Author: David Barber
One of the aliens was strolling through the city centre as easy as you please. As if the war had not happened.
For an instant the Pilot saw worlds burning, air spilling from nests, the sparkle of detonations amongst their swarming craft.
He’d spent a lifetime fighting these aliens without ever seeing one in the flesh. The dwarfish creature turned, its features twisting into what must have been alarm as the Pilot bore down upon it.
An Agent of the Law stepped in the way.
“Calm yourself citizen, we can’t afford trouble.” The Agent glanced upwards. Didn’t death orbit the world now?
The Pilot made to shove past, but other Agents seized him and he was hustled away.
“You arrested me,” raged the Pilot. “For walking in my own city.”
“Their envoys can go where they choose.” This one wasn’t an Agent of Law, but something from Government. One of the new breed.
“You know they can destroy us?” she added. “The way you destroyed their worlds.”
Oh yes, it was him and them now. The slippage of years while chasing c had brought him home to new generations. History had been rewritten, there were monuments of shame, and crowds protesting what Fleet had done. While alien envoys looked on.
No one wanted to hear what he had to say. How we were late getting to the stars – blaming cost when it was a failure of imagination, of will – and when c-ships finally went out, how we found the aliens already there.
The Agent of Government tried to interrupt, but the Pilot hadn’t finished.
“They were everywhere, outbreeding us, turning resources into more of them. While we’d waited for it to become easy, they sprayed their seed into the dark, as if the galaxy was theirs to fill.”
“What choice did we have?” That had been the consensus when he shipped out.
“So you set their their worlds aflame.”
It still filled the Pilot with rage how the survivors always rebuilt. Soon habitats infested every rock again, new colonies on every marginal planet. They were like vermin in the walls.
We were smarter, our technology better, our weapons more terrible, but they had the numbers and our precious dreadnoughts were overwhelmed one by one.
His craft had been amongst the last, and when wrecking planets wasn’t enough, he snuffed out suns.
The same Agent of Government came to see him in confinement.
“The envoy you threatened wants to meet you.”
The creature eyed the restraints, but made no comment.
“You piloted an Agent of War,” it began. “How we dreaded them, emerging from the dark to wreck planets. By the end you were killing suns.”
“But you tracked down our world,” the Pilot declared. “And confined us here with the threat of extinction.”
The Pilot met the envoy’s gaze. “I would have finished us.”
“Some of my kind think that also,” admitted the creature.
Behind them in the shadows, the Agent of Government stirred uneasily.
“Why did you want to meet me?” the Pilot wondered.
“To see if you had changed.”
“I have not changed.”
“No, I meant your species. If you no longer pose a threat…”
The creature made a curious motion with its shoulders.
The Pilot wrestled with his chains. How small these creatures were, and how easy it would be to twist the head from that thin neck—
This Agent of Government and her like deluded themselves, hoping eggs left exposed would be safe. One day these humans would finally decide otherwise.