A Military Sci-Fi short story in four parts

“Let’s wind the clock back a few years. The final campaign of the Seven Systems War, you were on the ground for the Fall of Vixante Three. Would you mind sharing what you remember most about that day?”

The man sitting across from me paused for a long moment, a dark look glazing his eyes as he cast his mind back many years. He took a deep breath and leaned forward.


I remember the deck plating rattling as we dropped in through the upper atmosphere.

Behind and above us was the safety of the old destroyer, Indomitable: a spearhead emerging from those distant, alien constellations that we called home. She was a mighty warship bristling with cannons and missile pods, and by the time we launched she was already busy pruning the planetary defenses that sought to swat us from the skies before we could plant our boots on the ground.

All around us were the sparks and flashes of constant annihilation. One millisecond’s bad luck would be all it took to turn my men and I to frozen smoke. A hostile reticle glancing across our plummeting dropship for one tenth a fraction of a second, a stray missile—friendly or otherwise—careening into our flank would be all it took, and it would fall to some clean-shaven officer housed on the upper decks to break the news to our families. Poor schmuck.

A close call—a stray missile that found another dropship—lit up the skies beside us. I remember the voice of one of my squadmates rising up.

“Ah shit! Pretty sure that was Frank’s boat. Asshole still owed me fifty Cred!”

That was Dempsey, my heavy weapons specialist. I’m not sure he took anything serious in his life. Some men are like that. Reckless and invincible right up until they stop moving. If I’d been a betting man, I’d have placed a lot more than fifty Cred on him being the first one to bite a bullet. But he’s been with me the longest, believe it or not.

Speaking of poor schmucks. Below and ahead of us was a soft blue world, a pale blue dot from which a fledgling species of wise apes had blossomed and reached for the stars with hope and wonder. All I knew of them then was what I’d been told. Which admittedly wasn't much back then.

I called them enemy, to ease my mind when I found one at the other end of my barrel, and Indigo, for that was the most common hue amongst the palette of their alien skin tones. It would only be later that I learned just how closely their history echoed our own, and began calling them by the names they’d chosen for themselves.

Light flared from the cockpit as the nose of our dropship began to glow due to ionization. Some part of me wondered what Indigo-hued gods of wind were fighting to push us back with the force of a few billion prayers. Their prayers weren’t stronger than our heat shielding.

Here we were, the alien invaders, come to subject our will upon them and plant a black flag with the constellation of a white crown upon their soil: claiming this world in the name of the Solarian Monarchy. This world was already ours. The Indigos just hadn’t figured it out just yet. But they’d learn. All that remained was the frigid calculus of war: the blood that needed spilling, the bombs that needed dropping, and the shallow graves that needed digging in the aftermath.

Their world was covered in fertile waters. Landmasses rose from the seas like the swell of a mother’s womb. Rather than green, as on Earth, their flora had taken more readily to reddish hues.

Some sharpshooter with the 323rd tried to explain the chemistry of it all to me once or twice, but I have no mind for such things. I liked listening to the way she explained it though. Or maybe I just liked that we were lying naked in her bunk as she waxed philosophical about alien worlds and the chemical building blocks that defined life across the galaxy. To hear her tell it, we were all minor variations of the same core processes. She may have been right but I was a young man back then, and my mind felt much more comfortable comparing her perfect tits to melons rather than speculating on how humanity might have made friends with these Indigos rather than enemies. One thing mattered far more to me than the other, and it was by far the more tangible of the two.

But I digress.

As the heat from entry faded, our drop zone came into sharp relief, and my mind at last pulled back from its musings. Up in space it was anyone’s game. Chance and luck saw us this far, maybe more so than the skill of our pilot—just don’t tell him I said that, you know how pilots can get—but now came the hard part. Once our boots hit the ground the game was ours and ours alone. As brave and resourceful as the Indigos were, they couldn’t withstand the might of the Solarian Infantry.

I hit the quick release on my jump seat and rose before my men.

Dempsey, who knew me best, made his customary remark. “Here comes the speech.”

The rest of the squad lifted their voices as one to take up the chant. "Speech, speech, speech!"

Typically I liked to show off that education my father paid for, applying some of the lessons in statecraft I’d never gotten to use before shit hit the proverbial fan. But today I was in no mood for my usual theatrics. So I kept it simple.

