My story begins several years ago when I was a rising star in the mechanisms of federal government and planning on a career within the political establishment in DC. This wasn’t to be however as I received what I thought at the time was a better offer.
Believe it or not, the employment opportunity that led me to my current predicament began in a typically ‘cloak and dagger’ manner. I was approached by a high-level but essentially anonymous, black-suited individual who claimed to work for an off-the-books agency interested in recruiting me for a special assignment – one that wouldn’t just help my country but also the entire human race.
It sounded so ridiculous that I almost laughed in the man’s face, but I noted his expression was deadly serious and guessed he wouldn’t react well to mockery. Besides, I must admit that I was intrigued by the man’s mysterious offer. The opportunity I’d been presented with sounded too good to be true and I thought taking on this unusual job role could propel my career to previously unheard-of heights.
And so, I accepted their offer and started down the path of no return. If I’d known the full truth back then I would have told the G-man to go to hell…but I didn’t, and now here I am.
Jump forward six months and I’d completed an intensive training programme and attended a series of extraordinary briefings which had changed everything I thought I knew about our world and the wider universe. I used to believe that we – human beings – were at the top of the food chain, but now I know better.
It’s hard for me to pinpoint the exact moment when my courage failed me and I realised I no longer had any control over my situation. It wasn’t when I was flown on board a military transport plane to a secret base in the Solomon Islands where I received my final briefing on this highly classified mission.
Sure, I was nervous when they strapped me into my seat onboard an experimental X37C orbital test vehicle, the best in the US Space Force’s inventory. I believe I stood up pretty well during our launch into orbit as I joined the small club of humans who have travelled to space, although the actual numbers are far higher than most people know.
I thought about the significance of the event and importance of my mission whilst also realising that few would ever know what we’d embarked upon. Only a select number at the top echelons of the US government knew of my mission, and the X37 launch was a highly classified secret. Our rivals in China and Russia would be watching closely of course, but their governments had been briefed and were in support of our operation. On this issue if nothing else, all the nations of the Earth were on the same side.
If the launch into orbit wasn’t scary enough, our approach to the alien ship was truly terrifying. We saw the image on screen – that of a huge cigar-shaped spaceship capable of interstellar travel which dwarfed our own small craft and was adorned with high-tech weaponry beyond our wildest dreams.
Our tiny X37 was puny and pathetic in comparison, seeming like nothing more than a primitive canoe paddling towards a mighty battleship. I realised then that our alien hosts could easily blast our small ship into oblivion with the mere push of a button. But why would they destroy an unarmed diplomatic mission you might ask? Well, the answer is that it’s simply in their nature to be cruel and violent, and this will become self-evident as my account continues.
I think my nerves finally shattered after we completed the complex docking procedure and boarded the alien warship, going through the invasive and thorough scanning process before we were permitted entry. I vividly recall sitting in the holding area – a grim and dark cell of cold metal – as we waited to discover our fate.
My sole companion was one Captain Henderson – a hardened special forces veteran who was as tough as they came. Henderson was tasked with acting as my bodyguard during this dangerous mission. Our alien hosts didn’t allow us to bring weapons onboard their ship but Henderson assured me he was an expert in hand-to-hand combat and so would be able to protect me if things went south. I wasn’t so confident however.
As we sat in the darkened cell I couldn’t help but notice how Henderson was perspiring heavily as he struggled to contain his fear. He had good reason to be afraid, as did I.
You may have heard of the alien race who I was tasked to negotiate with. Their technology is far more advanced than ours and they have been capable of interstellar travel for thousands of years, having first visited Earth at least five centuries ago.
I’d never seen one in person, but their physical description was terrifying – a red-scaled reptilian race with cold predatory eyes and sharp teeth and claws which could rip through human flesh without the need for any of their advanced weaponry. What’s more – they are a cruel and war-like species who secretly visit our planet for one reason only – to find victims for their torture games and sadistic hunts.
