Never Again (Just Another Day At The Office, part 8)

Written by Shpilkus on . Posted in AE Stories

36 never_01(Author’s note: if you haven’t read the earlier parts of this story, you should read that first before enjoying this story. Start with “Just Another Day At The Office”.


“They’re still just sitting there!” Joe Waxie called over the comm as he kept his spotting scope trained on the Drekon ship. It remained still, parked on the front lawn of what was left of Parliament House in New Liberty. The capital of Cestus III lay in ruins, and Joe was doing his best to stay out of sight in an abandoned office building only a block away from what would hopefully become “ground zero” in a few minutes.

“Roger that, thanks Joe”, replied Nika from the resistance’s makeshift headquarters in the Museum of Antique Warfare in Atlantis, over 6,000 miles away.

“5 minutes to target. Man, this thing is fast! Woo-hoo!” Ace, pilot of the Phoenix, radioed in. The Phoenix was a 475-year old Corvette, preserved in the museum for centuries, and now revived in an effort to rid their planet of the Drekon occupation force. “Targeting computer is locked on ‘Big D’ and ready to fire when in range”. “Big D” was Ace’s code name for the Drekon fighter craft that he would hopefully be destroying shortly.

Down in Atlantis, every fingernail had been bitten as the members of the resistance monitored the mission from afar. Sam sat captivated by the telemetry readouts while Nika monitored the comms. Jeremiah paced nervously back and forth behind Sam and Nika, glancing at the monitors with every pass.

“Ug! The suspense is killing me!” Nika nervously tapped a pencil on the desk as the time inched closer to the engagement at what seemed like a snail’s pace.

“One minute to go, still looking good!” Ace called out.

Thirty seconds later came a frantic communication. “Heads up, we’ve got activity on the ground!” exclaimed Joe Waxie. Sam’s eyes flew open and his heart skipped a beat. This was exactly what the resistance had hoped would not happen.

“What’s going on down there, Joe?” asked Ace.

“We’ve got what looks like a dorsal laser turret swiveling into position. It’s aimed northwest and up high - I assume that would be you! Look out!”

“I’m almost in range anyway, just a few more seconds... NOW!”

When asked later, neither Ace nor Joe Waxie would be able to say for sure who fired first. Time seemed to stop for Joe as many things happened at once. Simultaneously, the air sizzled and cracked as bolts of energy leapt from the turrets of two ships. One beam came from the Drekon ship on the ground, while twin beams of laser energy shot forth from the Corvette overhead. In a split second, there was an immense fireball on the front lawn of Parliament House. The explosion violently shook the building Joe was in, and an overpressure wave coming through the empty window casements knocked him to the floor. Plaster, dust and paint chips rained down on him. Had there been any intact windows, he was certain he would have been covered in glass too.

Joe coughed twice, scrambled to his feet and reached for the comm. “ACE! Come in, Ace!” he screamed hoarsely.

“I’m hit but I’m still here! Did I get ‘em?” came the reply.

“Thank goodness you’re okay. Let me look, there’s a lot of dust and smoke...” Joe retrieved his spotting scope, wiped a layer of dust off with his shirt, and trained it on the charred front lawn of Parliament House. All that he could see was flaming wreckage. Looking around the site he saw that large and small pieces of debris had been strewn in all directions from the explosion.

“YOU GOT HIM! ‘BIG D’ is TOAST!” Joe shouted exuberantly over the comm. Immediately cheers erupted in Atlantis as the resistance listened to the exchange. Jeremiah was embraced by Midori, and the others were celebrating loudly as well, giving high-fives and handshakes all around.

“That’s for Speedy, you bastards!” He meant to say that to himself, but Nika heard Sam’s exclamation and smiled. She threw her arms around him and hugged enthusiastically. “We did it, Sam! We really did it!”

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The Phoenix circled overhead, giving Ace his first view of the wreckage. The Corvette had taken some damage in the assault, and several systems had gone offline. There was a smell of something electrical shorting out or burning in the cockpit. “Uh, guys – I’ve taken a hit and the nav computer is offline. Sorry, I don’t think this bird is gonna make it all the way back to Atlantis. So I’m gonna put her down in New Liberty. Hey, J -tell Brent and Peter that I think the Phoenix is gonna need a little body work done when you guys get back here! I don’t think this is gonna buff out!”

Jeremiah chuckled as he picked up the comm and replied, “You’ve got it, Ace. Well done, my boy – well done!” Beaming, he handed the comm back to Nika.

“What happens now?” she asked.

“I’m afraid it may not be over. We need to keep a sharp eye out to see if there is any reaction from the Drekons. And watch for any reinforcements that might show up. We also need to find a way home to New Liberty as soon as possible. If any Drekons do come back, we’ll need the Phoenix operational”, replied Jeremiah.