I’d done enough of these drops to be able to judge when we were about to land. Letting my rifle sway from my chest harness, I gripped an overhead rail with one hand to steady myself and waited for the perfect timing. When the moment arrived, I held up a single finger and aimed it at Dempsey like it was a sidearm. He blanched dramatically at the gesture, but I knew he wasn’t really offended.

“No speech today. We all know the stakes. Seven systems. Six years and five months since we shipped out. Four human nations trying to become one, like that’ll ever happen. Three Solarian destroyers sent to aid our floundering cousins. Two species at war. Only one acceptable outcome.” On one, our dropship kicked on the afterburner, scorching some red grass into black ash as our pilot showed off his skill and zeroed our momentum just a few meters shy of the planet’s surface. Perfect timing.

I continued. “Let’s go show these blue apes who they’re fucking with!”

I was the first one off the dropship, boots planted and rifle up before the others were out of their chairs. What I saw through my scope was the devastation of our Navy’s overzealous bombardment. Softening the landing zone, as they called it.

We touched down in a still-smoldering upland residential park, ringed by suburban dwellings built in the customary dome shape our enemies favored. Always with the concentric patterns, that’s how they built everything from their lowliest house to their greatest starships. Like fibonacci sequences. Like artwork. Beneath the orbit-to-surface strikes of a Solarian destroyer, all their beauty was rendered equally fragile. And here we came to sift through the rubble and make sure the fight was really over.

My eyes swept across the park, taking in the actively crumbling skyscrapers on the horizon, and found no hostiles in our immediate AO.

Dempsey and five others formed up around me. Our dropship deployed its support payload. A trio of myrmidon combat droids—replaceable autonomous cannon fodder—unfurled themselves into their bipedal stance and drew rifles from their backs, moving to join our squad. Two aerial reconnaissance drones sped off from the dropship, feeding back telemetry to our HUDs as I ordered us to move forward.

The shuttle dusted off and began the slow ascent back to the Indomitable. Payload delivered. Boots on the ground. The navy had their fun for the day.

Our turn.


Our target was the Indigo’s state capitol: a mighty shielded dome that had weathered the bombardment far better than the surrounding city. A monument to their world-spanning government. Inside sat their leader with all the trappings of some ancient pharaoh, comfortable in his palace—regardless of whatever name they called it by, it was still a palace—while his people died in droves all across his surface, failing to hold back the relentless tide of the invaders.

For all my errant musings as I sit here in my villa, in those days my mind was a much quieter place. I did not think to compare this Indigo king to my own monarch, who sat just as comfortably many worlds away from any conflict. I did not hesitate to interpret his guarded seclusion as selfishness, nor to resent him as I gunned down the soldiers he sent to stop us from reaching him. I wasn't thinking about the politics that flung me halfway across the galaxy to fight these Indigos in the first place, or what my part would be in the formation of the Solarian Alliance. No. Of course not. All I thought about was surviving the next step in my mission and then the one after that. Nothing more, nothing less. Maybe some part of me was holding out hope that the sharpshooter from the 323rd would make it through too so we could celebrate our mutual survival. But that was all I had the capacity to think about.

It's only with the benefit of hindsight that I see my place in the larger scheme of things. Somewhere along the way the idiot that I was and the old man that I am became one, and I sure as hell hope I'm wiser for it but who knows... maybe I missed something.

Anyway. We met no resistance in the park, though we moved past countless bodies of Indigos who got caught out in the open when the shrapnel-bombs detonated overhead. The fighting came later. In the urban labyrinth that lay between us and that capitol building.

I had fought and killed their kind all across this system prior to that day. Aboard prospecting stations that orbited the gas giants they used to fuel their fleet. On frigid moons battling for control over the mines they’d layered all across the system to prevent us from leaping in closer to their homeworld and ending this war much, much sooner. In the boarding action that claimed their flagship. But my first dance with the Indigo threat on their homeworld took the form of an ambush.

As we slipped through the S curves of a winding street—always with the concentric patterns, these Indigos—we heard the familiar chittering sound of their language. It was all the warning we would get.

The primates of this world shared more similarities with insects than with the mammals back on Earth, yet despite the light-years that separated our worlds, we were more alike than we were different. Bipedal, opposing thumbs, brains that soaked up resources more than any other organ in the body. Convergent evolution, or so that sniper from the 323rd had said. A rare piece of info she’d bestowed upon me that I’d actually picked up on when we weren't rolling in the sheets.

One glance at the graffiti sprayed across the walls we walked past said all I needed to know about them. I didn’t speak their language, I didn’t know their history, and their blood wasn’t red like ours, but I knew a crudely drawn dick when I saw one. They were people like you or me.

