Daphnixe drummed her fingers on the table as she and the rest of the high council stared at the holographic projection in front of them. It was a picture of the Exoterron solar system, though more specifically, tens of thousands of asteroids carrying the hell spawn and their accursed rift shards flying through space.
She studied the image in silence, then she finally asked the question that was likely on the mind of everyone at the council table: “How long before it reaches our quadrant and touches ground on planet 446?”
“About five cycles and two hundred and four rotations. The rate at which they are gaining momentum is too varied to give a more accurate prediction,” Ikats, the chief astrophysicist of the high council answered. Even though Daphnixe knew for a fact that Ikats wasn’t capable of calculating how long it would take him to get to work in the morning, much less the time it would take for this doomsday set of asteroids to crash land into the newly colonized planet, she also knew the women he kept as slaves were the best scientists cards could buy, literally, and he was too cautious not to have double-checked the numbers.
“Five cycles?! Unacceptable! It will be at least ten cycles at the earliest until the planetary defense system comes online!” Fulzeed, the head of colonization defense, exclaimed as he stood up, slamming the table between them with his large meaty hand.
“Please calm yourself and act rationally, Fulzeed,” Ikats replied neutrally, his tone hiding the anger building at Fulzeed’s outburst. “I am only reporting the facts. If my report could change the time it would take for the hell-cursed to reach their destination, I would have written five hundred cycles, not five.”
“Yes . . . yes . . .” Fulzeed sighed. “I just cannot help but be enraged knowing how many resources we sunk into finding a planet with a rich dimensional crystal deposit only to have those filthy bastards discover us and launch an attack before we could even get a basic gateway and planetary defense set up.”
“The hell-cursed don’t seek the same mineral resources as us; they seek life. They don’t concern themselves with mineral deposits and standardized energy sources. All that matters is whether or not there is a planet with people to kill and life to consume,” Ikats noted. “That we spent so much effort trying to discover dimensional crystals to create more rifts won’t matter at all to them.”
“Ikats is correct,” Phe’bix stated. She was the chief astrological surveyor who had been the one to discover the planet in the first place. “They aren’t interested in our findings, nor the crystals. They will just kill everything on the planet and use the bodies and souls of the dead to form whatever they need before they return through their portals only to repeat the process.”
“While broadcasting the mass extinction of their victims, the natives on the planet and our people working with them, to every quadrant and planet through the S.A.N.E. network,” Fulzeed practically snarled as he sat back in his chair helplessly.
“I assume then that you take their victory for granted?” Daphnixe asked, looking over at the giant of a man. She was used to him complaining that he didn’t have enough time to build a defense, that he didn’t have enough soldiers to fight, or that there weren’t enough resources to work, but she wasn’t used to him predicting the enemy’s victory before the battle had even begun.
“After the last planet we lost?” Fulzeed replied. “Yes. Yes, I am, and you should know why. Ever since they developed the ability to manufacture hell conscriptors before their main force even reaches the planet they’re infesting, they’ve gone from an indiscriminate plague of destruction spilling out in all directions to an organized invasion that’s far more efficient than the rabble we’ll be able to muster from the locals on that colony.”
“They’ve always had super conscriptors. How is this any different?” Daphnixe asked, leaning in as she studied the look of anger and agitation that was written on Fulzeed’s face.
“Those towering monstrosities created from the genetics of an infected dvixian queen, the overseers of their army, don’t usually fit in their meteors of destruction. However, after the battle of planet 44781, we noticed that several of the local populace had been . . . morphed, changed into something that acted like a much smaller version of a conscriptor. They weren’t nearly as deadly and were much more vulnerable to being killed by even the most basic S.A.N.E.-utilizing weapon, but they were still capable of organizing and weaponizing any and all newly infected hell-cursed around them,” Fulzeed explained.
“And you wrote this in your report?” Daphnixe asked, frowning as she realized this was a detail she hadn’t noticed.
“Yes, he did,” Ikats said as he pulled out the very report in question. “Which is why, before this meeting even began, I drafted an alternative proposal to our usual methods. If you would be so kind and forgive this humble scientist for speaking of military matters, I would like to present it.”
Daphnixe leaned back in her chair and tapped her fingers on the table once more as she stared at Ikats. What game are you playing now? she wondered as she stared at him. He was, after all, not one to ever stick his neck out more than his job required. He held his position so firmly due to the fact he never risked saying more than he had to and never undercut anyone that was his equal or above him. Yet, here he was, doing both of those at once.
Before Daphnixe, the Archon of the high council, whose job it was to permit such things, could speak though, Phe’bix had already stood up and, in just as risky of a move as Ikats was making, permitted the grievance: “If you have a plan to save my efforts and our hard work and further the cause of the species, then even if it isn’t my place to say so, I would implore you to speak now. Clearly, no one else here has a solution.”
