Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The Chaots dance the K’chana K’chan as the Haalen vaults scream. When they finish the ancient steps of the Cornered Circle, the vaults will channel years of accumulated energy through their engineered nervous systems and another haul will have begun for this voidship.

My gaze travels from their hulking forms, across the great floor of the gathering deck to my new recruits huddled in what they think to be the most defensible corner. I spread my upper wings and glide down to them. Landing elegantly, I furl my wings and raise my hand toward the nervous beings before me. Deciding that these creatures will appreciate honesty, I skip the niceties.

“Who is your leader?”

A tattered figure in stained camouflage clothing steps forward and performs a salutation.

“General Horst Vandenberg, Sixteenth Air Assault Brigade, British Army. Who do I have the privilege of addressing?”

I smile. Let the others have the zealots and the believers; give me warriors every time.

“I am Elchytor Lann. I believe my title in your idiom would be ‘Ninth Lord of the Refugee Fleet’. This is my home vessel.”

The General glanced at the warriors assembled behind him. He turned back to me.

“I am the senior officer here, but my troops are from everywhere. What will happen to us? I heard your first broadcast and like everybody, thought you were just intergalactic pirates with good PR. The grey appearing changed that, but by then?”

He had the grace to look embarrassed about the futile resistance stubbornly put up by his planet after we arrived.

“By then you had wasted yourselves in a guerrilla war that you were ordered to fight even when your leaders knew the truth. We have nowhere to go back to. But at least you finally grasped the ramifications and made contact with us. There are less than half a million of you that chose to join the fleet. Those remaining are relying on science and prayer. I state with complete certainty that they are doomed.”

The General nodded. He waved a hand back at his warriors.

“I agree and so did the lads and lassies with me. We had to fight our own in the end to meet with your – shuttle?”

I smiled. The Banch were always something to behold.

“It is a vessel and a being. If you think flying in it is odd, take it from me you never want to be onboard when they mate.”

There was scattered laughter at that. I noted that many were checking their weapons and exchanging kit. Even standing on an alien vessel with an unknown future, they were taking the respite time to prepare. Such warriors deserved the truth:
“We pillage as we flee ahead of the grey. Inhabited planets will be given the same options as you. We take their resources to keep us going no matter what. These are battles where our best outcome is survival. The grey is being challenged by other means.”

The General nodded.

“I’m going to need a few days to sort my command lines and we’re all going to need to be brought up to speed on your outrageous technology. We should be combat ready within three weeks.”

I liked this being. Do what you do and leave the rest to those who do the rest.

“A haul is a month. It will gain us between twenty and a hundred years grace from the grey that is consuming everything.”

Yet again I had to say the hated words that always brought the point home to the military mind.

“Welcome to the longest retreat.”


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