’t fire as fast. 

“Damn straight, soldier. I’m picking my target,” Alicia focused in on the closest one to the trio of survivors. Her combat interface showed their targeting choices, Danae aiming for the one behind Alicia selected. She knew it’s head with the dead colorless eyes and the toothy maw was far from the weak point. She aimed first at one of its legs, squeezing the trigger. She’d killed people with a Hecate before, turning them into a red mist with one shell. It was different with the Ehvow. The charged railgun shot burst from the sniper rifle across the bridge in a smoky trail, shearing off the thornseed alien’s leg off in gush of green fluid. The Thornseed took a knee, Alicia taking another shot that burst the Alien open as it squealed that horrible sound. Even almost a km away she could hear that ear-splitting cry. Green fluid leaked out of it and it began to fire indiscriminately at the survivors as they ran through a series of toppled and burned buses. Alicia took another shot, splurting more Ehvow fluids and finally the tell-tale glowing-green viral spores into the air. One down. 

Danae got lucky. She fired one shot into her target’s gun arm, taking the limb and its intimidating weapon with it. A second hit from the Steyr blasted its center-mass clear off it’s legs in a shower of more death spores. Alicia took another one’s leg off, Danae backing her up with a shot that took half of the thornseed’s head off. Alicia used her last round from her clip to finish it off in another cloud of death spores. That left one more. Alicia reloaded. Fortunately she had lots of ammunition. Unfortunately it was all the unused from the rest of her dead squad mates. The last Ehvow was close to the survivors. “Dammit, dammit, dammit,” Alicia spat. Her interface told her Danae was reloading too. 

She couldn’t panic, she finally finished reloading, chambering a round just in time to take a shot into its midsection, then it’s head. The first shot was a good one, but the second was hasty and only grazed the target. It barely slowed the creature down as it bounded forward and leaked slime over everything. 

One of the survivors, the one in UAS uniform, turned. He had an old Thunderbolt assault rifle and he clearly planned on buying the other man and the girl a chance to make it. He backed away slowly as he sprayed random shots in the Thornseed’s direction. Alicia tried to help him, grazing the Alien’s leg as rounds from the Thunderbolt hit home. The Thornseed stumbled around as it took the hits, its insides rupturing. 

“No, no, run you fucking idiot,” Alicia hissed under her breath. The guy with the Thunderbolt was still trying to shoot at the Thornseed, even as the Alien burst open in a cloud of sparkly parasites. The spores flew free, showering him and burrowing into his skin. He began crying out in pain, dropping his gun and falling to his hands and knees.

The other survivor and the girl stopped. Alicia watched the him shout and wave at them. The downed diplomatic security officer was telling them to leave him and run. Alicia, against her better judgment, zoomed into them as far as she could. The girl tried to run to him, the other man holding her back. Through her scope watched the girl mouth “daddy” and yet another piece of her died. There wasn’t much left in Alicia, but she let out a defeated exhale. They did leave him, right as his body flapped in spasms. The spores did whatever they did. He didn’t look like one of the lucky ones who died in seconds. The spores were doing something to his body, poisoning him slowly. 

“We did what we could,” Alicia murmured into her interface, her voice scattered. 

“They’re going to make it,” Danae said. Alicia knew they were. They were close. She became aware of them running through and around her and Danae’s barricades. They’d crossed the bridge finally. They weren’t stopping, running as far and fast as they could. Trying their best to leave the bloody spectacle behind them. Her combat interface lit up with worse news from the nearby scanner arrays. There were Ehvow drop ships coming, and they were slowing as they approached Danae and Alicia’s location. Finishing the job. 

“We helped, what, two or three hundred people across that bridge?” Danae said. “Maybe more. There were a lot in the beginning. Maybe even a thousand.”

“Yeah, at least that much,” Alicia answered. More Ehvow ships were coming, the round strafing ships that had an energized, beaming core and dozens of gun barrels arranged around it. 

Alicia reloaded the Witch, switching it to full auto mode and positioning several clips next to her ready to load in an instant as she changed her orientation to behind them. With her interface and relays nearby, she prepared herself to fire the Hecate’s railgun power through her own barricades. “They’re coming for us, Danae.” She loaded the SMG, watching the pods fall from the dropship through the tangles of her barricades. They were less than ten meters away. She hoped the two last survivors would escape in the mayhem, but she knew that she and Danae weren’t making it out. 

