Mars-Jupiter Asteroid Belt.
December 29th, 3899ad.
Shapes moved within the rocks.
They were made of metal.
One of them looked like it had been made into a red porcupine, with random spikes protruding at irregular intervals. They gathered around one of the largest of the rocks within the asteroid field that ringed Sol further out than the fourth planet.
Smaller shapes moved around its craggy surface like ants.
Sparks occasionally flickered in the black of space along the rock, lighting up the work being done by the teams.
Two figures watched the entire operation from the relative comfort of an observation room, looking down on the rock through a panoramic window that seemed to encompass the entire rock.
Both were tall and both would give most civilised creatures nightmares for weeks just by glancing at them. They both wore pitted and scarred armour, but there the similarities ended. One was black as night, with rubbery skin, a large chitinous beak, and a noticeable crest bisecting its skull; the other was crimson, with humanoid features, two bony horns jutting out from its hairline to point up and over the back of its head.
Neither was particularly fond of the other.
And neither would admit it either.
They were here for a common cause.
“It has to look like a natural disaster,” the bird-like creature growled, its beak moving and clicking as its fleshy inner lips spoke.
“And it shall,” the other growled in a heavily accented voice.
They refused to use each other’s languages, instead using the hated human’s Standard language as a common communication tool. It felt rough and unwanted on their tongues.
“We are putting a lot of faith in you and your people, Chieftain,” the bird hissed and clicked.
“And we are grateful for the opportunity you have provided, Master of Shadows,” the bedevilled creature answered sincerely. His people were subservient to these others, unable to gather much strength of arms without them, but he refused to show it.
The bird looked at the other with cruel thin eyes.
“I hope so. This alliance benefits both our peoples.”
“Do you take me for a fool?” the chieftain said, looking at him sharply.
“No,” the Master of Shadows replied simply. “But this was hastily arranged, and we have no need of those who would seek to embarrass us.”
“Hmmm, yes, I was wondering why you needed us so insistently. And why you seem so reluctant to be seen.”
“As I told you before, we do not wish the Terrans to know we exist yet.”
The Chieftain snorted.
There was no humour in his voice.
“But you’re quite happy for us to take the fall for this?”
The bird considered this as the sparks on the surface of the rock continued. The tiny shapes moved around, nearing the end of the operation. The ships began to back off a little as the devices down below were activated.
“If your people are discovered here in this asteroid belt, or attempting to enter or leave, they would simply be passed off as a small vendetta force. Whereas Terrans have not encountered us yet, bar a single incident two thousand years ago. They would be forced to investigate us before we were ready to fight them. You are also in the wind: scattered and hard to find.”
The chieftain bristled at the thought of being used so obviously.
But his people needed this.
The hate for the Terrans was so great his entire race chomped at the bit for the opportunity to kill every single last one of them, no matter the compromise.
They weren’t strong enough to smash the Terrans, nobody was.
Not yet, at least.
Soon, though, as the bird creatures claimed.
They fell into silence, the Master of Shadows keeping half an eye on the horned Chieftain as they continued observing the operation down below.
The speakers to the observation room buzzed.
“[My lord,]” the voice said in the Master’s native language. Although the Chieftain did not understand anything of the nuances of the birds’ language, he listened intently, something that the Master didn’t fail to notice. “[The teams on the rock have just reported back. Everything is ready.]”
“[Shall I give the order to proceed?]”
Yh’reth’van, Master of Shadows, and oldest son of the Patriarch, nodded to himself.
“[Yes. Cleanse them.]”
Before the Chieftain could react, the Core warrior shot him fully in the face, the dirty energy round blowing the Okarnagan’s brains out the back of his human-shaped skull.
“[Disgusting creatures,]” spat Yh’reth’van. He kicked the corpse and then shot it several times more to be sure he couldn’t see the facial features. He stood and watched as his warriors annihilated the Okarnagan workforce attaching the devices to the giant asteroid. The cruiser pummelled the wretches’ small ships into pieces.
He activated the comms.
“[Command centre, take us out of range of the devices’ field of effect.]”
“[Yes, my lord.]”
The ship around him came to life once more, the engines returning to full. His view changed out of the window, his nostrils filling with the stink of cooked meat. The big asteroid, almost a small moon by itself, fell away, the wreckage of the Okarnagan vessels smashing down onto the surface.
When the asteroid became a small circle in the far distance, and the ship was safely hidden away from the prying eyes of the Terrans’ Pluto Station, the comms speakers buzzed again. The speakers crackled with static as Sol, the star, flared with solar activity again. Although it would help hide the ship and skew its emissions, it was a pain at interfering with internal comms.
“[We are out of range, my lord.]”
“[Good. Activate the devices.]”
“[As you command.]”
In the distance, there was a flash of white light, a nuclear weapon detonating.
The Core would have their revenge….