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The Europa War Trial

The Europa war trial


Estimated reading time — 30 minutes

Read Part one here

Read Part two here

Read Part three here

Read Part four here

Read Part five here

I awoke to chaos; my senses being simultaneously overwhelmed. A light brighter than any sun temporarily blinded me, and my ears were filled with a deafening, siren-like din. My body shot forward, and I instinctively prepared for a heavy collision, but I was pulled back into my seat, secured in place by a powerful magnetic force.

The light faded and the ominous, apocalyptic noise was replaced by the constant sounds of beeping control panels and distant explosions. I blinked, slowly opening my eyes and looking down at my own body, finding my frail form encased in a suit of armour – an exoskeleton designed for modern warfare which offered me partial, but by no means total, protection from the battle environment.

I took a moment to catch my breath and soon realised I was breathing through a respirator – a sealed helmet covering my head but allowing me to see out through a thick but transparent visor. I was still secured to my jump seat, restrained by an invisible force and protected from the extreme pressures, but I was able to turn my head and observe my immediate surroundings. I sat inside a tight metal tube, surrounded by other bodies.
I saw people to my left and right and across from me, noting how they were all similarly kitted out – dressed in heavy combat suits which made them look like giants. I counted fifteen suited individuals, not counting myself.

Looking through their visors, I could see their faces. They were an assortment of races and genders, but all were human beings, just like me. Nobody spoke or even met my eye, but I sensed we were all experiencing the same emotions in that moment – fear, adrenaline, wonder, and also disbelief. We weren’t meant to be here, that seemed certain. All of us were human beings – most born on Earth, although some were citizens of the galaxy. In any case, we were all a long way from home, caught up in an alien conflict not of our making. We hadn’t asked for this war, but there was no other choice but to fight. The enemy had to be defeated, and this was our one and only shot.

The tension continued as our tube-shaped craft was propelled through space. And suddenly, my command helmet came to life, transmitting a surge of information, images, and data that appeared on the inside of my visor.

My meagre brain struggled to take it all in, and I’m sure I failed to understand much of what flashed before my eyes, but I got the gist of it.

I was a mere foot soldier participating in one of the largest and most complex military operations in galactic history – the invasion of Hades, home world of the vicious and warmongering Astri race.

The invasion had been years in the planning, and operational secrecy had been tightly maintained, with only the Confederation’s top political and military elite knowing the truth. As for me and my comrades, we were only grunts – soldiers following orders with no knowledge of where they would send us or who we would fight.

But now, the plan had been revealed to the entire invasion force – with orders and objectives transmitted in a stream of data.

My fellow troopers must have received the same intel as I had, because a cheer went up amongst my comrades – a joyous war cry emitted through the communicators attached to our combat suits…their eyes lighting up, with the spark visible through their visors.

I shared my comrades’ excitement in that moment. The day we’d been waiting for had finally come. All of us had suffered at the hands of the savage Astri, all subjected to unspeakable tortures and barbaric acts of violence. For so long it had seemed like the Astri were invincible, but now we’d found a way through all their technology and defences, striking the enemy on their home turf.

I focussed on the images on my display screen, seeing the projection of the green and blue world below us – our target and objective. The planet’s orbit was filled with spacecraft – most coloured blue to indicate that they were under Confederation command. There were too many vessels to count – but there must have been dozens of gigantic, needle-shaped warships firing ballistic missiles and ion cannons down at the Astri satellites and targets on the planet’s surface.

Our dropship appeared in the middle of a huge swarm of similarly sized vessels, all carrying combat squads identical to our own. Combined they transported the huge infantry force assigned to the invasion. But the bulk of the blue dots appearing on our screens were small but deadly automated drones – a vast armada of war machines surely numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

My jaw dropped as I observed the vast invasion force – an army drawn from the dozens of worlds and species which made up the Galactic Confederation, all brought together for one purpose – to end the evil Empire of the Astri once and for all.

I imagined what this vast armada must look like to the beings on the planet’s surface. What would the Astri feel in his moment, as they saw their skies blacked out by enemy craft – a swarm descending to deliver righteous vengeance. Were they afraid, now that the tide had turned?

I also considered how all this was even possible. How had we bypassed the Astri fleet and their substantial orbital defences? That was a question for later, assuming we survived that long. The Astri had been taken off guard, but they were far from beaten.

As I continued to watch the screen, I saw multiple red dots rising from the planet’s surface – enemy drones and missiles ascending to meet the invasion force. And next, some of our vessels started to disappear from the battle zone, taken out one-by-one.

We all heard the explosions around us and feared our own dropship would be next. It seemed to me like a cruel irony – to have come this far only to be blown out of the sky before we joined the battle. But this wasn’t to be our fate.

Many dropships and drones were destroyed in orbit, but our numbers were overwhelming, and the large majority of our ships got through the Astri’s hastily organised defences.
Soon our ship entered the atmosphere, fire surrounding the vessel’s exterior as the surface grew ever closer. It seemed as if we were descending too fast, but our ship’s computer automatically activated the reverse thrusters, allowing us a safe but bumpy landing.

‘Welcome to Hell’ I thought, as the dropship’s rear doors slid open to reveal the nightmarish world beyond.

In an instant, the magnetic force holding us down was released, and we all stood up, grabbing the high-powered rifles by our sides as we descended the ramp and joined the battle.