“Ready to give them hell, ma’am,” Danae said. The Thornseeds climbed out of their pods, pointing their guns in Danae and Alicia’s general direction. Alicia took aim from the tangled barricades as their guns shredded everything around her, ready to take down as many as she could. Feeling the barricades and debris shredding around her, shrapnel digging into her arms and helmet, the sound of the Ehvow’s guns drowned out even her own gunfire as she aimed at the closest Thornseed and emptied her entire clip. 

Image Credit:

ESA/Hubble & NASA

Acknowledgement: Kathy van Pelt

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns #16

image

The displays and infographics had lots of nothing for everyone. Hours ago they’d been covered with status updates, formations, detected hostiles, and a feed from the Black Sphere. Only background data provided from Luna’s arrays and the Heimdallr program remained. Everything else only had “disconnected” or “offline” where a helpful widget had been. The one that used to provide data from the Black Sphere was the largest absence. 

“General Crouse, I place responsibility for this catastrophe at your feet!” Admiral Jude Revard seethed. “You shaped and ran all of the programs that were supposed to give us an edge. Those upgrades were useless, just like the entirety of your Joint Research and Development Service. The entire USSF defensive fleet has been eliminated. All their crews, lost. Their blood is on your hands. The Ehvow are beyond anything we have and it was your job to keep that from happening.”

“That should hardly be a surprise when even the Tarrare couldn’t stand, either,” General Ian Crouse responded. “I’ll refrain from discussing how many times my budget was cut and my schedules delayed, because it pales in comparison to how badly the civilian Sanctuary program was eviscerated by the same people. I fast-tracked and rescoped every design I could, but we never even contemplated something of this magnitude. I wasn’t even given this position until a year ago and the re-org to move all of your RDT&E commands under me still wasn’t complete. You should know since you fought me at every turn. I did the best I could with what I had.”

“All I’m hearing are excuses, Crouse. I don’t know why I expected anything different from an engineer. We’ve lost almost an entire branch of the UAS military, my branch, and you’re complaining about budgets and designs.  It was your job to find a way to get this done. We were powerless to stop this invasion,” Admiral Revard continued. The emergency session of the Joint Chiefs not going so well. 

“That’s enough, Admiral,” Regina Fleck said from her chair. She’d watched the Joint Chiefs bicker with each other for the past two hours. “The President is missing, assumed killed in orbital bombardments that have all but wiped DC off the map, taking most of Congress with it. The Vice President is confirmed killed at a campaign event with Senator Alvez. Make no mistake, this is a disaster.” She was their acting President, as far as the succession could be determined. They were safe for now in their secured bunker deep in the Appalachian mountains from hundreds of miles away from DC, but no one believed that would last. “That said, General Crouse is right. Whatever we did or could have done would not have been enough to prepare for this. I’ve been listening to you all indict each other and I’m sick of it. We’ve got work to do. General Estes, can you give me an update on the status of our ground defenses?”

“We’ve lost a lot,” General Maria Estes said. “But we still have pockets of capability and some numbers. Some of our anti-air defenses can shoot down the smaller ships, that doesn’t save us from these orbital strikes on the cities. The division we sent to New York is fighting them in the streets, but losing ground rapidly. They can be killed, but not as easily as we can. I’ve also got reports they release some kind of bioweapon when you kill them. I’ve sent orders out for everyone to wear full bio-warfare gear, but there isn’t enough to go around.”

“Our ships are being annihilated,” Admiral Barton of the UASN said. He was resigned, despondent. His entire command was being erased and there was nothing he could do about it. At least he taking it better than Revard. “We’ve lost all of our drone carriers, which would’ve been incredible assets. Even the Aegis Next-Gen are gone. They’re being targeted directly and can’t seem to outmaneuver the orbital strikes. The Ehvow seem to know better than to try to engage them with their smaller ships, the kind of threat they’re designed to counter. Only our submarines are not suffering heavy losses. My staff is trying to figure out how we can use them.”

“General Crouse, your opinion on this?” Regina asked him. 