Those unfamiliar with their origins simply call them reptilians or lizard-people. They don’t know the full story however, since the global governments have hidden the truth from their people for decades. The reptilians are in actual fact the Empire of the Astri, a militaristic interstellar species from the Trappist 1 star system who waged bloody war upon their neighbours for millennia before a new galactic order established an uneasy peace to keep the Astri and other aggressors in check.
But the Empire didn’t adapt well to this new peaceful order and so they searched for alternatives to satisfy their violent urges, seeking out uncontacted backwater planets such as ours where they could continue to kill with relative impunity away from the vigilant eyes of the galactic confederation.
And so, this is where I came in. You see, our global governments have been complicit in the Astri’s atrocities for many decades. With no means of combatting their vastly superior technology we’ve effectively allowed the Astri to abduct, torture and murder thousands of our citizens every year. In the United States we simply turn a blind eye to these abductions which inevitably occur in isolated areas, and the people they take are usually those who aren’t missed – the homeless, drug addicts or simply those without family or friends.
In other countries, totalitarian regimes take the opportunity to ‘donate’ victims to the Astri as a form of tribute – sending them prisoners, political dissidents and so-called undesirables as they cynically use the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.
This has been the state of affairs for too long as the world leaders have sought to justify their secret collusion with the Astri mass murderers, believing that the sacrifice of countless thousands is necessary for the greater good and because they fear the consequences of denying the alien slavers, knowing all too well that the Astri could devastate the Earth’s surface with their space-based weaponry.
But things have changed in recent times which is why they sent me on this dangerous yet crucial diplomatic mission. For the first time in our history we had a trump card to use against the Astri, and the powers-that-be back on Earth decided to play it. And so, I potentially had the future of humanity on my shoulders…that’s a lot of pressure.
But, as I sat in that holding area, I only hoped that the Astri wouldn’t renege on their promise to allow us an audience and would instead simply throw the two of us out of the airlock, leaving us to die in the cold vacuum of space.
I almost jumped out of my skin when I heard the hidden speakers burst to life and a mechanical voice spoke to us in near word-perfect English.
“Representatives of Planet Earth. The screening process has been completed and you are permitted to board the SS Glory of the Empire. Proceed through the door and make your way down the corridor to the passenger cell. Once you are secure and contained we shall continue the journey to our final destination.”
With that, a previously invisible door in the steel wall ahead of us slid open, revealing a dimly lit and uninviting corridor which led to yet another door at its end. I experienced a moment of fearful trepidation, finding myself temporarily unable to stand and walk until Captain Henderson silently pulled me up on my feet and practically frogmarched me through the doorway.
He whispered sternly in my ear whilst doing so – “They’re watching. Don’t show the fuckers any weakness or they’ll destroy us.”
His harsh words forced a cold shudder up my spine, but I knew he was right. My extensive briefings on the Astri’s culture and psychology left little doubt. All of our intelligence pointed to the Astri lacking in any empathy or mercy, at least towards our human race. Certainly, they believed in their own version of social darwinism – an extreme ideology stating that only the strong would survive in a ruthless universe and weaker species should be crushed, enslaved or destroyed. I tried to control my fear as I shakingly stepped forward, following Henderson down the dark, featureless corridor of cold steel, barely stopping myself from jumping when the airlock at the far end slid open to reveal what the ship’s AI had disconcertingly described as the passenger ‘cell’.
Cautiously walking inside, we saw a room not much different from the one we’d just left – cold, dark, featureless and hostile – although we noted two cockpit-style chairs which seemed to have been designed for the human body. I was surprised since we’d been told not to expect any level of hospitality from our alien hosts as the Astri regarded us an inferior species and certainly not their equals.
I was highly suspicious however, fearing this could be a trap. Looking to the hard-faced Captain Henderson, I thought about asking him what he thought of this but then I remembered that our hosts were almost certainly watching and listening to everything we said and did, so I decided against it.
