31st December, 3899ad.
13th of Retwain.
The shuttle came in low, engines blazing.
A halo of dust kicked out from underneath it as it came to a hover above what was left of the arena the ambassadors had gathered in.
Deniv tried to be stoic as he kept the Wintness-class shuttle in a low slow spin, scanning the debris both visually and with the ship’s sensors. He couldn’t see or detect anything moving or living down there.
Grief welled up in the young pilot.
His hands shook and his breathing was verging on hyperventilation.
He stopped when he saw something move on the monitors. It could have been masonry shifted by the shaking ground, but then again it could be survivors. If it wasn’t Draliv, he knew he was obligated to rescue them. In fact, he could almost hear the general’s voice telling him their race didn’t matter.
How could anything be alive under all that?
It had been three since he had lost contact with General Draliv and the Terran officer Markeros. The Terran authorities had simply ignored his requests for information and aid. The population was coming apart at the seams, infrastructure breaking down.
Bringing the shuttle out had been a nightmare, traffic control non-existent.
He had deftly avoided several collisions travelling down the east coast of the British Isles.
He focused the cameras on the movement.
It was a hand, plastered with blood and dust.
He shifted the shuttle to a piece of tarmac, what he was sure had once been a parking facility before, but was now just rubble. There was a gap where the structure hadn’t collapsed onto, and he set it down, leaving the engines on standby.
He charged down the ramp, and scrambled over the ruins.
“GENERAL!” he screamed. “GENERAL!”
He reached the hand he had seen, and gripped it. There was strength in it still, the dust obscuring skin colour.
“General, are you alright?”
There was a muffled voice, but he couldn’t hear what was said. He pulled the slab of metal that was trapping the hand.
The voice moaned.
“Deniv?” the voice said.
Crestfallen, Deniv realised it was Markeros, coughing and spluttering. Tears had streamed and then encrusted down his cheeks. His other arm was broken, the skin pierced by the bone.
He coughed up a wad of bloody dust.
“Where’s the General, Markeros?” Markeros didn’t answer, shaking his head. “Dammit, Terran, where is my commanding officer?!”
It snapped Markeros out of it that was for sure.
“I didn’t see him after the building collapsed from under us. I think… I think he’s dead, Deniv.”
Deniv stumbled back, unsure what to do or say.
“He can’t be. He’s Litin Prime’s only hope.”
Markeros looked as lost as he was in pain, as if losing the General had been as hard on him as was clearly on Deniv. The two of them looked away before either of them could tear up.
“I swear, Deniv. If we make it out of this alive, I will join your fight against the Grag.”
Deniv nodded sombrely.
He saw another figure in the rubble, this one most obviously an alien from another world, one of the ambassadors present at the same meeting as Draliv. He –Deniv wasn’t sure what gender, but it looked masculine- was relatively unharmed, considering the height he had fallen.
Over the next hour, the two officers pulled a dozen alien ambassadors from the wreckage.
But no Draliv.
The young Litin officer was losing hope.
Would he have to return to Litin Prime with nothing to show for it? Would he have to face Draliv’s widow with nothing but an empty heart and an unanswered explanation?
They spent another hour searching for survivors, but found no more. Those they had found were currently ensconced in the military shuttle, cramped but safe for the time being. Markeros, his arm in a sling, his broken arm set, was stood at the base of the shuttle’s ramp, waiting patiently for Deniv.
The young alien officer took one last look around, and trudged towards the Terran.
He heard a moan off to one side.
His head snapped around, but there was nothing there.
Just the wind, he reassured himself.
He reached the ramp’s base, Markeros turning to start the ship up, when the moan came again, this time followed by a coughing.
Deniv frowned as he glanced around again.
He let out a gasp as two figures came shambling out of the dust, one propped up against the other.
“Are you just going to stand there, Deniv?” General Draliv growled.
“MARKEROS!” Deniv shouted up the ramp.
The Terran, despite his injury, came charging down to his side. Markeros gasped with shock as the General, for he was now nothing else, came out of the dust and under the nose of the shuttle. He was bloodied, and bruised, his clothes torn.
“I don’t believe it,” whispered Markeros.
“Well?” Are you going to let us aboard?”
Markeros grabbed the alien ambassador with one hand, guiding him up the ramp.
“We need to get off this planet, Deniv.”
“Yes, sir. It’s good to see you alive and well, General.”
“And you my friend,” he said, clapping a hand on his subordinate’s shoulder. “Let’s get this thing going, Deniv, sharpish.”
Deniv nodded and bolted up into the shuttle.
Draliv’s legs threatened to collapse from under him. There was a sharp pain in his side, and put a hand there to test it. It came away bloody, and he knew something was very wrong.
He coughed again, and struggled up the ramp.