USD: Three days since system entry

Location: Dedia IV Orbit, Space Elevator Rendezvous, Tears of Fire, CIC


A necklace of ships floated in geostationary orbit behind the space elevator, following it in the constant dance that saw them circle the planet. The massive tether was tens of thousands of kilometers long. It reached the surface and stretched out well past where the ships had gathered at the equilibrium point.

A massive counterweight could be spotted anchored at the end if one used a telescope. However, the main activity occurred closer to the midpoint where gravity and centrifugal force pulled equally resulting in a net zero force.

The orbital was smaller than Ackman Station, but still possessed the same type of mooring arms that Alex had encountered before. Except they had all been cleared of civilian traffic and the entire station crew had been drafted towards the effort of unloading the Tear’s cargo.

The newly converted combat/construction drones had immediately set to work before the mooring was even completed, detaching the massive ‘hangar’ trays that had been secured to the inside of the ship’s outer hull. A station tug then took charge of the cargo from the drones, floating the trays across the gulf and toward a section of the station that had been opened to vacuum to fit the massive pallet.

The crew would then reseal the station’s arm, and an army of workers descended on the supplies to sort them out. Weapons and other things would go to the station’s single I-field hangar where a half dozen large atmospheric shuttles waited to ferry the cargo to various points below on the surface. The rest went to the large ring in the center of the orbital which would detach and bring the cargo to the anchor point far below.

The anchor point on the surface was mobile, currently floating in a large bay that the capital of Dedia Prime surrounded. The city was the single largest inhabitation on the planet, housing over 99% of the entire human population behind its walls.

Those walls towered over the surrounding countryside like massive cliffs in a display that had surprised and awed Alex as she zoomed in the optical cameras on them. They were thick as well, wide enough that she could have considered landing the Tears on one longwise in a straight section.

The fact that the newly arrived colonists had been landed outside those protective fortifications had been done on purpose.

Captain Walker’s excuse was that the colony had been planning an expansion and that the drop had been to speed up development of the planet. It was doubtful there was a single person on the planet that would have believed it, even if they had been die-hard Solarian loyalists. Which they were not.

Alex panned her camera view from Dedia Prime towards the current front line. Air support flew sorties from the main starport within the city's walls. The action was active over a hundred kilometers of front line, anchored between two large plateaus that the colonists had set up defensive artillery bases on. So far those anchors had held up well enough to provide indirect fire to the beleaguered line of infantry and armor that nestled between them.

And indirect fire and air support they needed in droves, as the horrifying sight of thousands of the Rexxor creatures stampeded toward their lines in uneven intervals that could last several hours to days.

Worse, the timing seemed to be accelerating as the creatures seemed to be tunneling underground in an attempt to breach the defensive line.

The entire countryside had been decimated, a massive corridor of death that the humans had enacted in their retreat from the colonists landing zone. There were still long columns of refugees that had survived being husbanded by motorized infantry from the front line to the city, but skirmishes erupted constantly slowing the movement down to a crawl as heavier and heavier patrols were required to get the civilians to safety.

To Alex, it looked like the Rexxors were encircling the army, preparing to wipe it out en masse. No matter that the Governor had told her they had no intelligence, she could see the design. Even if it wasn’t sapience, they were still pursuing a strategy that was slowly strangling the human force to death.

Alex’s console chimed with Elis’s voice.

“Elis-to-Alex, anyone home in there? I’ve dropped off the first shuttle load of arms and am enroute to pick up the next. Do we have it ready, yet?”

Alex checked her display of their cargo hold. They had sorted out the highest priority supplies to be brought directly to the Dedia Prime Army’s forward bases, to be delivered as soon as they arrived. Sending Elis alone down so close to the fighting worried Alex, especially since she was stuck in orbit on the Tears.

“Yes, it is ready to go. I’ll recall a half dozen drones to help you load it up.”

“Roger. Thanks for that, it’s a bit much for a lone girl, even in power armor.”

“Just be careful. I’ve been reviewing the footage and it looks terrible. You can’t really understand it until you see it. The Rexxor are like a wave of ants, except they are the size of tanks. The little ones are sneaking past and gnawing at the backlines.”

“Yeah, the people I saw didn’t look very good. Been active too long and need some downtime.”

“They’ve been doing this for almost two weeks I think.”

“I’ll be there in thirty minutes, hold the door open for me.”

“Okay, I’ll see you then.”

Alex killed the connection and went back to studying the surface video feed, this time selecting several faraway settlements that were closest to the action. They had all been decimated or destroyed.

“Nameless, highlight the settlements that we can visually confirm haven’t been wrecked and likely have survivors.”