My boots thumped heavily on the metal ramp and then I was running on dirt, taking my first steps on Hades. I looked up to the pink skies and dual suns above and witnessed a scene of chaos and violence, as thousands of guided missiles, spaceships, and drones fought an epic battle.

For a brief moment I was frozen, awestruck as I watched dozens of explosions and hundreds of dropships descending to the surface. But then my full attention returned to the fight ahead of me. My comrades and I were advancing across open ground, charging through a grassy clearing and towards a jungle foliage on the horizon.

Hades is a world of tropical rainforests inhabited by living monsters. The atmosphere would of course be toxic to our human lungs, except our exoskeletons protected us from the hostile environment. But our combat suits only provided limited protection from the Astri guns and particle beams.

We advanced without opposition for the first few hundred yards, meeting other squads on route as fresh orders continued to flash across our screens. Our small band of humans were outnumbered by dozens of troops from other species, but we all fought under the same galactic flag and were accompanied by hundreds of AI drones which flew over our heads providing cover.

For a moment I felt so powerful, like I was part of an all-mighty war machine that couldn’t be stopped. But then all hell broke loose as the Astri fought back.

Projectiles were fired from concealed positions in the treeline – guided missiles and beams shooting out towards us. I saw the soldier to the left of me literally explode into a bloody cloud of viscera and twisted metal. Others soon followed; my headphones filled with terrible screams as soldier after soldier fell to the Astri defences.

But sheer adrenaline carried me on as I continued running whilst returning fire from my rifle. Meanwhile, our drones flew ahead and launched attacks upon the Astri positions. Many were shot from the sky but those that survived took out most of the enemy’s heavy weapons, allowing our ground attack to continue.

We were within a hundred yards of the treeline by the time we saw our first Astri warriors, as they emerged from their trenches and opened fire with small arms. I took a deep breath as bullets flew inches over my head. Raising my rifle, I allowed the targeting programme in my helmet to pick out an Astri gunman.

With my target selected, I pulled the trigger, experiencing a grim satisfaction as my bullet struck the reptilian in the chest.

I continued sprinting forward, shooting as I went. I expected to be hit at any moment, but thankfully the enemy’s bullets all missed me. Unfortunately, several of my comrades weren’t so lucky. The Astri made us pay a heavy price for the ground, and many brave soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice. But we had the advantage in numbers and firepower, and this proved overwhelming.

I reached the treeline unscathed, jumping down into what I thought was an empty foxhole, only to be confronted by an Astri soldier who emerged from a tunnel beneath me. I froze momentarily, as the brutish yet calculating killer came at me, slashing out with its razor-sharp claws before I could react.

Its claws tore at the neck of my combat suit but failed to penetrate. I think it would have sliced my throat open if it hadn’t been for my armour. But I’d survived the attack, falling backwards but firing upon the Astri which had flung itself at me.

The projectile easily penetrated the reptilian’s red-scaled hide, throwing its body backwards as it squealed in pain. The alien squirmed in agony in the dirt with a bullet in its gut. A part of me took a perverse pleasure from the Astri’s suffering, but I couldn’t stand the terrible screeching that the wounded warrior emitted, and so I fired a second shot, putting the alien out of its misery.

I stood for a minute over the Astri’s body, admiring my own bloody handiwork. But I didn’t dwell for long as the bloody chaos of battle continued all around me. I saw my comrades fighting Astri holdouts hand-to-hand along the trench line, and I went to their aid – taking out one, two, and then three enemy warriors in quick succession. We slaughtered them to the last one. No Astri attempted to surrender – I doubt their strict warrior culture would allow such a capitulation.

Before long the trenches were ours, and the sounds of screaming and cracking bones in my ears was replaced by joyous cries of celebration. Fresh data flashed in front of my eyes, providing real-time updates on the battle. We had taken our first objective and – even though our losses were high – the casualty rate was lower than the pre-battle projections. But there was still a lot of fighting to come.

We proceeded slowly and cautiously through the alien jungle, carefully watching for any signs of booby traps or an enemy ambush. The thick vegetation was difficult to transverse, and I practically jumped at every cracked branch or unidentified chirp. The Astri were only one of the threats in this dangerous environment, as many of the indigenous predators were more than capable of taking on a fully grown human male, even one clad in a combat suit.

Nevertheless, we crossed through the thick jungle without incident, only hearing the distant din of explosions and gunfire emanating from dozens of separate skirmishes across the continent.

After some time, we emerged into another artificial clearing, looking up in awestruck horror at our second objective. The Astri cathedral dominated the skyline, with its needle-like steeple extending to several hundred feet. The structure itself was typically ugly and constructed in the brutalist style – with thick walls of cold, featureless metal on all four sides and the high steeple being the only indication of the structure’s cultural significance.

The steel doors of the hellish cathedral were firmly shut, and I dreaded to think of the horrors on the far side of them. But this didn’t change the fact that we had to get inside. The cathedral was a key objective which we needed to capture and hold, no matter what the cost.

