Birds of Prey: Chapter 13

Previous Chapter


After a short debriefing back at the spaceport, they were dismissed, Jaeger and Baker returning to Maza’s domed house on one of the mag-lev trains. Several of the probes had been destroyed, but a few had been recovered, and as had been expected they were packed with transmitters and sensory equipment. They were spies, sent to assess the defenses on the ground. You didn’t have to be a master strategist to guess that it was the precursor to a full-on invasion. The Bugs had moved up their timetable, an attack could come any day now.

Maza stared vacantly out of the window as she sat beside him in the train car, Jaeger nudging her with his elbow to get her attention.

“Hey, you alright?”

“I was just thinking,” she said, looking forlorn. “The Bugs have set foot on Val’ba’ra, this is only the beginning. Soon we’ll be at war. It will be like what happened on Ker’gue’la.”

“No it won’t,” Jaeger replied, doing his best to reassure her. “We’re here this time. We have ships, weapons, experience. There’s no way we’re going to let them take this planet.”

“But even if we win, lots of people are going to die all the same. Entire cities might be razed.”

“We’re going to do all that we can to prevent that.”

“I saw how worried everyone was at the debriefing,” she continued, “I can read Earth’nay facial expressions pretty well by now. The appearance of the probes bothered them, they expected to have more time to prepare. It’s only been a few days, they won’t have had time to manufacture enough new weapons for the orbital defense grid, they won’t have been able to install them yet…”

“It’s no use worrying,” Jaeger said with a shrug. “You won’t do yourself, nor anyone else any good by making yourself miserable.”

“How can you be so…aloof?” she asked, looking up at him with a flurry of purple feathers. “The world might end tomorrow for all we know, but you’re not worried at all?”

“Sure I’m worried, but like I said, worrying doesn’t help anyone. Being a soldier is ninety percent waiting, ten percent fighting. If you let it, your worry and your apprehension will drive you crazy, fry your nerves. You have to accept that some things are outside of your control, you have to distract yourself.”

“Distract myself?”

“Yeah. What do Valbarans do to unwind, what do you do to relax? If this really was your last day, how would you want to spend it?”

“You’ve really…put a lot of thought into this,” Maza said, a hint of pity in her voice. “Before we encountered the Bugs, we always imagined joining this…advanced, enlightened Galactic community. They’d share with us advanced technology, philosophies, medicines. They’d show us wonders that we could never have imagined. Instead, the Galactic community is at war. First contact with the Bugs was followed by the complete destruction of our colony, and the next group of aliens that we met was a war fleet. We thought that we could escape our problems by reaching the stars. Instead, we just traded old problems for new ones.”

“It’s not all that grim,” Jaeger said. “Sure, we’re at war with the Bugs, but the other species all get along pretty well. You saw that the Rorke’s crew compliment was made up of several different alien races. Further inside Coalition space, things are pretty peaceful. We have to deal with organized crime and piracy on occasion, but it’s only on the borders that wars flare up. If we survive…I mean, when this is all over, if you guys choose to join us then we can bring you into the fold. You’ll have the chance to found new colonies, we’ll be able to open up trade routes to Valbara, we’ll be able to protect you from the Bugs. This can still turn out okay.”

“You asked me what I’d do if this really was our last night alive,” she said, glancing up at him wistfully. “Perhaps I should show you how Val’ba’ra’nay have fun?”

“That sounds like a good start,” he said with a grin.


They stopped at the dwelling so that the aliens could change out of their uniforms. Unfortunately, Baker and Jaeger had no choice but to keep theirs on. When they were done, the group set off towards the city in another mag-lev train. Baker was always the first one off the carrier when they had shore leave, he was always seeking out street vendors and dive bars, eager to explore the bowels of stations and outposts. He had no complaints, the prospect of a night on the town had him excited.

