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April 15, 2024

The Peacemakers

By Kevin Landis

Earth was destroyed, nothing left but rocky debris and a drifting moon. Journalists were all over the story. A pretty big deal, the earth being blown out of the sky by a fleet of Astrilian ships. And of course the media blew the whole thing out of proportion.

Media loved to do that. Everything has to be a big, big story. They can't just give a working man the news after a hard day's work.

Jerry switched off his NIU and sighed, bored.

"Another?" The barkeep asked, noting Jerry had turned off his Neural Interface Unit.

"Thanks." Jerry said, sliding his empty glass to the barkeep.

"What's in the news?" The barkeep asked, filling the glass quickly from an attachment he wore on his right arm.

The barkeep was an android, programmed to be a little too friendly.

"How'd you know I was watching the news?" Jerry asked, taking a strong swig and still managing to raise his eyebrows.

The Barkeep smiled, metal showing behind his extremely human lips.

"You always watch the news when you come in." He replied in an amused tone.

"They got earth." Jerry said, setting his glass down and sighing.

The android nodded understandingly.

"It was bound to happen sooner or later." Jerry said, "Imperialistic species."

"You'll recall that it was the human's who started the conflict." The android said, its tone neutral.

"Yeah," Jerry said, drawing on the beer. "We sure screwed up there."

There was a soft hiss as the door to the pub slid open. A soft click of boot on floor as someone made there way to the bar.

"Ladies and gentlemen." a commanding voice barked. "I require a moment of your time."

Groans of acknowledgement and distain came from around the semi-crowded room.

"I have something to say, It's important and I'd appreciate it if I could have your full attention." The man boomed.

Jerry spun on his barstool to see who was interrupting his beer.

"Maybe you've heard, maybe you haven't," the man went on, pleased with the amount of attention he'd got from the only partially apathetic room. "The Astrillians have destroyed earth. They plan to hunt humanity to extinction."

Jerry rolled his eyes. Another freedom fighter, trying to raise a militia to fight the aliens and pay them back for all the people they've killed.

"They're powerful," The man continued, "They're angry, and they don't want homo sapiens to ever hurt them again."

"Let me guess." Jerry said, holding up his hand to stop the man's raving, "You've discovered some weakness in their military. You think with a small army you could turn the war around."

That got a fairly large laugh out of the room.

"No." The man said, shaking his head. "I don't."

This got everyone's attention.

"This is not merely a war of military might." the man said, "No matter what force was raised it would be unable to beat the Astrillians."

This brought silence from the room.

"What do you think we should do?" Jerry shot back, unimpressed.

"I believe that war with the Astrillians is not the answer." The man said.

"Who are you?" Jerry asked, suddenly realizing that the man looked quite familiar.

The tall man straightened his shirt and glanced around the room.

"I'm an advisor to the governor of the Jupiter colonies." He said, "Adviser of Defense."

This brought a mixed murmur of respect and doubt from the crowd.

"My name is Ziban." He said, "I speak to you today, not as the defense advisor of the governor, but as a man."

"I've heard that the united colonies plan to form a coalition to attack the invading forces." The man beside Jerry at the bar said, "But you speak of ending the war?"

Ziban nodded. "Yes," He said, "We need to make peace with the enemy. For it is peace and not war that will save us."

"You mean surrender!" A thoroughly intoxicated voice from the back of the room yelled. "Cowardly surrender. Would you like to be their slaves?"

"As we speak," Ziban said, "The five remaining planet colonies: Mars, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto are forming a coalition to fight the invaders. It will be the largest most coordinated assault in the history of humanity."

"How many ships?" Jerry asked, interested.

"Over three thousand." Ziban answered, "And they will fail."

A noisy murmur engulfed the bar.

"They will fail because the Astrillians are right. All that most humans care about is themselves. We're predominately a very selfish and dominating species." Ziban said, "They've got the firepower to destroy us, and they will destroy us if we don't take decisive action."

"It doesn't matter," Jerry said, "I just watched a news report from behind the Astrillian lines. They won't except surrender. Their generals have been commanded to completely obliterate mankind."

Ziban nodded. "We know this." He said, "The Astrillians won't leave themselves open for another attack, they plan to eliminate the threat."

