The rain fell in heavy thuds that smacked the thin tin roof over their hut, but it wasn’t enough to block out the sound of her father coming home and speaking with her mother in hushed whispers. Venuvia had become adept at pretending to be asleep in their one room home.
“What was that explosion?” Her mother whispered to her father as soon as he came in from the rain.
“A guard barracks. I don’t know what it was but it’s not good. The masters are going to be out for blood. I think we should leave the village.”
“Leave the village?” Her mother tried to restrain her fear but the quiver in her voice came through anyway. “Do you really think it is that bad?” Venuvia cracked an eye and briefly saw the terror plainly visible in her mothers face. Her father simply stared in response, his face ashen.
Finally, after a long silence, he spoke in careful measured tones. “This will be worse than Kerto. What was that? Two of them according to the rumors? This was a barracks, I’d say as many as fifty may be dead.”
Her father walked over to where Venuvia lay sleeping. He leaned close to her, still not aware that she was awake. In a pleasant loving tone he spoke softly to her while gently stroking her reddish hair. ‘Hey sweetheart, I know your sleepy but we need to go.”
Venuvia pretended to wake at his voice, slowly opening her eyes and looking at him. At the age of seven she already hid her fear better than her mother. She didn’t let on that she had heard their conversation. It was the mention of Kerto that really shook her. Even the children knew that story. The rumor was that two of the masters had been killed by an unknown person. In response, the masters took the entire village to the town square, men, women, and the children.
Once they were all gathered they began picking villagers at random and executing them one by one until someone confessed. After three executions someone did. Whether or not it was really him no one knew, but his confession earned him torture before a violent and public death. Afterwards the masters killed all of the adult villagers and burnt every hut to cinders. The only ones they allowed to live were children. Each one now an orphan, they were split up and all sent to different villages. The masters told them to tell everyone they met of what had happened, and so they did, or so the story goes.
“Where do we go?” Venuvia looked at her mother who was staring at her father, terrified.
“We’ll go into the mountains. I doubt they’ll follow us over the pass. We will walk to Rumstead or Barkly.”
“Rumstead or Barkly?!” She shot back at him. “That will take days, what will we eat and drink?” Her concerns were fair, but the way Venuvia saw it, they didn’t really have any other options. Her father said as much in response.
“Honey,” Venuvia’s dad stepped toward her mother and reached to hold her face close to his. He looked her in the eyes. “I don’t see any other choice. I know this is scary. I love you, and I will do everything I can to protect you and Ven,” Her father had always called her Ven instead of Venuvia, and she’d grown to prefer it. He continued, “but we need to go right now.”
Her mother looked back and her husband. Her eyes a mix of horror and love and sadness. She kissed her husband sweetly. “Ok.” She nearly choked on the words. Tears began to stream from her eyes, but she remained silent, looking at her husband and daughter, the two most important people in her life. It was only a few seconds but it felt like an eternity. At long last she spoke again. “Let’s go.”
They had left the hut as quietly as possible, but the whole village was in a frenzy. The explosion at the barracks was heard everywhere and people scurried about trading information about what happened and preparing for the worst.
Her fathers plan to head into the mountains wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t just him. Nearly half the village had followed their path, and with so many people behind them, the masters had easily caught their trail. After several hours of walking they heard the first screams at the back of the column of humanity.
The sounds sent chills through Ven. And her parents looked at each other in alarm. Behind them, a mass of people surged forward, suddenly running as fast as they could. The family began running as well, but the sounds of screams and gunfire and yelling continued to gain on them.
At the top of the next hill her father turned around to look behind him. He suddenly stopped, using his hands to stop his wife and daughter. The sudden stop sent people surging around them on both sides. No longer the head of the column, her father grabbed his wife and daughter and yanked them off to one side of the trail they’d been following. They stood there a moment, letting people run past, before the whole family ran over an embankment and into the woods. Behind them another family did the same, but once away from the column they went in a different direction. Others followed suit, but no one had actually followed them specifically. Satisfied that they were no longer being tailed by the mass of people, they ran deeper into the woods.
Around seven hours later they had still not encountered anyone else. They saw the first hints of morning sunlight beginning in the sky. Her father started looking for a place to rest. They were all exhausted and filthy from traveling through the brush, but thankfully he had a small pack with emergency rations and a fire starter. When they found a cliff side with a sheltered nook they took advantage of the opportunity to make a small fire and rest a short bit.
The mountains were covered with tall trees and thick underbrush. Green and purple trees made up the bulk of the color, but flowers grew of various other shades. The mountains would have been beautiful and scenic under different circumstances. It made Ven sad to think about it. She’d had a lot of time to think. The hours long march had been mostly silent. They didn’t want to risk being heard, and were all too exhausted to talk much anyway. Ven stared at the trees silently while her father tended the fire. Her parents had given her some rations, but she didn’t feel much like eating. One way or another their entire world had ended. They knew their home was most likely gone, along with most of their friends and extended family killed. Her parents had similar thoughts and none of them ate much. It was as if they were now fueled by that grief. Ven couldn’t imagine ever eating again.
After a short rest, the sun itself had begun to rise. Her father stood up and kicked out the fire. “Time to move again.” Was all he said. No one said anything in response. They stood up, and began walking.
They carried on the same way for two more days. In the mid morning of the third day they heard a rustling in the bushes. Other than birds they had seen few animals. So they all stopped when they heard the noise. Ven felt herself turning her head to try and place it.
A moment later they all jumped as deerboar jumped from the bushes next to them. The deerboar looked like a meaty cross between a deer and a boar, though in reality it bore no relation to either of them. The creatures were mostly docile, but could be deadly if cornered. This one had a thick black coat of fur with brown markings. A blood stain was clearly visible, and the creature had a large open wound on its neck. It stumbled for a few seconds before collapsing in front of the family. Its breathing labored, it had only moments left to live.
The sight sent great alarm through the family. The wound was clearly a gunshot wound, but human’s were not allowed to own guns. That meant the hunter was one of the masters.
They all sat silent staring at the dying beast. And when they heard more rustling coming from the same direction, their hearts sank. To their horror, only moments later one of the masters stepped from the bushes, weapon in hand. If it was startled by the humans it showed no sign of it.
The masters, as they were required to refer to them, were in fact a species who called themselves Arzat. They stood between six and eight feet tall fully erect. They were not amphibians, but they were amphibious. In appearance they looked more reptilian, but they had a coat of short coarse hairs that covered their entire body . They had tough thick skin that could barely be pierced, four arms, each with a hand that had four long clawed fingers. Their heads were wedge shaped and almost triangular. At the front point of the wedge were two nostrils, and a wide mouth full of razor sharp pointed teeth. They had four eyes. Two at the front, and two at the widest back part of their head. This allowed them nearly three hundred degrees of vision. Each eye had a vertical slit pupil like that of a snake. They wore no clothing, but frequently donned armor. A thick webbing between their toes and the fingers on their lower two arms allowed them to swim with great speed.
This one had a grey skin color and wore no armor, but had a belt with hunting tools slung around his waste. He likely had a vehicle somewhere nearby. His wide mouth spread into a wicked grin that bared his sharp teeth, several of which were missing.
Ven’s father was between her and the creature, but there was nothing the man could do. The Arzat grabbed his neck with his upper right arm. His muscles bulged, but he showed no sign of strain as he lifted Ven’s father into the air. With one swift twist of his wrist her fathers neck made a loud crack and his body went limp.
“Noooo!” Ven and her mother both began to scream, but her mother’s scream was cut short when the Arzat dropped the body and his upper left arm swung at her. Before her fathers body even hit the ground her mother flew to the side. The blow to her head had shattered her skull, and blood flew along with the body. She was dead before she hit the ground.
For the briefest moment Ven stood silent staring at the Arzat. She had never seen one this close, her parents had done there best to spare her from their brutality. The seven year old girl was no match for the beast. But she flew at his chest nevertheless, arms wildly flailing and hitting him with closed fists over and over again.
The creature stood, unfazed. He emitted a rapid snorting sound that was the Arzat equivalent of laughter. He casually pulled her off of him and set her on the ground in front of him, using one hand he held her down, while another hand reached into his belt. It returned a moment later with a line that he moved to tie her with.
Ven had no intention of letting this thing take her without a fight, and she kicked and twisted and flailed. When she got one hand loose she punched the thing in the face, gashing open her right fist on its sharp upper teeth. The thing snorted again, and a hand swung at her temple. The hand connected, and her world went black.
She awoke with her head pounding. Her sleep had been tormented with visions of what had occurred. She felt motion but she couldn’t tell if it was her imagination or real. Her vision was blurry. As she slowly regained consciousness she decided the motion was real. That was when it all came back to her. The speed with which it returned sent her into a state of panic and she launched herself out of sleep sitting upright with a sudden lurch.
The ground was hard and cold, it looked like the walls were too. There were bars separating her from a hallway. She stood up, her body hurting from sleeping on the hard floor, and walked to the doorway in the bars only to find it locked. She’d never seen a prison cell before, but she’d heard of them. As far as she could tell that’s what this was but she didn’t understand the motion. She turned around to look at the cell. It was barren, with only a toilet. No bed, no food, and no water.
Just then, a noise came from down the hallway. It was a door. Followed by soft footsteps. Two Arzat came swiftly to her cell. One was the one she had encountered that had killed her parents and captured her. The other stood slightly taller. He had no missing teeth and was clad in a thin suit of battle armor, his coloring was similar to the first but it had a dark reddish tint to it. His lapel bore an insignia of some sort. A symbol that Ven didn’t recognize. The Arzat spoke in their language. A series of guttural noises accented with occasional grunts and hisses, every so often looking at Ven. Eventually they stopped and the Arzat who had killed her parents turned and left. The other stayed and stared at Ven until he was gone. When it was just the two of them he spoke and Ven understood. His voice was deep and had a constant hiss to it, but he was speaking to her.
“He tells me you have spirit.” He spoke while opening the cell door. “I like ones with spirit.” He entered the cell and approached Ven. She backed into the corner but he was too quick. He used his lower arms to hold each of her arms while his upper left hand yanked on her hair. She yelped in agony, and he yanked again, snorting each time. He then closed his lower right fist and punched her in the side. He had to have restrained himself, but the punch still took Ven’s breath away. Eyes watering, trying not to cry, she used her legs to try and kick at him. The kicks did nothing, and he snorted while yanking her hair again. He then dropped her, hard, on the concrete, and snorted as he left the cell, locking it behind him and heading down the hallway.
Ven sat silently tears streaming, pain everywhere. She waited until she heard the hall door close, and only then did she allow herself to truly sob for the first time since her parents had been killed. Soon, the pain and exhaustion took their toll and she fell unconscious again on the hard floor.
She was in a meadow. It was one that she and her father had been to numerous times. The wildflowers were red and blue and purple and yellow, and they swayed in the wind. Her father was standing and facing her. He was far enough that she couldn’t hear him, but he motioned her to look behind herself. She turned and saw the ocean stretching to the horizon, the sun just beginning to think about setting. Then she saw the ship. A giant Arzat destroyer rising from below the ocean surface just off coast of the village. It’s cannons began firing and the town erupted with multiple explosions and fires.
“Noooo!” She screamed and turned around to her father. He didn’t see the Arzat coming from behind him. Weapon drawn. She tried to yell, to warn him, but she couldn’t. He’ was yelling something at her, but she couldn’t understand what it was.
“Are you awake?” She stared at him confused for a moment before it all slipped away and she found herself on the cold floor. Still that motion. A ship, it occurred to her. I’m on some sort of ship, she thought to herself.
“Are you awake?” It was a real voice, a mans voice. She looked around confused.
“Where….” She began to ask but he answered her in advance as though he already knew the question.
“I’m in the next cell.” His voice was calm and friendly. “That sounded awful. I’m sorry there was nothing I could do.”
Her eyes began to water with tears as it came back. He could hear her start to cry.
“Hey don’t worry, my names Tirus, and I’ll make sure you’re okay.”
“How can you possibly do that?” She spoke through her tears. “We’re both just humans…” Her voice trailed off as she said it.
“That may be…” He paused for a moment. “But don’t you worry about that either. See I got some friends, and well…” another pause “well you see, we’re gonna steal this ship.”
It had been a good long time since either had spoken, unless you counted the man’s occasional quiet mumbling to himself. Ven had no idea what time it was, day or night. The cells had dim artificial lights and the hall had a bright one. They all stayed on all the time as far as she could tell.
