CHAPTER SIX - METAL RAIN
The Hive shot out a dozen Thylacine-class fighters. They were U-shaped with lasers all along the front edge and two massive canons at the tips. Blue force-fields lit up the moment that they exited the Hive.
“Exarch! It appears that the Khul saw you coming and decided to send a welcoming party,” came a female Thaf’ell voice over his comms. “And here I thought I would be all alone in this fight.”
Her name, rank and accomplishments scrolled by in the corner of his eye. Her name was Flight-Commander Thammah Pyrrhus. Her ship was called the Kryptoria. And she was stationed on Earth not because she was a bad pilot, a coward or a fool, but because she was reckless, defied authority and followed her Xi.
Just like the humans do. She must like it here.
“Where are the other ships?” Khoth asked as he dove below the Khul’s fighters as electric green lasers cut through the space he had just been moments before.
“This is Earth, Commander Voor. We have one ship--well, now two--as you’ve been sent here to rot just like me,” Thammah responded dryly before coming up behind two of the Khul ships.
“But there is a Hive,” he was about to say, but then he remembered the reports and closed his mouth.
No Khul had been seen in this area in almost a century of human time. No Hive had ever come even close to here. And humans had not been granted Altaeth ships or designs yet to join the fight. So, of course, there had only been the one ship assigned to this quadrant. There was no reason to waste the firepower.
“Most of the forces have been sent to the surface. This is likely all the fighters the Khul have,” Thammah told him.
“Even if it is, the Hive itself has defenses,” he reminded her.
“Oh, yes, we likely won’t be able to take the Hive out. But without its fighters it can’t send anymore fighters down to Earth so… I say we go out in a blaze of glory,” Thammah said.
Thammah’s Paladin-class ship then pivoted on its side as she sent four expertly aimed blasts at the Khul ships. Most of the force-field’s power was on the front of the Thylacine-class fighters, not the back. The first blast she sent was an overdrive blast. It took time to charge, which left the fighter vulnerable to attack, but Thammah made sure she was in none of the Khul’s sights. That weakened the already weak back force-field while the second blast hit the engines, which were directly behind the piloting pod. Normally it took two Paladin-class fighters to pull off this maneuver, but not only did Thammah do it herself. She took down two of the Khul fighters in quick succession. He was impressed despite himself.
She is clearly unorthodox, but her skills cannot be denied. Sending such a talented pilot here was a waste.
But as he stared at the Hive and the remaining Khul fighters, he had to admit that he was glad she was here.
“Are you going to join this fight, Commander Voor, or are you leaving all the fun for me?” Thammah chuckled.
He narrowed his eyes. “Fighting is about intellect, not fun.”
“You tell yourself that,” she laughed again. “But I know better! For I’ve heard about you Commander Khoth Voor and you’re much too good a pilot not to love it.”
“And I see why you were sent to Earth,” he responded dryly.
“Indeed. And I cannot wait to find out why you were,” she answered.
He felt his Xi begin to zing as he curled his fingers around the fire controls, belying his earlier words and making him a liar. He drew in a deep breath as he banked the Exarch to the right. The Khul followed after him.
“Have you not read the report on it?” he asked.
“I don’t read reports. Dry. Boring. Full of facts, but no truth,” she told him.
“That is illogical. Facts are truth,” he said with a frown.
“On the contrary, facts are often lies,” she retorted.
Green laser blasts streaked overhead and ended their conversation for the moment. The Exarch shuddered as two of the blasts struck the rear shields. He spun the craft to the left and the other blasts glided just over the shields, leaving glittering trails in their wake, but not much damage. He increased speed. The Khul did as well.
More blasts, more spins, but he kept the fighter going as fast as he could until he abruptly pulled back on the throttle. The Khul ships blew past him. He turned off all shields and put all the extra energy into the front lasers. It reduced the time for an overdrive shot. He sent three. Thammah fired the secondary shots without being asked, reading his intentions perfectly. Three more Khul ships were destroyed, but that still left seven.
Those seven flew back towards them. Laser blasts cutting through the void of space. Khoth barely had time to reignite his shields even as he dove again. The shields on his left wing gave way as a dozen shots hit him. The Exarch veered wildly and alarms sounded like panicked children in his ears.
“We need to drop down into the atmosphere,” she said calmly.
“What good will that do?” he asked as his hands danced over the controls, which steadied the injured wing and put out the fires inside of it.