Henderson took his seat without uttering a word, quickly and efficiently strapping himself in for the space journey to come. I followed his lead, watching him closely as I repeated his actions to secure my seatbelt. I didn’t know how Henderson knew what to do and how he stayed so calm and confident under the circumstances. I supposed it was his training kicking in as he quickly adapted to this alien environment.
I wish I had his confidence, but what we were facing scared the shit out of me. The experts from NASA and the air force had warned us that we’d be making a journey that would last months or even years in one of our rockets in the space of a few short hours. We had little knowledge of the Astri’s technology and most of our assumptions regarding their spacecraft were based on theory only.
The assumption at the time was that Henderson and I would be travelling farther out than any Earth-based lifeform had done before, and we would be subjected to a g-force which no human being had previously experienced. They had no idea whether our bodies could survive the journey and we had to take whatever assurances the Astri had given regarding our physical safety with a pinch of salt.
So, you can imagine the fear I experienced when the ship’s engines came to life and we were propelled through space at a tremendous speed. Imagine my surprise and relief when I discovered that our journey was not only survivable but also relatively comfortable, no worse than my time onboard the X37 which transported us into orbit.
The flight deep into our own solar system lasted a mere three hours and I felt my confidence growing as I realised we would make it through this leg of the journey. Maybe the Astri were genuine about wanting to enter negotiations, I told myself. Perhaps they were finally granting us the respect we felt we deserved. This is what I thought, but now I know I’d been lulled into a false sense of security.
I remember the moment we arrived at our destination, the ship slowing as a shutter screen on the far wall of our cell opened to reveal a stunning scene. Before us was Jupiter – the majestic gas giant and largest planet in our solar system.
I stared out of the porthole in stunned awe, admiring the mighty planet’s glorious atmospheric bands and the famous Great Red Spot, an enormous anticyclonic storm which had raged for centuries and was large enough in dimensions to swallow up the Earth several times over.
I found myself mesmerised by Jupiter’s beauty and felt very humbled, knowing that I was one of the first human beings to observe the planet with the naked eye.
The alien ship descended through Jupiter’s orbit, accelerating towards the grey and rocky moon which I recognised as Europa. As we approached the moon I spotted a grotesque artificial structure half buried in its rocky surface – a collection of steel fortifications and powerful space-based weapons which I understood were connected to a vast network of subterranean tunnels and chambers.
My jaw dropped as I surveyed the ugly and austere facility – the Astri’s main base in our solar system. The Europa outpost has existed for decades and Earth’s governments have known about it for just as long. The Voyager probes had observed and photographed the facility from afar and many other missions have documented it over the years. We knew it was the Asti’s main staging post for its clandestine raids on Earth, but little else.
Going in I didn’t know what to expect but I was sure our alien hosts were showing us their moon base as a means of intimidation. There were signs of battle all around as we descended, and I noted the twisted debris of destroyed ships and war machines trapped in Jupiter’s orbit. Meanwhile, the surface of Europa was riddled with fresh craters, surely the result of orbital bombardment or misdirected missiles.
I silently glanced across at Henderson and noted the disappointment in his eyes, a feeling which I shared. Both of us had hoped the Astri would have suffered greater damage.
As I’ve said before, Earth’s governments have long been helpless in the face of Astri incursions – but this has recently changed.
A year before I was recruited to this secret diplomatic mission, our space watchers observed a fierce battle in Earth’s orbit, as an Astri hunting ship was engaged and apparently destroyed by a vessel of unknown origin. This event might have remained a mystery had it not been for the unexpected landing of a small capsule deep in the American Mid-West. This escape pod contained two human survivors who had an extraordinary tale to tell.
Through their first-hand accounts we not only learnt the horrifying truth of what the Astri did to their abductees but we also discovered the existence of a potential ally – the Galactic Confederation, whose forces are at war with the rogue Astri hunters.