Jaeger might have preferred a quiet night of reflection, excitement would not be something that they were going to be lacking in the coming days, but he was also interested in exploring more aspects of Valbaran society. He would never share the sentiment with Maza and her friends, of course, but that society might not be around for very much longer. There was something oddly melancholic about the idea of dancing in a nightclub or drinking in a bar that might be razed to the ground the next day.

The familiar spires of the city rose up in front of them as they raced along the track, the train having to tilt at a ninety-degree angle again to avoid an oncoming car, the motion never failing to alarm Jaeger and amuse Baker. By the time the train car slid into the station, the setting sun was already painting the sky in shades of pink and orange, stars just starting to become visible above their heads.

“They say that the setting sun’s colors are a premonition of the coming day,” Maza said, noticing that he was staring at it.

“And what do pink and orange mean to a Valbaran?”

“Pink is love and romance, orange is somewhere between anger and surprise, blue is sadness.”

“Somehow, I doubt that you get many greens and purples in your sunsets.”

She fluttered her feathers in a Valbaran shrug.

“It’s just a myth. There’s a lot of pink today, though…”

They descended the escalator that led to the city street. Once again, the crowds of Valbarans gawked at the aliens, their heads pivoting on their long necks to get a look. This time, Maza had no patience for press conferences, her flock surrounding the two humans as they ferried them away. They must have made one of their plans at some point, because they knew exactly where they were going, in perfect coordination as they pushed and dragged the humans towards their destination.

Valbaran cities were far smaller than their human equivalents, and it didn’t take long before Jaeger found himself in a side street, away from the prying eyes of the crowds. Here, only a few Valbaran flocks disturbed them, peering at the aliens as they passed them by.

There was an abundance of neon signs here, the alien text that adorned them indecipherable, but it was such an oddly human sight. If it had not been for the strange lettering, he might have assumed that he was in some East Asian city like Hong Kong or Shanghai, maybe Tokyo. The signs came in all colors, mostly yellows that no doubt promised excitement, and greens that perhaps promised relaxation or tranquility. He would have to ask Maza about more of their colors and how they related to different emotions. It was easy to guess some of them based on the context, but he had never seen any of the green hues before.

This was the only place that he had visited within the walls of the Valbaran city that didn’t look like it had been thoughtfully sculpted. There were no rolling hills here, no trees or flowers, no swooping buttresses or elaborate decorations. It was just a regular alley that was sandwiched between two large buildings, nothing clinical or planned about it. There were exposed cables hanging between the two structures, and many of the signs were askew. The buildings blocked the sunlight to make it darker, it all looked very makeshift. A hiccup in the grand design, perhaps?

Maza noticed his confused expression, tugging him along by the hand as she explained.

“Even we can’t foresee every eventuality, sometimes city planners fail to account for certain factors or make mistakes. Here we have an alleyway where there was supposed to be some kind of facility or service, but it was deemed unnecessary sometime after it was constructed, and subsequently abandoned. Entrepreneurs moved in and took advantage of the vacant space.”

“Is that the only way that Valbarans can start their own businesses?” Jaeger asked. He hadn’t thought about it until now, but if everything was pre-planned, how did they account for people wanting to open their own stores or purchase more land? Expansion was impossible in a walled city.

“Not entirely, there are a certain number of buildings and allotments created for that purpose, but this is one of the more…unorthodox establishments.”

“Illegal..?” Jaeger asked apprehensively.

“Not illegal, no. Val’ba’ra’nay consider such places…unsavory. There’s a word in our language that has no translation in yours, it means ‘to act outside of the plan‘. This establishment acts outside of the plan.”

“But you’re bringing us here all the same?”

“You said that you wanted to see what we do for fun,” she said with a shrug, “and places like this can be fun.”

“Come on,” Coza said, giving him a shove from behind. “You faced the jaws of the Teth’rak, Earth’nay, you can face this too. Baker shares none of your fears.”

“Dive bar,” Baker whispered, nudging Jaeger with his elbow.