Translation software in my HUD scrawled out its best guess at what we were hearing, running through a list of possible interpretations before it settled on one it found most likely.

<Silent imperative (quiet)! Talons from the sky draw close (enemies nearby).>

Lieutenant Shaw, our recon specialist, lifted a fist up in warning. He was picking up movement on his motion tracker, reorienting the flight paths of the overhead drones to perform a deep scan of the surroundings.

Red spots appeared on our HUDs. Humanoid outlines clustered in the surrounding structures. Their oddly shaped plasma-flinging firearms held in their three-fingered claws.

My squad all lifted their rifles to their shoulders and took aim.

The Myrmidon assault droids followed suit, taking aim until an X appeared over the outlines of nearly all of the gathered hostiles.

I gave my team the nod and resettled my grip on my own rifle.

“Go loud.”

Dempsey lifted the rotating barrel of his Chimaera Assault Cannon and took aim for the densest cluster of hostiles. From the main barrel he spat out a smart slug that punched through a wall, appearing in the midst of those Indigos and detonating the moment the active round detected life signs. Five Indigos snuffed out with a single trigger-pull. Not done, Dempsey swapped over to high-cycle fire and raked that wall with shredder rounds, adding a dozen more kills to his running tally.

Shaw and I raised our rifles to the second and third stories looking down on us as targets emerged overhead. Each of us squeezed off a few lethal shots that dropped would-be snipers before they could take out our guys. I tried to count the number of lives saved rather than lives taken each time I squeezed that trigger, but math wasn't ever really my strong suit.

After the first round of killing, there were only a few hostiles left. I sighted in on a balcony right over Dempsey. A red outline shifted towards the door and transformed into a blue-skinned hostile, and my breath caught.

Her skin was closer to violet than Indigo. Her eyes were bright orange, the last glimpse of sunlight at dusk. And she was young... too young. In her hands she held a bottle of liquor with a flaming rag stuffed down its neck. A molotov cocktail by any other name would still burn as bright.

My rifle thrummed as it sent the burst out. A trio of teal blaster bolts leapt up and connected with the bottle, conjuring flames that enveloped the girl, her balcony, and much of the space over our heads.

My training kicked in. Threat identified, analyzed, and eliminated all in the same breath. Then and only then could the human part of me come out. Someone’s daughter. The thought came only after I’d pulled the trigger.

I sent a second burst into her red outline, clipping her skull right between those vibrant orange eyes and ending her misery before the flames could strip skin from bone. It wasn’t much, but it was all the mercy I could spare her that day.

Somewhere deep down there was a version of me I barely remembered, a very small child who sobbed when his father killed a spider, or who didn't understand why the newborn horse had stopped moving after it dropped from its mother. I'm an old man now and I'll admit, death still turns my stomach and makes my heart beat faster. I wish I could say I felt nothing and I didn't care but that's not the truth. There's a very human part of me that regrets every life I've ever taken, no matter how necessary it was. Still to this day.

But when the time comes for violence I turn that human part of me off. If I let the regret and second-guessing consume me, I'd be long dead by now. Only way to live with yourself is to focus on the living part first.

Back in the alley, Shaw’s shields flickered as they deflected needle-fire from another balcony. I shifted my aim and eliminated that threat too. Just another target in my sights and a dull thrum as my rifle kicked. Nothing more, nothing less.

I fired thrice more before the ambush was over. My squad was a well-oiled machine, and what could have been a slaughter on our end became a mechanical execution. It was over in seconds. Not so much as a scratch on any of our body armor. A few flickering shields slowly charging back up to full perhaps, but we got lucky.

Dempsey, ever the poet, glanced up at the burnt-out balcony.

“Should’ve let the bitch fry, Sarg!” He spat the words out carelessly, drawing snickers from the rest of the squad, and grinned behind his visor, basking in the callousness like it didn't bother him. I'd known him long enough to know he was faking it. I remembered the way he fell apart when his best friend died, too many missions ago to count. The man he is today wasn't the man I met in basic.

I let his words hang where they were. Poor eulogy for a people defending their homeworld with their last full measure. But if I let shit like that bother me, none of these assholes would’ve followed me into battle. So I laughed along with them and ordered them to keep up the pace. There was a war to win, I reminded them.

The sooner it was over, the sooner the killing could stop.

Or so I told myself.

We were moving again and leaving the dead behind in no time.

There was a war win, remember?