“I can help you with that”, said Hikaru Shidou, the curator of the museum. “In light of all that’s happened, I wish to donate my personal watercraft to you. The Thrasher is not as big or as fast as the Alyra but it should get you home safely, provided the power grid stays somewhat stable. It’s got a solar backup just in case so you should be fine either way. The Thrasher is docked outside and it’s yours, take it please. We’ll keep the Alyra safe and sound until a replacement fusion plant can be obtained for her. She’ll sail again, tell Captain Nath not to worry!”

“Thank you, Hikaru – we are forever in your debt in more ways than one!” Jeremiah shook hands with the curator as the resistance members began to pack up their gear and load it on board. Within 2 hours they were fully loaded and stocked and under way for home.

“And now the cleanup begins...”, sighed Hikaru as he looked at the now-empty Great Hall, with one wall blown out and pieces of an empty transparent aluminum case laying on the floor.

As word began to spread around the planet, people were hopeful – but they remained holed up. The first day after the successful mission, as the 24-hour mark came and went with no Drekon attack, spirits rose. The second day, marking 48 hours since the last pillage, saw people emerging from their homes and caves and celebrating openly. Those who had fled to remote areas now began to work their way back home and pick up the pieces in and around their neighborhoods and houses. Every day that went by without a Drekon reprisal added courage and confidence, and more and more people joined work crews to start the long and arduous task of rebuilding.

Eight days after leaving Atlantis, the resistance members had a joyous reunion with Ace and Joe Waxie in New Liberty. Crews had already begun clearing streets and running new comm fiber. Repairs to the solar and fusion plants dotted around the planet had gone well and the power grid was more or less stable, although they would need to rebuild the Antimatter Plant soon to meet the demand.

“Did you guys hear the news?” asked Ace. “The President has invited us to be honored in a ceremony the day after tomorrow at Parliament House!” The group was abuzz over this, as they had not heard about it during their voyage. Sam was just glad to be home, and glad the nightmare was over. The power was already back on in his neighborhood, and that night he enjoyed a hot meal, shower and a good night’s sleep in his own bed for the first time in what seemed like forever.

Two days later, the twelve members of the expedition to Atlantis along with Joe Waxie stood alongside the President, who was on crutches and wearing a cast on one arm. In front of a crowd estimated at well over one hundred thousand people, all of them received a medal honoring their service to the planet. Ace and Sam each received an additional award. Sam received a Meritorious Conduct award for his actions online, keeping their guild alive during the crisis. Ace was given a Hero of the Republic medallion for his daring combat flight in the ancient fighting ship.

The President next began what would be long remembered as an historic address:

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“Fellow survivors of Cestus 3: let me start by saying this: rumors of my demise were, shall we say, a bit premature!” President Julatsa grinned broadly as the crowd erupted in a standing ovation and cheering that lasted a full minute or more.

“Just like our planet, I may be down but I am not out!” Laughter greeted this, as she indicated her cast and crutches.

“On a more serious note”, she continued as the crowd died down, “we are here today to celebrate but also to remember. To honor those who lost their lives, and in their memories to make new promises. Promises to never again be caught off guard. Promises to do our duty as your government to protect you, our people. Promises that should there be a next time, we will be ready!” More cheers and shouting erupted from the crowd.

“It is worth noting something about the entities called the Drekons. Never once did they communicate with us. We attempted on numerous occasions to negotiate with them. At one point I even authorized a planetary surrender, if they would simply stop killing our people every 24 hours. Not one word came from their side. They simply came, and slaughtered, and continued to hurt us every day of their occupation. We don’t know what they wanted, why they were here, or why they chose our planet to invade. We may never know these things. This illustrates clearly that their species simply cannot be reasoned with. But they can and must be defended against!” A burst of applause followed this.

She continued, “We are signatories to the InterGalactic Treaty, and pledge to our fellow guilds that we will continue to abide by it. However, we will never again allow ourselves to be conquered by a race that is not party to the treaty. I am therefore ordering an immediate and massive investment in defense infrastructure, and military spacecraft production, for purposes of self-defense only. We are truly seekers of peace, but we will also be defenders of our liberty!” Once again, the crowd went wild.

President Julatsa held up her hands to silence the crowd. “To this end, I have ordered the construction of shipyards both on the ground and in orbit. I have also ordered the construction of defense turrets in all major cities. And I have directed the Cestus Aeronautics and Space Administration to begin work on an orbital defense system. CASA assures me that they will be able to launch a ‘planetary ring’ of photon-based defense turrets and ion-powered shields within 18 months.” The crowd erupted into cheering again at this last statement.

“Speaking again to our fellow planetary guilds who are bound by the treaty, I remind you that we will never use these ships or defenses for anything except self-preservation. As such, I do not believe we are in violation of the treaty. We will continue to do battle with you only within the confines of the Inter-Galactic Computer-Based Combat System.” With this last sentence, the President looked over at Sam and gave him a quick nod. He nodded back nervously, still amazed at the proceedings before him.