News of the space battle finally forced our leaders into action and a secret council demanded that the Astri agree to a meeting to renegotiate the terms of our agreement.
But this wasn’t the end of the story. During my training we received word of a second space battle detected by our long-range telescopes as a small fleet of ships assaulted the Europa base, resulting in an amazing yet terrifying display of fire and fury. We hadn’t known the outcome of the battle until now, but it seemed clear that our hosts had won the fight.
I experienced a terrible foreboding as our ship made the final approach down to the vast moon base, the mighty vessel being dwarfed by the huge sprawling facility as we docked on a landing bay with a heavy metallic clunk. I was beginning to realise just how far behind humanity was in this arms race.
Once the ship docked we received further instructions from the disembodied robotic voice.
“We have arrived at the Empire’s Alpha Facility. You should remove your restraints and wait for our representative who will guide you inside the base.”
We did as told, Henderson and I sharing a look as we undid our seatbelts and stood up. The far door activated and I mentally prepared myself to see an Astri warrior in the flesh for the first time. I’d heard the witness descriptions and seen what few photographs and film footage we had of them, but this wasn’t adequate preparation.
I took a deep breath as the automated door slid open but was disappointed by what I saw on the other side. We were met by some kind of robotic drone hovering in the air as its scanners and cameras observed us and collected data. I remembered the witness accounts of the Confederation war machines and wondered whether the Astri had adopted the same model.
The two of us stood in confusion as the robot spoke – “I am Unit 537, an AI drone in the service of the Glorious Astri Empire. I have been tasked by my masters with guiding you through our facility and concluding our negotiations.”
I was left flabbergasted and found myself unable to speak as I tried to process this unexpected development. In the end it was Henderson who broke the silence as he launched into an uncharacteristic outburst.
“What the hell is this? Where are the Astri delegates? This is not what we agreed!”
The flying robot turned to face my military companion before answering in the same monotone, mechanical voice.
“I know nothing of these arrangements you speak of. Let me assure you that I have been granted the necessary plenipotentiary powers by my masters. I would also advise you not to engage in any further emotional outbursts. My masters may view such tirades as acts of aggression and respond accordingly. Now, you must follow me.”
With that, the drone swung around and entered the facility. I shot Henderson an angry look and whispered – “What the hell were you thinking? Are you trying to get us both killed?”
Henderson simply shook his head in despair before saying – “No plan survives first contact with the enemy. We need to adapt.”
I stared at my companion in confusion, wanting to ask him what he meant, but Henderson simply nodded and said – “Come on. Let’s go.”
He proceeded through the open doorway and I followed, not yet realising we were walking straight into a living hell. The interior of the Europa base was slightly less bleak and intimidating than the spaceship, but only marginally so. The corridor walls were white and sterile and my nostrils were filled with what smelt like disinfectant.
As soon as I set foot inside I left something was terribly wrong, and a sense of impending doom came over me. I was frightened and on edge but it was more than that. Within a few seconds my head was pounding, the pain growing inside my skull until it became almost unbearable.
I felt naked and exposed, like suddenly my deepest thoughts and secrets were there for the whole universe to see. And it got worse. Suddenly my aching brain was assaulted by terrible, horrific images. I saw human beings tortured by the vile Astri killers – a man ripped to shreds by claws and teeth, a screaming woman strapped to a gurney and operated on without anaesthetic, and many more scenes of ultra violence.
The images I saw inside of my head were so vivid that I could almost hear the blood-curdling screams and smell the gory viscera. I struggled to stay on my feet and see straight, turning my head to look upon my companion. Any hope I had for support faded as I saw Henderson was fighting his own internal battle against whatever psychological weapon the Astri had deployed against us, sweating profusely as his eyes bulged and face burnt red.
I reckoned he was using all his mental strength in an attempt to keep the enemy out of his head, although I doubted he would be successful. This was a new tactic which we hadn’t been warned about during our briefings and frankly it terrified me. What chance did we have if the Astri could destroy our minds as well as our bodies?