Tirus wouldn’t tell her his plan. All he would do is try to reassure her that his friends would be here soon. She wasn’t sure if she believed him or not. While she wanted to believe him, she wasn’t quite willing to risk the let down of him being full of it.
“How long have I been here?” She asked the question not knowing if he was awake or not. But he responded almost immediately.
“You mean total or since you woke up?” She hadn’t expected the question and realized she didn’t know the answer to either.
“Both I guess.” She replied
“You were here for about six hours before I first heard you stirring. It’s been about ten hours since then.” It was silent for a few moments.
“I’m thirsty.” The words came out of no where. God she was thirsty. How had she only just now realized it. “I don’t have any food or water over here…”
“Neither do I” Tirus voice was apologetic but calm. “They only give us food and water once a day. It’s not due for several more hours.”
“How do you know how much time is passing?” For the briefest of moments Ven forgot her plight and instead gave into curiosity about this strange man whom she still hadn’t even seen.
“I have my ways.” There was mirth in his voice. “Only twenty minutes till my friends arrive.”
She didn’t dare hope he was telling the truth. Instead she just sat in silence, unsure of what to think.
After some time had passed she spoke up. “Will they come back?” Sudden terror gripped her. Her captors had murdered her parents and already given her one savage beating. She feared the next one.
“I don’t honestly know…” Tirus voice sounded regretful that he couldn’t reassure her. “But if they do……” He hesitated as though unsure how much he should share with her. Instead he asked a question. “How old are you?”
The ordinary question in such dire circumstances gave Ven a sense of normality. Of hope. “I’m seven.” Speaking the words she felt her mind come out of the trance that had taken hold of it. “That one…. the one with the missing teeth…..that one killed my parents.” The tears began to form again but she did not make a sound. It was Tirus who broke the silence.
“Seven.” He followed the word with a slow whistle. “That’s awful kid. I’m sorry.” He let it sit for a moment before asking another question. “Where you from?”
“Stenner…” He repeated the word back as though he expected it.
Just then the noise of the door down the hallway came. It was followed by a single set of footsteps. Ven felt her heart fall in to her stomach as the uniformed Arzat from earlier approached the cells. He slowed his walk. Twenty minutes Tirus had said. Ven didn’t dare hope, but a small part of her wondered how long it had been.
When the Arzat stopped in front of her cell Ven felt herself wanting to scream and break down in tears. But she resisted the urge, she was too angry to give in to it. Instead she simply glared at the thing.
It glared back at her for a few moments before it’s wide sharp toothed mouth opened in an evil grin. For a moment Ven thought it might speak, but it said nothing as it opened the cell door.
She felt her eyes start to sting with tears as he walked slowly toward her. She did not move, but felt her body tense in anticipation of whatever pain was coming. She thought about backing away, but she would only end up against the wall. Instead she just stood.
With a bolt of speed the two lower clawed hands grabbed her forearms while the upper grabbed the sides of her face. He held her with such strength that she would have significant bruising, and her feet were no longer fully on the floor. Her face, inches from his, she could see with detail the reptilian skin covered in coarse hair. He smelled like a combination of mold and vinegar, and his largest teeth were nearly an inch long. Ven felt herself nearly pass out in anticipation of whatever awful thing was to come.
“Hey fuck face I got your fucking map!” Tirus’s voice was the last thing she expected. The Arzat froze. It continued to hold her arms and head but its eyes lost their focus as though it was elsewhere.
After a moment it released its grip on her and she nearly fell when her feet weren’t expecting to catch her. In an instant it spun and marched out of the cell, swiftly turning to lock the door behind it. After locking her cell it walked toward Tirus’ instead and began to speak in the low hiss voice, “Human, you bette…….” Suddenly the floor beneath the Arzat was launched upward with such force that he smashed into the ceiling. His six limbs yanked in awkward angles at the same time as his head was crushed in.
Whatever had destroyed the floor had come spinning up through it at the same time. While the rubble began to pour into the hole the thing stopped spinning and hung in mid air briefly. It was in that moment that Ven realized it had a human shape. Before it could begin to fall back through the hole flames erupted from its feet and it was able to stay in place before launching itself to the side of the hole and landing on two feet in front of Tirus’ cell.
Ven couldn’t see the cell itself, but she could see the things profile, and it was like nothing she had ever seen before. About the same height as a man, it was a metallic dark grey color. It’s legs, arms and torso looked like dark muscular human ones but its head, and hands were clearly mechanical. It had darkly glowing blue eyes at the front of its otherwise featureless and smooth face. It’s torso was also smooth and featureless. As it had come through the floor its hands had looked like giant shovels that it had been pressing together over its head, but they quickly collapsed and folded into its forearms to be replaced with more normal looking “hands.”
While Ven was trying to process what the thing actually was, she saw that it was reaching toward the bars of the mans cell. “Good timing Felix.” Right as Tirus finished saying the words the thing yanked its arms back in an effortless motion that brought two bars with them, each had hunks of concrete and metal on their ends from where they had been secured. The thing threw them into the hole in the floor and they were quickly swallowed by the ocean water beneath them.
“Glad to be of service sir.” It had an odd voice also not like that of any human Ven had ever heard. It was strangely pitched and had a buzz to it. She could see the thing open a hatch on its chest and pull what she thought was a gun from it, though it too was like none she had seen before. It handed the thing to the man as he stepped from the cell. Tirus and the thing he called Felix skirted their way around the hole in the floor until they were in front of Ven’s cell.
For the first time Ven was able to really see him. He was older than she expected, but not terribly so. He had a neatly trimmed short beard and hair that was dark brown with the slightest hint of grey hairs hear and there. His clothes were dark and plain but in good condition without the usual wear and stains of those living in the villages. His eyes were deep dark green color, similar to Ven’s own eyes, and his expression was a kind one.
Looking at Ven an expression of sadness crossed his face. He looked at Felix and without uttering a word Felix seemed to understand him. Tirus stepped back as Felix yanked two bars out of the front of Ven’s cell with as much apparent ease as before. The opening was big enough to get through but Tirus motioned at Ven to wait.
Ven heard why. Footsteps were coming from outside the hallway. Many, many footsteps. Felix made an immediate lunge toward the door, yanking a second gun from it’s chest as it did so. He positioned himself in front of the doorway, holding the weapon in one hand while his other hand formed back in the shovel type shape it had before, though this time he held it in front of his body as a shield for his head and upper torso. A similar but smaller version appeared in the hand holding the weapon as well.
Tirus ducked into the cell and moved toward Ven. “Quick, get back against that wall.” He said while indicating the same with a nod of his head. Ven did as he said and he positioned himself between her and the entrance to the cell, pulling his rifle to his shoulder in the same instance as the swooshing sound came of the door opening.
From where they were, neither Tirus or Ven could see Felix or the hallway door, but the sound was deafening. Ven had to use her hands to cover her ears and found herself clenching her eyes shut as though that could help block out the sound. It was a cacophony of gun fire. The steady thuds of the weapons that Arzat typically used, and a louder rapid high pitched whirring and banging that Ven thought must be Felix’ weapon. There was also the metal on metal plinking of bullets bouncing off of metal and cement.
The noise carried on for nearly thirty seconds, Tirus remaining in his protection position between Ven and the Arzat, should they overwhelm Felix. But it was unnecessary, as at the end of the thirty seconds, the only noise was the quiet whir of Felix weapon spinning down. His voice came next. “Nine Arzat down sir.” It came across as a report, rather than a boast.
“Nicely done.” Tirus had finally lowered his weapon. He turned and crouched in front of Ven who stood dazed and in shock from everything that had just happened. Looking into her eyes he waited for them to lock onto his before speaking. “In about thirty seconds that hole in the floor is going to get plugged up. Some more friends of ours will come up through it. One of them is going to take you back down into our ship where you’ll be safe. Okay?”
Ven looked into the mans eyes and felt herself start to cry. “There there sweetheart,” He pulled her into a hug as though he was her own father, and squeezed her tight. “When all this is over I’ll come see you and make sure you’re okay.” Ven’s tears continued to pour, but she nodded her head in acknowledgement, wiping a sleeve across her runny nose as she did so. After a few seconds she managed to squeak out, “Thank you.” And with that Tirus gave her hand a last squeeze before turning to run out of the cell and after Felix.
10 Years Later
The attack on the Arzat ship was only one of multiple simultaneous attacks that took place across the ocean world. The humans managed to capture three submersible dreadnought’s like the one Ven had been held on, along with seven submersible destroyer vessels, fifteen scout submarines, twenty two surface ships ranging from scout to destroyers, and two aircraft carriers. More than one hundred other Arzat vessels were destroyed or sank. The captured ships were quickly modified by the humans and then the small fleet was used to conduct a long series of coordinated naval battles.
The Arzat were caught completely off guard by the ferocity and coordination of the human assault. It was like no resistance the humans had given them in nearly three centuries of subjugation. Within two years the human fleet grew to more than one hundred vessels, and the humans for the first time in anyone’s memory had been able to claim an island of their own. It was this island that gave humanity the home they needed.
Aecor, an ancient and massive super volcano who’s caldera had collapsed in, was nearly four hundred miles across, and the entire interior was protected by a ring of mountains. This allowed for forests and meadows that were protected from the massive storms and tides of the planet, and gave the humans a place to live and farm. The Arzat had only a few bases placed across the island, and Tirus had personally led the assault on the largest one. The Arzat weren’t nearly as vulnerable to the elements as the humans, and so they didn’t see the strategic value of the island.
Ven had been sent underwater to the hidden base of the human resistance. They called it Atlea, and though they had tried to keep it small in order to keep it secret, it had already grown to nearly ten thousand people by the day when the human assault began.
It was hidden in caves deep down near the ocean floor. The entrances were small and at the bottom of massively deep fissures. The pressure was so immense that most submersibles simply couldn’t handle it. This meant there was even less risk of Arzat detection, but it also meant that they frequently had to ferry people back and forth.
After the initial attack had been completed the small vessel that had been used to send in the strike team was used to shuttle Ven back to another vessel which took her deep into the caves. It was here that Ven would begin to get her education about the real world she lived in. The Arzat forbid humans from reading and being caught doing so, or with books, was frequently followed by execution. But Ven’s father had insisted on teaching her in secret. Upon arrival in Atlea, she was grateful for the leg up in her classes.
In addition to math and science she learned the history of Earth, the birthplace of her species. The planet had become inhospitable, and the humans who could left in a massive colony ship bound for a mostly ocean planet that appeared to have the best promise for the species. But the planet was inhabited by the Arzat, and though not as advanced as humans, they had developed sufficient firepower to bring down the colony ship as it entered the atmosphere. The ship itself had been thought lost, while the people on board were brought down in escape vessels that landed all across the planet. Though the humans had been more advanced than the Arzat, they stood no chance. They were scattered, with most landing in the sea, and were quickly overwhelmed by superior numbers.
It had been hundreds of years when Tirus’ father, now retired admiral Isaac Yaeger, had found the core of the colony ship in his youth, buried under sediment within the same fissure system that hid Atlea.
The fusion power supply was still active, and there were computers with virtually all of the information that the combined human race had acquired on earth. There were fabrication machines for building whatever they needed and three utility assault androids, one of which was Felix. As a young man, Admiral Yaeger had seen the opportunity and the ancient ship had been the start of the base that might restore the human race. Of course there had been no military or ranks when it was just him and a ragtag group of compatriots, but he’d been given the title honorarily in recognition of his dedication to the human race. His son, Tirus Yaeger, now in his late fifties, had taken over leading the human forces shortly after the human offensive began.
In the ten years since the humans first acquired their fleet, there had been no promise of any end to their conflict with the Arzat. The Arzat still refused to see the humans as people, and so the battles and skirmishes had carried on and on. There were still millions of humans enslaved under their rule, and they still controlled nearly eighty percent of the planets surface area. The initial attack had been successful primarily because it had been such a surprise to the Arzat, and while the human’s had many victories on their belt since then, none had been so significant.
“You’re sure this is what you want?” Tirus looked Ven in the eyes as he asked the question.
She returned his gaze, unflinching. “Yes.” Tirus thought about it. Covert Extraction Operative, CEO. Most of the soldiers used the slang term bosses as a playful way of showing respect to those who served in the toughest and most dangerous positions in the human military. They went in to Arzat territory, typically in small groups, or alone, and attempted to locate and rescue humans from Arzat control or turn them against their masters. The problem was that after hundreds of years of enslavement, there were humans loyal to the Arzat. Attempting to “rescue” the wrong person could get an operative killed, along with any humans who were trying to escape.