Our orders came through, and I dropped down to my knee, providing cover whilst a sapper team attached plastic explosives to the door. All was quiet except for the distant explosions and missile strikes I observed in the darkening skies above. Nevertheless, I felt a grim foreboding as I scanned the perimeter, fearing that an attack would come at any moment.
My heart jumped when I heard the dull thud of an explosion, only to realise it was our demolition team blowing the door open. And then I joined my comrades, rushing forward as we piled inside of the twisted cathedral and witnessed the horrors within.

I entered what was clearly a hostile environment, the cathedral’s interior only dimly lit by a blood red illumination. I activated the night vision function on my helmet controls, following my comrades as we advanced down the aisle and past the cold metal pews as we searched for threats.

What we saw was a vile example of the Astri’s cruelty and sadism. Mounted on the walls were the severed heads of dozens, perhaps hundreds of their victims. I observed many different species, including human beings – and all of the heads still lived, emitting silent screams as their crazed eyes observed our advance into their torture chamber.

But worse still was the monstrosity displayed above the altar at the back of the cathedral. I felt sick to my stomach when I witnessed the scene – a grotesque mosaic of skin, body parts, mouths, and eyes. It seemed that multiple beings had been stitched together to create this Frankenstein-like monster…and the creature was somehow alive, squirming in absolute agony and exerting a dozen tortured cries from as many mouths.

My squad halted their advance, all awestruck and frozen in abject horror as we listened to the blood-curdling screams. Unfortunately, we let our guard down and didn’t see the attack coming until it was too late.

I spotted the projectile out of the corner of my eye but didn’t have time to shout a warning before it hit the man in front of me, penetrating his armour and impaling him through the chest. The dying man dropped to his knees, turning to face me with terror and pain in his eyes before his visor was obscured with blood.

I swung around, seeing the dark shapes emerging from the shadows and moving rapidly towards the aisle.

The Astri who assaulted us were taller, stronger, and faster than those we’d previously fought – a warrior-priest elite with a fanatical zeal, who would defend their sacred temple at all costs.

The soldiers around me fired in a panic, but the attackers moved so fast, jumping upon my comrades and knocking them to the floor before stabbing through their armour with war pikes. I heard the thunderous roars of the attackers and the terrified screams of our soldiers, and I knew I had to take charge of the fight back…otherwise we would surely all die in this hellhole.

I raised my rifle to aim but wasn’t quick enough. A seven-foot tall Astri knocked the gun from my hands and struck me hard across my head. My skull would have cracked if not for my helmet, but the force of the blow threw me down, and I hit the ground hard.

Looking up, I saw the reptilian standing over me – its yellow, predator’s eyes glistening with sadistic glee as its maw opened to reveal rows of long and sharp teeth. But what really frightened me was the huge war pike it held over me – the spear poised to plunge into my chest.

I saw the sharp end coming and moved at the last possible second. The point of the spear missed my heart but instead impaled me through the shoulder. I screamed in pain and the Astri snarled with frustration. The last thing I heard was gunfire, and then everything went black.

I woke up screaming, clutching at my shoulder only to find there was no wound. Next, I ripped the helmet from my head and the appendages from the rest of my body. I was sweating profusely and struggled to breathe as I surveyed my surroundings.

But then I felt a gentle touch on my shoulder and a reassuring feminine voice in my ear.
“Take it easy Saul,” she said, “It’s all okay. You’re in no danger.”

I looked up to see the woman standing over me, noting her dark brunette hair, expressive eyes, and her soft, compassionate smile. I was able to calm myself, and in time I remembered who I was – Saul Jackson, assistant to the UN’s ambassador to the Galactic Confederation. The woman assisting me was my boss – Lisa Tang, Earth’s official representative at the most significant war trial in recent galactic history.

The horrors I’d just witnessed were a memory of a battle already fought and won. But the memories were not my own. I had lived through somebody else’s experiences, courtesy of a full-immersion VR programme provided by our friendly alien hosts.

It had all seemed so real and yet I’d never set foot on the Astri’s home world, let alone fought a war against them. I had encountered the reptilian aliens before however, having led a disastrous diplomatic mission which resulted in humiliation, capture, and the violent death of my companion.

I thought this disaster would mark the end of my career and possibly my life, assuming the government decided to liquidate me to hide the truth. But times had changed, and I’d been given a second chance…an opportunity for redemption, if you will.

I removed the remainder of the VR apparatus from my still shaking body with Lisa’s assistance, noting the sterile white room we inhabited – a cabin onboard the Confederation needle ship transporting us to our destination.

“I’m sorry to have put you through that Saul.” Lisa said sympathetically, as we sat down together and she offered me a glass of water. “But I believe it was something you needed to see for yourself.”

“Agreed.” I replied after taking a deep gulp of cold water.

“Who was he?” I asked, referring to the soldier whose memories I’d relived, “Is he still alive?”

“His name is Jamie Wallace.” Lisa confirmed, “And yes, he survived the battle. Jamie’s story is quite something – abducted from Earth, thrown into a slave rebellion, and then recruited by the Confederation military. He fought in the liberation of Europa before joining the Human Legion. As you’ve seen, he was in the first wave of the Hades invasion. Wounded in combat but honoured for his bravery during the final assault on the Astri capital.”

“Wow.” I said in awe, “He’s quite the hero!”

“Yes, it certainly seems so.” Lisa replied thoughtfully, “But I guess we’ll find out soon enough. Legionnaire Wallace will meet us once we arrive at Europa.”

