The Desk Fiction Collection
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Dedicated to the Desk's former co-workers at DTI.

"The Squid Guys are the Good Guys"

©2014 Levite
http://themediadesk

Part One

Bo and Sammi
The Mid-Atlantic, USA

      Me and my family did not survive the end of humanity through any great wisdom or insight. We didn't see it coming and flee, we didn't get a warning from an angel or anything like that. We got lucky, that's all it was. We had been camping in the mountains and had gone to see the old Paw Paw tunnel, and to see some more early fall colors on our way home. You know, one last family vacation before the kids were too old to want to do something like that with their parents. Then we were cooking lunch in the picnic area next to the parking lot, and our world, our civilization, came to an end.
      Our son had been listening to a Pittsburgh radio station when all of the sudden he started telling us about how the city was under attack.
      "No, it's real!" He said and handed me one of his ear buds.
      I listened for a minute while the DJ talked very excitedly about explosions and warnings. Then the radio went dead.
      That's when I took out my cell phone and told it that I was OK with the roaming fee to check the headlines on the Internet.
      I only had a bar and a half of signal, but it was enough to see the news that the USA was being attacked by an unknown power and several major cities had been bombed.
      I switched the screen to bring up our home town newspaper's homepage almost on instinct. It took a minute for it to load, then when it did, it gave me chills. The lead headline a possible attack on Washington DC. The second was about an explosion in downtown Pittsburgh. I had started to read something else about Los Angeles when it lost the feed even though it was still connected to the cell tower.
      "I don't know what to do," I said to my wife.

Captain Muller
Pacific Northwest, USA

      I just had that feeling that something was wrong. I went hiking on my weekend pass, and before dawn one morning, my gps and my cell phone both quit working. If it were one or the other, I would have cursed my luck, and not thought any more about it.
      Then I heard a low rumble and saw the smoke off to the west, by the distance and direction I thought it was probably from Fort Lewis and then more in another direction toward the SeaTac airport.
      There was a solid mass of stone in my stomach when I stopped hiking and got out my small AM/FM radio. One station was off the air, but I picked up another that had a live voice on it screaming about an attack.
      An attack from outer space, and he kept saying that it wasn't a hoax or a publicity stunt.
      Then I saw an enormous flash on the northern horizon toward Seattle, then the ground shook followed by a distinct rumbling sound. But there was no fireball or mushroom cloud anywhere in the sky.

Penni Potts British Isles
      It was midday when we heard the sirens. Then there was an announcement on the TV in the waiting room that our town was under attack by an unknown enemy. We had no idea what to do, but somebody said that maybe we should go downstairs, so we all walked down to the basement like it was a lark of some sort.
      Then our building shook and the lights all went out.
      All of the sudden it wasn't a game any more. We really were being attacked.
      Some said it was the Soviets, or a terrorist group, or maybe the French. The custodian had a radio in his workroom and we turned it on.
      All I could think or say was, "oh, my, God."

Chris Banks
World Press International, Bahrain

      It was late in the afternoon when my assignment in what used to be one of the calmer capital cities in the Middle East took a turn that nobody ever believed would actually come to pass.
      When the city's airport was taken out in one massive explosion, the first thing that everybody thought was that it had been hit by a nuclear weapon, except there was no heat, and no mushroom cloud. The airport was gone, but there was nothing that indicated it had been a weapon we were all familiar with.
      Then another blast eliminated the capital complex. Again, the shock wave was massive, my hotel was all but flattened about a mile from the complex, but there was no heat or other effects that one would expect from a bomb, or The Bomb.
      Then other blasts rained down from above as those of us that had been in the internet cafe in the hotel clung to each other under tables and what had been the food service counter.
      I don't know what possessed me to do it, but right in the middle of the attack I took my phone out of my purse and tried to call my mother. I had signal, but the call wouldn't go through.
      Then after the giant explosions we heard other, smaller bombs go off here and there. They seemed to be moving back and forth, then we saw the dark shape flying over the city, raining destruction and death down on upon us. Then a larger ship slowed and moved like it was landing.
      "We need to get out of town," I said to those with me who spoke my language.
      "Yes, but to where?"
      "We'll go down to the waterfront, then head south. I know someplace we might be able to spend the night out of sight."

      There was no use trying to go back to our rooms as we couldn't even tell where the rubble from our rooms had landed. It looked as though part of the hotel had taken a direct hit. But as we made our ways to the shore we managed to pick up a few things that we thought might be useful, and we picked up three other survivors as well.
      In the end, there were six of us, all from Western countries. Two single women, two unattached men, and a married couple.
      As is the way in that type of country, many of the locals were going the other way, making their way into town to the great Mosque on the other side of a large market district from where our hotel had been. We saw another flash and instinctively made ourselves part of the ruins of a warehouse before we heard the deafening roar of another explosion. After it passed we could see where the center of town had been. Almost everything behind us was gone, including the mosque.
      "This is about killing people, not making war," I said.

Abbey and Jay
Whyalla, Australia

      The blast threw us out of our beds.
      Jay, even though he is a full teenager was crying when I found him in the hallway of our house. From what I could tell the front half of our home had collapsed. At first I thought it had been lightning since it had been raining all night. But then that didn't seem likely.
      There was another blast that shook the house and made plaster fall, but sounded far away.
      "Mummy, the electric is out," he said. He never called me that unless something was wrong.
      "Are you hurt?"
      "No, I don't think so."
      The house groaned around us."
      "We can't stay in here," I said. "I think we can get out the back door."
      "I'll get my pack. Where are we going to go? Aunt Marcie's?"
      "That's a good idea." I said as he went back into his room.
      One of the things I made Jay do was to keep all of his scout stuff in his pack. All of the sudden I was thanking my guardian angels that he had done it. He put his pack on, I took my purse and a jacket and we made our way out the back door into the rain, and I never saw my house again.

      We could see something high in the air but under the rain clouds shooting balls of fire at the city, and then once in awhile there would be a giant explosion like the one that destroyed our house.
      "What is that?" My son asked me. "Is it terrorists or aliens?"
      "I don't know, but we need to get away from it."
      My car was buried in what was left of the carport, but our bicycles were free so we took them and pushed them out to the street.
      "Do you want to take the short cut?" He asked me.
      "Tonight, yes." I answered as I tightened my hood over my head.
      "Follow me," he said confidently.

Captain Muller
Pacific Northwest, USA

      I ran down the mountain and got in the four wheel drive I had borrowed from another airman to drive back to the base. Or, at least that was my plan. Once I was out of the park where I was hiking, the highway was a madhouse, and traffic was not moving.
      Then I saw it.
      Something in me told me to get my ass back into the park and as far up the mountain as I could as fast as I could.
      I did.
      I had to make a U-turn, then drive on the shoulder back to the exit, then wove my way against the flow up the ramp, but then I floored it until I crashed through the barrier and drove back up the trail I had run down not half an hour earlier. I didn't stop until I pulled into a rest area with a couple of benches and an outhouse well up the trail. Then I took a deep breath and thought about what was happening.
      The enemy aircraft was unlike anything I had ever seen before, including those in the science fiction movies my group watched almost obsessively on deployment.
      The craft I saw come in from over the Sound and then swoop across the area of the base and then attack the traffic on the highway north of me was pretty big. In the movies, attack craft were small, one or two man fighters. This thing was the size of a couple of city buses put together and moved with all the grace of one. But it was moving fast while firing at targets on the ground and there was no mistake about its intentions. The gunners on that ship was targeting anything moving on the highway.
      That's when I saw more flashes further north. With my binoculars I saw another similar vessel off further to the north, over Seattle, attacking other targets on the ground. It too was moving quickly, firing constantly at objects on the ground. And then above it all was a bigger shape up in the clouds that my guts told me was their base ship.
      "We, are in trouble." I said to myself.
      And only then did I turn on the truck's radio to try to get more news. I tried all of the presets on the FM side, then switched to AM and finally got a station that I knew was from Canada.

      "... the skyline of the downtown is smoky, but I can see that most of downtown is gone. Don't think I'm exaggerating, I mean that most of the city of Vancouver has been destroyed. And I still don't see any widespread fires or a mushroom cloud. Whatever it was that hit us was not a nuke. And I've never heard of a weapon that can do this... hang on, there's something moving over the city. There's two or three of them. I don't want to call them a UFO and I can't call it an aircraft but I don't know what else to say. They're firing lots of dark red bolts at the ground in all directions at once, attacking what's left of the city. Now I can see fires and smoke from the hits. Oh, God, something just exploded on the ground, they must have hit a fuel storage or something, a huge ball of fire has erupted from just off to the left of what was the downtown, and they are still firing in every direction at once. The path of attack is, many, many kilometers wide. It's moving toward the east and picking off targets as it moves, I'm not sure..."
      The radio station went dead. And I knew that that was probably it for them.
      What he had described as moving over Vancouver is what I saw coming in here. It looked like a traditional UFO, just on a scale that nobody with any credibility had ever claimed for an actual object. While I could see it, it moved slowly and deliberately. I had no idea how high in the air it was, its field of fire was easily several kilometers wide. And from the saturation of fire I knew that it was destroying anything on the ground that was of any significance at all. Including houses and vehicles.
      I got out of the truck and looked out at the sky. Far to the north I could see the always moving shadow of the largest enemy vessel against the sky. I wanted to get back to the base and see if there were any armed jet trainers available, or even an assault helicopter from across the field and attack it. But instinct said that not only was the base gone, that everything that was capable of taking action against the hostile vessel had been destroyed before it had appeared.
      The enemy moved to the west then drifted south toward me before they reversed course without turning and began another sweep across, firing at targets on the ground almost continuously. While I was watching I saw a much smaller very dark shape drop out of the sky in the distance. Then a tremendously powerful explosion happened. From where I was, I thought that maybe it had been the harbor north of Tacoma.
      Which was when I realized that the ground attack aircraft had orbital support.
      "We are in real trouble," I said to myself.

      I was a ranking officer in the most powerful military in the world, and I knew in my guts that everything I had ever trained with would be absolutely useless against this enemy. Now I knew that it was my responsibility was to stay alive and find anybody I could and organize a response. I just had no idea where to begin and I knew I had to wait until the attack was over before I could try to find survivors.
      If there were any.

Penni Potts
British Isles

      We hid in the cellar until it was dark outside. Then we crept out into a night whose stillness was broken by screams. But there was nothing we could do for people trapped beneath smashed buildings. Under cover of night we scrambled out from under what had been our offices and made our way to the car park. There we got what we could from the cars that hadn't been crushed by the building's collapse. Then we all got into a couple of the larger cars and tried to drive out to where one of the ladies from the billing office said her family lived out on a farm.
      There was a stream of cars and trucks leaving town on the motorway. But then several cars ahead of us exploded in a bright flash of light and the driver ahead of the car I was in swerved off onto a side road and accelerated to a breakneck pace, then all of the sudden they turned their headlights off and kept going. The gentleman driving the car I was in did the same and we went at a furious rate through a village that was totally dark except for some candles and battery torch-lights.
      We listened to a couple of radio stations, but the news that was on them was confused and then one of them went off and we could only get a station from Nottingham.
      Finally after what seemed like a longer time than it should have been we arrived at the farm east of Docking and finally got out of the cars with a sigh of relief.
      The entire countryside was dark, there was no electric light anywhere outside of our cars. But we all told each other to turn everything off and close the doors and hurry inside.
      Once in the house we were herded into the basement where the office woman's parents had an old radio that would pick up stations from the continent and over the shortwave and all of that.
      "No sooner do I tune in a station than they blow it up," her father said. But he kept turning the knob until he found an English station from somewhere in the Low Countries. "We heard that they got some jets off to go after them, but they didn't do any good."
      Then the radio took over, "… from the Foreign Office is that the attacks began from several objects in high orbit, they struck communications satellites and military control sites on the ground even before they went after the cities and other targets. There has been no official statement from any EU ministry. We have received a hand written note from the Military Commander of Denmark stating that a state of general war exists, but does not name an enemy. A reporter from our office said that he had heard that NATO headquarters in Brussels was among the first areas targeted. We do know that major military bases and the biggest cities were bombed first, then they continued to attack smaller targets later. We have been unable to confirm this report but given the general destruction we've seen, there is no reason to doubt it."
      The reports continued for the next hour or so, then the broadcast went dead.
      My friend's father shook his head as he turned the knob, "that's the fourth or fifth station we've lost. They go out and never come back." He turned the dial until he found another broadcast in English, but it was more of the same from a different city. The reporter said something about how the enemy appeared to be looking for official vehicles like police or rescue to single out for attack, then it too quit.
      But we had heard enough.
      The world was at war, but for the first time in history, it was with an enemy that was not one of us.
      We sat in the dark and listened as the older folks told us about how this had been what they had done as children during the Blitz.
      "We lived a bit closer to Norwich, and although nothing around here was bombed when the Luftwaffe came over on their way to Manchester or Liverpool we'd always go to the cellar anyway because you never knew when an anti aircraft shell would come back down. One time, the RAF got one of the German's airplanes and it came right down on top of a school mate's of mines house, smashed right through the roof." He gestured with his hands indicating how the wreckage had come down. "All of the Germans on it were killed, but the airplane was there for a fortnight until they come to take it away."
      But before he could tell us any more about the war we heard explosions coming our way so we all went down to the cellar to huddle in the dark like they had done so long ago.

Shoichi Wantabe
Yao, Japan

      I was on my reservist training period in the Japanese Ground Self Defense Forces when we heard an alert. At first, we all thought it was part of the training, but then we heard from a television that Tokyo and Kyoto had been bombed and many thousands were dead.
      "Sho, it is the Chinese and the North Koreans,we will go to war!" My friend Teruo said.
      My unit was assigned to maintain helicopters, so we ran from the barracks where we'd been sleeping out to the hangers where our aircraft were kept. Some of the pilots and other crewmen were coming in as well. It was just like we'd drilled, we rolled the helicopters out and they took off two by two to be ready to defend the home islands.
      We had several of the Cobras, and a few of the Kawasaki attack helicopters, as well as some used for scouting and observation duties, and we got all of them off as soon as we could. Then we gathered outside the commander's office to find out what was going on.
      No sooner had he turned on the loudspeaker and we heard shouting between crews about sighting an enemy aircraft and they were given immediate permission to attack it.
      "We have three enemy craft in formation attacking ground targets. All crews, engage at will."
      One helicopter launched two missiles at the enemy, but the crew never saw them hit.
      "It destroyed Yuu's chopper!" We heard somebody say over the radio.
      "Both missiles, direct hits. There is damage to them. It has stopped fir..." Another crew reported, but their statement was cut off.
      Another crew reported that the damaged enemy craft was pulling out, then they too stopped transmitting.
      In just a minute or so, we lost all contact with all of the crews.
      We heard the ground commander try to get a response from them, then the siren went off on our base and they announced that we were under attack. I followed Teruo down into old bunker next to the hanger and somebody closed the steel door.
      We didn't have long to wait, then the ground shook so violently I was certain that our hanger had taken a direct hit by a large bomb.
      Some time after the bomb went off during which we heard more explosions from nearby. Then our bunker was hit by the attack and part of the wall cracked and splintered and the air stank. But then after more explosions and shaking of the ground, the enemy left and everything got quiet.

      We stayed in the bunker for awhile waiting on the all clear signal, but it never came. Then we worked to get the door open. It had been damaged and was very hard to open and it took all of us taking turns to force it open.
      When we did get out, we were dumbfounded by what we saw. The base had been wiped out. Not only was our hanger gone, we weren't sure where some of it had been.
      A large helicopter that had been just outside the rear doors of our hanger to have work done to it had been blown to bits. There was even a shallow hole in the concrete tarmac where the American-made Chinook had been parked.
      "Teruo, this wasn't the Chinese," I said to my friend.
      "Look," another man said and pointed.
      We could see a big dark shape off to the southwest, it was firing at something on the ground while it was moving to the west at a very high speed for something that big. Below it, several smaller shapes darted back and forth, always firing at the ground.
      "No, that is not Chinese."

Dr. Yarah Santiago
Eirunepé, Brazil

      "We are bringing world class routine health care to the region with the St. Philip center," I said in Portuguese, then waited while a young man from the Governor's office translated it into Spanish for the members of the audience that spoke that language. "These developments will enhance the available care to everybody in this part of Amazonas." After the translation there was polite applause, then I nodded to Vice Governor Rafael Oliveira and he stepped up to the podium.
      "Thank you, Doctor Santiago. And for all of the people of this state, I thank you as well. This new facility, in conjunction with the regional hospital will greatly improve the lives of all of our citizens."
      Once again the young man translated what was said. But before he finished several cell phones began ringing all at once.
      I answered mine and heard the voice of one of my administrative assistants back in my office, but I couldn't understand what she was saying. All I could really make out was that something in the capital was on fire and Sampa had been obliterated in several huge explosions.
      "They are attacking!" She said clearly when I asked her what was going on.
      "Who is attacking?"
      "We don't know. Oh. Blessed Jesus!" She said. There was an overwhelming noise, then the line went dead.
      I looked over at my field aid who was also on his phone, but he was looking at it and pushing buttons. "I cannot get back through," he said.
      Vice Governor Oliveira was on his telephone as well. "Doctor," he said seriously, "our country has been attacked."
      "Who attacked? Where?" I asked.
      "They don't know, and from what the Governor's Chief of Staff said, it was everywhere. There are millions dead." He listened for another moment, then repeated what he heard, "Brasília is gone, the entire city has been destroyed."
      The interpreter had also been on the phone, when Mr. Oliveira finished speaking he spoke with a trembling jaw, "Excuse me, I just got a call from my friend Jepe in Pucallpa, in Peru. He said they were under attack by something flying in the air and that their news said that Lima and Le Paz had both been destroyed. And there's more," he paused and swallowed hard, "he said the newsman said that London and New York and even Tokyo had been bombed as well."
      We all fell to trying to call family and friends. I got through to my step son, but all he could say about my husband was that he thought that he had gone to work that day. My blood froze.
      His office was in an office building in Brasília. I hoped against hope that he hadn't been there, but in my soul, I knew better. I dialed his number again, but once again it went to voice mail. I left him a message telling him I loved him and to call me when he could.
      As I took the phone away from my ear the clinic building we were in came apart around us.

      The noise was unbelievable. The sound of wrenching metal and screaming people merged with a roar of unleashed violence.

      "Doctor, are you all right?" I heard the interpreter ask me.
      "I, I don't know, I think so."
      "Please, there are many injured, and many dead."
      "What of Mr. Oliveira?" I asked. He had been standing next to me talking to somebody on his phone.
      "He is dead ma'am."
      I looked over to where he had been standing, and then I was sorry I did. Yes, the Vice Governor was dead. I didn't need to examine him to make sure. My next thought was for my assistant from my office, he too, was no more. Even though I had been a physician for many years my stomach quaked uncontrollably for a moment.
      "And none of the telephones work. Not even calling one nine zero, nothing works."
      "That's bad," I said as the interpreter helped me to my hands and knees, I had some cuts and a bruise from whatever had fallen across my back that had protected me from what had happened to Mr. Oliveira. "But I'm OK, let's see who we can help."

Abbey and Jay
Whyalla, Australia

      My sister's house was in no better shape than my own. It looked like it was a paperboard playhouse and somebody had just folded it up to put it away.
      "Marcie?" I called out as we walked around the ruin of her house.
      "Hello? Help!" We heard a voice from under the rubble.
      "We're here!" My son said. "Where are you?"
      "Here!" We heard her say and Jay began moving boards and other debris to get to her.
      Soon there were several people helping us dig her and her husband, Brock, out of their house. Then while I took care of them, my son went to help those that helped us free others.
      My sister was hurt, and it didn't appear to be bad, but nobody had any idea if the hospital or even a doctor's office was open. We made a splint for her arm out of what we had, and wrapped a sheet that we found around her chest to pad her ribs. Then Jay dug through where their bathroom used to be to find some medicine for her.
      "It's coming back, we need to hide," somebody shouted.
      I glanced toward where they were pointing and we saw the thing flying back and forth, shooting at the ground. "Where can we go?" I asked as I helped Brock get Marci to her feet.
      My brother in law and my son both said the same thing at the same time, "Munyaroo."
      "Why?" One of the other survivors asked them. "There's nothing there."
      "There is bush camping there," Brock said. "My camping gear is in the shed."
      "And I know where there's a well that they used in the olden days, we always use it when we're there."
      Brock looked out at the attacker, "And it isn't here. And people coming out of Adelaide won't be quick to find it."
      "Adelaide?" I asked. "Were they attacked too?"
      "Everything was attacked, it began about an hour ago," Brock said, "it was on the news before the power went out."
      We heard the sound of explosions getting closer.
      "We need to go if we're going," the other man said.
      "Yeah, I'll bring her, get the van," I said to Brock.

      We raided what we could from the three closest houses, taking bottled drinks and any food and supplies that hadn't been destroyed when the buildings fell. Then, in a matter of a few minutes we were on our way out of town.
      Brock drove his work van like he was trying to escape from prison. From under one bunch of trees to another, or to hide under a partially collapsed building. Their neighbors followed two other cars, and then in a little while there was one more behind them. But we didn't see much of anything else moving in our part on the southern edge of town.
      We waited until the attacker had flown away to the north before we headed out of town on the Lincoln Highway.
      On the drive, Jay played with the van's radio and could only find one station on the air. It was an AM station from Mildura and there was a lot of static, but we could hear two people talking with breaking voices about the last reports they had gotten from Sydney and Canberra.
      "We've got the emergency radio scanner from the newsroom, but it is hard to understand what's happening," the woman on the air said.
      Then a man explained what he had heard, "The last thing I understood was from the Victoria Police that said they were exchanging gunfire with a hostile force that they believed were the enemy that had attacked the city from the air."
      The Conservation Area they had in mind was only about forty kilometers out of town, but it seemed much further today as we kept watch for the attacker.
      Finally Brock turned off the highway and didn't bother to slow down at the registration box.
      "Jay, were you talking about the sites off Telegraph Road?"
      "Yessir," Jay answered. "By the dry creek."
      "OK."
      Marcie gasped and moaned as the van bottomed out on a rough stop.
      "Sorry about that, I'm slowing down." Brock said.

      The place was more than abandoned. It was one of the most remote looking places I'd ever seen. I grew up in Melbourne, my idea of a day in the country involved a snack bar. But I knew that Jay had been down here camping several times and he had always talked about their helping to work with things like the Dunnart survey. The things were bug eating rats to me, but to him and the conservation people, they were scurrying gold. Oh, well, my son had learned about wildlife that year and about erosion the year before, and had spent those weeks at camp, and it hadn't cost me anything. Something very important to a single mother.
      "They were blasting vehicles on the road," the driver of the fourth car in our caravan said, "you guys were the first ones I'd seen moving that didn't get hit."
      "We should move the cars away from the camp." Brock said.
      "Yeah, that's what I was thinking." He nodded and stuck out his hand. "I'm John, that's my girlfriend Keira."
      "You're not Aussie."
      "It still shows huh?" John said.
      "Yeah," Jay said and I agreed.
      "I'm from Los Angeles originally. I'm an exchange student. But it's OK, Keira is from here."
      We looked at Keira and she smiled shyly. "My parents live in Playford," and as soon as she said it tears welled up in her eyes. "They did."
      The men, especially her boyfriend, were at a loss. I sensed that it was up to me.
      I took a deep breath, "We've all lost people, but, what is important now is for us to survive." I put my arm around her and led her over to where we were setting up camp intending to find something for her to do.
      The others unloaded everything they could out of the cars, then drove them back out the way they came. Jay had told me they were going to hide them in a deep wash and cover them with brush.

      In the mean time I found out that making a campsite was more work than I had thought it was.
      One of the tents was a painting tarp from out of the back of Brock's work van. Another was several layers of plastic stretched over the blanket that had been in a car. But it all became a camp around a fire pit not far from the old well that Jay had told us about.
      "Oh, that's nasty," I said when I tasted the water.
      "We always filtered it then boiled it," he said.
      "Now you tell me."
      "It's OK, some of the guys drank it right out of the bucket and they didn't get sick."
      I made a filter out of a clean shirt and we boiled the water for drinking in a big kettle, then it tasted a little better.

      The night was dark, and cold and a little damp even for spring, and there was no light anywhere.
      We sat around the fire talking about how we ended up here, and who we were before it happened. Then I had the interesting experience of sharing our dome tent with my son.

Bo and Sammi
The Mid-Atlantic, USA

      We stayed right where we were for the night, then we got on the main road and crossed the river back into the town of Paw Paw. At first everything looked normal, but then we saw a crowd outside the gas station across from the dollar store. I'd heard that some small towns weren't overly friendly to people like us, but we needed to know what had happened, and they were it.
      "Maybe somebody knows what's going on," my wife said as she read my thoughts.
      I parked next to a couple of very old trucks and we all got out and walked over to them.
      "Howdy folks," an older man said, "sorry you had to come to town today."
      "Why's that?" I asked him. "What's happening?"
      "Listen," he said and nodded to a large radio with two long antennas coming off of it. It took me a minute to recognize it as a multi-band receiver like my uncle used to have.
      A thin and slightly tinny voice spoke from the set, "… it's going across toward Alexandria now, it's just steady shooting at everything. Oh Wow, there was another big explosion. Another one of the big bombs came down from the sky and exploded. I'd have to guess it was somewhere around Rockville, that was about the fifth or sixth one I've seen. Hang on, I'm going to go around back and see if I can see anything."
      "That's Coolidge. He's a HAM-mer from DC," the old man said during the pause.
      "Did the Russians hit us with a nuke?" Our son asked.
      "No my boy, this wasn't them, this was aliens."
      Then another voice came over the radio. "It's moved out toward Irving now. They've been hit with two of the bombs, but there is no mushroom, just a few fires. I can't see the really big ship now, it's gone. It blew Irving, and left. But I can see two, no, three of the little ones. They're slugging it out with some of our boys, they came in from the north, might be from Sheppard."
      "He's in Texas," the old man said.
      "So it's all over the country?" My wife asked.
      "All over the world, ma'am. We've heard reports from Europe and everywhere."
      "That fighter squadron is raising hell with them! Look at'em go!" The Texen shouted into his microphone. "They got one of'em! It's going down! But hell man, there's only three of our boys left."
      "Wow," our son said.
      "They took out another one of ours, but we got in another good lick, that other one is hurt. Oh shit, they got all ours... I'm goin' back in." The radio went silent.
      "How about Fredrick?" Sammie asked after a long silence.
      "Maryland?" The man by the radio asked. "We had one of their stations on, it went dead about two hours ago."
      Her eyes got wide.
      "Are ya from there?"
      "Yes, sir" I said.
      The man by the radio shook his head, "Well, it may not be my place to say it to you, but I don't think you should try to go home today."
      The old man looked at the man by the radio, "you know George, if this is an invasion from outer space like they's saying, Black an' White an' all that don't matter no more, we is all in trouble."
      "Outer space? Aliens? Cool," our son said. Then he thought about it and changed his tone, "But they're not supposed to kill everybody."
      "They haven't killed everybody, yet," I said.
      "No they haven't, and once we get on our feet again, we'll take it to them and whip them," the old man said.
      Several of the others around responded enthusiastically although I had to wonder how realistic it was.

Shoichi Wantabe
Yao, Japan

      The only officer left was Warrant Officer Sato, and he, like myself and my friend Teruo, he was a reservist. The officers had gone to the new bunker between our hanger and the next, it had a network communications station and even a restroom. Ours was originally built during the UN war in Korea.
      Yet our bunker was intact.
      Theirs was not.
      The roof and both walls of the officer's bunker had buckled and collapsed during the attack. It took a long time for us to work our way in, but the ones that had survived the attack were terribly injured and two of them did not live to be removed from the bunker. The other two that were still alive were in no condition to command, and one of them died not long after we carried them out to where they could be tended to.
      But we were soldiers of Japan and we had duties to perform even if our primary assignment was no longer viable.
      "We need to find weapons. Rifles and machine guns and be ready if they come back." Officer Sato said. "Then we will look for others who need our aid."
      "Sir," Teruo said, "the helicopters fired missiles and chain guns at it, what good will anything we can use do?"
      The officer looked at us with a solemn face, "I do not wish to stand here and wait to be killed."
      I exchanged long looks with my friend, then we went with a Sergeant to see what we could find to defend ourselves with.

