Hi! This is the first work that I have released publicly in a science fantasy universe I've been developing for several years now, which I call the Legacy universe. This particular piece is my attempt at an oral history-style interview from a major conflict in that universe (more of which will potentially become an ongoing series). I also have a great deal more planned for Legacy, including short stories, episodic stories, and, eventually, maybe, hopefully, a novel!
(My current interviewee is Elrosen Ingrani, the Semartus famous for his diplomatic success with the once-hostile alien conglomerate known as the Storm.)
Tell me a bit about your relationship with the Storm.
I can certainly do that.
My war started a long time before the Tulisan. I was getting old before they were even a blip on SDU deep space radar. I'm a veteran, you know, from the Storm border conflicts. I enlisted right out of school, as soon as I could. I was stationed on Bulwark, my homeworld, actually, which has the happy distinction of playing host to no less than three Storm invasions. And one Tulisan invasion.
The Storm and the Semartus-Darax Union always had something of a rocky relationship. The Storm's leadership seemed more than happy to take without asking politely, and when they started expanding into SDU space this became something of a problem.
Bulwark is right on the border of Storm space, and we felt that tension more than anyone else. Long before they invaded, we were afraid of them. My grandparents used them like boogeymen: 'Be good, or the Storm will come for you!' My parents knew better; I thought the Storm was fascinating, even as a kid. This collective of alien species that nobody quite understood, lurking just outside our borders? You bet that captured my imagination. So I collected every scrap of information about them I could. I read books, watched documentaries, listened to every recording of them on the networks. I tried to learn their language, and I picked up a word or two.
This fascination relaxed to a dull roar as I grew up, but it flared right up when they landed an invasion force on the Sterell Plains. That's really why I signed up. I wasn't going to pass on an opportunity to see the object of my curiosity up close, even if it was to shoot at it. While everyone else was running around in a panic, I was excited!
The first invasion was already well underway by the time I got out of training. Because I had a bit of a feel for how they communicated, I ended up as my unit's de facto translator. The Fifth Special Ground Brigade, that was us. I kept learning from intercepted transmissions and overheard conversations. It saved my squad more than once, knowing what they were shouting at each other.
I fought the Storm for years. I helped route the Hatcher colony they planted in Tjutland. I defended Duro Mesik from their ground assault. And I was there when our regiments swept their second effort into the Talok Ocean. I fought Sniffers, Infantry, Podders, Tersec, Handlers, the whole lot. Even, on one occasion, an Ultrapede, which is by no means an experience I would care to repeat.
But then I went and took a Tersec zap in the second invasion, during their big retreat. War with the Storm was just a reality of life at that point. We had them on the back foot, yet again, and my unit was moving in to capture as many Storm birds as possible. Our rocketeer got their engines with a beauty, and the craft, a spiny dropship, came down with this kind of oof, like it was winded. We broke open their dispersal hatches and stormed ... Heh. Stormed the ship. Me and one other, Sryllon, I believe, stood guard while the others killed off the Storm inside. Someone sounded the all-clear, and I, naturally curious about the inside of an alien ship, climbed up. Suddenly I was face to face with a Tersec soldier, charging for the exit. I'm not clear on how my squadmates missed him. He saw me and hit me with a bolt from his left arms. That's all I saw, went straight into cardiac arrest. He must have been in a rush, poor bugger, because it wasn't enough to kill me. Sryllon took him down on his way through the hatch. She probably could have let him go. Bulwark wasn't exactly a Tersec haven at that point. He didn't even have a weapon.
My heart didn't ever quite run the same, once the medics got it going, and that was the end of the fight for me. They offered me a position in military intelligence, translating Storm transmissions and sitting in on the occasional interrogation.
Semartus are good at learning new languages. We're taught to understand Darax language almost as soon as we start speaking our own. But I seem to have a particular talent, particularly when it came to the Storm. I was still learning, picking up on little idioms and aspects of linguistic cadence that no-one had noticed. I don't feel like I'm bragging when I tell you that I was perhaps the best Storm speaker in the whole armed forces.