“Don’t eat or drink anything until we scan it first,” Jaeger warned, patting the pocket where he had stored the food scanning device.

Maza led them towards a small door at the base of one of the buildings, all of the neon signs appeared to be directing pedestrians to it. It might otherwise have been invisible from the street, but still, that was a lot of fucking signs for one dive bar.

He and Baker ducked under the low doorway, proceeding down a narrow staircase into what looked like a dingy basement. If this place wasn’t illegal, it was certainly as close to illegal as one could get before the police came knocking.

“The main reason that I’m bringing you here is because it will be quiet,” she explained as she held another door open for him. “There are upscale restaurants in the city, but they’ll be packed, and we would spend the whole night fighting off curious locals. I thought that some privacy might be appreciated.”

Jaeger ducked through another doorway and emerged into some kind of dingy parlor. The ceiling was low enough that he had to slouch to avoid bumping his head, and immediately, something that smelled like herbs or maybe incense reached his nose. He was standing in a roughly circular room with no windows, as it was below street level, and the walls were adorned with the same style of fabric curtains that he had seen in Maza’s bedroom. It was lit with a similar red glow, and the air was thick with what looked like cigarette smoke, the floor carpeted in a thick shag. There was what might be a bar off to one side, and there were a few tables scattered about the center of the space, some of them occupied by locals who turned their heads to peer at the visitors. Around the circumference of the room were a series of booths separated by low walls, seemingly designed to grant the occupants some privacy. The interiors were packed with cushions like those that the Valbarans slept on, arranged around a low table, clearly designed to let the occupants lounge around while they presumably ate or drank.

Maza led the group over to one of the booths, the Valbarans taking seats on the plush cushions. With their long tails, they weren’t especially suited to sitting down in the way that a human would, at least not without their director’s chairs. Instead, they lounged slightly on their sides as they shifted their weight to get comfortable. Baker and Jaeger joined them, there wasn’t much leg room between the seating and the table, and so Jaeger sat cross-legged while Baker sat with his knees up near his chin. The curtains that decorated the walls of the booth were hanging a little low for their liking too, brushing against them from behind.

They got some stares from the other patrons, but the interest quickly evaporated, they seemed more concerned with whatever it was that they were drinking from what looked like champagne flutes. Trouble in paradise perhaps? Yilgarn wasn’t all whitewashed metal and happy smiles after all. In a way, Jaeger felt relieved, their seemingly perfect society had been starting to make him feel inadequate.

Seeing that they had chosen a booth, one of the several aliens who was staffing the counter made its way over to them, talking with Maza for a moment before leaving again. The two humans watched curiously, wondering what was going to happen next.

“So is this like a bar?” Jaeger asked, “like the one we showed you on the Rorke?”

“A little,” Maza replied. “I think they serve the same purpose, even if the substances are different.”

“Do Valbarans drink alcohol?” Baker wondered, watching the other patrons who were sipping from their glass tubes.

“We ferment grains to make alcohol,” Xico confirmed as she lay on the cushions across from them, “though Earth’nay seem to be able to consume more of it. Probably due to your larger size.”

A different Valbaran walked over, carrying something on a metal tray, and set it down in the middle of the table. It was a vaguely bulb-shaped device with a long neck, a bowl at the top, and half a dozen flexible hoses trailing out of it. It seemed to be made from blown glass, embellished with colorful resins or maybe metals in shades of green.

Maza reached over, picking up a small container that was resting beside the device on the tray, upending it into the bowl and placing a metal cap that was dotted with ventilation holes over the top of it. The stuff had looked like dried grass or maybe tobacco. There was some kind of heating element in the top, and she lit it with the press of a switch, a red glow emanating from the device.

“What’s this?” Jaeger asked, watching as Coza reached over to pick up one of the tubes. She pressed the tip of it against her lips, the flexible hose adorned with what looked a little like a metal whistle. When she drew on it, a bubbling sound emanated from the vase-shaped bottom of the device, the alien leaning back into the cushions and exhaling a cloud of smoke or vapor.