I gulped, already feeling intimidated by the prospect of meeting an inter-galactic war hero. But what really chilled me to my bones was the prospect of returning to the Europa moon base. I had barely survived my previous visit and had been left in terrified awe of the murderous Astri. I believed they were invincible back then, but now everything had changed.

The Astri home world had fallen, their Empire was shattered, and their leadership were standing trial for war crimes beyond count.

I shook my head as I tried to come to terms with all I’d heard and seen.
“I still don’t understand.” I said, whilst meeting Lisa’s sympathetic gaze across the white table. “How did the Confederation pull off the attack? Why didn’t the Astri see them coming?”

“The Calmar.” Lisa replied.

The name was familiar to me, as I’d read about this species in my briefing. The Calmar were an aquatic, squid-like race who’d accumulated enormous wealth and power through their control of the vital wormhole network which criss-crossed the galaxy. Travel between star systems was virtually impossible without the Calmar’s co-operation. But it still didn’t add up.
“The Calmar have never taken sides.” I said, repeating the words from my briefing document.

Lisa smiled thinly before replying. “Times have changed. It’s true that the Calmar are primarily motivated by self-interest and greed, but they’ve come to realise that the Confederation is a safer bet in the long-term. They conspired with the Galactic leadership and allowed allied forces access through their wormholes, meaning the fleet could jump straight into the Astri’s home system undetected.”

I nodded my head in understanding. The Calmar had stabbed the Astri in the back, throwing their lot in with the Confederation. It had been a risky move but seemed to have paid off.
“So,” I continued, as my brain processed this new information. “The Calmar opened up the wormhole. But surely the Astri had planetary defences? The landing looked a little too easy to me.”

“Their planetary defences were offline.” Lisa explained, “That was the work of the Gaians.”

I thought for a moment before remembering the name. The Gaians were a slave race who’d lived for thousands of years under Astri domination. They were responsible for developing and maintaining most of the Astri’s advanced technology, so it made sense that they could disable Hades’s defences when the time came.

“Wow.” I exclaimed, as it all started to come together in my head, “That’s quite the coalition.”

Lisa laughed nervously before responding. “Well, the Astri have made a lot of enemies over the years. I guess that’s what happens when you spend centuries slaughtering, torturing, and enslaving every other species in the galaxy.”

I chuckled at Lisa’s comment, but then a coldness ran through me as I contemplated all the atrocities the Astri had committed over countless generations.

“So that’s it then.” I concluded, “The Astri are defeated.”

“Not entirely.” Lisa said with a sigh of regret, “Their leadership has been killed or captured and the bulk of their forces destroyed, but there are holdouts scattered across the galaxy – single ships and garrisons cut off now they can’t access the wormholes. As for Hades, Confederation forces are in control of the cities, but diehard Astri warriors have retreated to the jungles where they continue to wage a guerilla war.”

I shook my head in astonishment. The Astri were fanatics, raised from birth to fight and die for the glory of their race. It was depressing to think that these holdouts were still carrying on their futile war, but hardly surprising. There was another question on my mind, however.
Hades, Gaians, Calmar, Malach…” I muttered, “So many names which appear in our languages.”

“That’s no coincidence.” Lisa said with a knowing smirk, “The Astri weren’t the first alien species to visit Earth. You’d be surprised at how much of our history has been shaped by ‘little green men’.”

“I would.” was my intrigued reply.

I think Lisa was about to reveal more, but suddenly our conversation was interrupted by a booming, robotic voice calling out through the ship’s PA system.

“Attention please. We are making our final approach to the Europa moon base. All delegates and support staff should report to the bridge and prepare to disembark.”

“Well, I guess that’s our cue.” Lisa said, with a sly wink of her eye.

She got out of her chair, and I followed. A moment later, we were exiting the cabin and ascending through the ship, mentally preparing ourselves for the coming diplomatic mission.
I’ll admit to feeling a chilling sense of deja vu as I stood on the observation deck of the Confederation starship, looking down upon the cold, rocky surface of Europa, in orbit around the instantly recognisable Jupiter. I’d been here not so long ago, back when the moon base was still under the enemy’s control.

My bosses back on Earth had sent me to negotiate terms with the Astri, or so I thought. In fact, my diplomatic mission was a lie – a cover story meant to conceal the true nature of the clandestine operation.

My companion, a military man called Henderson, was purposefully injected with a virus deadly to the Astri, and his mission was to infect and kill the enemy garrison.

But the plan had failed badly, and Henderson was brutally executed. The Astri only spared me so I could deliver their hideous message to the cowardly politicians back on Earth.
Never in my wildest dreams had I ever thought I’d return to Europa. Obviously, the circumstances were very different. The base had been captured and secured by friendly forces, and thousands of human prisoners were freed. But still, I felt a grim foreboding as I looked down upon the vast military base which protruded above the moon’s surface.

Lisa clearly picked up on my distress as she placed her hand on my shoulder, and she spoke gently into my ear.
“How are you holding up Saul?” she asked.

“I’m fine.” I replied without much conviction.

But my boss wasn’t fooled by my thin façade.
“I can’t imagine what it’s like for you to come back here.” she said, “But I need your support, Saul. Please know that. And it will be different this time. The Astri aren’t running the show anymore. They’re finally going to face justice for what they did to our people.”
I saw her eyes light up as she spoke her next words.