The pressure built up inside of my skull until I thought my head would explode and for a horrible moment I believed they would kill us through this vile method. But the assault upon our brains ended as suddenly as it had begun, the pressure lifting and sadistic images disappearing, although I couldn’t forget the horrors I’d seen.
Our robotic guide acted like nothing had happened, leading us to yet another automatic door at the end of the sickly white corridor as it turned to address us in its deadpan, mechanical voice.
“My masters thought you might wish to visit your fellow homo sapiens who we accommodate at this facility. I will now show you our holding pens.”
I felt a sickness deep in the pit of my stomach after hearing the drone’s emotionless words, casting a glance towards Henderson in the moment before the next door slid open. The first thing that hit me was the smell – the foul stench of waste that reminded me of a zoo or kennels. And then I heard the wails – screams of agony and pain which I was horrified to learn came from human lips.
Our robotic guide led the way as Henderson and I entered into a living hell under glaring artificial lights. We were sickened yet awestruck at the horrific scenes we witnessed. Beyond the doorway was a vast bunker filled with rows of steel cages stacked on top of each other all the way up to the ceiling.
We saw thousands of small 6×6 cages, each containing a human prisoner – abductees imprisoned by the Astri for their sadistic purposes. I saw people of all races and creeds – male and female, young and old. Their alien captors treated them all with the same contempt and cruelty.
All were naked except for the ugly shock collars secured to their necks. And as I walked closer I saw how all were emaciated and left to live in their own filth. Many bore scars and injuries, surely as a result of the torture they’d endured. Others looked sick and more than a few appeared to be on the verge of death.
But the most horrifying moment came when the many prisoners noticed our presence, the word quickly spreading through nervous but excited whispers between the cages. Suddenly, thousands of eyes lit up with something very dangerous indeed – hope.
A moment later and thousands of voices were calling out in dozens of languages, crying and begging as we walked past them, pleading for us to save them. I couldn’t take it – the hellish din was too much.
The worst thing is, I realised we were powerless to help these damned souls. Even if the Astri did agree to release their prisoners we had no means of transporting them back to Earth. I doubted any of these poor bastards knew where they were, but they surely guessed what terrible fate awaited them.
I felt like dropping down to my knees and rolling into a protective ball as the desperate wails nearly burst my eardrums, but then all the prisoners emitted a new sound – one of shocked pain as every one of their number collapsed in agony, screaming as they clutched hold of their throats and squirmed on the floors of their cages.
To my horror I realised that the prisoner’s shock collars had all been activated simultaneously as a form of collective punishment. Despite my terror, I screamed out in anger and challenged our guide.
“How fucking dare you! You damn savages have no right to treat our people this way!”
I realised how foolish my words were as soon as I spoke them. The drone swerved around to face me and I wondered why I’d taken my anger out on an AI which merely served the cruel Astri and probably had no capacity for independent thought.
The hovering robot looked over me with its inbuilt cameras, lights flashing on control panels as it processed data. And when the machine spoke, its words didn’t contain even a trace of humanity.
“Quiet. I have warned you both about the consequences of emotional outbursts. Let us proceed to the amphitheatre where you may witness the fruits of my masters’ work.”
With that, the robot turned and flew forwards, leaving Henderson and I to look upon the defeated prisoners, all wounded and silent as they glared down upon us with disappointment in their eyes, and they came to the terrible realisation that we weren’t here to help them. And somehow those silent reproachful looks were even worse than their screams and cries for mercy.
I thought this was as bad as it could get, but then we exited the prison chamber and entered a whole new circle of hell.
We walked out onto an empty stand overlooking an oval-shaped arena with a circular pitch around one hundred foot in diameter surrounded by ten-foot walls on every side. The surface of the arena was covered by a strange plastic-like substance, although the oval had a primitive and low-tech feel when compared to the rest of the facility. However, I was amazed at the sheer size of the moon base which could accommodate a small stadium.