The room, or at least those in it that were paying attention, was confused.

"They have already said they won't make peace," Jerry said, "And your plan is to make peace?"

"It's more complicated than that." Ziban said, annoyed at the man's tone, "But, basically, yes."

"What do you want from us?" Jerry asked, "Credits?"

Ziban snorted a laugh.

"No," he said, "but as cliche as it sounds, if you want to live, come with me."

Ziban turned and left the room. About half the room followed him.

"Another?" The bartender asked Jerry as he played with his empty glass.

"His plan is probably worthless." Jerry said, not taking his eyes off the empty glass, "History is filled with horrible plans that killed everyone involved, including the planner."

"Don't forget, Jerry." The android said, "Every day it happens."

Jerry looked up at the robot, noting his serious expression.

"What happens everyday?"

The android smiled his metallic grin.

"Every day you write your own history."

***

Jerry jogged down the corridor, just catching the group following Ziban as they were entering a large hanger.

Assorted ships, all shabby looking and covered with strange markings, filled the vast bay.

"Don't think of it as deception." Ziban said, glancing at Jerry giving a slight smile as he joined the group, "We're just giving them a chance to get to know us before they decide our fate."

"That leaves a lot in their hands." Someone said, "What if the Astrillians aren't as noble as you say."

"You have to put your trust in someone," Ziban said, "I don't know about you, but I'm a little sick of trusting humanity to solve our problems."

"I've never seen ships like these before." Jerry said, gesturing toward the large armada parked in the enormous hanger. "Are they Astrillian?"

"No," Ziban said, "They have been made specially for this mission. They are brand new, the designs are a only a week old."

Ziban was assaulted with looks of skepticism.

"They look ancient." Jerry said.

Ziban smiled. "Let's hope the Astrillians think so."

***

Fleet Captain A'uhsoj stretched out on his soft floor and twisted his neck until a grinding sound delivered a smile to his mouthless face. His eyes smiled, and his nose. Humans have mouths, Astrillians don't.

Work had been tedious for the past week, and A'uhsoj was glad to have some time to lay down and work the stress knots out of his neck.

The neck of an Astrillian bears little resemblance to a human neck. It is about twice as long and covered in twisting veins.

The intercom on the wall of A'uhsoj's small cabin beeped.

"Captain to the bridge." A sharp voice said.

The captain sighed, lying a moment considering ignoring the call. Then he quickly sat up. It was his duty, and there was nothing more important to a fleet captain than duty.

A'uhsoj walked onto the crowded bridge and acknowledged the looks of respect from his officers.

"Captain," His first officer said, "We've encountered a convoy of ships, unknown origin. They claim to be refugees, run from their system by an aggressive and overpowering alien army."

"What species are they?" A'uhsoj asked, taking his seat at the center of the bridge.

"We've never encountered them before," The first officer replied, "They call themselves the Snamuh."

"They approached us?" A'uhsoj questioned, "We're a war fleet, why would they approach us. Aren't they afraid?"

"No." The first officer said, "They don't seem to be. It's likely their primitive scanners can't penetrate the cloak field that's hiding most the fleet."

"What do they want?" A'uhsoj asked.

"They want to meet with you."

***

Fleet Commander Jay Kinnven chewed on a soggy cigar stump, trying his best to pay some amount of attention to the discussion at hand.

"We really don't have any choice." One of the older admirals grumbled, "If the Jupiter colonies think they can just abandon us, we'll have to show them otherwise."

"Why destroy them?" A somewhat younger officer asked, "They might be trying to infiltrate the enemy for us."

Jay sighed, disgusted.

"They've joined the enemy, surrendered to them. They aren't even human any longer. They laid down their humanity when they joined the Astrillians. It's a few dozen ships. If we don't destroy them, others might follow their lead." Jay said, "Let's not forget that they could also be trying to give secrets to the Astrillians."

This brought murmurs of hate and anger from the room full of commanding officers.

"The ships are only a few light years away, they've stopped alongside a few Astrillian ships. We must destroy them now, before they can report back the enemy lines." Jay concluded, standing to end the meeting.

***

Fleet Captain A'uhsoj wrapped his hand around the crude writing tool he'd been given and signed his name to the bottom of the document.