I started to feel like I was getting a grasp for what made the Storm tick, who they were as a group, or a culture. And it was a bloody odd culture. It doesn't seem to have sprung up naturally. The creatures that made it up, and there was a bizarre variety of those, almost seemed like they'd been forced together. There were species of monstrous animals, beasts they kept on leashes, the most terrifying freakshows I've ever seen; and then there were those that seem not that different from us. And they had all been genetically modified at the very least, and at most built from the ground up as new species. By whom, well, I'll get to that.
The Storm wasn't up to the task of wresting those planets from us, and the brass never liked the idea of a counterrattack. They didn't want to escalate the conflict, and besides, there was no guarantee we could beat them on their home ground. So we ended up at a stalemate. When the Storm finally wanted to talk about a treaty, by benefit of being in the right place at the right time, I was the one who was called up to negotiate the terms.
Now, I have every reason to despise the Storm. I watched them level New Dynamic. I've seen them kidnap hundreds of people, Darax and Semartus alike, for their experiments. They harassed my homeworld on and off for over a decade. I've lost friends and family to them, people fighting by my side. They nearly killed me dozens of times. And maybe I do hate the Storm. But I don't hate the people in it. Yes, I said people.
Our propaganda did its best to demonise the Storm. This wasn't especially hard. There wasn't a lot of sympathy on Bulwark for the aliens that were killing and kidnapping civilians, and flattening the odd city. And there are some outright demonic Storm creatures. But I don't think they wanted to destroy us. They weren't equipped for it.
The Storm invasions, they always seemed oddly half-arsed. They never had enough force to truly take the planet, yet they continued with the same strategy time after time. They threw thousands of their own lives down the drain for no apparent reason. I just could never work out their motivation. And with their obviously prestige at genetic engineering, if they wanted to wipe us so badly why didn't they just make an incurable plague? They engineered organisms that could maintain wormholes, for stars' sake.
Although their tactics were usually pretty sound, not much they did made sense from a strategic point of view. Fifty years of studying them and I still don't know what they wanted. But it wasn't genocide. I think it was something to do with the people they kidnapped. I'm sure some intelligence officer knew what was happening to them, but I never found out.
The Storm as a body was a lot like that. Unpredictable and inexplicable. But the individuals, the foot-soldiers, they're an awful lot like us. The Tersec, the Infantry, the Pilots, the Handlers. But they're slaves. They weren't the ones calling the shots. I suspected it for a long time, and eventually had it confirmed. They were just doing what they were told. It's the leadership, the top caste.
Everyone assumes that the Tersec were the leaders in the Storm, since they're the only ones we ever saw giving orders. But that's not the case. They were more of an officer class. I never saw one of the generals. Nobody has, but we knew they were there. From intercepted transmissions we knew that they were referred to as "the Hands", roughly translated. That's all. No idea what they looked like. We never even heard them speak; their orders were always relayed by Tersec.
But I do know one thing. Tersec don't scare very easily. They retreated when they had to, they're not stupid, but not once did I see one break and run, lose his composure. Even the one that got me seemed to have it together. They were always there in the trenches with their troops. Under interrogation they were bloody steadfast and it took a lot to get a peep out of them.
But every single time they said that word, "Hand", it was tinged with fear. No, not tinged, soaked. With the kind of respectful fear that you have for an effective tyrant, but multiplied a hundred times. So maybe the reason the Tersec were so stalwart in battle is that, whatever happens, it was preferable to the displeasure of their masters. If there is anyone to hate, it's them. They're the ones who don't act according to any logic that we can discern. They're the ones who mounted invasion after invasion of our border worlds. And they're the ones with my mates and my heart on their conscience.
Imagine my apprehension waiting there, in the meeting room, while the Storm ship docked. We had to build that dock specially for that meeting, you know, for their damned bizarre organic ships. I didn't know who they were going to send to treat with me. What if it was a Hand?
