Time stood still.
The crew of The Three Stones were watching multiple camera angles, so it was only by the sudden shocked silence of a few operators that the rest of the bridge even knew something had gone terribly, terribly wrong.
Security Chief Ri’tiki was under the second dropship, happily and completely unaware of any issues as his team demonstrated a very primitive, very basic child’s toy to the assembling soldiers – making slow, deliberate movements to illustrate that they meant no harm.
Lt. K’uree and his assembled away team were bemused as they watched on, mentally preparing themselves to soothe the natives’ ego once it came to accept their gift.
Aq’rel’a’s face was brimming with a smile of barely-suppressed joy, as she triumphantly lifted up what should have been a healthy, if not a little disgruntled and embarrassed local. Her eyes glazed over as they tried to parse, for a split second, where the rest of the local alien went.
The assembled defense of the United States – from the simple beat cop to the National Guard veteran – lost their breath as they saw the speed, ease and savagery of the apparent attack-
Hank just screamed.
“OH JESUUSSHH GOOOOODDDDDHHH-”
“|Wh-what?|” Aq’rel’a sputtered, the warm blood of the local sapient coating her talons generously.
“|H-how-|” started xenobiologist-cum-ambassador Qur’rra’ra, as Rkk’tkt let the cloth slide limply from his arms.
“WASTE THAT MOTHERFUCKER-” yelled someone, and the sound of automatic fire drowned out any argument to the contrary.
Bullets began to ricochet off of Aq’rel’a’s armor, the kinetic impacts registering on her body but not in her mind. Somewhere, far away, her suit automatically dispersed it’s small contingent of disposable shield drones, and the wireless power draw from her suit’s internal battery kicked on a timer on her HUD. Each of her three drones blossomed into an umbrella of light, moving to put themselves directly into the line of fire. She blinked as the sudden rapport of body-hits stopped, and looked down at the screaming, primitive, delicate and innocent native, as its voice trailed off and the lights of its’ soul began to wail and flicker-
‘Fix it’ cried something deep inside her, and she bent down over the metal plate that held this innocent creature that needed to be healed, to be protected – she bent down and in one swift movement ripped the plate from it’s fasteners on the ground, and sprinted forward towards her confused compatriots.
“|SIR! DO WE RETURN FIRE-|”
“|BY THE BLACK VOID WHAT THE FUCK-|”
“|I JUST LOOKED AT THEM I DIDN’T MEAN TO INSULT THEM-|”
“|BY OUR ANCESTORS WHAT DID YOU DO-|” Roared security chief Ri’tiki, the sound of weapons fire forcing him to yell. “|I NEED A STATUS REPORT, NOW!|”
“|DISPERSE THE SEEDS!|” Commanded Lt. K’uree over general comms, tapping his own suit to deploy his few drones. “|DEPLOY SHIP SEEDS AS WELL-|”
It was around this time that Aq’rel’a finally managed to make it over to Qur’rra’ra, almost bowling her over with her grisly delivery.
“|FIX IT FIX IT FIX IT FIX IT-|” Aq’rel’a chanted, slamming the grate – and Hank – into the arms of the xenobiologist. “|FIXITFIXITFIXITFIXIT-|” she repeated, more urgently, as rifle fire finally overwhelmed one of her drones, causing it to burst into flame and electronic smoke.
“|AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH|” thought Qur’rra’ra aloud, as her assistant Rkk’tkt danced nervously in place/tried to dodge the few bodyshots that were successfully slamming against his significantly weaker hazard suit.
“|FIXITFIXITFIXIT-|” chanted Aq’rel’a, being joined by Tr’chr’’ as he shakily held his non-lethal weapon, pointing it at the ground, flinching as the natives’ guns trained themselves on him. “|FIXITFIXITFIXIT-|”
“|AAAAAHHHHHSTASIS! STASIS!|” Qur’rra’ra rounded on Rkk’tkt, taking the bloody and slower-moving delivery from Aq’rel’a’s hands, causing the male to squawk unceremoniously. “|WHEN NATIVE SPECIES ARE DAMAGED WE PUT THEM IN STASIS-|”
“|FIXITFIXITFIXIT-|” chanted the entire away-team over the increasingly-frustrated sounds of security chief Ri’tiki, as the native soldiers finally pulled up a vehicle that had a top mounted gun which did not look friendly at all-
“|AAAAAAAABUTWEHAVEN’DI’LINUTSINSTASIS-|” cried Rkk’tkt as he sprinted back up the ramp, diving headfirst into the boxes of trinkets and gifts that the First Squad had brought down, wholesale throwing out entire delicate packages down the open cargo bay, as Qur’rra’ra slowly but speedily rounded the ramp under him.
“|I DON’T GIVE A SOUL-CURSED DAMN ABOUT YOUR NUTS-|”
“|WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO, SQUAD ONE.|” Order-questioned security chief Ri’tiki, as he sprinted from under Squad Two’s dropship. Qur’rra’ra made the mistake of pausing – just for a moment – at the base of the ramp, and the sight of what she carried caused Ri’tiki to slowly come to a halt.