Jerry hoped the Fleet captain wouldn't notice the beads of sweat forming on his forehead. At the moment he also wondered what had caused him to volunteer for such a stressful role in the mission.

"We declare that for as long as you extend peace to us," A'uhsoj said, laying the pen back on the table, "We will also extend peace and protection to you."

"We swear," Jerry answered dramatically, "On our pride as Snamuh, that we will never attack you, and fight beside you if you ever need us."

A'uhsoj shifted nervously in his chair. Out of all his responsibilities as a fleet captain he least enjoyed the diplomatic events.

"We the Astrillians swear the same to you." He said.

An moment of silence followed, then Jerry reached out and shook the Astrillian's hand.

"Then we will go on in peace, as friends." Jerry said.

A'uhsoj nodded. The wall intercom beeped urgently.

"Fleet Captain to the bridge, Immediately." A worried voice said. "I would advise detaining our guests for the moment."

A'uhsoj slid out of his chair and pressed his hand against the wall intercom.

"What's going on?" He asked.

"A fleet of several thousand attack ships are closing on our position. The life forms aboard match the Snamuh, the ships are of Earth construction."

A'uhsoj's eyes widened, his nostrils flared.

"What is this?" he said, glancing between Jerry and Ziban.

"They want to destroy us, because we chose to become your allies." Ziban said, "We didn't expect them to come for us, we did not mean to lead them to you."

A'uhsoj's eyes narrowed as the pieces flew together in his mind.

"You're humans. That's Snamuh backwards." He said, "You're trying to trick us."

"We hid our identity because we knew you would assume we were like other humans you've met. We aren't." Ziban said, "We don't want to conquer, we want to survive. What our people did to your planet was wrong, we are here to apologize on the behalf of our species."

"How do we know this isn't more deception?" A'uhsoj snarled, "You've only lied to us, How can we trust you?"

"We've made a great leap of faith." Jerry said, "There are those who said your people couldn't be trusted to keep your word. We believe differently, we know you will stay true to your word. We deceived you, yes, but only because we had been told you were an honorable people, a people who keep their word."

"Captain to the bridge!" The intercom blared, "The attacking ships are nearly in range."

The Fleet Captain stared at Jerry and Ziban for a moment. He turned to the security officers behind him.

"Bring them to the bridge." He said.

***

"They have only four ships, Captain Kinnven," The operations officer announced, "The transport's have no weapons and the Astrillians are out numbered, several thousand to four."

Jay smiled his cigar stump crammed to the corner of his mouth.

"Jam their communications." He said, "We can't risk them getting a message out to their fleet, it can't be far away."

"Destroy the traitors first." Jay said, chewing his cigar, "Save the Astrillians for last.

***

"They're commencing attacks on the transport ships." The first officer announce as the three men, plus security officers, entered the bridge, "So far they haven't attacked us."

The fleet captain took his place in the center of the bridge.

"Will the transports survive the attack?" A'uhsoj asked, his tone hard.

"Not unless we interfere." The officer responded, "Their defense fields are collapsing and they have no weapons."

Jerry was silent, waiting, he felt a lump the size of his fist in his throat.

"Send this message to commander of the attacking fleet," A'uhsoj said, "Withdraw or be destroyed."

"Message sent." An officer replied, then a moment later sighed, "Their reply is vulgar, the essence of the message is that they outnumber us vastly and we will not escape." A'uhsoj slid into his chair and glanced over his shoulder at Jerry and Ziban.

"We promised to protect you, correct?" He said, "Stand by to lower the cloak field. All attack ships prepare for full on assault"

***

"Captain Kinnven," The science officer said, "I've noticed a strange power flow coming from two of the four ships, it's now gradually dissipating."

The captain raised his eyebrows. "What kind of power flow?"

"It's dissipating quickly, I thin-" The officer stopped mid word. He gazed, mouth open at the view screen.

In the blackness of space behind the four Astrillian ships an armada appeared. Hundreds of thousands of ships faded into existence where none had been a moment ago.

"It's a trap!" The captain yelled, spitting his cigar across the bridge, "Full retreat, disperse the fleet."

But as he gave the order he knew it couldn't be carried out. He stared coldly at the view screen and waited. He waited for the inevitable, waited for the end.

Article © Kevin Landis. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-04-24
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