I know youve seen images of Destroyers. They show you what they look like from every angle. The images don show you everything. You don feel the sheer terror the Destroyer invokes. You don feel the way the ground rumbles with its steps. You don feel the need to abase yourself before it, begging forgiveness just by looking at them.

Of course you don .

Thats how I felt at the time. Thats how everyone in the Alliance feels. Thats why the Destroyers were so devastating. They barely needed to fight.

It was heading towards us.

Fannar, who was injured. Me, who was lugging the Enemy Commander. And the half dozen Kishne that were helping. None of us could fight a Destroyer. Even if we had Tiro, Quanna and Wibowo, we couldn have fought a Destroyer. There is something primal in them.

”Move! ” Major Iaels voice sounded in our ears. I don know how she managed. I was sure she could see the Destroyer.

I wanted to move. I intended to move. I couldn .

The Destroyer roared. The sound shook the bones of all present. Everyone felt it in their minds. Armour resonated with the cry. I was envious of those who were unconscious. They couldn hear.

I could. It screamed for us to obey. As if that was going to happen! It was a Black. It could scream all it wanted. Except there was something deep inside that wanted to obey. It promised silence if I did.

”Move, ” Major Iael screamed again. There was a quaver in her voice this time. She could feel the Destroyer as well.

I ran. The Kishne who were helping ran with me. The Enemy Commander was heavy. Fannar tried to keep pace, tried to help, but it was obvious his wounds were slowing him down. Somehow, the regulars tried to hold the Destroyer back. It was insane. They couldn do anything against it.

It roared again. At that, I fell to my knees. It hurt. There was a pressure on my mind. I wasn alone in falling. The pressure drove me down. It dominated and I couldn escape.

I could hear the Major gasping through the comm. She was back further but she was just as affected. The Destroyer came nearer. A deep fear entered me. We were going to fail. I was going to fail. We had come so close, yet I was going to fail.

Quanna, Wibowo, Tiro had died. And I was going to fail.

”Go, ” Fannar gasped.

I met the Grynas eyes. His hood was flared. He was fighting to remain conscious. It was only then that I saw the blood. Fannars armour had kept it hidden but it was leaking from his mouth now. He needed medical attention of the type he wasn going to get here.

”Go, ” he said more strongly.

”No, ” I said. It wasn a strong denial.

”That is the Enemy. Get it back to the Major. You have to, ” Fannar heaved a deep breath. ”We trained for this. ”

The reminder wasn necessary. We had trained for this. The possibility of losing some had always been there. Id just never thought it would be a reality. No soldier does. If you do, that reality becomes you.

Fannar turned away. I knew better than to argue. I got back up and began hauling the Enemy Commander with more urgency.

”Just a little bit more, ” I chanted to myself. I focused on those words. It was the only thing that kept me going. It kept the pressure on my mind at bay. At least a little.

Every step was a chore. Kishne regulars rushed past me to the front. They tried to fight. They died. I could hear their screams. They only partially blocked the noise from the Destroyer. It still demanded to be obeyed.

Air support flew overhead. Missiles thudded into the Destroyer. It was lost in a conflagration of fire.

The shaking of the ground was evidence that the missiles hadn worked. It emerged from the fire. It roared again. There was pain with the pressure. I thought my brain would explode. I kept moving. It wasn training. It was those who had been lost that kept me moving.

The distance increased. Those fighting, those dying were keeping it back. The pressure decreased. The Black didn get any lighter. Then I was at the transport. The Major was there. So was a squad of Intels Special Forces. Their armour was black. It looked very much like the Enemys.

They helped carry the Black into the transport. Major Iael moved with them. ”Go! ” she commanded the pilot. I slumped into the transport rack. The Enemy Commander was on the floor. Special Forces were pulling off other parts of armour. I saw skin. The organic below it.

The Destroyer roared again. Even in the shuttle I heard it. All work stopped. It had to.

I didn fall because Id already collapsed. Intels Special Forces weren that lucky. The pilot was. Somehow they kept flying. The distance decreased the effects but it was only when we got into orbit that it truly began to lessen.

”What was that? ” I gasped the question.

”Keep securing the prisoner, ” the Major ordered. She was strapped into one of the seats.

Her men struggled to comply. They worked more frantically. More flesh was revealed.

I stared. I recognised the organic part. ”Its… Its a Human, ” the words were blurted. For a moment I thought Id made a horrible mistake.

Major Iael didn appear concerned.

Anger took the place of doubt. ”We died to capture a Human? ” I hissed. My tone was Tiros, just before he was about to strike. Fannars poison laced my meaning. I could feel my team with me.