“|Wh.|” he said, staring incredulously at the dying native served up on a plate.
“|It’s… not what it looks like?|” ventured Qur’rra’ra, as an entire cart of trinkets launched itself out of Dropship One, landing a couple dozen meters behind the xenobiologist.
“|FIX IT GODDAMNIT-|” Ri’tiki roared, as every dropships’ shield drones were dispersed, dozens of lights blossoming to life as they drew from the much larger and deeper well of the ships’ reactors. The natives, being as primitive as they were, seemed to ignore the soldiers for the time being – and began to focus fire on the drones closest to them, deeming them more of a threat.
Their small arms were nothing more than annoyances, given the increased power the drones could draw from. The vehicle-mounted weapons, however…
“|I GOT IT~!|” Chirped Rkk’tkt as he held aloft in both claws a stasis generator, a waterfall of nuts and foodstuffs cascading down the ramp to land in the alien soil.
“|NOW NOW NOW-|” Yelled Qur’rra’ra, as she lifted the native up towards her fellow scientist to be bathed in a deep, blue light.
“I’M OUT – I’M OUT”
“RELOAD, GODDAMN YOU-”
“GoddamnitgoddamnitGODDAMNIT-” rambled Ofc. Adam “Feisty” McCormick as he sunk behind his vehicle’s wheel well, rapidly searching his pockets for another full magazine as he ejected the expended one from his AR. Finding one – his last one – he slammed it home, and rose again to pour fire upon the invaders.
‘It was going to be such a nice day, too.’ He thought, as he selected a flying drone at random and began to fire.
“|Did you see that-|”
“|Run through her suit matrix again, I want to get every bit of data on that interaction-|”
“|The compressive augments didn’t even activate-|”
“|What’s the burn time on those shields?|”
The bridge of The Three Stones was in an uproar. At first, things were going swimmingly; data was pouring in, the natives were cautious – as they should be – but curious, and it seemed like the general gist of ‘we come in peace’ was being relayed effectively.
Then a rookie bisected a native on what seemed like an accident, and a battle started.
“|Get me a direct line to the Security Chief.|” Matriarch Tr’Nkwi said, talons rapidly moving over her own console. “|Send a direct order to the other dropships; they’re to abandon CRADLE and rendevous with The Three Stones as soon as they’re able.|”
A point of view became prominent on-screen, and the roaring, shrieking trill of the security chief briefly drowned out everything else.
“|CAN YOU FIX IT?|” He roared, as the native was lowered down onto the decking of the dropship. Automatic clamps magnetically sealed the metal plate to the floor, and with the stasis generator locked in place –
Well. He wouldn’t be moving, at least.
“|Matriarch, begging your pardon, but everything’s really really condemned to all kinds of hell right now-|” growled Ri’tiki, his helmet’s camera lowering to fixate on the natives’ face, twisted in pain. “|And I really don’t have time for a status update-|”
“|Chief Ri’tiki, I’m here to offer aid, not judgment.|” sighed the Matriarch, her data team working furiously on AI-assisted possibilities. “|We… we don’t believe the neophyte meant to hurt the native-|”
“|Oh, right, just ripping off limbs is their custom of greeting-|”
“|From what we can tell, Ri’tiki|” growled the matriarch, “|her suit didn’t even provide tactile feedback until she hit the bone – or a bone analog.|”
The steel in the matriarch’s tone was enough warning for Ri’tiki to remember himself, and his point of view rose to look out the landing craft again. “|Well…shit.|”
The rookie in question scrambled up the ramp, small arms fire peppering the shield drones behind her, eyes wild and red with tears. Wordlessly and effortlessly the security chief picked her up and slammed her into a harness, locking it down automatically over her body.
“|Well…shit.|” he repeated again, poking his head out to see the arrayed forces against him. The first armored vehicle with the gun mount was rapidly joined by another that was firing as it pulled up, its’ forces rapidly disgorging to fall behind the earlier, lighted vehicles. More weaponsfire, more drones slowly being overloaded. “|We’re not going to be able to stay here forever, and we really really shouldn’t be kidnapping a local.|”
“|We know, we know. We’ve identified this symbol-|” with a tap Matriarch Tr’Nkwi pushed the information to every planet-side soldier, burning it into their HUDs.”|-as a possible place of healing. There’s a large building with this symbol half a league away from you, to your galactic North-by-north-west.|” Over the din of multiple voices shouting out status reports, Tr’Nkwi pushed more information to her troops. “|Chief Ri’tiki, I leave the decision to you on the ground; Do you think you can take him to their house of healing? Hopefully by depositing it at their doctors’ theaters, they would realize we made a mistake-|”
“|Run half a league through a hostile, urban, alien environment-|”
“|Or kidnap a local and watch their whole world burn.|”
Security Chief Ri’tiki growled, wordlessly, as EM Lord Itick’’t patched into the conversation.
“|Not to pour more kindling into the burner, but, I’m noticing a lot more activity heading your way. A lot more. That’s a… By the Eternal Soul, that’s a lot of aircraft…|”
Time stood still once more, as Ri’tiki’s mind raced.
