A Threat to the Empire

September 20, 2007
By Todd Hammrich, Pocatello, ID

Zor woke up with a massive headache. He could not remember why for a minute, but it soon came back to him. It had been a bar of some kind, but he could not remember getting home. He looked down at himself. He was still in the filthy clothes from yesterday, and smelled liked it as well.
He quickly took a sanitizing shower and then changed into his crisp new uniform that had been laid out by the night crew. He continued to ponder how he had gotten home, and even more importantly, why he had been in the bar in the first place.
Still wondering he headed to the door to begin another day shuffling paperwork. His hand was on the knob when the phone rang. He froze as he recognized the ring from his office. All of the terrible information from yesterday suddenly poured back into his consciousness. He reeled as he remembered; it had suddenly become obvious why he had been at the bar.
He picked up the phone before the last ring sounded and managed a croaking, “hello”.
“Commander Zor, is that you? You sound terrible. Where are you? We’ve been waiting nearly ten minutes for you. Are you on your way?”
It was Jonak, his second in command and the troop’s mother figure. He was the nice person, friends with all the officers and most of the men, there to soothe hurt feelings and raging anger. It was he, the Great Commander Zor of the 2nd FLD (First Line Defense or commonly called the “Cracked Eggs”) Berserkers who was the bad guy. He was approaching his sixth year in the position and he didn’t relish losing it.
“Yes, I’m here. Had a little trouble finding my uniform, those darn night crew cleaners think it’s funny to leave them anywhere other than where they’re supposed to.” Of course he couldn’t risk wearing an old one, on today, of all days. “You wait I’ll be there in a minute.”
“Ok sir, but I should warn you all the squadron officers are here waiting. They aren’t sure of the information they have and I didn’t tell them anything, mainly because I’m not sure of what I’ve heard either, so I’ll leave it to you, but don’t take the long way.”
“I’m on my way.” He hung up the phone and quickly grabbed his briefcase, which he had almost forgotten, and hurried quickly to the turbo lifts inside the building. He would have preferred to take the round about way, going around the outside of the tower, but he was late and it was an awful lot of work. He sighed as the doors opened on the 376th floor where his office was located; he wasn’t getting any younger.
The first thing he saw stepping off the lift was the large knot of officers standing in the hallway waiting for him. As he stepped into the hall Jonak immediately moved forward to confront him before he reached the congestion ahead.
“Sir, pardon my impudence, but is it true?”
“Is what true?” He knew what Jonak wanted to hear, but was afraid that he had the wrong answer to give. The information he had received yesterday at an unusually somber command meeting was not going to thrill him. He wasn’t happy about it in any case.
“The rumors sir. Now please tell me what’s going on.”
Zor looked gravely at him and said that he was not at liberty to say right now, but that he would be briefed with the rest of the senior officers during the morning meeting. At his response, Jonak gave him a cold look and said solemnly, “We have been friends for a long time Zor. Almost longer than I care to remember, but I remember the times out in the field when we were fighting the rebel colonies. Do you?”
Zor sighed, knowing he was beat. He did remember that cold battlefield when his right side had been hit and he had plummeted to the ground. If it had not been for Jonak getting him to the med tent he would have lost it all or worse. He nodded to him and directed him to his office, shutting and locking the door as he entered.
“I do remember Jon and I will tell you now, but only,” he added quickly, “because I need you to prepare the troops as I meet with the others. It’s going to be a lot on you, raising morale and such. Anyway, this is what happened. Yesterday at the command meeting, you know the one that showed up on my schedule unexpected.” Jonak nodded that he knew the one.
“I show up on time as we are expected to, of course, and then took my seat next to the other Generals and wait for the meeting to begin. Now could you guess who called it? Bet you couldn’t, it was Toal Gengris, the Second Chief General himself. He began by telling us how proud he was of us and our renewed commitment to the Empire. Then he told us that he had some grave news.”
At this point Jonak interrupted him and asked,” War?”
Zor nodded and was about to continue when Jonak began again.
“With who? The rebellious colonies have all been crushed. The only others that oppose us are those religious zealots on the outer rim, but they don’t have any weapons, do they? They’re opposed to violence anyway.”