      We found the building that had been where our Military Police had been stationed. And there we found where several of them had died fighting the enemy. But there were survivors, and although they were injured and bloody, they understood that we were still under orders and we found weapons and ammunition to make an attempt at defense.
      When we returned to our hanger, we had two vehicles and another officer.
      Lieutenant Inoue had been on base for a conference as the aid for a higher ranking officer.
      "I was saved, but there is no honor in it. Just before the first attack, I had gone to the restroom. If I had not, I would have been in the basement when the building was attacked," he said. "I was in the stairway and survived."
      We had seen the command building, it was a burning wreck that had fallen in on itself and caught fire. Nobody could have survived in it. The same was true for the majority of other buildings on the property, including, sadly, the medical unit. It had been reduced to its foundation. From what we could see of the city around the airport, it too had been reduced to smoking rubble. But we were in no position to even begin to assist those outside of our own command, first we had to secure our own circumstances before we could look outside even though we knew our own countrymen were lying outside the fence dying as well.
      We took what we could from the various facilities, and rescued those who we could assist, then we went back to where our hanger had been.

      Those we had left behind had turned the bunker we had survived the attack in into a command office and first aid station. There was nothing more suitable anywhere on the base that we had seen.
      Warrant Officer Sato tried to relinquish command to the Lieutenant, but Lieutenant Inoue declined. "I am indeed honored, but this is your base, and your men," he bowed slightly to us, "if it is agreeable, I will advise you as I can when needed, but the command is yours until we are relieved by a superior."
      Warrant Officer Sato bowed to him for a long moment. "You are very wise," he said, "I am honored."
      Besides specialists and privates, like myself and Teruo, as well as the sergeant who had been with us in the bunker we had civilians and contractors and others who had business on the base side of the airport, as well as a few people who had been there to fly out on private planes. Many had minor injuries that field medics could treat, but those with more serious injuries had little hope at that point.

      The day ended with us crouching in silence as the several of the enemy flew back over our base back toward Osaka.
      "In the morning, we will send somebody to the commander in Itami for orders," Warrant Officer Sato said, then he looked at Lieutenant Inoue, "I would like you to go with them."
      "Agreed," the Lieutenant said with a bow of his head.

Dr. Yarah Santiago
Eirunepé, Brazil

      Fortunately the basement of the new clinic building was mostly undamaged so we opened the best emergency medical clinic we could in it. There was no electricity because the generator outside had been destroyed by the aircraft that had made a single pass over the city shooting everything that presented any sort of meaningful target.
      Also destroyed was nearly every vehicle in the parking lot, the entire fire brigade, the military barracks, and innumerable residences and businesses. There had been about thirty thousand people in the city, and now we had to believe that most of them were dead or injured. And of the hundred thousand in the area served by the clinic, I would believe that half of them had been directly impacted by the attack.
      And now I had gone from government minister to working doctor in a war zone. Most of the staff had been in the main part of the clinic when it had been attacked. Many of them had been killed instantly, and many of those that had survived were now patients. My medical staff now consisted of one other doctor, an intern, a dentist, and a handful of nurses. Another doctor was trying to help, but he had a crushed hand and a broken leg. He said he wanted to help to keep his mind off the pain. And so we made due, and we did what we could for those that we could help.
      "We need to get some ventilation in here," I said to the interpreter. "I'm sorry, I don't even know your name."
      "Mateo, ma'am."
      "I am Yarah," I said.
      "Yes, ma'am. I'll see what I can do to move the air."
      When all of this started Mateo had told me to tell him what I needed to help the people and he'd make it happen. And so far, he'd been as good as his word.
      He'd made a way to take batteries out of the cars that had been damaged and hooked them up to give us light to work by.
      Now he had taken a belt driven fan from the useless air conditioning system and moved it next to a window and put the belt that had been around the electric motor on a bicycle and was having some of those that had brought their friends and relatives ride it to pump air out of the basement. The effect was noticeable immediately.
      But the line of wounded now reached out beyond the parking lot. Word was out that the clinic was open, and people were coming in from all around. The good news was that some of them were bringing supplies for us, fresh water and linens and things like that that we needed to help the injured. The bad news was that the main hospital had been directly targeted and now they couldn't even tell where it had been, let alone find anything there that we could use. We were it for medical care for those in the city that had survived the attack.

      Then another problem arose. I went to check on a patient that had had trouble breathing because they had several ribs that might be broken that I stepped in about two centimeters of water. My first thought was to call to Mateo and see what he thought of it.
      "The power is out and we are below the water table."
      "We've got to arrange some sort of pump. Either that or we have to move out." I looked over at the patients, "and some of them shouldn't be moved yet."
      "Let me see what we can come up with. Senor David is here. He is the maintenance man for the hospital."
      "Good."
      Later I found out that Mateo and David had asked around and found out that there was an old boat on the river that had a manual bilge pump that had been for sale. They walked all the way down to the river and got the pump and brought it back. Then they hooked it up and with more volunteer labor, got it working as well.
      "Doctor, we will try to get the building's pumps working, but if we cannot this will do some, but the next time it rains I don't know if we can keep up."
      The man that was with him nodded, "You see, ma'am, the sump pumps draw 240 volts. We don't have inverters that can do that."
      "You're David?" I asked him, he nodded. I looked from one to the other. "I've got people in here who just had surgery and can't be moved because there I no place to put them. If the water comes up, I don't know what we can do with them."
      "We won't let you down, doctor." David said.
      "Thank you," I said and went to check on my other patients.

Chris Banks
World Press International, Bahrain

      There was a tourist development that I knew of just south of the capital and we made our way to it hoping to find something to eat and drink. One of the things I was worried about was that they had some unusual hours for the place and I was worried it would be closed. However, the attack had taken care of that. The walls of the compound were intact, but the gates were ajar and there was nobody around.
      Almost out of habit I checked my phone. I had almost full battery, but no signal at all.
      We found where the Western Cafe had been near the artificial oasis and made our way into the remains of the building. The front was intact, and the door was locked, but the side of the building that had been facing the shock wave from the attack on the commercial site nearby had crumbled.
      Inside we found drinks and some food, and some other things from the jumbled gift shop. We picked a table away from the entrance so we couldn't be seen from outside and tried to pretend that everything was all right. Only then did we really introduce ourselves to each other.
      "I hear water running," Georges the French correspondent said. "From outside."
      "But the power is off." Ken from New York replied.
      "It's the oasis," Mrs. Kellen said. She held up a brochure for the attraction that she'd been looking at while we ate. "It says it was a natural spring that they improved and built up. It doesn't need electricity."
      "Let's go see if the water is drinkable. If it is, we can stay here until we're rescued," I said hopefully and a couple of the others agreed to go with me.
      We crept outside and looked around. It was nighttime, but in this country there was usually so much artificial light that you had to look at the sky to know if it was daylight or not. Now, the only light was a large fire still burning where the petroleum dock had been just north of us, beyond that, where the city had been was nothing but dark. The industrial center just to our west that I had been to only a couple of days before was dark and dusty.
      "Oh, my," several of us said.
      We only had one small flashlight that Mr. Kellen had on his keychain, but we found the spring, and it did seem to be good water.

      When we went back inside we found out that the others had gone through the small gift shop and had found some other things. The most useful were some small souvenir flashlights and a couple of travel radios and batteries.
      "Listen," Ken said as he turned a knob on one of the radios.
      There was nothing but static all the way up and down the FM dial.
      "Now AM," Ken turned the knob again, this time he picked up a couple of very weak stations, he stopped at the stronger of the two, it was an Arabic broadcast from Qatar, but that was all I understood from what the commentator was saying. That, and he was highly excited about whatever he was talking about.
      "I understood most of that, hang on," John, who was from here and there as he put it, said. He was in country working for a textbook supplier and spoke 'enough Arabic to get by most of the time'. "He said that every major city and military base in the world was bombed almost at one time and that the NATO fleet in the Gulf was wiped out the same way. He said 'as if Allah All Powerful had swatted them Himself'. That it wasn't the Americans or the Chinese or anybody else from Allah's world that attacked us, and that there are were reports of alien soldiers in some areas putting down any remaining resistance before his line to the Arabian news service went dead."
      "No," Mister Kellen said, "It's got to be some sort of radio drama."
      "Yes, that's just... alien soldiers?" I said, then I looked outside. "It almost has to be."
      "The guy just said that it is against their edicts, but the woman that is there is a direct witness so he is going to put her on the air. She is the news guy's wife, but he went out to cover the attack and hasn't been back, so this guy is assuming responsibility for her and allowing her to speak."
      The voice from the radio stopped talking, then the woman began, still speaking in Arabic but she was talking much slower so John was able to translate what she'd said between her sentences.
      "She was at her father's house when the attack happened. The house collapsed but she was out seeing his horses. Allah spared her life in the attack. She went back to the house, but they were all dead. She took one of the horses and rode into the city, to the station to find her husband. She says the city is destroyed and she had to sometimes ride through where the buildings had been because most of them were in the road." He paused his translation while she sobbed for a moment, then she continued, "She couldn't tell even where the airport had been, and she didn't see very many other people alive. And that the enemy craft keeps coming back and shooting at things."
      Then the male voice was back, John waited a moment, then translated, "he said their generator is almost out of fuel. He will find some gas, and see if he can find more information, then be back on the air at six AM."
      When the radio went silent the night seemed to close in, even with a couple of the flashlights on, it just seemed darker.
      "Maybe we won't be rescued," I said.
      We discussed our options and decided to settle in for the night right where we were.

Penni Potts
British Isles

      It was still dark outside when we heard another round of explosions. This time the sound was from the south west, and there were a lot of them close together. And once again we huddled in the cellar for a long time.
      Then something just outside the house was hit and a full half the building came down on top of us. No sooner had I realized I was still alive there was at least one more explosion
      The concussions and rumbling echoes moved off to the east and then everything became quiet again.
      "Is anybody still alive?" I heard somebody call.
      There was another answer before I could shout my reply.
      It took us a long time to dig out from under the century old wood and brick of the farmhouse, then we saw what had happened. All of the cars had been parked on the gravel circle in front of the house. Now they were all different sized masses of twisted ruin. The car I had ridden here in had been thrown across the yard and was missing most of its boot end.
      The only vehicle to survive the attack was an old tractor my friend's father had parked in a pole shed, the other six cars and trucks had been destroyed in moments.

      We heard somebody calling for help from the house across the road and went to help them.
      "We're coming!" I shouted to them. "Just hang on. Keep talking to me. Just keep talking."
      "I can't. It hurts to breathe." They said several times.
      The men were doing everything they could to move the timbers and the rubble of their chimney.
      "They're almost there." I said to them.
      But they never answered.

      The enemy didn't come back all of that day. But we were still uneasy as we tended to those that had been wounded and buried those that had been killed.
      Where I had thought this was some sort of localized incident and we'd pull through it together had been shattered. From what we heard it was a worldwide assault and all of humanity was under siege.
      I was in total despair about the neighbor dying, then I began worrying about that I didn't have any of my medication with me and it didn't look like I'd be getting to the druggist for more any time soon.

      "Penni, we made some lunch, come on, you've got to eat to pull through this." My friend's mother said.
      "But what is the point?" I said angrily. "They can just come back and do that to us." I pointed at the destroyed cars.
      "We have to go on. And we need you to help us," she said sincerely.
      I sagged, "You're right. I'll try."
      "That's better."
      Not long after I began eating one of the men said that he'd found an English radio station still broadcasting and we all went over to listen breathlessly.
      "... word on the state of the royal household or any of its members. There is no word from London at all. It is as if the entire city has been wiped off the face of the planet. We have had word that a Deputy Undersecretary of State from the Home Office, one Mister Mackenzie Larimore, has taken command of the Government under the Emergency Directive and has set up a temporary seat at an estate outside the city of Gloucester in Gloucestershire county, however, there are reports that the city itself has been leveled. The last report was that a statement would be coming from that office at noon today and would be relayed to those media outlets that are still in service for dissemination to the public."
      It was a relief to hear that our government still functioned, even if in a limited way under a minor official that none of us had ever heard of. But somebody was still in charge. I nodded to the radio and told myself that I would do my duty. Whatever it was.

Captain Muller
Pacific Northwest, USA

      "Gimme the keys," a man's voice said to me while I was drinking some water and thinking about what to do next.
      I hadn't seen him come up behind me, "What?"
      "The truck, gimme the keys," he repeated.
      Two more were standing off to one side, but neither appeared to be armed with anything more serious than the knife the one that spoke to me had, and a big wooden stick one of the others hands.
      I was a lot better armed.
      "OK, I'll get them, just don't hurt me."
      He didn't say anything but backed up a step and stood there holding his knife.
      I partially undid my jacket with my right hand like I was going to reach into my pocket.
      There are advantages to being left handed.
      None of the three of them were looking at my left hand until it was full of my forty five and two of them were already experiencing what we used to call sudden onset acute lead poisoning. The third one turned to run off, but I didn't want him doing this to anybody else and I dropped him before he took his third step.
      The guy with the club had a revolver in his pants pocket. I took everything they had, including their IDs to turn into whatever authorities I ran into later and decided that it was time for me to at least try to get back to the base.

      There was nothing moving on the road. I kept a close eye out for one of the enemy ships, but they never appeared.
      I drove quickly but carefully, and arrived at the entrance to my base in better time than I would have if it had been a normal day.
      The first thing I did was to go see what the situation with my unit was.
      I'd been assigned here for years. I'd seen buildings be built and others torn down, and I'd always been able to find my way around even after being assigned overseas for a year or more. Today, I wasn't sure where anything had been because everything, including parts of some of the streets, was gone. The enemy had pounded this place into rubble, then pounded the rubble some more.
      Then I saw the end of a building that I recognized so I drove over.
      "Halt. Identify yourself!" Somebody said as soon as I opened the truck door.
      "Captain Eugene Muller..." I began.
      "Oh, thank God," the voice replied, then I recognized the speaker as a specialist that I'd worked with on a couple of occasions, but I didn't remember his name right off the bat. "Specialist Gunther, sir," he said.
      "Specialist," I nodded as he lowered his weapon. "Who's in command here?"
      "As of right now, sir, you are. We have a Lieutenant, but she's in bad shape. Sergeant Bigelow went to find some supplies, but his party hasn't returned and is over due by a couple of hours." He pointed off to where I think the commissary and other buildings had been. Right now, it all looked like a plowed field. "I've tried to raise him on the talkie, but so far nothing," he tapped the microphone on his shoulder. "It was working when he left."
      "How many people have we got?" I said trying to become accustomed to being in charge in this situation as we walked into what had been a break room in the admin building for the motor pool. Now it was the command center.
      Two enlisted men got to their feet and saluted, I nodded at them to relax.
      "Not many in any shape to do anything. And before you ask, sir. We have not been in contact with anybody outside of this base since the attack, military or civilian. Everything is down. Even the satellite phones are off line."
      "They were thorough," I said softly.
      "Yes, sir. They knew exactly what to hit and how hard."
      "Did you get any reports about what hit us?"
      "Some, sir. There were the small ground attack craft, then the larger support ships, and before the com center went dead we got a flash about an even bigger ship in low orbit. It's the one with the city destroyer bombs."
      "I saw that weapon in action."
      "Yessir."

      They'd set up a medical ward under a couple of big awnings hung from the remnants of the garage building and I tried to lift the spirits of the wounded. Then I went over to see the rest of my command.
      "At ease," I said when I turned the corner to where they were gathered around a cooking area where a man that appeared to be a civilian was stirring a big pot.
      "Thank you, Captain." A woman I knew said to me.
      "Specialist Ericson, good to see you. What's the situation?"
      "The only thing I can say for sure is that Spade is fixing lunch from stuff we rustled from here and there."
      I looked over at the cook, "Spade?"
      "Yessir," the cook answered, "I play a lot of bridge and when I bid spades I win a lot."
      "I see. Are you..."
      "Military? I used to be. I'm a contractor now." He looked around. "Or I was, but this looks like a better option than going anywhere else."
      "Then welcome to the outfit, when you were in, what were you?"
      "I was a Coastie, Petty Officer Second Class. Cook's Mate, and Sanitation Engineer."
      "Consider yourself reactivated and transferred. You can belong to me and the Air Force or the Army."
      I saw a gleam in his eye that I knew might be trouble, but that I liked anyway, "It doesn't matter, it's an honor and a pleasure to serve, sir."
      "And you can stow all of that," I said to him, then I looked around, "After lunch, we'll go see if we can find the Sergeant."

Abbey and Jay
Munyaroo Conservation Park, Australia

      "Come on, you've got to see this," Brock said as he shook us awake.
      "What? What is it?"
      "I think it's the people that attacked us."
      That got our attention and we scrambled out of the tent.
      Everybody was standing around the remains of our camp fire, staring straight up into an almost perfectly clear night sky.

      I looked, but I didn't see anything, and then I realized that that was what I was seeing. There was a hole in the stars above us to the north.
      It was more or less round, and huge. Judging from how far away it was, it had to be two or three kilometers across, and as black as it could be. In fact, it was darker than the sky behind it.
      "It's a mother ship," Jay said.
      "Yeah, and from what the radio said, there's more than one."
      I couldn't speak. I'd always said that anybody that saw a UFO was either batty or just looking for the wrong kind of attention, and now here I was with more evidence for their existence than I ever wanted to see. Not only was the thing real and right in front of my eyes, it, and a lot of others just like it, had destroyed my world.

      We watched the large ship hang above the thin clouds that drifted passed every so often, then around two in the morning the dark spot moved to the west until we lost light of it.
      Finally, after another hour or so of staring into space until our eyes hurt, we all went back to bed to try to get a couple of hours of sleep.

Dr. Yarah Santiago
Eirunepé, Brazil

      We had been fighting to keep the water down, and the patients comfortable, and to do what we could for the people that we couldn't help. Many injuries were just too severe for the equipment and medicines we had.
      Just a few days after the attack the lack of proper medicines began to take its toll as we began to lose patients to infections that we just couldn't treat. Then fevers and secondary complications set in.
      But then I thought we were over the hump. Those who had been badly injured had died, and we were able to spend more time helping those that we could save.

      Finally, totally exhausted, I let Mateo and a couple of others talk me into taking a night off and getting some sleep on what he called his boat, even though he admitted he wasn't the registered owner of the thing.
      "There is no one around and you can sleep all night, and then in the morning, we will have eggs and fish for breakfast," he said. "And then you can go back to work."
      "That sounds wonderful," I answered.
      "They all said you needed a break, so, I have a break for you."
      "Thank you."

      His boat was tied up outboard of another boat that was tied to a half submerged dock on the river.
      It was an old wooden flat bottom river boat like those that are seen all up and down the Amazon and its tributaries that somebody had built a rather nice cabin on.
      "I will sleep here, and you can have the cabin. I will make sure nobody bothers you." Mateo said.
      "Thank you."
      After a meal of grilled fish on flatbread and some fruit I fell asleep and didn't even realize I still had my shoes on until in the morning. All I remember was the gentle rocking of the boat and the endless gurgling of the river under it.

      Breakfast was exactly what I needed when I woke up not long after sunrise and realized where I was. There were several people there including Senor David, and Maria the nurse who had been helping me who said that David was her cousin's cousin, and a couple of others from the clinic.
      We ate all of the fish Mateo could cook with the eight eggs that he had been given, and more of the flatbread which was the only thing besides fish that we had in abundance, and talked about what to do to make the hospital better.
      Mateo and David had been working on a plan to actually build a new section onto the part of the building that hadn't been damaged from material they had been recovering. "I think we can do it," Mateo said in his ever optimistic way.

      "Well, thank you for my night off," I said to them. "Now, we must get back to the clinic."
      "Si, we must," was the consensus.

      We carefully stepped from one boat to the other, then to the dock, then finally onto the wooden planks buried in the mud. Once everybody was on the makeshift walkway, we started back up the hill into town.
      But something stopped us in our tracks. We heard explosions, the ground shook, and then we heard screams that stopped suddenly.
      "Hide!" David said and we all threw ourselves off the plank walk and into the muddy water and watery mud of the shoreline.
      I lifted my head up just enough to see two oblong ships firing at everything in the city in an almost continuous spray of destruction as they flew across at an incredible speed. But then I had to cover back up as they destroyed the boats on the river.

      The entire raid had lasted no more than a minute.
      My group was all still alive and mostly unhurt except for injuries we had caused ourselves as we flung ourselves into the mud or the river for cover.
      I was the first one out of the water and on my feet to look around. I couldn't say anything.
      The city had been ruined before. All of the large buildings and many of the houses had been hit by the enemy. But now.
      The only words I could remember was from when I was in school and the nuns told us about what the Romans had done to Jerusalem. "It had been razed to the ground", the sister had said, "they didn't leave two bricks on top of each other or two boards nailed together."
      Now, Eirunepé looked like Jerusalem must have looked then.

      "We cannot survive this," David said.
      "We did, and others might have. We should go see," I said softly.

      What was left of the clinic building was a smoking pile of rubble. The houses around it were leveled and on fire. But even there, there were some survivors.

      There was nothing in town except ruin and death so we gathered everybody we could back along the river front. Mateo found pieces of boats and made a couple of large rafts for us to use to treat the injured someplace that was out of the mud.
      For a day that had started so promising, it ended as a nightmare.
      I knew the area of service for the clinic had about thirty-five thousand people living in it. Now, from what I could see, we would be lucky if there were a thousand left alive.

      "They'd attacked us and there was nothing left, then they came back and hit us again and took away everything we had saved," Maria said crying.
      "It doesn't make sense," I said, "not unless."
      "What are you thinking Doctor?" David asked me.
      "The only reason I can think of is that they want to kill everybody. All humans."
      "If they've done this to the rest of the world, they are doing a good job of it."

      The next day a group of survivors from a village upriver from Eirunepé came down in canoes. They told a similar story about a ship that came over and blew what had been essentially a large lumber camp along the river into oblivion.

      "We didn't see anybody else alive." Senor David and a couple of other men said after they spent an entire day scouring what was left of the town.
      There were less than a thousand people out of what had been a city of thirty thousand. Some of them were with me and my group at the riverbank. Others had gathered near the only large building left intact, a missionary school on the edge of town. Another small group had made contact with a tribe that lived in the jungle and were now with them.
      After the second attack, Eirunepé had ceased to exist.

      Mateo's had now added to his boat collection, he'd taken the shattered hulls of several of them and fashioned something that was not only floating, it was fairly stable.
      "I learned to do things from my father and his brother. They lived on the Santa Politia plantation until they moved to the city," Mateo said.
      "I've never heard of it," I answered.
      "Nobody has, that's one reason they moved. It went out of business before I was born. The old man, he died, then his wife went mad, and nobody could find their daughter. So it was done."
      "Where was it?" I asked.
      "About one day downriver, but, only five miles by airplane," he gestured off to the northeast. "Not far, near the double loop lakes," Mateo said, then it seemed like he read my thoughts. "Yes, Senora, it would be a better place to live than here now."
      "But we cannot leave these people."
      "Senora Doctor, there are no people to leave. You said yourself that we cannot stay here because of all the dead bodies that we cannot bury."
      He was right, I had said that.
      "I was there last year, to go hunting with my friends, we camped in the old house, it is still there."
      Senor David looked at me, "It is up to you Doctor. If you say we should go," he looked around, "most of us will go."
      "Do you think they could see the house from those attack ships?" I asked Mateo.
      "As fast as they were flying. And as thick as the jungle is. I don't think so. Not unless they knew to look for it."
      "Then I think we should go."

Bo and Sammi
The Mid-Atlantic, USA

      "Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States of America."

      "My fellow Americans. Our country has been dealt a blow unlike any other that we have ever suffered in our history. And it was not only us. Every other country on this planet was attacked. Viciously and without warning hundreds of millions of our fellow citizens and billions more world wide have been killed. But we as a people have survived, and we will continue. Even now, through massive hardship and devastation, we are going forward to recover and re-establish ourselves, just as other nations abroad are doing as well. Know this, even though our national capital is no more, and untold damage to our historic record and the physical reminders national identity has been done, they failed in their attempt to destroy our country, they failed in their attempt to destroy our civilization, and they failed in their attempt to destroy our race. The evil that they have caused will never be erased in the annals of history, but our recovery from it will be legendary. I as you all, as citizens of the world to come together, to work together, and to strive together to overcome this calamity and then together we will more than survive, we will prosper. Thank you."

      The radio was silent for a moment, then the same voice that had announced the speech came back on. "That was the recorded statement of US President John Robinson. This message will be rebroadcast at twenty hundred hours Eastern time, midnight Zulu."

      Then the radio went to dead air and Mister Willis turned it off.
      "Robinson?" somebody said, "he was the Attorney General."
      I looked at my son, Amory, "How far down the succession line is the AG?"
      "Pretty far, I think he'd third or maybe fourth from the cabinet. I know he's after the Secretary of State. And they're after the Speaker of the House."
      "That means the rest of them are dead," one of the others said.
      "Either dead or out of touch with Washington," I said, then thought about it and added, "or wherever the government is now."
      "They didn't say did they," Mister Willis nodded at the radio. "If you want to hear it again in a couple of hours come on by, I'd like to hear it again. You know, it's kinda comforting even though I wouldn't have give you plug nickel for the whole lot of them before all this happened." He paused for a second. "That's a hell of a thing ain't it."

      We spent two days camping outside the store in Paw Paw. There was no power from the town's lines, but a lot of the people had generators. In spite of some of them having long seated misgivings, and, I have to admit to myself, a certain mistrust of the more redneck side of the spectrum, they accepted us and we accepted them and we helped each other as we could.
      Several of the women were more than happy to show Sammi about their life in a small town and we began to feel like it wouldn't be long before things would return to normal.
      The only down side was the news we got came from the radio. None of it was good. A report from an overseas station said that every country on the planet had been attacked by orbiting space ships and smaller high speed attack craft. They said the power was out all over and since major communications lines had been destroyed, telephones and the Internet were down.
      "We've gone from the twenty first century to the nineteenth," one of the men said.

      And then, Paw Paw, West Virginia was attacked.

      It was the middle of the night. Me and Sammi had gone to bed in the back of the van and the kids slept in the driver and passenger's seats. I could hear the low conversation of a couple of the men around the radio and joked with my wife that they never seemed to sleep.
      Something woke me up, but I didn't know what.
      "Mommy!" We heard our daughter Autumn call out like she was a small child instead of almost nine.
      And then something blew the windows out of the side of the van.
      At first I thought that the generator that had been running to supply power to the store had exploded. But when I looked out, the store was a cloud of dust and smoke.
      Autumn was crying and people were running and the entire world seemed to be making noise at one time. All we could do was huddle together and pray.

      And then it was over.
      The first thing we did was check on our children, then we got out of the van and stepped into a scene of utter chaos.
      My instincts took over. My family was shaken up, and our daughter wouldn't stop crying, but they were unhurt. So I reached into the back of my van, which was easy because the entire back window was gone, and got out the plastic tool box I'd put my citizen emergency responder corps supplies in. I put on the ugly yellow vest and the hard hat with the decal on it, and my safety glasses and gloves, and then went to see what I could do to help the people that had helped us.
      "I'll be back," I said to my wife. Then I walked quickly toward where the store had been.
      "I'll come with you," my son said. "I'm OK, I can help," He added sounding like the young man I knew he was. I gave him the extra glasses and gloves from the kit and we both went to work.

      By daylight, we had the immediate situation well contained.
      There were a lot of dead people, and a lot of wounded as well. Because I knew what to do, I was in charge. We had a tent set up in the parking lot where we tried to take care of the injured as best as we could, and those that didn't survive were being covered up under a big green tarp in the field across the road, or left where they'd been killed.
      "This isn't Washington or Atlanta, why would they attack us?" A man named Peter who had said he was the old man with the radio's grandson said when he found out that his grandfather had been badly injured when the front of the store collapsed on him.
      "I don't know, but they did, and we have to do the best we can," was the only answer I could give.
      "I saw them comin'," the old man said, "they flew in from the south, from down toward Winchester. They were moving fast, zig-zagging back and forth," he waved his good arm one way then the other, "and just shooting the whole time. Shooting at anything. Just blowing stuff to hell." He shook his head, "They was flyin' so fast I didn't even have time to holler or nothin', and then, they was here, and then they was gone."
      Everybody that had witnessed the attack said the same thing. There were several of them, they were moving faster than they could follow, and they were shooting everything everywhere all at once.
      "Almost like they were being computer controlled. Robot weapons," I said as they described them.
      "Yeah, they had to be," the old man said. Then he looked me in the eye, "my name's Willis, you yell that and I'll answer."
      "Thank you sir, I'm Bo." I shook his firm but dry hand. "Is there anywhere around here to get under cover in case they come back?" I asked.
      "You think they'll come back?" One of the others asked me.
      "Yes I do, to finish the job."
      "I'm afraid you're right." Peter said, then he thought about it, and shook his head, "There's a few storm cellars behind some of the houses, but nothing much that I know of."
      My son had the idea of the day, "the tunnel! It's long and goes under the mountain, and right now it's dry!"
      "The young man is right," Old Man Willis said, "they'd have to shoot a long time to get through them, and we've got a couple of them."
      "There's more?" I asked.
      "Oh, yeah. Some of them ain't even on the maps." The old man said rubbing his arm.
      The grandson finally calmed down, "there's the one east of town for the railroad."
      "I meant the one for the old canal," my son said.
      "I know," the old man said, "but if we're all going to hide in them, we'll need more than that." He looked up at his grandson, "and Barry, don't forget the one out on the old road."
      The young man, Barry, thought about it, then looked at us, "Yeah, they'd started digging it a hundred years ago, then stopped."
      I nodded, "let's get everybody that can go, and get them under cover in case they come back to finish killing everybody."

