Birds of Prey: Chapter 5

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It called to her across the gulf of space, she could smell it in the light, the thousands of eyes and sensory organs that were scattered around the great beast’s hull feeding her information in every wavelength and frequency. There was carbon in that atmosphere, the blue tint of oxygen and nitrogen, the green of biomass, and the sparkling reflection of oceans. It was a fertile womb, a haven for her children, an oasis.

Her scouts had already encountered resistance, local fauna defending their territory. This was to be expected, it was the course of nature, and she had come ready to fight. Her children bristled with weaponry, plasma and resin ready to stab and burn, claws and mandibles for cutting and biting. The struggle for living space was fierce, be it against aliens or her own kin, it was a purifying gauntlet that ensured that only the strongest and fittest inherited the rich soil and liquid waters.

The journey across barren space had been long and arduous. Resources were dwindling, and her young were ravenous. The Repletes were gaunt, their bellies emptied of their life-sustaining honey. The males were restless, already stretching their wings, eager to fertilize their Queen and begin the process of birthing a new generation of soldiers. She felt something almost akin to hunger, desire, a burning compulsion to claim this planet for herself and to satisfy those instincts.

She flexed her long, chitinous limbs, feeling the living walls of the vessel closing in around her in her chamber. The blend of meat and metal shifted and heaved, glistening with moisture, the thick column of nerves and wires that linked her twelve-foot frame to its nervous system relaying everything that the behemoth hive ship felt. She could feel the asteroids that battered against its thick shell, the clusters of smaller vessels that were docked to its belly, the thrusters along its body that belched super-heated methane to propel it through the debris field. It was like an extension of her body and her mind, it even had its own, simple intellect that was housed somewhere within the titanic lobes of its brain. She had been adrift for so long that she had almost forgotten what it felt like to use her own eyes, to smell pheromones with her own organs, to have a mind free of trajectory calculations and superlight equations.

Finally, her exodus had to come to its conclusion, but the ordeal was far from over. Now she must rally her forces to take this planet, to make it her own and to propagate her species. The coming war would be the ultimate test, there could be no surrender, only survival or extinction.

Chemicals in the gut of the great vessel were mixing, combining to produce an electrical charge that was building up inside the jump drive, ready to propel her and her fleet to the target world. A few more cycles and they would be ready. If their strain was worthy, they would prevail…


“Get off the table!” Jaeger complained.

“High up table,” the alien whistled.

“I know you like being high up, but we don’t walk on the tables in the mess hall. It can’t be sanitary.”

Baker found it amusing, laughing through a mouthful of shepherd’s pie as he watched the creature chirp and fluff up its vibrant feathers. The engineer seated to Jaeger’s left found it less humorous, sliding his metal tray further away from the disruptive creature as it babbled. The rest of its brood were hanging around nearby, interacting with other crew members and generally being a nuisance. One of them had taken a liking to the Krell, and Jaeger was concerned that it was learning a useless blend of both languages. It kept climbing up them and sitting on their broad shoulders. Fortunately, the giant reptiles were a tolerant bunch.

“I swear, it’s like babysitting toddlers,” Jaeger grumbled.

The aliens had been making great strides over the last couple of days, they had accumulated quite a large vocabulary just from their interactions with the crew as Evans had predicted. They were running him ragged, however. The only time that he got any reprieve was when they returned to the hangar periodically to eat or sleep. He had noticed that they did everything as a group, a flock, if you will. They seemed to take long pauses between activities to huddle and talk, and when they encountered something new or unexpected, they seemed to stop in their tracks, as if they had to reach some kind of consensus before taking any further action. They were more egalitarian than a Borealan pack, for example, or a military unit. There was no clear leader, at least as far as he could tell. The one who had taken off its helmet was the most vocal and the bravest, it was that one that interacted with him the most, it tailed after him wherever he went like a puppy. Today he was trying to teach them names.

Jaeger,” he said, slowly and clearly as he pointed to his chest. “My name is Jaeger.”

“Human,” it chittered.

“Yeah, I’m a human, but my ‘name‘ is Jaeger. Look, this is Baker.”

“Today’s menu is shepherd’s pie and collard greens,” the alien repeated, “get off the table!”

Jaeger cradled his face in his hands and groaned. All of the complete sentences that they spoke seemed to have been heard elsewhere. They were starting to form their own sentences now, and Evans said that he should try to encourage that behavior, but they were having problems with grammar. He snapped his fingers, getting the bird’s attention.

