by Martin Maenza
Lance Brandell placed his eyes before a special viewer; the mechanism recognized his retina patterns and allowed him access to the elevator that led into the catacombs. He held the door open to allow his female companion to step inside.
“That device is amazing!” Elaine Aaron exclaimed. “I should get one for my dwelling.”
As the door closed, he leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. “I think you’ll be rather amazed by the archives. Everything that has ever happened on Koncord, as well as all known facts of the universe that we are aware of, are stored on over a million disks.” The doors opened to reveal a computer bank as large as the defense systems upstairs. “It would take a person his whole lifetime to view only a fraction of the information stored here.”
“A person could lose themselves in here, then,” she concluded.
“Yes,” Lance said. “But I think we’ll start out with an overview of sorts. Then we can branch out to subtopics that might interest you.” The young couple took seats before the large readout screen. Lance dropped in a disk. Though this mausoleum of forgotten facts was as ancient as the planet itself, it was still as fresh and sparkling as the day it was constructed. Now the history of Koncord would be revealed once more to educate and entertain those who wanted to experience it.
The planet’s life began like most. The orange sun released a burning ovule form which cooled as it arrived into its current orbital place. The core boiled on, erupting into a number of mountain ranges. The gases in the atmosphere condensed into clouds, which later flooded the low lands. This created the bodies of water that surrounded the one great continent and a number of chains of islands.
When the conditions became favorable, primitive organisms emerged. After an evolutionary period of centuries, plants and animals joined the populace of the world. Soon, primitive civilizations of men and women grew up, using the land to keep them protected and prosperous.
But these separate tribes were destined to clash. The baleful ways of war inevitably splattered the crimson essences of these natives across the countryside.
Those who survived this pointless slaughter realized that these horrid events would reoccur again and again, if left unchecked. Some of the strong leaders gathered and pooled their resources to repopulate their world. From these great men rose a thriving planet of peace and democracy. Countless generations kept up the tranquil nature for which the world of Koncord was known.
The readout screen suddenly went blank, only to be replaced by a flashing signal.
“Defenses activated,” Lance read. His face went stern. “Something’s going on!” He grabbed Elaine’s hand. “I have to get to the defense controls now!”
He hurried to the elevator with his love right on his heels. The car hummed over the silence as they rode upstairs. Elaine could see from Lance’s expression that his mind was racing over countless thoughts at once. She bit her lip, concerned that it was her keeping him from his post that might have caused whatever was happening.
Reaching the defensive center, Lance hurried to his main console. He pushed the switch that related Xavier’s last transmission.
“What is it?” asked Elaine. “What in the world is going on?”
Lance shook his head. “According to this, Xavier was terminated by a small fleet of battle-cruisers! He stopped one, but three more slipped past him!” He rushed over to one of his monitor screens.
“Damn! They’re entering the atmosphere at this moment!” Lance sat down and began to work with the controls before him. Inside his head, he felt as if someone was testing him. Still, there was no time to dwell on that or the fact that his good friend had been terminated. Billions of lives were in his hands. He had to think of them first.
A shower of warheads splattered all over the planet Koncord. With each exploding rocket, the cities were turned into scattered piles of rubble. The blasts ripped through the structures like a massive wrecking ball, knocking down the walls upon the panicking inhabitants. Some would be buried alive, while others escaped into the smokey streets, screaming.
But the missiles carried a second threat within their casings. Upon contact, they released a form of radiation into the atmosphere. This form of energy caused the very flesh of the living to burn away. Their brain cells instantly started to boil at the same time, causing the gray matter to explode before the body’s could endure too much of the pain. This second threat was meant to clear out every living creature from the surface.
The attackers’ goal was the complete and total annihilation of the world.
Inside the defense command building, Lance didn’t have to worry about this second threat. The building was built with enforced defenses to protect against assaults of all kinds. The radiation would not be able to reach the couple. They were safely sealed in the defense center while the world about them was dying.
The couple were now seated before the main console. Lance’s fingers and hands moved swiftly across the controls. Beads of sweat formed on his brow as he barked instructions to Elaine. He would need her help to handle this horrible situation. “You keep an eye on the planet-side monitors! I want a status report on the destruction, no matter what the situation! Understand?”
Elaine had no other options despite her growing fear and concern. “I’ll do my best!”
Checking the monitors, she witnessed the total confusion of Aquarian City on the West Ocean. As the manmade island’s foundations were shattered, the inhabitants of this community leaped into the thrashing green waters. Elaine didn’t know if this was to try to escape the destruction, or to end their lives more quickly by drowning. She felt a pain in her stomach just thinking about it.
Another shower of missiles headed toward the main continent like chains of lightning. However, they failed to strike their intended targets on the surface; a barrage of missiles streaked skyward under the total beck and call of their Koncordian taskmaster. Their sole mission was to sacrifice themselves by intercepting their destructive counterparts from space. The atmosphere above the planet lit up in incredible displays of lights and sound.
Lance Brandell was experiencing something new. This was the first time he ever had to perform this task in his appointed role as Protector. He felt a heavy burden of responsibility upon his shoulders, one that he questioned whether or not he was ready for at such a young age.
The destruction upon the planet’s surface decreased in proportion to the midair explosions that rose in number.
Elaine glanced over at her mate, seeing the tension and determination in his face. His expression revealed to her his own doubts on whether or not he was prepared for a situation like this. She could tell from his silent focus that he was feeling some guilt over the deaths of millions that had to have occurred already this day. She would have done anything to tell him that this was not his fault, but she dared not to do that at this moment. He needed to focus on saving those that still lived on their planet.