      Before nightfall, I had a large group ready to go up to the canal tunnel and Barry, now back to himself, had another group for the railroad tunnel. The old man, loath to leave his home, said he'd hang around and point anybody that came that way looking for someplace to go, and wouldn't listen to any argument.
      "Listen, they tried to kill me once and muffed it," he straightened his back and looked at us with clear eyes, "let'em try again."
      "He just knows there's still liquor in the store," one of his friends said. "OK, we'll make sure you get fed."
      I didn't see a reasonable option and forcibly carrying an old man with a broken arm that didn't want to go wasn't going to prove anything. "Let's get going," I said to the group, then I put out my hand to the old man, "we'll be back to check on you and pick up anybody that comes in looking for help."
      "I'll keep them here. You can count on me Bo." He said to me.
      "I know. Thank you, sir."
      Then Michael, one of the other men who hadn't said a whole lot, spoke up, "I've got an idea for him, I'll be right back, don't leave without me."
      We looked at each other then I nodded as he ran to his pickup and then drove off in a hurry. In a few minutes, he was back, towing a trailer made out of the bed of another truck, complete with a slide in camper on it.
      "Now if it rains or gets chilly you can at least get in out of the weather," Michael said. "And the bed's not bad."
      "Thank'e for that," the old man said looking at the rig.
      "It was a friend of mine's," Michael's face told the story. Then he added, "he'd be glad somebody is using it."
      He unhooked it and we made sure the feet were down and it was stable. My son even tried to wiggle it and it barely moved.
      Then Mister Willis took an unsteady step up into the truck camper and looked around. "It'll do. Thanks."

      The driver's seat of the van was still covered with broken glass. I brushed as much as I could out and then drove north into Maryland. And even then, with everything that had happened, I had to marvel at how beautiful the mountains were this time of year. Then I had to pay very close attention to the bridge over the Potomac river had taken a hit. There was now a gaping hole on the northbound side of the bridge where half that lane as well as the shoulder and the whole side of the bridge. A large chunk of concrete was hanging by the railing out over the water.
      "I'm glad you weren't going fast," my wife said as we went by the damage.
      I didn't stop at the gate that said Authorized Vehicles Only on the path that led to the tow path. I gunned the engine and it got out of our way. My plan was to unload the vehicles at the tunnel, then move them back down the path.
      The one thing I made sure we did was to make sure the temporary redirect the park service had put on the canal was still solid. I didn't want us being washed out of our refuge by a thunderstorm.
      The coffer dam was still doing its thing, sending a steady stream of water from the canal into the river and the upstream end of the tunnel was as dry as a bone. Except for the fairly steady dripping in a few places that is. The last third of the tunnel on the downstream side still had water in it that got deeper as you went. We said we'd make our own coffer dam to keep it that way and use that end to dispose of waste water.
      The other tunnels had the exact opposite problem, they had no water except for the river down the hill below them. Which meant that our solution to the sanitation problem, 'dump your buckets at the far end so they'll end up in the river' wouldn't work.

      "There's one thing I want to look for in that auto parts store when we go back to town," my son said as we got what we had into some sort of order.
      "What's that?" I asked him.
      "A solar battery charger."
      "Good idea."
      We arranged ourselves by family groups and settled in to try to make the best of an absolutely horrible situation, grateful just to be alive.

Penni Potts
British Isles

      It was still too early in the year to snow, but the cold wind blowing in off the North Sea felt like it might be tempted to do it.
      We saw one of the attackers flying along the coast north of here. It was just a small dot, but we knew what it was when it let off several bursts of that bright yellow light and we heard the thunder and saw more smoke.
      For breakfast we had some hotcakes in a skillet over a fire, then several went out to scrounge and hunt for something
      None of us were survivalists, but I had been a scout at one time, and some of the others had had some outdoor experience, but this wasn't like anything I had ever been part of. We needed to find or catch enough food for us to survive another day. We tried to make snares and traps, for the rabbits and other wildlife that were fairly thick in the area.
      I wasn't sure I was hungry enough to eat a bunny rabbit yet, but I knew we had to have food, so I helped go through the gardens of other houses in the area that had been destroyed and we didn't find anybody there.
      I mean, we didn't find anybody alive there.

      "We should bury them," a man I only knew by his first name, Marlin, said to me after we'd walked around one house and he saw the owners. "It's the right thing to do."
      "I don't know if I can," I said and looked away from the bodies.
      "I'll make you a deal, help me dig the hole, then you can go pick what's in the garden and I'll take care of them."
      I nodded with my eyes closed trying not to think about it.
      Marlin was good at helping me work without focusing on the fact that we were digging a common grave for two dead people and their dog. Before we had the topsoil broke he had me talking about how I missed music, and then I was singing to him.

      As we walked back to the house later with a pail and a bed sheet full of everything that was good in their garden I asked him if he had done it.
      "Yes, but you really don't want me telling you about it do you?"
      I shook my head, "No. No I don't. Thank you."
      "I'll go back tomorrow and see if anything is still good inside the house, check the pantry and things. You know. Do you want to come back with me?"
      I shook my head again, "No, I'll find something else to do tomorrow."
      "I thought so. It's ok. It's not at all pleasant but it is what we have to do."
      I stopped walking for a moment, "I know, that's our entire lives now. Doing what we have to do."
      Marlin nodded to me, "It's not what we choose, but what was given to us. And it is what we'll do."

Chris Banks
World Press International, Bahrain

      During the night we heard more explosions and the ground and the building around us shook for a long time. Then it would be quiet for awhile, and then we'd hear more sounds of destruction, sometimes closer, sometimes further away, but almost always north of us.
      After it had been still for awhile I went outside to look. From where we were, there was nothing to be seen anywhere.

      We turned on the radio just before six in the morning. Then, just a few minutes after six the man began his broadcast by asking Allah to forgive him because he didn't have a tape of the call to prayer to play.
      John smiled after the man said something else, "he's not sure if it is wise to stay on the air that long anyway."
      And that was how we got the morning update, the man on the radio would say something, a dispatch he picked up on a shortwave, or something he heard from another survivor in the city, translated by John, who sometimes wasn't sure of what was said, but it was never good news anyway.
      "Oh, my God," John said after the commentator made a long speech of which I heard the word Cairo a couple of times. John's face was completely drained of color and his eyes were full of tears when he turned to us to tell us what had been said.
      "Just take your time," Mrs. Kellen said to him.
      "It won't make it any easier," he shook his head, "he said that he heard a BBC report from Mombasa, in Kenya that Nairobi was totally destroyed. And that somebody had gotten a message out of Cairo. He said that the Egyptian capital was hit so hard, by so many bombs from the big ship, that the river has been backed up and flooded what was left. He said that the same thing happened to other big cities. That the word from Russia was that Moscow is flat, like," he paused, "like Allah's own hand had wiped it from the Earth."
      Mrs. Kellen nodded, but we could tell she was as upset by the news as the Arab man on the radio.
      "He said that the medium sized enemy craft come in and drop off the ground troops, then it goes back up." John relayed. "If you see one coming, hide, and pray to the Lord. If you see the biggest one in the sky over you, just pray, because hiding will do no good."
      "That sounds like good advice," Mr. Kellen added.

      After several similar reports the commentator said he would try to be back on the air at six PM. John ran up and down both dials and decided to save the batteries.
      "Could it all be true?" Ken asked him.
      "I don't know, that's just what he said."
      I looked out the door, "We've seen what the small ships could do, if they had a larger one, who knows."
      "But every city in the world?" Georges asked. "How can it be?"
      After a moment of silence John could only answer, "ask the aliens."

      We ate what we could find that was still usable in the tourist center for breakfast, then ventured out to see what we could see.
      "We have to get off the island," Mister Kelen said.
      "But how, if they were bombing the developed areas like that imagine what they did to the causeway," Ken replied.
      He sat there moving hands and clenching and unclenching his fists, "I don't want to just sit here and wait for them to kill us."
      "Let's go out and look at the Gulf," I volunteered, "and just see what we can see."
      "OK, maybe it's not that bad after all."

      It was worse.
      Everything on the other side of the King Hamad Highway, was gone, and some of the area where they had built warehouses and things on a filled in area of the Persian Gulf had been hit by the attackers, and then reclaimed by the sea. We could see part of the oil terminal still burning, offshore, a smoking hulk looked like it used to be a tanker.
      Mister Kelen stood silently for a long time. Then he pointed off to where the new land had been swamped. "Our new cargo terminal was over there. We had two cranes to off load containers from the barges that would come in from Kuwait and Qatar. I was here to do a feasibility study for a second full deep water port." He shaded his eyes against the sun and nodded, "That's the crane, you can see it sticking out of the water."
      I looked. I could see something in the water, I don't know if it was the crane or not.

      "Look," Ken said pointing southeast, "On the horizon."
      "Smoke."
      "Qatar."
      I turned and looked closer to... home, I guess. "Askar," I said looking just a mile or so south of us. "I knew some people that lived there."
      "I'm sorry," Georges said.
      Even the giant jetty that had been built out into the water had been partially destroyed. The almost endless array of small boats that always seem to crowd the shore and never go out on the Gulf were now splinters and shards.
      "They even hit the island," Ken pointed out to the left off where the jetty used to be. "There was a mosque or something out there. I remember seeing a story about it."
      "It's not there anymore," I said as we watched a cloud of smoke and dust from it mix with more from the town and drift out over the Gulf.

      We stared at the devastation for a long time, then we started back toward the center.
      "Food is going to be a problem," Mister Kelen said.
      "I was thinking about that."
      "There's some fishing stuff in the gift shop," Ken said, "it's not much, but it's a start."
      "Hey, look at that," Georges said, then he bent down and picked up a couple of coins that were laying in the sand along the highway. "Seventy five fils," he said holding them up. "Not bad."
      We looked at him and the coins, and then began laughing at the absurdity of it.

      The six PM update from the lone broadcaster in Qatar was a few more reports like he had relayed that morning. With one notable exception, the man spoke slowly, putting a great deal of emphasis and meaning into every word, even though I did not speak the language, I could tell that he was fighting just to say what he had to say.
      "He said that he had seen a moving platform with soldiers on it who were not Allah's children. They did not see him and kept going. Their officer looked like he was three meters tall." John translated, "He just repeated that he saw them with his own eyes and that they were not human. And he'll be back on at six AM if the Lord God is Merciful to him."
      "Well, we know what to watch out for," Ken said.
      "Do you think they'll come here?" Mrs. Kelen asked us.
      "There's no reason for them not to and nothing to stop them."
      "You're right Chris, at least we're not going to. And I haven't seen anybody else since the attack, have you?"
      I thought about it and shook my head, then I looked at the others.
      "No, we can't be the only ones left alive in the country, can we?"

Abbey and Jay
Munyaroo Conservation Park, Australia

      Our camp grew a little when the guys were out hunting and scouting around they ran into a family camped in a dry wash just south of us, but for as far as we knew, we were it on our side of the gulf.
      For food, we gathered such vegetation as we knew was eatable, we hunted, trapped emus, and we fished in the gulf and harvested oysters and clams along the shore. And in spite of my own personal misgivings, I even ate a couple of roasted witchety grubs with my dinner because I'd made a speech about having to eat like a native the day before.
      We had two casting nets, and a couple of larger rods and reels that we'd found in the office of the complex, and Jay and a couple of the others were working on traps for both game and fish, and we had a boat that had washed up on the beach. We didn't have much, and sometimes we went hungry, especially for that first week or so. But we were alive, and we were planning on staying that way. And as time went on, we got better at making do with what we had or could find.
      The radio station in Mildura had gone off the air on the third day and never came back on, and we guessed that the broadcasts had attracted attention. Once in awhile late at night we could pick up something on one or another of the bands, but for the most part, we were cut off from whatever civilization remained.
      Brock and John had been contemplating making a middle of the night run back to town to see what they could see, and to scrounge up anything that we could use.
      I was against it, but I had to admit that it might be a good idea.
      "We'll drive in at night with the lights off, hide during the day, and then come back," Brock said.
      "We'll see what we can find and come back," John added.
      "They won't shut up unless we let them go," Marcie said to the silence around the fire.
      Finally we all agreed that the two of them would take the SUV and go the next night.

      I watched them drive back up the road toward the highway with total misgivings and a feeling that I'd never see either one again.
      Jay put his hand on my shoulder and said that they'd be all right. But Kiera wasn't going to be comforted by anybody or anything until John got back.
      We went about what had become our routine all that day and then sat around staring at the road in the distance.
      "If they didn't leave until it was dark, they couldn't get back much before midnight, not driving with no lights." I said after I thought about it.
      Everybody agreed, but we all sat up around the fire anyway.

      "There!" Jay said who had taken to standing watch, "Somebody is coming!"
      We looked, but didn't see anything for a minute or two. Then a small light appeared from behind a hill and we could see that it was coming down the road our way. Then we could see that there were two of them.
      Finally the two lights turned into the SUV and a panel truck. Eventually John got out of the SUV and we could see that Brock was driving the truck, and they had a couple of other people with them.

      Marcie hugged Brock like she was never going to let go of him again, Kiera took a bit longer to warm back up to John, but then she stopped crying and kissed her boyfriend.
      "Boy did we have an adventure," John said excitedly. "And we found all sorts of stuff."
      "Hello. I'm Abbey." I said to the newcomers.
      "Oh, hell," Brock said, "this is Liam, and Emma, and that's Brooke, and her cousin... give me a second... Paige, on break from college, right?"
      "Hi," Liam said.
      "Brooke! Hey, it's me," Jay said to the newcomers.
      "Oh, hi!" She smiled at seeing somebody familiar.
      Jay looked at me, "I just know her from school."
      "OK, I didn't say anything."
      "So, tell us about this adventure," Marcie said to her husband.

      Brock started the narration. "We decided to go up to the shopping center and see if anything was left while it was still dark. We drove up that way, but, my God, they'd hammered that place, it was flat. So before it got light we went back down to the race track to see if we could spend the day out of sight there."
      "When he said it flat, I don't know how else to put it, in places, there were holes in the ground where the stores had been," Jay said.
      Then Liam spoke up, "I'd walked up there a day or two ago to see if I could find anything, you know, food or something, and they're not kidding, I picked through some of it, but it was like it'd been nuked, just without the heat."
      "So we got down to the raceway and it had been hit too, just not as hard. There were some people there, but not many, and the ones we ran into weren't staying," Brock said, "Liam and them said they'd rather come with us down here than go north with the others. So here they are."
      "That's not much of an adventure," Jay said.
      "You ain't heard nothing yet," John said. "Tell them about the aliens."
      "You can. I'm not sure I believe it myself yet."
      "We saw'em. They were riding around on a levitation thing," he made a horizontal rectangle in the air in front of him with his hands. "There was a dozen or so of them on it, and a couple of real tall guys, and they were going back and forth on it, and if they saw something that looked like it was worth something they'd stop and some of them would go check it out...."
      "Or they'd call in an airstrike," Liam added. "We saw them do that too."
      "So we had to hide most of the time," Brooke said, "but we only saw them in the daytime."
      "But they didn't destroy that truck," I said.
      "They never saw it," Liam explained, "it was in the loading ramp and the building fell on it during the first attack. We lived across Heurich, on the backside of the track."
      Emma nodded, "I'd just asked Liam to come out and help me put the washing line back up so I could hang up the load of laundry I was going to do that day. I just like the way clothes smell when you hang them outside."
      "We heard the attack start, and I pulled her into the garden shed."
      "If we'd gone back into the house, we'd be as dead as everybody else," Emma said softly.
      "They shot every house in town. I think they did it all at once, there was like three big explosions, and when we looked out, everything was gone," Liam said. "Everything, and everybody."
      Paige said something softly, then Brooke asked her to say it louder. The young woman looked at us and repeated what she'd said. "They used implosion devices to destroy the downtown. I remember reading about them on a theoretical physics website. Instead of an explosion that pushes everything out, it's an implosion using a false vacuum created from something like nul space or dark energy. The smaller ships were launching balls of high energy plasma."
      Brooke looked at us with a smile, "Paige is an honors student in physics and stuff. At Western."
      "And I'm glad she's on our side," Liam added.
      "She was spending the night with us before she went back to school. We never even found my parent's bedroom," Brooke said slowly.
      Emma held the girl's hand, "We found them wandering down the street, I've kept them with us ever since."
      "She's our mum now," Paige said with a sad smile.
      "So what's in the truck?" Jay asked.
      "Stuff to make our life easier," Brock said.

Shoichi Wantabe
Yao, Japan

      Several of us made the journey from our base in Yao to the command base at Itami northwest of the city of Osaka. It was not a long journey, but it was harrowing at times as we had to conceal ourselves from the enemy's aircraft, and then later, patrols of soldiers.
      We arrived at the base late in the evening of the second day of our trip. We found that it too had been flattened by the enemy, but like on our base, people had survived and were re-establishing the chain of command and were preparing to attack the enemy who had first attacked us.
      As the senior officer with our party, Lieutenant Inoue went in to talk to the officer who had taken command of the Central Army after the attack. The command office was now in a shipping container that had been knocked off a truck in the attack.

      He was inside for a long time.

      Lieutenant Inoue's face was somber when he came out and signaled us to walk with him.
      "In the attack, our forces responded with a force that has not been seen from our people since the great war," his eyes were far away as he spoke, I don't think he saw the total ruin of the Osaka airport around us. "They heard about a group of the T-90 tanks at a base. They fought the enemy. Bravely. And brought down one of the large attack craft, then they moved to defend the city." He blinked several times and a tear appeared and ran down his face. "And then, it was destroyed from above. It was as if the great bomb had returned to Nagasaki." He turned and looked at us, "The city is no more. Some of the land, is now the sea."
      We couldn't say anything for a long time, I knew people that lived there. They did live there.
      He took a deep breath and looked at us. "I am now in the Ground Force," Lieutenant Inoue said, "there is no navy anymore."
      I could not believe my ears, neither could Teruo, "who is in command?" he asked.
      "Here there is a captain from the signal brigade. There is a major, but he was injured in the attack." Lieutenant Inoue looked around, "they don't know if anybody else is alive or not. There is no word from Tokyo or anywhere else. There are no supplies for him to send, no reinforcements or replacements."
      "What are the orders sir?" I asked after a respectful moment.
      "He said, we are to do what we can for our people, and to attack the enemy at every opportunity." He sighed and reached out for Teruo to give him his Howa rifle back.
      I exchanged glances with Teruo, "We can do that, sir." We answered together.

      Just as we were getting ready to leave a man in civilian clothes came out of a large tent and saluted Lieutenant Inoue, "Sir," he said, "Captain Akatsuka instructed me to give these to you and your men with his compliments." Then he handed us each an M9 with a cloth bag of spare rounds and a couple of hand grenades. "I am sorry for that," he said as he handed me a bag that wasn't tied securely and several rounds fell out, "but we don't have," he paused, "I'm sorry sir, but we don't have much of anything." Then he bowed again, and went back into the tent.
      I looked at the bag before I picked up the spilled ammunition and put it in my pack. The bag had been made out of a shirt.
      "We should go," the Lieutenant said.

      The main complex of the Osaka airport had been worse than destroyed, it had been devastated, and then devastated again. Where I think the main terminal had been had now began to collect rainwater.
      We never saw more than a few people at any one time. Some came to us as if they expected us to give them orders or to ask for something, but for the most part, they left us alone, and we did likewise.

      On our way north we had had a problem crossing the Yodo River as almost every bridge had been destroyed. But we found a way across to the northeast and intended to do likewise going back. The bridge we used had been badly damaged, but we could still walk across it.
      Except now after we crossed what had been the toll road bridge we saw a group of the enemy soldiers on the far side, and we could not get around them.
      "We either have to fight, wait, or go back." Lieutenant Inoue said. "What do you wish to do?" He asked us.
      "You are in command, sir." Teruo said.
      "Yes, but this may not go well, I wish to hear your opinion."
      "I would like to try to kill them, sir." I said.
      "Me too," Teruo added.
      "As would I." He looked back at the group walking around their vehicle in a sort of patrol formation. The officer was standing on the vehicle, facing away from us. "Shoichi, take the left, Teruo, the right, I will go in the middle, when I fire, you fire."
      "Yes, sir." We said together.

      The enemy was taken completely by surprise and only managed to fire a few shots in our direction. Lieutenant Inoue used his rifle on the opposing officer first and to great effect.
      The battle was short and noisy. I fired every round my Howa had, then used the M9. Finally, I was shooting at the last enemy soldier with my pistol. But we won. Seven enemy foot soldiers were dead, as was their officer.
      It took several hits to bring them down. But they could be killed. And kill them we did.

      "Look at that, he is not human," Lieutenant Inoue said.
      "Neither of them are, their skin, it looks like a lizard's hide but it is not scaly." Teruo moved the dead soldier's face shield with the barrel of his rifle.
      Then we went and checked the enemy officer. "He is human, but he is too tall to be human," I observed.
      "I will measure him, it is one and a half meters from my thumb tip to thumb tip," Teruo said, "Exactly."
      "You have always said that. I still believe you," I said to my friend.
      He stretched out his arms and we measured the enemy officer, he was less than two full arm spans tall.
      "Perhaps two and a half meters?" Lieutenant Inoue asked me to confirm his estimate from Teruo's measurement.
      "Yes."
      We took from them what we thought would be useful to use against them, then left them where they lay dead and made our way back to our bunker in Yao.

Weather Officer Torgersen
Norwegian Weather Station
Olonkinbyen, Jan Mayen, Arctic Ocean

      They'd forgot about us.
      I know we are on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere, six hundred K north of Iceland qualifies as the middle of nowhere if anywhere does. But Still. We are part of the Kingdom and most of us serve the Crown in the Military. And they forgot about us.

      When the news came over about the attack we did our duty. We powered down all of the equipment that would give our position away to the enemy and waited for word to resume transmitting the signal on the LORAN system for NATO as well as our own forces.
      But the signal never came.
      We sat around the bar in the main building with the kerosene heater and listened to a battery powered HAM receiver. The news was sporadic and confused, but it was obvious that the attack on Oslo and Trondheim had been from space instead of Russia.
      One of our crewmen spoke very good German and when we picked up a broadcast in that language he started crying. Finally he wiped his eyes and looked at us, "He said they are destroying everything, all humanity is being killed."
      And then, the radio went silent. It was still working, but nobody was left to broadcast.
      We were alone.

      We never saw an enemy ship. There was no fire from the sky that destroyed our compound.
      A couple of times a day we tried to get a signal from anywhere else in the world, but there was nothing. Then later, we heard a faint broadcast in what we thought was Arabic. We all cheered even though none of us spoke the language because it meant we were not the last people on Earth.
      Then later, an English station was on for a couple of hours a day and we heard about what had happened in Britain.
      The news that not only was London gone, it had been destroyed to the point where the reporter wasn't even sure where most of it had been hit us hard. It also meant that most likely our homes and families were gone as well.
      And so we began our solitary existence.

      We lost track of the days and spent most of our time hunting for seals or birds to make our food rations better. Then Eilif went and turned on one of the generators and powered up the LORAN system.
      "I thought I'd see if it still worked," he said.

      Somebody heard it.

      We all prepared for a flaming death when what was obviously an alien spaceship came in low over the Northern end of the island around the Beerenberg volcano.
      "I'm sorry," Eilif said.
      But it didn't open fire. It slowed down and landed in the clearing just north of the settlement.
      It was the longest half hour in history before we went to see what was going on. But there was no sign of the soldiers we'd heard about on the radio. Just a big square box with some discs hanging on ribbons on top of it next to the ship.
      "Peace offering?" I guessed and picked one up.
      As soon as I touched it I could hear talking in Norwegian with a funny cadence, "It is cold out there please come up so we can talk better," it said.
      "OK." I answered even though I couldn't see anybody.
      "OK what?" the others asked me.
      "Take one," I told them and gestured to the discs.
      Then they heard the voices too.
      "How do we go up?" Eilif asked.
      And the side of the ship let down a narrow ramp.
      The others looked at me so I went first. And what I saw at the top of the ramp was something that I had never ever imagined in my wildest dreams.

interloquer

      "General Muller. Sir? Please. Sir?" Specialist Gunther said in a shaky voice from outside the Captain's tent.
      "Yes, what?"
      "Somebody. I mean. Some. Thing. Sorry. I mean. Some ... body. Is here to, see you."
      "What do you mean some....." The former Captain turned from where he had been putting on his boots while sitting on a large wooden box and totally froze. For the first time since he'd been given his emergency field promotion to take command of what had been the Pacific Northwest of the United States he didn't know what to say or even what to think.
      The things standing behind Gunther had to have come from an old science fiction show made by somebody who, as a child, had been frightened by the animals in an aquarium. The only term that Muller could come up with was that they were related to the Humboldt squid only without the fins on top. They were standing on four thick tentacles and had four thinner ones about halfway up their bodies. The closest squid thing had two of its tentacles by its sides, while two of its other 'arms' ended in three fingerlike protrusions, one of those was holding a 'handful' of objects on thin cords, the other held a small oblong object. The five foot tall aliens didn't appear to be armed with any obvious weapons.
      The closest one had one large multi-lensed eye that focused on him, it offered him one of the discs and Muller took it.
      "General Muller," it said without speaking.
      It couldn't speak, for one main reason being that it didn't have a mouth that he saw. What it did have was a small flat pendant around what might best be described as its neck that spoke for it without any flashing lights or other indication that the object was working. It dawned on him that the disc was some sort of communicator that allowed him to understand the creature.
      "I'm Muller," the captain said when he found his voice again.
      "As you can see, I am not from your world," it said.
      "Yeah, OK."
      "We are of the enemy of those who destroyed your world." Another one of the aliens said.
      "OK."
      "We need pilots and troops to assist in our fight against them. We have long range deep space fighters, anti-ship planetary defense particle beam weapons, ground assault craft and weapons. But we do not have the personnel to use them. Would you like to know more?"
      "Why couldn't you have stopped the attack in the first place?"
      The squid was silent for a moment, "I'm sorry, we couldn't have, even if we had known you were here. We only learned of your existence shortly before the attack."
      "But even if we had, we do not have the strength to have repelled an attack of this magnitude."
      Muller wasn't sure if he believed the alien or not, but he nodded and said he would like to know more about the proposal.

      Later, Muller felt like he had been in a three day briefing session. But in reality, it had only taken a couple of minutes for the 'squid' to transfer a great deal of their history as well as their entire strategic scenario and logistical ability to him.
      Two things happened to Muller, first, he had a instant migraine headache complete with spots before his eyes that faded slowly, and he had a sudden and very profound understanding of the beings that had spent the last five hundred years avoiding direct conflict with the enemy.
      Muller's immediate reaction was to volunteer his entire command, such as it was, to sign up as mercenaries with them.
      But then he had to tell the others that they were leaving, and, of course, check with his own superiors to make sure they were OK with them leaving Earth, taking only what he could get together and carry in a matter of a couple of hours, and possibly never coming back.

      The aliens had also been to the large settlement west of Washington DC and had been in touch with what was left of the government there.
      Lieutenant General Kelly was the highest ranking senior officer so far identified. Now, instead of planning for his retirement, he was overseeing the re-establishment of the central command of the United States military with a handful of people from the executive and legislative branches. The attack had come so suddenly and was so thorough that very few that had been in town survived.
      "Yes, General, we are assembling a group here to go with them, and we understand there are others going from other locations. If you are willing, we can see our way clear to assign you command of the expeditionary force from the USA."
      Muller listened to the three star general, then made a decision.