Racking my brains I tried to think, and I soon realised how this zone reminded me of a Roman colosseum – and my heart sank as I considered the terrifying implications of my observation.
Suddenly our attention was drawn to a ring of VIP-style boxes set above the stands as steel shutters slowly ascended to reveal a terrifying scene.
This was the first time I saw them in the flesh. The Astri. Dozens of alien dignitaries sitting and standing in luxurious boxes behind thick glass, all looking down upon us with a sadistic glee in their cold, reptilian eyes as they exposed their fangs and salivated from their snout-like mouths.
I scanned from side-to-side in a panic, realising that the vile creatures were all around us, although they remained behind their transparent barriers, apparently waiting for something to happen.
Henderson shot up straight as his instincts kicked in. He automatically reached for a weapon he did not carry before shooting our robotic guide a look that could kill.
“What the hell is the meaning of this?” he demanded.
The drone’s cameras observed him with cold indifference and I guessed all of its observations were being beamed up to the Astri dignitaries watching over us. The machine answered my companion’s angry question in its usual emotionless and robotic tone.
“My masters have arranged some entertainment for your visit. I suggest you stay silent and watch.”
I was still trying to work out what the machine meant when I observed a hidden door opening in the circular wall of the arena below us, revealing what looked like a chute leading down to the plastic covered ground. I watched on in shocked horror as one, two and then three bodies slid down the chute, all landing heavily on the ground before the door slammed shut, trapping them inside the walled arena.
As first I thought the three were dead but it turned out they were only disorientated or possibly drugged, as within a few moments all had regained some level of composure and were able to stand up on their shaking legs. I saw they were all young men – half-naked and emaciated, a terror present in their eyes as they surveyed their new prison.
A moment later and a second compartment opened to reveal a steel rack filled with hand-held weapons, including what looked like machetes, axes and short swords. The scared trio looked at the weapons in confusion, clearly having little idea of why they were here and what was expected of them.
Unfortunately, I now had a good idea of what was about to happen. Suddenly a second door slid open on the far side of the arena and something horrifying emerged, charging out onto the killing floor with all the fury in hell.
The Astri which I saw seemed larger than average – perhaps as tall as eight foot in height. I saw old scars cut across its red scales and so guessed this beast was a veteran warrior. Its lizard eyes were those of a cold and calculating predator, methodically scanning the kill zone as it sought out its victims.
The warrior was armed with a long pike-like weapon but it hardly needed the spear as its teeth and claws were surely sufficient to tear its victims to shreds. I looked to the sealed boxes above and noted how the Astri spectators leaned forwards, their eyes widening with excitement as they relished the prospect of the violence to come.
And then I glanced down to the three young men in the firing line – all confused, exposed and terrified as they cast their eyes upon the beast. I wanted to shout out a warning to these men, but what good would it do? Henderson and I were powerless to intervene.
The Astri warrior charged forward at an astonishing speed, unleashing an animalistic roar as it closed in on its prey. Two of the men fled, running back to the wall and desperately trying to find a way out. The third prisoner froze in the middle of the arena, dropping to his knees and pleading for mercy. But of course, he got none.
I expected the warrior to run him through with its spear but instead it unleashed a high kick, deftly using the six-inch claw on its foot to slice deep into the man’s throat, slicing his jugular open and spraying blood all over the plastic floor.
The other two watched their companion’s limp body drop to the ground as he continued to bleed, and the warrior cried out in triumph. The surviving men now knew that their only chance was to fight and so they grasped hold of primitive weapons from the rack – the first taking a machete and the second arming himself with a sword.
The sword-wielding man looked oriental in origin and seemed to have some combat skills. He was brave too, running forward to meet the warrior head on and parrying the heavy blows from its spear. The fight didn’t last long however, as the sheer force of the Astri’s attacks knocked the man down, forcing the sword from his hands. The human screamed as the alien brought its foot down upon his head, burying its claw deep into his skull.