“Now hold on just a minute!” Zor said, “You’re getting ahead of me. Yes, he did say war was coming, he didn’t say with whom. What he did say is that our troops need to be reviewed this afternoon and all combat equipment and gear need to be checked for battle readiness. All things are to be in top order by the end of the week at which time we will assemble at the Parade Grounds to be addressed by the Supreme Chief General himself. He will brief all troops at once and give us the strength and encouragement for the task.”
Jonak sat slack jawed. “The Supreme General himself! Who would have thought? Well sir, I understand now and will do my best in whatever you require. What are my orders?”
Zor gave him the necessary orders and declarations to get the troops inspected that afternoon and then to get all of the troop’s gear prepared. Jonak left the office with an air of grim determination. War was not fun business, but they would be prepared.
Zor then spent the rest of the morning briefing the rest of his officers and preparing for the inspection of his troops. It was a dangerous thing, inspection, and he didn’t want to lose any men to a breach of uniform.
The parade ground of the Great Army Training Facility was full as far as the eye could see. Not only were his men there, but also those of the 4th, 5th and 8th FLD Berserkers. All were separated into their respective groups, with their uniforms sparkling clean and their battle aids in perfect order on their backs. His men would be the last inspected. He watched nervously as the time grew nearer.
The 8th and 5th Berserkers both passed their inspections with no infractions and the 4th was next. It seemed to be going well at first, the officers so far all passed. Zor saw it before the inspector, but there was no way to give warning. One of the soldiers in line was struggling with his pack and was trying desperately to right it before his turn. Those around him stood still as the inspector neared. They knew his fate.
When the inspection finally finished his row, the only thing left was a pile of ashes where his smoldering aid had once stood.
Luckily, there were no problems within his command and they were passed. It had shaken him, though he had seen it before. It was the reason they were the best. Already their lives were pledged to the crown, this was their punishment.
Zor remembered so long ago when he had been a youth. So strong headed, so proud of his skills. They would never be able to catch him, but like other dreams of youth it wasn’t so. He was caught and imprisoned. Rules were strict in the Utopian society they lived in and when broken, punishment severe.
He had been given the choice; serve in the mines for the rest of your life or the military for 25 years. He had opted for military and was soon on the front lines. There he had met Jonak, another former prisoner, as all FLD are. He had become accustomed and then begun to thrive in the military world. He rose in the ranks quickly as a brilliant strategist and commander and was commonly recognized, though the FLD is the lowest of the military ranks, as the best flyer in the corp.
Having survived the inspection had brought back the memories of how he had begun down this road. Now his thoughts turned to his next worry, the conference at the end of the week.
He slept that night and each night that week in a fitful slumber.
The transports were full by mid-morning and began their flight shortly thereafter. It was a 12-cycle journey, too long to fly solo, so Zor was in a luxuriously outfitted passenger flyer with the rest of his officers. The rest of his command was in large capacity troop transports. The day was more than half gone by the time they finally reached the palace grounds. They still had some time before the conference would begin and many of the soldiers took the opportunity to explore the vast grounds of the palace.
It was a marvel of engineering, being the center of government and military for the entire empire. The grounds themselves were nearly 50 miles square. He exercised a bit of authority and separated himself from his staff for a while. Soon he was looking down on the grounds, where he could truly appreciate the scale of the place.
The palace was the largest structure on the horizon, 600 stories, entirely made of a rose tinted crystal and open on almost all sides. He could clearly see the great area that had been cleared for their conference later that night. It was immense! There were also screens set up farther back that would show the podium for those who wouldn’t be able to see where the Supreme Chief General would address them. He marveled at the effort it had to take to set it all up on short notice.
By the time Jonak convinced him to come down it was nearly time for the conference to begin. His troops assembled and marched in formation to their designated area at the front of the meeting area. They settled into their spots and waited while Zor was escorted to the platform on which the podium rested. He was shaken to realize that he was expected to be seated here rather than with his men, but could not deny the opportunity to be close to the Supreme Chief General. He had just greeted his colleagues, who were one by one lead to the platform as well, and settled into his seat again when Toal Gengris arrived.
The entire assembly suddenly became very silent. Toal was dressed in full military dress resplendent with his many medals and honors awarded for various services to the Empire. He also wore the robe that designated his rank and moved in concert with his breaths. He stood 10 feet from the podium as an aide announced him. The aides voice betrayed what a hurry they were in. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind the severity of the topic that was going to be addressed.
