Author: Bill Cox
Bardumel floated in zero gravity on the ship’s bridge, watching the final descent. The asteroid, the Horned Skull of the Great Herd, crashed through the atmosphere, causing the white clouds to part like the petals of a Soona flower. Two seconds later the giant rock impacted on the surface, causing an explosion the likes of which hadn’t been seen on this world since the formation of its moon. With this simple exercise of introducing mass into the gravity well of Planet Three, the war against the Reptiloids had been won.
He listened to the grunts of satisfaction and pride from the ship’s herd. The musky odour of triumph permeated the bridge as the shockwave from the Horned Skull travelled at supersonic speeds around the planet, destroying all traces of the global civilisation below. Bardumel understood the necessity of eliminating a competitor species, certainly one as predatory and cunning as the Reptiloids. However, he wondered, did interplanetary contact always have to end thus? Were war and genocide the inevitable outcomes of contact between intelligent species?
Twice now, the Great Herd had encountered intelligence in the open plains of the solar system and twice now they had been forced into stampeding violence. The world of the Chutati, second from the Sun, had been driven into a super-heated state by conflict millennia previously. Now, the third planet from the star had its civilisation destroyed by bombardment from space.
His musings were interrupted by the scent of alarm from one of the bridge herd. It was from the young bull tasked with communication with Homeworld.
“My Captain,” the bull said, a look of shock on his face, “We have received an urgent communication from the Great Herd. Something is happening on Homeworld. What we thought were Reptiloid surveillance probes were actually armed. They have deployed a molecular nano-technology cloud into Homeworld’s atmosphere. It has destroyed all life on the Northern Continent, reducing it to red dust. The continent is now a wasteland!”
There was stunned silence on the bridge and the air was heavy with the scent of distress. Bardumel pictured his home on the Northern Continent, nestled in the crystal forests of Harzoon. It was incomprehensible that such beauty had been reduced to sand and powder.
“My Captain,” the young bull continued, “We are to return home immediately. The Southern Lands are also threatened by this attack. We are required to aid in the mitigation and rescue efforts.”
Bardumel gave the orders almost without thought, feeling the vibration of the engines through the deck plates, like the rumble of so many hooves, as they broke free from their orbit of the Reptiloid’s devastated world. The thrust of their engines pushed him back into his crash couch and he breathed in the grief of his ship’s herd and joined in with their howls of lamentation. Their course would take them out, away from the harsh brightness of the inner worlds and back to Planet Four, there to witness the final fate of the Great Herd.