If there was one part of working security that I hated more than anything else, it was dealing with fake IDs. Now I was helping make them to spy on the Dominion.
I loved every damn second of it.
Back in the main government building on Mars where Kalyn’s mother, Adastria, and the rest of the Martian governmental honchos did their work, I used to be head of security. My job was to create the security protocols and systems there, and how to beat them.
I ensured that each security team was where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there, and ran numerous scenarios regarding attacks on the offices to test each team’s readiness. Which included making sure that there were numerous ways out for each politician, each council member, each participant in Martian government.
People used to call me paranoid, and I didn’t really give a damn. Paranoia kept people alive. That’s what I was supposed to do.
Unfortunately, one minor slip in my paranoia cost me and I was sent to Persephone on a “temporary” assignment. I was there over two years.
The “bright” side to things was that I was still in contact with Mars, and even Earth. I had been commissioned by certain business leaders on Earth to keep them apprised of some of the experiments at Persephone. Meanwhile, I kept in contact with Adastria, who fed me bullshit about people on Pluto that were actually traitors and I was needed there to give her any and all information that I deemed necessary for her to figure out who it was.
I took the bait and did what she wanted me to do.
The lying bitch played me for a fool.
Now I was sitting on a foreign planet, way out in a part of the universe that was beyond any place that I could have ever imagined, working on finding a way to take down a corrupt government that had decided it was okay to take women, experiment on them, and steal DNA from them in order to find a way to create a so-called “perfect” race.
The problem that I had with the whole thing, besides the buying and selling of women—I mean, who does that?—was how were they going to create a “perfect” race? Whose definition of perfect were they using? How did they know that whatever concoction they came up with was actually going to be perfect?
I mean, the human race was a mystery of cells, blood, DNA profiles, and personalities that have studied themselves since the beginning of its existence, and we still didn’t have a solid clue as to how we worked. Okay, we did, but we also still struggled to find out why people were born with blue eyes instead of brown when both parents had brown. We still struggled to figure out why people were born with Down Syndrome, or ADHD, or why people succumbed to the urge to take drugs.
I was broken out of the recesses of my mind by Emmery’s little shout of dismay, or was it shock?
“What’s up?” I asked as I snapped back to reality and looked at her.
“I’m picking up a lot of chatter on Dominion comm traffic,” Emmery answered as her fingers flew over the keyboard, the clickety-clack of the keys drumming into my head like a tap-dancer’s routine.
“Lots of talk coming out of various non-military channels regarding ship movement, medicinal shipments, and—well, this is weird—bulk paperfilm orders.”
“Wait, what? ‘Bulk film orders’? What’s that about?”
We stared at one another in confusion. The idea that the Dominion would be ordering bulk amounts of film seemed odd. “So, based on some experience of my own, if an organization is going to make an odd purchase, most of the time it means that it certainly isn’t that odd purchase, it’s code for something else.”
“Like what?” Emmery asked.
“If I was running the show, paper would be code for either weapons or munitions. Do we know where from and where to?”
“No. They’re pretty good at keeping locations quiet unless it’s something that is meant to be public.”
“Okay. We need to look into…what’s that?” I pointed at something blinking on the screen.
“That’s a message coming in on a secure frequency.”
“Can you open it?”
“Do you really think I should? What if it’s some sort of spyware from the Dominion to see what we’re up to?”
I smiled at her, a little smug—my paranoia was rubbing off on some people. “Good catch. Call Valtic.” She got on the comm, asking him to come up to the communications room. Within minutes, he was there.
“What can I do for you ladies?” he asked as he walked into the room.
I turned to greet him, a small nod of the head that he returned in perfect imitation. “We’ve just received a message on a secure frequency, but we’re a little wary of it. You mind running some of your software on it to make sure it’s safe?”
“Sure,” he said as he walked over to where we sat.
Emmery rose from her chair to let Valtic take her place. She pointed at the unopened message and he took a look at it. After a few minutes of pointing and clicking, typing, and sitting, he finally pushed back from the desk. “You’re all clear. You can open it and see what was sent.”
I wheeled my chair over, taking Emmery’s place at the computer as she sat down. “Hey.”
I glanced at her and smirked. “Sorry,” I said as I clicked on the file to open it.
“Bullshit,” she coughed.
What could I say, I was curious. Suddenly, dread replaced curiosity. It was a message from Wyann and Paila, and it was not good. Emmery gasped and even Valtic let out a small string of curses.
“What is it?” I asked.
