Chapter 43

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All across the Earth, Rigellian forces were busily disengaging and departing: from industrialised metropolises and from third-world shanty towns, from sweltering desert strongholds and from tropical archipelagos, from the Northern Hemisphere and from the south, countless shuttles, troop-carriers and tanks were going through the disturbing and entirely unfamiliar motions of retreat.  Of surrender.

Of defeat.

Officers mouthed the words, 'tactical withdrawal' or 'strategic fallback' and stunned soldiers nodded in obedient submission, but the words were empty and the nods token.  All of them knew the infuriating truth.  Rigel the mighty, Rigel the glorious, Rigel the hey-who-you-callin'-short-come-over-here-and-say-that-you-won't-be-so-tall-with-your-head-shoved-up-your-butt, Rigel the conqueror of half-a-hundred worlds, had been stopped, dead in its tracks.

And the really galling thing?  It hadn't even been the scum-sucking Earthlings, with their laughable guns that went bang and their silly tanks that couldn't fly and their woefully inadequate insults, that had done it.  Oh no.  It was clear to even the lowest-ranked trooper that nothing but bureaucracy had stopped Rigel—bureaucracy and politics.  Some sort of GalCon trickery or treachery, some high-level backroom shenanigans, had left the mighty fighting forces of Rigel strung out to dry.  The rumours flared and spread like wildfire, and suffice it to say, the fighting forces in question were not happy.

Nevertheless, happy or not, their withdrawal continued apace.  Even when grumpy, the Rigellians were nothing if not efficient.

And as the forces of Rigel converged on the battle-station, a range of other forces were converging, within it

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And as the forces of Rigel converged on the battle-station, a range of other forces were converging, within it.

From one direction, Cora and EJ hurried to keep up with a grim-faced, luridly fuschia-clad Mel, striding purposefully towards Cam and whatever fate she had planned for him.

From another, Uva Kwoin carefully advanced, gun at the ready.  Technically, with Splurmfeen removed from command, she shouldn't have anything to worry about, but she hadn't made it this far in life, or in the treacherous world of the GalCon hierarchy, by not worrying about the things that shouldn't need worrying about.

And from yet another direction came an unruly mass of chattering, somewhat rumpled world leaders, freshly emboldened by their successful vending-machine encounter, and ready to show these alien upstarts a thing or two.  Provided, most of them were thinking, that they weren't the one who had to do the actual showing.  But they'd sure as hell morally support the crap out of whichever brave soul was stupid enough to put themselves in the firing line.

You generally didn't get to be in charge of a country without developing a healthy pragmatic streak.

And outside the control room, the point on which these all these various parties were converging, Kral Vanar slowly approached Pok.  Max, Cam, Flenson and Chek anxiously watched on from a relatively safe distance, although Chek had a sneaking suspicion that this was one of those circumstances  in which the word 'relatively' could easily be substituted for the words 'possibly' or 'hopefully' or probably even the phrase 'not even remotely.'  Despite his best efforts, he'd been unable to convince the baristas to move any further.

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