Then imagine my relief when a Tersec walked through that door, instead of some unknown being of unbelievable power. I counted myself bloody lucky. The Tersec aren't a bad sort, really, although my buggered nervous system might beg to differ. You can at least talk to them. We have their language worked out, thanks in no small part to yours truly, and the fellow they sent had even learnt to speak ours.
We drew up terms, with heavy consultation from our respective leaders. That Tersec was stubborn, or maybe the ones in her ear were, but we eventually got to an agreement we could all live with - if a tad begrudgingly.
There was peace for a long time. We didn't see much of the Storm after that, but when we did it was pretty agreeable. We even traded with them, every now and then. I kept studying them, made a career out of it, somehow. The years went by.
Then, without a word of warning, the Storm started pressing into us again. We didn't know why. But they were fighting with a desperation beyond anything from before. This time they were playing to win. Hunter was one of Bulwark's closest neighbours. We were all shocked when they decimated it. It was destruction on a much greater scale than they had ever caused before.
The military summoned me to see if I could talk some sense into them. They never returned our calls, and like that we were back at war with the Storm. I came out of retirement as a communications officer.
What we didn't know was thaty they weren't trying to take our worlds out of greed or some desire to expand. They were running away. I picked up on that from movement reports on something they just called the Enemy. They weren't talking about us, they had a different term for the SDU. It actually translates roughly as the Obstacle, which... (he laughs) ... you'll agree is hardly flattering.
Of course, we found out what they were running from when a Tulisan fleet blasted into orbit around Outpost. When planet after planet started to fall, we knew we couldn't possibly fight a war on two fronts. The brass scrambled to end the Storm conflict and get them on our side. There was no sense in fighting each other as well as the Tulisan. The enemy of my Enemy. And the Storm, although they were stubborn at first, knew that the Tulisan had us both outgunned. Once they realised we were fighting the same threat, they agreed to an alliance. And guess who got to negotiate?
There were two major points of interest in Storm space. The Tersec homeworld, which, as I understand it, is where most of the Storm are descended from; and the Storm's centre of operations, translating roughly as Stormcloud. It rather baffles me that the Tersec homeworld wasn't their primary, but there's much about the Storm that baffles me. The Tersec homeworld had already been taken by the Tulisan, and occupied for quite some time; Stormcloud was right on the brink of falling. No wonder they were so desperate to take our planets; almost all of theirs were already gone.
If we wanted this alliance, their negotiator insisted, we would have to promise to reinforce their world. I argued against it, told her that we couldn't possibly commit to such an obviously lost cause, so deep in space in which the Tulisan were so heavily present. But she wouldn't hear a word of it. It was that, or walk away. So eventually we bloody well did it, sent a whole fleet to defend the place.
And how did that defence go?
It was one of the worst failures of the war! The Hands wouldn't hear of retreating until the last possible second. Which is fair, I suppose. We were the same about Semartol, when it came to it.
Since I'd been so successful in negotiating this unlikely alliance, I'd been made the de facto liaison with the Storm. Punishment or reward, you pick. So of course that meant I came along to the Stormcloud campaign. I was stationed on the SDU Overture, which became the command ship for the duration. It was pretty bloody impressive to a landlocked soldier like me, who had never set foot on anything bigger than a lunar transport.
We got all of our communications through this Tersec liaison. She didn't tell us her name. We weren't too sure that she had one, to be frank. We started calling her Linda, Linda the Liaison. I never made sure of this, but I always had a sneaking suspicion she was the same one I haggled with back in the old days. They don't age very fast.
She never let on, but you could tell that everything she said was coming from the Hands. She seemed to get all of her orders by telepathy. We've dissected the odd Storm over the years, and they all have these remarkable organs - they seem to detect and emit radio waves on a specific frequency. Linda must have used it to speak to an external communicator, because she never so much as looked at one. There was one aboard, a bloody creepy genetically engineered thing with four legs and what has to have been an internal wormhole generator. It must have gotten signals from light years away and relayed them to her.