“This is a new beginning for all of us. The UN is close to approving Earth’s application to join the Galactic Confederation. And before long, we will have to reveal the truth to the people. This isn’t a time for fear, it’s the time for hope. And once these trials are done, we can all look forward to a peaceful future together.”

I continued to look into Lisa’s dark brown eyes as I feigned a smile. I admired my boss very much. She was highly intelligent and an accomplished diplomat – compassionate, but tough when she needed to be.

Nevertheless, I couldn’t shake off the unpleasant suspicion that she was naïve and unprepared. Lisa Tang had read all the briefings and she’d experienced the VR reconstructions, but she’d never seen the Astri in the flesh like I had.

I feared Lisa didn’t truly know our enemy. If she did, she’d realise that the Astri were always dangerous, even when they were locked behind bars.

My anxiety only increased as our ship descended down to the moon’s surface and docked. Soon, our party left the safe and aesthetically pleasing Confederation starship with its clean, white surfaces and comfortable cabins, and we entered the black and grim interior of the Astri base.

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The facility was now under allied control but there was little they could do about the design and décor – the dark, twisting corridors cutting deep into the moon’s core. I couldn’t help but recall the horrors I’d been subjected to during my previous, ill-fated visit – the psychological tricks the Astri used against us, the thousands of wailing prisoners held in tight cages, the sadistic death fight organised for ‘entertainment’, and Henderson’s agonising death at the hands of a hideous alien monster.

I was only one of thousands who’d been tortured in this hell-like prison, except I’d been one of the few lucky enough to survive the ordeal. And, as we descended into the bowels of the captured base, my fear turned to anger and a burning desire for revenge. The Astri had to pay for all they’d done.

We met our hosts inside a huge chamber located far below the ground, which had once served as the Astri’s prison. I recalled the rows of small and confined cages stacked up to the high ceiling, all containing emaciated torture victims – abductees snatched from Earth and subjected to unspeakable atrocities. They were all gone now of course. Many were surely dead, but I hoped others had won their freedom during the liberation. In any case, the prisoners and cages were gone, leaving only a vast and empty cavern, albeit one filled with the haunting memories of past horrors.

The two beings who met us inside were strangers to me, although I was more than familiar with their names and stories. Firstly, there was Gabriel – a member of the Malach race and one of the Confederation’s top diplomats. He stood close to seven foot tall – a slim and pale skinned humanoid with large, oval-shaped, dark eyes…Eyes which shone with intelligence and compassion.

Our second host was human, his face weathered and scarred, and his eyes hard – like they’d seen too much pain and suffering. I’d never met him before but I had lived a part of his life, seeing and experiencing his bloodiest day.

The human was Jamie Wallace, hero of the Europa liberation and invasion of Hades. Here standing before me was perhaps the greatest war hero in human history, but few on Earth had ever heard his name.

I wanted to rush forward and shake the man’s hand, but instead I remembered the diplomatic niceties, letting Lisa take the lead as she made the necessary introductions.

“Welcome my friends.” Gabriel said in an almost song-like voice, “I am honoured to greet Earth’s representatives on this important yet solemn occasion.”

“Thank you, Mr Ambassador.” Lisa replied politely, “And the honour is all ours.”

“May I enquire as to my friend’s wellbeing?” Gabriel asked, “I do hope he is readjusting to life on Earth.”

“He is indeed.” Lisa replied with a sincere smile, “Ambassador Habib is making excellent progress in his talks with the UN representatives. We hope to have a deal signed shortly.”

“Excellent.” Gabriel answered, with a genuine happiness evident in his alien voice.

Ambassador Habib was the Confederation’s representative on Earth – a human who’d been abducted by the Astri as a child and sold into slavery before he was rescued from a mining colony by allied forces.

Gabriel had taken Habib under his wing, and they’d worked together for decades, apparently forging a close friendship in the process. And Habib was in many ways the perfect man for the role of ambassador to Earth, given his status as a former abductee and his inner knowledge of Confederation politics.

Once the formalities were over, Gabriel invited us to proceed to the courtroom.
“The former Admiral’s trial will be commencing shortly.” he explained, as we crossed the cold metal floor of the vast warehouse, “The prosecution has called multiple witnesses. They are confident of a conviction.”

The Astri he referred to was Admiral Taz, a high-ranking commander who’d been captured during the Hades invasion. Before his promotion, he’d commanded the Europa base for many years and had overseen the systematic torture and murder of thousands of human beings. And now he’d been returned here – to the scene of the crime – to face justice for his many sins.

There was something poetic about this trial, although part of me wished Taz was dead already…cast down to hell, where he belonged.

I took the opportunity to speak with Jamie as we walked, quietly expressing my admiration for his many achievements.

“I watched your combat footage from Hades and have read your file.” I began, “I’m sorry if this sounds like a cliché, but I want to thank you for your service. The entire human race owes you and your comrades a great debt.”

Wallace remained silent for a long time and would not meet my eye. I sensed a deep sadness in the man and worried that I’d said the wrong thing, but the soldier did eventually answer.

“There is no glory in this war, only death and suffering on a scale you couldn’t even imagine.” He sighed deeply before continuing, “The horrors I’ve seen, the things I’ve done…It will all be for nothing unless the politicians can deliver a lasting peace.”