“|RIGHT! LISTEN UP!|” Roared the chief, overriding everyone’s comms. “|ALL SQUADS WILL DISEMBARK WITH NONLETHAL WEAPONRY. WE ARE GOING TO FORM A PERIMETER AROUND OUR SHIPS.|”
Wordlessly, the two sealed dropships opened up, disgorging their contents.
“|WE ARE NOT GOING TO ENGAGE THEM WITH OUR WEAPONS. YOU ARE TO DEPLOY SHIELD DRONES AND SHIELD BARRICADES, AND NONVIOLENTLY PACIFY THE LOCAL POPULATION.|”
“|Ri’tiki-|” warned Matriarch Tr’Nkwi, the concern in her voice apparent.
“|THEY ARE PHYSICALLY WEAK. THIS MEANS YOU DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE, INTERACT WITH THEIR PHYSICAL BODIES. CONFISCATE WEAPONS, DISABLE VEHICLES.|” Ordered Ri’tiki, marching back down the ramp into enemy fire.
He stood there, drones forming a shield wall before him, bright angry flashes of light speaking to the amount of ordinance being pointed at him in a desperate bid to save their homes, their families… themselves.
“|DO NOT FIRE YOUR WEAPONS.|” He ordered, as his HUD notified him Squad One’s fireteam had off-ramped behind him. “|WE WILL NOT HARM ANY MORE OF THEM. OUR GOAL IS TO ESCORT A WOUNDED ALIEN LOCAL TO THEIR MEDICAL CENTER AND THEN RETURN TO THE SHIPS – AND THEN WE WILL IMMEDIATELY RETREAT. AM I UNDERSTOOD?|”
“|SIR YES SIR|”
With a defiant roar, they charged.
“FOCUS FIRE ON THE RAMP-”
“YES SIR! YES – THEY KILLED A CIVILIAN WHEN HE FELL. YES-”
“MORE OF THE FUCKS ARE COMING OUT-”
“NO THE HOUSES ARE NOT CLEAR! I REPEAT, CIVILIANS ARE IN THE A.O.-”
“WHERE IS OUR GODDAMN AIR SUPPORT-”
Sgt. Hernandez screamed into his radio over the sound of the two .50 cals, the constant rapport of gunfire forming a chaotic background white noise. There was an almost imperceptible pause – almost a collective inhalation of breath, and then the weaponsfire somehow increased in volume… and urgency.
“FOCUS FIRE ON THE RIGHT-”
“FRAG OUT – DANGER CLOSE-”
Sgt. Miguel Hernandez looked up from his Humvee’s radio console to see a squad of aliens, clad in all black, sprinting towards his position. He had just enough time to put down his radio and pick up his rifle when one of them leapt, landing on the hood of his vehicle – and crushing it utterly. Hernandez dove for the pavement as the xenos reared back and pulled the MG apart – his gunner switching to his M4 and emptying a clip into it’s head… to seemingly no effect. With it’s other arm it darted forward and grabbed his rifle, pulling it effortlessly out of his hands.
Then they just stared at each other for a few moments, waiting.
Everyone was waiting.
“…Fuck you.” Pvt. Kowalski spat, as the alien crushed his service rifle in one hand, hopping off of the vehicle to grip another soldier’s discharging weapon.
“GIVE-GIVE THAT BACK! NOOOOO-”
In a confused daze Sgt. Hernandez turned to look at the police line – an officer was clutching his weapon with both arms and a leg – which is obviously against the manual of arms – and his corresponding xeno just… started to shake him off, like a particularly feisty cat.
“I-IT’S MINE GOD DAMN Y-” the officer cried before his grip failed, falling on his back with an unceremonious thud. He pulled out his service pistol and was able to fire just a couple rounds before a gauntleted fist closed over the barrel and pulled it effortlessly from his grip. The officer then reached into another pocket and produced an even smaller pistol and fired a few more rounds-
Amazingly, delicately, the alien pinched the slide between two claws and began to pull-
Sgt. Hernandez looked around as a dozen aliens overran their position, destroyed their weapons, and then… just left them be.
“|It keeps punching me, sir.|” Complained Tr’chr’’, as the alien he had just disarmed – and he cringed internally at that tasteless pun – three times started to smack him with his appendages.
“|You’ll live, Private.|” Murmured Lt. K’uree, his suit dispensing painkillers to compensate for the kinetic force of multiple-rounds-to-the-helmet.
“|Well what’s the – Hey! no biting -|” chided Tr’chr’’, as his nearby security-force alien attempted to gnaw on his forearm. “|No, stop – what’s the plan now?|”
“|We corral them under the ship.|” Responded Chief Ri’tiki, causing the pair to jump. “|Hopefully showing that we haven’t murdered any other souls will calm them down.|”
Ri’tiki sighed. “|We have to buy time, Lieutenant.|”
“|Forgive me for saying, but I just don’t think this is the right coinage, sir.|” Lt. K’uree said.
The two officers shared a knowing look, before the rapport of more gunfire forced them to move once more among the aliens, who had begun to raise their arms in an unknown gesture.