Tirus wasn’t surprised by Ven’s decision, in fact he’d always expected it. The young military had created the role when Ven was twelve, and while she’d already indicated she wanted to join the fight, she had been particularly excited at the prospect of being a highly trained, elite soldier. Her school friends had even already begun playfully referring to her as boss. “Okay. I’ll make the call first thing in the morning.”
Ven wanted to join the next batch of cadets to the academy so that she could finish her basic training in time to get in the next CEO training. Otherwise she’d have to wait another year to attend it. The problem was that this meant leaving her senior year of school two weeks early. Something that her parent, or in this case, guardian, had to approve.
Tirus had adopted Ven as soon as they had returned to Atlea, and she had known him as a father ever since. He was frequently gone, with all the responsibilities of commanding the human forces, but she was always left in good hands. Her school had a dormitory, for those children who were orphans, and although she had been adopted she still shared their grief of lost parents. Most of them, like her, had been rescued at some point from the Arzat. There were a few however, who had been raised all their lives in Atlea.
Tirus walked closer to Ven and reached his hand to her cheek, brushing aside her red hair aside. “Just promise me you will be careful.”
“When am I not?” Ven gave her adopted father a sly grin.
It had been a busy week as Ven still had to take finals in several courses, but at long last it was done. She’d said goodbye to the friends she didn’t expect to see for a while, or maybe ever again, and the one small bag she had with her was slung over her shoulder. She was waiting for the sub that would take her to the surface. From there she would ride a high speed surface transport ship to Aecor, where, on the southeastern side of the island, a small peninsula stuck out ruining the lands otherwise nearly perfect circle shape. The peninsula was short and fat, and covered in mountains smaller than those sheltering the island interior. Here, nestled in a tiny valley three hundred feet above sea level sat the training academy complex.
Tunnels, stretched from the complex down through the mountains to to the sea with openings every fifty feet. The numerous openings were necessary because the tides rose and lowered an average of one hundred and twenty feet per day. During storms they could get higher, and the tide on record in the few short years since the academy was built was a whopping two hundred and eighteen feet above sea level. Due to this the docks actually floated out at sea, a simple AI program had been developed to control them and each section had a small motor capable of maneuvering it. A long floating platform ran from the nearest tunnel entrance at a given time out to the closest docks.
It was on the docks, just after she’d been dropped off, that she spotted it. She’d started walking towards the tunnel entrance as her ride began to pull away. Glancing to her left, she froze. The ship was nearly three hundred feet long. Arzat in design, but with the forest green and deep blue colors of the human navy. Now called the N.V. Yaeger, Ven hadn’t seen the ship in several years. Tirus being the commander of the fledgling navy, had to spend most of his time at the naval headquarters in Atlea, and so command of the vessel had been passed to another officer. Since the acquisition of their fleet and their first territories they had been able to start producing their own vessels using the technology recovered from the colony ship, and the Yaeger was no longer the most powerful ship in the fleet though it was still a highly formidable vessel.
The sighting of the ship brought Ven back to that night. The screaming from the back of the column. Her parents deaths. The cell, and the Arzat smell of mold and vinegar. Tirus and Felix coming to her rescue. She snapped out of it and looked forward to the tunnel entrance. Picking up her step, she marched forward with renewed determination. She was going to get every last human out of Arzat hands, even if it meant personally killing every last Arzat.
For the first three weeks of naval training they had primarily been in class rooms. There was physical training each morning, followed by classroom training on ranks and protocols and anything else they might need to know about how the military worked. They had a small amount of weapons training, but it mostly consisted of learning the ins and outs of their Saber Mark III rifles. The rifle was standard issue for all navy soldiers.
For the fourth and fifth weeks they had gotten into melee combat training, more advanced targeting with their rifles, ship operations, and a few small mock skirmishes. It was now week six, and Ven felt her adrenaline begin to pump as the boat beneath her skipped across the water.
She and five other cadets were on a twenty foot high speed gunboat racing across the ocean. In most of her childhood she had been on land, or underwater, but ever since the first time she stood on a ship cutting through the waves she fell in love with being on the surface of the sea. The deck below her bounced lightly with each wave they cut through, and the wind whipped through her hair, pulling it behind her as she gazed forward through binoculars from the bow of the ship. The seas were as calm as they got, and the sky was blue. Ven thought to herself about what a beautiful day it was as she scanned the horizon. There, just at the edge of her vision, she saw what they were looking for.
“Ship, two o’clock!” She shouted it to the crew behind her.
“Confirmed,” the “first mate” for this exercise, Colton was his name. He dropped his binoculars, revealing his brown eyes while his brown curled, and shortly cut hair tried its best to blow in the wind. At six foot four he was slightly taller than the “captain,” who stood beside him. Ven continued to scan the horizon, occasionally returning to keep an eye on the ship while Metrin, spoke up.
“Changing course. Everyone on your toes.” Ven’s legs moved to keep her balance as the boat made the small adjustment to their new heading.
Their training mission had gone bust. Initially their ship and another vessel had been tasked to find and respond to an sos. The ships themselves were relics with virtually no electronics. They carried no armaments other than the soldiers standard issue rifles, and were not set up to withstand combat. The old ships were meant to teach them how to survive if everything else should go wrong. Their sister ship had reported finding the ship but had then gone silent. For the last ten minutes they’d been headed to its last known location.
They were too far to see if the boat on the horizon was theirs or the S.O.S. Ven looked more and more, hoping to determine which it was, but until they got closer they had to wait. Metrin had been trying the radio, but no one had been responding. If the ship had one or wanted to talk, it would have responded before Ven could have spotted it.
Five minutes had gone by and no one had said a thing, there was just the steady thump thump of the waves and the sound of wind whipping by. At last Ven could see the ship better, but it wasn’t theirs. She shouted to notify Metrin and Colton. Metrin held the wheel while Colton and the other two crew members, each on the side of their ship, reached for their rifles. Standard protocol was to assume any unknown vessel was hostile, but not to initiate hostilities until confirmed.
The ship had no one on board and it made no movements as they approached it. It was unlike any vessel that Ven had ever seen. With a sleek black profile, it was nearly seventy feet long, and almost entirely submerged. All that sat above the surface was a wide flat deck with a small railing around it. Looking into the water, it appeared that the ship was nearly ten to twenty feet longer at it’s longest point, which was roughly ten feet below the water surface. It was wide too, nearly twenty feet across.
Ven yelled as she saw it, but they were too close to do anything. The slim black shape of a torpedo bolted from the strange ship and hit the broadside of theirs. Their ship lurched and shifted to one side as watered sprayed up from where the explosion had been. “Abandon ship” Metrin yelled as he and Colton bolted to the back of the ship where a single life raft lay. Colton ripped the emergency cord and the raft rapidly began to inflate to size. In a seamless motion he grabbed the side of the still inflating raft and hurled it over the side of the ship, not waiting to see if anyone else was with him he jumped off the side of the vessel as well.
Metrin and one of the others were behind him in seconds and by the time Ven and the last man, Kerrel was his name, looked over the side the other three were already taking up the whole raft. Ven stared in bewilderment. There wasn’t enough room. Kerrel hadn’t paused like Ven, and in seconds he was in the sea, fighting with the others to get on the raft.
There was no point in trying with that thing. Ven thought to herself as she turned around. The other ship still sat next to them, though it still didn’t move and there was no sign of any other torpedoes. It was as though it was simply waiting to confirm the kill. The boat she was on was sinking faster, and Ven didn’t think it had more than a minute, maybe two. Looking around her she saw no other options. So she grabbed her rifle off the deck, and slung it over her back before running to dive into the water herself. But she didn’t go off the side to fight over the raft. Instead, she jumped off the opposite side, and disappeared beneath the water for several seconds before reemerging next to the strange ship. Hair wet and slicked back against her scalp, she grabbed the lowest part of the railing, and pulled herself on deck.
From where she stood the vessel was nothing but a flat rectangular deck with no features other than the small railing, and a round hatch at the center. Suspecting the thing would submerge soon, and seeing no other options, she ran to it. Grabbing it with both hands she tried to spin it open but it wouldn’t budge. “Damnit” she cursed at the thing just as she felt the sub start to lurch downward. Water splashed at the sides of the deck for a brief second before racing across both sides to meet in the center. Where she stood was nearly 6 inches underwater in just a few seconds.
Not knowing why, angry at her lack of options, she yanked the rifle from her back and pointed it at the hatch, simultaneously squeezing the trigger. The Saber Mark III was one of the most advanced weapons in the human arsenal. It fired super heated plasma with a virtually limitless ammunition supply, was entirely waterproof, and unlike typical bullets, it’s projectiles could maintain significant speed under water. The technology used for it, like most of the human technology, had been recovered from the colony ship. Most people couldn’t begin to comprehend how they worked, but that hadn’t kept anyone from being able to fire one and they’d been the logical choice of armament on the ocean world.
Ven watched as the shots hit the hatch of the ship and nothing happened. The water, now up to her waist, was rising faster, and a few short seconds later she felt her feet come off the deck as the sub continued descending. Treading water, Ven looked around her. All she could see was the the horizon in every direction, with the exception of the tail of her boat, which now stuck straight up out of the water and was slowly dropping below the surface. At first she saw no sign of her crew, but as the last of the ship disappeared she saw the yellow life raft had been behind it. Metrin and Colton sat onboard the raft while the others were treading water and holding the sides. Ven hadn’t been impressed with the speed with which they abandoned the ship, but at least they had figured out a way to share the raft. She swam over towards them. “Ven!” Metrin shouted when he saw her. Having gone off the other side of their boat, none of them had seen what happened to her, but they’d heard the sound of the rifle.
“Any idea what that was?” Metrin asked the question right as Ven reached up to grab hold of the side of the raft. “No idea.” Ven responded. “I got on it, but it submerged. I’ve never seen a ship like that.”
“You got on it?!!” Colton interjected, eyes wide in awe.
“You assholes didn’t exactly leave me any room on here.” Metrin and Colton looked downward, trying to hide the ashamed look in their eyes. Ven rolled hers and shook her head. “So what’s the plan?”
“I still have my radio. I tried to call for help, but there’s no response.” Colton finally looked up, scared. “Do you think this is still part of training?” His eyes darted back and forth between Ven and Metrin.
“Probably.” Ven responded, “Doesn’t look like an Arzat ship to me.”
Ven figured it had been about twelve hours since the sinking. There was still no response on the radio. The sun had long set, but thankfully the ocean water wasn’t cold enough induce any sort of hypothermia, and they’d been able to rotate whoever had to be in the water at a given time. Ven didn’t mind, but soon realized that Metrin and Colton were not fans of being on the open water.
During Ven’s turn off the raft there was a sudden commotion. She heard the sound coming from behind her, and spun around. Peering into the darkness. She could see nothing but she knew the sound of a submarine surfacing. Then at last she saw it, it was the ship from before. Sleek and black. The flat deck rose to the surface and she and her squad reached for their weapons. The very hatch that Ven had fired at began to open.
Unsure what to expect, she kicked her feet to keep herself afloat while pointing the weapon at the opening. Moments later she dropped her weapon down in relief. Felix had come out, looking the same as ever. “Felix!” Ven yelled to him.
He replied in his mechanical voice, “Never before has a recruit boarded this vessel. Your tenacity has exceeded even my expectations.” That was high praise coming from the robot.
“Well these cowards were too busy fighting over the life raft. I had to do something.”
Felix laughed, it was robotic, and some people found it off putting but Ven had learned to love it after spending the bulk of her youth getting to know the machine.
They were then taken aboard the vessel and given a debrief of the training mission. It had been intended to see how they would react under the most dire circumstances, and while all of them had passed, Ven was awarded a special commendation for her bravery and “tenacity” as Felix had put it.
Soon enough they were back at the naval training center, learning more about different vessels, the biology of the Arzat, where their weaknesses were, and how to win in hand to hand combat. It wasn’t likely, the Arzat were simply more physically imposing than humans, but they had been killed by hand on rare occasions. They had a particularly soft spot at the back of their skull that Tirus himself had once used to take one out on a mission.
Three weeks later Ven had passed her basic training with flying colors and was off to her advance CEO training. She couldn’t be more excited. Tirus had been there to attend her graduation.
“I’m proud of you kiddo.” The knick name had long been Tirus’ way of referring to Ven, and it made her feel warm inside even as she had approached adulthood.
“Couldn’t have done it without you.” She smiled back at him, but as she said it a sadness crossed her eyes.
As if reading her mind Tirus responded, “They would be proud of you too.”