“Oh, it’s like a hookah!” Baker exclaimed. Jaeger shot him a questioning look.

“A what?”

“A hookah. It’s for smoking. I guess the Valbarans smoke!”

“What’s in there?” Jaeger asked warily, directing his question towards Maza as she took another one of the tubes in her hand and drew on it for a moment.

“A mixture of dried herbs and fruits,” she said, grey smoke trailing out of her mouth with every word and reminding Jaeger of a fire breathing dragon. “You should try it, I doubt there’s anything in there that your kind can’t tolerate.”

Baker leaned forward to pick up one of the tubes, but Jaeger batted his hand away.

“Use the scanner, for fuck’s sake. For all you know, this shit could make your lungs collapse.”

Jaeger rummaged in his pocket for the handheld device, holding it up to the hookah as Baker leaned closer to read the tiny display. The vase-like base was simply full of water, while the tray on the top contained a mixture of plant fibers and fruit sugars. The chemical compounds were more complex, however. There were significant traces of something analogous to nicotine, along with a lesser amount of something that the scanner listed as ‘tetrahydrocannabinol‘.

“The scanner says it’s safe to consume, but I don’t think this thing has a setting for smoking,” Jaeger said. “I don’t recognize this chemical either, any ideas Baker?”

“That’s THC,” Baker chuckled.

“Is that supposed to mean something to me?”

“It’s pot, dude. Cannabis. These guys must have something similar to hemp that grows here.”

“Oh,” Jaeger mumbled, not sure how to react. The flock of aliens were all drawing on their respective hoses, and there was one left for the two humans, the smoke that they exhaled rising to join the thick smog that was already hanging in the air. This wasn’t so much a bar as a smoking lounge.

Ayau took a long draw, letting the wisps of smoke rise from her nostrils, then sank into the nest of cushions as her headdress flared in a relaxed shade of green.

“Do Earth’nay not partake?” Maza asked, cocking her head.

“Hell, I’ll try it,” Baker said.

“Hang on, I don’t know if we should be getting high in uniform,” Jaeger warned. “Or at all. We’re still on call, what if something happens and we need to report in?”

“Anything that gets these little guys wasted won’t do much more than give us a buzz,” Baker said. “And besides, Captain Fielding sent us here to investigate the alien culture, we’re ambassadors! It would be rude to refuse.”

The aliens were a lot smaller than the humans, maybe the hit really was a lot more powerful for them than it would be for him and Baker. He watched as his friend lifted one of the tubes to his lips and drew on it, blowing a smoke ring that rose slowly into the air, the flock of aliens watching with wide eyes.

“Do that again!” Ayau exclaimed. Apparently, the Valbarans had never seen someone do that trick before. Baker obliged, a yellow flutter of excitement passing around the table as they chittered and warbled. If they had known how to clap, they probably would have applauded him.

“I didn’t know you were a smoker,” Jaeger said, Baker shrugging as he took another puff from the hookah.

“Let’s just say that I did a lot more than studying during my college years.”

Another Valbaran approached their table, talking briefly with Maza in their native language before returning to the counter. This establishment must be run by a flock, was this one taking their orders?

“Should we be ordering anything?” Jaeger asked, “do we need money?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Maza said, “just relax. We’ll take care of the rest.”

“We won’t have much use for money if we’re going to be dead in a few days,” Coza added, laughing bitterly. “I hadn’t been born yet when Ker’gue’la fell, I had only ever seen Bugs in pictures and video files, recordings from the war. Now I’ve seen one with my own two eyes, I’ve touched it, it was as real as you or I. It was walking around on our planet, digging in our dirt, it slipped right past our defenses. Tell me Earth’nay, is what your Captain said true? Will our defenses be useless against a Bug invasion fleet?”