“These files,” Emmery said. “Wyann and Paila say it relates to an invasion. But the coordinates don’t make sense. They’re not in the known star charts for Dominion or surrounding space.”
“That’s because the target is outside of Dominion space,” Valtic said, expression grim. “Look at the coordinates.”
I took a look again and placed them on the chart.
This was a detailed battle plan.
Pointed right at the Terran System.
The Dominion was going after humans and they were going to send a big-ass fleet to tear them up. While it hadn’t been my home for a year, and for a couple of years I’d been on the far outskirts away from everything I knew, it was still home.
“They’re going to destroy everything,” Emmery said through a choked whisper.
“Does the Terran System have any way of protecting themselves?” Valtic asked, his voice muffled and hollow. It barely registered in my mind as I kept thinking about those billions of lives between Mars, Earth, and the numerous space stations that filled our system.
Someone shook me and I looked up at this obscenely tall man with shiny skin. I didn’t know who he was at first, then reality started to take back over. It was Valtic.
“What?” I asked, finally clearing my head.
“Does the Terran System have any way of protecting themselves?”
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “They have some ships and they have weapons, but if this report is even a quarter correct, we’re still getting blown out of the cosmos. We just don’t have the technology.”
“I see. We need to bring this to Dejar’s attention.”
I nodded in understanding, but I didn’t understand anything at all. There was, if the report could be believed, going to be a fleet larger than anyone had ever seen coming for us and wiping us out of existence, leaving us, the few humans that were sitting on the Rogue Star as the last of our kind, and with no males, the human race would die with us.
Within ten minutes, we were all in a conference room explaining what the message said. After I finished talking, I looked around the room at the different faces and their reactions. The women in the room ranged from tears and fear to anger and fury. The men, they were displaying a range of emotions that extended from shock to a need for action.
“Well,” Dejar started. “This puts us into a situation where we need to decide if we sit back or if we act. Do we try to save the Terran System?”
The chorus of shouts, threats, and yelling—almost entirely from the human females, but a little from the other men—answered Dejar’s question. He held up his hands to quiet us all down.
“Ask a stupid question,” he muttered, bringing out some nervous laughter from a few of us. He looked over at a quartet of people that I hadn’t paid much attention to when we started the meeting. “Shar, Zayne, Morgan, Siran, the four of you were originally tasked with trying to bring some extra allies to our rebellion. I need you to do something else now.”
Zayne looked like a younger version of Dejar, just copper-toned instead of gold-skinned. The young medic had been bad at his job when we first joined the crew, a temperamental, slightly spoiled boy that hadn’t grown into his body yet. He’d since matured in form and competence. Shar was a big man that had a pudge when we joined, and still had a pudge now, but he was a beast of a man and powerful as hell. They both stood behind Morgan and Siran, and each of them nodded.
“Whatever you need of us, sir,” Shar said.
“Good,” Dejar said. “Then I need the four of you to investigate this fleet and let us know if it’s real. Do nothing but find and report, that is all. Clear?” They nodded. “Good. Go. The faster you go, the faster we get the information we need.”
The four of them nodded again, in unison, then left the conference room.
“We still have more to talk about,” Dejar said. “Everyone settle in. This is going to take a while.”
“I just don’t see evacuation as a realistic option.” Valtic’s creased face was set in a scowl as we surveyed the holomap of the Terran System. A three-dimensional representation of the human females’ home system floated above the command console in the security headquarters of the Star.
“I agree, but what else can we do? From what we know, I don’t think the humans’ technology will be much use against a coordinated Dominion attack of the scale we’re expecting.” I stroked my chin absentmindedly as I analyzed the chart.
I instructed the computer to highlight all of the high-risk targets based on the projected entry point of the Dominion attack fleet. Red dots popped up all over the system, too many to count.
“There’s no way we can evacuate a significant portion of those targets in time. We don’t know when the fleet will deploy, but even if we had a full year, there wouldn’t be time.” Valtic shook his head, the corners of his thin mouth pulled down into a frown. “Even with a full fleet of Rogue Stars, it’d be a challenge to square up against the Dominion, and we’ve only got the one.”
“You’re not wrong.” I turned away from the display, pacing to the back of the room and turning around, my frustration simmering just below the surface. My irritation mounted despite my struggle to control my emotions.