[Affirmative: Adjusting map overlay now.]

The map switched from a visual terrain relief to a flat colored one, with colored circles indicating the positions. They were arrayed by color for how close they were to the hive the Rexxor were coming from, while size denoted their populations.

“We have two shuttles, and the governor has six. Each can hold 128 people if we stuff them full. How many trips are we looking at?”

[Correlative: Orbital Drop and Orbital Extraction mission: 2 hours approximate duration. Approximately 65,895 people live in the indicated settlements. 8 Available shuttles. Estimate 515 shuttle missions, or 128 hours to evacuate all indicated areas with non-stop missions, assuming no in-flight failures or rest.]

Alex leaned back in her seat, rubbing her forehead and closing her eyes. No matter what they did this was going to be a slog. Worse, every single moment more people were dying on the ground.


USD: Several hours later

Location: Dedia IV Orbit, Space Elevator Orbital, Office of the Governor


Governor Tyler reached out to shake Alex’s hand. “It’s nice to meet you in person, Captain.”

Alex accepted it and nodded with a grim smile, “Likewise Governor. I’m glad to have been able to assist. I’ve been examining the situation on the ground. It's difficult to imagine the scale and horror of it without seeing it directly.”

The Governor circled back behind his desk and gestured for her to sit while answering, “It is. Even with video evidence it’s often assumed it's just fabricated footage, or some fake event being used to terrorize civilians. I am afraid many of those who don’t believe in the danger go out and get themselves killed in an attempt to disprove the ‘myth’ of the savage fauna.”

He frowned, the trouble on his face deepening. “The Grazhdanin’s actions however go far beyond that and seem to have enraged the nearest Rexxor nest well beyond anything we have ever seen before. We’ve seen upticks in activity throughout the continent."

“I noticed that all the settlements are located on the central continent, and there aren’t any settlements on the eastern continent or other archipelagos?"

“Rexxor activity is many times higher in those regions. It’s simply unfeasible to even attempt to setup outposts there.”

“I also noticed that the Rexxor have been flanking around the frontlines, setting up ambushes for the relief columns. That seems to suggest to me that there is far more intelligence than I’ve been led to believe.”

The Governor nodded, “I’ve thought so, too. But all the leading experts, Solarian and Dedian alike, have expressed the opinion that they are simply exhibiting simple reflexes to having their nest agitated. It’s their theory that issues will resolve over time as the stimulus fades.”

“Stimulus fades? Tens of thousands of the creatures are being turned into bloody paste by artillery and concentrated direct fire in those waves I witnessed before coming over. I can’t imagine that’s not ‘stimulus’ and how long until we really let loose with the kinetics? My personnel commented on how exhausted your troops looked.”

Tyler didn’t answer immediately, instead he leaned back in his chair and reached onto his desk to open a small wooden box. “Would you care for a cigar, Captain?”

Alex wrinkled her nose in a sudden rejection, “No thank you. I don’t care to smoke.”

For the first time Alex saw the Governor smile as he let out a small chuckle, “That’s the same reaction as I’d expect from my daughter. She’ll be turning eighteen and transferring to the city university this year.”

The wistful look slowly disappeared, and he focused back on Alex, “Would you mind if I partake?”

“It will not bother me, please go ahead.” That was the truth as Alex adjusted her ANUF settings to filter over a few points from Physical Reinforcement to Biological Modifications. Any poisons or irritation that the smoke might cause would be eliminated immediately.

He moved through the motions of clipping the cigar and lighting it before continuing the conversation, “The city militia was never prepared or equipped for an engagement like this. They have had considerable experience outside the walls and with assisting the outlying settlements when they came into danger from predators, and they have had drills and training on larger actions.”

The Governor paused to take a slow drag from the cigar, a thin line of smoke trailing upward into the air as he held it.

“But this is the first time they’ve ever been blooded like this. Honestly, I am horrified. The number of casualties has not really set in to anyone. The entire militia consists of approximately two hundred thousand volunteers and five hundred thousand city watchmen. We’ve already had to deploy watchmen to the front to keep it from collapsing and that line is slowly being pushed back. If it breaks, we might lose half or more of the entire army. There are fifty thousand wounded and nearly twenty thousand dead already.”

Those numbers meant little to Alex, but she had seen the footage of the fighting, and that she did understand.

“Governor, shouldn’t you be discussing retreating with your generals?”

Tyler laughed, “Generals? We have none. As for retreating, the damn creatures have snipers that can spit spikes that will take out armored vehicles. The terrain between the front and the city is partially forested and it's already becoming very difficult to escort the columns of refugees back.”

