Prologue:

0023 HOURS, CHRION SOLAR SYSTEM, UF DATE DECEMBER 20 2398

Dr. Alan August tossed and turned on the rough single cot of his cramped quarters, but to no avail. The porthole across from his bed still displayed the same view of Chrion and its single dun-colored moon, as well as the two local ringed gas giants. The myriad stars seemed to twinkle merrily at his mild insomnia. He furrowed his brow deeply, and his distinctly Roman features fell into a dour frown. Sleep continued to elude him.

As naval research outposts went, the space station TROVIC-II was no exception in the area of living space for its crew, though the outpost did proffer some advantages to those who sought them. Like the opportunity to escape the poor conditions on Terra and Luna without living the hard life of an outworld pioneer, thought Alan.

But for him, the most exciting prospect of participating in TROVIC-II's service career was the challenge it presented, a substantial chance for him to apply his intellect to its fullest extent. When the United Naval Office of Intelligence contacted Alan, he had at first expressed hesitation about becoming a crewmember on a military space station orbiting such a distant planet as Chrion. All his doubts evaporated during his conversation with the UNOI representative, Lieutenant Jacob Gavin.

For it was then that he had become aware of the full scope of the job, not simply to capture rare images of the Chrion system's resident Red Dwarf as was being disclosed to the common populace, but to develop and test a revolutionary new military technology. A technology that strained at the limits of human comprehension. A technology that hinted at equal parts glory and extinction.

Alan finally abandoned the futile hope of securing a few hours' worth of sleep and focused his thoughts on those first few months, when Project Junior occupied all of his time and filled him with excitement, before the unnerving exhaustion set in.

Lt. Gavin of Navy Intelligence had turned out to be a clean-shaven, frank, bespectacled man of perhaps twenty-five or thirty whose honest demeanor and broad visage suggested trusting openness. Quite different from what Alan had expected a UNOI spook to be like. They had met in person and lunched at the Paris Luna Café just a few days after Alan received his call from UNOI. Over the course of the meal, the Lieutenant briefed Alan on the confidential details of the Intelligence Office's job offer.

"Doctor August, do you know of the privately owned Bolta-Orms research labs in New Nova Scotia?" He had said.

A semi-translucent language chip readout displayed itself across Alan's field of view, indicating a switch in the lieutenant's speech from Mandarin Chinese to American English. Gavin, it would seem, was a very well-educated officer and one of those skilled individuals who was liable to alternate between different languages simply for the sake of the change. Alan's chip had no trouble with either language or dialect; it was a newer model and could even assimilate a speech unknown to its database, if given enough data.

"Yes," Alan replied. "Over the course of my work in physical theorems I have had occasion to read several articles published by Bolta-Orms scientists. I found them to be intriguing and highly informative, especially those concerning their cutting-edge research in chemistry and astronomy."

"Good. Then you are aware of their experimentation with the newly discovered element, Raynium?"

Dr. August gave a brief nod.

"I would have thought as much. You've been cited by the UNOI as one of the top dogs in physics on Luna or Terra. Well, almost one month ago a dangerous trial involving Raynium yielded astonishing results. After super-saturating a sample of the element with Alpha radiation, the sample disappeared."

"Disappeared?" Said Alan, a slight frown creasing his otherwise handsome features.

"Exactly. Disappeared. At first the scientists were completely baffled, and at a loss as to what their course of action should be. But the integrated computers still picked up the sample. A faint Raynium radiation spike was detected approximately half a mile away in an abandoned scrapyard. Furthermore, the time it took for the sample to materialize in that location was too short to be measured by the systems."

"Naturally, the scientists believed at first that their machines were mistaken. After running diagnostics and checking the results dozens of times, however, technicians were summoned. They, too, confirmed the incredulous report. A security Haz-Mat force was immediately dispatched upon confirmation, and the men given orders to make all haste. The Raynium was recovered."

"Here is an even more interesting point, Doctor. This sample of the element was devoid of any Alpha radiation when recovered. Completely impossible as I'm sure you are aware. All of this information has been tested and tried, checked and confirmed over one hundred times, Dr. August. And do you know what the researchers found? When looking over the source code of the program that interfaced with the radiation source, they discovered that the binary digits provided exact and perfect coordinates for the point in space where the Raynium ended up. Not just coordinates on Earth, but coordinates in space. When code alterations are made, samples go where the scientists want them to."