My anger finally burst. “You know who does have a whole fleet of Rogue Stars? The Gaed. This would be so much easier if they would just get off their pedestals already and join the fight. They’re the only ones with enough fire power to challenge the Dominion, and yet they cower behind their defenses in their home system.” I kicked the bottom of the command console, furious at the timid, cautious nature of our allies. “How much longer can they allow the Dominion free rein to torment the galaxy?”
Although the Gaed had been helpful as covert allies, their refusal to confront the Dominion openly frustrated me. I couldn’t understand how they could sit back and watch as the corrupt empire exploited world after world.
Valtic nodded, his face hard but calm. “That would certainly simplify things. But they’ve made their position clear. The Gaed leadership won’t risk the lives of their civilians by engaging in open war with the Dominion. It’s taken them too long to negotiate the current tenuous peace, and they won’t jeopardize it for an uncertain rebellion.”
“Well, the umbba rebellion wouldn’t be so uncertain if they would join in already. If they threw their full support behind us, we’d actually have a chance.” I seethed with anger. “How can they justify this? How many lives will be lost because of Gaed cowardice?”
Valtic clapped me on the shoulder. “I’m sure I don’t have to remind you who harbors us right now. The Gaed have already offered us tremendous help, and I’m certain they will have still more to offer before this rebellion is finished. You can’t entirely blame them for their hesitance. Their people are left in peace through their treaty with the Dominion. How many Gaed lives were lost to secure that agreement? How many Gaed lives would be lost in the breaking of it? It’s simple for us, we had little choice. But the Gaed have a prosperous, peaceful existence. It would be a lot to sacrifice.”
“And what about us? What about the rest of the galaxy? We have risked everything. Not just for ourselves, but for everyone.” My anger subsided, reduced to a resentment at the challenges before us. But I had always relished a strategic challenge, and I was determined to solve this one.
“You can’t expect everyone to act as we do. We were thrust into unique circumstances.” Valtic flashed me a wicked smile.
I was still trying to get used to seeing the hardened, severe man smile. I didn’t think it had ever happened before he and Lynna started spending so much time together. It was still far from a common occurrence, but no longer unheard of. There could be no doubt that the man’s demeanor had improved immeasurably since he had paired off with the human.
“Speaking of those unique circumstances, do we know if any of the human females have any knowledge of their system’s defenses?”
“Not sure, but that would probably be useful.” Valtic sent out a ship-wide alert that asked anyone with knowledge of the Terran defense network to report to the security center immediately. “Hopefully, one of them will be able to provide some insight.”
“If they do, they will have proved more useful to this particular operation than the whole of the Gaed empire.” Obviously, I hadn’t completely let go of my anger.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Colm. The Gaed have provided us ships, shield technology, covert reconnaissance information, and most importantly, safe harbor. They’ve done plenty to assist this rebellion already. We owe them a debt of gratitude.”
I grunted dismissively, my face set in a hard scowl as I stared at the holomap. Valtic frowned at me and, seeing that no further response was forthcoming, continued.
“And if we succeed in striking a decisive blow against the Dominion, I have no doubt that they will join in our cause directly. They’re waiting to see if this is a real rebellion, or just the ravings of one aggravated band of fugitives. They’ve shown tremendous faith in us up to this point. I think you expect too much from them.”
I scoffed. “I expect a little courage. Is that really too much?”
“For some, yes. Not for a couple of grizzled veterans like us, of course. But it doesn’t come so easy to others, throwing themselves into open conflict. It’s up to us to show them that we can win, brother.” Valtic’s face was still severe, but his features were alight with hope.
I couldn’t stop a wide grin from spreading across my face. “Oh, you have changed, Valtic. That human girl’s got you believing in stuff, doesn’t she?”
He shot me a dirty look, but his bronze eyes still glittered with passion.
“Yes, I see it clearly. It’s love. You’re in love, and it’s made you soft, my friend. You’re full of hope now.”
He scowled, his eyes boring into mine, and I thought for a moment that it might come to blows. But he relented, his expression softening.
“Ah, scro.” He sighed as a soft, wistful smile played across his lips. “You know, you might be right.” He shook his head, looking down at the floor.
I clapped him on the shoulder. “It’s good. I’m glad to see you happy. You deserve it.”
“You know, there are many other fine women on the ship. Maybe one of them can stir the hope within you, as well.”
I laughed and shook my head. “Oh, I don’t think so, friend. Besides, we have too much work to focus on right now. Frankly, I don’t understand how so many have found the time for romance, but I’m certain that there couldn’t be a worse time for it.”
He raised his brow, smiling doubtfully. But before he could respond, the door chimed the approach of a visitor.