      "It's a chance to take the fight to those that did this to us" Muller told the others. "It just isn't here. The Panna, that's the name the squid-guys call themselves, anyway, years and years ago, they automated a lot of their production of all sorts of gear. And left it. Some of these factories were built inside of asteroids and have been running for years. Turning out fighters, guns, even huge space cruisers, on their own. The Panna don't breed very fast, or have very many kids when they do, so they have been trying to recover their numbers for a long, long time from the same kind of attack that happened to us."
      His command, now several hundred strong included former Guardsmen, Naval personnel, Air Force, even some academy and ROTC cadets and several civilians. And every one of them was staring at him in total disbelief.
      "It can't be, General, sir." One of them said when he met their eyes.
      "Why not?"
      "Space aliens? Like the one you saw? How can that be?"
      "Then you tell me, who destroyed everything everywhere?"
      "I know sir, but...." The young man said, then he visibly sagged, "Well, I don't know sir. Do you believe it?"
      "I've seen it. The Panna that was here took me out to their transport. It's hiding in the Pacific to stay out of sight of Annunaki patrols. Let me tell you, it's real, and it can take us to their weapons, and they'll teach us to fly them. Even now, their automated factories are retrofitting some of their ships for human crews. I told them I'm coming. There's nothing left for me here, and I want a chance for some payback. Even if that is all it is is a chance, I'm going to take it."
      "That's good enough for me sir. I'm in."
      The General nodded at him.
      "Me too," Spade said.
      In a moment the majority of the group was shouting and whistling.

      "I'm sorry Doctor, I don't want to leave you, but," Mateo said then stopped.
      "I know. Go. Give them as good as they gave us."
      Mateo looked at the creature that had made the offer, "How many of us can you take?"
      "All that will fight our common enemy," it answered.
      "How about if I just want to help those that do the fighting?"
      "We need those as well."

      Warrant Officer Sato stood and made a very stern face, "the Major at Itami said that Tokyo Central Command is leaving it up to individual units. They will understand if you do not go, and if you do."
      "Sir. What are you going to do?"
      "I'm going, Shoichi."
      "Then I am too."

      "I know you want to fight Jay, but I can't bear the thought that...."
      "Mummy, if the enemy comes back, they could kill all of us just like they killed everybody else. At least with this, I'll have a chance to fight back. Here, all we can do is die."

      "Bo? Why didn't you go?"
      "Somebody has to stay and look out for everybody else. Besides, my son, Amory, went. They said he was old enough if he wanted to go. He did."
      "He's a young man. Young men have been going off to war for a very long time."
      "And a lot of them never came back," Bo said looking up at the stars.

Part Two

In Route

      The humans in the huge room were facing several of the Panna. They were all remarkably similar to each other, but there were subtle differences between them in height and heft. But the primary difference was in how they had adapted their smaller tentacles to perform different functions.
      "We have given each of you a language token like I have," one of the Panna said to the people in a large hanger-like room, "as long as you wear it you can understand us, and each other. You will not need it in the ships, it is built into them." It looked at them with its compound eye. "The humans on the other transports can see and hear all you see and hear. Do you have any questions before we begin?"
      "How many people went with you? I mean, came with us? Ahh... you know what I mean." Somebody said from off to one side of the front area.
      The Panna answered without turning to face the individual that had asked the question. "There are eight thousand seven hundred twenty three humans on this transport. That is all that left to fight with us."
      "When will we leave Earth?" Amory asked from near the front of the crowd of people.
      "We already have," another said, "observe." Their voices, much as their appearance, was very similar one to the other.
      The one that spoke didn't move any of its tentacles or do anything else obvious and a large section of the wall turned into an external view, of space.
      "Where are we going?" Somebody else asked.
      "I don know your title for the star system." The same one answered and the view changed to a forward look, "this is how the stars appear from your planet. The assembly place is in the system of the star in the center."
      "It looks like Draco," Paige said quietly to Jay. He nudged her to say it louder. "It looks like he means Alsafi in Draco. The constellation."
      General Muller turned toward the young woman, "You know this kind of stuff?"
      "Yes sir," she answered. "At least, some of it."
      "I want you with me."
      "Yes sir. Thank you, sir." She said meekly.
      Jay grinned at her, "You just got drafted."
      She shrugged, "if that's how I can help out, I'm OK with it. What are you going to do?"
      "I don't know yet."

      The General turned back toward the Panna, "Can you show us the fighters we'll be using?'
      "Of course."
      The screen changed to the image of a needle-like craft with small protrusions almost at random along it. "When used by us, the pilots recline as you see with their adapted manipulators specialized for the controls. There will only be one human as opposed to two of us," it said, "we don't like to do anything alone. Our builders are changing the craft so you will be reclining with your, feet forward, and your eyes facing the enemy target." The image changed and then a profile of a human appeared in the cockpit.

      "Thank God," Mateo with relief.
      As the view moved away from the close up the vessel turned dramatically and fired several bursts of bright red and a dark violet light. "All are armed with multi-spectrum jacketed plasma bolt generators. They are most effective against the enemy's smaller ships. And have been known to damage their larger ones as well."
      The view changed to show an array of the Panna's fleet including something of a massive Dreadnaught of impressive design. The Panna to the far left spoke with a slightly lower voice, but again, it was very much like the others of its kind. "Some species have proven to be totally incompatible with the fighter craft, although they continue the fight in other ways, the enemy has not seen a large number of these for a long time."
      General Muller looked toward the human volunteers, "They'll see them now. Right?"
      "Yes Sir!" many of them answered and then echoed.
      "How do we fly the thing?" Somebody asked.
      This time one of the Panna moved and held a slightly larger object like Muller remembered from his initial interview.
      "Brace yourselves," the General said loudly.
      "Why?" Amory asked, but before he could finish saying the word, he knew exactly why. He also knew everything there was to know about the Panna needle fighters including how it recalculated the atmosphere to keep its pilot alive. He blinked several times and several others staggered and had to be helped to stay on their feet. "That was something."
      "Yeah," Muller said. Then he turned back toward the Panna, "Not everybody here is going to fly a fighter."
      "We understand, but now they all know how to do so to assist those that are. The crews for the cruisers and others will be given what they need to know as well. But our greatest need in the war is for fighter pilots." The first Panna said.
      "You've got them."

      "I lead the Warriors of Allah's True Faith. We will not take orders from this infidel." A man said loudly from one side of the room.
      Several of the Panna moved their eye on its short stalk toward the speaker. "That is for you to decide, but we wish to deal with a single authority for your people," one of them said.
      The General looked over at the man, "Tell me, Warrior, have you ever led a squadron of high speed aircraft into combat?"
      "If not, what of it?"
      "But you have fought with your troops in a land battle against an enemy?"
      "Yes, we killed thousands."
      The General turned to the Panna, "There are places where they can fight on the ground, is there not?"
      "Many." It answered. "The enemy is on many planets."
      "I will lead those that can fly the ships and you may lead those on the ground. Will that satisfy the honor of your Faith?"
      The Warrior turned to those with him, they discussed it for a moment, then he turned back to the General and the Panna. "We will do this, but there are those with us who wish to fly."
      "If possible, we will have a squadron of your fellow fighters for you to lead, Warrior."
      He glanced at the others, then back to the General, "Usman is a flier, he will lead those."
      "Very good," he nodded to Usman who stood proudly for a moment, but then he nodded back. "Tell me Warrior, what is your name?"
      "You may call me, Warrior."
      "As you wish. Usman, how many fliers do you have?"
      "I will find out and tell you. General."
      "Thank you," Muller said to him, then he looked back at Warrior. "I am a Baptist. A Christian." Warrior didn't answer, nor was he even looking at him, but his eyes did harden. "But I will tell you this, the enemy killed Christians, and Muslims, and everybody else, did they not?"
      Usman answered for his countryman, "Yes, they did."
      "This was an attack on Humanity, they did not care what faith you had, even if you had any at all. They killed everybody. And I think we should stand together to return the favor." Finally, Warrior looked at him, and then, he nodded.

      The Panna were silent for a moment, then several of them left. "It is now rest time," the last one said. Then it left the room with a smooth gait as it swept its four largest tentacles back and forth along the floor.

      The humans were silent for another moment after the aliens went through a door that neither opened nor closed, it just shimmered for a second as the Panna went through.
      "So, where is, what did you call it? Alfi? The star we're going to?" General Muller asked Paige.
      "I think it's Al Safi. The scientific name for it is Sigma Draconis. But I like the old name better. The background stars looked like Draco the Dragon."
      "Which is where?"
      "It's..." she paused for a second. "If you were looking at the North Star in Ursa Minor, the Little Dipper. It would be between Polaris and the Big Dipper in the dragon's tail. About twenty light years out. You can see it on a dark night." She looked around, "Well, from Earth you could."
      "Will we be able to see our sun from there?" Jay asked her.
      "Maybe. I'll have to look and let you know."

      General Muller walked through the group and met some of the people that he was now responsible for. He talked to Usman who introduced his sister, Is'ad who said that he was the first American she'd ever met face to face.
      "I hope I didn't disappoint you," Muller said to the woman.
      "No, not yet." She said and averted her eyes.
      "Usman, what did you fly?"
      "Several years ago I flew MiGs. I trained in the 23. I flew the 29-M for many years."
      "Excellent. The MiG-29 was a very good aircraft."
      "Yes sir."
      He told Usman that he'd see him up front and continued his rounds.

      "Frigate Captain Moreau, sir. Of late of the French anti-submarine frigate 'Jean de Vienne'." A man in a navel uniform said with a sharp salute. "This is my crew that were able to make the trip, sir. We are ready, willing, and able to serve." The officer said of the group of men standing at attention.
      General Muller returned the salute and told the men to stand at ease. "What happened to your ship, Captain?"
      "Blown to absolute morceaux you could say. All hands on board were lost. We were ashore laying in supplies when it was hit." Moreau answered. "There were seven ships in our group, all were destroyed in the battle."
      "Our boys on the boats did get their licks in, sir," One of the French sailors said. "They went down fighting."
      "Good," he looked at the sailors, "any of you pilots?"
      "Not now sir, but we will be. Lord willing." The sailor responded.
      His Captain agreed, "You give us the assignment sir, we'll carry it out one way or the other."
      "Very good, sir. Thank you." He shook hands with the Captain and continued on.

      Next he met a large family from near Cape Town who said they were all that was left of their entire city. "We searched for a long time, we never saw anybody else alive. In both Claremont and Newlands, everybody was gone. That's over twenty thousand people."
      The General put his hand on the woman's shoulder, "how did you survive?"
      "We were cleaning out the basement of my father's house, near the stadium. The land had been taken so they could expand it. We were there when..." She had to stop speaking.
      "We were there when they attacked. A section of the seating was blown onto the house. It saved us," a young man with a gleam in his eyes said.
      "What's your name, son?"
      "Fen," he answered.
      "Fenyang," the woman answered, "He's in the Military Development Service, then he's going to officer school."
      The General nodded, "Excellent, I need officers."
      "I'm sorry, sir, I've only just started, my enlistment was delayed because I'd broken my arm last year playing football." He flexed his left arm, "but it's fine now."
      General Muller smiled at them, "Consider it a field promotion."
      "Yes, sir."
      "Good, find out who else here can fly, have them report to me in about an hour up by the main screen. Have ground troops gather over there, find a gentleman who goes by 'Warrior'."
      "Yes sir, where should I go?"
      "That's up to you. Do you want to fly one of those ships or fight on the ground?"
      "I want to fly, sir."
      "Good," he said then he turned to go. But he paused and looked back at the young man, "Because I need a wing man."

      Not long after leaving Fen to his assignment, General Muller came face to face with something he absolutely did not expect. A band.
      The first thing he saw was a drum set and a guitar.
      "What?" He started to ask, then he saw the people that belonged to the instruments. Two of the men were in kilts, the man adjusting the drum kit looked like he belonged in a cowboy movie. The rest made no sense at all.
      "Sir! Corporal Derry O'Neill, retired, Devonshire and Dorset Regiment, sir. We are the Tywysog Cymru," one of the men in a kilt said saluting him with his palm forward. The General returned the salute. The man was still at attention as he continued, "we came to be the entertainment for the troops." To which the drummer did quick rudiment and roll with a flourish.
      "What kind of music do you play?" Muller asked. "I mean..." he gestured, "kilts, cowboy hats, Grateful Dead T-shirt..."
      "We play it all sir. If you can hum it, we can play it," Corporal O'Neill answered. "We'd been doing the hotel circuit, sir, it doesn't pay to be confined to one style."
      "OK, your audition is up front in," he checked his watch, "in exactly thirty five minutes."
      "What would you like to hear, sir?"
      He looked around, "anything loud." General Muller
      I don't know when Mateo joined my staff. I really don't. He just appeared next to me during my tour, and asked questions of the others, and made suggestions, and just seemed to become my right hand man when I didn't even know I needed one.
      And when I asked him about it he said he had worked for the Governor of some state in Brazil before the attack.
      "And you've just gotten used to being in the middle of the action." I said to him.
      "I guess you can say that sir. If you wish, I'll go offer my services to the Panna."
      "No, I think I would prefer you stay with me, I like they way you talk to the people. And the Panna."
      "I was an interpreter, sir. Sometimes the message wasn't in the words being said, but in how."
      "Something I know all too well." I looked around the huge room, "Let's see who else is here."
      "Yes, sir."

Penni Potts
British Isles

      "It's OK, they're gone. They're all gone." I heard Marlin said to me.
      I shook involuntarily. The image of the alien creatures still haunted me every time I closed my eyes or blinked. It had been the most horrible thing I'd ever seen. It was worse than anything in a movie or on TV, because it was real, it stood there and talked to us. It said there were more of them, all over the planet, recruiting fighters to help defeat our common enemy. I had to clinch my teeth to not scream again.
      "I'll take her for a walk," Marlin had said and then he all but carried me away from the meeting of all of the survivors in the Norwich area with the alien.
      Finally, I fainted.

      When I woke up there was just a few of the people from the farm around me waiting to go home. Many of the others, young men and women, military veterans, and several others, had gone with them, leaving the rest of us to carry on here.
      "Are you OK?" An old woman asked me.
      I still couldn't speak, but I did nod my head to her.
      "Drink this. It'll help you."
      I took about half a sip from the coffee cup she held out to me.
      "Oh, God!" I said as the liquid that I thought would be tea turned out to be scotch.
      But then when I could breathe again, I finished the cup even though I usually did not drink.

      "The Panna left everybody some supplies. Medical stuff. A machine that cleans drinking water. Things like that." Marlin said to me as we rode in an old truck back home. "They wanted to help. The squid guys are the good guys."
      I almost screamed again as what he was talking about brought back the memory of the creatures.
      "Let her be, she's had a frightful shock. We all have," the old woman said and downed another slug of her own remedy.

Dr. Yarah Santiago
Santa Politia Plantation, Brazil

      I will always be grateful to the Panna for what they did for us, even though I don't believe their explanation that they didn't even know our planet was here, let alone that there were over six billion people on it, until their own intelligence revealed that those who our history identified as the Annunaki were on their way to sterilize the planet.
      "Yours is not the first that they have done this to. They have eliminated others. They made war against my own race because we believe in equality among all living intelligent beings. No matter what they look like."
      "You know that you look like, I don't know what, to us."
      "And you, to us," the Panna answered, "on my own home world there are beings with calcite structures that hold their forms, some are kept as pets."
      I had to laugh, and nod.
      "My species developed space flight long ago, we colonized other worlds, and thought we could share civility with others who were as advanced. The enemy had other ideas. They see themselves as superior and hold others as slaves, and worse."
      "And those who are a threat, they attack."
      "If they are a threat, if they will not submit, if, as I fear is the case here, if you once rejected them as masters."
      "I've never believed those stories." I said, then I had to admit to the credibility of my own eyes, and the, being, I was having a conversation with, "until now." I couldn't believe how easy it was to forget that the Panna, who said it didn't have an individual name, was an intelligent creature that I could only compare to an asexual air breathing octopus or something.
      But my conversation was interrupted when Mateo came back in and said that everybody that was going was, "as ready to go as we'll ever be."
      And half of my people went with the Panna to fight the enemy.

      The Panna left us a communications box, some medical equipment that it said would even help with damage to our 'calcite structures', meaning broken bones, some other supplies, and a promise that one of their ships, or one of their allies, would stop by to check on us once in awhile.

      I could not believe how much I had come to depend on, and even to love, Mateo.
      He was always cheerful, and helpful, and I had become very fond of the young man who was less than half my age, but I felt attached to like he was my husband. We had never crossed the physical line, but I had come very close to asking him if he wanted to.
      And now, he was gone.

      David saw me standing and staring into space, "He'll be OK, Doctor. We need to see to the people that are left."
      "Yes."

Chris Banks
World Press International, Bahrain

      John was listening intently to the morning broadcast from Qatar. "He said that the creatures from another of Allah's worlds have taken all that would volunteer to fight the enemy of Islam in outer space."
      "What?" I said, I simply couldn't believe my ears.
      John waved me to silence while he listened some more, "he said they are the most hideous creature ever imagined, but they are fighting our common enemy, and he blesses their effort in the name of Allah." He looked up as the commentator changed tones and talked about something else. "He said they took over two thousand loyal warriors from the Islamic States around the Gulf." John glanced at the radio, "now he's talking about somebody rebuilding a mosque near where Abu Dhabi was."
      "They didn't come here," Georges said, "I would have gone too."
      "Both of us," Ken added.
      Mr. Kellen nodded, "We probably all would have. But my guess is that they only went to where there was a concentration of people." He looked around at us, "and that ain't here."
      His wife shook her head, "So what can we do? We can't stay here. There's nothing to eat, and don't tell me about the rabbits. I've eaten more rabbit than I can stand now."
      I had to admit that I felt about the same way. We'd gotten good at trapping the local hares that seemed to be on the verge of overrunning the place now that their only natural enemy, the cars on the highway, had stopped. We trapped them, and snared flamingos and other shore birds, and fished and found shellfish, we'd even found a couple of small pearls in some of the oysters we'd harvested. But there wasn't a lot of variety, and aside from around our oasis, all the gardens in the area that had been irrigated were either dead or dying.
      "What do you want to do?" John asked her. "We got the boats, we could take you across to Qatar. They're evidently doing OK over there."
      Mrs. Kellen didn't like that idea either, "and end up wearing a shaila again? No," she said. "it makes my scalp itch something fierce. I guess we'll just have to stay here and make the best of it."
      I nodded, "I don't see an alternative. I'll go down and check the traps, wanna come?" I got up from the floor where I'd been sitting to listen to what passed for the morning news for us.
      She looked up at me, "Sure. If I'm going to have to figure out another way to cook it, I at least want to see what it is."

Panna Fleet Assembly
Al Safi System

      "General Muller," a young Oriental man said in a soft voice as the General was working back toward the front of the hanger with Paige and Mateo and a handful of military representatives from almost every country on Earth.
      "Yes?
      "I am Qi-shi, it is more of a title than a name, but I like it," he bowed slightly.
      The general stood there with Paige and the others in a half circle and looked at him without saying anything.
      "I served in the People's Liberation Army General Staff."
      "China," the General answered, "The People's Republic."
      "Yes, sir."
      "You seem a bit young to be in the General Staff. What did you do?" Paige asked him.
      "I was in the Strategic Planning Division. We were developing battle scenarios and contingencies against all possible enemies," Qi-shi said.
      The General nodded, "You missed one."
      "Sadly, yes sir. But in this conflict, as the leader of the human volunteers, you will need planning assistance."
      "And you're the man for the job?"
      "Yes, sir. And I have an idea you may wish to consider and propose to the Panna."
      "Let's hear it."
      Qi-shi looked around, "here, sir?"
      "Anything we put in operation, they will have to carry out," General Muller looked out at the people in the room.
      "Very good, sir. Since our forces will be untested in battle. My advice is to split your force before the first engagement to maximize the element of surprise and to engage the enemy in a totally unexpected place with one group while carrying out a direct frontal assault against their strongest force with the other in a hit and run manner."
      "That sounds like a good idea, where would you hit them that they wouldn't expect?"
      "The Panna home world. The fliers will destroy the orbital bases and ships supporting the surface garrison. The Muslim Warriors can then destroy the enemy on the ground."
      "Why not Earth?"
      "The enemy would be expecting that. They have been occupying the Panna world for hundreds of our years, they are relaxed there. They are not expecting a challenge to their power in what they now consider a safe system."
      The General nodded as he thought about it, "I believe that to be sound advice, if the Panna agree to do it. Where did you learn to think like that?"
      "It is not my thinking sir, it is from the book of the teachings of Miyamoto Musashi."
      "'The Five Rings'. I've read parts of it in the academy. But that is Japanese."
      "Wisdom is wisdom, sir. I memorized it, and I learned to adapt his philosophies of battle to any situation. Even this," Qi-shi answered.
      "And That is how he got his job on the General Staff," Mateo said.

      "We will arrive at the fleet assembly point shortly, then we can begin deployment," a Panna said to them.
      "We need to train in the vehicles, discuss strategy, make plans to engage the enemy," General Muller said.
      "The plan is to attack the enemy. As we have been doing," It said.
      "Have you been winning your battles?" Muller asked it already knowing the answer from the historical information they had given him. The Panna had fought to a stalemate, one that had now lasted for nearly five hundred years.
      The Panna was silent for a moment. "How do you wish to make your plans?"
      The General indicated Qi-shi and Paige, then he nodded toward the Warrior and Usman. "We have a plan for one phase of the initial operation. But for the other, we need to see a map of the enemy's positions in space, fleet strength, weapons."
      "We can do that. What of the plan you have now?"
      "For that, we need to see the Panna home world."
      That statement brought an emotion to the surface of the several of the Panna for the first time they'd seen. For a moment, several of them expressed surprise. Their eye stalks contracted toward their body, one of them's four larger walking tentacles pulsed and made it a little taller, its other appendages splayed out slightly, another ones speaking disc crackled for a second.
      Then the first one recovered, "That will be provided as well."
      "Can I speak to your fleet commander? To coordinate our attack with your operations."
      Now there appeared to be a different emotion in it. Except this one was tinged with confusion. "We have no such individual. Our attacks are decided by all who are involved," a thicker bodied one said.
      Qi-shi frowned at the Panna, "And that, is why you have failed."
      The Panna was silent for a moment, "I will see that the information is transferred to you."

Abbey, Jay and Amory
      Jay and Abbey had stayed out of the way when the General came by. Jay wanted to fight the enemy, but he wasn't sure how he was going to fight. He didn't like the looks of the fighter because he wasn't sure he could lay down and fly it, and he knew he didn't want to be on the ground with the Warrior's group.
      Amory heard him discussing it with his mother. "Excuse me. What do you think about the ground attackers?" He asked them.
      Instantly the information on the specialized vehicle that was capable of descending through the atmosphere while engaging the automatic gunships came to them, complete with the note that some of them had been refitted to be manned by a crew of two humans versus three Panna.
      Jay thought about it, "I like it."
      Abbey had the same information flashing through her mind, "each one has a ground support crewman assigned to it before and after missions." She blinked to clear the images, then she looked at the two young men, "I'll take good care of you and remind you not to... you know."
      "I'm Amory," he said and stuck out his hand to the Aussie.
      "Jay, this is my mother."
      "Abbey," she said."Are you here alone?"
      Amory shook his head, then he nodded, "there's others here from the town we were in that was attacked, some of us drove down to Baltimore join up when they called for volunteers, but I'm the only one from my family that came. My sister was too young and my mom and dad stayed to take care of the other survivors."
      "Wanna hang out with us until whatever happens, you know, happens?" Jay asked him.
      "Sure."

The General Staff
      Lieutenant Inoue had been tasked to represent the Japanese volunteers to General Muller and the Panna. And now he had a full report for the General, as did Usman and Fen.
      Muller listened as his trio of Lieutenants gave him a quick rundown of who would be joining them to try out the refitted fighter craft.
      As his immediate staff had all been given the same situational information he had, the only matter left to discuss was the general plan of battle and their roles in it, which didn't take long at all.
      But then General Muller had a question, "how long have we been here?"
      "Almost fifty hours, sir." Paige said. "I've had the elapsed time running on my watch since I was brought on board." She showed him a complicated looking digital watch.
      "Has anybody slept or eaten anything?"
      "No sir," was the overall answer.
      "I haven't felt tired. Or hungry either," Mateo said, "I thought it was just all of the excitement, but now that you mention it. Not at all."
      "Paige. You've got a theory don't you?" The General said to her.
      "It's a possible side effect of their faster than light propulsion. We may find ourselves crashing once the ship re-enters normal space, so to speak."
      "So we should get all of this decided before we get there," he looked at Qi-shi.
      "Instead of counting on those factors and individuals over which we have no control, yes sir."
      "Then let's get started. Corporal," the General said to the band.
      "Sir!" Corporal O'Neill said with another salute.
      "Consider yourself reactivated as well. Now. You ready to get their attention?" General Muller said to the man in the kilt.
      "Yes, sir." The man said sharply.
      "What are you going to play?" Lieutenant Inoue asked him.
      "Something loud as per orders, sir."
      "'For those who are about to rock'," the drummer said.
      "With extended intro," the guitar player with the Dead shirt on added.
      "Appropriate," The General said.
      "Thank you, General. The Panna told us how to use their power to run our stuff," the other man in a kilt said and strummed the base lightly. "And it works good too."
      "Any time, sir." The Corporal said picking up a mic.
      Muller looked out at the people, "hit it." He glanced at his staff, "I've always wanted to say that to a band."
      Mateo grinned at him as the drummer did a quick count to begin the song, "you can scratch that one off your list."

      The band played the hard rock anthem about musical warfare with admirable fire at a volume that was impossible to ignore, with accents from all over the British Isles.
      But when they wrapped up, Muller had the people's undivided attention.

      His speech was brief and to the point. Once they arrived at the fleet, they would be given their fighter craft and have an brief training mission in them. The ground forces under Warrior would be taken to ground assault craft and assigned weapons that have been reworked to be used by people with hands.
      "There are also others that have been fighting with the Panna that will decide to either join with us or continue to operate on their own based on our first engagement," Muller said. "And I intend to demonstrate to them that they are better off joining us than otherwise."
      "Yes Sir!" Several of the people in the audience answered enthusiastically.
      "Our first engagement will be to get the enemy's attention while inflicting as much damage as we can to both their pride and their operational capacity. I want maximum effect with as few losses of our own as possible. There are no re-enforcements, we are all we have. We represent humanity and the hope of our kind. If we do not end the threat from this enemy, they'll see to it that we become extinct. And not only us, they have been doing this across the galaxy for hundreds of years to dozens of worlds. Some never got this chance. We did, and I want to make the most of it." He nodded to the Corporal and the band began a set of songs that were somewhat easier on the ears than their opening number.

      As the band played, the people suddenly felt a wave of fatigue, hunger, thirst, and everything else run through them.
      "My guess is we're there," the General said almost unable to keep his eyes open.
      "Yes," Paige answered, "it was the drive effect."
      The General took a deep breath, "that is going to take some getting used to. And we are going to need some sleep before we do anything else."
      "And then food," Spade said from the edge of the group. "I talked to the squid guys earlier, they've got stuff we can eat, and about six flavors of water. The food tastes like soggy cardboard, but it's what we've got."
      "Later," the General said, then he turned to the people, "OK, in case you haven't noticed, when we, I don't know, drop out of warp, time catches up with us. Get some sleep, and in about six hours, we'll get something to eat, and then do our training. Thank you." He turned around to come face to face with a group of Panna.
      "So, that is a plan," one of them said.
      "Yes, that is a plan."
      "I like that," it said, "a plan."

      Spade woke up when his watch beeped at him, he struggled to his feet and went to find the Panna that had told him where their food stores were and how to access them. After he talked to several of them, he found the right compartment.
      "You are called Spade, but you said your real name is John," one of them that looked like it was overweight said to him.
      "Jonathan, but I like Spade," he answered, "it's a nickname. A name you chose for yourself."
      "None of us have names. Sometimes we have task designations, but when the task is done those are used no more. For this journey I have been second storage monitor and I adapted my manipulators for that task," it flexed its 'hands' which had longer and stronger looking 'fingers' than the others while they walked down a long plain corridor. "Before, I was in flight sustaining systems until I was injured and had to be dormant while I healed."
      "OK. So pick a name, something I can call you if I need to talk to you."
      They stopped and the fat Panna gestured with two of its arm tentacles, "this is the central food storage, everything our section will eat during our voyage is in there." Then it turned its eye toward him, "so how does one pick a name?"
      "I use Spade because of a card game I like to play, but I knew a guy that went by Blade, and then there was Heavy. He called himself because he was really serious all of the time, and it was really, well. So, are you a male or female?"
      "I have seen the difference with you people, we do not have that. When it is time to breed, we do so in a group, and all contribute seed cells."
      "Oh. Well," Spade didn't know how to go from there except to move on. "What do you like to do when you're not on duty?"
      "I enjoy dormancy. Like your sleep. But sometimes I'll stand at a portal and look at the stars and wonder what it is like to liquefy, to stop living. And I...."
      "Stargazer," Spade said. "You're a star gazer."
      The Panna turned its body toward him and its eye retracted some. "Yes, I am. Can that be my name?"
      "Sure."
      "Very well, how do I use it?" It asked while the other two looked at it with what might have been curiosity.
      "Like I said, when you come in to find me you tell the people, 'tell Spade that Stargazer needs him,' and they'll pass the message along and when I hear it, I'll come to you."
      "How will you recognize me? We all look very much alike, even to each other, not like humans. You are similar, but all different."
      Spade didn't want to say, 'I'll look for the fat one', so he thought about it for a second and came up with a better answer. "When I see a Panna, I'll ask where Stargazer is. If it's you, you'll answer. But I think I'll recognize you, there's something a little different about you."
      The Panna couldn't blink as it has no eyelids, but its eye stalk moved up and down giving the same impression. "I will have to consider that."

