“|-he would absolutely kick Lord N’iirie’s ass. No doubt about it-|”
Ki’ittri, designated APOSTLE, rolled his eyes at the squad chatter over the comms. It was borderline distracting as he focused on doing his best to do one final final final check of his equipment in the pod as well as the pod itself. He had more time to burn than things to do, so he tended to repeat processes… over and over again. A soldier caught unawares is a dead soldier, after all, and there are worse ways to pass the time before a potential clash with an unknown alien species than triple-checking your gear.
You could, for instance, be engaging in the time-honored and extremely heretical tradition of Diarch Battle.
“|No, NO. With those talons?|” Ch’rk’’a, nee TESTAMENT said, her voice coming out a little more shrill than she intended.
“|Oh wait we’re going just soul-given now? In that case, yes, Lord Tri’’ik’I’ would win, but come on, he’s got like an additional 5 feet on anyone else!|” Rritikrea, nee HERETIC capitulated, and Ki’ittri could just feel her eyes roll all the way over here.
“|Well next time pick the freak Diarch and you’ll win every time.|”
“|Shut up, Tc’rki’.|” TESTAMENT and HERETIC responded at once, causing the whole squad to break out into laughter. It was good, too – the laughter that is, not the game. The extremely heretical tradition of Diarch Battle has gone back ever since there was a set of Diarchs, and has been banned for almost as long. Officially it still was, across the entire Galaxy, and anyone found participating in such an extremely heretical tradition would have to spend a good month in soul-searching, no-media-privileges penance, with only the barest and hardest of porridges or cereals to eat. This ancient law extended up and down the command chain, regardless of who you were, and punishment was added to or reduced during various periods of society, depending on exactly how heretical such a game was considered amongst the populace and the ruling class at large.
Unfortunately, it was never enforced, and it was especially never-enforced when the Diarchs themselves would engage in such a debate after a few drinks with their mics still hot, but it’s at least good to have it on paper.
“|VANGUARD, PREACHER? Anyth-|”
A low, off-key tonal note greeted APOSTLE over the communication channel, and it was quickly joined with the rest of his squad for a playful congregational harmonic of “you’re being an uptight nerd”.
“|Come on, Ki’ittri. Do we have to switch to callsigns now?|” whined A’it’kai/VANGUARD, the sound of metallic clacking in the background evidence that he, somehow, smuggled a cipher roll and was busy playing with it as opposed to doing literally anything else. “|We’re still within the Crusade’s formation, for All-soul’s sake.|”
“|Yes, and we wouldn’t be in these shock pods if we weren’t about to warp out of system! We might as well get used to our callsigns and get ready for deployment-|”
“|One, that was three hours ago.|” Ru’u’’ii/PREACHER interrupted, ticking points off on her fingers. “|Two, this probably won’t become anything because who wants to go to war with an unknown unknown-|”
“|We should not presume to understand the alien mind-|”
“|Three-|” Ru’u’’ii interrupted, taking some glee in cutting off her CO, “|-if anything does happen we’re most likely going to be dealing with ship-to-ship combat – if their own armada shows up, and Four-|”
Ru’u’’ii sighed. “|If we do drop we’ll probably just be fighting farmers. What fun is that?|”
“|Fun has nothing to do with this. Did you see their physiology? Bipedal, strong upper body strength. Add hydraulics to that and-|”
“|And we’re going to what seems to be a farming colony, Ki’ittri! How many of them would be armed – or in combat suits?! It’s not like they’re going to suddenly jump on us and rip our arms off!|”
“|…I just want us to be prepared and safe-|”
“|Awww. I love you too, Sarge, but I’ve already got a husband-|” Rritikrea/HERETIC purred over the comms, before bursting out into laughter again.
“|Where is the remote-destruct button? It seems like Rritikrea’s pod just got captured by enemy combatants during planetfall-|”
The same congretory tone of “you’re being an uptight nerd, nerd” blasted through his squad comms, and Ki’ittri smiled to himself.
The damnedest thing of all of this was that Lt. K’uree could see them with his soulsight, but he couldn’t let them know he saw them.
Every so often one of these delicate aliens would dart between trees, or peek over a hill, or around the side of a building or barrier, soft smudges of light from so far away as bright as day in the pitch black of the planet’s night. All this happened around him, a distracting persistent presence, but he had to continue to order his troops as if they were totally enshrouded. He was out, oblivious, vulnerable in the open. Animals protested, then were silenced – some of the smarter ones not interrupting his, or his enemy troop’s march forward. His suit’s HUD was helpful in tracking them as they moved about, these new soldiers that did not speak with words but with their limbs, who moved as almost one unit, silently, between buildings and brush.
It was obvious they had moved into some sort of residential district, as the open warfare near their drop ships had dissipated into potshots as they broke through the perimeter, and eventually nothing save for the random well-armed local who was paying attention and got off a few rounds. A few of the other natives would watch them with wide eyes, or with some device pointed through the window – his HUD did not detect any radiation, and so idly K’uree figured they were cameras or recording devices of some kind. With this theory in mind, he acted accordingly – hurting none, moving swiftly, making sure not to menace the populace or to take anything. He and his troops did their best to act a shadow in this planet’s dark night, and to make no track and take nothing with them.
