Lucas lunged into his space station room and stumbled across to the bathroom. Distractedly he fumbled for the open icon, and bounced off the door, his muscles conditioned to the timing between icon tap and the door opening. A growl issued from deep within his throat as he stopped everything and made a deliberate effort to tap the icon. He stood motionless, muscles trembling for the fraction of a second it took the door to respond.
With the door out of the way, he threw himself at the sink, grabbing both sides with his hands. His stomach flipped as he relinquished control, but instead of throwing up, his terror escaped through his pores. Quickly sweat stained his shirt and ran down his spine in chilling rivulets. Lucas filled his cupped hands and splashed his face in a futile attempt to cool his skin and wash away his fears.
This was not like him. In his damn near fourteen years on this planet, nothing ever elicited this kind of fright within him. However, this newfound terror was not of this planet.
“Stop it Lucas,” he said to his reflection, “real men control their fear. Fear is a mind killer…”
He dismissed his statement by reminding himself he was not a man, but a mere boy. Lucas studied his hollow grey eyes, the grim set of his thin lips, and his pallid complexion.
The face of terror, he thought. He searched his memories, looking for something to connect how he felt, an effort to put what he felt in perspective. Fear was always there. It was no a stranger. He was scared shitless at Boy Scout camp when he led a group of other scouts into the boy’s latrine. Someone saw a raccoon wonder into the shitter. Why it was their duty to see if it was still there, he did not know. Nevertheless, he was at point, and was the one who would feel the claws and teeth of that nocturnal creature if it felt trapped.
The fear he felt when he nearly drowned was mild compared what consumed him now. Acceptance ultimately pushed away his fear on the hot summer day…acceptance of his fate as he watched the bright sun light reflecting off the pools surface grow faint. Its intensity fading as he sunk deeper into the chlorinated water, his oxygen running out. Just as he completely acquiesced to his fate and was about to ease the burning in his lungs with a great gulp of water, an arm shattered the glinting surface, reaching down, grabbed his left bicep, and pulled him to the surface in a single movement.
No, the fear he felt now pervaded through his very existence. His soul trembled in terror, his skin tingling with as it overflowed his being.
“How do you fight something like that?”
Why did the Galactic Confederacy chose this part of his training to expose him to the horrors of the Dark Empire? Just before flight training starts. Did they reveal all the horrors of the last three hundred Terran years to see who did not show up for morning roll call? Was today about separating the men from the boys…the woman from the girls.
Lucas was not sure how many recruits there are, but new ones showed up every day. His own class shrank day by day, as students did not meet muster, or decided that this was not for them. The image of that one student who spent every moment he was in space shivering, even though this space ship was always a perfect temperature.
“It’s so cold out here.” He would whisper when someone gave him that questioning look.
Nonetheless, as he moved about the station, he spied fresh faces, going to classes not long in his review mirror. One day, when heading to the commissary, he watched an obvious newb come screaming out of her room, a “hysteric’” as Portia labeled them. Her HAM poked the hysteric with some sort of device, and the recruit collapsed to the floor.
“Yup, new ones every day,” Lucas mused aloud.
“How many will it take?” He asked himself. Does Earth have enough young boys and girls to fight off the scourge that is the Dark Empire?
The lessons on the history of the Galactic Federation were a lesson in war. Almost from the moment the first two space faring races collided among the stars, there was war. Some lasting just hours as the superior technology of one species overwhelmed the other. Others lasted for centuries, and spanned hundreds of systems. Yet none of these compared to the emergence of the Dark Empire.
Though not the impetus of the Galactic Confederacy, the appearance of the Dark Empire sure hurried the process along.
When the Dark Empire first appeared along the fringe of the galaxy, none of the other space faring races gave it much heed. At the time, it was Pression Empire territory and their problem. The Pression Empire consisted of nearly two dozen inhabitable planets along with a large collection of resource only planets. It was the resource only planets the Dark Empire took interest in, at first anyway.
The Pression Empire was a formidable military force. Within their empire were two other space faring races, both of which the Pression’s easily crushed with their superior technology. Their empire stood for two hundred cycles before the Hoard appeared. The Hoard was the Pression’s name for what became the Dark Empire. It was absolute confidence they dispatched a small destroyer group when an alien force started raiding a mineral planet along the fringe of their empire.
Shortly after the destroyer group arrived in system, the few raiders expanded into a cloud of heavily armed, physics defying, fighting ships that quickly overwhelmed and cut the destroyer group to pieces. As the Hoard continued to spread throughout their Empire, the Pression’s sent ever-increasing forces in an attempt to halt the Hoards progress. Always with the same results, what the Pression’s once thought as an unassailable force, the Hoard was chewing up an spitting out with minimal losses.
They chewed through resource planets the way they devoured the Pression’s fleet. Seemingly, to start in one hemisphere, and then devour everything as it makes its way to the other hemisphere, stripping the planet of its resources, finally leaving behind a loose collection of asteroids.
As the Hoard approached the first inhabited planet, the Pression Emperor called on all inhabited worlds to come to the empires defense. After the initial conquest, the Emperor was not an oppressive ruler. Those fleet assets of occupied worlds that survived the battles for supremacy, the Pression’s mothballed. As the fate of their Empire, and its inhabited planets became evident, the Pression’s called on occupied worlds to come to the common defense of the Empire. They recommissioned ships as fast as possible, all the while the Hoard zeroed in on Cybicle, the most distant inhabited world from the Pression’s seat of power.