“Concentrate, will you? My…name…is…Jaeger. Jaeger.”

It cocked its head at him.

“Jaeger,” it repeated.

“Yes, good! You remember good, right?” The alien beeped affirmatively. “Good, good. Now, what is ‘your‘ name?” he asked as he pointed at the creature. “I am Jaeger, this is Baker, you are..?”

“Maza’xol’natuih,” it replied. Jaeger snapped to attention, that hadn’t been mimicry, that word was new. It was oddly halting, each syllable clearly separated from the rest by a short pause.

“That’s your name? Maza?”

“Maza’xol’natuih,” it repeated, pointing to itself. “That’s my name.”

He shared a surprised glance with Baker. The alien finally understood names, and it had picked up some contextual words and phrases too. He wanted to test if it could differentiate between different people, turning to point at the alien who was currently perched contentedly on the Krell’s shoulders like a giant parrot.

“What’s ‘their‘ name?”

The creature cocked its head, looking to where he was gesturing.

“Ayau’pal’lea,” it replied. Jaeger exchanged another glance with Baker. The aliens certainly had complex names, hard to pronounce too. How were they supposed to memorize them?

“I guess if you learn as fast as these things do, having complicated names isn’t much of an issue,” Jaeger mused as he watched the bird-like creature.

“Give it a nickname,” Baker suggested, gesturing with his fork. “They split their names into sections, right? That’s what it sounds like to me. So just call that one ‘Ayau‘.”

“I suppose that makes sense, it’s certainly easier than trying to say Ayau…pal…whatever.” He pulled out his phone, bringing up the edited image of the system again, with the extra circle that the reptile had drawn.

“And what is this called, Maza?” The alien cocked its head, brushing the touch screen with its fingers, not seeming to understand. He swiped and brought up a picture of Earth. “Its name is Earth.”

“Earth,” it repeated. It turned its violet eyes towards Jaeger, reaching out and prodding his chest. He watched as its pupils shifted and dilated, the colored irises were patterned like a nebula when seen so closely. “Earth’nay.”

“Earth…nay?” he repeated, “what does that mean?”

It swiped back to the picture of its home system, pointing to the crude circle.

“Val’ba’ra,” it said, then it pointed to itself again. “Val’ba’ra’nay.”

“Oh!” Baker exclaimed, “I get it! It’s a…fuck, what’s it called?” he said as he snapped his fingers. “A suffix, that’s it. It’s calling you an Earthling, ‘nay‘ is a suffix.”

“So their planet is called ‘Valbara‘?”

Baker nodded emphatically, eating another forkful of pie.

“Valbara,” Jaeger mused, “that would make them Valbarans. Finally, something I can report to Doctor Evans to prove that I haven’t been goofing off.”

“They’re learning fast,” Baker said, “it’s a little scary actually. Imagine if they could learn to fly a ship, or field strip an XMR just from a single demonstration?”

“Evans said that they seemed to have photographic memories,” he replied, watching the alien as it peered back at him. No, not ‘the alien‘, its name was Maza. He wondered if it was male or female, or indeed if their species made such distinctions at all. None of the creatures had taken their camouflaged space suits off in the presence of humans yet. Was that for modesty, or perhaps some other reason? Due to the flashing color panels on their forearms, he had surmised that they likely had feathers there too, just like on their heads. The plumes certainly seemed to express emotion, but they must have other purposes too, nobody would install a massive LCD panel along the side of their ship simply to convey their mood.

“Jaeger,” Maza said, leaning closer and staring into his eyes. It made him uncomfortable, but he didn’t avert his gaze, the alien seeming to stare into his soul. “You Beewolf. You kill Bugs, you and I have something in common.”

The voice that the reptile was mimicking was that of the Borealan that it had encountered in the gym, course and gruff, with that rolling accent that almost made it sound Russian. Again, he wondered if the alien knew what it was saying. It certainly seemed to be associating the words in a way that made sense, even if they were a patchwork of disconnected voices and accents.

“And what do you know about Bugs?” Jaeger asked.

“Bugs, get off the Val’ba’ra!” it chirped in response.

“We can probably help you out on that front,” he replied. “Here, look at this.” He opened the intranet browser on his phone and pulled up information on alien species. “Borealan, Krell, Broker. Borealis’nay, Krell’nay. See? We work together,” he said as he set the phone on the table, meshing his fingers together. “Coalition, a team.”

“Coalition kill Bugs.”

“That’s right, that’s what we do.”