The flock watched him expectantly as he attempted to formulate a reply that wouldn’t further darken the mood, puffing on their hoses. He decided to skirt the issue altogether, trying to instill a little hope in the aliens.

“It doesn’t matter. With our upgrades, your defense platforms are going to be equipped with the same railguns that we use on our gunboats. Those twenty-millimeter cannons will shred small fighters that get close. We have the Rorke, the support fleet, a whole squadron of Beewolfs. It’s all top of the line, cutting edge.”

“This isn’t our first rodeo,” Baker added, “we’re seasoned exterminators. A Bug fleet has never taken down a UNN carrier, not even once. I ain’t been shot down yet, and I don’t intend to start any time soon.”

His bluster seemed to put Coza more at ease, the alien nodding appreciatively as she flashed her plumes in a shade of deep red.

“You Earth’nay are braver than I gave you credit for. I wasn’t sure that you were being sincere before, when you said that you were here to help us. I thought that the Ensi trusted you too readily. After all, we spend twenty rotations building up our defenses, and then an alien fleet jumps in out of nowhere and volunteers to protect us? It sounded too good to be true. What if the second you gained control, you just turned everything off and took the planet in a day? What made your people better suited to the job than ours? The Bugs weren’t friendly, why should you be any different? Your ships were equipped for war, after all.”

She took another long draw from the hookah, which seemed to calm her nerves, leaning back against the cushions as she turned her head towards the ceiling and exhaled slowly.

“But today, I saw you two save Xico and the others. Jaeger, I watched you pluck that soldier from the very jaws of the Teth’rak. You didn’t even know her name, but you risked your life for hers. That’s no small thing, not in our culture, at least.”

She didn’t say it in so many words, but Jaeger was starting to get the impression that they had earned the surly alien’s respect, perhaps even her trust.

“All in a day’s work,” Baker said.

“Perhaps if we survive this,” she continued, “there might be a future for us in your Coalition.”

What must be the waiter returned with another tray, this one loaded with the same champagne flutes that Jaeger had seen the other patrons using. They were thin and tall, made from glass or some kind of clear plastic, kind of like test tubes. They were filled with a vaguely yellow-colored, but otherwise transparent liquid. The alien set the tray down on the table and then left without another word, the flock leaning in, each member taking one of the glasses. There were two left, one for each human.

This time Baker waited for Jaeger to scan them, and the results showed nothing that they couldn’t stomach. Jaeger watched as his friend took a sip, the glass tiny in his oversized hands, smacking his lips as he sampled the flavor.

“Tastes kind of like dry wine,” he said, “it’s bitter.”

Jaeger saw no harm in trying some himself, they were allowed two alcoholic beverages per day while stationed on the Rorke, after all. He brought the narrow glass to his lips and sipped at it experimentally. It was chilled, cool on his tongue, and there was indeed a bitter aftertaste to it. There wasn’t enough alcohol content to be of any real significance, it probably wasn’t much more potent than a beer.

Maza seemed pleased that he was participating, watching him intently with her unblinking eyes as he took another sip from the glass. He was trying to make it last, there wasn’t much more than a couple of mouthfuls for a human. Everyone seemed to be relaxing now, letting off steam, the aliens lounging on the cushions as they drank and smoked. Jaeger hadn’t imagined them this way, they had seemed downright prudish at times, but now he was seeing them in a more human light. They got depressed sometimes, they got drunk, and they took drugs, they went to seedy bars. Their society wasn’t any more perfect than his own, they just did things differently, they had different priorities.

“So this is how you like to relax?” Jaeger asked, looking pointedly around the dingy lounge.

“When we need to do a whole lot of relaxing in a short amount of time, yes,” Maza replied with a chuckle. “Don’t Earth’nay have anything similar?”

“We do, that’s what I find so surprising. I can travel sixty-five light-years from home and still find people getting drunk in a bar.”

She laughed at that, taking another drink from her glass.