The combined fleet of three worlds met the Hoard at the edge of the Cybicle system. It would be the Pression’s last stand. By most accounts, the Hoards victory was not an easy one, but it was complete once they blasted the last Pression space cruiser from space. It seemed every time the combined Pression fleet destroyed a Hoard fighter, three more replaced it. The battle ended with a final Hoard plasma cannon volley sailing off into space, its intended target already an expanding ball of hot gas. Now, only the shattered remains of the Pression fleet filled the skies over Cybicle.
The Hoard fleet was unabated, and the horrors began. Unlike the resource planets that the Hoard devoured leaving little in its wake, the Hoard used the inhabitants of the planets as a resource. In those early days, details were sketchy because so few escaped a system once the Hoard gained supremacy.
The Hoard was no single race, but the collective beings of conquered planets. As neighboring systems took in the few refuges of the fallen Pression Empire, a bleak picture took shape. Even before the last Pression space cruiser filled the night sky with its rapidly expanding nuclear fireball, the inhabitants of Cybicle noticed the change.
It was not an occupation inasmuch as a possession. Within moments of touchdown of the first Hoard ship, everyone within eyesight of it slipped into a trance like state. They remained so for hours as more of the ugly Hoard ships touched down establishing their presences. Then, in unison, they all marched off in one direction under some silent command. It was as if they were of one collective.
The refuge who reported this remained hidden for hours in a trash bin, buried under a meter of garbage, watching through a small hole in the bins side. The fact that this survivor did not slip into the trance like state suggests that they have to see sentient beings in order to take control of them.
As the Hoard grew into the Dark Empire, the Galactic Confederacy raided Dark Empire occupied worlds and what they found made even the most seasoned soldier ill. The occupied race falls into a state of loathsome disrepair. Functioning only to procreate, and fill the ranks of the Dark Empires army. Those that remain on their home worlds move about with empty stares. Tattered poorly fitting clothing worn only to protect them against the elements. On warmer planets or hemispheres, clothing is non-existent revealing filthy bodies, many with open lesions.
They march in groups from place to place, either to harvest food, occupy the few jobs the automated factories require, or care for the young in central childcare facilities. All without any type of social interaction.
Snatching one of these possessed from their home world does not release them from their trans-like state. This fact seemed to prove that some force within their planet does not control them. Autopsies of captured Dark Empire soldiers show no implants, or unidentified infections. Soldiers of the Galactic Confederacy call the trancelike state of the Dark Empire, “the Haunting.”
The theory presented in class is; possession is not possible unless whatever does the possessing, must lay eyes on its victim. Yet, once the possession is complete, there is no way to reverse it outside of death. Not even with the most advanced civilizations medical technology is able to find a way to free these beings from the Dark Empires grip.
Visions of the video shown in class replay themselves in Lucas’s mind, making his skin crawl. The humanoid races reminded him of the zombie movies he has caught snippets of the last couple of years. He searches his memory for titles; “Night of the Living Dead” is one that comes to mind. The biggest similarity is the mindless way the infected, possessed Lucas reminds himself; lumber along in a single-minded mission. Blank eyes staring out form emotionless feature, but instead of echoing the mantra “brains,” they whisper their last order.
“Work in factory”…”Procreate”…”Tend to the young.”
The film shown in class was a collection of very short pieces captured and beamed to Confederate drones. It never takes long for the Dark Empire to detect the signal, and shut it down, too often at the loss of the agent taking the video.
Lucas shivers, again questioning the timing of this class. Next week is the beginning of ground school. Within two weeks, he will step into a trainer, and fly. Well, flying in a simulator, but that is more flying than he ever hoped for in his earthly life.
A short segment of film fills his vision, this one the most disturbing of all because the species resembles his kinfolk nearly to a tee. Instead of faraway faces, his mind replaces the faces with family, friends, and Sarah. He sees these familiar faces loping along, whispering over and over again their last order. An order never vocalized, but imparted to them via some unseen influence. His bile rises as Sarah’s voice rises above all the others, her mission becoming clear.
Her eyes empty, a weeping sore at the base of her jaw, marring the most beautiful face Lucas has ever laid eyes on. Her words echo in his mind as his over active imagination pictures her, body covered in weeping lesions, while another person mechanically humps on her in an effort to conceive. Some stranger on top of her, thrusting away, neither making a sound, no passion, no pleasure, just the act of baby making
What is the child of the Dark Empire like?
The question sends another chill running up his spine, and this time he almost loses control of his rising bile. Lucas takes three deep breaths, letting them out slowly, before quickly rattling in the next one. He once considered himself fearless, but now it consumes him. As best he can recall, he never was afraid to die. Shit, he recalls, when he was very young, he did not think it was possible.
Worse than death, what if the Dark Empire captures him. Today’s lesson did not go into detail about the Dark Empires habits in war; it was just a massive terror fest. Nonetheless, Lucas can make assumptions. The Dark Empire needs bodies to continue its conquest of the galaxy, and Lucas just happens to have one.
Ice ran through Lucas’s veins at the thought and again his stomach protested.
“I chose death.” Lucas whispered and whipped the spittle from his lips with the back of his hand.
Lucas tries to get ahold of himself by thinking of Sarah. He tries to call up the image of the last time he saw her. Her round face framed by auburn hair that cascades across her shoulders and flows to the middle of her back while cinnamon colored eyes gaze at him inquisitively, her dimples bordering a warm genuine smile. Just as the image is calming him, slowing his heart rate, cooling the sweat that plasters his t-shirt to his chest, a zombie version replaces Sarah’s earthly visage. That version trudges through the streets whispering her mission in a horse alien voice Lucas does not recognize.
“I cannot let that happen.” He whispers as he grips the side of the sink, his fists turning white under the force. “I cannot let everything I love become pawns of this evil race. The Dark Empire will not take my home!” Lucas finishes the last with a triumphant thrust of his fist into the air.
“Even if it means I become one of…them.”