"What we have now, Doctor, is a substance that we can send anywhere, anytime, and as far as we know, instantaneously."

Dr. August spilled his drink.

Suddenly, Alan was jarred from his reminisces by a massive jolt to the station. Alarmed, he bolted upright, nearly slamming his pate into the low ceiling. Klaxons wailed and men streamed down the narrow corridors to report to their battle stations. Though they moved with military efficiency and haste, all wore looks of confusion and amazement. This was peacetime; the soldiers and weapons were only occupying TROVIC-II because of the extreme importance of the research being conducted there.

Briefly, Alan distastefully reflected on the fact that even now, in the age of near light-speed travel and a united Earth, the government still had to fear terrorism.

This did not seem to be any regular terrorist strike though, and after all, what group could possibly have the resources to attack a United Factions Naval craft? Finally managing to approach a viewscreen, Alan's breath caught in his throat as he took in the impossible sight.

At least twenty sleek spacecraft of various masses and dimensions angled in toward the UFN station, their trajectories bringing them in broad elliptical passes around TROVIC-II. They were most definitely not of any UFN make or plan, and did not resemble anything known to man. Smooth, curved wings jutted from the fuselages of some ships. Others displayed large ovoid ports or strange circular attachments of a similar shape as human artificial gravity rings. They all bristled with what were obviously weapons.

Even as he watched, another salvo blazed from the foreign armada's guns. The shots appeared to be of a similar composition as the electro-magnetic plasma used by Earth ships. Then there was no more time for thinking. Several of the bolts impacted the space station, lowering the shield readings drastically. TROVIC-II's marines responded with several batteries of plasma fire, as well as three ultra-dense brass projectiles from the station's trio of powerful cannons. The storm of fire tore through space like a cloud of burning green embers, screaming toward the numerous craft. Several of the alien ships succumbed to the furious gunning, but most managed to avoid the marines' shots. Hell, thought Alan, these things were fast!

Captain Biggs, the CO of TROVIC-II's marine garrison, shouted tersely over a tight-signal communications channel.

"Home, this is Prophet, UFN priority code 3477-GC1!"

A figure appeared on-screen. It was a middle-aged man in full Naval uniform, with a neatly shaven head of obsidian black hair and a smooth, angular jawline. His copper eyes and iron-cast brow conveyed the impression of authority, even without the command insignia that boldly adorned his shoulders.

"Vice Admiral Havers, sir!" Biggs said, snapping a salute. The Admiral returned it.

"That's a general emergency code, Captain. What exactly is your situation?"

"Sir, we are under heavy bombardment by an unknown, repeat, unknown naval attack fleet."

"Captain! This is unbelievable. Show me."

Biggs stepped aside in one swift motion, allowing the Admiral a full view of the screen behind him. Havers's face drained to pallor, though he did not compromise an ounce of his disciplined manner. The Admiral understood the full implications of the scenario.

"Captain, your reinforcements will be burning practically at light-speed. ETA is twenty hours. Hold off this fleet for as long as you can, and attempt to establish a hail channel with them. Try to communicate a parlay. I will review this with the Admiralty at once. That is all."

The channel faded, and now only the sounds of stellar combat occupied Dr. August's thoughts. Plasma scorched the already battered hull of TROVIC-II. Small but infinitely hardened projectiles whistled into the outer metal plating and exploded violently. Pinpoint lances of yellow light roared from the marines' turrets to strike at the agile ships, and the UFN's own plasma flashed against the starry backdrop. The cannons hurled out bomb after super-accelerated bomb. Still, there were simply too many of the bastards, and the station wasn't well enough prepared.

He had never been a coward, but was afraid now. This was not supposed to happen. Alan was supposed to go down in the annals of history for collaborating on a monumental project for human society. A perfect weapon, a perfect vessel, an end to all troubles and inconveniences. Would that happen now? It seemed so uncertain in the midst of the ghastly battle.