Toal approached the podium as his aide retreated and then placed his arms on it. He looked worn out but as he began to speak you could hear excitement rise in his voice.
“My loyal troops I come before you today with exciting news. News that will change your lives and perhaps the lives of every citizen within our great empire, which, as we know, has overcome all obstacles placed before it. We also know that our empire did not always exist, and in those early years as we were first expanding from our home earth, things were unorganized with many factions and groups vying for some shred of control.
“We know from our history books that it was at that time nearly five thousand years ago that we finally overcame those dark times with the rise of the first Emperor, to whom I can trace my lineage.” Here he smiled, and many of the men let themselves chuckle a bit. It was a well-known fact that the first Emperor had had to rule with an iron claw, lest the tenuous position he had built for himself tumble down around him. It was funny because Toal had the reputation of the most vicious and efficient General since the first Emperor.
“Since that time we have progressed and expanded to the marvel we now live in. No one has dared stand against us since the Terracleous wars, in which many of you fought bravely. No one has ever matched our might and our glory. That is, mainly because there has never been any others.”
He paused here for effect and it worked. It took a moment to work itself into Zor’s mind. Did he mean… Could he possibly… Was it even possible? Never before had he even thought about it, but now? It was as if his world had crashed and he suddenly knew what would be said next.
“I will now tell you why you have been brought here. My fellow warriors, you have been called to battle! You owe your lives to the Empire, you of the FLD, who were once criminals. Now is the time to test your loyalty and courage! You will all be leaving as part of the largest military movement since The Great Expansion. You will have the privilege to fight our biggest enemy ever to have surfaced.
“Our deep space sensors, which have been continuously scanning for viable planets, have recently picked up something unexpected. At first we thought it was some natural phenomenon, then as we discovered what it was the planet was emitting, we knew it was something more. They were radio waves.
“Not only radio waves, but radio waves with purpose and messages within. They were primitive yes, but after some study we realized that they carried a language. We had linguists working on it for years; you have to realize that this has been Top Secret since the beginning. Finally we could understand their strange guttural language, but by then they were also broadcasting pictures. They are hideous creatures. Small and ungraceful, they are monsters. This however would still not be enough to declare war, it was only when they began to broadcast of their world did we realize our species could never live together. They not only kill themselves and each other, but their planet as well, wasting resources and polluting their atmosphere.
“All their technology is geared towards destruction and at the rate theirs is advancing they will very soon overtake us. Even worse is that we know how old these messages are, more than 20 years. We have to put a stop to their growth. You have been chosen to subdue this threat or destroy it. As you exit this assembly please go to the airfield where the transports are waiting to take you up to the waiting armada. With you will go several infantry divisions, advanced air squadron’s and of course the space to planet battle cruiser’s. You will all be under the charge of High Commander Gustuben, who His Majesty and myself have chosen as leader of this grand force. You will be further briefed and have your questions answered on board your assigned ships. I wish you all the courage and strength to make our Empire proud!”
He was immediately surrounded by his aides and rushed from the area. Everyone stood stunned for a few moments before the gravity of the situation hit them. Zor saw most begin to assemble into their marching array, but a few, who were too overcome with fear, tried to run. They were cut down by hovering laser sentries stationed about the perimeter of the assembly area. This was not a negotiable assignment. Zor was glad he had never married; there was no one to leave behind.
Within a week everything had been taken care of. All questions had been answered and all concerns addressed. It was more than a twenty-year journey and all the troops had been in cold sleep for nearly 3 cycles. Zor laid back in the chamber that would preserve him in ageless slumber for the next two decades. Strange he thought as the lid closed over him, the next time I wake up it will be to prepare my men to battle an enemy unknown. His last thoughts were of the beautiful towers of the Empire and how he would miss them. There was a hiss and then darkness.
Toal watched as the armada pulled out of orbit and disappeared into hyperspace. He was glad it was over. By the time they returned, victorious or not, he would likely be dead. All the information of the enemy sat on his desk. He looked again at the photos of the disgusting creatures. Sighing, he stretched his wings and sat down in his chair. A holograph of the enemy’s planet floated above his desk. Placing his talons on either side he squashed the blue green orb. It slipped through them and he turned it off with a snarl. He was vowed to protect the Falconius Empire and would not let these humans interfere.

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