“The humans have managed to attach Alteath weapon technology to certain military planes,” she answered simply. “They haven’t been able to bring them up into orbit yet--”
“What?!” he barked, shocked, even as he was already heading towards Earth as Thammah sent returning fire to the Khul. “They are not to have weapons technology--”
Thammah’s laughter silenced him. “Have you ever tried to stop a human, Commander? Specifically, have you ever tried to stop Colonel Diane Parker?”
“I do not know who that is,” he admitted. He had not yet familiarized himself with the human personnel he would be working with.
Another wild laugh. “Oh, you’ll get to know who she is very well unless you die here. You’ll also learn that she is not to be stopped.”
“Why did you not report this to High Command?” he demanded to know even as he entered the top of Earth’s atmosphere.
“Who says I didn’t?” Thammah asked back.
He opened his mouth and shut it. His sister couldn’t have been coming here for the human’s stolen weapons technology, would she? No. Even though it was a violation of Alliance law, she would have sent a lower officer to deal with it. But still, it was unnerving that the humans were already adapting weaponry for their own uses.
“Besides, they have the right to defend themselves as any other race,” Thammah told him. “Now move. I can’t keep them at bay for long. Follow the signal. The humans are there.”
He did as she requested even as the Khul fighters were hot on their tails. Even with the injured wing, the Exarch responded to his commands to avoid the blasts that came his way, if a little sluggishly.
He heard Thammah on the comms as she spoke to what must have been a human, “Jack, we’ve brought some company for dinner. Would you mind giving us a hand?”
“You need a hand, Thammah?” This human’s voice was threaded through with conflicting emotions: warmth and worry. “I was hoping you could help us. We’re overrun here with dinner guests. There might be enough food to go around.”
“Stop using euphemisms,” Khoth barked. “We will assist you in clearing the ground troops after these fighters are handled.”
“Who is that?” Jack asked.
“Oh, he’s the newest alien pain in your ass, Jack,” Thammah was still all smiles.
He heard an explosion and saw in the corner of his screen that Thammah had taken out two more of the Khul. No wonder she was in a good mood. Another Khul fighter was seemingly suction-cupped to the Exarch. He abruptly pulled the controls up and the Exarch flew over the top of the pursuing fighter.
It tried to follow but he cranked the controls to the left and pulled back on the throttle. The Khul fighter was in his sights. Five regular blasts took out its forcefield in the back. But it was now facing him again. Thammah, however, was behind it now. It exploded in short order.
“We’ve narrowed it down to four, Jack. You don’t want to miss out using those illegal weapons you’ve got strapped to your underside, now do you?” Thammah asked as the two of them once more headed towards the signal.
Jack let out a hiss. “I am not confirming or denying--”
“Jack,” Thammah sounded amused. “We’re all friends here and we’ll be better friends if you kill some Khul for us.”
“Bring them to us, Thammah,” Jack said and there was a smile in his voice. “We better be best friends after this.”
“It’s not my friendship you want, Jack, but good old Commander Voor’s here. He is the son of the High Councillor,” Thammah said.
Khoth did not hear if Jack answered as a stab of pain went through him at the mention of his mother.
“Seeking my favor will not gain you hers,” Khoth said coldly to Jack.
“And why is that?” Jack asked.
“She sent me here,” Khoth stated.
“Maybe this used to be the ass end of nowhere, Commander, but not anymore,” Thammah said as more incoming blasts rattled her ship.
She swore and Khoth saw that there was smoke coming from her right engine. They were four Earth minutes out from Jack and his weapons. Thammah’s craft was already starting to slow as her right engine sputtered and died. The four remaining Khul fighters were on her. She was wounded and they knew it.
“Eject, Thammah,” Khoth ordered.
“Are you insane? I won’t lose the Kryptoria! It’s all we have!” she hissed.
He heard underneath that, It’s all I have.
“If you don’t, both of you will be lost and you will go out in that blaze of glory,” he told her.
“You can’t take them on your own!” Thammah cried.
“I won’t be. The humans are less than two of their minutes away,” he told her. Another blast had their connection fuzzing. His Xi had his throat closing as he knew the next hit would cause the Kryptoria to explode. “I’m ordering you, Flight-Commander Pyrrhus!”
“Dammit! Well, if the Kryptoria is going down then so are they!” she cried.
The Kryptoria veered abruptly to the left as the Khul fighters followed, setting her in their sights, Thammah must have hit her eject control as the round globe of her escape hatch flew upwards while the two halves of the Kryptoria split apart. Two of the Khul flew right into them. The Khul lost control of their fighters as the force fields sizzled and spat from the impact. One of the ships veered into the other and both exploded.
Two left, he thought. And one minute out.