“I’m just R&D, Madame President,” he responded, surprised he was anything other than a target. “Grand strategies are not really my expertise. That’s more Admiral Revard and General Estes’ department. For what it’s worth, I think we’re seeing Aliens with a truly, well, Alien way of thinking and an Alien physiology. We’re dealing with the same kind of thought exercises we went through when we used to prepare plans to fight off the Tarrare if they ever became hostiles. A lot of what-ifs. We only know a few things: the Ehvow obviously favor a more brute force and direct assault approach, which is predictable for the moment. They’ll focus on cities, concentrations of forces, and obvious threats. Our weapon systems don’t perform as well as we want, but they’re not wholly ineffective. I think our only hope is to work with Tarrare and find out as much as we can about the Ehvow. They’ve already dumped a lot of intelligence on us that we’re still sorting through. I think we also need to petition them for assistance with developing better weapons and building anything that could kill them more efficiently than we do now. In the meantime, we need to get everyone we can out of the cities and avoid large concentrations of people and forces. Once we have the right tools, we can adopt an insurgency strategy. I’m no expert on that, but those would seem to be the next steps.”

“What General Crouse says makes sense,” General Estes said. She started pulling things up in her interface. “I’d also recommend you exercise your powers under the Alvez-Bush Act. It only passed six months ago, but it made the Defense Priorities and Allocation System significantly more robust. Senator Alvez wanted it to be in place in case the Tarrare turned on us. You can waive testing and force all those contractors to show what cards they’re holding. They may be sitting on experimental tech that could help.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” General Crouse said. “I know IEI must have something. I’ve been hearing rumors about it from my colleagues in the black world for ages.” 

“I can’t believe you’re listening to him,” Admiral Revard said. “He doesn’t know anything about fighting wars and he’s dictating strategy.”

“I’m reminded of a lot of history at this moment,” Regina said, staring down Admiral Revard with an ego-melting glare she usually saved for petty dictators and corrupt foreign ministers. “For once, let’s teach the lesson to these new visitors instead of learning it ourselves. I want the map of so-called ‘low-risk’ areas disseminated in pieces to all of our ground forces, and I want them to disband and retreat immediately. General Estes, I’m leaving it up to you to come up with a way to contact and reactivate them once we have a more concrete plan. General Crouse, since you hatched this idea, I’m going to give you a lot of taskers. I want you to work with Tarrare to find out whatever is deadly to the Ehvow and find ways to manufacture and distribute it as quickly as possible. I’ll use my powers under Alvez-Bush to provide you with cover. I don’t care if it’s old technology, new technology, whatever. I want you and General Estes in communication on a daily basis to flesh out a more specific insurgency strategy once real options are identified.”

“Yes ma’am,” Estes said. Crouse nodded in agreement. 

“Admiral Revard,” Regina said, turning her attention toward him. “You may have lost the fleet, but you still have the networks and Heimdallr arrays. Once, you made a very public point in front of the President by explaining to me that wars are won on ISR: Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance. The Heimdallr arrays are just that. I want reports on the Ehvow fleet’s status for as long as the arrays are operational. The networks are also under your command. I want you to work with the Tarrare to determine their capabilities of intercepting our intelligence. We need to know what they know or can find out, or if the Tarrare know ways of protecting our network. If they can hack in and find out the locations of the Sanctuaries or are forces, this is going to be a very short resistance,” 

“With all due respect, ma’am, what if the Tarrare won’t work with us?” Revard said. “They’re already all going into that invincible hole in the ground they built for themselves. They can just sit back and use us as a distraction until reinforcements come.”

“I doubt that,” General Crouse said. “They’re trapped here too. Their ship was destroyed. I don’t pretend to know everything about the Tarrare, but a rescue fleet, whether it comes from or god-knows-who-else, will have to be sizable and will probably take a lot of time to get here. They’re in a bad situation just like us. Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s still plenty they’re hiding from us, but I don’t expect them to stand back and watch us die.”

“Agreed,” Regina said, cutting everyone off. “General Crouse, I think the best place for you to be right now is co-located with the Tarrare. Their embassy, or Sanctuary, has more than enough space and apparently substantial manufacturing and modeling facilities. They’ve already communicated an offer to house a select number of officials and I think you’re the best person for the job at the moment. Select a team to get you there. I’ll make sure JSOC has some people to make sure you get there safely. You all have your orders. I may not have been your President until today, but I’ve been working with all of you for the last three years and I’d like to hope we have enough mutual respect and will to live to work with each other on this. If you disagree, you can hand in your resignation, take your uniform off, walk outside, and see how you fare on your own against the Ehvow. I want all of you to remember that this is more than a war. This is going to be a hellish fight against extinction. There’s no victory, just survival. Dismissed.”