The Wymic intelligence officer looked towards me. For a moment it appeared as if shed forgotten I was here. I could feel his life being weighed in her gaze. A decision was made.

”It is a Human, ” Major Iael admitted. Her men continued to work. They pulled chain from somewhere. The Human was covered with it. Stays in the shuttle floor provided the anchoring points. ”The Enemy slaves organics to machines, ” she added as if that should be informative enough.

I frowned. Then I thought. Lieutenant Pickering had tried to make us think, even as she trained us to react. The Human territory had been captured first. They would be the most readily available organics for the Enemy to slave.

e all Human? ” I whispered.

”No. The Destroyer isn , ” Major Iael said. She sounded sure.

”Then what is it? ”

Another internal debate. My life wasn on the line here, just the answers. They were probably classified. Id lost my team. Sure we hadn been a team for long, but they had been my team. I was owed answers. They were owed them.

”The Enemy slaves all organics to machines. Imagine what it can do with an almost infinite energy source? ”

It took a few moments for the meaning to become clear. I felt cold. I felt sick. ”They couldn ? They didn ? ” The denials were weak, even to my ears.

The only being I knew that was energy was a Bright One. At least, thats what the Alliance taught us all. The Bright Ones were beings of ancient skill and wisdom. They had transcended their physical forms. Thats why they led the Alliance. They spread their wisdom to the galaxy, to the other organics who had come after them. It was their gift.

To enslave one… I had felt the pain. The entire battlefield had. The Bright One had been screaming. It wanted to be obeyed. It wanted to be freed. I understood the scream now. It was in agony. It could not get free. It served the Enemy now. If we obeyed it, could we free it? I doubted that. I wasn sure what could.

”So the Human? ”

”Is just as enslaved. We didn know what species wed capture. It didn matter. We
e after what this Commander knows, not what they are, ” the Major seemed relaxed.

”FTL window opening, ” the pilot announced. The last of the Special Forces settled themselves. Usually, the transition was smooth. They couldn count on it this time. ”Five, four, three, two, one. ”

We all felt the slight bump that signalled the transition.

I swallowed hard. ”So what happens now? ”

The Major looked down at the Human. ”They will be questioned. By the Bright Ones. ”

That much could be implied. It didn answer the question I needed answered. It was selfish. What would happen to me? What would happen to those who had died? The Major finally seemed to realise thats what I wanted to know.

”Your squad succeeded, ” Iael announced. ”They will be honoured. ”

I had no doubt that it was true, but her response was cold and clinical. She didn care. She only cared that the job had been done. The blood didn matter. The loss of life didn concern her. They were only numbers. Theyd all only been numbers to her. I was only a number.

”You will be honoured as well, ” she told him. ”Promotion and reassignment. I will apply for some leave for you in the meantime. ” She thought that adequate reward. It was my due. It was nothing extra.

I nodded. Now was not the time to push further. ”Where are we headed? ” That was pertinent information. It was safe information. It kept me from thinking of those who had been lost.

”We are returning to Qaoloe and beyond that, its classified. ”

I nodded. Qaoloe was where wed trained. Id now be alone. I wasn sure what I thought of that. I couldn think of that for now.

All I could really think of was the Enemy Commander who was chained to the floor. They had fought hard. They had killed many yet I couldn bring myself to hate them. The Human was being used by the Enemy. It had no choice. The slaving would have ensured that.

It would probably be happy to tell the Bright Ones everything it knew.

Knowing that at least some of the Blacks were Human made me think again of Pickering. Did she know? Did any of the Humans know? I could only conclude that they did. They had to know. They knew their Homeworld was the first to fall. They were the first species the Blacks, whatever they were, would have access too. Of course many beneath the armour would be Human.

Is that why Pickering was so strong? Why she trained them so well? Did she knew she was training them to kill her kind? Did she think it was mercy? That death was better than slavery.

I never could ask. How did you ask something like that? To someone who trained me to kill her own kind. In this case, ignorance was the only choice. The Major might have been uncaring enough to question. I couldn . I didn feel weakened by that. It was the limit of my strength.

I hoped the Human in front of me would be freed when the Bright Ones got the information. There should be no reason not to free them. They were a slave. I knew some wouldn be as merciful. It wasn my choice.

The tensions and stress of the day, of the battle, of everything caught up. I was reasonably safe. The shuttle was going FTL. My head hurt still. The Destroyer, that abomination had been loud. With the Majors explanation, I knew I really had heard it in my mind. It hurt. I still felt sick. But I couldn remain awake. Sleep conquered consciousness and the darkness was welcomed.

The pain dimmed for a while.

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