A slave of the brutal Star Empire, Keishas salvation is nothing like she had imagined...
For a while now, the Star Empire had been harassed by pirates attacking ships along the eastern borders. The Empire had responded by increasing patrols, but with little luck. When a patrol discovered a hidden listening post just outside Imperium space, the High Command ordered a strike, in the hope of disrupting pirate activities. After the listening post was destroyed, an investigative team combed through the remains. Their findings were covered up by order of the Directorate, but the damage had already been done.
A week later, several border outposts went silent. The officials responsible covered it up to save their own necks, and inadvertently left the Empire unprepared for what was coming...
New Charon, edge of Imperial space
Keisha hurried along the muddy street. She was late again. Her mother had been ill for weeks, but they couldn't afford medicine, so Keisha had devoted all her spare time to tend to her. Unfortunately, this had left her exhausted and she had found it hard to get up in the mornings.
Keisha was assigned to Plant 13, where she worked from 8 AM to 8 PM every day with only a 30 minute break. She had worked there for 7 years, since she has turned 15, just like all the other workers at the plant.
She hated the plant, she hated the work, she hated the constant quotas, and she especially hated that smug Overseer Tanner, who was in charge of the place. He was the son of a local official, and had gained his position through his fathers connections, not because of any great ability. He ruled by fear, like all Overseers.
As she entered the plant, she was met by the Overseer and two of his enforcers, all dressed in their black uniforms. As she had expected, the Overseer did not take her lateness well. His face was stern and cold, and it was obvious that he was angry.
"Worker 1120-7, you are late again," he said matter-of-factly. "This is the third time in a week." Keisha bowed her head, not daring to look at him.
"Apologies, Overseer. My mother..."
"...is irrelevant" the Overseer barked. Then he smiled cruelly. "As a result of your tardiness, you are being reassigned to Quarry 47."
Quarry 47. The place was infamous. Anyone who displeased the Overseers were sent there to die. It was run by an Overseer called Harper, a cruel man who enjoyed working his workers to death. If a work detachment failed to meet quotas, they were deprived of their meals until they met the quota. The hard work and the lack of sustenance meant that most that failed to meet quotas eventually starved to death.
Keisha looked up at the Overseer, and said pleadingly:
"Please, Overseer, I'll never be late again. My mother will die if I'm not there!" The Overseer shrugged.
"So what? If she dies, she was weak and deserved her fate."
Keisha was seized by a sudden rage. Before she could stop herself, she lashed out and hit the Overseer. Struck by the blow, he staggered before he was caught by one of the enforcers. The other enforcer raised his stun baton and struck Keisha across the face. Keisha fell to her knees, stunned both by the blow and the electric charge.
Overseer Tanner regained his composure. He looked coldly at Keisha.
"That was a mistake, Worker 1120-7. The penalty for striking an Overseer is death." He motioned to the enforcer, who had struck Keisha. "Give me your sidearm."
As the enforcer moved to withdraw his sidearm, klaxons began blaring. The Overseer and the enforcers, forgetting about Keisha, ran outside. As other workers began running past her, Keisha got up and followed them. Outside, they were all looking to the sky. As Keisha did the same, a cold shiver ran down her spine.
The sky was filled with clawed pods descending at terminal velocity, straight at them...
* * * * *
Governor Adrian Thornton looked with horror at the viewscreens. His entire defence grid had been knocked out in minutes by the invaders. He had never seen the spaceships now orbiting New Charon, nor heard them described. But whoever they were, they were certainly not pirates - their technology was far too advanced.
As he watched, the ships began launching thousands of drop pods. Here and there, ships fired a volley at some planetary target - most likely what defensive batteries existed. He turned and barked orders to assemble the troops and prepare to resist.
This was no simple attack. This was an invasion.
* * * * *
It soon became evident that some of the pods were headed their way, and those assembled outside - Keisha included - scattered and ran for safety. After reaching safety behind some crates, Keisha watched as several pods slowed and slammed into the ground just outside of the plant. She looked at the nearest one with a morbid fascination.
Its black and crimson paint was scorched by the rapid descent through the atmosphere, but still evident. Four large claws protruded from the sides. As she watched, they extended, lifting the body of the pod into the air, and revealed ten armoured figures. From what she could tell, they were humanoid, but fearsome masks obscured their faces. Their armour was dark gray and covered in spikes, and they carried dangerous-looking blades and some sort of energy rifles.
As she watched, an enforcer rose from behind a crate on the other side of the entrance, and fired his sidearm at the figures. He only succeeded to getting their attention, and was rewarded with a blast from one of the rifles. Keisha watched as the enforcer was hit. The bolt hit the enforcer square in the chest and left a burning hole where his heart should have been. The enforcer dropped dead.
Fearing for her life, Keisha ducked behind the crates again. Her heart was racing. More shots were heard and Keisha - overtaken by curiosity - peered out between two crates. More enforcers had arrived and was now in a firefight with the invaders.
Suddenly, she saw a pair of enforcers appear on the roof above, carrying a heavy weapon. It took her only a few seconds to choose a side in the battle; she rose enough to be noticed and yelled:
"Look out, up there!" She pointed at the enforcers on the roof.
One of the invaders saw her, and swung his weapon to shoot her. As he did so, his gaze followed her arm and he saw the enforcers. He yelled something unintelligible. Another invader turned and they both fired a volley from their rifles. Crimson bolts of energy laced through the air, cutting down the enforcers on the roof. The invader who had seen her first yelled something and motioned for her to hide, which she promptly did.
More weapons fire followed. Apparently, more enforcers had arrived; she recognized the sound of their laser weapons. As she was deciding whether to risk another look, two of the invaders jumped over the crates and landed beside her. One of them moved to fire around the crates, while the other crouched next to her. Her heart beat so fast she felt her chest would explode. Then she heard it - a sound almost like the cry of a hawk. She looked up and her heart skipped a beat. A great nightblue bird of prey was descending fast. As it closed, she realized that it was an attack craft of some kind. She noticed the cannons on its wings as it let loose, firing a volley of crimson bolts at a target on the other side of the crate. The impact caused the crate she was hiding behind to skid, and Keisha was knocked out by the impact...