“Elaine, give me a report on Danabus!”
She punched in the capital city’s coordinates and dictated the readout. “Heavy damage, nearly leveled! People collapsing everywhere! Probability of survivors is small.” Tears began to form in her eyes just thinking about the devastation.
It was quiet for a moment in the command center, save for the hum of the equipment. “Damn!” Lance muttered. His father and mother relocated to Danabus just after Lance took the position as Protector. He realized now that he had never had the chance to express his appreciation for all that they had given him growing up. Now it was too late.
“Those bastards are going to pay!” Lance exclaimed to the nameless, faceless attackers. He brought up a quick scan of the entire planet. The response was what he feared, yet expected: the planet Koncord didn’t have a prayer left in the universe.
He made a crucial decision. “Elaine, strap yourself into your seat!”
“Why?” questioned the young woman as she did just as he ordered. “What are you going to do?”
“There’s little we can do here,” he replied. “Those who survive, if they survive the radiation, will need to rebuild — start over! If we tried to go outside now, we’d surely suffer the same fate! But those alien scum who attacked us won’t get away with this so easily!” He activated a number of systems, rerouting most of the controls to the console before him. “We’ve got to go after them!”
He entered in a sequence that, in turn, started the very building to shake in its foundation.
Deep below the command center, thrusting rockets ignited. Couplings released the structure from its supports, allowing the metal tower to lift away from the plot. The gleaming structure reached up into the air and rose high into the heavens. The building, which now housed the remnants of a near-dead world, was now reborn with a new purpose. It was, in fact, the last essence of a once-fruitful and productive planet. Its responsibility was to keep and protect all the history and the culture of the world, as well as the only two remaining Koncordians.
Elaine Aaron was still in disbelief over all that had occurred over the course of the day. “We’re all that’s left!” she said, over and over. “And we’re leaving our home to die!”
“Elaine, we have no choice!” Lance said. “This command center was retrofitted from one of our world’s best space cruisers. It was done so after we ended our manned space programs. Information satellites with artificial intelligence were more practical. Its sole purpose was to defend the planet, but it can be used to avenge her, too!
“As for us leaving, there is nothing left for us on Koncord! If we stayed, we would be dead, too! Our only option is to pay back those who destroyed our race! We can’t let all those people die in vain!”
Elaine could see the determination and anger in Lance’s eyes. This was a side of him she’d never seen in him before. She wasn’t sure what to think about it. She really had little choice, though. She brushed her hand back through her brown hair. “I wonder if Xavier knew where those ships came from,” she muttered absently.
“What?” Lance snapped. “What did you just say?”
“I was wondering if Xavier knew where those killers came from,” she repeated herself.
“Maybe he does!” Lance began to punch up a sequence into the controls.
“I’m confused,” Elaine said. “I thought Xavier was destroyed.”
“He was,” Lance said, focusing on his task. “Or at least his satellite body was. But his memory banks and personality systems have backups on the main systems here. If there had been enough time before termination…” He punched in another sequence. “Hello, Xavier! Are you functioning?” For a few seconds, there was silence.
Then the familiar computer voice responded through the system. “Master Lance! I am pleased to hear your voice. What is the situation?”
“Koncord’s destroyed! Elaine and I were barely able to escape.”
“I am afraid I am to blame for the carnage,” the computerized voice said. “My scanners did not detect the approaching fleet in time.”
“No, Xavier,” Lance said. “I was the negligent one. I was away from my post.” Elaine bowed her head at Lance’s words, realizing she, too, bore the burden of this disaster. Lance continued. “We need to know if you got any identification on those ships, some markings or design or something that can lead us to their point of origin.”
Xavier was silent for a moment as he scanned through the vast archive of information. “I have something,” the voice said. “Though we have not encountered ships such as these, the information probes from a few decades back had run across another world attacked in a similar fashion. It seems the race on a planet called Primeval survived a similar assault.”
Lance considered. “They may be able to give us a lead. Can you set a course for this world?”
“Of course,” the computer responded. And in a moment, the navigational systems were primed.
Lance turned to Elaine now. Tears were again in her beautiful eyes.
“Oh, Lance! It was all my fault! I begged you to take me down to the vaults! I took you away from your post! It was all my fault!”
He put his arms about her, trying to comfort her. “Shhh, you are wrong, Elaine. It wasn’t your fault. These attackers were coming for our world, regardless of where I was. The attack could have come at any time.” He brushed back her hair. “None of us could have predicted it or prepared fully for it. Promise me you won’t blame yourself, please.”
She nodded slowly and then embraced him for support and reassurance. Perhaps she’d feel better in time, after they found out who attacked their world and why — if they found them.
And the defense-tower-turned-star-cruiser continued its course toward Primeval.
The passenger in the back of the vehicle had been on the edge of his seat, listening to the story. “Wow,” he said. “So, what happened to them? Did they ever find the attackers who destroyed their world?”
The vehicle pulled over as it arrived at its destination. “This is your stop,” the Space Cabbie said. “That’ll be two-hundred and fifty credits.”
The man fished into his pockets and produced the currency. “C’mon, don’t leave me in suspense here.”
“‘Fraid I have to,” Space Cabbie said. “It’s a rather long story, not one I can summarize in ten words or less. And I’m still on duty for a few more hours.” He leaned back in his seat. “Tell you what. Next time you end up in my cab, I’ll tell you more. Deal?”
The man nodded and got out of the car. “Count on it.”
And with that, the Space Cabbie drove off.