With that, a single tear fell from Ven’s left eye as she fought to hold them back. Tirus pulled her in to a warm hug the same as when he’d first met her. Though now she was nearly as tall as him, and his gray had spread to consume most of his hairs.
There was one week remaining of boss school as they called it, Ven was in the woods, hunkered down quietly, awaiting a response from command. Her training mission was to infiltrate a mock base and rescue three prisoners. Typically the Arzat killed humans without thought, but they saw the value of military intelligence and so kept some ranking officers alive and attempted to torture information out of them. That was the scenario for this operation.
The base was a thousand feet ahead of her, surrounded by trees, and she waited for the command to proceed. At last, her radio crackled through, audible only through the small bud implanted in her ear canal. “This is command, clear to extract.” With that Ven had approval to begin the mission. She’d been watching the base for several hours, and had finally spotted a weak point in the patrols where she should be able to get in undetected. There were no walls around the base, but sentry towers were positioned every few hundred feet, with two guards atop each one. At one tower a guard had frequently been leaving for short periods, Ven guessed that his stomach was upset, and she waited for him to leave again.
After only twenty minutes she saw him start to descend the later, and soon he was inside one of the buildings. Sticking low with the bushes, she crept silently forward towards the tower, moving only when the lone guard was looking the opposite direction. She thought to herself that this would be harder with an Arzat, given their wide angle of view, but she was willing to take advantage of the opening regardless.
Soon enough she was climbing the later as quickly and silently as she could, praying that the other guard didn’t come back. At the top, she held position and reached into her pocket, pulling out a small stick with a mirror attached. It was a primitive implement, but it worked nonetheless. Without exposing herself she was able to spy on the guard atop the tower.
As soon as his back was turned she crept the rest of the way up and stealthily approached him from behind. Click. Her mock weapon was pointed at the guards head, and he dutifully dropped to the ground to play dead. Next, she dragged him to the side and awaited the second guard.
Only a few seconds after moving the “body” she heard the clanking of the other guard on the ladder. She waited for him to reach the top and climb up before using the same mock shot to the head to “kill” him. The Arzat had no compassion for humans and thus Ven had learned and been trained to have no compassion for them.
Now that the top of the tower was secure she was able to scan the base. She had six hours until the next guard change, so she took her time surveying. She wore a pair of ordinary looking glasses, however they were anything but ordinary. With a sophisticated software system tied in to other systems, like her earpiece, she was covered in an array of technological devices. The glasses could zoom in like binoculars, send pictures or live footage back to command, even assist with targeting moving enemies.
After two hours she had determined which building the prisoners were most likely in. It was the building with the least activity, yet a high ranking officer, visible by his insignia, had entered it twice in the two hours. She guessed to check the status of the interrogations, as he was clearly returning to the command center, which had much more activity.
She waited for him to leave again before readying her approach. Again reaching in to her back pack, she pulled out a small drone and controller. The drone had an optical camouflage and was nearly impossible to see if you didn’t know where to look. It also contained a sound throwing speaker, capable of making noise up to hundred feet away while being silent next to the drone itself.
She flew the drone to the opposite side of the base before programing the sound to explosions, and aiming the it to make noise just outside of the perimeter. Then, she set the unit to auto, and started the sequence.
Ten seconds later the drone began doing it’s job. Ven could hear the loud bangs and booms, and the drone would continue to move on its own to avoid detection or weapons fire. After thirty seconds half the base appeared to have run off towards the “explosions.” That was when Ven made her move. Quickly she climbed down the ladder and raced to the building weapon in hand, she “shot” three guards who saw her, and one who was guarding the building she was headed for. Looking around, she could see no one else and reached into her bag to produce a small torch. She pointed it at the lock on the door and hit a button, in moments the locks metal had turned to liquid and began pouring down the doorway. She then ran the torch along the opposite side of the door, where the hinges would be, and a swift kick sent the door falling into the cement building with a loud clang.
Inside, there were two guards who were still reaching for their weapons as she took them out. Running down the hallway, she found the prison cells where the three “captives” (all classmates of hers) were being held. One was Metrin, who had a device clamped on his leg to force him to limp as though he were injured. Ven produced the torch again and melted the lock before tossing three small pistols in the cell, one for each captive. Then she went to assist Metrin.
The four of them moved outside the building right as a group of guards had started to return and a mock gun battle began to take place at the entrance to the building. Ven grabbed the drone controller and flew it to the center of the enemy squad before hitting the button that would have made it self destruct if this were real. All of the enemies fell to the ground except one, who was slightly further away. He was quickly taken out by gun fire instead.
From there, the operation was uneventful. They quickly left the base and in a matter of minutes they had moved deep into the woods. Slowed by Metrin, they weren’t moving fast, but they made steady progress for an hour before stopping to rest.
It was then that Ven finally got a response back from command. “Good job Cadet Yaeger” Ven’s family had not had a last name so she had used her adopted fathers. “Hold position, we are coming to pick you up.” With that, the radio went quiet, and Metrin’s clamp clicked and fell off his leg. A short time later a quadrocopter was hovering overhead and a rope ladder was lower through the trees to them. Once all were on board, the copter raised altitude and headed back towards command.
Once back at base the other cadets were sent back to the barracks for some rest. Ven was summoned to the head office of the training headquarters. She had begun to wonder what was going on. From what she’d heard cadets usually had to make it back to base on foot, and she didn’t know why they had sent a copter for them instead. Now, to be summoned to the main office, something was definitely up.
Upon entering the office she saw the head master, Colonel Marks, and sitting across the desk from him was Admiral Entra, second in command only to Commander Yaeger himself. The Admiral’s dark skin and shaved head stood in contrast to the head master’s pale skin and shaggy hair.
“Ah Ven,” the admiral had known her since she was a little girl, “Come, sit.” Ven did as instructed, taking a seat in the black leather chair next to the admiral, while the head master stayed at his desk. The admiral continued talking, “I wish I could say that we were here under better circumstances.”
Ven saw the ashen look in the admirals face and felt sudden alarm. “What’s going on?” She asked.
“There is no easy way to put this….” Entra’s speech trailed off before resuming again, “the Atlas has been taken captive.” Ven’s heart sank. Not only was the Atlas the most powerful ship in the human fleet, but the commander had been on it. That meant Tirus was either dead or being tortured at this very moment.
“Where…” Ven tried to ask the question but the words had trouble coming out. The admiral anticipated it instead.
“The northern islands.”
A tear came to Ven’s eye. “The northern islands…” she repeated the words. The northern islands were where Ven had been raised until the night of the barracks explosion. The Arzat central command was there.
“I want to go in after him.” This time the words came out without hesitation.
“As I figured you would.” The admiral responded, “so I’ve been speaking with the head master. But I need to know something.”
“Whatever you need.” Ven responded.
“I need to know that you can keep your personal feelings aside, and perform as though he were any other rescue. The truth is, you are not only our best cadet, but you have achieved higher scores than any operative in our military’s short history. We need you. The commander needs you.”
“You have me.” Ven’s will was fierce.
“Very well,” the admiral went on, “upon conference with headmaster Marks we hereby grant you the rank of Covert Extraction Operative, and your first assignment is the extraction of Commander Yaeger. Felix will be assigned to you until the commander is back safely.”
“Felix.” Ven thought about it. The robot was nearly unstoppable. Together they would be a force to be reckoned with. “Excellent.”
The admiral continued, “A quadrocopter is going to take you to Sky Eye Two, from which you will paradrop to the Arzat headquarters, attempt to infiltrate it, and determine the whereabouts of Commander Yaeger and the Atlas. Sky Eye two was a flying platform that the humans had built, there were three total, that floated high in the atmosphere on helium tanks and propellers, and they never came down thanks to virtually limitless fusion reactors and solar panels. Their crews performed satellite like reconnaissance.
“Your first priority is rescuing the commander, your secondary objective is to recapture or destroy the Atlas if possible.
Ven didn’t say anything, she merely nodded her head, her expression grim with determination.
Ven had never been on one of the Sky Eye’s before. It was an impressive feat of engineering. Nearly a thousand feet long and three hundred feet wide, it was a flying command center complete with a fleet of planes and drones to protect it from air strikes. Giant wings stretched out nearly three hundred feet off each side and were filled with helium, had three massive turbine engines each, and tops covered in solar panels. The solar panels powered the engines and that combined with the helium alone could keep it afloat while the fusion reactor built in powered its weapons systems. It flew above the clouds and had batteries to keep it running during the nights.
Ven’s quadrocopter touched down down on the deck and she and Felix stepped out. The wind was powerful this high up in the atmosphere, and the air was thinner, but she wore an oxygen helmet while walking to the interior building that was near the platforms center, but off to the side of the runways.
Upon entering she pulled her helmet off and placed it on a rack as a man approached. “CEO Yaeger?” He asked but his voice said he knew it was her.
“Yep.” Ven responded. It was the first time she’d been referred to as a CEO and she felt pride well up inside.
“This way please.” The man turned to lead them down a hallway. He was a short and stocky man but looked like he was made of solid muscle. His voice was slightly high pitched, but not so much that it was bothersome. He told them he was taking them to Captain Yang, who was in charge of Sky Eye 2.
After several long corridors, and two flights of stairs they were on the bridge of the ship. Captain Yang was younger than Ven had expected with no gray hairs yet. Though the entire military had been young.
“CEO Yaeger. Welcome. I’ve heard good things!” Her demeanor was cheerful. “We have a room set up for you to get some sleep, we won’t be over the drop point for six more hours. We’ve also got an assortment of supplies ready for your mission.”
“Thank you.” Ven responded. She wished she could go now, but the one thing the Sky Eye’s were not was fast. Any smaller ship would be shot down by the Arzat, but the Sky Eye was simply to high and to formidable to hit. The Arzat has unsuccessfully attempted to shoot them down several times before simply giving up and leaving them be. Nevertheless, the ships were always on high alert.
The quarters were small but Ven wouldn’t be there for long anyway. She set her pack down and tried to sleep, but she simply couldn’t. She was too worried about Tirus.
Instead she finally got up and headed back to the bridge where she waited for Captain Yang to finish speaking with an ensign.
“CEO,” There it was again, “I thought you’d be sleeping.”
“I can’t. You said you had supplies for me? I’d like to take a look.”
“Of course, Felix is already there, they are in the drop room.” After a quick rundown of how to get there Ven headed down to the lowermost floor of the vessel. Here was a room not unlike a moon pool with a floor that could open wide to para drop anything from supplies to people to vehicles. All around the room were various storage compartments, and above the opening were hooks and pulleys to hoist things like vehicles above the floor opening. At the moment the floor was closed and the only light was artificial.
There was a provisions officer speaking with Felix, who looked over and waved in acknowledgement of Ven. She walked over towards them. “Hello boss.” The officer acknowledged Ven in the unofficial term for her position. Though not official, the name was generally overlooked in terms of military protocol, and Ven didn’t mind it.
She looked at the officers name tag, “Hello Ensign Riley. I’m told you have some supplies for my mission.”
“Absolutely.” The ensign was clearly excited. “Some of our best stuff. Follow me” He turned and walked toward a large chest, pulling a key from his pocket to open it. As the chest opened a platform inside raised up and Ven looked over all the gear.
Riley picked up the pair of glasses. “You’ve got your standard glasses, but they have one major upgrade. That right there.” Riley pointed at a strange looking plasma gun. It didn’t have a handle that Ven could see and looked as though it attached to her armor on the shoulder. Her assumption was quickly confirmed by Riley.
“These glasses link up with that and enable you to fire a virtually limitless supply of plasma rounds with perfect accuracy. There’s a trigger attached to the right glove,” He reached to pick it up. The trigger was at the center of the palm. A small box covered it. Riley continued, “you flip that box open and then anytime you make a fist that gun will fire wherever you’re looking.”
He continued, reaching to a bag, “Your backpack has a standard drone with a self destruct option, but it also has a small plasma pistol attached to its underbelly.” Ven liked that upgrade, it would come in handy. “There’s also three life straws, a limitless fire starter, six standard grenades, a thermal blanket, and some rations.” Riley quickly breezed past the items as they were all standard. “But this is cool.” He pointed to a folded up shirt and pair of pants, black in color. “Not only are these virtually bulletproof, but they are made with synthetic muscle fiber that senses your movements and augments your strength.”
Ven was impressed. She didn’t even know such a thing existed. “On top of that, they can change between solid black, or black blue or green camouflage patterns as needed. Just pick one from here.” He flipped a small box open on the left wrist of the shirt.
