Authors: M.D. Hall
The Alpha Choice
(First Book in the Te’an Trilogy)
To LEH and CAH,
Copyright © MD Hall 2013
The moral right of MD Hall to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.
This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Three thousand years ago
Chindara, the ninety-third progenitor of the Vespoid Khitine, exited the shedding vault before her time. She was not in the mood to hear the plaintive whining of her subordinates, as she skittered past them towards the council chamber.
Once inside, she glared through eight eyes at the ministers arrayed before her. ‘Why have I been summoned?’ she hissed. For a moment there was silence, no one wanted to be the first to break the news. Her mate, one-third her size, whose presence was little more than decorative, answered in a barely audible voice. ‘They have left.’
She moved her enormous body with some difficulty; only recently discarding her exoskeleton, she had not been allowed sufficient time to fill the cavity within her new shell. Ordinarily, she would feed and rest for three weeks, allowing the cavity to fill and the shell itself to harden. Until then, it was unwise to venture beyond the protection afforded by the vault. Aware of the dangers posed by swift, sudden movements, she carefully positioned herself so as to look down on her mate. ‘Who has left?’
‘The bipeds…the Te’an delegation,’ he replied, even more quietly.
She heaved herself around until she could see the entire cabinet. ‘What reason did they give?’
Seeing their leader in a weakened state and her mate unharmed, gave some of those present more confidence. One of them spoke out. ‘They gave none.’
‘What of the trade compact?’
Anger gave way to fear, as she anxiously analysed how matters could have unravelled. Her initial reaction to the sight of the Te was, as shared by all her kind, one of repugnance. She would never get used to creatures who only used two limbs to walk. Despite their visitors’ obvious physical disadvantages, their level of technology was awe inspiring.
A race that had only, within the last thirty years, achieved limited flight to three of their moons, the Khitine wondered whether they were alone within the Universe. The thought of interstellar travel had been relegated to the more fanciful minds within the colony, the journey times too fantastical to be realistic. Then the Te arrived, in their ship from the stars. After the initial disappointment that their visitors were possessors of endoskeletons, the questions began:
What is it like…out there? How many other intelligent races are there?
The Te had their own questions:
Had the Khitine ever considered the value of the raw materials on their planet? Had they contemplated travel beyond the lifeless outer worlds of their star system? Perhaps the two races could come to a mutually beneficial arrangement?
The Te’ans were allowed full access to survey the planet. Agreements were drawn up, which would see the Khitine travel beyond their Solar System, in return for limited mining rights. The Te understood that some minerals were necessary for Khitine survival and must, therefore, be excluded from the agreements…
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of thousands of claws approaching the chamber, the news had already broken. Her body sagged under the weight of realisation. She had failed her people; retribution would be swift and brutal. Her mate had already backed away, while some of the council members regarded her with hungry eyes.
As the progenitor fretted over the consequences of the delegates’ sudden departure, matters had taken another turn above their planet, within the orbit of their closest moon.
The space between the planet Khitaa, and its closest neighbour Aranae rippled, and almost simultaneously, three huge shimmering silver ellipsoids emerged from the undulating expanse. Within seconds, the shimmer faded and there remained, only marginally smaller, three Te’an warships; each shape still a silver ellipse with no extraneous projections, the skin flawless. Te’an ships never suffered collisions, due to the shielding that enfolded them, nothing had ever breached those shields and today would be no exception.
Commander Caadara, fresh from a successful campaign and due some well earned leave, had been assured this engagement would take up little of his time. The occupants of the planet were non-emergent and presented no effective resistance. As ever, the top brass were less than forthright over details. His initial assessment was that only partial eradication could be achieved from orbit, and surgical use of shock troops was necessary. Normally, this would not present a problem, but as the indigenous population were arachnid, possessing immense strength and formidable interpersonal weaponry, there was a distinct possibility of heavy casualties.
He addressed his tactical officer. ‘Cyphon, the Agency operatives?’
‘Departed the planet, and requesting permission to board, sir.’
Caadara nodded, ‘Very well, have you inputted the data from their last communication?’
‘Yes, sir. I've sent the coordinates to the others. They are in position, and the attack matrix has been activated.’ Both men looked at the screen in the centre of the bridge. It showed the target, and projected the position of the other two warships. As the intention was to triangulate the planet, none of the three ships could see each other.
‘Time to completion?’
‘My calculations predict ninety percent eradication within fifteen hours, sir.’
Caadara almost smiled, he liked those figures. Short of blasting the outer layer off a planet - not much use if you wanted to strip it of everything valuable - there would always be a percentage of the populace surviving the initial onslaught. He would have put the kill percentage a lot lower, but Cyphon was usually right about these things. Despite the Khitine’s origins, they were now exclusively surface dwellers. Given time to prepare themselves, they might revert to nature by seeking refuge below ground but - and now he did smile - they would have no opportunity to prepare.
Casualties might not be so bad, after all,
The tactical officer looked at his commander. ‘We are ready to commence upon your order, sir.’