Green blasts flew all around him. Only the spin and roll he did stopped them from taking out his shields completely. The Exarch was only a few blasts away from joining the Kryptoria’s fate.
He dove and climbed, but he could not shake the Khul. He could almost feel their hunger for him. Laser blasts skimmed his shields, drawing them down lower and lower. He should eject. But he doubted that his pod would be allowed to get away anyways. Unlike when Thammah ejected, the Khul would have no other ships to go after. His pod would be their only object. He doubted they would think the human aircraft a danger to them. Perhaps they weren’t.
Khoth gritted his teeth. He had no intention of going out in a blaze of glory. The Khul had come here long ago for something. They were back for it. Whatever it was they should not have. it. He would stay alive now to make sure that they didn’t get it.
He increased his speed then banked to the right as he loaded up the one skasha missiles that his craft contained. Normally such weaponry was not on Paladin-class fighter. It was heavy weaponry. But he always believed in being prepared. So he had ceaselessly worked to increase the power of his engines to carry the heavy payload. He would get only one shot at this.
As the Khul fighters followed after him in a tight arc, he released the missile. It hovered behind them for a moment. The Khul didn’t seem to see it at first. Then one of the fighters swerved to the right, but the other did not get out of the way in time. The missile’s explosion caused the Khul fighter to turn into a golden ball of light and vanish altogether.
But Khoth felt no victory. The other Khul fighter was still there and about to fire at him. He felt his Xi and Xa become one as he realized that it was all over. Death was upon him. He hoped in that moment that the old religions were true and that he would see Daesah again.
Something hit the side of the Khul fighter. The blue force field flickered in and out then in and then completely out that was when another something hit the Khul fighter again and the whole ship imploded.
Khoth let out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding. A sleek aircraft flew past him and circled around until it was practically wingtip to wingtip. The image of the clear cockpit showed him a being wearing some kind of rounded headgear and mask along with eye coverings. The human gave him a wave.
“Jack?” Khoth asked.
“Indeed, the one and only. Captain Jack Parker to the rescue,” Jack said.
“Parker? Your surname is the same as that of Colonel Diane Parker,” Khoth stated.
“Indeed, she’s my better half,” Jack said and the smile in his voice was obvious. When Khoth was silent, he amended, “My wife. Ah, life partner--”
“I understand,” Khoth said.
“She and Thammah--where is Thammah by the way?” Jack asked, alarm suddenly in his voice.
“She ejected. But the Kryptoria is lost,” he explained.
“Someone will have to go get her post-haste,” Jack said and Khoth heard him alert others in his unit to trace the Kryptoria’s eject pod. “Your bird looks a little broken there, Commander Voor. But our town is overrun with Khul and we could really use it in the fight.”
“What are they looking for, Captain Parker?” Khoth asked.
“The same thing they were looking for the first time they came here,” Jack said after a moment.
“One Colossus-class ship?” Khoth asked.
“She’s not like the others. She’s not like anything else according to Thammah,” Jack told him.
“She should not be informing you of that,” Khoth stated.
Jack chuckled. “Yeah, and she wasn’t supposed to know about the weapons that just saved your ass, Commander Voor. But she did. And she promised friendship if I helped you. Are we friends?”
“I am here to assist you--what is happening?!” Khoth hissed as the controls of the Exarch were no longer responding to his commands.
“Commander Voor, what’s wrong?” Jack asked.
“I do not know.”
The Exarch was suddenly swerving towards the center of the small town of Sunrise.
“Ah, Commander Voor, you are going in the direction I hoped, but--”
“Someone has taken over controls of the Exarch!” Khoth realized as he tried to regain control. But he was locked out.
“The Khul? We’ve never heard of them being able to take over Precursor tech!” Jack cried.
“They cannot. I do not know who is doing this,” Khoth stated.
His hands flew over the holographic controls, but to no avail. He was being taken to nearly the center of town. Jack’s aircraft flew alongside him.
“That’s… oh, god,” Jack whispered.
“You’re going down near where my son works. There’s a Khul ship not half a block away,” Jack’s voice went hoarse. “I--I have to get down there! Goddamnit!”
The raw anguish in Jack’s voice actually hurt to hear. It was completely unveiled Xi. He remained silent as the man’s soul was on display. But then the Exarch was veering right to an area not far from where the Khul ship had landed.
“Do you see all those Khul? They’re surrounding that house! That’s… oh, God, that’s Walter’s house,” Jack whispered. “Jace may be there. He’d go there to try and help Walter and the kids. Goddamn!”
“My sensors show over a dozen heat signatures inside,” Khoth stated as the controls allowed him to see that much.