“Your boots,” he carried on, “have small jets that run off of batteries. The batteries are continually charged by your own bio kinetic energy. They enable you to move up to twenty miles an hour under water.”
“And last but certainly not least,” he reached and picked it up, “your helmet. It will allow you to breathe underwater, is completely bullet proof, has a built radio, and best of all…” he reached down and pressed a few buttons on the left wrist panel that he had used previously and the helmet turned into a person. A woman in dirty rags like the ones Ven had worn in her early youth.
“Woah,” Ven couldn’t help but be amazed. “Now that will be useful camouflage.”
“Yep” Riley replied, “it will hide your bag and everything. The only problem is it has to scan the ground to try and replicate it, sometimes a distortion can be seen if your moving to quickly.”
“Still” Ven said, “that will be more than a little handy.”
With that Ven had seen her gear. She still had four hours until the drop. “I guess I’ll try and sleep now. Maybe I can get a few hours. See you in a bit.” She said goodbye to Ensign Riley and Felix, and headed back to her room. Sitting on the bed, and then laying down, now knowing what her tools were, she did manage to fall asleep.
It was both a dream and a memory. She was in Atlea. Twelve years old. She and her friend were running. The friend had stolen from a shop, but the shopkeep had seen. When her friend took off running Ven did too.
They ran around corners and bends, trying to lose the man. Soon enough they did, but they had run in different directions and got separated. Looking for her friend, Ven wandered into a viewing area. The viewing areas were indoor parks with trees and greenery and they typically had windows into the ocean around as well, hence the name. It was dark, the artificial lighting turned down to simulate night. Her friend was not here, but Ven walked to the glass, looking out into the dark trench of ocean. That was when it appeared. An alien face with insect like eyes, it was essentially a large head with tentacles instead of a body. It’s mouth was like that of a fish, but it bore no teeth. It was a mysterious creature only rumored to exist. An Aether.
Then as fast as it appeared it was gone. In the blink of an eye. Ven didn’t even see it turn around or swim away. It simply disappeared. She turned around to see if anyone else was there, if anyone else had seen. But there was no one.
“It’s time to wake up boss.” The mechanical voice held mirth in its use of the word. Was Felix actually proud of her?
“I’m up.” Ven sat up and waited a moment for the sleep to wear off. Then she got out of bed. “Lead the way.” She spoke the words to Felix who spun around and exited, leading the way to the briefing room.
It was here that Captain Yang and Ensign Riley awaited them. “Did you get some sleep?” The captain asked Ven. “Yes, thank you.”
“Good.” Captain Yang sounded genuinely glad. “We’re an hour from the drop. Command has called to complete a briefing”
“Ok.” Ven responded, and with that Yang pushed a button on a small console in front of her. She also handed a small device to Ven.
“What’s this?” Ven started to ask.
“He’ll explain.” Yang was quick to answer.
Behind Yang a video screen came to life with an image of Admiral Entra.
“Hello Ven, Felix.” Entra got straight to business. “Your mission is the rescue of Commander Yaeger, and if possible the recapture or destruction of the Atlas. We believe the ship was taken to the Arzat central command, on this island.” The screen changed to a map of the northern islands. The archipelago consisted of nearly one hundred islands, out of which only fifteen were significant in size. The largest one was circled on the map.
“You are to use any means at your disposal to complete your mission. As we do not know where the commander is being held the first order of business will be to infiltrate the central command headquarters and attempt to obtain his location. Your holographic emitter has been programmed to replicate a high ranking Arzat.” Ven looked at Riley who hadn’t mentioned that. He simply winked in response, a sly grin on his face. “His home is here.” The map zoomed in closer to a specific house. “Kill him to ensure you aren’t detected, then use his identity to get in to the base and obtain the information. Your implanted ear bud will be in constant contact with Sky Eye 2, which is tasked primarily with providing support for this mission.”
“Can’t you contact the commander through his bud?” Ven asked.
“His bud went offline shortly after he was taken.” That could mean only one of three things, either he was dead, his bud had been removed, or he was in a facility which blocked the signal. She hoped it was the last one.
“Roger.” She confirmed that she understood.
“You were also just given a device by the captain.”
“Yes sir,” Ven responded pulling the device from her pocket.
“Should you find the Atlas and be unable to recapture it, place that device onboard, and activate it, then you have ten minutes to get off, and Sky Eye 2 will do the rest.” A brief pause. “Do you have any questions?”
“No sir.” Ven responded, as fiercely determined as ever.
“One more thing…” the admiral paused, “Venuvia, do be careful.”
She fought back tears that tried to spring forth. “Yes sir.”
With that, the screen went dead. It was just the four of them again. Captain Yang was the first to speak. “Well, time for you to suit up. Good luck boss.”
Ven smiled through watery eyes. “Thanks, but I don’t need luck,” she looked at the robot, “I’ve got Felix.”
Everyone in the drop room had oxygen helmets on, except for Felix of course. Riley had opened the doors and wind whipped throughout the room. Yang told Ven good luck through the comm link in the helmets. Ven was suited up with all her gear, and her pack on her front so the parachute could go on her back. Felix had a parachute as well. Although he had thrusters he’d burn too much power trying to slow his descent, so he would drop the same as Ven.
Riley’s voice came through, “Approaching drop point, ten seconds.” Ven gave him a thumbs up in acknowledgement.
“five, four,” Riley counted down, “three, two, one.” In unison, both Ven and Felix dropped through the opening.
The descent was fast and furious, but paradropping had been part of Ven’s training. Wind whipping past, she thought about their mission. The plan was to drop into the ocean, then swim to the shore of the island. Once there, Ven would initially blend in as a simple villager. She would use that disguise until they reached the Arzat’s house, where, upon ensuring he wouldn’t interrupt her mission, she would use the holographic helmet to then infiltrate the military headquarters.
Felix on the other hand was equipped with an optical camouflage. He could be nearly invisible except for a small distortion in the air around him. He would aid Ven in whatever way he needed to.
They waited until the last possible moment before yanking the cords and engaging their chutes. They were far enough from the island that it was merely a small blip on the horizon. Splashing down in the water, just as the sun set, they disconnected from their chutes and Ven moved her bag to her back. Then she engaged her boots and Felix used his thrusters. They set course for the island.
The island was fifty miles away which meant it would take them two and a half hours at maximum speed, but with the currents fighting them it would take even longer. Ven estimated they had a three or four hour swim.
“Yaeger to Sky Eye 2, splashdown successful, on our way to the island.”
“Roger,” the response came “We’re tracking you.”
The ocean was home to all manner of creatures, plenty of which were large enough to swallow them whole, and so Ven’s head was on a constant swivel her vision augmented by the glasses through night vision and infrared . Nearly an hour went by without incident, and then the radio crackled through. “Sky Eye 2 to Yaeger come in.”
“This is Yaeger.”
“We’re tracking something large on infrared.” The voice wasn’t Yang, but the communications officer, “recommend changing course by 90 degrees left.”
“Roger.” Ven responded. She and Felix both turned as suggested. “How large are we talking?” She wondered what they might be up against.
“Approximately two hundred meters.” The voice stayed calm.
“Shit.” Ven responded. That meant it was most likely a grand eel, one of the largest creatures on the planet, and a carnivorous king of the oceans. At hundreds of meters long and dozens of meters wide they had been known for taking out entire ships. Ven hoped it would move away from them. There was no way they could outrun it if it came their direction.
Another thirty minutes went by without incident, then came the voice again. “Sky Eye 2 to Yaeger, unidentified object has begun moving your direction, advise turning ninety degrees right.” Again Ven and Felix did as suggested.
Sky Eye 2 had enough firepower to take the thing out, but they were trying not to draw attention. Twenty more minutes went by and then the radio came through again. “Object is approaching you from behind. We’re going to drop three infrared torpedoes.”
The torpedoes would splash down into the water and then use heat to automatically target the largest object in the vicinity. Ven turned to look behind her and saw it. It was even more disturbing with the greenish hue that the night vision gave off. Nearly thirty feet in diameter, and hundreds of feet long. With multiple rows of razor sharp teeth, and tiny beady eyes. It used a natural form of infrared radar to hunt its prey. And while they had systems to hide their heat signature, it had come close enough to see them.
The thing began to race forward with ferocious speed, mouth opening into a giant chasm. Ven’s rifle was firing plasma rounds at its eyes before she knew it and Felix was as well. Closer it continued to come, two hundred feet, then one hundred.
Ven and Felix were in a sitting position, boots thrusting them away while they fired at the beast, but still it came. Until suddenly there was a great blast at its middle and it lurched to the side. Two more blasts followed in quick succession, and the thing made a horrific sound that was only slightly muffled from the water. The sound was so loud that Ven feared her helmet would break.
It’s snake like body had been ripped in half and it began to sink slowly to the ocean floor. “Yaeger to Sky Eye 2,” Ven called on the radio, “could you make it not quite so close next time.”
“Sorry Yaeger, we were hoping we wouldn’t have to do that. Two Arzat ships are now approaching to investigate.”
“Out of the frying pan and into the fire.” Ven muttered to herself. If they were detected the whole mission would be blown.
The ships were a destroyer and a scout vessel. If they were lucky they would be far enough away before the ships got there. If they were unlucky, they’d be detected and most likely killed.
“How far out?” Ven asked command.
“Copy.” Twenty minutes, that was enough time that they could get away. They turned towards the island and accelerated at maximum speed. With any luck, they’d be gone before the ships got there.
Ven wasn’t worried about the sonar or radar, her suit masked her signature and Felix had a similar masking technology. But the underwater camera’s would be able to see them if they got too close.
Another ten minutes went by and then command came back on. “The destroyer is approaching your position.”
“Wonderful,” Ven responded, “go radio silent.”
“Confirmed,” came the response. The radio channel was encrypted but Ven didn’t want to take any chances. She made sure her suit was black and Felix engaged his optical camouflage. They ceased moving forward and began moving deeper in to the water. Ven positioned herself underneath Felix so that she would just look like distorted blackness. They would have to wait while the ship passed overhead. She didn’t like it, but there was no other option. They were a few miles from where the grand eel had been taken out, and she hoped the ship would just pass by.
They waited silently for a three minutes before Ven saw the dark black outline passing overhead. She held her breath without realizing it, and waited silently. It took five minutes for the ship to fully pass and begin to move away, Ven thanked her lucky stars that it hadn’t stopped. After it was completely out of sight she and Felix resumed course.
“Yaeger to command,” Ven broke the radio silence, “the ship has passed, we are resuming course. Are you picking up any of their communications?”
The disembodied voice came back. “Roger, they are investigate but they do not appear to have detected you. They are theorizing that an old water mine got detonated when the grand eel mistakenly ran in to it.”
Ven was happy to hear that, and she and Felix continued onward in the dark sea.
Roughly an hour and a half went by without incident when command came back on the line. “You are approaching the island, two miles out.” Ven was pleased. After the encounter with the grand eel she would be happy to get out of the black water.
Soon enough she saw the ocean floor rising up to meet them, and they approached the beach. There were a few small human villages on this side of the island, but the Arzat base was further inland. Luckily they still had enough night to hide as they dragged themselves out of the sea.
The northern islands were where Ven was born, but she’d never been to this one. Human’s weren’t allowed to travel at will and so she’d spent all her early youth without leaving her home village.
Unlike the forested island she grew up on, this island was more of a desert, with dry sandy ground, and small shrubs, but few trees. The nearest village was three miles north of them. From there a road led to the Arzat military headquarters.
Approaching the village, Ven donned the holographic disguise. Suddenly she looked like a simple villager, wearing soiled rags and even missing a few teeth. Felix retained his optical camouflage. The distortions would be hard enough to see at night, but during the day they’d be a problem.
A mile from the village they were stopped by an Arzat patrol. Two Arzat, driving a jeep like ground vehicle. Their hissing voices barked orders. Ven raised her hands up, acting as though she was complying. Luckily Felix had been traveling off the trail to her side, and they hadn’t spotted him.
They were both dark in skin color, and their sharp teeth were yellowed with a few missing. They were obviously low level grunts. Probably thinking this would earn them some small praise.
The larger stepped out of the vehicle and walked toward Ven, his gun drawn. She still bore her disguise. It even covered the six inch blade she had pulled out. Ven hadn’t been face to face with an Arzat since her youth, but this time she was trained, armed, and had backup.
As soon as the thing was in striking range her hand whipped forward stabbing the blade directly into its neck. It instantly slumped down in front of her. Felix had circled round to the vehicle, and just as Ven killed the one, Felix reached forward and snapped the others neck.