“Yes, ma’am,” was the unison response, though some were more enthusiastic than others. 

Image Credit:

NASAESA, K. Sahu (STScI) and the SWEEPS science team

Spacetelescope.org

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #15

Dust fell, the muffled noises of guns seeping through the cracking cement. Stumbling through the flickering lights and uneven ground, Lina decided not to tell Patrick that he was about to break her wrist. He gripped her arm too tightly and ran too fast. 

The lit subway map activated her interface’s transit app. It told her that service had been shut down on all lines due to a police emergency. She gathered the app didn’t have a preset for Aliens.

They searched the subway platform for an exit. Patrick wanted to go underground, one of his only good ideas. Too bad he already wanted to reverse course. “How many of them do you think there are up there?” Lina said. Starships were landing on top of buildings, in the streets. Bulky greenish-brown Aliens plodded out of them guns blazing with their shrieks. 

“I don’t want to find out,” Patrick said. They’d only hooked up a few times over the last month, which had somehow morphed into running for their lives together. All because they worked a couple of blocks away from each other and this had gone down in the middle of a weekday. 

Collapsed concrete, plastics, and debris blocked the exits. Trails of blood were leaking out from under the piles. Broken pipes stuck out from the wall, gushing brown water. Patrick stopped, dumbfounded. “Where to now?” Lina asked, trying not to let her impatience show. She could tell that in his head Patrick saw himself as a hero rescuing her. It was getting tedious. 

“Not the way we came,” Patrick said. “They were swarming that other entrance..”

“What about the tunnels?” Lina said. She pulled out her more powerful display interface, opening its projected screens. “I’ve got all the maps already downloaded so I don’t have to sync.”

“You do get lost all the time,” Patrick said. 

“I’ve only lived here for a few months. It’s not exactly intuitive,” Lina replied with a sigh. “Service is out so we don’t have to worry about trains.” 

“Okay, guess we don’t have much of a choice,” Patrick said. The two of them jumped down on the tracks, minding the flickering electrified rail. They heard footsteps coming from the tunnel nearby, a group approaching.

“Is that a Tarrare?” Patrick asked, seeing what was leading them. She’d only ever seen them on the feeds, never in real life. Next to the Tarrare was a disheveled woman in UAS armor. More followed behind, some dressed for office jobs, a few police officers with dirty and burned clothes, and a couple of people in maintenance jumpsuits. She counted thirteen of them following the Alien altogether.

“We should join them,” Lina said. 

“How do we know that Tarrare isn’t leading them to the slaughter?” Patrick whispered.

“Really, Patrick?” Lina said. “We both saw the Black Sphere get destroyed. I doubt they blew up their own ship just to trick us.”

Lina approached them, Patrick lagging after her. The Tarrare paid them no mind, but the UAS soldier narrowed her eyes. “I’m Nitika, UAS Diplomatic Security,” she barked. “You can follow if you want, but stay quiet and keep up.”

“Where are we going?” Patrick whispered, speeding up to avoid being left behind.

“Away from fucking bad Aliens,” Nitika said. The Tarrare projected some sort of ambient light from the layers of material covering most of his body. It allowed them to see what was ahead but still dim enough not to draw too much attention. Lina tried not to gawk at the suit’s technology or the Alien himself.

“How far do we need to go?” Patrick whispered. 

“Far,” was Lina’s only response. 

“Can we trust it? The Alien?” Patrick tried to murmur at Nitika. He received no response, which was more than he deserved.

The Tarrare stopped, lights from the next station’s platform up ahead. “They are nearby,” the Tarrare said in his synthetic voice. “Remain here. I will eliminate them.” 

“You got it, Ambassador,” Nitika replied. The Tarrare stalked forward, its stick legs silent and graceful. His ambient lights switched off, causing him to disappear completely.

“Is he going to be okay?” Lina whispered.

“Oh, he’s going to be fine,” one of the cops muttered. A construct of pure energy appeared, exposing the Tarrare as he closed in on the platform. His hands began blasting chunks of destruction at whatever he was targeting. Since the only source of light was the intermittent, damaged subway lighting from the platform ahead and the energy coming from the Tarrare’s armor, it was hard to see. 

