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1. The Day of Infamy
Ujjain Colony: 11 A.L. (after Lhasa)
Jackson Mills and Claudette Hill sat at a small circular table outside of the Steno restaurant in Hamilton Square. They were often teased by their friends for having similar last names. Hamilton Square was a popular area on Ujjain Colony. It was full of shops, restaurants, and the largest theatre on the colony. Jackson and Claudette had tickets to see a show later that night. They were on a date but they both spent more time fiddling with their Navi’s than conversating.
The Navi was a multipurpose device that fit onto the wrist like a watch. It could be used to access all kinds of information, music, news, videos and so on. You could also play virtual reality games on it. Its most important use was to upload memories to the Shangri-La Ghost server. Each person was filed on the server at birth. The rule was a simple one, on the surface. Lead a good and productive life, and after death, you can live on in a virtual reality paradise on the ghost server. Soldiers had their own server known as Valhalla, warrior’s heaven.
On her Navi, Claudette was scrolling through the work of some of her favorite local artists. While Jackson was searching for a decent feed of the debate between the two remaining candidates for Prime Minister, Archibald Harper and Catherine Fisher. He finally found a good stream on the Star Network. He often gravitated to Star because they let the debates play out without giving too much of their own commentary. Most networks were overly concerned with swaying their viewers than reporting the news.
The Navi vibrated the tiny hair cells within Jackson’s ear so he could hear the debate as the holographic scene floated above his wrist. He had missed the opening introductions. The current Prime Minister, Archibald Harper, was in the midst of responding to a question.
“The Arez want to destroy our very way of life.” Archibald proclaimed from behind his podium. “My opponent intends to jeopardized that way of life in a vain attempt to appease a violent alien species. They do not. Allow me to repeat. They do not respect or understand diplomacy. The Arez are a self-proclaimed warrior race. They only respect power, force. If you elect Catherine Fisher, they will reach the colonies and they will destroy us. We cannot have another Lhasa.” Half of the audience in the hall applauded.
Jackson furled his brow as he watched the Prime Minister on his Navi. Claudette spoke to him without looking up from hers, “What’s wrong sugar?”
“Ugh. Just more of Harper and his propaganda. I swear. If people re-elect this war mongering idiot, I’m moving to Jophiel.”
Claudette touched his hand and they looked at each other. “I love it when you get all fired up,” she smiled.
He smiled then directed his attention back to the debate.
Catherine Fisher was already responding, “We’ve had an off and on war with the Arez for generations. In all of that time, neither side has made any attempt at negotiation. Think about that. Over 200 years of conflict with no attempt at resolution. We don’t even know what they want. We pride ourselves on being a civilized people, on being a light in the darkness. Well, we’re not acting like it. Harper is going to lead us right into another Battle of Jophiel. Right into another 54,258 military casualties and another unofficial cease fire. Just like 90 years ago. He’s going to sacrifice our loyal service people and then pass this same war onto our children. This cycle of death will just repeat.”
Jackson’s eyes lit up as he listened to Governor Fisher speak.
Claudette smirked at him from across the table, “Should I be jealous?”
“You are crushing so hard on Governor Fisher.”
“No, I’m not.” Jackson said as he blushed. “I think she’s the best choice. I respect her position and…” He stuttered a bit.
His face got even redder, “You know what I mean.”
She took his hand again. “You’re so adorable when you’re flustered,” she laughed.
Jackson squeezed her hand and began to laugh as well. Suddenly, he felt an intense heat in his right shoulder. A searing heat and an awful smell like burning flesh. Time seemed to slow to a crawl. He looked to his left and there was a woman holding an infant. She was falling towards the ground as red sparks exploded from her back.
Reality began to set in. He looked to see a hole burned through his right shoulder. Pain gripped him as he realized that he had been shot. He wasn’t bleeding. Whatever pierced him, cauterized the wound as it passed through. His eyes followed the logical path that the projectile must have come from.
Jackson looked to Claudette and, to his horror, she had a similar wound. But her wound was at the center of her chest. She trembled as she looked back at him with a vacant expression in her eyes. Before Jackson could reach out to her, Claudette collapsed face first into the plate of risotto that she was enjoying just moments ago. She was gone.
“No.” He whispered.
There was commotion in Hamilton Square. People were fleeing in every direction, falling over each other in terror. Jackson was frozen in place. He couldn’t move. Another random laser blast impacted a neighboring table and tossed it several feet away. Jackson continued to stare down the street.
He could see them now. Two enormous figures who had to stand at least 7 feet tall. They had red skin and tribal face masks. These were Arez warriors and they were mowing people down in the street. Jackson trembled in his seat. Planet Samael was so far away. The war was supposed to be fought on distant moons and in distant orbits. Not on the streets of Ujjain. How did the war find its way here?
Jackson had resigned himself to this cruel fate. He wanted to be with Claudette. That is until he heard the crying of a baby nearby. He looked to the ground were the mother fell. The child she was holding was unharmed. Jackson wasn’t a brave man but, for some unknown reason, his body moved on its own. He leapt up his from his seat and reached down towards the helpless child. As he stood, he was immediately hit in the upper back by another laser blast. He stumbled forward in a vain attempt to maintain his balance. He fell on top of the baby. He was trying to run away with it but all he could do now was shield the child with his body.
He felt the heavy footsteps getting closer. The sounds their laser guns made as they fired. He had only heard that sound in motion pictures. Battles were exciting to watch on the silver screen but being in an actual warzone was horrifying. All Jackson could do was try to play dead. He very much looked the part.
The footsteps were right next to him now and the child was still crying. They would hear it soon. Jackson was tempted to cover the baby’s mouth with his hand but he resisted the urge. If this was the end, he would meet it like a Terran. He wouldn’t let his fear diminish his humanity.
The Arez warriors stopped a few feet away. They stopped firing their weapons also. Jackson clenched his eyes shut. The sound of gunshots began to ring out. It wasn’t the sound of laser blasts, it was the sound of bullets being fired. Jackson peeked out of his left eye. To his tears of relief, Ujjain’s security forces had finally arrived. The two Arez men ran forward and engaged with them in combat.
At some point during the fire fight, Jackson managed to crawl into the Steno restaurant with the crying child in his arm. The other patrons hiding within the restaurant pulled him into the kitchen and administered first aid to him. They all huddled in the kitchen. They were fearful of what would happen to them if the Ujjain security force lost the battle. The fighting in the street went on for another 20 minutes before Colonial Security finally killed the two invaders.
The news would later report that two Arez warriors, referred to as death seekers, somehow infiltrated the colony. It was unknown how they got in or if more attacks could occur on Ujjain or any of the other space colonies. The people of the colonies were left with an uncertain fear that would permeate their days moving forward. The worst-case scenario was all too real now and could happen at any moment.
Emergency crews arrived on the scene about ten minutes after the violence had ended. In that time, Jackson quietly stared at Claudette’s remains in the outside dining area. His eyes were full of tears but his heart was full of anger
To be continued in Versatile Layer Book 6: TRAITOR.
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Thomas K Davis
Author of the Versatile Layer Series