“We better hide the vehicle.” Felix was all business, but then, so was Ven.
“Lets stick him back in and push it over that embankment.” She nodded to a steep cliff that would keep the vehicle from being easily found. Between her synthetic muscle and Felix’ natural strength, they had no problem shoving it off the road, and in a few minutes they were back on their way to the village.
The village was more of a shanty town. With no electricity or running water. There was a central well, and it was surrounded by irrigated farm land. The humans worked the land, but they only got a small portion of the crop. The rest was confiscated by the “masters.” Ven’s mind spit the word with venom. For three hundred years humanity had been enslaved, tortured, even killed. They’d been denied reading and education, and the Arzat were content to be thought of as gods.
Most villagers new nothing about the millions of humans who now lived free of Arzat control. They, like Ven in her youth, were trapped in a more primitive age. Ven and the rest of the human alliance would not rest until every last human was free of Arzat control, a battle made harder because the Arzat were fundamentally convinced that they were superior to humans in every way. They saw them as no more than insects, and refused any diplomatic overtures whatsoever. For that reason the inner workings of their society were still a secret.
Once at the village Ven looked for the home of the Arzat she would use as a disguise. She hadn’t had time to ask how the alliance got such a detailed visual of this particular Arzat, but she figured that was a story in itself.
The house was obvious as it was the only modern structure in the village. It was near the center, lit up with artificial light and surrounded by Arzat guards. Two with grey skin guarded the main gate, so Ven circled around the property where she found a second gate, also guarded, but by just one soldier, with tan colored skin and extra long hairs. He was nearly three feet taller than her, and immeasurable stronger, but she had the element of surprise.
“Oh great master.” She said the words convincingly enough, though her insides recoiled. “May I provide you with anything to gain your favor?”
Having been completely under Arzat control it was not uncommon for humans to try and suck up to their masters in hopes of a better life.
“You leave now.” The hissing response came.
“But sir I…”
“LEAVE NOW!” The Arzat drew his weapon and trained it on her.
Ven mumbled only one word into her communicator, “Felix,” and almost instantly the Arzat’s head exploded sending a spray of green blood all around. The shot had been silenced, but the sounds of the head exploding may have been heard. She quickly ran forward to the body, grabbing it and dragging it away from the door. She then ducked around a corner just as the other two Arzat came around from the front side of the house.
She heard the hissing and barking of them trying to determine what had happened. There was blood everywhere but no body. Seconds later there were two soft thuds, and two more bloody explosions. “Nice shooting buddy.”
“Thank you,” the mechanized voice came through her earbud.
After hiding the additional two bodies it was time to enter the residence. Ven decided that the back door would be best. Her thermal scans picked up heat at the front of the house and she didn’t want to step in to an ambush.
She swiped the key off the guard who had been at the back and swiped it at the door before opening it as slowly and quietly as she could. Felix had left his sniper position, and stood behind her. She turned around and motioned him to cover the front entrance. She didn’t want the target getting away. Felix did as told, and Ven waited a moment before opening the door further.
She pulled up her gun and entered the room slowly. She’d never been in an Arzat building, but nothing prepared her for what she saw. The room had three humans in it. One, writhing in agony, hanging from hooks in the ceiling, blood dripping around him.
Another lie in bed, an arm and leg both missing on her left side, the stumps both looked and smelled of infection, and she appeared unconscious, with labored breathing.
Lastly, was the worst. A young boy, also laying on a bed, knives sticking out of him and blood pooling around. The sight nearly made her want to wretch, and when the man hanging from the hooks started to squirm at seeing her she motioned him to hush, before mouthing, “I’m sorry, I’ll be right back.”
With that she pulled herself together and moved towards the front of the dwelling. There she spotted the back if the Arzat’s head. He was sitting in a chair. Facing directly away from her. That was lucky, but if he turned his head even slightly his side eyes would see her. She ducked behind a piece of furniture, a large couch looking thing, and quietly crept toward him.
Then she heard it. The sound that made her heart drop. A simple click. The sound of an Arzat weapon being armed.
“I sssmeeelllll you huuuman.” For a moment Ven was in a state of complete panic, but she quickly regained her composure. Not seeing any other options, she stepped up and trained her weapon on the Arzat’s chest.
It made its Arzat form of laughter. “My guardsss will hearr. You will die.”
“Your guards are already dead.” Ven pulled the trigger and a smattering of rounds went into the Arzat’s chest, dropping him to the floor, green blood oozing from the wounds, and his weapon clattering across the ground. But he wasn’t dead. She walked over to him and he continued to glare at her with contempt.
“Those people,” Ven asked, “Why do you torture them? What have they done?” The thing simply glared and then spat at her.
“Fine.” She pointed the gun to his head. “Have it your way.” And she pulled the trigger.
They didn’t know what the Arzat actually called their ranks, but they’d had enough skirmishes to know that this particular one was outranked only by the highest officers. The hope was that he would be high enough in rank to have the security clearance necessary to find Tirus and the Atlas. Ven and Felix would sneak into their central military installation where Felix would then go to work hacking their systems. It would be the first time anyone had attempted to hack an Arzat mainframe computer system, there was a huge potential for gaining strategic intelligence in addition to Tirus’ whereabouts.
After killing the Arzat tVen’s first priority had been rescuing the tortured humans. She tried her best, but the woman with the missing limbs was too far gone, and the child had passed before she got back. The man hanging from the hooks was badly beaten and in pain, but alive and stable. After that Ven and Felix went to retrieve the bodies they’d left outside, bringing them in to the house so that no suspicion would be aroused. They finished just as the sun was starting to rise. Felix’ camouflage would be too easy to see through, so they opted to bunker down in the house for the day.
The day passed uneventfully. The injured man was named Stevr and he was eager to return to his family, but he also had questions upon questions about Felix and their weapons. He had never seen such things aside from Arzat technology, and he certainly had never seen humans using them. They agreed to answer his questions in exchange for him agreeing to stay hidden with them until he wouldn’t compromise their mission.
“So there’s a city, but it’s under the sea?”
“Yes.” Venuvia responded, “Atlea, I spent much of my youth there.”
“And something fell from the sky and you were on board?” The man looked at Felix.
“Yes. Me, and two other units like me were onboard the colony ship, our purpose was to protect humanity from hostile forces, should they be encountered.
“But they only sent three?”
Felix was happy to be able to talk about himself. “My power core has a virtually limitless supply. However, the elements required to produce it are exceptionally rare and can’t be synthesized. They were only able to procure enough for three. But I assure you, I am quite capable.”
“I’d say,” Ven interjected.
“And now there’s a city on land too?”
“One large one,” Ven answered, “and some small villages. The “masters” call themselves the Arzat, they still control most of the planet, but we humans have taken control of a small portion for ourselves. We’re constantly battling them to keep it, but my job is to rescue humans from them, as many as I can.”
“Can you take my family there?” The man’s voice held an optimism that hadn’t been there before.
A sad expression crossed Ven’s face. She desperately wanted to help this man and his family, but her mission to save Tirus had to come first. “I have a mission that I’m on, but we will try and come back for you. You can spread this information, but be careful who you share it with. There are people loyal to the Arzat who would turn you in for such things.”
“Aye,” the man responded, tears starting to well. “My best friend turned me in.” The tears began to flow. “I found a book. I didn’t know how to read it, but I showed him…” the man had to pause to gain his composure, “the next day they came for me.”
Ven desperately wanted to help this man but the truth was there was little she could do. They were deep in Arzat territory and it would take everything just to get Tirus out. Assuming he was alive, but Ven’s mind wouldn’t entertain any other possibilities.
“What do you call this village?” The question was genuine.
“Kenth.” Ven repeated it back. “As soon as I finish this mission I’ll try and come back, but I need you to promise that you will stay hidden, and tell no one about this until at least two days from now.”
“You saved my life,” he responded, “it’s the least I can do.”
Once night had fallen it was time to move again. Ven donned the holographic disguise of the high ranking Arzat and Felix equipped his optical camouflage. They found an Arzat buggy parked outside, it was a green vehicle with round bubbly wheel wells and thick tires, very capable of going off road. After some searching they figured out how to start it. It was different than any vehicle Ven had used, with two sticks instead of a steering wheel, and no foot pedals. Everything was controlled by hand, but she got the hang of it quickly enough.
Soon she was driving toward Arzat central command, Felix laying across the back seat with his cloak engaged.
They estimated that the Arzat capital was home to millions of Arzat and similarly millions of enslaved humans. Had they not been there the alliance would likely have bombed the city from a sky eye long ago, but the human losses would be unacceptable. Ven wondered after seeing the torture room in the Arzat house if that might be a better fate.
The city itself was as modern as it could be. Something she would have never dreamt of as a child. Massive skyscrapers reached upward, all interconnected by multiple elevated walkways. The ground was covered with roads and traffic. It was not unlike the human capital city back on Aecor, though it was significantly larger.
Ven’s neck was sore from having to crane it upward to see over the dash of the vehicle that was clearly made for the larger Arzat. She would happy when they were done driving. Sky Eye 2 had been watching the city, and had a guess that the central command was actually underneath it. Ven circled and circled looking for a tunnel entrance.
She spent nearly two hours driving through the city, praying she didn’t get in to an accident with another vehicle. But also watching the Arzat in their home. They were not all that different than the humans. Though she did notice something odd. She saw no Arzat who looked young, no children. Granted it was night, but the Arzat only slept about two hours in a day. She figured she’d see young ones somewhere. There was also not a single one that looked elderly. She was curious to know why.
Ultimately it didn’t matter though. She had a mission to attend to, and at long last she spotted a tunnel entrance with a checkpoint. As long as she sat still in the car the disguise would work, she had taken what she was sure was an access badge from the Arzat’s home. She couldn’t speak their language, but that was where Felix came in.
Felix had heard enough of it that his robotic brain was able to decipher it. His vocal processor was linked to Ven’s holographic emitter so that the mouth would move in unison with what he said. A speaker on the helmet would make the actual sound. He also had the ability to send words directly into Ven’s earbud without actually speaking out loud. So he would do the talking for her.
“You ready back there Felix?” Ven asked. He was in the back seat hunkered down and holding perfectly still to ensure that his optical camouflage didn’t show any distortions.
“Yes boss.” The mirth in his voice lightened the otherwise tense moment.
“Okay then,” Ven responded, “Here we go.”
With that she pulled the buggy up to the checkpoint. A large tan and brown patterned Arzat in battle armor, with weapon slung on shoulder approached the car. He grunted and hissed in his language as Ven wondered what he was actually saying. Then the speaker on her helmet responded with another series of grunts and hisses. Followed by Felix in her ear bud “Hand him the badge.”
She grabbed the badge and held it out to the guard, who grabbed it and then swiped it against a machine. There was a beeping noise and then he walked back to them holding the badge out for Ven to take back. Moving slowly she took it back. The guard grunted and hissed again, and again her speaker responded.
After the guard stepped away the gate started to open and Felix told Ven they were clear. She reached to the controls and down in to the tunnel they went.
The tunnel wound once to the right, then further back to the left, and moved steadily downward. A few more bends and they ran in to something that Ven hadn’t expected. Water. The entire tunnel beneath them was flooded and the road went straight in to it.
“Amphibious.” Ven muttered to herself. Just as she thought it she saw another vehicle coming upward towards them. She realized that her vehicle must be amphibious too or the guards certainly would have noticed. Luckily air wouldn’t be an issue for her thanks to her helmet, but she imagined an assault where infantry breached the enemy headquarters only to find out they were stuck against a wall of water. Not wanting to appear suspicious she quickly started the vehicle moving again before the approaching one got too close, and in to the water they went.
A few grunts and hisses were barked as the vehicle’s passed one another, muffled by the water, but neither vehicle stopped. The road carried of for at least a mile, probably closer to two. It had stopped descending and now simply travelled forward. At long last it began to rise again and soon enough they were back out of the water. It was here that they entered what appeared to be a parking bay, with a guard station blocking the only doorway. They pulled the buggy in between two other vehicles, Ven looked around and saw that no one could see them. “So what do we do now? I think they’ll spot the distortions as close as we have to walk to them.”
“How many were there?”
Ven had counted five but she knew Felix was getting at taking them out with his silenced rounds. “Doesn’t matter, there’s a camera. Even if we take them out one by one it will be seen…. Damnit!” Ven hit the dash and dented it. “We are so close getting access to their system. We have to do something!”