Shrill, inhuman noises followed. Then the noises of their guns. The hostile Aliens had guns that sounded like a chainsaw fighting a jackhammer. Lina’d never imagined something could be so loud. She saw the Tarrare dive to the side and stick on the ceiling as showers of glowing, bladed projectiles followed. The Tarrare’s lithe, insectoid form evaded it all as he projected blobs of explosive energy at whatever he was battling. She saw several green masses jump off the platform to try to get closer to their target.

Somehow, the Tarrare suddenly had a string of blades. He skittered in circular dash through and around the hostile Aliens, their bulky green bodies leaking fluids and howling. After a few more deft swipes from the Tarrare they collapsed onto the tracks and let out high-pitched hisses that faded to nothing. 

The Tarrare paused, a field of energy around him as glowing green particles burst from the corpses of the Aliens. They seemed to actively try to dig through the field, but couldn’t make it through. The Tarrare stood stark still until the parasites or whatever they were faded and dropped. 

“You may advance,” the Tarrare called from ahead. “It is safe now.” 

The Tarrare walked over to a nearby light source in the subway tunnel, flipping it open and tearing the bulb out. Lina watched as the bladed weapon he had apparently created to gut the other Aliens shifted and morphed into a hooked clamp. The Tarrare plunged it into the light fixture. The few non-flickering lights dimmed for a short period. “He needs to recharge his stuff,” another one of the cops added helpfully. After he was finished, the Tarrare gathered it and placed it back onto its armor, the material dissolving into it. 

“Unfuckingreal,” Patrick said. “Did it just make a weapon and then a tool out of its clothes? Then turn it back into clothes?”

“Yes,” Nitika said. “But HIS name is Sihs-Jin.”

“What are they?” Lina said, looking at the Aliens that the Tarrare Sihs-Jin had slain. She hadn’t gotten a good look at them, and now she had almost more than she could handle. 

“Never thought I would see a bug save me from exterminators,” a woman in a torn and stained business suit mumbled nearby to the no one in particular.

Lina noticed that they were bigger this close, about 2-3 meters tall and at least 2 meters wide. Each one was slightly differently shaped, and they had anywhere from two to five arms. Their shoulders and stumpy outcropping of a head were ringed with spikes and had a maw full of hundreds of sharp, thorn-like objects that she took for teeth. Their skin was hard, greenish brown with a texture between a sea-shell and tree bark with a membrane or oil covering it. In some spots they had colorful outcroppings like flower buds. Their insides reminded Lina of the fluid in a cactus, but with chunky sets of organs. They smelled awful. She noticed their guns. Fat, multi-barreled pieces of hardware that looked way too heavy and unwieldy for any human to use.

“They are from a race called the Ehvow,” Sihs-Jin said softly, approaching Lina. She didn’t know if he read her mind or just noticed her curiosity. “As for what this variety is specifically, we do not have a direct analogue in your language. The most direct translation would be ‘seeds that become thorns.’ They are evolved from a carnivorous species of invasive plant. They devoured or crowded out nearly every other species on their homeworld.”

“Thornseeds,” Nitika dubbed them. “That’s what we’ve been calling them. You can kill them, it just takes a lot of bullets and you don’t want to be too close.”

“Those glowing green things?” Lina asked. They were dull and lifeless on the ground where Sihs-Jin had been standing like a bunch of squashed bugs.

“Everyone that gets hit by them starts bleeding and spasming,” Nitika said. “Most die. The others seem to go into a coma like they have a disease.”

“They are spores,” Sihs-Jin added. “My defensive fields can block them. You have no such countermeasure as they can pierce any exposed skin. We must move. Others nearby will detect what I have just done and come looking.”

“Let’s move out, then,” Nitika said. “You heard Ambassador Sihs-Jin. We’ve got a long way to go before we get out of the city.”

“That thing is a killing machine,” Patrick mumbled under his breath. Lina was inclined to agree.

“I am not without my skills,” Sihs-Jin quietly replied. “Before we leave, there were human soldiers and others killed here on the platform. I recommend you take their weaponry quickly. We may need it later.” Lina was the first to act, crawling up on the platform and seeing a dead police officer who’d dropped some sort of shotgun.

“Are you crazy?” Patrick asked. “Do you know how to use that?” The other people in the group were picking up assault rifles and pistols from dead police officers and other people in UAS uniforms like Nitika. 