Mateo
      The Panna even have clothing and uniforms for us. It is a simple process, and works remarkably well considering I was the fifth human to ever use it.
      One of their manufacturing machines scans your body like you were going through the airport, then it builds whatever sort of clothing you want from some sort of basic inert material. Which could just as well be their porridge.
      I told them I wanted pants with a stretchy waistband. Then I explained what a waist was. And that I wanted a short sleeved shirt that wasn't too tight. Then I picked blue for the pants and a light gray for the shirt with a fair representation of the Brazilian flag on one shoulder. And in less than five minutes I was putting them on. And they fit perfectly.
      And that was it.
      Although I forgot to order shoes and it took the Panna longer to tell the machine how to make them, but what came out was surprisingly comfortable.

      While I was in there a couple of women from someplace else on Earth came in. It scanned them, then they had to explain to the Panna what underwear was. I tried to help as best I could, but that was a little more difficult than what I had gone through. But in the end, they had new outfits that they were happy with as well.
      So, in the end it worked out just fine.

Bo and Sammi
The Mid-Atlantic, USA

      "Been quiet," Old Man Willis said to me as I rode up on the bicycle early one morning.
      "Yeah, up there too," I nodded, "Sammi sent you some fried fish." I got off the bike and picked up a package wrapped in plastic and an old towel out of the basket on the handle bars.
      "Hell of a thing ain't it?" He said to me once again. Mister Willis seemed to say that about once a day.
      And I always agreed.
      He continued and told me what today's statement was referring to. "I was just thinking, this is Monday, I used to watch that dancing show on TV every Monday." He looked out at the ruins that we were still working with to try to make usable again before winter. "I was just wondering how many of them are even still alive."
      "It was made in LA, so probably not too many. Remember, the radio said that the aliens found about seven million people still alive on the whole planet."
      "Yeah. That's a hell of a thing. And us up here survived."
      "We haven't survived yet. We've still got to get through the winter before I'll say we survived."
      "There is that," the old man said. "You going out picking today?"
      "I was planning on it," I looked over at the stack of baskets. "If you'd ask me a year ago if I'd volunteer to go out and pick a field of corn by hand and put the ears in clothes baskets from a dollar store I would have said you were nuts."
      "Things have changed. And I don't see any computer networks that need installed around here," Mister Willis said. "But if what we heard from downriver is true, it may not be long before they'll be looking you up."
      "And that's liable to bring another attack down on them," I said.
      "So you believe those octopus aliens."
      "Everything they said made sense, and the guys from Baltimore and DC said the ones that attacked were human looking. Even the ones with scales were human looking."
      "That's true, that thing you showed me the picture of was anything but."
      "And they're the ones that helped us. Those were the good guys."

      Before long the others that were going to go out to a large cornfield not far from town to pick more of the corn before the deer and birds finished it off arrived. We all got onto a flatbed trailer that was pulled by one of the few surviving pickup trucks and we all went out and picked the last of the corn from a set of fields around a destroyed house.
      No, that's not quite what we did. Or at least not not what I did. We went through the field as fast as we could walk and stripped every ear of corn we saw off the stalks. And when the basket got full, we went and dumped it into the back of the truck or onto the trailer, and went back and did more.
      My hands hadn't worked like this in years, and this was my third day. The first day I had blisters that wore through and turned into seeping sores. The second day I had a pair of soft gloves, but they didn't provide much relief nor a lot of grip on the ears of corn. Yesterday it was raining too hard for us to get into the field, which allowed my hands to heal some, but it was still about six hours of torture that I endured to earn my family's share of the proceeds from the effort.
      Sammi appreciated it, and I knew it was all worth it.
      "I know, I've always talked about how communal life was so much better than capitalism. I just never realized how much work it was." I said as I sprawled out on an overstuffed chair we'd rescued from a house.

      We had planned on being out of the tunnels before winter. But now we were starting to realize that that might not be practical. We'd built a couple of small shelters in town, but they were more assembly places and somewhere to dress out a deer or a bear that had been taken in the surrounding hills than anything that would hold up to a winter storm.
      The tunnels were dark and damp, but they wouldn't blow down, nor were they as likely to be attacked again as an actual house. And since about a third of those who had survived with us had gone off to fight, including my son Amory, the three tunnels were a lot less crowded.
      But no matter how much room we made, or how nice it was, all things considered, Mister Wilson refused to join us.
      "I'm not a mole, I'm not a coal miner, I'm fine right where I am." He said every time it was mentioned.
      "But you don't have any heat and you said it got cold last night," Sammi said to him.
      "It didn't get that cold," he answered. "Besides, they's workin' on a heater for the camper."
      I exchanged meaningful glances with several of the others, including my wife. "If it gets that cold, we're gonna come get you," I said to him.
      I saw a flash of anger in his eyes, but then he nodded, "yeah, OK."

Dr. Yarah Santiago
Santa Politia Plantation, Brazil

      "That's an airplane," I said when we heard the approaching sound."
      "No, Senora Doctor, I don't think so." One of the older women in the work circle pounding roots into the pulp that could be dried into flour.
      "You're right, it's too low," then I realized it was coming up the river and we all ran outside.
      "It's a boat!" Was the cry in several different languages.
      "I see that," I said to them, "but who is it?"
      "I don't know Senora."
      Then we could see that it was three boats, one after the other, and all running outboard motors.
      "I hope they don't expect us to have fuel for them." One of the old men said.
      "Just in case, arm up and be ready," I said in almost a whisper.
      We hadn't had any problem with robbers, but we'd heard of bands of outlaws raiding along the river upstream, and I wanted to avoid an encounter with them.
      "Listen," I said, "river pirates and robbers don't announce themselves with loudspeakers."
      "No, senora."
      We went out to the dock to see what was going on.
      It was a three boat flotilla that had been put together by what they said was the new national government that was being headed by an Army Colonel. When the young officer in charge of the group found out who I was, they got all excited and hooked up a two way radio so that I could talk to the Colonel himself.
      "Doctor Santiago, you are the only government minister left, all of the others were killed or are still missing. You must come back and assume office," Colonel Branto said.
      I thought about it for only a few moments, then I shook my head. "I cannot leave these people now. Everybody I knew and everything I did in Brasilia and even San Paulo is gone. There is nothing there for me other than what is here. I will stay here."
      I didn't expect his answer.
      "If you will not come back and set up your government here, we will bring it there."
      "How can you do that?" I asked him.
      "My dear Doctor, there isn't much of a government to move right now," he even laughed into the radio, "my entire office staff is five people. And as you said, the coastal cities are gone and what is left has enemy garrisons stationed there. We will leave by float plane tomorrow or the next day and come join you. Madam President."

Panna Fleet Assembly
Al Safi System

Corporal Derry O'Neill
      Now I'm not one to complain and it is an honor to serve. But I have to be honest as my old grandmother would come up out of the grave to speak to me in the night, even here, if I were anything but.
      I'd kill for a smoke.
      The Panna have given any that asked for it a treatment that is supposed to cure the craving for it, and I have taken it. Twice. But I still want to smoke. It's not that I need a cigarette, it's that we are on the eve of battle, and I'm nervous. I was nervous in the old unit, and I'm nervous now.
      I'm not going to be flying combat with the others, but I am in the crew of one of the landing vessels who are supposed to put the soldiers down. My job is to make sure they all get off with everything they're supposed to have, and then to keep any of the enemy from getting on the lander and taking it over before we can get away.
      And they've said that we're liable to be taking fire the whole time.
      So I'm nervous. I have a right to be.
      And I want a cigarette.

Abbey
      The guys think it's great. However, I don't, and I know some of the others don't as well.
      Besides having what is essentially a shapeless glop of stuff to eat, which is still better than witchety grubs, we have to share a bathroom with not only each other, but with the Panna, which is worse than eating grubs.
      The Panna said they would work on making an actual restroom for us, but right now they are refitting fighter ships for battle and that is more important. And I agree with them, until I have to go to the bathroom. Then we have to go out to the hallway, and down to a small room without any other features or furniture. To, do it, we have to squat over a spot on the floor that is like the main doors to the big room, and do our business, and what comes out goes through the floor and vanishes. To wash up, we put our hands under a spout that is part of the wall and some water like stuff comes out. And that's it. There are no wipes or towels or anything to clean up or dry off with.
      The Panna didn't see a problem with this until I explained to them that sometimes that's not enough to be sanitary.
      "We will see what can be done," the Panna I told about it said. Then it looked at the three of its relatives that were with it, and then they all looked at me.
      "We didn't realize this will be a problem," one of the other ones said. "We don't have separate openings to take in food and to eject waste. It is all the same with us."
      "We will consult with others and make an adjustment." The first one said.
      I don't want to hear about their biological processes. At all. Ever. "Thanks." I said and went back to the group.

Spade
      Ever since I named Stargazer I have had more Panna come to me wanting me to help them pick a name for themselves.
      I've named some of them things like 'Colors' for one that told me about how they can see more individual colors than we can but they don't have very good depth perception, and 'Lefty' for one that said it preferred to use its left side arms, and 'Sparkles' for one that, well, it just fit, and I'm running out of names.
      I asked one of my helpers to help me name them, but Al refused.
      "Dude, you made that boat, you can row it," he said.
      "Gee, thanks." I answered and tried to think of another name for the Panna that was standing in front of me with something of a look of excited expectation on it.

      Well, its eye stalk was extended all the way and its four arm tentacles were all raised up in a way that looked like it was trying to hitchhike.
      "Let me think about it for a minute," I said to the Panna.
      "I can wait, I do not have any duties right now."

General Muller
Panna Fleet

      There were two other flag officers in our group. One was a Counter Admiral from Italy who said she was quite content to allow me to lead the space combat operations.
      "Thank you madam, but, what, if I may ask, was your assignment?"
      Admiral Nardi looked at me for a moment with her unbelievably dark eyes, then she nodded, "it isn't like it matters any more, I was an administrative liaison to NATO for Mediterranean operations."
      "What did you do before that?"
      Now I saw some pride in her face, "I oversaw the Italian submarine fleet in the Adriatic and other territorial waters."
      "Supplies and crewing?"
      "Yes sir."
      "Can you still man and deploy fighting ships?"
      "Yes, sir."
      "Have I got a job for you, if you are interested, Admiral."
      "Of course, sir." The woman stood tall, saluted, then she bowed her head to me slightly, "I am at your service."

      The other officer was an elderly semi-retired General from the Indian Army who was leading their contingent. While he had served under arms since he had been a young man and had been baptized by fire during the Korean War, he had long since assumed ceremonial duties. But now, here he was. Leading a force of several hundred willing volunteers.
      "General Singh, General Muller, United States Air Force," one of his aids said formally, "General Muller, General Singh, Retired, of the Army of the Republic of India."
      I saluted the senior officer and then shook his hand.
      "Sir," General Singh said, "I stand at your service, the command is yours. If I may assist in any way, I would be honored to do so."
      "Thank you sir. I am honored by your service."

      Finally I had a moment of peace. I was sitting on a crate of clothing that was labeled with some sort of Asian language that I did not recognize with a bowl of the stuff that we had for food and a large awkward drinking container of flavored water.
      And so I had time to myself to think and eat.
      I closed my eyes and thanked the Lord for the.... food, I was about to eat, then I closed my eyes again and thanked God that I was where I was and what I was and all that. "Amen." I said looking at the bowl for stuff that I'd heard referred to as 'glop', and worse.
      I had been a General for a hot month before I was handed the command of what amounted to humanity's best effort to keep itself alive. Out in space. On a ship full of walking squid. Flying like a bat out of hell toward some star I'd never heard of before. With a division of people from every corner of the world, some of whom hated my guts.
      "... and eating paste," I said to the bowl. Praying for it didn't help it much.
      But at least the people that were here seemed to be as good of a group as any I had ever been around. If I had to pick a couple of thousand people to use to fight to save the world...
      So much for reflection and self analysis. This was the job I was given by the President of the United States, and it was the job I would carry out to the best of my abilities. I just wished the food was better.
      After, lunch, such as it was, I got up and made myself presentable.

      We were supposed to go get fitted for our fighting craft.

      I led a large group of humans to what the Panna said was their primary hanger. What it was, was another large room much like the one we had been in. Except this one wasn't full of people.
      "Our ships merge," the Panna had said when it came into our room to escort us to the fighter bay. "It is more than as you said, a docking, they become one. And before we separate them, many sections from one will become part of the others. I will show you where the boundaries were, but they may not be the boundaries when they separate. In fact, I believe what was five ships may be three for this mission."
      It was all I could do to accept that statement at face value. But I had no reason to doubt what it had said.
      "Fleet attack group, you're with me," I said to the group, and we followed the Panna out.
      I hadn't been very far away from what some had called the 'human holding area', but I had seen enough of the ship to know that the passage outside our area had not had a four way intersection not far from the main door, one of which went down in a steep ramp.
      "If we were here from our ship before the merging we would have been in space," the Panna said. "Now, this above your head is the fleet ship that was just in battle against the enemy. Just ahead is the supply base ship that went to retrieve the fighters that had been modified for you."
      "And we just left the transport that brought us from Earth," someone from the group said.
      The Panna said, "yes," as it turned to continue the trip.

      "Be careful, you are not wearing protection," it said when we reached a heavy door at the end of the passage. "But we will have what your support workers will need to assist you when they need it."
      "OK," I said for my group.
      I hadn't seen the Panna wear anything except the translator pendant. Now there were crew-members wearing all manner of protective gear, including full body hazardous material suits while working on parts of the ships.
      And then I saw the fighters.
      The Panna was telling us about how there were three hangers like this, and then another one of the larger ground attack and support ships, but I didn't hear any of it.
      I was looking at the fighters.

      The image we had been shown on the wall didn't do them justice. These were the most elegant flying vehicles I'd ever seen.
      They were longer and sleeker than the image had made them look. The tiny projections along it were almost unnoticeable unless they caught the light just right. The cockpit was almost flush with the main body of the craft, but I could see how it had been modified so that we could see where we were going.
      The one thing I really liked about it was that if the ship was coming directly at you, or flying straight away from you, it would be a tiny target to try to hit with defensive weapons of any sort.
      "How many fighters are there?" Someone asked while I was still staring at the nearest ship.
      "I do not know the exact number, there are two other facilities like this on the merged ship. They contain all of the ships that were ready to go into battle."
      Another Panna approached us, it was taller than I was used to seeing them, wearing a face shield to protect its eye, and what appeared to be a long sleeved vest with built in gloves and leg coverings, I guess is the best way to describe them. "Who will try the controls to test them?" It asked us.
      "I will," I said.
      "As we suspected," it answered, "your ship is ready."
      I looked back at the others, "I love the way that sounds."

      It should be noted here and now that the average Panna appears to be between about five foot two and maybe five eight or so. I'm six foot one. Their bodies are also built without bones.
      My first attempt to get into the cockpit was an unmitigated failure. But after some modifications by a massive piece of equipment that was part of the ceiling and that the Panna said was a smaller version of the machines that built the fighter, I could see that the profile of the cockpit had changed.
      This time when I got into it, it fit like it had been made for me.
      "We will make the same adjustment for each pilot," the tall Panna said.

      Once the Panna got going it didn't take them long to modify each fighter for each human pilot. The ground attack ships needed slightly less modification as far as putting in seats for the crew, but the control panels had to be extensively reworked.
      It wasn't long before I led the first flight of seven out of the hanger bay in a 'V' formation.

      When we cleared the space doors and I saw nothing but the empty heavens around me with absolutely billions of stars everywhere I couldn't help it. It felt like I was a kid again, "would you look at that?" I said.
      "My God General, we are really out in space," Specialist Gunther answered.
      I had to physically shake my head to focus on the task at hand, "Yeah, we are, and we got a job to do. Let's do a fly around of the mother ship and get used to these things."

      And that was when we all got a second shock. And this one was probably bigger.
      "Sir!" Several of the other pilots said at once.
      "Hang on, let's let it do it," I answered as my ship changed direction and I could see a plotted course on the heads up display.
      The fighters were responding as much to our thoughts as they were the controls.
      "If this is how they work, the bad guys are in real trouble," another voice said softly.
      We swung around the big ship and I aimed at an empty spot in space and just thought about firing a basic weapons spread at it.
      Then I smiled at the stars, "Oh yeah." I whispered as I relaxed into the semi-reclined seat. I mean I've had beds that weren't this comfortable, and to have the ship almost instantly responding to my wishes, what else could a pilot want?

      The Panna explained it to me after we landed and I asked about the intuitive handling of the ships.
      "You have a central brain, we have... other brains, it is easier for the ship to know what you want it to do than it is for it to know from us. But that is how they are designed. Is it not good?"
      "No, no, it's great. Very fine. Keep doing that." I said.
      "Yes, General," one of the Panna said.
      "You have adapted easily to it, and it to you," another said "that's why they are afraid of you."
      I thought about it and nodded, "makes sense."
      "Yes. It does," the Panna said, "The reptilians were created first, but they are not good at thinking and acting independently of the Annunaki. Humans are."
      "Probably too good, for them." Paige and Mateo said at the same time.
      "Yes." The Panna answered.

      The ground attack and support ships were anything but sleek and elegant, but they were superbly functional, and, as with the fighters, they responded to the intent of the pilots before they even began to adjust the controls. One main difference was that they could have enough gravity inside them to keep troops and supplies from floating around during flight.
      "One of you will be the pilot, the other will be the weapons officer. You have to tell the ship who is doing what, and then stick with it," I said to the first group that was going out in them.
      "Yes, sir." They answered and got into their ships.
      "You know," I said to those around me, "we might just pull this off."
      "I never had any doubt General," Mateo answered.

Jay and Amory
Panna Fleet

      "You ready for this?" Jay said to Amory as a Panna closed the access door behind them.
      "I guess, you want to fly?"
      "Not really," Jay answered.
      "OK, I'll fly, you shoot."
      "How do we tell the ship that?" Jay asked.
      "I don't know, I guess we just do it. I'll try it," Amory said, then he looked up at the panel of indicators and icons above them, "I'm the pilot. We want to go out."
      "Try to do it with the controls," Jay said when nothing happened.
      As soon as Amory put his hands on the controls the ship came to life and moved forward sharply then stopped.
      "OK, cool. Now I know how it works." Amory looked at his partner, "I can do this."
      Jay stared at the shimmering space doors in front of them as another ship flew through it, "I hope so."
      It was a rather rough test flight, but they made the ship do everything Warrant Officer Sato told them to do over the communicator.
      "Do you want our gravity on or off?" Jay asked as he looked over the controls.
      "Let's try it with it off," Amory said.
      "OK."
      It wasn't very long at all before they agreed to turn it back on.
      In a moment, Jay nodded, "Yeah, that's better."

      "Very good," Sato said to them as they participated in a flyby of three ships in close formation, "all ships of Flight Hyuga return to base," he ordered, "my grandfather and the crew of his ship would be proud that we bear that name."
      "Well good," Jay said softly not intending for anybody other than Amory to hear it.
      "Thank you," Sato answered.
      Jay and Amory exchanged wide-eyed looks and followed the rest of the flight back into the hanger.

      Afterward the newly commissioned attack ship pilots stood with the other pilots that had been out flying and listened to the General.
      "We have discovered something unexpected about the ships," General Muller said. "Paige, the Panna explained it to you, you can explain it to them."
      The young woman stood nervously and then gestured toward the overhead display. "Just as the Panna have no centralized command structure, their bodies have no central nervous system command structure. No central brain, not like us anyway. Their brain is spread out throughout the core of their bodies. And they have two pilots on the fighters and usually five in the crew on the other ships. Which means the on board systems of the ships have to work much harder to, well, read their minds. With a human having a central brain, it is a much more efficient system." She paused and the display changed from Panna pilots in the ship with their decentralized brains to a human. "The interface is more compact and very direct. The initial runs were running at about sixty percent efficiency across the board. By the time you were cleared for combat, most ships were reacting to their pilots with eighty to, in some cases, over ninety percent efficiency in those wearing the flight suits made by the Panna."
      General Muller nodded to his pilots. "That means the ships were already obeying your commands before you had finished giving them. Which means the enemy is in for one hell of a surprise."

      Jay and Amory gave each other a high five and joined in the general celebration at the announcement. Then they joined the line of other pilots who were on their way to get 'Panna-suits'.

Usman
      The Soviet airplanes I had flown were nothing like this. They were good airplanes, but they were limited in what they could do. I wanted to turn in on the Americans and Brits faster and harder. To sweep across their tails and shoot them down, and I could not. Their airplanes were always just a little better.
      Now, I had the airplane I wanted. Except this was a space plane. My own space ship. On our second practice flight, in the alien flight suit instead of my own clothes, the craft responded as I wanted it to, and it flew to the limits of my ability. A few times during the maneuvers I heard and saw a warning that I was too close to another ship, that the turn I wanted to make was beyond the limits of the ship, and that I wanted my weapons to fire too close of one of our own craft.
      But now I knew how it worked and what it could do.
      And I was satisfied.

      The other men in my group were of nearly equal ability to myself, and when we were in the requested serial attack formation ordered by the officers, we completed the exercise in superior fashion.
      I was confident that my battle group would give an excellent accounting of ourselves and bring honor to our faith.

Panna Fleet Assembly
Al Safi System

      General Muller and several others were standing in the second hanger watching another group of fliers take their ships out for their shake down flight when they got some bad news.
      "General, the enemy, is coming." A Panna said to him. "They have sent a fleet of eleven ships toward us here."
      "When will they be here?" He asked immediately.
      "It will be some time, we have time for you to deploy your forces and for us to move the fleet to safety. They have a command ship, three combat transports, two battleships, and several support ships."
      The General was silent for a moment, so Mateo asked a couple of questions.
      "What kind of crews and weapons do they have?"
      "A command ship will have at least one hundred small assault ships, and perhaps half that many of the larger support ships. The crew for the command ship will be about a thousand for it, but at least half of them will be slaves and subordinates. We have heard of their ships that had twice as many of those as they did those you call Annunaki on them."
      "Did they follow us here from Earth?"
      "No. They are coming from one of their larger bases near a giant star. We can show you where it would be from your planet." Another Panna used its 'hands' to manipulate a few icons on an oblong device it was holding.
      "OK," the General said, then he looked back as his group of aids, "Paige, you're on."
      Once again a large star field appeared over a nearby wall. "The base is orbiting the star in the center."
      Paige looked at it for a moment, and the General could see her thinking.
      "It looks like the Hydra. That is the head of the sea snake. So that would be, I think, yes, Epsilon Hydra and the largest star is Alpha." She paused and thought some more. "It's about a hundred and thirty light years from Earth." She looked at the stars again, "I know that because I missed it on a test one time."
      Mateo had no idea what he was looking at other than a lot of bright dots on a blue-black background. "I never even took the test."
      "And now we are all taking the test." General Muller smiled at the man, then glanced up at the large display that showed the endless reaches of the cosmos, "because neither did I. Amazing isn't it? How accustomed we've all gotten to being out here, and doing this. OK." He turned back to the Panna, "You said this merged ship was five individual ships and that you have allies from other races fighting the same enemy."
      "Yes," the Panna answered.
      "First, can you break one of them off and send it to your home world with an attack force?"
      The Panna was silent for a moment, "I believe so, I will have to check with others...."
      "Do it," the General said, then he looked at the Panna with the control pad for the display. "Next I want to see what you have about the base they're coming from. Then I want you to contact your allies with a secure transmission. Tell them what we are doing and when, and invite them to the party."
      "This is how a single commander works," one of the Panna said to the others of its kind. "Fascinating."
      "Yes," the one with the pad said as it changed the display to show the star system with the enemy base in it.
      "What about perimeter defenses?" General Muller asked the Panna.
      "I don't believe there are any," one of the Panna answered, "they don't expect their bases to be attacked."
      "Good," the General said, "We are about to change that."
      The Panna were uncharacteristically silent.
      General Muller looked at them, then at his people, "We came here to take the fight to the enemy. And we are about to do just that. For once and for all."
      There was a round of cheering and whistling.
      The General looked at the Panna, "When can you separate the other two ships for the other attacks?"
      The Panna were silent for a moment. "We must check with the others. We do not have a, a general."
      "Yes you do," Mateo said and nodded toward Muller.
      The Panna were silent for a moment, then they formed a circle and moved inward until they were all touching for almost the full length of their bodies. In a moment all of the communication pendants began relaying an almost musical tone with complex harmonics and undertones that sounded as much like whale songs as it did anything else the humans had ever heard before.
      And it went on for some time.

      "From what I've heard from them, this is kinda like the way they breed too," Spade said to anybody close enough to hear him.

      Finally, whatever they were doing was done, the Panna in the circle separated and they all turned toward Muller.
      "It is done." One of the Panna said.
      "What's done?" Muller asked them.
      "The Panna have agreed that you will be our General as well."
      Mateo held up his hand, "Wait a minute. Sir, if I may."
      "It was your idea, please do," Muller answered and gestured toward them.
      Mateo faced the Panna, "you mean to tell me you have just put General Muller in charge of the Panna fleet?'
      "Not just the fleet, all Panna. We need a central commander and we are not suited to doing such things. We do not like to be alone, and as has been said, to be in command is to be alone."
      "That's from Musashi," Qi-shi said, "So you have been learning from us as you transferred your knowledge to us."
      The Panna's eye stalk moved, "Yes. Of course. That is why I am named Reader now." The Panna said with something like pride in its voice. "We have no secrets from each other, and now, you from us. Is that not fair to all?"
      General Muller nodded, "It only makes sense. OK, since I am in command, I need to know what I am commanding. In the mean time, we need to get two attack groups together, one will be fighters only, the other will be the ground assault for their home world with aerial support. The remaining ships will stay here with up to jump the incoming fleet."
      Admiral Nardi nodded briskly, "I'll see to it sir," she said and went to find Warrior and Warrant Officer Sato.
      Reader stood a bit taller and moved its two right side tentacle arms toward him, "We will share our fleet and ally information with you when you are ready, General."
      "Terrific, give me a minute to get ready for the headache," he said as he looked around. "Where's your command deck? Your central bridge?"
      The Panna seemed confused by the request.
      Mateo came to their rescue with an explanation, "The point from which you run the ship. One room, with all of the command functions available."
      Another Panna answered for the group of them, "Just as we have no single commander, we have no single command room. One place on the ship is like almost all of the others. And we are like each other, even if some of us have taken a name to be like you. But if something needs done, we can all do it from wherever we are."
      "Terrific," Muller said, "then we'll stay here. And, ah," he took a deep breath, "OK, I'm ready."

Penni Potts
British Isles

      I've gotten used to going without my contact lenses. I'd tried a pair of reading glasses somebody found somewhere, but they didn't work.
      For most things, I could see fine, but for close up work, or to see a long way off, most of the time I just didn't bother.
      I had a rough spell of it when I realized that I hadn't had my medication for so long, but I think the work I had been doing and the food we had been eating had done more for me than the medicine had since I had been on it.
      The others had accepted their new lives, and we heard about normal things like a couple that had been married in a new village not far from us. But this wasn't the life I had wanted when I had moved to London. I enjoyed the big city, and all there was to see and do there. And now, from what I had heard, even the Thames had changed because when they destroyed the south bank they had created a lake where Waterloo Station had been. The City of London, my city, was no more.
      I had known my mother was dead after the first attack. Her apartment building had been in a section of the city that we had heard had taken a direct blast because it was near the factory complex. All I could hope was that she had not suffered like the people we had tried to save that were killed after the second attack here.
      I missed the cinema, and music, and TV, and all of that. I even missed catching the bus to work in the morning. Or catching a taxi to go out with friends. I even missed running out of warm water if I was late to the shower in my flat in the mornings.
      I had enough money in my bank account to have a nice weekend out with friends. Except I don't know if I will ever be able to get my money out of the bank, or if any of my friends are still alive either.
      I know I shouldn't obsess about such things as whether or not I'll ever be able to go to the bank again, but to me it is important. And if our lives are ever going to get back to normal, that is part of it.
      But I don't know if I want to live like this for the rest of my life. And sometimes at night I wonder if I should have gone with the others to fight. But I know I can't fight, and I'm not sure I'd ever be able to work with the creatures that had taken them, so I guess this is the best place for me. But I cannot help but crying when I see the TV they put out on the trash pile because we were all pretty sure we wouldn't ever need it again.