The alien picked up the phone, swiping through the pictures. Jaeger reached out to take it back, but the reptile pulled it out of reach, scurrying towards the center of the table and sitting there as its eyes scanned the pages.

“You think giving it access to the intranet is a good idea?” Baker asked. “There’s a lot of info on there, amongst other things…”

“I mean…it can’t teach itself to read, surely? What’s the worst that could happen?”

Baker shrugged, shoveling another forkful of shepherd’s pie into his mouth.


“I have to shower,” Jaeger said, the aliens that were trailing behind him in an orderly line cocking their heads and looking up at him like curious puppies. “Just…hang around out here and wait until I’m finished. Stay out of mischief.”

He opened the sliding door to the communal showers, and he was immediately met by a wall of steam, the sound of water hitting the tiled floor echoing through the room. It was large enough to fit maybe twelve humans at once and tall enough that a Borealan could stand inside without having to crouch. There were a good number of these showers spaced out around the carrier, and even then it was sometimes an ordeal to find one that wasn’t occupied, considering that there were more than six thousand people living on the ship.

This one was fairly empty, occupied only by a solitary Krell who was lying on the floor like a giant alligator basking on a shore, taking up one entire side of the communal showers as it let the water cascade over its scales. They liked water, being amphibious creatures, and there were no pools that they could lounge in onboard the carrier. It seemed to be sleeping, its eyes were closed, and its massive body was rising and falling subtly as it breathed.

He began to strip off his jacket and shirt, stowing them in a nearby locker, but he soon stopped in his tracks. He could feel eyes on his back, and when he turned around, the aliens were standing nearby and peering up at him. Jaeger was used to showering with other people. Men, women, aliens. It hardly mattered, maintaining one’s sense of modesty in such a cramped professional environment was basically impossible, you just had to get used to showering with women and seeing the occasional alien junk. The staring of the Valbarans was putting him on edge, however.

“Shoo,” he said, waving his hand at them. They just stared at him. He sighed, then shrugged and continued to remove his clothing. Who knew, maybe they wanted to see his anatomy. The one named Ayau went off to bother the Krell, rumbling in an approximation of the alien language as it clambered up the creature’s back.

“Oh, leave him alone,” Jaeger grumbled. “What is it with you and Krell?”

It wasn’t listening, and he noticed that it had closed the visor on its helmet. Did they not like water? He stripped down to his underwear, then hesitated, deciding to keep his shorts on. Something about exposing himself in front of these little creatures felt…odd. The rest of the aliens set off to explore the room, playing with the dials, changing the temperature and the flow of the water as they frolicked beneath it. They also closed their helmets, and he supposed that he wouldn’t like to shower with an open helmet either, maybe it would flood the inside of their suits.

Maza stayed with him, however, watching him intently with its violet eyes. It must be curious, it had never seen a naked human before, after all. Nor any alien for that matter. He felt strange referring to the alien as ‘it‘, he hadn’t asked the creature its gender yet, or if its species even had genders. Right now didn’t seem like the right time to broach the subject.

As he moved beneath the stream of the nearest showerhead and set the temperature to his liking, Maza reached up and sealed its helmet. He couldn’t see where it was looking beneath the opaque visor. He squirted some shower gel into his hand from a wall-mounted dispenser and began to spread it, coating his arms and upper body in the soapy suds. He was facing the wall, but he could still feel eyes on his back, his instincts informing him that he had an audience.

When he turned around, Maza had taken a few steps closer, the water splashing on its insulated suit and rolling down its helmet in sheets. The ‘snout‘ of its helmet was only inches away from him, a little below chest height. As he watched, the alien reached over and fumbled with its right wrist. The bulky metal pressure seal popped open with a hiss, and it removed the glove to expose its bare hand. The two fingers and its thumb were tipped with dull claws, covered in the same green scales that were present on its head. Their entire bodies were likely scaly too.

It reached out towards him tentatively. For a moment, he considered batting it away, but he had no idea if this was appropriate behavior in their culture or not. They didn’t seem to have much concept of personal space, and he didn’t want to frighten the creature or risk insulting it.

Its fingers brushed his abdomen, sliding slowly across his soapy skin as if testing its texture. He was suddenly aware of how much he was moving. His abdominal muscles tensed where its fingers roamed, his chest rising and falling, his heart beating as the alien explored him. He noted that its touch was warm, not cool like a Krell. Did that mean that the Valbarans were warm-blooded, like mammals? With the visor closed, he couldn’t read its expression, couldn’t gauge where it was looking.