The third and final man wasn’t much of a fighter but he did take his chance, attacking the beast from behind and hacking at it with his machete.
The Astri’s scaly hide was thick but the blade still penetrated, causing the beast to cry out in pain and fury. It was hurt but not badly, soon turning around to face its attacker. The human took one look into the alien’s killer eyes and broke, throwing down his weapon and fleeing across the arena.
The warrior didn’t miss a beat, lifting its spear and throwing it with immense strength. The projectile flew through the air, striking the man in the back and impaling his body against the arena’s wall. The dying man twitched as his life drained away, and the alien warrior roared in celebration of its bloody victory.
Its fellow Astri were equally happy at the outcome, banging their claws against the glass in excitement as their sadistic urges were satisfied. I looked to Henderson and saw his fists were clenched tight and his face was red with fury. As for me, I just felt sick to my stomach at the atrocity we’d been forced to witness.
I shook my head in disgust as I looked upon the hovering machine and spluttered out my emotional words.
“What’s the point of all this? Why bring us all the way out here just to watch our people getting tortured and killed? I thought you wanted to negotiate, damn you!”
The robot paused briefly before delivering its telling response. “Actually, my masters agreed to these negotiations in good faith. Your side has broken the terms of our agreement.”
I was left astonished and confused by this statement.
“What the hell do you mean?” I demanded.
“Your scan came up clear,” the machine explained, “but your companion’s raised a red flag.”
I turned to face Henderson only to find he would not meet my eye. I noticed how his face had dropped and turned pale white as the sweat dripped from his pores. I was left speechless, but our robotic guide continued to explain the situation.
“The trace was subtle, but our sensors detected a viral infection in Captain Henderson’s blood. Analysis of the virus confirms that it is genetically-modified – specifically designed to be harmless to homo sapiens but lethal to the Astri species. Clearly, the intention of Earth’s governments was to infect and destroy the Astri population of this base with their crude biological weapon.”
My jaw dropped in disbelief and I thought this must be a lie. I turned to Henderson in hope of reassurance only to see him charge the robot with malicious intent, but the machine reacted instantly, extending a mechanical arm and firing a dart into Henderson’s chest.
He stumbled backwards, looking upon me with guilt before his eyes rolled up into his skull and he collapsed heavily onto the stand. I turned in time to see the killer bot re-aiming its extended arm in my direction as it prepared to fire a second shot.
“Wait!” I screamed, but it was futile.
The dart struck me in the centre of my chest, causing me pain but not a fatal injury. But whatever poison the dart contained coursed through my veins and suddenly my whole body went numb. Next, I felt myself falling as my legs gave up and I hit the ground hard, and my whole world went black.
I awoke slowly, still feeling groggy as I opened my eyes and tried to move, only to find I could not. To my horror I found myself inside a tight cage hanging over an enclosure of some kind. I could hardly move as the cage was so small and when I looked down I saw a thick vegetation of tropical plants and a clearing directly below me.
Glancing to my left I found my companion Captain Henderson, awake and also trapped in a tight cage hanging over the enclosure. I opened my dry lips and forced out my words, shouting angrily as I chastised Henderson for his betrayal.
“What the fuck man? You let them inject you with a biological weapon? Are you crazy?”
Henderson lowered his head, once again not meeting my eye.
“I was only following orders.”
“Whose orders?” I screamed, “What lunatic ordered this attack? What made them think this madness would work?”
“It was always a long shot, but the brass believed it was our best chance.”
“But why? Why wasn’t I told? What the fuck happened to our negotiations?”
Henderson sneered dismissively before answering me. “Wake the hell up man! The diplomatic mission was just a cover! We can’t negotiate with these monsters…they treat us like prey for God’s sake! The real mission was always a military one, and both of us are expendable!”
