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The Hand of God

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The bartender rubbed a soiled glass with a dirty towel, not quite sure which one was cleaning the other. The bar might be a dusty, crummy drinking hole, but it was the closest one to the Academy. As such, it was busy every evening, as soon as the cadets were allowed to leave the walled premises. He stole a glance at his watch; soon the bar would fill with uniforms.

A chuckle made him look up at the only full table. A bunch of cadets had gathered around the Veteran to listen to his story. The bartender had to admit the old man knew how to hold a crowd’s interest. He’d better; he must have told that story a million times in exchange for a drink.

The Veteran had just started his tale. Staring into his empty glass, his eyes opened as if he was watching the Beasts approach once more.

“You see, girls, things were different back then. Nowadays, each colony has its Academy and barracks in every major city. Back then, mankind had built a vast fleet of transports, but only a handful of military ships, safe in the illusion of its uniqueness.”

A cute redhead with freckles interrupted him. “Surely you suspected we were not alone.” She scrunched her face as a blonde with short hair dug her elbow into the redhead’s ribs to stop her.

The Veteran continued as if he had not been interrupted. “We were finally at peace after millennia of conflict. No one was prepared for the shock of encountering a hostile alien species; so alien, that communication was impossible. When we lost contact with the more remote colonies, we thought it was a glitch with our transmitters. As one colony after another fell silent, we sent ships. Not military ones, either. We had too few of those.” He took a napkin to his forehead to wipe beads of sweat and looked suggestively at the empty glass.

“Can we have one more over here?” the blonde yelled across the bar, without even bothering to look at the bartender.

A sweet smile played on the Veteran’s lips, and he licked them in anticipation. “Thank you, my love. Now, as I was saying, when the ships disappeared as well, we realized we had become complacent. I still remember the day we first saw the Beasts. A boy had beaten the odds to send us a video of their attack. I was a designer back then, waiting to go into a meeting. One of the secretaries rushed into the meeting room to switch the vid on. The poor thing aged ten years in a single moment.”

The girls around him leaned away to allow the barman to deliver the man’s drink. The Veteran picked it up with slightly trembling fingers and swirled the amber liquid around, careful not to spill a drop. He listened to the clink of the ice cubes, the tips of his lips curling upwards.

“Meanwhile, even more colonies fell silent,” he continued. “We dropped everything to prepare for the invasion. Colonies were evacuated, millions of people returning to the welcoming cradle of mother Earth. Only, it wasn’t a haven, but a tomb. Or at least that’s what we thought back then, as one line of defence crumbled after another. I fought in almost all of the big battles, losing every single one of them. ‘We haven’t lost yet’, we’d tell each other. ‘We’ll get ‘em next time.’ Until they entered the Solar System, crushing the Jupiter garrison, then the Mars one, then finally reached the moon. Not the sorry affair you see in the sky nowadays; it was a full, nice round moon back then.”

He took a swish of the drink and swirled it in his mouth, before plonking the glass back onto the table. Smacking his lips for a moment, he lost himself in memories of a full moon. “The moon was our last line of defence. After that, there was nothing but women and children on Earth. It was down to us to stop them.”

The Veteran drew a line on the dirty table, pushing the fine dust with his finger to mark small dots. “They had kicked us out of each planet we had colonized, but this was different,” he snarled. “This time, we were fighting for our home. If we failed, nothing could save humanity. Next stop, Earth.”

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