I nodded my head solemnly and said no more. The message was clear and unambiguous – Wallace and his comrades-in-arms had won the war, with many having paid the ultimate price for that victory. And now it was up to us to forge a brighter future.

In that moment, I felt the weight of history on my weary shoulders. There was much work to be done, but first we needed to get through this trial.

The ‘court’ had been converted for this specific purpose. It took the form of an amphitheatre, with the judges and observing officials sitting in the stands overlooking the circular area where the defendant was held within an artificially created forcefield, while the legal teams were set up in a purpose-built platform facing the bench, and the witnesses were brought in and out through a side entrance.

I’d visited this amphitheatre during my previous mission and knew what the Astri had done here.

Gladiatorial games, where human prisoners were forced to fight to the death against alien opponents. Henderson and I were subjected to such a display, forced to watch as three young men were slaughtered by an Astri warrior for the purposes of entertainment.

I felt queasy to revisit this evil setting and didn’t understand why the trial was being held here of all places.

Nevertheless, I said nothing – instead taking my place beside Lisa in the viewing gallery, where we were joined by a medley of exotic alien delegates from across the galaxy.

We had no official role in the proceedings and were merely here as observers. Still, I noted how the legal process was somewhat different to what we’d see in trials back on Earth.

There was a panel of three judges who sat above the dock and witness stand. The head judge was a Malach, and to his right was a member of the Lycan race – a grey haired wolfman with fierce and intimidating eyes.

The third and final panel member was a Calmar – except he was not here in person. The large, squid-like alien with flaying tentacles and saucer-sized eyes was projected into the court room and took the form of a three-dimensional hologram. There were logistical reasons for the alien not appearing in the flesh, but I recalled how the Calmar were notoriously xenophobic, and their judge perhaps didn’t wish to mix with so many alien species.

Nevertheless, the panel of three would deliver both the verdict and sentence in this trial, because there was no jury in attendance. I was surprised to see that the prosecutor was a human being, although only just recognisable as one due to the various modifications made to his physical body.

He introduced himself as Elijah, without providing a surname, and proceeded to deliver a passionate opening statement in which he outlined the substantial case against Admiral Taz, including charges of mass kidnapping, slavery, murder, and genocide. It was certainly a compelling case, and it was difficult to imagine what defence the Astri commander could offer other than to cite the brutal and violent nature of his species.

The defence lawyer was in actual fact an AI drone which hovered over the courtroom floor. The Astri refused to recognise the legitimacy of the court and no Confederation lawyer wanted to represent these monsters, and so a robotic advocate was the only other option.

And then there was the defendant himself. Admiral Taz stood behind a transparent forcefield, flanked by a duo of armed guards – two fierce-looking Lycans armed with laser pistols and sabres. The Astri prisoner still frightened me in spite of his situation. I watched carefully as his intelligent, predatory eyes scanned the courtroom, sizing up the security and attendees. I dreaded to think what was going through his twisted mind, but I feared the Astri had a devious plan yet to be revealed.

What promised to be a long trial commenced with the calling of the first witness. The young man who was ushered into the court looked terrified, visibly shaking as he crept past the snarling Admiral Taz and took his place on the witness stand.

His face was a ghostly shade of pale and his eyes watery as he gave his name and answered preliminary questions from the prosecutor. Thankfully, the nervous witness didn’t need to provide a verbal statement or be cross-examined. The Confederation’s neural technology allowed us to view a visual representation of his memories which were projected onto a screen on the far side of the amphitheatre.

I felt a sickness rising from the pit of my stomach as I watched a depressingly familiar tragedy play out. It started with the victim walking through a forest at night, suddenly surprised by a blaring siren and a blinding light emanating from above the treetops.

The man tried to run, breathing heavily as he dashed deeper into the forest, but the tractor beam got him, and suddenly his body was lifted from the ground and pulled upwards. He kicked and screamed but all his efforts were futile as he was sucked into the light, and then the screen went black as the witness presumably lost consciousness.

The next relived memory showed the witness naked and exposed in a tight cage, with all his dignity stripped away. He was held in a row of similar cages with fellow prisoners on each side of him, all emaciated and many bearing the obvious signs of torture, with deep scars evident on their naked skin.

I noted how many sat in their own filth, several were crying, and some appeared to have lost any semblance of sanity, rocking back and forth and muttering to themselves incoherently.

The wailing of the prisoners increased in volume when an Astri drone proceeded down the line, dispassionately observing the caged humans with its in-built cameras. The robot stopped beside the witness’s cage, homing in on him while deploying its weapons.

The man screamed as he recoiled in terror, but there was no escape from the tight cage. And then the drone fired a taser-like weapon, knocking the man out and once again turning the screen black.

The third memory apparently took place after the witness regained consciousness. He was down on his knees in a dark room, the floor below him sticky with what was surely dried blood. The man whimpered in terror until the lights suddenly switched on. A row of shaking prisoners were lined up, their heads down and hands bound behind their backs.

And suddenly a ferocious Astri emerged, walking along the line and looking down upon his prisoners with utter contempt. I looked closer and realised that the reptilian was none other than Admiral Taz. The cold look in his yellow, predatory eyes was unmistakeable.