We two, the unlikely pair of us, were present for every meeting of the SDU generals - except, I guess, the ones they didn't want the Storm knowing about. I heard a lot of things I probably wouldn't have otherwise. I heard how uncertain the generals were. Some of them wanted to cut and run when things started going rotten. Not General Falmer, though. That Darax was determined to stick it through to the bitter end. He stood by the Storm. He treated Linda with respect, where the other generals only looked at her with contempt. We had made our decision, he said. And now we had to stick to it.
The Tulisan occupied half the planet before the Hands sounded the retreat. God, did a sigh of relief go through us when that happened. We evacuated as many Storm as we could, and pulled out through our wormhole gate, Tulisan hot on our heels. We collapsed it right on top of one of their frigates when we got out the other side, that's how close they were.
As we got away, Linda turned to me and placed on of her four hands on my shoulder.
"Thank you," she said. It sounded a lot like she meant it.
We lost a lot on Stormcloud. But we gained a valuable ally. We had shown the Hands that we were serious about this partnership. We had to be. All of our collective species were fighting for survival, and any single bit of help was too valuable to pass up. Let me tell you, though, the propaganda machine had a hell of a time reversing the public perception of the Storm, the very same perception it had fostered in the first place.
(The subject is quiet for some time. Eventually, I ask a question.)
What happened to Bulwark?
Bulwark... Bulwark was well-insulated against the Tulisan, at first. It was surrounded on most sides by Storm space, and the Tulisan hadn't yet penetrated all the way through that. But, well... After Stormcloud, the Tulisan had free reign in their territory. Bulwark was next on their list. The planet wasn't worth an all-out commitment of our forces. Not like Stormcloud... (He sighs) In the end we gave more to defend our old enemy than our own worlds.
Not that I resent it. The Storm even helped with the evacuation. Repaid the favour a little. When I got the news that it was lost, the liaison was there with me. I was a wreck. She put her hand on my shoulder, the same way she had after Stormcloud. "I'm sorry," she said, with a sympathy in her voice I'd never heard from any Storm. It shocked the tears right out of me.
Still... I miss Bulwark. And I miss my family.
After that, the Storm went mobile, fighting the Tulisan as a guerrilla force behind their lines and jumping back to SDU space to regroup. They were an extraordinary help. Without them we would have lost a lot sooner. Linda and I both kept on, coordinating the fight between our two factions.
I don't have much to tell you about the next forty years of war that you haven't heard already. World after world fell to the Tulisan, and although we won some victories, our losses were much greater. The Storm helped to delay the inevitable. But they couldn't do it forever.
The day the Storm finally fell, the Tulisan had penetrated deep into the SDU. They caught the bulk of the Storm forces in a pincer movement, luring them in with a 'vulnerable' wormhole gate and then surprising them with a huge sublight fleet. The Storm's hit and run tactics were no good in an up-close ship-to-ship battle.
When our liaison told us, she came into the room as though she had important news, but didn't say anything for several minutes. When she finally did, her voice was soft, quieter than I'd ever heard her.
"The Storm has fallen," she said. "The Hands have fled,"
Then she looked me in the eye. "Good riddance."
I was pretty startled. This was the first time she had so much as acknowledged the Hands' existence, let alone said a negative word about them.
"Also," she said, "my name is Tryne."
It wasn't good riddance for us, of course. Without the Storm, there wasn't anything left between the Tulisan and our Homestar. Along with the majority of the SDU fleets, the Overture was recalled to Semartol. It was the first time I'd seen our ancestral homeworld, there in the heat of its worst battle.
Tryne stayed with us. I suppose she didn't have much of a choice. But neither of us had much to do now that the Storm was gone. There were scattered remnants of it out there, running from Tulisan and generally ignoring everything we said, but with Semartol herself under threat we didn't waste any time on chasing after them. I wonder if any of them survived. I was a foot soldier in my time, not a navy man, so with my job made redundant I had very little function on that big capital ship. I was too old for a fight anyway. So Tryne and I were left to sit and stare at the wall. We were friends by then, I feel. I might be the only Semartus who could ever say that.
And when the Tulisan boarded, we died as friends, with our hands on each others' shoulders.