No sooner had the words passed his lips than an object materialised, appearing to hover directly above the planet. The commander held up his hand, countermanding his previous order.
Anticipating his superior’s next question, Cyphon quickly scanned the object before them. Rechecking his findings, he shook his head as though silently challenging the results. Once satisfied the readings were correct, he looked up at his commander. By now, all bridge officers had stopped whatever they had been doing. ‘Nothing, sir,’ he held out his hands in a gesture of supplication, as though expecting to be blamed.
‘What do you mean, nothing?’ Caadara pointed to the image and there, for everyone on the bridge to see, was a blinking, electric blue light. The commander found it impossible to gauge its size, but got the distinct impression it was small, despite its visibility from this distance suggesting otherwise.
it’s an optical illusion; after all, it hasn’t registered on our instruments.
He looked again at his tactical officer. ‘Any change?’
‘No, sir. Even though we can see it, the instruments tell us it has no mass, and no energy signature, it shouldn’t exist.’
‘Check with the other ships.’
Moments later, the reply came back. ‘Sir, like us, they can see the light, and from their positions it appears to be stationary above the planet, but again it doesn’t register on any of their instruments. What are your orders?’
Aware that all eyes were directed towards him, Caadara decided he had wasted enough time on the sprite. ‘Carry on.’
Cyphon nodded, and communicated the order to the other ships.
The cruiser directed its converter beams towards the unsuspecting planet below, but a fraction of a second after the beams left the ship, they stopped. Instead of maintaining the appearance of a continual energy stream, there were several pulses of energy seemingly suspended in space. The tactical officer checked his instrumentation, and found nothing untoward. By now, the beams should have struck the planet, instead of being frozen in midstream. He contacted the other ships, who reported the same effect.
Caadara’s gaze was drawn back to the blinking light. ‘Still no readings?’
‘No, sir,’ came the reply.
The energy beams dissipated, leaving no trace.
‘I need the others here, now!’
An hour later, the three massive ships were arrayed alongside each other, with the three commanders in Caadara’s ready room. The meeting did not take long, and soon two grim-faced men had returned to their own ships.
Walking back to his command station, Caadara addressed the bridge crew. ‘Whatever that thing is,’ he gestured to the blinking light, ‘we need to remove it before we can proceed.’ Specifically addressing his tactical officer, he added. ‘Set defensive shielding to maximum and direct all forward converter arrays towards the target. Await the others’ signals.’
Cyphon nodded, as soon as he received the expected confirmation.
‘Fire!’ commanded Caadara.
Cyphon looked confused, prompting his commander to walk over to his station and check the readings for himself. There was nothing amiss. All systems were operational, their weapons should have fired.
As if that was not strange enough, he was about to have his credulity strained even further.
‘Sir,’ his XO spoke up, ‘the crew members from the other ships have appeared in our main launch deck, all six thousand of them.’
Caadara looked at the blinking light. While his people had not mastered teleportation, it was the only possible explanation. Before he had a chance to think through what was happening, he heard a voice, but not through the ship’s communication system, it was as though someone was speaking right in front of him. The voice was quiet, and female. A quick glance at Cyphon’s station simply confirmed what he already suspected; no emanation from the blue light, the transmission did not register. Another glance, this time at his bridge crew, showed each of them looking just ahead, as though being addressed, personally.
‘I am a Custodian, and you have attempted to violate the Accords.’
Caadara, was at a loss to know what on Te’ath the voice was talking about. He looked around at his bridge officers, not really expecting them to be any the wiser, they were transfixed.
The voice continued, calm and unthreatening. ‘All your people, wherever they may be, are now listening to this message. You will all know what is about to take place, and why.’
What happened next was so contradictory, those who heard the voice and saw what happened would later have denied it, but for the recordings.
‘Non-emergent species are under our protection, as assured by the Accords,’ there was still no explanation of what the Accords were. ‘Of course,’ the voice continued, ‘you have no reason to know of their existence, or how seriously we regard any breach. Please direct your attention to the unoccupied ships.’
Everyone on board with access to screens, saw the two flanking, shielded warships. Later reports confirmed that images of the empty vessels appeared on every Te’an view screen, wherever they were.
The warships simply blinked out of existence.
Caadara levelled a questioning look at his tactical officer. ‘No weapons discharge, sir, and…’ there was a short pause, as he rapidly scanned the data streaming before his eyes, ‘no trace of our ships, even at the subatomic level.’
The voice spoke again. ‘The Accords are a set of laws which have been downloaded to the computers aboard all of your operational space vessels, as well as the government computers on your home planet, and both of your colonies. I strongly advise you to familiarise yourselves with them.’
There followed a silence lasting several seconds. ‘Now that I have your complete and undivided attention, you must remember what I am about to say. If any further attempt is made to violently interfere with a non-emergent civilisation, it will result in the annihilation of your entire species,’ and with that, the voice and blue light were gone, or to be more precise, the remaining Te’an warship found itself orbiting its home world, Te’ath.