I took a deep breath as we watched the atrocity play out in the witness’s eyes. Taz carried a long and sharp sabre in his right claw, suddenly stabbing out and impaling the first prisoner with the sword, rapidly withdrawing the blade before the prisoner fell heavily and bled out on the cold metal floor.

Taz quickly moved onto the next prisoner, slashing out with the sword and exerting a great force which cut the man’s head clean off. The severed head rolled along the ground and came to rest just inches in front of the witness.

He looked away in disgust, shaking and crying under his breath as he waited for the Astri to reach him. The admiral snarled and the witness looked up, seeing the open maw of the reptilian with his razor-sharp fangs exposed.

The beast’s pupils dilated and there was no hint of compassion or mercy behind them. He raised his sword and it seemed certain that he would kill the witness, but at the last moment he stopped, laughing cruelly before smacking the human with the back of his claw, knocking him down and returning the screen to darkness.

This marked the end of the first witness’s evidence. Shocked gasps and outraged muttering broke out amongst the public gallery from both human and alien observers alike. I myself was sickened and enraged but also hopeful.

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Admiral Taz had almost certainly spared the life of the witness that day so he could continue to torture him in the future. But he’d made a critical error. We’d all just seen the admiral brutally murder two innocent humans with his own hands. This evidence was damning, and there were many more witnesses still to come. But – as it turned out – Admiral Taz clearly had no intention of awaiting the verdict. The first witness was still on the stand when suddenly all the lights went out, plunging the courtroom into complete darkness. There were panicked shouts and at least one scream in the tense seconds which followed before the emergency lights came on.

I heard a crashing sound, followed by another…and another. Turning around, I saw how the AI security drones were dropping out of the air, with their power source apparently disconnected. I also noted how the holographic image of the Calmar judge had disappeared, which I found highly suspicious.

But worst of all, the field around the accused was no longer active. One would have expected Admiral Taz to make a break for freedom, but instead he stood perfectly still and showed no emotion as the two Lycan guards held him at gunpoint.

I looked into Lisa’s dark brown eyes in that moment, seeing her previous hope and energy replaced by shock and terror. And then we all heard the first explosion, a mighty boom which shook the courtroom and resulted in a mass panic, as observers and legal staff ran for the exits. But few made it out alive.

There was another explosion, much louder and closer this time. I turned my head to see the far wall of the amphitheatre collapsing and a small army charging through the gap. The war machines came fast – a dozen killer drones of Astri-design, all heavily armed and armoured.
I knew what was coming and instinctively dived to the floor, dragging Lisa down with me.

This action surely saved both of our lives, as a second later the drones fired indiscriminately with high-velocity rounds and laser cannons.

We heard the deafening din of gunfire and terrified screams, as bloody chaos ensued inside of the courtroom. Within minutes, dozens of delegates and observers were cut down in a heinous massacre – with the prosecutor, first witness, and two remaining judges all dying in quick succession. I fearfully looked down to where the admiral stood, now freed from his forcefield prison. One of the guards was down, while the second Lycan was distracted, firing upwards at the drones descending upon him. Taz took his opportunity, grabbing a sabre from the dead guard and plunging it into the Lycan’s back. The wolfman howled in agony before collapsing to the blood-stained floor, and now the prisoner was free.

A moment later and two juvenile Astri warriors burst through the hole in the wall, firing wildly as they came.

They immediately went to the side of the admiral, forming a protective circle around him. I remembered from the briefing that Taz had two sons, and now it seemed they’d come to rescue their father.

But how had this attack been possible? How had they got here and evaded our defences? The answer seemed clear to me. It was the Calmar. The bastards had double-crossed us.

But there would be time for recriminations later…if we survived.

I took advantage of a temporary lull in the fighting as the Astri invaders secured their perimeter. Grabbing Lisa firmly by the hand, I whispered in her ear, saying – “We need to get out. They will kill us.”

Lisa nodded her head in agreement and we moved, staying low as we rushed for the exit. Somehow, we made it out into the corridor as the gunfire started up behind us. We ran halfway down before getting caught in the crossfire, as a Confederation security squad fired from one end and the trio of Astri attacked from our rear.

I thought quickly, seeing a door on our right-hand side and screaming – “Quick! In here!”
We darted inside, barely avoiding the bullets and laser beams, but we were far from safe.

“What the hell is this place?” Lisa asked fearfully.

I scanned the room, and my blood froze when I saw the pair of metal gurneys in the centre of the room and the various sharp and nasty implements held on a rack in the corner. We’d unwittingly taken refuge inside of an Astri torture chamber. But it got worse.

A moment later and the three Astri burst inside, snarling with fury once they saw us. The first son held us at gunpoint, while his brother shot out the door’s mechanism, trapping us all inside. Meanwhile, the admiral glared at us with a murderous glint in his reptilian eyes, and I knew we were in serious trouble.

The two juveniles darted forward, seizing both Lisa and I with their claws. We kicked and screamed but could not escape, as our bodies were slammed down against the cold gurneys and our arms and legs were strapped in securely.

I heard Lisa sobbing softly but there was nothing I could do to help my boss because I was tied down too, staring up at the ceiling as my whole body shook. The Astri had me in their ice-cold grasp again, and I didn’t expect to be spared for a second time.