Chris Banks
World Press International, Bahrain

      A couple of weeks after the attack an Arab woman with a couple of young kids turned up. She had stayed the undamaged part of her family's house as long as they could. But they had run out of food and water, and had had no choice but to go out and forage. And in their travels, they had found us and our compound. They were all but dead on their feet when we carried them in and gave them water and some rabbit stew.
      According to what John translated from what Amira said in very fast Arabic, we were the first people that weren't dead that they'd seen since that day.
      "She said three of the attackers came in from over the Gulf and shot everything in the village. Then they hid when an enemy patrol came through and finished the killing." John said in English, "she said when it was over they buried her baby and her brother in law in the sand, then waited for help. It never came."
      "Where were they when the attack came?" Mister Kellen asked.
      John repeated the question to her and she answered it immediately then he repeated it to us. "In her husband's family's compound in Jaww. South of here. They hid in a storage room. Now they have been walking, and now riding bicycles, for two days now without anything to eat or drink."
      Other than them, we hadn't seen anybody else alive since the day of the attack.

      Not long after they joined us we sent out what we called expeditions to see who and what else was left on the island with us.
      The first group had gone north to the cities. All they found was death and destruction and an alien patrol sitting on the bridge off the island.
      I went with the group that went south along the coast passed Jaww and Amira's home until we reached the man made islands at the bottom of the main island. For the most part, the artificial islands had been returned to the sea and everything else had been blasted flat.
      Another group went west with the idea of going by the big airbase and the racetrack, then down to the wildlife refuge.
      They were gone for several days, and when they came back, their news was about the same as ours had been.
      Georges took a long drink of water before he said anything, "There's nothing there. Not now."
      "Somebody had survived the attack, and had set up a camp at the hotel in the refuge, but they're not there now," Ken said.
      "Where did they go?" Mrs. Kellen asked.
      "They didn't leave a note," Georges said, "But if I had to guess, I'd bet they made for the causeway and tried to leave the island."
      "We brought back everything we found that was good, but there wasn't much left. Come on, I'll show you." Ken said.
      They'd borrowed a traditional donkey cart, and had loaded it with everything they could find on their way back. There were hand tools, some canned goods, a pile of clothes, and, best of all, two actual salt water fishing pole rigs with huge reels, a smaller utility type rod and reel, and a large tackle box.
      "They were in the luggage compartment of a tour bus. The front of the bus had been shot up in the attack, but nobody had checked underneath." Georges said as we applauded them and their find.
      "Mister Johann Cottman Esq. Boston and London." I read off the luggage tag attached to one of the poles when things calmed down. "I wonder what happened to him?"
      "If he comes looking for his stuff, he can have it back." Mister Kellen said looking through the selection of lures and hooks in the tackle box.
      "He had a set of golf clubs with him too," Ken said as he picked up a couple of clubs and a small container of balls from the cart, "the attack ruined a hell of a vacation."
      "What are you going to do with them?" Mister Kellen asked him as Ken bounced one of the balls off the floor and Amira's daughter Sireen caught it.
      "Go putting."

      Now we developed a better system for getting our meals. A couple of us would use the smaller fishing poles to catch the small fish along the shore that we had been catching all along. But now, instead of those being our meal, they were bait for some much larger, and better tasting, fish that we could now catch further out with the real life deep water gear.
      Most of the first day of our new deep sea fishing effort was spent learning how to use the lawyer's equipment from the larger of our boats. But after that we had it worked out and found a couple of hot spots for grouper and some of the other fish that the fishing guide fliers in the tourist information rack said were in the gulf. Fish that until now all we could do was to dream about.

      According to Mister Kellen's watch, it had been three months since the attack.
      And we had not seen another living soul in all of Bahrain.
      Except for the daily reports from the radio broadcast in Qatar and what we could occasionally hear from elsewhere at night, we might have been the last people on Earth.
      But we made the best of it, and occasionally looked at the stars in the endless night sky and wondered what happened to those that had gone off to fight the people that had done this to us.

Abbey
Attack Transport, Panna Fleet

      We only had a few minutes to get whatever we had that was ours and move it to the new ship.
      I knew that Amory and Jay would be flying their ship in an actual attack to liberate the Panna home world from the same people that had attacked us. But that was what they wanted to do, and I was supposed to make sure everything they needed was in the cockpit with them. And part of my duty as a mother was to remind them that they could be heroic without being foolhardy.
      "People," the American General said to us as we got our things together, "We are about to go to war. If you do not want to be part of the effort to make the statement to those that killed billions of our kind that we are still a force to be reckoned with, then stay here. The Panna will take care of you, although I don't know if you'll ever get to go home." He paused, "even if you still have a home to go home to."
      I am sure nobody stayed in the hanger.

In Route To The Panna Homeworld Star System

      Warrior, Usman and Warrant Officer Sato stood in the hanger bay of the attack transport and looked at the visual display of the defenses they would be facing with a group of Panna who wished to fly several of the unconverted ships in support of the effort to free their home.
      "Most of their garrisons are stationed in the centers of the largest cities. It is their convention," one of the Panna said. "That is usually where any defensive forces are assigned. Up till now, they have not been challenged."
      The others that would be going to fight were all around the commanders, watching and listening, human and Panna alike.

      Jay and Amory were with the second flight of support ship crews.
      "There is going to be a lot of anti-aircraft fire around the landing areas." Jay said softly to his pilot.
      "I will try to avoid it," Amory answered.

In Route To The Annunaki Base At Epsilon Hydra Alpha
      General Singh stood at dignified attention to address the two hundred or so volunteers who had agreed to hit the Annunaki base.
      "We have one goal. I believe it is attainable," he nodded to them. "We are going to, as my friend General Muller said, 'we are going to kick them where it hurts the most'. And we are the ones who are going to do the kicking."
      His pilots and support crew cheered wildly.
      "My assistant, Lieutenant Inoue, has your flight assignments and targets." The General said and bowed to the Lieutenant.
      "Thank you sir. As you can see from the images from the spies working for the Panna's allies, there are several capital ships in the area. However, I believe the highest value target would be this central base structure which has been identified as their command and control center for several star systems." The Lieutenant highlighted an area on the image of the control base, "this is believed to be the central power supply for the complex. It is heavily shielded, but I am certain that we can destroy it."
      "Should we use 'the force'?" One of the pilots said to widespread laughter.
      Lieutenant Inoue smiled as well, "if that helps you destroy the enemy's base, I am all in favor of it."
      "As am I." General Singh said. "The space station is our primary target, however, there are a large number of targets of opportunity that should not be passed up if they present themselves."
      "Exactly, General. And then after the attack, we were rendezvous with the transport, here." He highlighted the area on the image of the system. "And now, the assignments..."

The Main Panna Fleet
Al Safi System

      "What is the total defensive firepower capability of the three remaining large ships?" General Muller asked the Panna.
      "That was in the information we transferred to you," a Panna named Artist said.
      The General thought about it for a minute, "I'm not coming up with anything, are you sure it was transferred?"
      "Yes, General, these ships are transports, they do not have any weapons."
      He stood there silent for a moment. Then he said "Weapons... weapons..." softly. "You have area denial weapons in storage. Chots."
      The Panna looked at the General and the General looked at the Panna.
      Muller continued his thought, "They can be operated from a central command point."
      "But chots are made for using on a planet to defend a base," Artist answered.
      "Can they operate in space?"
      "Yes sir."
      "Let's go see them."

      The small ugly units were essentially large heavy armored power supplies with a couple of somewhat obvious weapons sticking out of them. From the Panna information the General knew they were not designed for pinpoint precision aiming, but in this case, that wasn't the point.
      "We'll use the repair systems to mount them to the hull," Muller said to the Panna, "and rework control consoles in the command center to operate them."
      The Panna stood still and stared at him with their eye stalks fully extended.
      "We have never considered such a thing," one of them finally said. "We have always fled before our large ships were attacked before."
      "I know."
      The Panna were silent for a moment, then one of them said, "The enemy will be most surprised by this new development."

Part Three

President Dr. Yarah Santiago
Santa Politia Plantation, Brazil

      "Madam Doctor. Listen." Somebody said as I was getting ready for bed late one evening and handed me the communication left for us by the aliens. Up to now, it had only spoken rarely, and then only for a few moments, and we couldn't figure out what it was talking about.
      But now the voice came from the device firmly and confidently, and it sounded American. I understood a little of it, and in moments I knew what the man was talking about. They are about to begin the battle against the aliens that had decimated our world.
      He sounded confident and determined, something that

      Most of my people thought the war was already lost. The other ministers of our Government, and I still had hope that a higher ranking minister would be found to assume the office that had been thrust upon me, had heard reports that enemy soldiers had been rounding up survivors outside the remains of the cities along the coast, and we had no idea what had happened to them.
      We had heard some reports over the short wave and the other radios that were brought in, and heard other reports through people traveling up and down the river, and slowly we put together what the situation was both in South America and the rest of the world.
      To me, the situation for the human race was dire, and perhaps it would be a thousand years before we returned to the level of civilization that we had before the attack. But we would recover, and it was my feeling that we would, and perhaps even surpass where we were.

      Somebody was now assigned to sit and listen to the Panna radio for updates and let the rest of us know when they were transmitting and what was said.

Chris Banks
World Press International, Bahrain

      The radio broadcast from Qatar was so unusual that at first we didn't believe that it was real. But during a pause, the Arabic voice came back on and John said that he was translating what the English voice had said. That the human volunteers were about to engage those who had butchered so many of us.
      Then the commentator went on to say that there had been an announcement from the occupying garrison that any humans who surrendered would be well treated and taken to help establish mineral mines as our ancestors had done for them. Others who continued to resist the occupiers would be killed.
      John didn't have to translate the commentator's sarcastic laugh after the statement. Then he continued.
      "He said that there are more survivors in Arabia and the Emirates than they knew about, and that many of them have sent fighters in to challenge the garrisons and he believes that all of the enemy on the ground in Abu Dhabi have been sent to the part of Jahannam that Allah had reserved for them and are no more." John looked at the rest of us and explained the statement, "that's the Muslim Hell."
      "Oh," I said.
      John continued to relay the commentator's view of a report that he said had come from the BBC station in Africa that the resistance was becoming more organized and gaining ground against a large group of reptilian soldiers who had several Annunaki officers and even air support around an ancient site in Mozambique that the aliens had expressed unusual interest in.
      "He blesses us in the name of Allah and all that. He'll be back on at six in the morning as usual." John said as the commentator signed off.
      "Good, dinner is ready," Mrs. Kellen said.
      "Yes, please," Amira said with a big smile.
      Since she had been with us she had begun to remember some of the English she had learned when she was a young girl in Kuwait where her father was working. She was an excellent cook and had taught all of us a thing or two about cooking fish and some of the other things that we had.
      The kids were enthusiastic about almost everything, and especially about finding shellfish along the shore because until now, they hadn't been permitted to have them. Now, at least according to the broadcast from Qatar, certain dietary restrictions had been lifted until a regular halal food supply could be used. Domestic pork was not allowed, however, wild pork was. As was the majority of seafood, and some other things that until then had been forbidden.
      "It isn't a problem as we don't have any pork. Domesticated or wild," we had observed. But we did have an almost unlimited supply of all sorts of seafood.

      Sometimes a group of up would take bicycles and make a run up or down the coast to see what we could see and find something new. Once I went as far as the bridge that used to lead to Al Hidd. It was a long hot ride, and there was a place where I spent as much time carrying the bike as I did riding it, and all it proved was that the attack had hit that part of the country just as hard as everywhere else. I did see where there had been a large camp of survivors, but from what I could tell, they'd taken boats and left some time ago. I did find some useful items, so I guess the trip paid off.
      The natural spring in the courtyard slowed down once in awhile, but it never stopped flowing. If it ever had, we would have been in serious trouble.
      And so we went on. We listened to the radio twice a day, and sometimes at night we could pick up another broadcast from someplace else, and we hunted and fished, and we lived from day to day.

Bo and Sammi
The Mid-Atlantic, USA

      Our camps in the tunnels had become a refuge for those who spent weeks and sometimes months fighting the enemy as far away as around the ruin that had been Philadelphia. There had been a request from the enemy officer who was apparently in charge of the occupiers on this continent that all of the 'monkey men' surrender. In response, a group of riflemen began targeting the officers with high powered scopes on their guns and dropping them from sometimes a mile away.
      "There's no mistaking them. The tallest of their regular soldiers is less than six foot tall, and they're all thin, the officers are a foot or more taller and bigger in the body. They make a great target." One of the snipers said. "Compared to picking off a buck in heavy cover across a foggy field just before sunrise, nailing them is a piece of cake."
      The resulting retaliation was brutal, but our point had been made, and the enemy noticed.
      "They pulled their people out, so we're expecting a bombardment from space or something," the commander of the militia said when they showed up looking for someplace to wait it out.
      We welcomed them to our town and suddenly where we had been only fifty or sixty people living in a devastated town at a bend in the river we were now over two hundred and had become a military camp.
      As I had been the de facto civilian authority when Colonel Black led his unit up the valley he sent word ahead to me that they were coming and I made hasty arrangements for the quartering of the soldiers. Which meant that most of the people that were left in the canal tunnel moved to the other one on the south side of the river and the troops took over that one and the other railroad tunnel not far downstream that we had quit using after the volunteers left for the war in space.

      We didn't have long to wait to hear about the retaliation.
      The militia had only been here for a day or so when we thought we heard explosions far to the east, then word came upriver that the aliens had unleashed a series of attacks from above against everything that even remotely looked like a large camp or installation.
      It was fortunate that we had gone through the remains of every house and garage in town and the surrounding area and simply removed everything that we thought might ever be of any use, because a day after we'd gotten the message of the major attacks on the area around the bay a trio of the automated fliers came along the ridge and blasted everything that had either been left standing or that we had rebuilt.
      The reminded us of one very important thing- to keep everything important underground.
      We lost some meat that had been hung up in a shed for smoking, but other than that, we didn't lose anything overly important, and once the alarm was sounded and everybody that was outside ran for cover, there were only a few injuries and very few of those were serious.
      Now I have to say this, any injury or illness here and now could become serious in short order, and our makeshift field hospital in a large tent near a newly refreshed and pressed into service water well was overrun in short order. But we made due, it's what we do now. We make due.

      A couple of days after the attack the radio the militia had announced that they had gotten word through the alien radio receiver that the human volunteers were about to engage in battle against the enemy.
      The message brought cheers from the majority of those in our community.
      And I saw a veil of great worry settle over my wife's eyes.
      "Amory," she said.
      I nodded. "He has as good of a chance to live through it as any of them," I nodded across the river to where the militia was going about their chores to get ready to go back downriver to DC, or Baltimore...
      "...or wherever we find the enemy." Colonel Black said the evening before they left.
      I looked up at the stars above us, "I suppose that's what Amory and the others are doing.
      "That is probably exactly what they are doing," the Colonel said.

The Main Panna Fleet
Al Safi System

      "General, we have heard back from two of our allies," one of the Panna said to me.
      "Very well, what did they say?" I asked.
      "That they will wait to see if we really attack the enemy," it said, "they say that our history is one of constant flight and withdrawal in the face of combat."
      "Then why are they allies with you?"
      "We have other production facilities that build ships and weapons besides the ones we have refitted for you."
      "I see."

      "We're as ready as we're going to be," I said to Paige and Mateo.
      Mateo looked at the monitor on the wall and the projected estimate of when the first wave of the Annunaki attack fleet would arrive in our system. "Are you still going to fly a fighter sir?"
      "That is where I should be," I answered, "at least for the first attack."
      The others wanted to protest, but Qi-shi nodded, "I will join you, General. I would be honored to fly opposite Mister Fen as your other wing man."
      "Very good. Is the defensive batteries ready?"
      "Yes sir. We tested them, then powered them all down. We'll look as helpless as newborn cria," Mateo said.
      I had to stop and ask, "what on Earth is a Cria?"
      "It's a newborn alpaca baby," Mateo said with a smile. "All neck and legs."
      "As we should be, draw them in, then destroy them." Qi-shi said.
      "While we go after their mother ships," I added with one last look at the monitor, the data display indicated that the enemy was accelerating to attack speed. "Let's go get ready to launch."
      "Yes sir."
      I looked at Admiral Nardi, "The fleet is yours, madam. We'll go hide in the dust cloud."
      She nodded and saluted.

The Annunaki Base At Epsilon Hydra Alpha
      "Our transport is holding position as ordered sir," a Panna said to General Singh, "the enemy is within strike range of the main fleet."
      "Launch fighters, have them keep station here, as soon as all ships are clear, move the transport to the rendezvous point and have the squadrons proceed as planned."
      The Panna didn't move.
      "What's the matter?" General Singh asked it.
      "I had never been given an order before General."
      "And now you have, see to it."
      The Panna's eye stalk extended and moved up, "Yes General," it said and went to comply with the order with three more of its kind.

Near The Panna Homeworld
      Usman's fighters were gathered in attack waves while the ground support and landing units were gathering to go into the areas where the enemy garrisons had been stationed.
      "When the word comes, we attack as one," Warrior said through the communicator, "and may Allah be with us."
      Warrant Officer Sato replied, "We are ready, sir."
      Jay and Amory were in formation two ships behind Sato, they exchanged meaningful looks but didn't say anything.

The First Battle
      Admiral Nardi could now see a swarm of moving dots from the portal window on the command deck. "Open a secure channel to all units," she said to Paige and a Panna who had picked the name Cheery.
      "Open and secure to the other transports, Admiral," Paige answered from a control console.
      "And to our fighters," Cheery said from an identical one not far away.
      "All units stand by. Enemy fighters coming into range of the fleet. Attack begins on my mark."

      General Muller had watched the attack force fly by his fighters with the single minded purpose he had been told the reptilians were famous for.
      Behind the flight of several score of fighters were the larger ships the Annunaki officers were in. Muller knew from the Panna information that the officers would not directly participate in the attack unless the battle was in the balance.
      "Intership." Muller said to his on board computer system. There was no audible indication that the command had been met but there was a small dot on the heads up display that changed. "Remember," he said to his fighters, "we're going to hit them hard and fast, do as much damage as we can. Jerome, take your flight back and hit those trailing ships, get them before they realize that the game has changed."
      "Yes, sir." Several pilots responded with solid ice in their voices.

      Shoichi and Teruo were in fighters in a group behind and to one side of Muller's.
      Teruo could look out of his cockpit and see his friend nearby. They exchanged their unit's special salute and smiled at each other.
      Then the Admiral's voice broke their private moment. "All units, the fleet is under attack, now. Commence operations. Defensive batteries, power up, commence firing."
      "Let's go!" Muller said. "Flight B, concentrate on that big one, it looks like a carrier. My wing, follow me, we're after the leading ship. Other flights, pick one and hit it."

      Sergeant Bigelow had another flight that was bringing up the rear by his own request.
      "That's where I want to be sir," he'd said when the original plan of battle was announced.
      "Any particular reason?" General Muller asked him.
      "We'll pick off any enemy stragglers and protect any of our boys that get disabled."
      Muller nodded thoughtfully, "All right, you've got it."

The Panna Homeworld
      In orbit over the Panna home world the word to engage the enemy was met with mixed cheers and deadly silence as the fighters dropped down through the clouds and caught the occupying garrison totally unaware.
      The first attackers had blown through the sporadic defensive effort and were circling for another pass when Warrior ordered his landing craft in.
      "We are not here to kill Panna, we are to only kill the invaders, the enemies of God," he said to his troops. "Kill them all, leave none alive."
      The transports separated and landed a strong fighting force near each of the handful of garrison sites.
      But it wasn't long before the Annunaki organized a counter attack, which primarily served to identify their primary base to the attackers.

      Jay and Amory had lost their squadron as soon as the flight came under fire. Now they were flying low and relatively slow over the terrain of the alien world. Amory had their ship performing wide and very irregular sweeping turns back and forth over the garrisoned territory.
      "Look at them, all of them are Panna," Jay said as he watched for enemy targets among the dots that indicated Panna life signs.
      "Don't shoot any of them," Amory said as he looped the ship around a hill.
      "I'm not, I think the ship knows the difference between them and the bad guys."
      "Good."
      "There!" Jay shouted as several off color blips appeared on his display, the ship fired as soon as he recognized that the blips were indeed enemy troops trying to get to one of their flying platforms. Their ground attack vessel spat several large bolts of bright light at the targets, which responded by ceasing to exist in any form other than small flaming bits of matter.
      They saw one of their landers come under intense fire as it approached its assigned area.
      "Are we brave or stupid?" Amory asked as they turned toward the distressed ship.
      "Stupid. Go in fast, I'll take'em out." Jay said as he lined up his targets.
      "Going."
      The two young men cheered every victory and continued their patrol. One time they encountered some serious opposing fire which resulted in a quick but intense battle in which their ship took some damage. But they prevailed and soon were able to relocate and join up with their flight.

      "Go! Go!" Corporal O'Neill said to each fighter as they hustled from the landing craft. Then to every third one he'd shout, "Go, and Good Luck!"
      "And God be with you too," one of them said back to him.
      "And with you." O'Neill answered back. "Go!" He said to the next one.
      They had taken some fire on the way in, but their escorts and the fighters above them took care of most of it on the way down.
      "Clear!" O'Neill said to his pilots as the last soldier cleared the ramp. Then they were off, on their way back to the transport for another group.
      As he watched the landscape below recede he took a deep breath, "I still want a cigarette." Usman
      My fighter wing had swept all resistance before it without serious resistance until I saw my readout indicate a strong force of enemy fighters approaching from behind and to one side of my group.
      "Men," I said into the communicator, "they are more numerous, but we are the superior force, we will be victorious. We will let them get closer, then we will turn on them and erase them from this world."
      Several of my men responded with "Inshallah" and other phrases in the same light.
      I turned slightly in my seat and waited until I could see the triangle formation of the enemy approaching and climbing slightly with my own eyes. A move that told me that we were about to be attacked by experienced fighters.
      "On my command." I said and prepared myself for the combat to come.

      There was a burst of weapons that was just ahead of us. They were ranging us for the attack.
      "Now! May Allah be pleased." I said and turned my craft as hard as it would allow and accelerated toward the enemy.
      The alien's weapons in my ship aimed true, and fired instinctively and immediately when a target was acquired.
      The fight was dramatic and costly. I lost two of my men, and several others had ships that took damage. I rebuked the carelessness of my men and reminded them that there were no replacement pilots and we could not fight a battle of attrition against this enemy. But before it was over, every one of the enemy was a burning wreck on the surface of this world.

      We had triumphed. But there were other enemies still unfought over another area where our ground soldiers would be landing, so our celebration had to be brief as we regrouped and advanced on them.

The Annunaki Base At Epsilon Hydra Alpha
      "Attack." General Singh ordered from the transport ship.
      And his three large squadrons of fighters and heavy attack ships did exactly that.
      The primary object of their mission was to destroy the command and control array. But there was one detail that the information from the spies had not relayed to the Panna. The space station was far larger than they had been led to believe. The problem had been with the translation of standard measurement terms from the language and technology the spies used to the Panna's own systems. It was three times the size they expected. Which should have been expected given that the Annunaki had been using forced labor and confiscated supplies to build it for five thousand years.
      "It's just a bigger target," Captain Moreau said into the communicator channel. "Flight, join on me for the first run."
      General Singh understood the problem, he also knew what to do about it, "Cover flights one and two, form for a third attack wave, cover three and four, continue intercept mission."
      "Aye aye sir," a pilot from the redirected squadron commented and others responded in kind.
      "Still no triple A," another reported as the first squadron turned for an attack run on the prime target. "Oh, hell, I shouldn't have said that."

      The defensive fire was slow in beginning as the total surprise of the attack was initially thought to be confused with the report that the Panna fleet wasn't fleeing the attack but instead was fighting back. But as the base began to take damage, the enemy dispatched interceptors of their own and the cover squadrons had their hands full as the second attack run began.

The main Panna Fleet
      If the reptilian pilots proved anything to the gunners on the merged Panna transports, it was that they were not very good at dealing with unexpected situations. Especially when their officers were busy fighting for their own lives against an unexpected enemy.
      They had been ordered to engage the Panna ships in a three pronged attack if they did not flee as they had always done before.
      As the ships did not flee, the reptilians formed three phalanxes and flew in regular lines to attack the still merged Panna transport ships.
      Right into a living storm of fire from the weapons now mounted on the hulls of the Panna transports. In response, the fighters now scrambling to avoid the combined firepower deployed all over the transports were only able to inflict minor damage themselves. But just as the Panna have no central command, their ships have no central control facility to damage, which makes them very resilient to attack.

      Jerome's squadron jumped the Annunaki officers from behind just as they were beginning to believe that the Panna transports had either been taken by surprise or were having some sort of problem separating and fleeing.
      Several of the officer's ships were destroyed almost instantly, then the encounter dissolved into a dogfight with the Panna fighters having the edge in maneuverability and target acquisition.
      The Annunaki fought back for a few moments, then realized that while they were evenly matched in numbers, they were losing the battle and sought permission to withdraw from their commanding officers.

      Unfortunately, their commanders were busy.

      "On me," Muller said to Fen and Qi-shi as they flew toward the lead Annunaki vessel.
      "If I may sir, I would suggest targeting a full volley at their primary engine's heat exhaust manifold." Qi-shi said from his left wing. "It is a large open grate like area between the drive field generators."
      "Will that kill them?"
      "It has been theorized by the Panna, but never tested in battle. It may create a cascading reaction in the primary chamber that will either disable or destroy the ship."
      "Then we'll test it," he said as the warship loomed large ahead of them. "Swing around it to the left, turn back and we'll go for it. If it works, we'll pass the word."
      "Yes, sir." Fen and Qi-shi answered together as the three ships broke from the larger formation and followed their plan.

      It worked.
      Within moments of the three attacking fighters firing their combined weapons at the lead ship's engine area they were rewarded with a spectacular display of destruction.

      "That's it! Target their engine exhaust grill!" Muller ordered the rest of his troops.

      "Shoot'em up the ass!" Fen added to clarify the statement.

      The Annunaki command ship swung wildly out of control as its engines went super critical. A nearby vessel tried to maneuver out of the way but the resulting collision damaged it and made it an easy target for other attackers.
      In moments, a massive cloud of angry flames and shattered metal occupied the part of space where two giant warships had been.
      In short order the Annunaki regrouped and began an organized retreat of the convoy of capital ships, but it was too late. The damage had already been done.
      Several of the attacking Panna fighters were destroyed, but the small nimble ships were in synch with their pilots and were able to avoid most of the defensive fire and the few interceptors that had been held back from their own attack on the Panna fleet as well as the retreating officer ships who flew headlong toward their own home ships to land before they were left behind.

      "They're running!" Somebody shouted into the communicator.
      Muller blinked several times then his display changed to the overall tactical display. He instantly understood the situation, the larger ships were withdrawing and leaving their surviving fighters and escorts to their fate. The Annunaki knew the Panna fighters could not keep up with them once they reached full speed. "All units," he said dramatically, "give them one more round and then return to base."
      "Givin' it to'em! You lead, we'll follow," Came an enthusiastic answer from Sergeant Bigelow and his group.

      "Shoi, look there!" Teruo said and gestured through his cockpit window.
      Shoichi glanced that way and saw several of the Annunaki officer ships flying hard and fast toward a transport that was just getting turned around. "Bonsai!" He shouted and both fighters dove toward the fleeing ships.
      "One!" Teruo said as the closest one became space debris.
      "Two, and three." Shoichi said, "ahh, missed that one."
      "There goes three," Teruo, replied in a moment.
      "Thank you."
      Only two of the flight of enemy officer ships made it to the safety of the transport's hanger bay before the larger ship engaged its main drive and fled the scene of the battle.

      By the time the reptilian attack force had been ordered to withdraw by their fleeing officers, their home ships were well out of the system and traveling at high speed away from them.
      The hapless pilots were left to fend for themselves against either the endless cold and dark of space, if they missed the returning squadrons of General Muller's victorious fliers that is.

The Panna Homeworld
      Warrior's ground troops met and defeated every Reptilian force they met. Only when there was an Annunaki officer with the enemy's soldiers was the issue ever even seriously contested.
      In the air, Usman and the others soon established superiority and before long, the planet was no longer a safe haven for the enemy. There was no counter attack, the ranking enemy officer simply did not have the forces at his disposal to resist the attack in any meaningful way and was soon seeking his own means of escape.
      For their part, the Panna that were flying with them spent most of their time finding and marking enemy emplacements and concentrations and then getting out of the way. Which was very helpful.