UFN reinforcements did not arrive in time. After communication attempts failed, all extra power was funneled into weapons and fire control systems as a last effort to hold out for a few more hours. This helped stave off the assortment of enemy craft for only another two hours, just three before the Earth ships would come in at full burn to try and assist their comrades. They would find only debris.

Alan crouched under a stainless-tritium lab table, listening in on the aliens' conversation. These were the ones that seemed to be in command, the second of two types that came aboard when weapons failed and the space station had taken a massive beating.

The first category of beings to board TROVIC-II were beastly to say the least. Standing in excess of six feet, they were spindly limbed and warped, lacking digits of any kind on their feet or hands. Knobby bone-like protrusions dotted the back of each creature in a single row that extended up from their lower backs to just below the neck. Their hairless, gray oily hides shone in the onboard lighting of the station. Worst of all, though, were their faces. The things possessed no recognizable eyes, ears, or mouth. From the front of their heads sprouted two parallel columns of small, yellowed spikes, four spikes to each row. In the black space between the two vertical columns rested a vile, gray proboscis, continually flitting in and out of the gap in order to stay perpetually moistened with what appeared to be the aliens' disgusting saliva.

The other creatures did not board until after the first waves of 'brutes' had slaughtered all of the marines (not without cost; the soldiers fought like rabid wildcats and butchered two-thirds of the gross things). These second aliens were apparently the masters of the others, frequently giving them short, excited orders. Alan noted with bitter wonder that the master aliens' bodies looked to be partly composed of energy, their dark spherical heads and sunken white eyes floating on a constantly shifting maelstrom of whirlingamber light. Their skin was roughly similar to that of the 'brutes', but they wore some sort of brown material from the waist down, large metallicbuckles fastening the clothing into place. They also toted a variety of weapons, unlike the other warriors that relied on a strange but massive controlled electrical charge (seemingly summoned out of thin air) to destroy their foes.

Naturally Alan could not comprehend the alien speech at first, but the smart programs in his embedded chip pieced it together once the entities spoke enough.

"Qxt et hran san." Stated the first of the two master aliens. Alan sighed inwardly. It would take a bit of time.

"Stig qxt bx ret, rog shan lty swrn tay?" Inquired the second. Alan still needed more.

"Drus qumous bxt primates, uncivilized trrk hojk flst practically animals." There. Sluggish, but the speech was coming together. The second one spoke again.

"How they stumbled ytx such technology is beyond me."

"Yes, but that is the nature of their society. They progress rapidly through trial and error, and the serendipity of discovering new science."

"Filth. Well, have theCrae-dor isolated this new technology yet?"

"Yes. The primates did not fully realize the potential of this finding. They only discovered how to manipulate it through space. However, they must have communicated with others. We are sensing many ships converging upon this location at their top speeds."

"The slugs! Not even dignified in death. The entire race must be alerted by now, or at least those important members. This invariably means war."

"Of course. They will all be exterminated, if it costs a billion fighters. Had they found us first, they surely would have acted against us."

"We depart swiftly, then. Have theCrae-dor search every crevice in this craft and kill any survivors. Then we shall plant charges to detonate in, say, one hour."

"Affirmative." The first alien said.

Alan realized this was the end of the line. Somehow, the fear was gone, replaced suddenly by the need to warn Earth and the UFN. Alan knew the chances were almost nonexistent, but there was nothing left to do. If he could just get out of here immediately, and try to activate a Comm line… His probing right hand found a chemist's scalpel, delicate fingers closed over it and enfolded the plastic handle, squeezing until the knuckles whitened deeply.

With an almighty cry, Dr. August reared up from his hiding spot and launched himself at the nearest invader. The beings were completely taken by surprise, and Alan was acting faster than he ever had before. With the speed of angry conviction, he whipped his right hand into the alien's head, stabbing several times before either of the creatures could react. Their skulls were not very hard, and he quickly won through to the precious matter within. Black blood and soft red material oozed out from the gash. Unfortunately, Alan's window of a few seconds had expired. He fervently hoped that the entity was dead, and in a satori of revelation suddenly realized that this was almost as satisfying as a footnote in Earth's history books. It was his last thought. Three blue plasma bursts eviscerated his vital organs in microseconds, but didn't erase the smile on his face.