“There is one option.” Felix voice was mechanically calm as ever, it calmed Ven to hear it.
She laughed, “What’s that? Brute force.”
Felix didn’t respond.
“Crap, it is isn’t it?”
“As you said, we are so close. We go in hot, find a computer, you cover me while I hack, then we fight our way out.”
“That’s not much of a plan.”
“I do not see any other option.” Felix was dead serious.
“Okay then. In we go.”
With that they both exited the vehicle, they had parked between two larger ones and still had their respective camouflages on. Felix’ optical camouflage came off and his right hand pulled apart as his fore arm widened, the pieces of his hand moved inside the arm as his laser gatling cannon came out. He couldn’t power both the cloak and the weapon at the same time. Ven noted that it was the weapon he’d used the very first time she had ever seen him. Back when she had no concept of what a robot even was.
“I’ll keep mine on to confuse them.” Ven said. Her rifle was in no way tied to her holographic helmet so she could use both. “On three?” She asked of her partner.
“On three” came the response.
Then Ven again, “One….two…..three!”
Three of the guards were cut down in an instant. Two had been caught by the gatling canon and the third was picked off by Ven. The remaining two jumped for cover, and an alarm started blaring.
Shots came back their direction but they missed. Both were directed at Felix. Ven ran from vehicle to vehicle, getting closer to the guards who had assumed Felix was the only threat. Within twenty seconds she’d gotten close enough to get behind them, but just as she went to deal with them, a whole slew of additional guards came running through the doorway.
Ven didn’t take time to count, they were all bunched together so she reached for a grenade and lobbed it at them. A second later and the deafening explosion blocked out even the sound of the alarm. Body parts flew everywhere, and only one guard, the one who had taken cover in the shack, remained. Ven heard her helmet grunt out and the guard stood up and started to run to her. He was immediately cut down by Felix’ cannon.
Breathing heavy from the adrenaline Ven shouted out to Felix, “Lets go!” and they took off through the doorway. There was a long corridor that ran to a four way split. More guards were coming from the left so they fired a few rounds off and then carried on forward.
After several more turns, and a few guards who had the misfortune of getting in their way, they found rooms with computers. Ven swiped the badge that she still had but it did nothing. The door was locked. Just then a shot flew past her head. She dropped to one knee right as a second hit her chest. The body armor took the lethality out of it but there would be a bruise. Down on one knee she drew her weapon and shot the guard in the same instance that Felix had raised his leg and kicked the door in.
“That works.” Ven quipped, and they moved into the room. Felix went straight to a machine while Ven stood with her weapon trained on the doorway. His gatling cannon had turned back into a hand and his fingers flew across the controls.
So far no more guards had come, “Getting anywhere?” Ven asked for an update.
“This computer is too low level, but I now know where the mainframe is. Lets go.”
Ven let Felix take the lead, armed again with his gatling and shields. They came out of the room to encounter more guards, and Felix was quick to dispatch them. They ran down the halls making bend after bend, then finally hitting a stairway. They went down one level and through three more hallways before getting to another room. This time Felix kicked in the door immediately and Ven followed him through.
“This is it.” Felix said as he went to work on the computer. Ven again trained her weapon on the door. Thirty seconds went by before they heard the footsteps coming towards them, but no one came in the room, instead there was only the clink clink, of a grenade landing on the floor next to Ven.
Without thinking, she grabbed and lobbed it back just in time. It appeared the guards had been prepared for that and when it exploded none seemed to be hit. Moments later they came charging into the room.
Ven opened fire. Taking out three as they entered, two more made it past, and Ven took another round to the chest. She thanked god for the body armor.
A moment later Felix shouted out, “Done!” And he turned to face the door as his right arm turned back in to the gun and shield. With the gatling on open fire the two remaining didn’t stand a chance, and the room was sprayed with green blood.
“Time to leave!” Felix told Ven. That meant Tirus wasn’t here. She again told herself he couldn’t be dead.
As the ran back out the door she shouted to Felix. “Did you find him?”
“Yes,” came the response, “but he’s not here. I found the Atlas too, and a plethora of useful military data.”
“So now we just have to get back out.” Felix began running, Ven right behind, her synthetic muscles pushing her at speeds no human could naturally run. They wound from corridor to corridor back to the stairs, and finally they were back to the garage,
where the found vehicles parked and numerous Arzat guards.
“Wait here.” Felix told Ven, she did as he said, remembering that day so long ago on the ship. He slowly walked out, gatling canon and shields ready. There was a symphony of gunfire and explosions, followed by silence, and then the calm mechanical voice.
“Fifteen Arzat down.” Just like she remembered. Not a boast, but just a report.
They quickly ran to the nearest vehicle and jumped inside. This time Felix sat up front with his cannon at the ready. They turned to the tunnel and raced away, soon they were underwater again. They moved as quickly as possible but the water provided so much more resistance than the air. Ven was amazed when they made it back out the other side without incident. She had thought for sure they’d have barricaded it.
But her heart sank when they rounded the last corner and she saw vehicles set up in front of them. “What do we do Felix?” She glanced at the robot.
“Ram your way through.” And with that he punched out the front window of the vehicle and opened fire on all the Arzat standing near the vehicles. The things dove for cover as Ven pushed the pedal to the floor. Closer and closer they got to the barricade, she aimed for the gap between two vehicles.
There was a horrific thud and the sound of metal scraping on metal, as she plowed her way through the barricade. She prayed that they would make it through, and let out a sigh of relief when they came out the other side. Their vehicle had taken a beating, but it was still moving.
They took off down the street as fast as they could go, three more buggies in close pursuit. “Felix, transfer everything you got to Sky Eye 2.”
“The transfer is already in progress.”
At least if they got killed they had managed to get the information out.
Two more bends and their vehicle started to clunk and smoke. “Shit.” Ven exclaimed. They pushed it as far as they could, trying to get to the edge of the city while dodging Arzat traffic and being chased. Finally they realized the buggy wouldn’t make it.
“Sky Eye 2 is sending reinforcements.” Felix had been in communication with command. Almost as soon as he said it a building behind them exploded, obviously hit by a missile. Thirty seconds later and Ven saw the armed quadrocopters coming from the sky. They were free falling to get there as fast as possible.
From behind them a missile was launched. It traveled upwards and Ven cringed as one of the quadrocopters exploded into an uncountable number of pieces. The other two continued their free fall, engines kicking in at the last moment, one came skimming just over the top of the buggy, cannons firing at their pursuers.
The other touched down in the middle of the next intersection. Ven hit the brakes and yanked the buggy skidding to the left. As soon as it stopped she and Felix were out the right side and running to the quadrocopter.
The one still flying had turned the odds to their favor, and suddenly the pursuers were running for cover. Ven and Felix jumped on board the landed copter right as it lifted off the ground and took back to the sky. They began to accelerate as quickly as the machine could, weaving side to side as missiles were launched from the ground. The second copter came following in close pursuit.
They had cleared the building tops and were now gaining altitude quickly, but the three missiles that had been launched were still gaining. Felix leaned out the side of the copter, holding on with his left hand and aiming his right towards the missiles.
Boooooom! One exploded, quickly followed by another. There was one missile left but Felix wasn’t quick enough. Seconds before the missile would have hit the other quadrocopter swerved between them and it. The explosion shook their craft and Ven winced at the loss of another pilot. More missiles were launched but it was too late. They had gained enough altitude that the missiles couldn’t reach them. A few minutes later and they were in the clear, making their way back to Sky Eye 2.
After a hot shower and a cup of black coffee Ven was on her way to a debriefing with Captain Yang and Admiral Entra via view screen. Felix was already there.
As soon as she walked in the room Captain Yang stood and saluted her. “Good job boss!”
Ven wasn’t interested in praise. “What about the pilots?”
Captain Yang responded. “They were two of my best. It’s a loss. Their families have been notified.” Ven looked to the ground, a tear started to well. Captain Yang stepped closer to her. “CEO, the cache of data that Felix recovered was priceless. I’m sure that had they known they would have still volunteered for the mission. Not only do we now know where Tirus’ is being held, but we also know the location of the Atlas. Best of all Felix was able to leave their systems in such a manner that they’ll think our hack attempt was a failure. They have no idea what we know. Their military technology, their protocols, it was a gold mine.”
“How did they hide the Atlas?” Ven had been wondering how the Sky Eye’s had been unable to find the ship.
“Ah,” the captain spoke up, “they have a technology that dampens the signatures we would normally pick up. And they also have holographic technology. After they took the ship they set up a holographic projector. From the sky all we could see was more ocean.”
“What about Tirus? What did you find out about him?”
The admiral chose to answer that question. “He’s being held near the Atlas, in a cave complex.”
Ven was adept at sarcasm. “Oh great, underground again.”
“We have a different plan this time. Although I don’t think you’re going to like it.”
“Oh great.” Ven let out a sigh, “So what am I doing?”
The admiral paused for a moment. Ven could tell he didn’t want to say what he was about to say. “We know that Tirus is probably segregated. But Arzat prisons are usually labor camps. Particularly mining. Some humans are killed, some are sent to the camps. If they know a human is some sort of officer they’ll keep them alive and torture them for information….”
“This is sounding better and better.” Ven chimed in.
The admiral paused for the briefest moment and then carried on. “we’re unable to reach the commander through his ear bud most likely because he’s underground, but we suspect he’d be kept in isolation. He’s far to valuable to be killed or let loose with the other inmates where he could organize a riot. You, on the other hand, would likely be assigned to the work crew. As long as they didn’t uh,” the admiral cleared his through and Ven interrupted.
“As long as they don’t kill me.”
“Venuvia,” the admiral was the only one who ever called her that, “I cannot order you to do this mission.”
There was no hesitation in Ven’s voice, “what do I do once I’m in?”
The admiral spoke up, more confident now that the uncomfortable subject had been addressed. “We are going to upgrade your ear bud so that it can reach us even underground, and once underground you should be able to communicate with the commander.”
The admiral continued, “once we are all in contact you will arrange a prison riot. At the same time we will attack from the entrance.”
“I’m just supposed to arrange a riot?”
“Like I said, I cannot order you to under….”
Ven cut him off. “It’s fine. But be sure you have oxygen helmets.”
“Yes, Felix informed us of your trip through the tunnel.”
“What about the Atlas?”
“We’ll be paradropping in, the Atlas is our ride out.”
“Assuming it still works.” Ven was skeptical.
“It works.” The admiral was confident. “You should be proud of yourself Venuvia, I know Tirus would be. You and Felix hit the mother load of intel. We now have a huge advantage over the Arzat.
With that, it was decided, and Ven only had one more question “So when do we go?”
The upgrade to Ven’s ear bud was a quick and mostly painless procedure. A small injection of nano probes and the upgrade was complete. Next she would be paradropping in to Arzat territory near the prison. This time though, she’d carry no disguise, and no muscle suit. They didn’t what the tech falling in to Arzat hands. She would be disguised as a pilot. She’d take a quadrocopter down low, then bail out seconds before it exploded. The Arzat would assume she had a mechanical failure and had no choice but to eject.
Boarding the quadrocopter she thought what a shame it was that it would be destroyed. They were beautiful machines, with one rotor on each corner, a flat bottom, and a smooth rounded top. This one had no weapons, there was no point wasting them.
Captain Yang was beside Ven as she boarded it. “Good luck boss.” Yang’s tone was serious, there was a chance Ven would simply be killed and they’d be left with nothing but the data. Ven’s mind wouldn’t entertain the idea. As always she was determined, allowing only thoughts of success.
The ejection and explosion went exactly as planned, and Ven was parachuting downward to the ground where she saw a squad of Arzat awaiting her. She touched down and was immediately swarmed. Two Arzat were quick to grab her arms, and the rest stood around her. One stepped closer to her face, clearly in charge.
“Loookkssss like you haaad an acccidentt.” The awful Arzat laugh. He then used his upper left hand to punch Ven in her right temple. The world went black.
She was bound at the wrists and ankles. A hood over her head. At least they hadn’t killed her. That was probably good news. She could tell she was in some sort of box. Small and confining. She could hear no sounds, but she felt motion. She was being transported. Then suddenly the motion slowed with a lurch. Ven imagined how the buggy had slowed when they entered the water. So there was water blocking this tunnel as well. At least command knew to expect it.
She wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but eventually the motion stopped and she heard a whoosh of air as the box she was in opened. Arzat hands reached in to pull her out and she was walked a long ways, making turns now and again and up a flight of stairs. At last she was sat down, and tied to the chair, which she could feel was bolted to the floor.