It reached up above its head and took his wrist in its gloved hand. It was surprisingly strong, it had a grip like iron, but it was gentle with him. It guided his hand down and opened his fingers with its ungloved hand, stroking his palm, tickling him. It watched his digits flex, inspecting them, perhaps surprised by the number. After a moment, it placed its palm against his, comparing their two hands. Its scaly skin was as smooth as glass and oddly soft. He hadn’t expected it to feel like this, he had assumed that their scales would be rough and dry. It was so small, the span of its fingers just barely filled his palm.

It was an oddly intimate moment, it made him feel…strange.

“W-what are you doing?” he mumbled, not knowing if it could even hear him inside that helmet. After a moment, an external speaker crackled to life, and its high-pitched voice came through.

“Coalition,” it said, interlocking its mismatched fingers with his. “Together.”

“Uh, yeah…” He drew his hand back, resuming his shower as the little alien watched him. After a moment, it reached out to tug at his shorts, but he gently pushed its grasping fingers away. “Nope, if you want to learn about our anatomy, you can do that on your own time.”

Maza took a step back, letting him resume his shower, wiping its hand dry on its suit and then locking the glove back into place. Jaeger was accustomed to getting his shower over with quickly, as he was usually on call, and so it was only a couple of minutes before he was drying himself off. Once he had gotten his clothes back on, minus his wet shorts, he noted that the gaggle of little reptiles were all soaked. He sighed, preparing his towel, memories of his attempts to wash his rowdy childhood dog flashing through his mind.

“Alright you little monsters, line up, you can’t go running around the carrier when you’re soaking wet.”

Incredibly, they actually did as he asked, lining up in a row. He dried their suits off one by one with the towel, the sleepy Krell watching the odd scene with one eye open, apparently not interested enough to dedicate two to the task. Their camouflaged clothing was thick and insulated. He couldn’t feel much beneath it, and so he was unable to tell if their wide hips and narrow torsos were a result of their biology, or if it was just the shape of their suits.

When he was done, they followed him out of the room dutifully, off to their next adventure.


“Valbara?” Doctor Evans asked, giving the aliens a concerned glance as one of them rummaged through a metal tray of medical tools. She walked over to it and pulled its hand away, the alien chirping its displeasure as it scurried away to examine a rack of lab coats, vanishing into the fabric with only its long tail visible.

“That’s what Maza said,” Jaeger replied with a shrug, “that’s the one that took off its helmet for us. It also implied that there are Bugs on their home planet, or maybe there were, it’s hard to be sure. They’re making progress with the language, ask them something and see for yourself.”

“Very well,” she said, clearing her throat. “Maza, come here.” The little alien trotted over, its head bobbing with every step, looking up at the physician expectantly. “Do you know where you are?”

Rorke, carrier of Earth’nay,” it replied.

“Earth…nay?” Evans asked, turning to Jaeger and raising an eyebrow.

“I think it means Earthling, or ‘from Earth‘, that’s their word for us. They call themselves ‘Valbaranay‘.”

“And what is your name?” Evans continued.


“How many fingers am I holding up?” she asked, extending two fingers.

“Two finger,” Maza said, followed by a beep.

“I have to admit, I had my doubts when the Captain ordered us to let them loose on the ship, but it seems to be doing wonders for their vocabulary. None of them have fallen into a waste disposal chute or been sat on by a Krell so far, so I guess I have you to thank for that, Lieutenant.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Doc.”

“I wonder if they’ll consent to a physical examination now?” she pondered aloud.

“Worth a try,” Jaeger said, “they’ve not taken their suits off as far as I know. Not outside their dropship, at least. I’m getting pretty curious about what they have hidden under there myself.”

“Maza,” Evans began, crouching down to eye level with the creature as it stared at her with its unblinking eyes. “Would you remove your clothes so that I can examine you? Do you understand?”

She mimed taking her clothes off, and Maza cocked its head.

“Nope, if you want to learn about our anatomy, you can do that on your own time.”

Evans stood rapidly, scowling at Jaeger as he laughed.

“Did you teach it to say that?”

“At least it understood the question,” he chuckled.

“I suppose so. You know that these aliens mimic the accents and mannerisms of the people they copy, right? If someone teaches them to curse as a joke, we’ll know who did it.”

“I promise not to teach them to curse, Doctor.”

“If they won’t consent to an examination then there’s not much more that we can learn from them,” Evans grumbled, clearly disappointed by Maza’s reaction. “With a little more practice, perhaps we can simply ask them what we want to know.”