“Maybe integrating into the Galactic community won’t be so difficult for us after all…”

“All living things function on the same biological reward system,” Xico said, coughing a little as she exhaled a plume of smoke. “We all have dopamine receptors in our brains, or something similar, chemicals that incentivize us to pursue certain behaviors. Any sufficiently advanced species that develops a knowledge of chemistry, or even one that stumbles across a substance that has the same effect, will inevitably find a way to hack that system and obtain the rewards without the associated behaviors.”

“That certainly seems to be the case,” Jaeger said, shifting his weight as he tried to get comfortable on the cushions. “The Borealans developed a drink called ‘raises the hair‘, humans have all kinds of alcoholic beverages and other substances. I’m not sure about the Krell, they probably have some kind of hallucinogenic plant or something like that.”

“Tell me more about the Krell’nay,” Ayau said, leaning across the table excitedly. “What’s their home planet like?”

“It’s mostly mud flats and swamps, they’re semi-aquatic, so they’re as at home in the water as they are on land. I’ve seen pictures of their planet, their villages are made from wood, built around ancient trees and supported by stilts that raise them above the ground.”

“They sound primitive, yet they are spacefaring?”

“Not exactly, they have a special relationship with another species called the Brokers, who ferry them to and from the planet. Why are you so interested in the Krell anyway, Ayau? I remember you kept climbing on their shoulders back on the Rorke.”

She took another draw from the pipe, her feathers fluttering a calming shade of spearmint.

“Can’t you tell? They’re monstrously large, muscular, snouts longer than anything I’ve ever seen. They’re like the ultimate females, like a war Goddess from ancient Val’ba’ra’nay legend.”

“They’re all male,” Baker added, her feathers fluttering in shades of surprised yellow.


“Yep, every Krell that serves as an auxiliary in the UNN is male, except when they change their sex. When there are too many males packed into one place, some of ’em start to change gender. They have to take a special plant supplement from their homeworld to stop it, or they’ll start breedin’ endlessly.”

“I suppose I shouldn’t have expected anything less from aliens,” Ayau said as she leaned back into the plush cushions.

“Let me ask you guys a question,” Jaeger began, “what’s with the names?”

“How do you mean?” Maza replied.

“What about our names?” Ayau asked.

“Why are your names so complicated, and why are they split into three sections?”

“I always found it strange that your people only have one name,” Ayau said. “Excluding honorifics like Captain or Lieutenant, and callsigns, of course.”

“Well…technically we do have more than one name,” he admitted, “but in a professional environment people usually only refer to you by your family name.”

“Oh? Then what are your full names?” Maza asked, “is it impolite to ask?”

“No, no, it’s fine. We usually have a first name, which is given to us by our parents, and then a surname which is inherited from our family. Some people have a middle name too, usually as a reference to their heritage or a public figure. My first name is Carl, for example, given to me by my parents. Then Jaeger is a family name that I inherited from my father. I don’t have a middle name.”

“My given name is Richard, and my surname is Baker,” Baker added. “My middle name is Harold, after my grandfather.”

“Richard Harold Baker,” Maza repeated. “Is that much more complicated than Maza’xol’natuih, or Ayau’pal’lea?”

“I suppose not,” Jaeger said as he took another sip from his glass. “Do Valbaran names have a similar significance?”

“Ours are a little different. Val’ba’ra’nay names are made up of three sections, all of which combine to form a unified name, much in the same way that a flock comes together to form a whole. It’s given by the parents, or rather the flock to which the child’s parents belong. There isn’t much of a distinction between different members of the flock and who actually sired the child, they all make up a family unit.”

“So that means you had like six moms and one dad?” Baker asked, and she nodded.

“My parent flock had seven mothers, actually.

“What do your names mean?” Jaeger continued. She fluttered her feathers in a shade of purple, a little embarrassed perhaps.

“Well…’Maza‘ is the first of my names, it’s a kind of blooming flower that grows in this region. Naming children after flowers is fairly popular in our culture, the more superstitious will say that it helps them achieve their goals later in life.”