She heard a door close and then felt a hand pull the hood off of her. Her pupils closed in at the sudden light and she squinted to try and see around the room. Soon enough she saw that there was nothing to see. Nothing but a door, and the Arzat who had pulled the hood.
This one was tall, and wore no armor. But had numerous scars and missing patches of hair on his black and white scales. He formed a wicked grin baring his yellowed teeth.
“Don’t tell him anything. I know you can’t respond.” It was Tirus’ voice in her ear bud. The Arzat was looking at a table of implements trying to decide what he would do to her.
Ven wanted to shout out that it was her. To thank god that he was alive. But she couldn’t let the Arzat know about the earbud. It was their one advantage, so she remained silent.
“This is going to be bad. But he won’t kill you. With any luck they’ll give up quick and send you to the mine. I’ll be here the whole time.”
Here she had come to rescue her adopted father but it was now him comforting her. What’s more he didn’t even know it was her, he just knew that he was picking up someones signal.
The Arzat had chosen a knife with a short serrated edge. He walked over to Ven and squatted in front of her. One of his hands pulled her legs apart, as another reached in with the blade and sawed a chunk off her calf. She winced, and agonized over the pain, letting out noise but not screaming.
The Arzat stood back up. “I can do faaar worssse than thattt. Why don’t you telll me sssomething ussseful.” And he began to lower down. This time he took the blade to Ven’s inner thigh, sawing another chunk of flesh out. Again she didn’t scream or cry out, but groaned with the pain.
“Rrrrrrr.” The Arzat was clearly frustrated by her silence. “Think youuu’re touuggh dooo you.” He went back to his table looking for another tool. This time he came back with a hammer and swung it into the cut on her thigh. The pain was excruciating, and she finally cried out. “Sssooo youuuu dooo make noissse.” The wicked grin returned. “Now you telll me sssomething ussseful.”
Ven looked at the Arzat slowly. “You’re ugly.”
“Grrrrr” he grabbed table and flung it at her. She got hit with all manner of objects, leaving her with bruises and scars, but nothing she couldn’t handle. He glared at her for a few seconds more and then turned to leave the room.
As soon as the door closed her earbud went ballistic. “Ven what the hell are you doing here. Gods how could they send you? Are you okay?”
Ven could finally respond. “I’ll survive. And I chose to undertake this mission. Oh and command is on the line, you should say hi.”
Tirus gave command a quick update. They had attacked the ship in the dark and overwhelmed them with superior numbers. Then they had brought him here, where he’d been tortured for what he guessed was a week before being placed in a squalid cell, completely isolated from the rest of the prison. He was informed of the attack plan. Now all they had to do was get Ven in to the general population so she could incite the riot.
Ven was in the torture room for three days before they finally gave up and sent her to the mine. She was assigned to work with a man named Fet. The mines were dimly lit, there was nothing to keep them safe, and they spent virtually every waking moment working. Ven waited for when the guards were not around to start telling the inmates that an army was ready to save them. She just needed to ensure that Tirus would be safe before they could attack, and that was where the riot came in. With a riot and an attack simultaneously Tirus would become an afterthought.
Most of the humans didn’t believe Ven and assumed she was crazy. These were people who had never seen human technology. Who had no idea that humans even controlled their own territory. All technology was magic to them and the Arzat were like gods. But they had agreed not to say anything to anyone else about her ideas. Unfortunately one did. He was a friend of Fet’s, Ven kicked herself for trusting him, but he went straight to the guards, and when Ven saw one walking over to her she knew that they would put her in solitary and the plan would be blown. It was now or never. Her hand tightened on her pickaxe.
The guard grunted and hissed as it walked over to her. Closer and closer. Ven’s pickaxe was resting on the ground on the right side of her. She held the handle and waited, trying to look innocent. Trying to time it perfectly. Right as he stepped close, getting ready to grab her, her right hand swung upward, pulling the pickaxe with it. She swung it with all her strength and her aim was perfect. The point traveled directly in to the side of his head and his body fell to the ground.
Ven looked at Fet who’s eyes were wide with fear. “Come on!” She yelled at him as she yanked the pickaxe out and began to run toward the other guard. The other guards gun had been slung on his back and he was trying to get it ready but Ven covered the distance too quickly. This time she raised the primitive weapon over her head and brought it swinging down. The Arzat tried to move to the side, but he didn’t move quick enough and the point came down ripping off an ear before driving into his collarbone. He fell to the ground, blood pouring from the wound. In too much pain to move. Ven grabbed the gun and motioned Fet to grab the other right as the alarm started blaring.
They ran down one tunnel while Ven told Fet how to use the gun but they were stopped by a cliff that dropped off into pitch blackness. Turning back around they saw three guards coming toward them. Ven had her weapon drawn and opened fire. Fet did too, though his aim was terrible and Ven ended up taking out all three.
Ven picked up all the weapons and slung them on her back then looked at Fet, “Where are the most humans?”
Fet didn’t hesitate and that pleased Ven. He’d seen enough Arzat die now that he was starting to actually hope he could get free. “This way!” He took off in a different direction.
They ran down a long tunnel that wove back and forth but soon came to an end where there were at least a hundred humans slaving away and only five guards that Ven could see. The guards stood on an upper level watching the humans below. Ven used their own weapons to start picking them off.
As soon as the gunfire erupted most of the miners dove to the floor, but a couple close to Ven ran her direction. They reached forward indicating to throw them a weapon, Ven tossed one and the inmate caught it. The other inmate was taken out by Arzat fire. Ven then took the last two guards out, and suddenly it was only humans remaining.
She shouted out, “They are called Arzat. They are not gods. And we can kill them! Are you with me!” There was a moment of hesitation followed by an eruption of cheering, Ven was quickly swarmed by the miners.
“Command,” she spoke into her bud, “the riot has been started.”
Of the hundred or so prisoners the great bulk were happy to see their oppressors overthrown. A few however, held back, still fearful that they would be punished. Of the prisoners who came to Ven, many wanted to fight. She gave them a quick run down of the guards firearms and now they had a small military force.
Ven turned to Fet, “Do you know where solitary confinement is?”
“I think so.” The man had made the transition from prisoner to insurgent with remarkable speed. Ven was grateful to him.
“Okay, lead the way.
Ven and the other armed inmates formed a small squad behind Fet, who confidently lead the way. Ven spoke to command through her bud. “Status update command!” It was Felix who responded.
“I am leading an attack force, we are pressing through the tunnel.”
“Excellent.” Came Ven’s reply, she then spoke to the commander, “You ready to go commander? We’re coming for you”
Tirus voice came back quickly, “There are Arzat coming down the hall, but I don’t think they know you’re coming. They’ve been grunting and hissing at each other non stop. I think they are arguing.”
“Let’s hope they keep it up.” Ven replied.
She was following Fet with her makeshift squad. They had gotten in to a few small firefights with guards, but they’d only lost one man. Soon they were snaking through corridors getting further and further from the blaring alarms, until the tunnel they were in was nearly silent.
“You sure this is right?” Ven was concerned they’d gone the wrong way.
Fet reassured her, “I’ve been here for years and this is the only place that I’ve never been, it’s got to be here. After a few more bends Ven heard the sounds of the Arzat fighting with one another. She held her arm up to stop the squad, and they listened to the voices. There were at least three of them.
“Commander, “ Ven spoke in to the bud, “Can you draw their attention to you? We’re ready to ambush.”
“Copy.” Tirus may have aged, but his fierceness in battle was as strong as ever. With that he went to the bars and started yelling, “Hey you idiots, you gonna come kill me or what?”
The Arzat voices stopped and Ven could hear their footsteps moving down the hallway, then the sound of keys. She signaled her men to follow her, and they ran around the corner firing wildly at the enemies. All three had been facing Tirus’ cell and they hadn’t even had a chance to turn and see who shot them before their bodies all slumped to the floor.
Ven ran to the gated doorway and her eyes teared up at the sight of Tirus. He was bruised on every bit of skin she could see, and had gashes and scars on his face and arms. He wore soiled rags, and the cell was barren except for a toilet. Grabbing the keys off of the dead guard she went through three before finding the right one, and soon enough the cell was open. “Command, I have him.” Ven went in to help Tirus to his feet.
“Copy.” Came Captain Yang, “Felix’ squad has made it past the water and is entering the main prison. They are carrying extra breather helmets, but the inmates may have to take turns getting out.”
“Copy.” It was Ven’s turn to respond, “On our way back to the entrance.” She looked to Fet who understood, and took up the lead again.
By the time they reached the entrance to the prison the humans had control of the entire facility. Ven and Tirus went out immediately, and Felix’ squad kept order while the inmates were shuttled past the water tunnel.
Once outside Tirus blinked at the harsh sunlight. “So I guess that makes us even?” Ven tried to lighten the mood with a joke.
“Ha ha…” Tirus started to laugh but then winced with the pain from his bruised ribs.
Ven contacted command. “You are three miles from the Atlas, travel east.” Ven did as told, a trail of now freed slaves following her.
The Atlas was the crown jewel of the human fleet and Ven would be happy to get it back. Beside that the enemy had surface to air missiles about the area, preventing them from getting lifted out by a quadrocopter. That didn’t mean that Sky Eye 2 couldn’t help however, as they were raining down missiles on any pursuers or blockers of the column. It took a little over an hour of walking, and Arzat reinforcements were on their way when Ven finally spotted the Atlas.
The ship was nearly six hundred feet long and had all of the latest bits of technology. The Arzat had been trying to reverse engineer from it, but according to the data mine that Felix had found, they’d had little in the way of luck. Ven’s squad was now up to fifteen people armed. Five women and ten men. They would have to confiscate a smaller ship to get to the Atlas.
Ven therefore headed to the first docks she saw where an array of Arzat boats were tied up. The docks had only a handful of soldiers, but they took out two of Ven’s men on the approach before the squad was able to return fire and win the fight.
Felix had finished helping people out of the cave and was at the back of the column, running to the front to assist.
“Be there in two minutes.” He radioed Ven. They would need him to hack the boat. Eventually Ven picked one, a small vessel with mounted machine guns but large enough to carry the hundred plus prisoners. By the time everyone was loaded Felix was on board too, and in a few moments he had the engines running. They untied from the dock and raced into the sea on their way to the Atlas.
Patrol boats had started to come their direction so Felix armed his canon while Ven jumped in to a turret. Now that the boat was running Tirus was piloting it.
“Command,” Ven called, “Three patrol boats coming our way.”
“Copy that, we see them.” A few seconds later a bevy of missiles fell from the sky and two patrol boats were incinerated. The third was taken out by a combination of Ven’s machine gun fire and Felix’ gatling canon.
After a tense two minute ride, they had made it to the Atlas. “Do we know how many are on board?” She asked the question of Felix as he was the one who had accessed the computer data.
“Seventeen Arzat. A science team, with five trained military officers.”
“Those odds sounds doable.” She quipped back.
They docked at the back of the Atlas where there was a lower deck that could be reached. Once there it would be a standard assault to recapture it.
This time Ven asked for volunteers. She had more than she had weapons. She decided to split in to two squads. Ven would lead her squad up the port side at the same time as Felix led his up the starboard side. Tirus would stay safe until the fighting was over. He was just in too bad of shape to be of any use other than driving the thing.
The assault couldn’t have gone more smoothly, especially considering that most of the men were untrained. But they managed to take out all of the Arzat except for one scientist. They were still unsure of his location when they brought Tirus aboard and took him to the bridge.
“Good to be back.” He cracked a painful looking smile. Then his expression turned sad. “But my crew…” He shook it off. “Nothing I can do for them now, lets get her moving.”
He fired up the engines and the Atlas began accelerating away from the island. Two ships came after it but Sky Eye 2 took them out. The Atlas had had all of its munitions taken off board by the Arzat.
An hour went by and they were in the open sea. A quadrocopter was sent down from the sky eye to retrieve the commander. Meanwhile he decided to place Ven in charge of his ship. After the carnage had settled Ven went to check on the former prisoners. They were from many different villages and most wanted to return to their families or bring their families with them.
She walked from person to person, learning names, where they were from. Everything she could. Finally she gathered all of them together. “People, my name is Ven. Your world has forever changed. No more are you Arzat slaves. Henceforth you are free members of the human alliance. And most importantly for those of you with families.” She paused for a moment. “I am a covert extraction operative. A CEO. It is my job to rescue people from the Arzat, and I will not rest until every last human is free!” There was resounding applause. Of all the loud noises Ven had heard over the last few days this was her favorite.