Alpha Capella Nova Vega
Light years away from Earth, a thousand black ships winked into normal space. One moment there was nothing, the next, a fleet of ships blocked the skies over Bellatru, in the heart of the Orion constellation. People froze in their tracks, staring up in amazement at this first sign of another sentient race.
In the orbiting space station above Bellatru, Patrol officers instinctively raced for their ships. Nothing about the visitors looked like a friendly delegation.
The black ships fired without warning. The space station exploded in a soundless ball of flame, incinerating the Patrol ships as they scrambled to launch. Lasers burned swathes through the planet settlements, destroying buildings and killing thousands in their path.
In less than an hour, Bellatru was a smoking ruin. Then, the visitors launched the ground troops.
Returning from a journey to the neighbouring planet of Mu, the star ship Nova Vega was overwhelmed with distress signals. Approaching cautiously—with cloaking shields engaged—they saw the fleet of black ships hovering like a cloak of Bellatru bats over what had been a thriving colony when they'd left two days ago. Her crew gazed at the destruction with horror. Images from the ground showed alien fighters striding through the ruins. The officers on the bridge peered closely at the figures on the display screen, curious despite their consternation to see what they were facing, then drew in a collective gasp. Although their bodies looked almost human, the aliens' heads appeared to be machines.
"Monsters! We have to attack!" exclaimed First Officer Erix.
"Impossible, there are hundreds of them!" argued Second Officer Rohn. "We should wait, then hunt for survivors."
With a heavy heart, the Captain shook her head. "No. We can't afford either of those options, much as we might want to. We must return to Earth immediately and warn the government. This is an invasion."
Jetta Carawei glanced briefly at the brightly coloured promo someone had placed outside the entrance to the holo-room. It advertised that week's entertainment scheduled on their star ship, Alpha Capella. In vivid Tri-D colour, the image covered every cliché the average dirt-sider imagined when they thought of space. A pretty young man in a sleek bodysuit stood on top of a molten rock, brandishing a flaming sword, with a scantily clad girl at his feet. The star speckled sky was filled with spaceships attacking a burning city while a giant alien head looked on. Space Wars! screamed the headline. Jetta's lip curled scornfully. She supposed it was better than last week's offering, Fray, a holovid about vampire slayers, for Earth's sake.
An arm came around her waist, and a low voice whispered hoarsely in her ear. "May the force be with you!"
Jetta jumped and pushed the arm away. "Idiot!" she said, half laughing as she turned to gaze down into the gray eyes of Ari Zimon, her favourite navigator, and current lover. At five foot six, his head barely reached her shoulder.
"Doesn't this... this rubbish... bother you?" she asked. "Here we are, each one of us with at least three degrees, years of training and personal hi-tech upgrades and people are still producing crap like that! Flaming swords, for Earth's sake!"
"I find your lack of faith disturbing," Ari teased. "What does it matter? It makes people happy. It's only entertainment."
"I suppose so," Jetta conceded. "It just bothers me that people are so out of touch with reality. If we ever faced a real war in space, flaming swords just wouldn't cut it!" She couldn't help smiling at the accidental pun.
"That was terrible, Jetta," Ari screwed up his face in mock horror. "But—holo-vids aside—what I really came to talk about is whether I can come with you on the next shuttle trip. Giacomo is still feeling the effects of that curry he ate on Alcyon."
Jetta frowned. "Has he seen the Medic?"
"Yes. It's not a virus, just an allergic reaction to one of the ingredients. Medic Calliston says it's simply a matter of drinking lots of fluids and being patient."
"In that case, I'd be very happy to have you on board instead, little man," Jetta smiled.
"Judge me by my size, do you?" grumbled Ari. "I may be short, but you know I'm your best navigator!"
"That you are," agreed Jetta. "You'll need to suit up." She checked the top right quadrant of her augmented vision for their expected arrival time at Richter. "And so do I. I'll meet you in the shuttle in thirty minutes."
The Alpha Capella was in the Pleiades, hundreds of light years from Earth, on its way to Richter after calling at Alcyon, Earth's furthest colony. Named for its star, Alcyon was going to be a way-station on humanity's voyage toward distant Deneb.
Alcyon had been a barren rock before being terraformed into a planet where humans could survive while they constructed the extensive facilities needed to be a base for further exploration. Domes covered the settlements, providing breathable air and protection from cosmic radiation. Although hydroponics produced the required quantity of food, ships from Earth, like the Alpha Capella, came several times a year with essential supplies.
But Alcyon was not the only significant planet in the system. Further out, in the same solar system, was the tiny half-frozen planet of Richter. Battered by constant storms and unable to sustain life or indeed any form of structure on the surface, a cavern had been hollowed out, deep under the surface. Isolated, with strictly controlled access, Richter was the perfect location for a research laboratory. Nothing unauthorised could get in—or out.
Alpha Capella was too big itself to get near Richter Station, but it carried a couple of shuttles, for just such a purpose.
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Alpha CapellaScience Fiction
The invaders fired without warning. The space station exploded in a soundless ball of flame, incinerating the Patrol ships as they scrambled to launch. Lasers burned swathes through the planet settlements, destroying buildings and killing thousands...