Nothing, of course, except for these troops who silently moved, and who would not be denied this hunt.
Lt. K’uree was impressed. As he “randomly” decided to divert his squad down a side-road as opposed to walk into the ambush set before him, he thought he almost heard some cursing – what passed for cursing, given these aliens’ language, that is – and then saw them move out of the side of his vision.
“|Talon 2, move down the hill.|”
“|Yes sir.|” the squad leader replied – K’uree hadn’t even bothered to check his name, his time had been so pressed, but he sounded young. He was busy staring intently away from the small whisp of hazy light that peered at him, half-covered by this planet’s flora, when Talon 2 moved down the hill.
About a kilometer away down GA State Route 10, the M1A3 Abrams tank had a clear line of sight, and fired a single HEAT round.
“|WHAT THE -|” was all that Talon 2 Squad Leader was able to say before the HEAT round penetrated his hardsuit, blew through the other side and hit the retaining wall of the highway behind him, detonating. The concussive blast alone was enough to knock the rest of his squad to the ground… about 10 meters away.
“|TALON ONE, GET THE SURVIVORS – TALON THREE, COVERING FIRE-|”
Lt. K’uree had found, much to his chagrin, that his ship’s non-lethal armament was terrifying, effective, and apparently effectively terrifying when it came to combating the natives. He raised his AKW long rifle and fired a few shots, a microlattice of blades neatly slicing a dozen-molecule thin wafer of the tungsten bar sitting inside the weapon, then propelling it forward with electromagnetic fury, then repeating this a half-hundred times in that second. As it left the barrel with a target over a half-league away it remained focused as opposed to spreading out, the weapons’ on-board computer attempting to maintain as much structure as possible to compensate for such a vast distance.
For his people, a spread AKW wafer at medium range felt like getting gut-punched over a significant portion of your body.
For these aliens however it was undoubtedly lethal; a few idle rounds blew apart tires and dented in non-combat vehicles. Focused fire destroyed treads, both he and one very unlucky patrol had discovered when they chanced upon each other.
As such, focused fire also spooked their armor, and with a roar of engines he could hear from this distance the metallic beast sped in reverse, moving behind another building – and out of sight.
“|TAKE THEM AND GO UP-|”
“|SIR WE HAVE BODIES-|”
“|I SAID TAKE THEM-|”
Lt. K’uree never got to finish that sentence, as a half-dozen grenades landed in-between him and his squad.
With no drones to sacrifice themselves to cover the blast, his body made due.
So there’s a funny thing about warping into a barely-mapped system, is that you don’t really know where you’re going to end up. You could pop out of super-luminal space and be in the middle of nowhere, or near an un-mapped planet, or – which was much more common than the survey corps would like to admit, you could end up just slamming into an asteroid and adding a neat little dent to your ship.
The good news is that a significant amount of telemetry data, from planet locations and hypothesized orbits to speeds, intensity of solar wind, etc. had been fed into the navigational computers of High Lord Inquisitor-Commander Tr’’’’r’’ of the Eternal Holy Karnakian Crusade And It’s Infinite Legions’ Armada, and he had absolutely no concerns of hitting a heavenly body of any sort.
No, his concern was of a more politically militant sort.
As he and the rest of his Armada came directly from sovereign space, they weren’t approaching this alien empire from the same vector as The Three Stones. This means that he had to spread out his ships in a wider area so as to (1) compensate for any potential drift of The Three Stones and the target colony planet while (2) not spreading his ships out so far as to be ineffective in covering each other on the minuscule, but very real chance that combat was already underway and his ships were warping into aggressive space. However, he had to (3) place them far enough away from the theorized target range as to not appear overly hostile, and the flagship Spite’s Soul was……… intimidating. Intimidating is a word you could use. You could also use the words “way too much overkill”, “planet-cracker” and “I think some of those armaments are banned under Galactic law but I didn’t say nothin’.”
Armada was also a bit of a …misnomer. Certainly it was an Armada, but it wasn’t all militant. There were dozens of science ships, hundreds of supply ships bearing gifts, cultural liaisons on unarmed cruisers and even an entire – for the lack of a better word, station – completely dedicated to giving space for celebrations, fairs and general camaraderie.
So this meant that High Lord Inquisitor-Commander Tr’’’’r’’ of the Eternal Holy Karnakian Crusade And It’s Infinite Legions had to also position those non-combat ships within his Armada to project the peaceful intent of his people, yet make sure that they’re close enough to various military craft as to be protected in the again, off-chance-but-still-possible reality that space combat would be joined. This, of course, wasn’t counting the hundreds of petitions he had from the civilian populace to be the first one to address their new galactic neighbors, what speeches would be said, how they would be broadcast-
A cool mug of Ri’ddrij was loudly and obnoxiously placed in the center of his console by his attache.