“Then I will beg your forgiveness if my words are not to your liking,” he began, exchanging a mischievous grin with Phe’bix as he stood up to champion his cause. The grin likely went unnoticed by anyone else but Daphnixe in the council room. “But . . . There is, around three cycles from now, a large gaseous planet that the hell-cursed are set to pass on their way to our colony. If we were to . . . take advantage of the gas that makes up the majority of the planet and induce a detonation as the hell-cursed pass by, we believe that this could alter the gravity enough to cause the hell-cursed attack to shift by a little over a single degree.”
“How will that help?” Fulzeed asked from his chair as he leaned in. “We’ve always had the ability to shift their course by a degree or two, but the end result is always the same: they simply re-adjust course and continue their attack. You’d be investing heavily in a payload that wouldn’t do anything more than buy us a minute or two at best.”
Daphnixe couldn’t help but feel like she was being played as even she pondered the same question in her head that the oaf Fulzeed had just blurted out.
“They always re-adjust because they are beasts that search for life. They will, without a doubt, head toward the closest planet with the most life at any given moment,” Ikats explained. “However, if we create that detonation at the right time and do our best to hide the signals of life on the colony planet at just the right moment . . . our colony will just barely escape notice. Instead, another planet will meet their requirements, and they’ll fully adjust course toward that planet instead.”
“So you mean to sacrifice another planet teeming with life to those hell-cursed instead of ours, just so that we can gain enough time to build the planetary defenses and create the gates needed to transport our armies?” Daphnixe asked the man. “Won’t they just be an even deadlier threat once they have all the resources and S.A.N.E. energy deposits that an entire system has to offer?”
“Forgive my insolence for presuming to know anything of military matters, High Archon Daphnixe,” Ikats replied, “but I think the plan could go further.”
“The planet that will meet the qualifications after our colony is taken out of harm’s way will be close enough to reach from our colony. Once we have finished setting up the portals and building the defenses, we could then summon our army and eradicate the hell-cursed while they’re still harvesting the water and carbon the planet has to offer.”
“And how do you plan to stall them for four cycles? I doubt any native population alone could resist them.”
“Let’s not forget how the hell-cursed and the system function: as long as they survive the initial mutation phase, the moment the natives kill a creature with their curse, they’ll inherit it themselves and be inducted into the S.A.N.E. system. Even if most of them die during the initial invasion, the remnants might be able to use that system to survive,” Ikats explained, defending the native population’s ability to stall.
“Ha! As if they’d be able to scrape together enough levels to fend off even one portal’s guardian,” Daphnixe laughed.
“Maybe not by themselves . . . but if we reach out to the other factions and let them know which planet the hell-cursed are going to land on. While the natives might not offer any real resistance, if the other factions set up there, then even if they don’t stand a chance against the onslaught of the hell-cursed, they’ll still be able to stall them from complete victory for at least a dozen cycles. By then, we will have plenty of time to build the necessary forces and capitalize on our exhausted foes, wiping out multiple potential threats in a single move,” Ikats explained.
At the conclusion of this plan, Phe’bix stood up again, practically grinning from ear to ear as she proclaimed, “I have never heard of such a beautiful opportunity before! If this works out, we may be able to build three or four colonies before the hell-cursed recover from their defeat!”
“I am loath to say it, but even I could not have come up with a more effective countermeasure,” Fulzeed grumbled.
Feeling betrayed by Phe’bix conspiring with Ikats, Daphnixe felt even more reluctant to admit she didn’t have a better idea. “Fine,” she grumbled. “Do it. But first, have you made sure the natives of the planet you’re sacrificing aren’t going to be useful DNA for the hell-spawned morphologists? That they won’t turn out creating the next hell conscriptor as their species is assimilated?
“Yes, I checked first. The sentients on the planet, the ‘humans’ there, as they call themselves, are the weakest and most pathetic race we’ve come across. They have no temperature, radiation, or damage resistance; their musculature is nearly non-existent next to even the local animals on the same planet; and they cannot even provide the basic necessities for themselves without crafting and technology. They are the lowest ranked species we’ve ever seen before. Even though there are several billion of them, without notifying the other factions of the hell-cursed plan, we do not believe the species would even last a single day against the hell-cursed. They will not produce any future genetic threats.”
Daphnixe stood up. “I see you’ve done your homework. Then, as high archon of the high council, I order you to commence the operation.”
“I will begin immediately,” Ikats said as he bowed before turning to leave, Phe’bix hot on his tail as she came up next to him, and the two began exchanging whispers while leaving the room.
Daphnixe sat down as she watched the other council members file out in pairs or groups of three as they talked about the recent development. “Just what are you playing at?” Daphnixe asked no one in particular as she replayed the interaction in her head. “Even if it is successful, there are no more promotions to be had . . . and if it’s unsuccessful, you could be stripped of rank and honor. Why are you making such overt moves then?” She felt anger boiling inside her at the fact she had no answers to this mystery, only the certainty that, whatever scheme Ikats was working on, she would not like the outcome if it were successful.