Our captors left us alone for a time as they fought amongst each other. We could hear a flurry of activity on the other side of the sealed door, and it seemed like Confederation forces had regained control of the corridor. Admiral Taz snarled and growled, his tongue and claws clicking aggressively as he remonstrated with his sons.

At one point he lashed out, striking his younger child and beating him mercilessly whilst he was on the floor. Clearly, the rescue operation hadn’t gone to plan. The assault force had successfully liberated the admiral from the courtroom, but their escape plan must have gone south, as now they were cornered and trapped.

I thought the situation might work to our advantage. If our captors needed us as hostages, they would surely have to keep us alive. But sadly, the Astri don’t think this way.

Once Taz had finished beating his youngest son, he turned his attentions towards us. My blood froze once I saw the pure hatred burning in his murderous eyes. The Astri admiral had endured the humiliation of capture and imprisonment, and now he was filled with rage, ready to take vicious revenge upon us – his helpless and bound prisoners.

I watched him looking down upon us as he considered who he would torture first. I fought against my restraints but to no avail, and Taz grinned sadistically at me, showing his fangs before he moved on, his claws clicking on the metal floor as he approached Lisa’s gurney.
“No!” I screamed, “Leave her alone, you sick bastard!”

But he would not stop. Taz had a selection of torture implements to chose from, but he went old-school, using his own sharp claws to inflict extreme pain. I heard Lisa pleading for mercy just before he cut into her flesh, and then she started to scream bloody murder.

The long minutes which followed were the worst of my life, as I struggled in vain and shouted Lisa’s name, squirming every time I heard the sickening sound of her flesh and bones being cut and her blood spraying in all directions.

Gradually, Lisa’s screams grew fainter as her strength faltered, and then she was silent. Tears were rolling down my cheeks and my heart was broken, but Taz simply laughed cruelly, taking a moment to admire his own grisly handiwork before he turned his attentions towards me.

The butcher stood over me with Lisa’s blood still dripping from his claws as he prepared to cut. I closed my eyes, preparing for the worst, but salvation came at the last possible moment.

I heard a soft popping sound, opening my eyes and looking over Taz’s shoulder, seeing the cover of an air vent shoot open and a small drone fly through the gap. The drone opened fire, shooting and killing the eldest son in a lightning attack.

Next, the robot turned on Taz, but the admiral acted quickly, raising his laser pistol and shooting the drone out of the air. But a moment later, there was an explosion which knocked Taz off balance and filled the room with a choking smoke.

The door was blown open and armed troops charged through. Taz recovered and raised his gun to fire, but he was too slow on this occasion. I saw Jamie Wallace run into the torture chamber, firing as he came. His first round hit Taz square in his chest, throwing him backwards.

The Astri fell heavily to the metal floor, squirming in agony from the bullet wound in his torso. But Wallace acted quickly, firing a second shot through the admiral’s head and ending his life once and for all. The younger son was the last Astri standing – but, to my surprise, he threw down his gun and raised his claws to surrender.

More troops entered the room, securing the prisoner and releasing me from my restraints. I should have been relieved but instead I felt sick to my stomach as I glanced across at Lisa’s mutilated corpse and realised she was beyond help.

Once again I had survived, but Ambassador Tang had paid the ultimate price, becoming yet another victim of a war that should be done and dusted. The tears continued to roll down my cheeks as they wheeled her body out of the room. And I cursed the dead Admiral Taz, whose corpse lay on the floor, believing that he’d gotten off far too easily.

I was eventually escorted to the sick bay where a medical drone examined me and prescribed a sedative for the shock. I continued to sit in the white room, struggling to come to terms with the savagery of what I’d just witnessed. I didn’t want to speak with anyone in that moment, not even Wallace – who had saved my life.

But in the end it was Gabriel, the Malach diplomat, who came to speak with me, and the alien knew just what to say.

“I’m told you have suffered no serious injuries.” he began in a cool and emotionless tone.

“Yeah.” I replied sharply, whilst avoiding the Malach’s oval eyes.

I wanted him to leave me alone, but Gabriel persevered regardless.
“You grieve for your fallen colleague?” he asked.

“Of course I do!” I shot back angrily, “That monster butchered her, and there was nothing I could do. Lisa deserved so much better…”

That last sentence hung in the air for a long moment. Gabriel didn’t speak, but I sensed he was waiting for me to elaborate. I looked into his large, dark eyes whilst I did so, feeling that I could speak freely.

“Ambassador Tang was a great woman.” I eventually muttered, “I used to think she was naïve, but now I see how brave she was. Lisa wanted more than anything else to bring Earth into the Confederation and help build a lasting peace in our galaxy. That was the noble mission she was prepared to die for.”

Gabriel nodded in understanding before he replied.
“Well, then it is your duty to continue her good work. You must ensure your colleague did not die in vain.”

And of course, he was right. I’m telling you this story to honour Ambassador Tang’s legacy, and I will dedicate the rest of my life to fulfilling her mission.

Like I said, times are changing. The governments of Earth cannot hide the truth any longer.

One day soon, the Malach and the other races of the Confederation will make themselves known to the global population, and we will take our place in the galactic community.

The Astri have suffered a catastrophic defeat, but there are other threats out in the galaxy – not least from the treacherous Calmar. We may be a long way from a permanent settlement, but together we are strong and will surely prevail.

Peace be with you, my friends.

Credit: Traveller

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