“|Sorry for the interruption, sir, but your back eye was doing the…|” Qoili’’e, First Attendant of the Lord, motioned quite unprofessionally to his left souleye, placing the serving tray against his side. “|-and I figured, you know. You could use a distraction.|”
“|Thank you, Qoili’’e. These aliens haven’t lifted a blade against us and yet I already feel like I’ve been pitfighting for weeks.|” High Lord Inquisitor-Commander Tr’’’’r’’ murmured, dragging his claw heavily down the bridge of his muzzle to drop near the mug, gripping it wearily. “|We are almost out of transit, correct?|”
“|Yes, sir.|” The First Attendant of the Lord said, bowing slightly. “|Literally within the next 5 minutes – though that hasn’t stopped a dozen more last-minute petitions from various Divine Paths, Holy Rings, Sacred Pools and Lit Ways, some of which also included some very colorful language about what would happen to me if I didn’t petition you immediately.|”
High Lord Inquisitor-Commander Tr’’’’r’’ looked up at his first attendant and smirked, bringing the mug slowly to his lips. “|And yet here you are, not petitioning me, and not letting them break you. How do you do it, I wonder?|”
“|Simple, sir.|” Qoili’’e, First Attendant of the Lord, said as he bowed a little deeper than was appropriate. “|If it gets too much for me I just give it to you.|”
“|HAH!|” High Lord Inquisitor-Commander Tr’’’’r’’ laughed, taking a deep swig of his Ri’ddrij, letting the familiar icy tingle spread down his throat. “|You absolute monster – I should have you tried for apostasy or treason, or something.|”
“|No court in the galaxy, M’Lord.|”
“|Mmm, yes, well-|”
The only thing – and I mean, the only thing that High Lord Inquisitor-Commander Tr’’’’r’’ of the Eternal Holy Karnakian Crusade And It’s Infinite Legions would allow to interrupt him is any notification from his EM Lord, Uri’krei, or his Pilot, Rek’ik’ki.
Thankfully for everyone involved, the two of them kept such interruptions to the command deck and not to general life.
“|Dropping out of warp in 1 minute, High Lord.|”
“|Thank you, Pilot. EM Lord-|”
“|We are open on all secure IFF channels, scooping all spectrums.|” Uri’krei droned, as on-screen millions of indicators suddenly flashed on – and were immediately removed, showing now only the barest of information of each ship, their locations and armaments.
“|Well.|” High Lord Inquisitor-Commander Tr’’’’r’’ shrugged, downing the last of his Ri’ddrij before placing the empty mug on the offered serving tray. “|Shall we make history?|”
So there’s a funny thing – though it’s less “ha-ha” funny in this context and more “well that was interesting” is that in order for combat suits (regardless of the species) to broadcast IFF indicators that could be read and monitored from space, the broadcast had to be loud and powerful – at least, from an EM perspective.
This also meant, for what it’s worth, that the suits broadcast broadly; both in an encrypted, broad-spectrum kind of sense and in a multi-directional sense, as a corresponding friendly receiver could be anywhere above or around you. These kinds of broadcasts also tended to remain, invisibly polluting the space around the AO – if given enough time.
On Wednesday, June 18th, 2025AD High Lord Inquisitor-Commander Tr’’’’r’’ of the Eternal Holy Karnakian Crusade And It’s Infinite Legions’ Armada warped into the Solar System, just close enough to Earth to support The Three Stones but far enough away to not seem antagonistic, spread out enough to offer support to each other’s ships but far enough out to cast a wide net, with civilian vessels in prominent, but protected positions to show that the Karnakian people meant absolutely no harm, but were willing to defend what was theirs.
They weren’t greeted by a corresponding force, or any force for that matter. They were, instead, greeted with status notifications and open communique.
It wasn’t the panicked, echoed communications of The Three Stones’ senior staff that moved the High Lord Inquisitor-Commander, as his military career was filled with plenty of those.
It wasn’t the broadcasted destruction beacons of drones or of ships that caused him to stir, for over the past thousand years of service he had lost countless amounts of replaceable hardware.
It wasn’t even the weeping of the Matriarch that moved his heart to action, for all leaders weep bitter tears at some point.
No, what moved him to utter the single word that would change history forever was the open suit microphones, on interns and new recruits that – compared to him – barely finished their first molting.
It was all the screaming.
And with that screaming, the sound of alien weapons-fire, of lungs filling with blood, with begging and with panicked orders, of prayers to any god – or anyone who would listen, to family, to each other – with the cacophony of war echoing unchallenged across the command bridge, High Lord Inquisitor-Commander Tr’’’’r’’ of the Eternal Holy Karnakian Crusade And It’s Infinite Legions’ Armada, The Hammer of the Righteous, The Bled Fang of The Infinite One, Guardian of the Sacred Flame, Firstfallen on the Blade of Purity, stood up and simply said
And APOSTLE and TESTAMENT and HERETIC and SACRAMENT and VANGUARD and PREACHER and Two Million, Two Hundred and Fourty Four Thousand, Seven Hundred and Eighty One special operations orbital shock troops accelerated out of their ship at multiples of the speed of sound, aimed at every significant population center their targeting computers could find.
And the War for Earth began.