“Yes, Ma’am. By the way, have you heard anything about Scratcher?”

“Who or what is ‘Scratcher‘?” she asked.

“He was the Beewolf pilot that got brought in recently, Captain Fielding told me that he was undergoing evaluation in the sickbay.”

“I’m not aware of any-”

“This your female?” Maza asked, interrupting Evans as it thrust the phone that it had swiped earlier into Jaeger’s face. On the screen was a picture of a Borealan taken from some kind of fact sheet, showing its internal workings like the bone structure and placement of the organs.

“My female?” Jaeger asked, confused. “I don’t have a girlfriend if that’s what you’re asking. You should ask Scratcher about that when he gets out of the infirmary.”

“No,” the alien chirped, frustrated. “You species female.”

“You’re asking if the Borealans are the females of my species? Of course not, why do you say that?”

Maza seemed surprised, examining the picture again.

“You smaller.”

“So? Should a male be smaller than a female?”

“Males smaller than females.”

“Not for humans, nor Borealans for that matter,” Evans added. “Our genders are about the same size. Is that not the case on Valbara? Your friends all seem to be about the same height,” she said as she glanced at the other aliens who were currently exploring her office. Again Maza seemed confused, cocking its head at the humans.

“No males.”

“There are no males with you?” Jaeger asked. “Why?”

“Male can’t fight.”

“That’s plural,” he corrected, “males can’t fight.”

“Males can’t fight.”

“Better, now why can’t males fight?”

“Males is for…” Maza thought for a moment, “raise young.”

“Strange, so your gender roles must be the reverse of ours,” Evans wondered. “I’m somewhat surprised to see that kind of attitude prevailing in such an advanced species.”

“Don’t make judgments just yet, Doctor. Their males really could be three feet tall for all we know.”

“It wouldn’t be unheard of,” she said. “In fact, mammals are quite unusual in being a patriarchal species. In most animal classes, it’s the females who are larger and more dominant than the males. In insect and fish species, the female can sometimes be many times larger than the male counterpart, and quite anatomically distinct. If you were to see a male and a female golden silk spider side by side, for example, you could be forgiven for assuming that they were entirely separate species. The female is six times the size of the male. Perhaps we can forgive our guests for making the same assumptions about us.”

“So that means these guys, or rather gals, are all females?”

“It appears so,” Evans replied.

“I suppose we must all look the same to them if they can’t tell our males apart from our females.”

“Well, we’re a lot less sexually dimorphic than many species. We don’t have any flamboyant crests, no antlers or peacock feathers, nothing to differentiate us if we’re fully clothed. Perhaps that’s a lesson for a different time, however. I’d rather keep my lab coat on today.”

“So what do you think?” Jaeger asked, “are they ready to talk to the Captain yet?”

“I’d give them another day. This one, Maza, seems especially good at reproducing human speech. She’s almost got it down. Make sure you keep her talking, give her lots of one-on-one practice.”

“Will do,” he said, patting his thigh to get the attention of the Valbarans. “Come on girls, let’s give Doctor Evans some peace. No…put that back,” he chided as one of the aliens lifted a microscope from the worktop. “Maza, what’s this one called?”

“Coza’ma’lotl,” she replied with a trill.

“Right, Coza then. Coza, come here.”

The curious alien set the item down and trailed after him reluctantly as he led them out of Evans’ office and into one of the Rorke’s many winding corridors.


“So you’re female?” Jaeger asked, Maza bobbing along beside him as they walked.

“You male?”

“Yeah, I’m male.”

She looked him up and down, almost as if she didn’t believe him.

“Earth’nay males fight?”

“Where I come from, everyone fights. Some are better suited to certain jobs than others, you’ll probably find more male Marines than females, but we all do our part. What are your males like?”

“Small,” she replied.

“Describe them to me, it’s good practice.”

She hesitated for a moment, thinking hard.

“Male has…”

“Plural,” Jaeger added, “males have…”

“Males have beautiful feathers,” she said, gesturing to her head and puffing up her crown of colorful plumes. They must be impressive indeed if she was suggesting that hers weren’t beautiful in comparison. “Smaller, weaker, but pretty.”

“And what about your homeworld? What’s it like? Do you have jungles, forests, oceans?”

She cocked her head at him, and he gestured for her to pass him the phone, then he pulled up some vistas of Earth’s different environments. There were mountains and rolling hills, verdant forests, and grassy savannas. He passed the device to her, and she examined it, stopping in the hallway as her friends crowded around to see. She swiped through the pictures, her eyes wide, chittering and whistling to her companions.