I buzzed the door open, and a human female strode confidently into the room with her shoulders pulled back and chin held high. I was pretty sure I’d met her briefly before, and that her name was Vianne.
Her chin-length black hair was as straight as her rigid posture, and it shone like polished obsidian. Her stormy blue eyes sparkled with intense intelligence as she shifted her gaze between Valtic and me.
“You guys asked for anyone with a knowledge of the Terran defense systems, right?”
Valtic nodded as he spoke. “We did. We’re trying to map out a rough plan with the little information we have, and we were hoping one of your group could provide us with some information about security and defense technology, that sort of thing.”
She laughed, but her eyes remained hard. “Well, I’m definitely the woman for that job.”
“And why is that?” I regarded the woman curiously, intrigued by her intense demeanor.
She met my gaze. “I used to be the head of security for the Mars Assembly’s capitol building. I pretty much managed all of the personnel responsible for the safety of the most important figures in the whole system. Including Adastria Askvig.”
Valtic and I exchanged surprised looks, rendered speechless. I found my voice after a moment, turning to address this fascinating woman.
“Uh, well, sounds like that should be pretty helpful.” I extended my hand toward her in what I had learned was a courteous human gesture. “Welcome to the security team. Vianne, right?”
She gripped my hand with surprising strength and shook it professionally, but the huge smile on her lips reached all the way to her brilliant blue eyes. “Glad to be here. Colm, isn’t it?”
I nodded, a smile spreading across
my own face. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that Valtic was grinning wider
than either of us.
I wasn’t entirely sure what had crossed between the two men that would put such a large grin on Valtic’s face and make Colm glare at him, but I decided that none of it was my business.
“So, what did you want to know?” I asked.
“Well,” Colm said as he finally let go of my hand, “come take a look at this.” He led me over to an impressive three-dimensional display of the Milky Way.
“This is really in depth and impressive. What are the red dots?”
“High-risk targets based on where we think the Dominion will fold into the galaxy,” Colm answered.
“That bad, huh?” I asked rhetorically. “Okay. Well, first thing I need to know is, how old is this map?”
Colm looked a bit embarrassed when he answered. “In honesty, we haven’t updated it since the last time we were near the system.”
“So, when you accidentally broke the station and had to rescue us?”
Both he and Valtic nodded.
“Any idea if the Gaed have an updated map?” I asked. “Or maybe Qal?”
“Qal’s the one that gave us this map,” Colm responded. “Since we haven’t been back near your system, we’re missing some information.”
I nodded again. I felt like a damn bobblehead, nodding so much. “Well, while one of you talks to the Gaed about an updated map, I’ll put in what information I can.”
I played with the map, learning the controls of how to zoom in, zoom out, move things around, and how to add things and take things away. I started looking at it like it was one of the war games the commanders back in the Space Force liked to play, and I was able to pick up on things quickly.
“Hey, Colm, come here,” I called back over my shoulder as I added space stations, ship patrols from my last bit of knowledge, and defense satellites.
“What can I do for you, Vianne?” Colm asked in a voice that had me wondering what he was trying to accomplish. It was flirty, but it didn’t sound intentional. Was he trying to flirt with me? Was he just trying to be nonchalant and failing miserably?
“Hey, I need to know where you think the Dominion is going to come in. I want to see if you have better instincts about it than I do.” While we hadn’t been around one another much over the year we’ve been on a ship together, I did know a little bit about him and I knew he had a good head on his shoulders.
“If I were running things and wanted to make the best entry point to cause the most damage with the least amount of danger to my own people, I would,” he stopped talking to study the map a little more. After nearly a minute of study, he finally pointed to a spot just outside of Saturn’s orbit. “I would come in there. It’s close enough to give the Dominion the element of surprise while keeping them out of a potential pincer attack.”
I nodded. He had done what everyone back on Earth and Mars had done, he had fallen for the trap, only thinking linearly since the orbits of all of our planets were linear.
“Why not up here or down here?” I asked, putting two yellow dots into the map.
“Because…kout,” he cursed, chuckling. “I fell for the trap of looking at the orbits as the only direction to go.”
“You think the Dominion will do the same?” I asked, a tiny spark of hope in my voice.
He looked at me, then back to the map, then back to me. “Well, there is a chance. Psychologically speaking, most people go with what is simplest and are usually easily influenced by what they see. They tend to not look beyond what they see.”
“So, again, I ask you, do you think the Dominion will do the same?”