“Yeah, it’s the same in ours,” Jaeger said. “Daisy or Jasmine, for example.”

“Then there’s ‘Xol‘, a name that means…” She thought for a moment, staring off into space. “I suppose the best translation is to fly or to soar. It’s not so much a literal translation, the word conveys a concept in our language that it probably doesn’t in yours, a feeling. When you hear it, you get a sense of…freedom, of flying like a bird. Perhaps it’s one of the reasons that I wanted to join the Air Force and become a pilot at such an early age.”

“What about the last name?” Baker asked, taking another puff from the hookah.

“That one is ‘Natuih‘, the last name usually consists of a reference to an emotion or a concept that the parent flock hopes the child will achieve. Mine means happiness, it’s rather generic.”

“Do Earth’nay names have any special meaning?” Xico asked.

“Not always,” Jaeger replied, uncrossing his legs for a moment as they were starting to cramp. “First names rarely have a special meaning, but surnames usually do. Baker, for example, refers to a profession from the ancient world, a person who used to make bread and other baked goods. Smith is a common name, that refers to a person who used to forge metal and make things like tools or weapons. My name is an old German word for hunter, my ancestors came from that region.”

“And what about you, Coza?” Baker asked, keeping the conversation going. “What does your name mean?”

“The name ‘Coza‘ refers to an ancient bladed weapon used in warfare,” she replied, her tone somber. “My second name, ‘Ma‘ conveys the concept of safety or perhaps fortification. As Maza’xol’natuih already explained, the feeling that it conveys is hard to translate.” She brought one of the flexible hoses to her mouth, inhaling before letting the smoke slowly billow from her nostrils, the two humans waiting for her to continue with bated breath. “My last name is ‘Lotl‘, which means vengeance.”

“Ok then…” Baker mumbled, giving Jaeger a sideways glance. “Is there any particular reason that your parents chose such…uh…colorful names for you?”

“I was born on Val’ba’ra, but my parents were among those that made the journey to Ker’gue’la before the invasion. When their city was attacked, they lost two members of their flock. The remaining four were able to evacuate, but…losing a member of one’s family in that way inflicts a wound that never really heals.”

She lay back in her nest of pillows, letting the tobacco do its work for a moment, Baker clearly regretting asking the question.

“I never knew them,” she finally said, “I only knew what my parents told me about them. But I suppose they imagined me avenging them, finding a way to right the wrong somehow. All of my sisters entered the military in some capacity, and it was at the flight academy that I met Maza’xol’natuih and the others. I suppose I thought that space would be the first line of defense if the Bugs should find us here.”

Well, that certainly went some way to explaining why Coza was such a hardass compared to the others, but Jaeger could sympathize. Boomer’s death was still fresh in his mind, and he knew other people who had died an untimely death at the hands of the Bugs. When you were a soldier in the UNN, it came with the territory. But to lose a family member…parents…he couldn’t imagine how that would feel. For a moment, he thanked his stars that his parents were living safely on Earth, deep in the heart of UNN space where nothing could reach them without first going through a dozen other worlds and the combined fleets of the Coalition.

“You’ll get your chance,” he said, Coza meeting his gaze across the table. “When that hive fleet shows up here, there will be hundreds of thousands of Bugs, and we’re going to kill every last one of them. And when that’s done, the Coalition will help you retake Kerguela, I’m certain of it. We have no choice, the planet will keep producing fleets and sending them out unless we cut them off at the source. It will require multiple carriers working in concert, and massive Martian battleships like the Kartikeya or the Shiva, they have enough firepower to punch a mile wide hole straight through the planet if they need to. It might take a few years, but you’ll see that planet either back in Valbaran hands or turned to radioactive glass.”

She nodded, her plumes flashing red as she slammed the rest of her drink and set the empty glass down on the table.

“I would like that, Earth’nay…”

Next Chapter