Chapter One: Vrehx

Vrehx

Streaks of plasma lit the blackness as a squadron of Valorni fighters swooped in dizzying spirals, blasting at the massive Xathi ship that filled the screens of the Vengeance.

We were close into it looked the size of a planet. Like two steel ziggurats smashed and welded together. Not practical for space flight, but efficient enough to tear through several worlds.

Designed to intimidate.

Designed to destroy.

And we were going to stop it.

We crept closer, waiting. I sucked in my breath, geared for the inevitable.

I gritted my teeth as the bridge shook, and Karzin let out an undignified whoop from his station on the far curve of the bridge. The purple stripes on his shoulders rippled, and his excited eyes darted back and forth as if cheering on his favorite sport.

Barbarian. His crude Valorni traits got on my last nerve—not that he gave a rat’s ass. Like the lot of them, he had no empathy for others. He barely listened to commands and forget anyone who didn’t at least match his rank.

“You green motherfuckers aren’t supposed to be hitting us, just laying cover for our approach,” I snarled. “They can remember that much, can’t they?”

They had only begun venturing into space when we took them into the alliance, but surely, they weren’t that stupid.

I hoped not.

“Fuck you,” the Valorni drawled. The stretched-out sounds of his abominable accent were like bristles to my red Skotan scales. “Not their fault we’re cloaked all to hell.”

What an asshole. Valorni couldn’t even be bothered to speak accurately. Their drawl made it nearly impossible to understand them, and they had idiotic slang for everything.

“They were informed of our flight path before the battle.” The lights of Sk’lar’s implants flickered in the dim light of the bridge. “It should have been simple for them to avoid it.”

I smiled just a little, glad I wasn’t the only one with some common sense. Sk’lar wasn’t much better than Karzin, but he was more tolerable. My biggest problem was his implants.

His artificial augmentation was just creepy and wrong. You could see them light up in biohazard green against his shiny black skin. He looked like a fucking motherboard.

The strike team leaders were chosen for their specific talents and leadership, but Sk’lar’s was not stealth outside the ship.

Karzin made it a point to butt heads with all of us. This usually distracted the rest of us from being at each other’s throats.

Maybe that was his intention. Whatever. He was an asshole.

Karzin shrugged off the K’ver’s barely concealed criticism, “Not gonna matter in a few minutes, is it?”

The sarcasm warranted him a disapproving side-eye from Sk’lar, which he ignored. I hated to admit it, but the jackass was right. In a few minutes, we would probably all be dead.

“Gentlemen,” Rouhr’s quiet word from the command station silenced the chatter, “are you prepared?”

The scar that ran down the left side of his face rippled as he clenched his jaw. He was annoyed.

Of course, we were prepared.

We shut up anyway. Rouhr was very diplomatic. That’s why he was in charge.

We straightened ourselves and regained our concentration.

Tension and anger clogged the air, but there was no fear. Fear had died when our families did, when our worlds had burned under the Xathi attacks.

Around the half circle, each of us activated the new weapons panels, the long seconds drawing out as they lit up and hummed. Every battle had this moment—the waiting before the storm.

But this would be different.

We owned the storm.

“Let’s blow a hole in those bastards,” I growled, eyes fixed on the sickly green hull, thinking of the swarms inside.

They waited for the go ahead to surge through over the squadrons like locusts.

Nothing had been able to penetrate a Xathi hiveship before. They just plowed through and destroyed whatever they wanted, the swarms mopping up whatever the hiveship missed.

The Valorni, as annoying as they were, were inducted into the alliance for one reason. The Sugavians had worked with K’ver scientists using codialite, a mineral from the Valorni homeworld, to make one last attempt.

Just enough had been mined for this last-ditch effort—an experimental weapon that had a shot at penetrating that hull. It was rare, and we were on the losing end of this fight. We only had one shot.

We’d better make it count.

Every Skotan, K’ver, and Valorni warrior on the Vengeance had volunteered in the knowledge that it was a one-way trip.  If this worked, the three strike teams below would board the Xathi and battle until there was nothing left.

If it didn’t, we’d all die—just sooner.

Either way, the recorder satellites would beam the results of the experiment back to the scientists and engineers. We’d succeed, or they’d build a better weapon next time. That was the most important part of the mission, and we all understood how expendable we were.

The three of us locked focus on our stations as we crept closer.

“We are now in firing range, General,”  Sk’lar reported.

“Fire at will,” was the only response.

Karzin sent the signal to the Valorni ships, and I started a slow count.

One.

His comrades had fought stupidly but bravely. There was no discernable pattern to the attack.

I was worried more would take friendly fire than would hit the Xathi, but they somehow made sense of the chaos, dodging fire from their comrades.  If any survived the battle, they deserved to escape.

Two.

More likely the crazy bastards would follow us into the breach, but they’d earned the choice.

Three.

I activated the launch panel and braced, eyes fixed on the monitors. The adrenaline rushed through me in anticipation of the blow.

Nothing.

Not a bang or a pop or a whine. Just the hum of the engines, and the wall of the Xathi ship growing larger on the screens.

The anticipation deflated as I looked at the panel in confusion. The damn thing was experimental, but it should at least fire. The engineers weren’t brain dead.

With a snarl, I slapped it again.

And then the universe turned inside out.

 

***

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