“Not so different,” she finally said, “your world is beautiful. What is this?”

He leaned over to see what she was pointing at. It was a giraffe in one of the nature shots, the sun setting behind it on the Serengeti.

“That’s an Earth animal,” he explained, “it’s called a giraffe.”

“What’s this?” another asked, and he recognized her as Ayau due to her tan scales.

“That’s a Zebra.”

“This, this!” another warbled as she pointed at a picture of an elephant. She had far darker scales than her companions, a deep shade of spinach green visible beneath the open visor on her helmet. She looked up at him eagerly as she waited for his reply.

“That’s an elephant,” he explained. “I don’t believe we’ve been introduced, what’s your name?”

“Xico’hte’otl,” she announced as she patted herself on the chest, then she went back to staring at the pictures. The aliens were fascinated, and he wondered what kind of fauna might exist on Valbara.

“Come on,” he said. “I’ll take you to one of the ready rooms, and we can put on a nature documentary for you. You’ll be able to see lots of Earth animals.”

They seemed excited by the prospect, pausing for a moment to huddle together like football players before a game. They always seemed to do that whenever he suggested a new activity, it was like they wouldn’t act unless each one of them was in agreement on exactly what they’d be doing. After a few moments, they formed an orderly line and began to follow him again as he set off down the narrow corridor.

“You said earlier that you wanted to get the Bugs off Valbara,” he said. “Have they invaded? Did they attack you?”

Maza considered again, choosing her words carefully.

“Val’ba’ra’nay have two worlds, another star, Ker’gue’la. We make new life there, grow, spread for thirty rotations. Aliens appear, we meet Bugs. They are not friendly like Coalition.”

“They kill Ker’gue’la’nay,” the one called Coza added, “take world. Survivors flee to Val’ba’ra, return home. We convert carriers for defend, make new weapons, wait many rotations for Bugs to find us again. Now they come, but Coalition come too.”

“Maybe this time will be different,” Maza said with a flurry of yellow feathers.

“Maybe Earth’nay protect Val’bra’ra,” Ayau said with another flash of colorful plumes.

Jaeger’s heart sank. So the Valbarans had been a multi-planet species at one point, for at least thirty years, or however long a Valbaran ‘rotation‘ was. They must have discovered superlight travel relatively recently, and they had done what every species who discovers it eventually does, expand their living space. Then one day the Bugs had arrived, their compound eyes fixed on the habitable planet, and they had driven the Valbarans from their colony. He had seen what happened to colonies that succumbed to the Betelgeusians, the insects had no qualms with genocide and war crimes, they saw the defenders as simple vermin to be eradicated by any means necessary. The survivors had fled back to their home system, and the Valbarans had geared up to defend it from what they probably assumed to be an imminent invasion by an organized force.

It seemed that they didn’t yet know the true nature of the Bugs and how they propagated, what their goals were. It was a fact that the Coalition had only recently discovered themselves. There was no organized Bug armada, there was no communication between their hives. Once a new Queen was birthed on a Bug colony, she was compelled to build a small fleet, and then she had to leave in search of a new planet where she could found her own colony. It was likely that the fleet that was currently scouting the Oort cloud of HD-217107 had originated from the very same world that the Valbarans had surrendered years prior.

“We won’t let them take Valbara,” he said confidently, “the Rorke will stop them.”

“Coalition fights Bugs,” Maza replied, her feathers fluttering in shades of yellow and orange. She seemed hopeful, was that the emotion conveyed by her plumage?

Rorke smash Bugs,” Coza declared, her feathers standing up in shades of red and orange. “Railgun, big railgun, Beewolf!” The other aliens chirped in agreement, She certainly seemed to be the more aggressive of the bunch, she was a hair larger than the other members of her flock too. Maybe she was the muscle.

“Damn straight, that’s our job,” Jaeger said with a nod.

He wasn’t sure that she fully understood, but she seemed happier now. It really had been a stroke of luck that they had happened upon each other when they had. If the UNN had chosen to patrol this sector of space a week earlier or later, they might not have crossed paths at all. The Rorke might have continued on, none the wiser of the mortal struggle that was about to ensue in the humble little star system. But now they had a chance to help these people, and that was what the job was all about when it came down to it. That was why everyone joined the UNN, even if that original intent often became lost in the realities of war. A technologically and militarily superior force had been dropped into the lap of the Valbarans at just the right moment, like the answer to a prayer.

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