“Our records indicate that the Drekons have struck before, and will likely strike again. Next time, it could be your planet. I strongly urge you to take steps now to ensure the safety of your citizens. All of us have the right to fight for our survival and way of life when it is threatened by species such as the Drekons. Do not let them conquer you as they did us. We all have the right to fight!” At this, President Julatsa made a fist and raised it in the air, which caused the crowd to explode in a frenzy of cheering. Chants of “Ju-lat-sa! Ju-lat-sa!” began to ring out. It took a few moments for things to settle down again.

“In closing, I wish to extend a personal and heartfelt apology to the people of Cestus III. As head of state, I have let you down. I bear full responsibility for our lack of preparedness. I’ve told you how we’re going to change, and what we’re going to do to be ready should the Drekons decide to pay us a return visit. We have an enormous amount of work ahead of us. There is so much to rebuild and so many new things to construct that it will take a concentrated effort on all of our parts to make it happen. We will pick up the pieces and, like the beautiful and mighty Phoenix, triumphantly rise again from the ashes. My pledge to you this day is simple. So simple that it can be stated in just two words. These words, that from this day on will be our motto in everything that we do: NEVER AGAIN!”


Fred poked his head through the doorway of Sam’s office. “Happy anniversary, Sam!”

“Huh? What do you mean?” Sam answered, looking up from his display terminal.

“You don’t remember? Today is two years since you got your big promotion, duh!”

“Oh, yeah, right! Thanks, Fred!” Sam replied.

“Who’d have thunk it? You, guild leader for ‘A’ shift!” Fred shook his head and smiled.

“There are a lot of things that I never would have ‘thunk’, that’s for sure”, Sam said wryly.

“Well, I gotta get back to my desk for the op. See you at lunch?”

“You betcha. Good luck!”

Sam briefly looked around the spacious office he occupied in the newly-rebuilt IGCBCS headquarters building in a partially-reconstructed New Liberty. He reflected on the events of the past that had led him to this place, remembering a certain fateful night when the Drekons came calling. He didn’t spend too long reminiscing, though, as the guild had a planned operation coming up momentarily.

Today’s hit was a small but profitable one against a friendly rival guild, [FREAK]. Sam was disappointed that he never did get to lead his revenge op against the two guilds that took advantage of [CSTS3] during the Drekon invasion. As it turned out, he didn’t need to. Shortly after Cestus III was liberated, [VNDKR] and [EMNR7] had actually gone to war with each other. They decimated both of their respective guilds’ fleets in an all-out battle. Sam thought it was deliciously ironic, yet not nearly as satisfying as having turned them into debris himself.

The operation went off as planned, with profitable hits being made by Sam and his colleagues. His recyclers picked up their allotment at the tick, and just like that it was time for lunch. Sending his fleet back home, he got up to go meet Fred in the company cafeteria.

Fred rode out the attacks at a relative’s house in the country, barely making it out of New Liberty the night of the invasion. They had it rough for a while, and like many their food ran out during the occupation, but they made it. Even though he was a mid-level Associate, and Sam was now Guild Leader, they still ate lunch together every day, just like they did before the invasion when they worked at adjacent cubicles. They discussed the day’s operation and what they were going to spend their newly-won credits on, then said their goodbyes and headed back to their respective work areas.

When Sam got back to his desk, he noted with amusement that his last attacks were still on the ticker. “Slow day!” he thought to himself. The computer indicated that he had four messages waiting for him in the IGCBCS system. This wasn’t unusual – since he was on the ticker for so long, he expected to attract some “ticker gnomes”, users that would send him their trade routes.

36 never_04

Three of the four messages were just that, folks asking for their open trades to be posted on the [CSTS3] board. The fourth private message, however, left Sam speechless. His eyes grew wide and he turned pale. Fumbling, he reached for his comm and dialed Jeremiah.

“Hello?” the old man answered.

“Jeremiah, it’s Sam.”

“Sammy! So good to hear from you! What can I do for you?” Jeremiah sounded genuinely pleased to hear from him.

“I got one of those messages we talked about”, Sam said seriously.

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“Oh, no!” gasped Jeremiah. “What did it say?”

“It says they’re under attack by unknown and very powerful ships that showed up without warning. They’re asking for military and humanitarian assistance as soon as possible. It’s got to be the Drekons again”, he mused.

“Who is it from? Who are they going after now?”

“It’s from a guy named ‘Steve Biberus’ but from a guild I have never heard of before.”

“What guild, Sam? Where is it happening?” Jeremiah pushed.

“Like I said, I’ve never heard of them. Something called [E4RTH]...”


Story sent by Shpilkus for the AE Stories event.