Author: Moh Afdhaal

Bile singed Vesper Krel’s throat as he squirmed at the dark shapes that haunted his periphery. The curious ailment that wreaked havoc on his gastric system, had been diagnosed as a probable symptom of expedited re-acclimatization to Earth’s atmosphere following a prolonged tour of duty. The Cosmic Guard’s mandatory psych eval suggested otherwise; a manifestation of survivor’s guilt. Vesper knew the simpler truth—remorse.

A grand stage lined with the Cosmic Guard’s upper echelon, adorned in their planetary insignia, towered over their underlings crowding the auditorium. Commander General of the Jupiter Orbit, Fezyhl Acrom, flashed a toothy smile at the flock as he concluded his meandering speech, ushering in the call of names for distinguished service medals. Vignetted by the shadowy hues that swarmed the edge of his vision, Vesper observed as his moustachioed supervisor took his place with the other Commander Generals.

Aebrems. Twenty-six recipients of those godforsaken medals; honouring their heroic act of being alive. Ax’mbele. The unseen AI calling out the honourees moved through the list with unnecessary swiftness, an apt analogy for the transience of their valour. Carsonson. Each announcement was followed by a tight ten-second round of applause. Fikaayo. Chrome hearts glinted as they bounced on the lapels of the ceaseless flow of broken veterans. Iniguez. Vesper stifled a shudder and its accompanying acidic retch. Jwon-Piir. Honouring the soldiers that remained. Krel. Soldiers that should’ve perished with their squadron, but somehow remained. Krel?

Vesper leapt to his feet. Krel. He hurried towards the stage, avoiding Acrom’s glare and the nebulous crowd that shrunk behind him. He had recently discovered that large crowds presented as a sea of chartreuse scales and fetlocked hinds in his vision. A stomach-churning revisualization of the Ganymedoran attack on Vesper’s squadron at the ganymite quarry they had been assigned to defend.

As the last remaining member of the Cosmic Guard’s Ganymede Squadron-Rho, no one debated Vesper’s heroism in being the sole survivor of the largest recorded alien attack on any of Earth’s occupations in Sol-System One. No one questioned the serious lapse in defence required for the primitive Ganymedorans to even consider making a claim for territory they had already ceded. No one delved further into Vesper’s missing daily logs leading into the attack or even hypothesized an event where he had been taken captive at that time.

No one considered the inherent damage the mining of Ganymede’s resources caused, the systematic genocide of its pacifist inhabitants; all in the name of humankind’s development.

No one scrutinized Vesper’s ammunition archives, check if his cache had been emptied into the assailants or the chartreuse military fatigues and jointed lower-limb exoskeletons of his confounded squadron. No one contemplated the possibility that the gates were opened from the inside, to actuate the siege. No one even dreamt that the sole surviving hero of the largest recorded alien attack on any of Earth’s occupations in Sol-System One; was the man who devised the attack himself.

Vesper returned a calculated smile at the Commander General, as the man pinned the Chrome Heart for Distinguished Service in Extraterrestrial Combat onto the lapel of his chartreuse service dress coat. Shaking Acrom’s hand, Vesper twitched his thumb to discretely release a ganymite nanite into the man’s bloodstream. The implosion of Earth’s invasion of Ganymede had begun, starting with the death of the man who stood before him. The shadows in Vesper’s periphery seemed to convulse in ecstasy.