      In orbit high above the surface and out beyond the planet's two moons, the Annunaki ships that could fled while others burned in space until they became dully glowing hulks slowly cooling and drifting aimlessly forever. Once again, the officers and officials abandoned their soldiery to the tender mercies of Warrior and the others and saved themselves.
      A strategy that was only partially successful as several of their ships that had fled from their orbital station before it was destroyed only to found themselves the target of very enthusiastic attacks before they could make good their escape.

The Epsilon Hydra Alpha System
      "General Singh to all forces, strong enemy counter attack force advancing on this system. Withdraw to rendezvous point immediately."
      There was a one word answer from the engaged fighters. "damn". Somebody said.
      But the order was obeyed.

      The command base had not been destroyed, but it had been heavily damaged with an untold loss of life and major disruption to their control over a good part of their realm.
      But now the tide was turning against the humans.
      As soon as the attack on the base began the call had gone out for reinforcements and an inbound task force had accelerated to maximum speed and would soon be sending fresh attack ships and crews into the melee.

      Captain Moreau heard the order to withdraw and made a quick decision, "Flight, we'll make one more run across that center section, then follow me out. Give them everything you got left."
      "Aye, sir, right behind you," a pilot with a distinct Scottish accent said.

      General Singh watched the display as his pilots turned from the attack to head for the transport. "As soon as they are all aboard set course away from the incoming ships."
      "Yes General. We are good at avoiding enemy ships," a Panna said.

The Main Panna Fleet
      "Five percent lost in action, including Specialist Gunther," General Muller said slowly as he looked at the names of those killed, some he recognized, others he didn't, "twelve percent damaged but returned." He paused then continued reading, "The three conjoined base ships sustained minor damage that is being repaired, other damage minimal."
      "Entirely acceptable losses given the size and success of the engagement." General Singh said softly.
      "No it's not," Muller replied, "we have no replacements."
      Singh was silent for a moment, then he nodded, "but I see no alternative. They were totally taken by surprise this time. Next time, they will be ready for us, and what is worse...."
      "They're going to come after us with everything they have now."
      Admiral Nardi agreed, "They cannot allow this embarrassing debacle to go unanswered."
      "No."

      The Panna had been totally awed by the victory. Now they stood in a large group behind the humans and looked at the large display as it showed the Annunaki response to the attack. They were recalling their forces from several outlying districts to answer this new challenge with an overwhelming reprisal.
      But for now, the Panna were running to someplace safe where at least one more of their own ships was to meet them, and taking the humans with them to consider the next phase of the operation.
      General Muller looked at the moving forces on the large display and considered the alternatives. Then he came to a decision, "Once we have our ships repaired and additional crews trained we need to come up with another tactic, and another plan."
      "It won't be easy, but we can do it," Admiral Nardi said, "I know we can."
      Qi-shi spoke softly, "It will be difficult at first, but everything is difficult at first."
      "That's from the Miyamoto book isn't it?"
      "Yes, General."
      "I thought so," Muller nodded, "and the honorable old boy was right." He looked back up at the display, "And, I've got an idea."

Warrior
      I did not wish to let the aliens touch me, nor to have them treat the injuries I sustained in combat, even though it was on their home world. But, as is the way of war, I had no choice.
      Through a blessing of strength from Allah I made it back to the transport, but I do not remember the journey back to the mother ship.
      Once there, the pilot of the ship and the British musician carried me to the alien medical unit against my protests. But I did not have the strength to physically resist.
      "The Panna want you to lie still," The Brit said to me.
      I tried to object, but the words did not come.
      Later, he came back and stood over me while my senses returned.
      "Welcome back," he said to me, "how do you feel?"
      "Alive." Was all I said.

      It was difficult, but I got up on my own and walked slowly but proudly back to the assembly area where I joined my countrymen in prayer even though we had no idea where Mecca or even East was. But we prayed, that is what counts.

Marcie and Brock
Munyaroo Conservation Park, Australia

      Once my sister and and Jay left it seemed like our camp just died. But, more people arrived from different areas, and then we all talked about moving to someplace better. But the more we talked to people from as far away as up in Queensland, there didn't appear to be anyplace better that wasn't already taken.
      A couple of our men even made a trip down to Cowell to see if maybe we'd be better off moving down there. Not only was there a settlement there, they didn't want anything to do with anybody else and Mr. Adams said we were better off right where we were.
      "The water we have here is better than what they have down there."

      We didn't have much, but we didn't have to fight off others who wanted to take what we did have, and we could get to anywhere we had to go without running into anybody else.
      Not long after Mr. and Mrs. McAlister and the Adams's came down from way up north, I counted how many days I'd went without seeing anybody from outside, and ended me count at twenty five when a guy came looking for the Adams to tell them that somebody had sent him a message over the alien radio from the space fleet.
      He opened the envelope and read it. Then he handed it to his wife and walked away. She read it quickly and followed him.
      "What happened?" Brock asked the guy that had brought it by horseback.
      "Evan was killed in the battle. It said that his commander saw his fighter explode, but that he'd taken out several of the enemy before they got him. Reverend Krell thought it best if he got a letter."
      I looked at Brock and he just shook his head.
      "Evan was John's son from a previous marriage," Mrs. McAlister said to explain it.
      "Oh, I'm sorry. We didn't know." I said softly.
      The guy from Port Augusta said he'd leave to go back in the morning, "but we're putting together a trade barge that is going to do a circuit of places from over to Adelaide then down to Port Lincoln and all. I think they'll want to stop here."
      Brock laughed at him, "What in the bloody hell do we have that anybody in Adelaide would want?"
      "For one, we're halfway down the coast to Port Lincoln." Mr. McAlister said. "And we've got skins, we could trade them."
      I started thinking of other things we had, "Yeah, I think we'll do all right. Tell them to stop out on the beach and we'll put them up for the night and give them a good meal."
      "For a small fee," Brock added.
      "We'll work something out," Mrs. McAlister smiled.

      In the morning he took off on his horse and our camp returned to something like normal, except now we had to work to get a trade package together. And since Brock had been so skeptical, he was elected our Trade Ambassador to deal with the boat whenever it came.
      At first Brock acted like he believed the boat was a tall tale and it would never stop here. But then he got into the spirit of things and started repairing and to a large extent rebuilding an old dock that was out on the beach.
      The rest of us found ourselves other jobs that made life in the camp a lot more interesting. For instance, I picked my jewelry making hobby back up. But instead of doing it with things from mail order or from a hobby shop, I was making things with river stones and mother of pearl from oyster shells from the gulf and bird feathers bound together with either natural fibers or scavenged wire. My first few attempts fell apart or really looked like my first few attempts, but once I got the hang of it I put together some pieces that really looked good.
      Some of the men practiced tanning emu skins into leather and rabbit hides into furs for clothes and blankets. And then there was another group that worked to make arrow shafts from some of the straight branches of the brush that seemed to choke every path we made within a day or two.

      "I'm going to save this one for Abbey," I said as I finished another piece and held it up to admire it. Then I looked over at Brock and the others, "They'll be back, and then I'll give it to her."
      "I hope so." Brock said, then he glanced over at Mr. Adams who was stretching another skin over a wooden frame. "But not everybody is coming back."

Penni Potts
British Isles

      "Penni," I heard Marlin say early one morning, "Penni, wake up, there's good news on the radio."
      I struggled to my feet and went into the open sided tent we had put the shortwave radio in so everybody could hear the news.
      "...confirmation from European International reporter Ekkhard outside Berlin.... Ekkhard, are you there? Just one moment folks, our connections are not as reliable as they once were." There was silence from the radio, then a new voice came on, "Yes. This is Ekkhard Mein in the Lake Country north of Berlin. We confirmed it last night. The enemy garrison that had been occupying the city is gone. There is no trace of them or their landing craft. I've heard a similar report over the air from Russia and Greece. It seems that the enemy is pulling out!"
      I joined in the celebration in the tent.

Chris Banks
World Press International, Bahrain

      "We need to send an expedition back to the causeway." Mister Kellen said.
      "But even if they are gone, then what?"
      He looked at me and shrugged, "I don't see any reason to move to the mainland, to just end up worse off than we are here, but I'd like to know if they're gone or not."
      The others exchanged looks and finally Amira's son said he'd like to go, "I've never been on an expedition."
      "But it is dangerous," his mother said immediately in careful English.
      "So is staying here."
      "We'll go, take a quick look, and come straight back," Georges said indicating that he'd go too.
      We all looked at Amira.
      "OK, if you will be careful, Rashid may go."
      "I will treat him as if he is my own son." Mister Kellen said.
      "Shu-kran," Amira said.

      The guys left at daybreak the next day. They were going to follow the highway to the city, then cut across while avoiding the worst of the destroyed buildings until they reached the end of the causeway, then they'd watch and look and see what they could see.
      "Then we'll come back to the south and across by the refuge and the resort," Mister Kellen said pointing to a tourist map of the island before the attack.
      "Just do not get lost," Amira said softly.
      Georges almost laughed, but instead he smiled and spoke gently, "Even if we do get lost, all we have to do is follow the Gulf around and eventually we'll end up back here."

      While they were gone I volunteered to go out in one of the boats with Amira and her daughter and we had a girl's day out fishing. We caught enough for dinner, then we all had to help to row ourselves back in
      "Look!" Sireen said suddenly and pointed to the north.
      It took me a few seconds to focus on the large silver object flying more or less our way high in the sky.
      "Is it one of them or one of ours?" Amira asked me.
      "I can't tell," I said.
      "It's an alien ship," Sireen, with much younger eyes, said, "a big one."
      In a moment, we could see that too.
      "It's climbing," I said in a moment. "They're leaving."
      And it was true, the ship was going ever higher and higher until we lost sight of it way out over the Gulf as it made a streak through some high thin clouds. Then it was gone and we never saw it again.

      The next morning we listened to the broadcast from Qatar and nodded at each other as John translated the announcers comment that many of his people had seen "another infidel spaceship leaving Allah's planet from the North."
      Then the announcer played a relayed message from the BBC that we didn't need translated, but his other listeners did. "With reports coming in from as far away as the United States and Japan it would seem that the human volunteers have convinced the enemy of mankind to vacate the planet. But we have no way of knowing whether they will return. It is advised by the European Recovery Counsel that all survivors everywhere take this respite to improve their situation and for the present and to be more able to continue the resistance should the enemy return."

      Late the next day the expedition to the causeway returned. They had hiked about forty or fifty miles, and had seen a lot of things.
      And no sign of either the garrison or anybody else.
      "We made it to the causeway in the first day," Mister Kellen said, "we took our time and went out on it to the first high bridge. Since we'd been there last time they'd finished destroying it. But we never saw any patrols. Then we headed south along the coast and camped at a palace."
      George's shook his head, "It had been a palace, but I couldn't even tell which one, it'd been blown up real good as Rashid put it."
      "Then we started back, and we looked for stuff," Mister Kellen said as he gave each of us women a bouquet of plastic flowers. "Those are from a shop we went by."
      "They even blew up the water slides," Rashid said as they described walking through what had been a large amusement park near the refuge.
      They had found some more stuff that we might be able to use, and then talked about going back to a dock near where Hamad had been and bringing back a catamaran they'd seen there.
      "The sand is starting to take a lot of the place back," Georges said at the end, "before long, you won't be able to find the roads or anything else."

President Dr. Yarah Santiago
Santa Politia Plantation, Brazil

      We had finally gotten the Panna radio to work to broadcast as well as receive. They had left us instructions, but they were instructions written for their own kind, not humans, and it wasn't until somebody else had gotten it to work and relayed the trick over the air that our world expanded once again.
      And then I began to regret the development as I entered into negotiations with others from several other countries in South America and elsewhere through the device.
      "I am proposing a unified voice for all of our people, for all of South America," Mister Martinez from Chile said. He was one of the three known surviving member of the government and was now speaking for his country. A position I knew well.
      "But whom would we speak to? The Panna? Europe?" I asked him. "From what we have heard, other countries are in the same predicament we are. Our military is gone, our cities are destroyed. We have lost millions of citizens. Yes, the enemy has left, but they may be back, and then what? The Panna have said they cannot defend us."
      "But we are all moving forward once again," a voice I now recognized as Mister Williams from Canada. "We have even re-established air travel for some official functions and have organized our resistance units into a serviceable militia."
      "As have we," several others added in a confusion of voices.
      Mister Williams continued, "so it is only right for us to consider formalizing international contact and cooperation."
      There was a moment of silence on the radio, so I said, "I shall consider it." Which was immediately followed by an unintelligible babble of voices saying God only knows what.

      After it was over I went outside and blinked at the sun, "I don't like being President." I said to several of the people sitting around a table next to a fire pit, most of whom were now my aids and advisers.
      "But you are very good at it."
      I shook my head, "I'm better at being a physician and I think I am needed more in that capacity right now."
      "We still do not have any reliable communication with half our country. As soon as we do, and we can get things settled down, we'll schedule an election." Colonel Branto said firmly.
      "I guess it is selfish of me to think of myself right now." I looked around the camp outside the old house. "I just need a break."
      "I know," one of the young women from the cooking area said. "my brother Andro sent word that he caught a large paiche fish and asked for help to bring it in. He should be coming any time. Let's go see. Then I'll cook our piece for us all."
      I smiled at her and nodded, "that is just what I need. Thank you Marina."
      "You need one of the world's ugliest fish?" The Colonel said with a chuckle.
      "Yes, Colonel, I think I do."

      I was glad the Colonel and several of the others had come with us down to the river to see Andro bring the fish in. When Andro had said that he'd caught a large paiche or as I knew it, a pirarucu, I had half suspected that he had caught a fish story. And he had, twice over.
      Somehow he had netted two of the things in a hand woven rope net, and was barely able to get the canoe back to shore near our village with them in tow. From there, he needed help to keep the fish from getting away. And with the two monster fish in his net in shallow water, he was in need of all the help he could get to get them out of the water as well.
      The Colonel and several of the others waded into the muddy water and with much splashing and yelling brought the two huge fish onto the bank where they were dispatched with a large knife.
      The largest was well over two meters long and we estimated that it weighed over a hundred kilos. The other was shorter but a little thicker in the body.
      "Two fish, dinner for everybody," I said to Andros, "today and tomorrow. Well done."
      "Obrigado, Senhora Presidente."

      Such was how it was in our outpost. We seldom went hungry as the river and the jungle provided well for us. But sometimes the food was not plentiful, and occasionally it wasn't what you wanted to eat. Such as the bread we had with almost every meal.
      The argument still raged among the various cooks. Was the bread we were making now actually acarajé instead of sopapilla? To me, it was neither, and then again something of both as it had whatever we had that couldn't be used for anything else in it, then it was made into a dough, and grilled over an open fire. So really, it wasn't even really true fried bread although that's still what we called it.

      But now, after the entertainment of watching nearly every man in our camp fight with the two overgrown and quite upset fish, I was in a much better mood.
      And Andro's sister Marina was an excellent cook and soon our section of the camp smelled like a very spicy, and very good, fish stew.
      I had a large glass of our jungle wine that was brewed up from an eye dazzling array of wild fruits and berries. It wasn't bad, but once again I wished that we had some sort of reliable refrigeration because I believed it would have been much better chilled. Then Marina brought us all bowls of the stew, which was excellent.
      The next day one of the village women had a healthy baby girl. Which was reason enough for us to have a celebration.
      Finally I felt a little better about ending up as what I was.

      That is until a few days later when a group of men whom had gone cross country to Ji-Parana and Porto Velho returned from the almost fifteen hundred kilometer round trip. The goal of the mission was to see about the feasibility of moving the seat of government to what had been one of the largest cities in the country. Their news was not favorable to that idea. We thought that as it was not on the coast, maybe it had fared better since the initial attack.
      "At first we could not find the survivors camp. It was not where it had been. Then we found them." The Lieutenant that had led the group said. "They said that many of them had been taken by the enemy to work a mine. They did not give them a choice, they brought a ship in and made them all go on board. They don't know where they took them, even if they stayed here on Earth. They never saw them again. They said the only thing that saved us was that we were here, in a small camp far away."
      "Those that resisted were shot." One of the other men said. "Those that got away hid in the jungle, they haven't found them all yet."
      The Lieutenant sounded angry and didn't look at me when he added his next statement. "For all of their advancement, they still want people to work as their slaves." He shook his head and bit his lip before he said any more.
      I had to close my eyes at the news. "But the enemy is gone now?" I asked after a moment.
      "Yes. They said the ones that had been left there to look for resistors left several days ago."
      "Good."
      "The forest is coming back quickly," the Lieutenant said, "it won't be long and a lot of what was cut will be growing thick again."
      "It made getting there bad until we got to the highway."
      I had to smile in spite of everything. The others looked at me strangely so I had to explain it. "The Minister of the Environment was very worried about the forest being cut like that," I nodded, "If he was still alive, he would be happy that it is growing back."
      "Antonio would be happier to be alive." The Colonel said.
      "Yes," I nodded, "As would I. He had been in office longer, he would be the President now."

Main Panna Fleet
Nebula Six

      Paige was staring at a star map as viewed from Earth. "You're right. This nebula is not visible from Earth." She said to some Panna that were nearby. The area had been highlighted, but the formation was not in the picture.
      "Yes."
      "And it doesn't have a name?"
      "No, we do not name galactic features. It has a number. It is the sixth nebula discovered outside our home system. That is how we know it. It is a good place to hide."
      "So if one of your ships were to call and say they wanted to meet you here you'd tell them you are in Nebula Six?"
      "Yes."
      "And if you discover another nebula? A new one."
      "It would now be Nebula Thirty five."
      "No matter where it is?"
      "Yes."

      General Muller was working on a new plan when they got a bit of unexpected news.
      "General," the leader of a pack of obviously excited Panna said. "We have news from the Toller Alliance."
      The General glanced at Qi-shi, "I remember something about them but...."
      "Understood, sir. They are a large trading guild with a number of armed ships that enforce law and order in their territory. Something like the Dutch foreign companies of old. They cover all or part of about twenty star systems."
      "OK." He looked back at the Panna.
      "They have approved of your attack on the enemy. They have begun their own operations to remove Annunaki occupation of several worlds in their mutual border area. Many of these planets are in Toller claimed space and they do not wish them to be there."
      "I suppose not."
      "They were not willing to engage the Annunaki in conflict unless others made significant gains against them as well."
      "That way they avoided the full weight of them coming their way."
      "A wise tactic, sir." Qi-shi said with a sharp nod.
      "And our attack was significant," the General Singh said as more of a statement than a question.
      "Yes General, which is why the others are taking action as well."
      "The Hu and the," he paused, "no don't tell me, I know it, the ... ... For-aquin-nezsta.... them."
      "Yes, both groups are in open revolt against the Annunaki. Although the Foraquinestaezsts have been fighting them for a long time, now it is an organized effort under their own Generals."
      "If we could coordinate our attacks it would be more effective," Admiral Nardi said. "Even if we cannot support a wide spread full assault on them."
      "Without a doubt," General Singh said and looked at the Panna.
      The Panna were silent for a moment, then one of them answered, "The Hu are not known for cooperating with anybody, even other Hu."
      "I see," General Muller said.
      Another Pana couldn't help but add a personal observation, something unusual for the Panna, "The Hu are the most disagreeable beings I have ever encountered." Everybody, even the other Panna turned to look at the one that had spoken. "I was on a mission to take them supplies some time ago. I did not enjoy it at all, and I have resisted sharing the memory of the experience for that reason."
      The other Panna even took a step back when the one said that.
      "Oh." One of them said in an almost human tone.
      "I too have dealt with the Hu," another one added in a moment, "I have found other duties so as I do not have to ever meet them again."
      General Muller looked over at his staff, "it would seem that the Panna do have secrets after all."
      The Admiral smiled, "Yes they do. But, if the Panna's allies are indeed moving against the Annunaki..."
      "They are our allies as well now," Singh said softly when the Admiral paused for a breath.
      "Well, yes, of course," Admiral Nardi said, "but as I was saying, if they are moving against the enemy, then they cannot throw everything they have into the hunt for us."
      "But unless we can throw everything we all have against them in a coherent way, then it is a stalemate."
      General Muller looked from one to the other. "We throw a party, and name the place and time, and invite the others and if they don't attend, shame on them," he said.
      "What kind of party are you thinking about throwing."
      "We hang another target out there, or maybe find one to set up, and see if the Annunaki will come after it by having the Panna monitor their communications. Then we jump them."
      Admiral Nardi raised an eyebrow, "That reminds me of what the Americans did at the Battle of Midway."
      General Muller shrugged, "The same basic idea."
      "Let's hope it works as good now."
      General Singh was looking at the display, "perhaps that second concentration would make a good target, not the largest. It is isolated, but not too isolated."
      One of the Panna that was running the display turned its eye toward General Muller, "The General is thinking." It said in almost a whisper to its companions.
      "That's what Generals do," another one responded just as quietly.

Corporal O'Neill
      "You are one of the music makers," One of a group of about seven Panna said to me.
      I nodded, then said "Yes." I mean really, what else could I say.
      "I am Dancer," the one said.
      I thought about making a joke about Santa's Reindeer, but I didn't. I just stood there and waited for it to say what it was going to say.
      "Many of us enjoy dancing to our music, and we were dancing beyond the door to your earlier. We would like you to play more so we may dance again."
      I looked at my mates from the band. "Ahh, yeah, sure. Let me check with the General and we'll set something up."
      "Yes." The dancing Panna said.

General Muller
Panna Fleet

      I had to do something I never thought I would do in my life. As our plan came together for a coordinated campaign against the enemy's positions I spent hours and hours negotiating with some of the alien allies of the Panna for them to press their own attacks or to join with us in our attacks.
      OK, that's a couple of things I never thought I'd do, starting with witnessing the near total destruction of all civilization on Earth and the murder of what the Panna estimated as very nearly six billion people.
      I had found it very hard to believe that that many people had been killed, but then Paige went through the readings from the Panna's survey of the planet just before they made contact with us.
      "Here are the facts General," she said to us, "almost every city of over a hundred thousand people on the planet was hit with multiple implosion devices."
      "Is that what took out Eirunepé?" Mateo asked her.
      "No, from what you described that was a more conventional explosive device. Possibly a handful of them dropped or launched from a fighter on patrol."
      I thought back to that day, "But it was used on Seattle, that is exactly what I saw, and Vancouver as well from what the radio said."
      "Yes. It was used against major military installations that could launch counter attacks first, then deployed against major population centers. Cities like New York and Tokyo were hit with multiple strikes. Smaller cities were strafed multiple times by automated ground attack vessels flying a programmed pattern."
      "But that doesn't account for...." Mateo began as the others of us were silent, "... that many..."
      "Yes it does." Paige said softly as she explained the extermination of the bulk of our species. "If you wiped out just the one hundred largest cities you would have already killed over one billion people. And they didn't just bomb those. They annihilated every city of any significant size, pretty much without warning, from orbit, from approximately twenty medium sized attack ships deployed from five or six of the large battleships. Most likely operating under a command ship like the one you attacked."
      "Oh."
      "And then anything and anybody that was left was picked off by patrols."
      "Yes, I remember them quite well," General Singh said.
      "And this is the pattern when they attack any planet they deem a threat?"
      "Yes," Paige answered and shut off the display that showed what was left of our home.
      "So there was only seven million left?"
      "We have revised that number up slightly based on a more thorough analysis of the data. But there were less than ten million detected world wide."
      "Thank you, Paige." I said. "This is what the Forq's and the Toller have agreed to do," I signaled the Panna to bring up the view of the deployment of our allies.
      "You mean the Foraquinestaezsts," Mateo said.
      I just looked at him.
      "It's easier to say if you speak four languages," he explained with a grin.
      "I'll take your word for it."
      "What about the Hu?" Admiral Nardi asked me.
      I had to take a deep breath before I answered her, "Well, the Panna weren't lying. They're...." I trailed off and held my tongue. "The Hu have agreed that we might be worth talking to at some point."
      General Singh had a strange look in his eye.
      "What?" I asked him.
      "Nothing sir."
      "Spit it out." I said, then realized that he may not understand that so I said, "Go ahead and say it. We're all... in the same boat here." I looked at the ship around us, "so to speak."
      "You were going to say something else about the Hu," he said, "something that might be noteworthy if any of the others of us are ever in future negotiations with them."
      I nodded, "Of course you're right, and I just said we were all in the same spaceship." I needed another deep breath as I shook my head. "I've dealt with young drunken idiots out on their first weekend pass in the big city that made more sense than the ambassadors from the Hu." I looked at my staff and shook my head again. "They refused to believe that we had gone on the attack on the convoy, even though they had reports from their own spies that said it was us. She accused me of being an Annunaki perpetrating a hoax on them for reasons I'll never even pretend to understand." I held up my first finger, "First he said that we were plotting to move in and corrupt their museum of sacred art."
      "He? I thought you said the ambassador was a she," the Admiral said before I could raise my next finger.
      "There's two, a he and a she, and I have no idea which one is in charge, if either, they both did a lot of talking and making accusations."
      "Oh. Sorry sir."
      I shook my head and had to laugh for a second, "No, it's OK. The situation was totally absurd, and in the end, I don't know if I accomplished anything or not." I looked at my second finger and decided to go ahead and tell them the best one and skip a couple of the others until it came up again. "And, ah, well, they also accused us of sending an emissary to their planet who released a skin mite that has been infecting their ... goat-things for the last three hundred years."
      "Oh, damn, I thought we got away with that," Mateo said.
      "Sorry, they found out about it," I laughed at the absurdity of the situation.
      "Did they talk about a military offensive at all?" The Admiral asked me.
      "Yes, against us."
      General Singh frowned, "That would scarcely help the situation.
      "They also threatened to petition some inter-realm court to have me banned from ever taking another wife."
      "I didn't know you were married," a couple of them said at more or less the same time.
      "Neither did I."
      "So, in short, at least for now, we should discount any assistance from the Hu against the enemy." General Singh summarized for us.
      "I would," I felt somebody looking at me and noticed two groups of several Panna and Corporal O'Neill standing just off to one side looking at me. "Yes?"
      When the Corporal hesitated to say something, one of the Panna simply asked me if the Corporal's band could play so they could dance.
      "I didn't know you danced."
      "It is something to see, sir." Mateo said. "They were dancing before. When the band was playing. They do a... " He tried to mimic it with his hands, and failed.
      "I'll take your word for it." I said to Mateo, then I turned back to the Corporal, "Sure, I think that'd be good for everybody, just set up, you know, over there." I waved off toward the far corner.
      "Yes, sir. Thank you sir." The band leader said.
      Then I looked at the other group of Panna, they didn't seem to be in the mood to dance.
      "General, we have, news." One of them said to me.
      Now I know next to nothing about whether the Panna have emotions as we do or not, but these were clearly upset and seemed ill.
      "What is it?"
      They were silent for a moment and three of them moved until they were touching, then the other two joined them.
      Finally one of them said, "We have a message from the Boolin Star Alliance Authority."
      I looked at Paige and she shook her head.
      "I've never heard of them either, sir." Mateo volunteered.
      "They are from the very edge of the Annunaki realm. A very long way from here. But they have a very advanced military and have been under a truce with the Annunaki for a very long time. But they constantly monitor everything they say and do." One of the Panna said.
      "So what is the news?"
      "That we have been betrayed by our own."