“I fired a gun,” Lina said. “Once.”

Image Credit:

ESA/Hubble & NASA

Acknowledgement: Det58

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #14

CHAT: JULES, ME


Jules, we saw the news. The Black Sphere, the Tarrare, they’re gone. They’re saying all the defense fleets are shot down and the Aliens are attacking. You’ve got to get home


Dad, I’m here. I’m alive. Are you okay?


Nothing’s happened out here in the suburbs. It’s safe here. What's happening? Where are you?


I was at the Senator Alvez rally, the one at the old Houston space center museum. Right before the rally we heard the Black Sphere got blown up. There was an explosion. Those new Alien ships flew over us. They’re flying circles over the city dropping bombs and shooting everything. My friends, Senator Alvez, almost everyone died


Julia, are you safe? Who are you with? Where are you?!


Not sure. We're in a car, some woman named Sandra found me and 2 other people and she's driving. but we’re stuck. Planes keep flying by and there’s lots of noise. We can tell if what’s flying by us is us or those Aliens. There are blown out buildings and cars everywhere. The national guard is trying to evacuate the place and people are getting killed everywhere. I heard something about orbital strikes hitting everything around here


Julia, get back to the house. We've got a basement and some emergency supplies, we can take shelter, wait for this to pass


Dad, I'm getting texts from all over the place. Everyone I know. They're taking out every city. Something crazy is happening in New York. The basement isn’t going to do it. Sandra says she knows a place 


We'll stay hidden. It'll be fine. It'll be over eventually, it has to, just get home.


Dad, I don't think this is going to be over. This is, it could be the end. We live right outside of Houston, dad. Houston is on fire! Most of it’s gone. They’re saying to evacuate everything, even the suburbs near the city. You’re not going to be safe


Stay calm, Jules. Don't talk that way


They blew up the Black Sphere! Nowhere is safe


Jules, please. Please come home. Do it whatever way you can. Use your interface. You should only be about 10 km away. You can walk it or run it. You don't know what this Sandra person might be planning or where she might be going


We can’t get back to you, Dad. We’re on the other side of the city and we’re heading to New Mexico. We can’t drive back, it’s a war zone. Sandra said she knows something about some government place. I'll send it to you. You need to get there. You need to join us there


Jules, there's no way to know if that's true or not. This Sandra person might be crazy. You can't trust her. 

Jules, are you there?

Jules, this place is hundreds of kilometers away, there's no way any of us make it there.

Jules?

JULIA?!?!

Julia, we love you. Please be careful, text me as soon as  you get this

Image Credit:

ESA/Hubble & NASA

Spacetelescope.org

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #12

He set his interface to keep the alarmed headlines off to the side. If they were to be believed secret armies of Tarrare were appearing and taking over cities as their secret invasion had finally begun. Or, worse, that orbital bombardments were already underway from these new hostile Aliens. It was the panic before the real panic. 

Omar dismissed it all. He only cared about the messages he’d been sending to his daughter’s school. None of them were receiving a response. The social media accounts of the school were swarmed with worried parents, all receiving worse than silence. Whoever was in charge was telling people they were assessing the situation and were waiting to hear back from state and local authorities. Not something that filled him with warm fuzzies. Omar was standing in a building full of the biggest and most powerful officials in the world, and they were all as dumbfounded as his daughter’s teachers and administrators. 

The chamber doors opened, Sihs-Jin ambling gracefully down the hallway on his thin legs. The Alien looked distracted, his many fingers from his four forearms up in the air and touching at unseen things. He was deep in whatever wild interface the lenses over his compound eyes told him. “Fuck it, I’m asking him,” Omar said to Nitika.

“Not a good idea,” Nitika murmured, trying to follow Omar as he went to catch up on Sihs-Jin. By all indication, the bug was headed to the exits.

“Maybe I should spend hours pondering what a good idea might look like and be like everyone else in this crazy-house,” Omar said. “End up dying in a hail of fire and dust or unknown Alien goop like they all probably will.” Sihs-Jin was the only one that had real answers. The bug turned around, stopping. He clearly sensed Omar coming and prepared to address him. “What just happened in there, Ambassador?” Omar squeezed his Sunfire thermal assault rifle. If anything, the Ambassador was honest. He’d learned that over time. He felt like he’d earned answers. “What are we dealing with here?”

“Over the last many years, you have both been very good at your as