“I’ll answer the same way. There’s a chance. They have some smart people in command of their military forces, but they just might take the Terrans for granted and believe that they don’t stand a chance.”
Colm was right, unfortunately we Terrans weren’t known for an overabundance of intelligence, and when compared to what I’ve seen over the past year, we definitely didn’t have the technology. The only thing that I would say humans had over the Dominion forces would be simple tenacity.
We were a race of survivors that knew how to find a way through whatever shit was thrown at us, even if we were the ones throwing it.
We were also a race of insane bastards that were more than willing to do some seriously crazy shit in order to make stuff happen. I mean, we were willing to launch ourselves in a tiny-ass tube to Pluto knowing that there was a twenty-five percent chance we wouldn’t make it in one piece or alive.
“What are you thinking about?”
I snapped back to reality and looked at Colm. “I was thinking that if the Dominion pulls the same thing you did, we stand a chance. What if we end up placing Earth defenses here, here, here, and,” I touched three different spots on the map, then a fourth, “here.”
“That would allow Earth forces to have the Dominion surrounded on three sides. Even with inferior technology, they can do some damage. If your ships are strong enough and your captains are good at their jobs, they may even be able to drive them away, if only for a little time.”
“You think so? I mean. . .” I looked up at him as he stood over me looking at the map. His muscles stretched the fabric of his sleeves whenever he moved his arms. His reddish-gold skin caught the lights of the map and the room and seemed to glow. There was a certain muskiness about him that filled my nostrils, and I found myself liking it. I quickly brought myself back to the point I had been trying to make. “If this fleet is as big and bad as the report claims it’s going to be, I wonder if we would be able to evacuate people instead.”
“The thought came up. Is that what you want to do? Run? And how?”
I folded my arms. “Hey, sometimes it’s better to run so you can fight again.”
We spent the next few hours looking over the map, trying to come up with new plans based on our best guesses. Even after Valtic returned with a slightly updated map, we kept at it.
Colm was fun to be around, and I discovered that he pronounced his name just like the word “calm.” He lived up to his name. He was exceedingly calm as we played mini-war games against one another in order to test the validity of the plans we were trying to come up with. He was good, but so was I. Between the two of us, we managed to come up with some pretty decent plans.
“Why haven’t the so-called head-honchos put us together before this?” I wondered out loud as we finalized one final defense plan. “I mean, we work together so unbelievably well.”
“I agree,” he said with an intoxicating smile. “You and I seem like such a natural team, it seems as though our connection should have been made long ago.”
“Yeah. Well,” I said as I stood up and stretched, making sure he got a good show in the process. I knew he was looking at me and I made sure to make the stretch last as long as I could. “I’m starving. You wanna grab a bite to eat?”
“No, thank you,” he said with a shake of his head.
That sucked. “Why not?”
“I have some more work to attend to. But, go. Eat. Don’t ignore your stomach on my account.”
Well, if he was going to practically shove me away, fine. I bid him a good night and headed off to the dining hall. Several of the women, well, truthfully, everyone was talking about the reports we had gotten from Paila and Wyann. But it was the women doing most of the talking about whether or not we should go back.
“What about what they did to us? What about our so-called ‘punishments’?” One of the ladies, one of the older ones named Sheryl, asked the table. The ladies had pushed about four tables together so they could all talk about the same subject, sometimes at the same time. A few of the men sat with them, but it was mostly the women. “Some of us were ‘punished’ for things that wouldn’t have gotten more than a warning or a night in jail in the old days. Why do we want to go back for them now?”
“Because,” Maris answered with a roll of her eyes. “They’re humans, like us. Do you want the entire human race to be obliterated? I don’t see any other men around here, so if we let the Dominion stroll in and kill everyone, we’re all that’s left. The human race will die out with us.”
“And?” Sheryl demanded. “You’re telling me we should risk our lives for the same people that betrayed us?”
“Not everyone betrayed us,” Aryn countered. “Not everyone was involved with Adastria’s little plan.”
“Besides,” I cut in before Sheryl could run her old-ass mouth again. “Most of us still have family back there. I’m not about to let my family die for something we’re partially responsible for.”
That shut Sheryl up, although Aryn looked at me. “How are we partially responsible for anything?”
“I’m not saying we are, but the Dominion damn sure thinks we are,” I answered. “So, I want to stop them.”
That brought about a lot of voices echoing my own, but a few still questioned. Not the fight, but the likelihood of us winning and if evacuation was a better option. At least we were talking civilly.