I was shocked, horrified and angry upon hearing Henderson’s revelation, although I had to admit that it made sense. But one thing was clear – Henderson’s mission had failed, and now we were both in grave danger.
As if on cue, we heard a heavy rustling from the vegetation below as something big tore through, making its way towards the clearing. I knew whatever beast they’d unleashed would be bad, but what emerged into the clearing was beyond my worst nightmares.
My limited words will never do the monster justice, but the best comparison I can make is to a black spider grown to an enormous size. Its body must have been twice the size of a fully grown man, complete with eight long, thick legs covered in a fur-like hair. And the creature had a set of a dozen dark eyes like a kaleidoscope which scanned the kill zone with a predatory zeal.
But, as if all this wasn’t bad enough, the spider-like beast also had a long and thick tail with what looked like a stinger at its end – sharp, protruding and dripping with what I guessed was some kind of deadly venom.
The monster squealed with excited glee when it saw us hanging in our cages and I guessed what our captors had in store for us.
There was an ominous beeping noise, and a moment later the bottom of Henderson’s cage opened up, causing him to plummet down to the clearing below.
I heard a sickening crack as he landed heavily and guessed that the military man had broken his ankle, but to his credit he got up on his feet and faced the monster. The beast scurried forwards on its eight legs, screeching like a banshee as it lashed out with its stinger.
Henderson managed to dodge the first two attacks but the third struck him in the shoulder, causing him to scream in pain as he fell to the ground. I could only watch on in shocked horror as the wounded Henderson attempted to crawl to safety, but the monster struck him again, using its stinger to impale the helpless man through the back.
My companion screamed again, louder this time. He looked up at me with pain and terror in his bloodshot eyes and a moment later the beast dragged him back into the thick undergrowth, Henderson still screaming as he faced his terrible fate. I didn’t want to imagine what was happening to my companion but just then a familiar robotic voice called out to reveal the horrifying truth.
“My masters want you to know that the predator will not kill Captain Henderson. She will lay her eggs inside of his still living flesh, keeping him alive until they hatch. After which, her offspring will feast upon him. The whole process will last several days and will be excruciating for your companion.”
I shuddered in cold terror, the sickness rising from the pit of my stomach as I dry retched in disgust. I could barely speak through my trembling lips but somehow managed to utter a reply.
“I suppose you mean to do the same to me?”
“No.” my captor replied, “My masters will spare you and allow you to return to your home planet. You are being spared to deliver a message to your leaders. Tell them what you saw here and inform them that their treachery has been exposed. There will be repercussions for their deceit in due course. In the meantime, we are doubling the quota and expect delivery of the next batch of tributes within one of your weeks. Failure to comply will result in severe penalties.”
Those thinly veiled threats chilled me to my bones as I continued to hear Henderson’s muffled screams, and my cage was slowly lifted away from the beast’s enclosure.
As it happened, the Astri kept their word and sent me home. I’m almost ashamed to admit my relief at living through the ordeal and now I’m racked with survivor’s guilt, not to mention terrified of what the Astri will do next.
Once I got home I was inevitably debriefed extensively and aggressively by various government suits and military brass, continuously ordered to recount the events of our botched mission.
I think they knew how badly they’d fucked up and were truly frightened of the inevitable backlash. I believe some of my interrogators would have liked to pin the blame on me, but I guess others disagreed, because I was eventually released.
I expect I’m not much longer for this world however as several witnesses have fallen victim to unfortunate ‘accidents’ in recent months. Our leaders are scared because they know the Astri could come for them at any time. They’ll do anything to save their own skins and to cover up their mistakes, and this includes sacrificing thousands of their own people as ‘tributes’ to these monstrous killers.
And so, I have decided to tell my story before its too late. The threat we all face is more serious than ever and our governments are complicit in the Astri’s atrocities. I don’t know how we can win this war but we must stand and fight, because the price of doing nothing is too much to bear.
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