The grim look on his face returned quickly, however. “Our force was never intended to be more than colonial police, a wildlife management service and defensive garrison.”

Alex felt confused. “Who is in charge then?”

“Brigadier Reyes Taverson is leading the forward deployment, while Brigadier Edward Desersa oversees the city’s garrison and fortifications. I find myself in overall command, but with no real staff officers or confidence in tactical matters. So, they are essentially in charge of all our operations with only general directives”

“Governor, I’ll be honest, this seems very laissez-faire. I expected something a bit more structured and professional.

“We simply lack expertise, Captain. Many of us never chose to come to Dedia in the first place. We were dragged off the streets and brought here. While there have been some immigrants and experts that have moved here for various reasons, we have a severe lack of knowledgeable personnel. It has been improving rapidly over the last decade, but the army was honestly not high on our priority list.”

“Hence the big ass castle wall, I guess.”

The Governor raised an eyebrow at her comment, and Alex felt herself straighten slightly.

Shit, she was falling out of her ‘Captain’ persona.

“Sorry, Governor. It just seems that focus seems to be problematic now that there are settlements outside the capital.”

Governor Tyler nodded, “Indeed. I regret allowing those to begin to sprout up, but the people can be very independent. I had hoped that they would be able to manage, and for the most part, they have. Each settlement is generally fortified by a wall and its own security force.”

He reached up to turn a swivel monitor on his desk so she could see the display. A zoomed in view of the capital region appeared, with military markings denoting secure positions, fortifications and settlements. Various red lines showed the axis of advance that the Rexxor had made, and several settlements had been crossed out. Wiped out, Alex assumed, by their proximity to the massive red circle that denoted the active hive.

“Fortunately, only the nearest hive seems to have been agitated in this manner, and while there has been an increase in overall Rexxor activity across the continent, it hasn’t boiled over to wipe out the outer settlements other than those nearest the hive.”

He reached up to circle several settlements in turquoise, and then one just south of the active hive in green.

“These settlements need priority evacuation. I have already tasked our shuttle crews and available orbital personnel to see to them. This green settlement is called Tifaria. Consider it your first mission. It’s one of the largest settlements outside the capital, and closest to the Rexxor hive. Population is approximately 14,000 people.”

Alex frowned, “We have two shuttles, Governor. That’s fifty-five sorties, at two hours each, and I do not have an excess of personnel.”

“I understand. We aren’t expecting you to evacuate the place in four days at maximum pace. I would like your first sortie to be aimed at arming the militia there with weapons that you have brought us to help increase the security of their perimeter. Tifaria has a more respectable fortification than most settlements and Rexxor attacks should be light. With 1,500 to 2,000 militiamen to provide protection it should be possible to evacuate everyone safely.”

Alex nodded, “Very well, I think we can handle it.”

Governor Tyler nodded, then picked up his data pad and began to input some numbers. Alex’s HUD chimed with a positive sounding beep.

|Payment Received to Account|

|+195,000,000 SE|

|Total Balance: 203,813,877 SE|

“Your first week’s pay and mission bonus. I believe you have something for me from MilTech Arms, as well?”

Alex nodded, pulling out her data pad and swapping the screen to the MilTech Arms invoice before handing it to him.

He read it over, then signed the bottom with a digital pen, sending the numbers on her account careening ever higher.

|MilTech Arms – Starlight Revolution Contract|

|High Priority Courier Mission|

|Destination Authorization|

|Governor Tyler Johnson: Confirmed|

|Calculating Payment – Time Stepped|

|+428,183,432 SE|

|Total Balance: 631,997,309 SE|

“You made it here in an astoundingly quick time, Captain. Mr. Hammok has certainly been generous with his stipend as well.”

Alex looked at the amount and felt a tittering excitement. Starlight Revolution had more than enough seed money now to setup operations without having to drag things along.

“I don’t think he expected us to make it so fast. I did have our ship’s engineer redline the Linear Drive the whole way.”

Governor Tyler nodded, “Let’s talk specifics about Tifara.”

Alex nodded and settled in to discuss the scope of the mission.

A note from Erios909

Thanks for reading!

If you are enjoying the story, please leave a comment, rating, or review! They help the story out! And I love you for them!

I can't promise to respond to every comment, but I do read them all, and feedback is appreciated. Always remember that the this is essentially my first rough draft of the story with no real editing and only a loose plot outline. (Sorry! It's not a novel, its a webnovel and I am writing it as we go! And I'm hardly perfect!) 

Enjoy some more AI fanart





Next: Chapter 38 – Tifara Landing

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