Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credit:

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

Acknowledgment: Z. Levay (STScI)

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credit:

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

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #21

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Riko, I have a confession to make.”

“I don’t like the sound of that.”

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

“No, that can’t be right.”

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s … unsettling.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credit:

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

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #19

ENCRYPTED DISCUSSION CHANNEL – AFRICAN UNION SECURITY COMMITTEE

TOPIC THREAD – EHVOW INVASION – WHAT SHOULD WE DO

SUBJECT: CAPE TOWN ATTACKS

SUBMITTED: YESTERDAY, 02:32 SAST

Dearest Friends,

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

<attached files redacted>

Best Regards,  

General Mongane Tafari House 

African Union Armed Forces

SAC (South African Command)

SUBJECT: RE: CAPE TOWN ATTACKS

SUBMITTED: YESTERDAY, 02:58 SAST

General House,

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

Sincerest Regards,


General Mahmmoud Karaman
African Union Armed Forces

LMC (Libya-Mali Command)

SUBJECT: COMMAND PROTOCOLS

STATUS: URGENT

PRIORITY: HIGH

SUBMITTED: YESTERDAY, 05:12 SAST

Generals House and Karaman (and other esteemed colleagues),

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

Sincerely Yours,

Alphonse Zuma

Executive Director

African Union Defence Committee

SUBJECT: RE: CAPE TOWN ATTACKS

SUBMITTED: YESTERDAY, 05:15 SAST

General Karaman,

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


Best Regards,
General Mongane Tafari House 

African Union Armed Forces

SAC (South African Command)

SUBJECT: RE: COMMAND PROTOCOLS

STATUS: URGENT

PRIORITY: HIGH

SUBMITTED: YESTERDAY, 06:00 SAST

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

General House (and esteemed colleagues),

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

Sincerely Yours,
Executive Director

African Union Defence Committee

SUBJECT: RE: COMMAND PROTOCOLS

STATUS: URGENT

PRIORITY: HIGH

SUBMITTED: YESTERDAY, 06:23 SAST

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

Hey Mogane,

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

Sincerely,
General Ali-Ben Grizard

African Union Armed Forces
ZC (Zimbabwe Command)

SUBJECT: RE: COMMAND PROTOCOLS

STATUS: URGENT

PRIORITY: HIGH

SUBMITTED: YESTERDAY, 06:27 SAST

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

General Grizard,

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



Sincerely Yours,
Alphonse Zuma
Executive Director

African Union Defence Committee

SUBJECT: RE: CAPE TOWN ATTACKS

SUBMITTED: YESTERDAY, 06:47 SAST

General House,

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

Mr. Zuma,

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

General Mahmmoud Karaman
African Union Armed Forces

LMC (Libya-Mali Command)

Image Credit:

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

Spacetelescope.org

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #18

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

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

“Nothing,” he spat back at his aunt. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How do you know?” Viktor asked him. 

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

“And go where?” Natasha said. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Or something like that,” Yegor corrected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credit:

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

Spacetelescope.org

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns #16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credit:

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

Spacetelescope.org