Khoth heard Jack calling on his people to come to a certain address, telling them that Khul were targeting this residence. He was not wrong. The amount of Khul was astounding. It looked like 30 pods worth were converging on the one small home. Khoth’s fingers curled around the triggers for his weaponry, but he eased off of them without firing. The spray of his weaponry on the Exarch would be too wide. He would be just as likely to hit the home as the Khul.
“They have to get there! Goddamnit!” Jack hissed as he spoke of the people he had called to get to his son. “I can’t land here! I can’t do anything!”
Khoth’s ship hovered over the Khul about a block away. It did not lower. It was as if he were being given a bird’s eye view of the destruction that was about to happen. Were the Khul controlling the Exarch? Did they want him to witness this? Show him how powerless he was in comparison again? That was not the Khul’s way. So why was he here?
Whatever the reason, I will not sit by and watch civilians be killed.
Khoth unstrapped himself from the pilot’s seat and swung around to face the back of the vessel. He got up and put his palm against the weapon’s locker. The locker opened and the rahir--his long-bladed weapon with its cutting laser edge--and the draagves--the laser rifle with ability to launch mines--slid out. He grabbed both. He slung the rahir over his back and checked the sight of the draagves. The Exarch was hovering low enough that he could jump and his exo-suit would easily cushion the fall. The Khul were so focused on the house that none of them seemed to notice the ship down the block. He would fight his way to that house. The people in there had no other chance.
Khoth went to the Exarch’s door and used the sensor to request it to open. The door remained stubbornly shut. He requested the door to open again. Nothing. He brought the draagves up, thinking to shoot the door’s controls to get them to open. But that wouldn’t work. Altaeth technology had safeguards to stop just such a thing from working. He glanced at the screen which showed the Khul surrounded the house now. Khoth raised the draagves, aimed at the sensor. He fired.
He fired again.
The weapon was not responding.
Khoth slammed the butt of the draagves into the sensor. It didn’t even crack or chip. The door remained closed. There was a ting from the cockpit. Khoth’s head snapped towards it. The screen flickered and changed to show him the desert that surrounded the town of Sunrise.
They wanted me to see something. They wanted me to see this.
Something punched through the sand. It glittered as it rose up into the air.
“What is that?” Jack asked as he circled the town once more. “Fuck it. I’m taking it out.”
“No, do not!” Khoth cried.
His statement was illogical. His ship had been turned against him by some unknown technology that was keeping him here to witness a massacre. This thing that had risen from the sand was unknown technology. So why was he urging Jack not to take it out? He didn’t know and that should have caused him to question his sanity. But he was certain nonetheless.
“What is that? Goddamnit, Voor, what is that? My son is down there and--”
“I do not know,” Khoth whispered.
Daesah, have I lost my mind?
The glittering thing streaked towards the center of town, towards him, towards the house. It then stopped and hovered at the same level as the Exarch. The thing was cylindrical in shape until it unfurled its petals. A golden glow began in the very center of it. The glow grew so bright that Khoth had to hold up his right arm to shield his eyes. There was a high, singing sound that pierced to Khoth’s bones and then… then the light dimmed though it did not go away. He blinked to clear his vision.
… all of the Khul…
… were dead.
Khoth felt hot air blast him from the now open door of the Exarch. The door to the house that the Khul had been surrounding opened, or more like toppled over, and a human stepped out. He was swaying and there was blood dripping from his nose, eyes, and ears. He was staring up at the something that still glittered and glowed. He reached a hand up and the cylinder’s “petals” retracted and hid the golden glow.
They wanted me to see this. To see him…
“My God, they’re all dead! It’s like a carpet of Khul! Is that my--my son?” Jack asked.
Without further thought, Khoth stepped out of the open door and landed on the ground with the exo-suit taking the brunt of it. He landed in a crouch and slowly got up. Without pause, he jogged towards the young man who was standing there, swaying, with his hand still raised upwards to the cylinder that glittered and slowly turned.
More humans were gathered in the doorway behind the young man. They were staring out at the devastation with huge, shocked eyes and open mouths. They would not forget this. But then they saw him and they retreated with murmured cries.
The young man turned towards Khoth. His eyes, bloodshot and filled with unbearable pain, widened too. But not in fear. In fact, for a moment, there was awe in them and a smile played over his mouth. But then he grimaced and his hands went to his temples as he swayed a final time and nearly collapsed on the ground.
But Khoth caught him. The young man was terribly light in his arms. Those lips parted.
The young man rasped, “Gehenna. Get me to Gehenna.”