Treason
      The news that at least four of the Panna had been in communication with elements of the Annunaki spy network on a couple of nearby worlds spread through the entire fleet like an exceptionally contagious disease.
      After a quick investigation that involved all of the Panna on the ship merging at once the Panna assured General Muller and his staff that they had found the traitors and they had already been sentenced to the harshest penalty their race had ever devised.
      "Isolation," one of the Panna said to the General.
      "What does that do to them?" He asked them.
      "It cuts them off from the rest of us."
      "They're social creatures," Mateo said to us, "very social. Think about it, have you ever seen one by itself for more than a few minutes?"
      General Singh shook his head, "Now that you mention it, no."
      Mateo's face was as serious as any had ever seen him, "If I'm not mistaken, if they are in an isolation cell, they'll die won't they?"
      The Panna actually shuffled nervously on their walking tentacles and their eye stalks drooped.
      "I see," General Muller said. "I'd like to speak to them."
      "Why would you wish to do that?" One of them asked.
      "To find out why they did what they did."
      "We already know that," the Panna said, "we merged with them, and, forced, the information from them, now we all share their reasons for it."
      "Then why did they do it?" Muller asked them the obvious question.
      "Because you could win."
      The human general staff all exchanged incredulous looks.
      "After the first attack, they thought you could possibly defeat the Annunaki," another of the group of Panna said.
      "That was the idea," Qi-shi said. "One attacks the enemy to defeat them."
      The Admiral nodded, "I thought they'd be happy with our success."
      "Some of us have held the secret that they still believe that the Annunaki were the divinities that we were told they were in ancient times."
      "They posed as gods on our world too, but I don't think anybody still worships them." General Muller said.
      "That's not entirely true General," Paige said. "There are still some cults that worship various aspects of some of the old gods of Babylon and Sumeria and their mystery religions. At least there were."
      "Oh. I'll have to look into that. Later." The General answered, then he nodded to the Panna to continue.
      "They expected to be rewarded by them for their assistance and avoided merging with the rest of us to keep their plans to themselves, and with all that was going on, they weren't missed in the larger groups. They thought their plan was safe."
      "They were mistaken," the other Panna continued. "The Boolin Star Alliance Authority has deep spies within the enemy's command structure. It is how they maintain their security as the Annunaki continually test the Alliance's defenses looking for a weakness. Their report identified the terminal station on the supply ship that sent the communications. We went to "
      The third one finally said something, "They too purchase equipment from our automated facilities. Space mines you would call some of them."
      "What did the enemy learn?" General Muller asked.
      The Panna hesitated answering and shuffled for a moment, then they all moved a step or so toward each other until they were touching again.
      Finally the one called Shorty answered, "That it was you who attacked them, and that we are planning further action."
      "Did they tell them where we went to regroup?" General Singh asked.
      "No, they had not had a chance to relay that information. And they may not have ever sent it, as it would endanger them as well." Shorty replied.
      "Do the Annunaki know you found their agents?" General Muller asked them.
      "No." One of the other Panna answered.
      "Can you send them some sort of message in the same way with the same code or whatever they used?"
      "Yes. We know all of their recognition signs."
      "If you're thinking what I think you're thinking, I like it," Mateo said.
      "I am. But I would still like to see the traitors."
      "As you wish General," the Panna that called itself Shorty said.
      "The cells had never been used on this ship. We weren't sure they would work since it has been many of your years since they had been built," another one added, then its eye glanced away, "they work very well. They are alone."
      "Follow us."

General Muller
      Now I think I understand something about the Panna that I didn't anticipate ever knowing.
      We looked at a monitoring display in the hall outside the brig. The traitors were sulking in small cells, with only a large container of their food and water in it on the floor in one corner for them to squat over to eat, and a small opening in the floor on the other side for them to relieve themselves into, without a speaking amulet or any other means of communicating to anybody, alone, for the first time in their lives.
      "How long will they live like this?" I asked the ones that had escorted me and my staff to the detention area.
      "One of them has already died, but we suspect they killed themselves. That is not unheard of among our kind who commit crimes," Shorty said.
      "The horrors of being isolated sometimes overwhelm them." Another added.
      When one of our Panna opened the door and we walked in it turned around and faced the back wall of its cell with an air of defiance about it. Two of the others simply stood and glared at us although one of those did look unhealthy. The Panna that were with us didn't go into the confinement area.
      "They will not be able to understand anything you say General," Mateo said to me gesturing with the amulet hanging from his shirt.
      "I think that one understands me just fine."
      I stood still for a moment and stared at its back. I had wanted to be sure that they had accused the right beings, and now, I was sure.
      One of the other two looked at me, then it did something I'd never seen a Panna do before. Its eye stalk retracted into its body and the opening where it had been closed over. Then its walking tentacles softened and it sagged to the floor. The one that had looked sick shuddered and drooped a little more, but it remained standing.
      "Is it dead?" I asked Mateo.
      "I don't think so, they have a dormant state, like a coma. When they die they partially liquefy."
      I stood there for a second and saw the dormant one move slightly as it breathed.
      "Let's go back and get back to work." I said.
      As I turned away the one that had been facing away from us sneaked a look at me, then when I scowled at it it turned back toward the wall. But the defiant edge to it seemed to have gone away.
      What I learned them was through watching the Panna that had escorted us to the cells. They never looked at those in the cells, and in fact, refused to enter the room. The other Panna were very uncomfortable about the whole thing. If they were human, I would say that they were afraid it would be done to them more than compassion for the condemned.
      But they are not human, and I am not a xeno-psychologist.
      And now I was faced with the prospect of using the card I had been given by the treachery and devise a defense for the attack that was almost sure to come, or to run and pick a time and a place of our own choosing.

      "I like the idea of using this against the Annunaki," I said as we walked back to the main room. "We'll need you to send a bit of disinformation to the enemy before too long."
      "Dis-information?" One of the Panna said.
      "A little white lie," I answered.
      "Something that isn't true, but that they would want to be true," Mateo explained.
      "Ahh, yes, very devious." The Panna that hadn't understood said. "What would you tell them?"
      I looked at Mateo and he grinned at me. "Perhaps something like we are waiting on a fuel delivery for the fighters that have been assigned to protect Earth."
      "But their fuel cells regenerate on their own," one of the Panna said.
      Then another one added with some urgency to its voice from the speech amulet, "And the enemy knows that."
      "Of course they do," I said, "but they might believe it anyway if we say it just the right way, and they find out about it in just the right way."
      Admiral Nardi can evidently read minds, "By eavesdropping on our transmissions in the clear to Earth."
      "Yes."

Bo and Sammi
The Mid-Atlantic, USA

      It was so cold last night that when we went out this morning there was frost on everything.
      "Winter comes early in the mountains," I said to my wife.
      "And it's going to be a long one," Sammi answered, then, as she did at least once or twice a day she looked up at the sky, "I wonder where Amory is."
      "Someplace warm hopefully. Let's go get some breakfast."

      Last night everybody had been talking about the news that some NATO general had announced that they were building an Earth defense base and that after the next engagement in space, some of the units from the Panna fleet would be brought here with their ships to act as a deterrent against any further Annunaki threats to humanity.
      Apparently the North American unit would be based in Borden, Ontario, near Lake Huron at the former training base. Which my wife wasn't as happy about as I was.
      "But it's so far away," she said, "If Amory is sent there, we'd have to travel for days and days to go see him."
      "It's closer than he is now," Old Man Willis said truthfully.
      Everybody looked at Sammi, "Of course but..."
      There was an awkward silence until somebody mentioned that it was starting to get cold at night.

      The frost put our preparations for winter into high gear. Some of the damaged houses in town had been salvaged and partially rebuilt, but once the cold wind started blowing it found every crack and gap there was in the structures. But we learned from our mistakes, and adapted and a few of them were reported to be almost as good as new.
      My family talked about it, and we agreed that at least for the time being we'd stay in the tunnel where we had plenty of space and had worked out everything from sleeping arrangements to sanitation facilities.
      "I don't want to go through all of this, not yet." Sammi said to me as we helped another family move into a rebuilt house that was about a third of the size it had been before the enemy had decided it looked like a good target. She'd also voted down (I almost said 'shot down' but changed my mind) the idea of us moving down to the camp outside of Frederick. This was where Amory had left from, and she thought this was where he'd come back to. So here we stayed.

      The old tunnel that had become home for a dozen families was down to about half that now. But those that remained had made the most of it.
      In fact, there was a running bet that the park service might not recognize the old dig since we'd done what we'd done to it.
      For example, we even had running wash water and a sewer. OK, it wasn't a full bath, but it did work, and you didn't have to go outside to do your business. We had piped in water from upstream of the temporary dam, ran it through the tunnel to the far end along the old tow path, then installed a repurposed toilet and sink on the far end. When you flushed, or washed up afterwards, the wastewater flowed out of the tunnel to end up a good ways down where a natural flow of water from the surrounding hills, as well as the overflow from our supply pipe since we had no way to regulate the flow, carried it away.
      We didn't feel right dumping raw human waste, as well as cooking scraps and whatever else into the water, and eventually into the Potomac, but given the circumstances, we really didn't have much choice.

      And that statement seems to define our lives now more than anything else. We do what we have to do because we really have no other option.
      If the attack on humanity did nothing else, it seriously limited the choices we make in our daily life.

Penni Potts
British Isles

      I knew it wasn't the best of plans, but I was thinking about trying to go back to London in the spring.
      I know the city has been destroyed, and that I'd probably never even be able to find the building where my flat at been, but I felt like I should go anyway.
      One thing I wanted to do was to find my mother's house and see if I could learn what happened to her. I kept thinking that maybe she had survived the attack and was out there looking for me. And I wanted to know for sure.
      Another thing was that I felt totally useless here. I really couldn't cook, I tried to knit and weave with the yarn that some of the country women made and failed at that. I helped in the fields and the gardens, but I got tired easily and when I was tired I got cranky. I even tried to be a lover to Marlin, but I wasn't even very good at that although he was a dear and said the sweetest things to me.
      I was a child of the Eighties, I went to what many people still called secretarial college when I finished my regular schooling. I worked in an office, I wasn't a pioneer wife.
      And I missed watching my telly in my fuzzy robe with a cup of tea.

      We'd made the basement of the old house livable enough for all of us to stay in for now.
      It was close, and pretty bare, but according to some of those with us, we were doing better than other groups they had been in contact with.
      As a group we were doing OK, it was me that was the problem.
      And I shouldn't obsess about it, but I hadn't had my medicine in ages, and the only people I could talk to here were all busy doing things to make sure we had enough food and fire wood and things to last the winter, and all I could do was fret about the things we'd had taken from us.

      But I had said that I would do my duty. And that was what I was trying to do.
      I was pretty good at checking the fish and crab traps that we used. And I had gotten pretty good at tending the fire in the fireplace that we used to heat the basement and cook on. So I was contributing, but I didn't feel like I was pulling my fair share. And I'd heard some of the others mention that they thought I was more in the way than I helped with most things.
      So I've been thinking that maybe if somebody was starting to rebuild the world we knew in London, that I could be of more help there than I could be here.
      I just didn't know how I'd get back there, and, if I had to get there myself, I'm not really sure even which way to start walking. But I'll try to find out or get somebody else to go with me. Which would be better if I ran into one of the groups of bandits that we've heard are roaming the countryside looking for easy targets to rob or do worse things too. They stay away from groups like ours, but one woman on the road alone would be in trouble.

      Maybe going back to London isn't such a good idea.

President Dr. Yarah Santiago
Santa Politia Plantation, Brazil

      Dengue fever isn't something we usually see in Brazil's deep jungles. The disease seemed to hug the coast and some spots up along the River. But now, I had two cases in our compound, no medicine to speak of, and little chance of treating the fever if it turned into the hemorrhagic variety that could quickly be fatal given our current conditions.
      One of the patients was a man who had been out fishing and hunting, but hadn't been anywhere near the coast in his whole life, or so he said. The other was an older woman who had been working with the other women since we arrived. Which meant they had been bitten by a carrier here, probably in the last week or so. Which gave me cold chills.
      My primary concern was the spread of the disease, and now I missed Mateo more than ever. I couldn't manufacture insect repellant other than some of the native concoctions of plant sap and handmade soap whose effectiveness was marginal at best. I couldn't make mosquito netting for everybody. But I could do something about where the bugs bred. Or at least I thought I could.
      I had gone up and checked on the patients and then went to see to the progress of removing breeding sites.
      I found three of the four men I'd asked to check the entire area for breeding sites standing around a fire drinking some of the cachaca-like liquor they'd been experimenting with making since we arrived.
      "We'll get to it senora," one of them said.
      "No, we need to do it now," I said to the men I had assigned to ridding the compound of all stagnate water and other breeding locations for the mosquitoes. "Before anybody else gets sick."
      "We were checking on the...." One of them began to say.
      He was interrupted.
      "You men. Move Now!" I heard Colonel Branto's best stentorian voice from behind me.
      The men jumped up and ran off and I saw one of them dump the water that had collected in an old plastic tarp.
      "I'll stay with them," one of the Colonel's aids said.
      "Do that," the senior man said as the junior officer followed the men who were now dumping the water out of a wheelbarrow with a broken handle.
      "I didn't see you Colonel," I said to the officer. "Thank you for motivating them. We need to stop the spread before any more get sick." I looked over at the puddle the water from the tarp had made, "Let's go see."
      "Yes, ma'am."
      We crouched near the water slowly soaking into the ground, and in a minute we saw several small larva wriggling in the mud.
      "Do you think they're the right species?" The Colonel asked me.
      "There's no way of knowing, but they are mosquitoes, so we're at least on the right track."
      "Very good ma'am, I was on my way to see if there were any messages from the Panna, if you want to...."
      "The Panna!" I said. "Let's try it."
      "Try what?"
      "The medical devices the Panna left for us, they said they could treat many diseases as well as injuries."
      "Lead the way, Madam President. I mean, Doctor." The Colonel said as he helped me back to my feet.

      The instructions the aliens had given me were recorded on a round disc that they'd left with the medical units. I fumbled with it for a moment, then remembered how to use the disc. I simply asked it how to treat a viral infection and sat there for a second without blinking or beeping or any of the things you would expect it to do.
      "Place the large diagnostic and treatment wrap totally around the patient and set the key index for microbiologic infestation. The indicator will display when treatment is complete." The disc said in a rather plain voice.
      "Let's try it."
      "Yes, ma'am," the Colonel answered.

      It was harder to get the somewhat thick and only slightly flexible warp to totally cover the patient than it was to set the key index. In about twenty minutes we heard the patient asking what was going on and saw him moving to get out of the wrap. I tried to keep him calm until the indicator changed and the settings on the panel cleared.
      "I guess it's done."
      It was.
      I asked the man how he felt and he basically said fine.
      I examined him and found that the rash had faded somewhat and that he had no other sign of illness.
      It took the treatment a few minutes longer on the woman, but then she woke up complaining of a severe headache but was in otherwise good shape.
      "Remind me to thank the Panna," I said to the Colonel. "Speaking of which, I'll come with you to check on the messages."
      "Very well ma'am." He said and we walked over to the communications shack we'd set up in one of the old outbuildings.

      From the outside, the shed looked like any other hundred year old building on a former plantation. We hadn't been able to discern what the building had originally been intended to be, but now it housed multiple radios including the communication device the aliens had left for us. And all of them were monitored around the clock by some of Colonel Branto's most trusted officers who came to attention when we walked in.
      "Any messages?" The Colonel asked them.
      "Yes, sir, Madam President. Which do you wish to see first?"
      "Anything from the Panna fleet?" I asked him.
      "Yes ma'am," he turned and picked up a pad of school paper. "The last one is the most recent."
      We looked at the careful printing on the pad.
      "That doesn't sound good, they're waiting on a shipment of fuel for their attack support ships."
      The Colonel shook his head, "Supply lines are always a problem. Remember Napoleon?"
      "Yes," I said. Then I looked at the communications officer, "What about from other countries?"
      "There's a message from NATO, ma'am, sir." He handed us another note that had been written by one of the female monitors last night from a shortwave transmission.
      "Excellent," the Colonel said as he read it. "This should have been done a long time ago."
      I nodded, "But until the Panna arrived, we didn't have anything we could use to defend the planet with."
      "Evidently we do now, and that is what counts." He handed the notes back to them. "When you can get a clear signal through, let them know that we will accept Earth Defense Group Three here."
      I looked around at the forest around us, "Do you think we can carve a space base out of the jungle?"
      "No, ma'am, I don't. But from what they reported about Porto Velho, we might be able to do it there. They attacked the airport, but we wouldn't be starting from scratch. When the float plane comes back, I'm going to go see what there is there."
      "I won't leave these people."
      "I know, and this will remain the seat of government and we'll rebuild the base there to serve."
      "Very well."
      He sighed as he looked at the ground, "perhaps my reach is exceeding my grasp." He smiled at me, "My mother always said that, but I tended to do it."
      I thought about it, "I'll tell you what. You go and see if it is possible. And if you can establish the base there, we'll get everybody together and move there. You build the base, we'll come build the town."
      "You'd move? Yourself and everybody here seven hundred clicks to Porto Velho?"
      "Everybody that will go, yes. We'll get a fleet of boats together and go by river. Since all the dams are gone, it shouldn't be any problem. It's at least three times as far, but we'd never survive going overland."
      "You, my dear Madam President, have a deal."

Main Panna Fleet
Nebula Six

      "Sir! I've got incoming ships," Fen said urgently from one of the monitoring consoles.
      "Annunaki?" Several of the officers asked at one time.
      "No sir, different signature. Approximately ten ships of a range of sizes. Maybe more."
      "Any message from them?" Admiral Nardi asked the Panna at their own station.
      "No, Admiral."
      "Should we send some sort of hail? Ask for ID?" The Admiral asked General Muller.
      "Yes, but what do we say?"
      "We have a standard message that inquires about trade goods. Most friendly races will answer it."
      "Most?"
      "The Hu will ignore almost every message."
      "Figures. Yes, send it."
      The Panna worked together quickly and in a moment the overhead image included the information that a message had been sent. And then in another moment, an answer was received. The display changed to show a distinguished looking humanoid being with a turquoise tint to his skin, if he were indeed male that is, wearing a dark but very impressive and highly decorated uniform.
      "I am Pike Sule Jaun, Commanding Officer of the Toller Alliance's Combined Force. We have come to join in the battle against our common foe."
      The General couldn't answer for a moment because of the overwhelming cheering from the others in the huge room. While it quieted down he was looking up at the other display showing a large group of ships, some of which were obviously heavily armed warships with a big smile on his face.
      Admiral Nardi wasn't the only one that had moist eyes in the group, but she was probably the only one that would admit it.
      "Commander, welcome. I am General Muller, I look forward to meeting you." General Muller said to the image of the officer.
      The Commander inclined his head slightly and the image vanished.
      "Now you're going to tell me that I just offended the Commander and he's going to turn his convoy around and go home." Muller said to the Panna closest to him.
      "No General, I'm not," it replied. "The Toller are a very tolerant group, although they do tend to be a little more formal as you humans regard things than your species is."
      "From what we've observed of you we mean," another one added. "And you should address the Commander as Commander Pike, just as you are General Muller."
      "That's good to know. OK. Formal." Muller answered. "I can do formal." He said and stood a little straighter.
      "Sir. I've got the readout on the Commander's ships. If this is right...." Fen shook his head and looked at Paige who was working to verify the information. "I don't believe it," he said to her, "is that thing two kilometers long?"
      The young woman nodded slowly and changed the display where the Commander had been to a readout on the convoy.
      "Sirs, Madam," Paige said, "The only word I know to describe the two largest vessels in their fleet is- Dreadnaught. One other is smaller, but just as impressive."
      Mateo thought of another word for it as he looked at the Panna's projection of one of the massive ships, "Maybe 'battlestar'?"
      "I think that's taken," Muller said with a cockeyed smile, "But I get the idea. What kind of armament is she carrying?"
      The display slowly enlarged the image of the lead ship.
      "Almost everything," Fen added immediately. "And a lot of it."
      Now the Panna added to the exchange, "We built the Toller's primary warship to stand against the Annunaki's own command ships. But they were difficult to build and very expensive as well. Just the automatic repair and cleansing systems were very hard to design."
      "And they sent two of them to us?" General Singh asked.
      One of the Panna turned toward him to answer, "They want you to win the war."
      Muller shook his head, "No, my friend, they want all of us to win the war."
      "Yes." The Panna answered.

Captain Moreau
      The assignment was indeed a great honor, and at the same time, an awesome responsibility.
      For me to be offered the command of the first Earth defense group was a high privilege, but it also meant that I had to live up to the challenge. For myself, for France, and for all of mankind.

      I bowed deeply to the Commanding officers and spoke gravely to General Muller, General Singh, and Admiral Nardi. "Thank you for your confidence, I hope to live up to it."
      "As do I," Lieutenant Inoue said next to me as he bowed as well. He had been given command of the Fifth group which would be based somewhere in Asia.
      General Muller nodded to us, "I am sure you will."
      General Singh seemed a bit more reticent, "But there is one major hurdle between now and then."
      "Yes," General Muller said, "winning what amounts to a pitched battle." He turned toward those that were on the ever expanding command consoles. "Any sign of movement from the Annunaki?"
      "Possibly," a young woman said, "and their communications traffic is increasing. The Panna are working on translating it. If I had to guess, I'd say they are at least considering another attack on Earth."
      "Then once the Toller are here, we need to get moving and take our positions for it."
      Admiral Nardi said what I was thinking, "But what if they don't launch the attack?"
      "Then we'll try something else," General Muller said and then turned his attention back to Lieutenant Inoue and me. "How does that sound to you?"
      I glanced at the Lieutenant and he nodded with a determined look in his eyes. "We'll do our best. Whatever happens," I said to the General.
      "Yes, sir," Lieutenant Inoue added.

General Muller
      When the Panna said that Commander Pike and his people were a little formal when dealing with outsiders, they would have said that they were so formal that according to the information available, laughing without permission or calling an officer by a nickname was a chargeable offense. And if done under battle conditions, could be punishable by death.
      That was something else good to know.
      My only possible advice to my people was to simply tell them to not talk to either the Toller or the others represented in the combined fleet from several different powers and groups.

      "Ahh, good," one of the Panna said, "they have Chous with them."
      "The Chous," I said remembering something about the group from the information the Panna had dumped into my brain. "They have some of your guys on board their ships as technicians and stuff."
      "Yes General. And it has probably been a very long time since they have been in the merging with anybody else."
      I looked at my staff, nobody said anything and several of them quickly found something else to do. The Panna were still all looking at me so I had to say something meaningful but I had no idea what.
      Fortunately for me, Mateo came to my rescue.
      "It'll be like shore leave for them."
      "Yes," the Panna said, "and for us as well." Then they resumed doing whatever they do.

      On the screen the Chous's ships were small, really small when compared to the gargantuan Toller warships, but almost everything else in space was as well. But I knew from what the Panna had transferred to my mind was that the Chous would fight as a well-coordinated unit. They would attack a larger single target as a swarm, or divide into units of two or three each and go after smaller targets.
      "And they are very effective in their attacks," I said out loud as I remembered the Panna information.
      "Sir?"
      "Just thinking out loud. .... Occupational hazard." I added.
      "Yes sir."
      "General, General, Admiral," a Panna said. "The Commander is on his way over."
      "Let's go meet him," General Muller said, "Formally."

Part Four

Chris Banks
World Press International, Bahrain

      "Hello!" We heard somebody call out in Arabic. "Hello!" They repeated from near the front gate of the compound.
      John answered in kind then we all exchanged looks that were half worried and half excited.
      Mrs. Kellen had a good idea, "Maybe John and Amira should go see who it is."
      "OK," John said then asked Amira in Arabic to come with him to greet the visitors. She nodded and answered in her language and we all followed them at a discreet distance.

      I could hear a lot of discussion in a couple of languages, one of which I recognized as French so I glanced at Georges with an eyebrow raised. "They're talking about the war against the enemy, they're looking for someplace to put an Earth Defense fighter base and saw our cooking smoke from their boat."
      "Earth Defense base?"
      "Yes," Georges said, "but I don't know what else they're saying."
      "It doesn't matter, if they're looking for someplace to put a base, that means they have a way of communicating with the ones that left and all that." Ken said, "maybe I can go join up."
      "Maybe," I said and looked back at the gate where John and Amira were shaking hands with a large group of individuals, some of whom appeared to be European or American. Then they all came up the slight hill toward us.
      "Well, it appears this is going to be an interesting day after all," Mister Kellen said.
      "Yes it does," we all agreed.

      We set up a reception area inside the front area of the former visitor's center where we offered them water and such refreshment's as we had.
      The leader of the delegation was a Saudi prince who was also the Commandant of their re-established military.
      We all greeted him with great respect and then listened as he explained why they were considering using Bahrain for the base, and John and one of the men with the Prince translated for us and then relayed our answers to them.
      "They had been told that everybody on the islands had either been killed or had fled to the mainland. They didn't know anybody had been left alive on the island. There was a group that came across to Manama a couple of weeks ago and all they found were dedicated bodies and carrion fowl. The enemy," John translated the Prince's first speech. And he did talk in speeches "they did now know we were here."
      The Prince nodded to one of the men in a military uniform who then took over the briefing. The officer asked us a series of questions and waited to hear our answers before he said any more.
      He asked us if we'd seen anybody else. We told him about the other camps we'd found here and there, but they were abandoned when we found them and that Amira and her children were the only other living people we'd seen since the day of the attack.
      "He wants to know how much of the island we have explored," John said looking at us when the officer asked his next question.
      "Almost all of it," Georges said.
      I agreed, "between all of us and all of our expeditions, we've been almost everywhere."
      "And you've never found anybody else?" A British officer asked me, and John translated it into Arabic for the others.
      "No sir," we answered.
      Then the Saudi officer asked another question, "If they arranged motor transport, would we supply local guides to take them to the airbase and other places around the island."
      "Yes, sir."

      We invited them to stay for lunch, which they did, and the Prince made sure that we all understood that normally he wouldn't eat shellfish, but as that was what was available, and the Saudi mutaween had lifted the prohibition against it for the duration of the emergency that he would indulge.
      "Besides, your highness, how much rabbit can one eat?" John said to him in his language.
      "Exactly, my friend." The prince answered.

      The next day a large boat landed three four wheel drive vehicles, they also sent a doctor and all sorts of provisions, and enough gear to establish a permanent base on the other side of our compound.

      The Prince would not have a woman as his guide, but the British officer had no problem with it so I rode with him and a couple of others in one four wheel drive vehicle toward the capital area in hopes of finding where a couple of embassies had been.
      Captain Wood waited until we were well on our way north before he explained what we were doing, "We need to locate the Swiss and the German embassies. They weren't too far from the British compound."
      "We weren't far from the Diplomatic Sector when they attacked. Everything in the area was flattened," I said.
      "I know. But I have a request from an adjutant general to see if anything can be reclaimed from the sites.
      "You're driving," I answered.

      With the bridge to Sitra being gone and the Captain not interested in wading across the inlet like I had done on my bike excursion we turned off the road that ran along the shore and stayed on the larger island. But once the former royal highway reached the outskirts of town we couldn't even tell where the road, or for that matter, the city itself, had been. The enemy had hammered the entire northern end of the island back into dessert.
      "There is speculation that they hit all of the home bases of their rivals especially hard. This area was the home to the Dilmun people long, long ago," a young man said from the back seat.
      "Oh, yes. Please forgive my manners. Chris, this is Nikolaas, he's become something of an expert in those that attacked us."
      "Oh? I'd like to hear about them," I said.
      "Later," The Captain said, "which way should we go?" He asked me.
      "Due north, then we'll turn to the east when we get to the a big east west highway."
      "OK." He put the truck back in gear and we continued on.

      There were places where the road was more of an idea than a reality. From both the attack and the endlessly blowing sand. I talked it over with the Captain and he agreed to go as far north as we could to be sure not to miss the best route into where we were wanting to go.
      I had a general idea of where we were heading and pretty soon I saw what looked like it used to be a branch of the King Faisal highway which would take us more the way we wanted to go. The Captain turned toward the northeast.
      Now the destruction was absolute. In places the road wasn't covered with sand, it didn't exist.
      "Look!" Nikolaas said suddenly as the Captain slowed down to avoid some debris.
      We stopped and got out of the truck and watched as Nikolaas tapped at what appeared to be melted glass but when he broke a section of it off we could see that underneath it was sand. "Eight hundred degrees Celsius. That's about fifteen hundred Fahrenheit," he said.
      "Did they use nuclear weapons here?" The Captain asked him.
      "No." Nikolaas answered.
      "We didn't see anything like that, if they had, we'd been dead." I said.
      "From radiation if nothing else."
      The Captain nodded, "Then what caused that much heat."
      "The working theory is that their city destroying weapons are implosion based. But how that would do this isn't something I can explain." He stood up and looked around, "But this area looks like it took a direct hit. I'm curious, where exactly are we?" He took out one of the maps from the visitor center.
      It took us awhile, but we finally figured out that the dusty crater along the side of the road had been the convention center.
      Captain Wood drove a long way out of the way to avoid the worst of the damage, then we were heading back east looking for something that would indicate where the world trade buildings had been with the Swiss Embassy and the British Embassy across the road.
      Except that area had taken an even more severe beating and now the waves of the Gulf lapped at the ruins of what had been an amazing complex of structures.
      "I guess finding anything in there is out of the question." Captain Wood said after taking it all in.
      "Yeah," Nikolaas agreed.
      "Can we get to the Germans?" I asked as I shielded my eyes against the sun and tried to follow the rubble that had been Government Avenue along toward where the other office buildings had been.
      "We'll try. I owe them that much."
      It used to take a taxi just a few minutes to run from one end to the other of Government Avenue. A route I knew well as I had been covering various events and stories in the area. Now. It took us an hour to pick our way cautiously along until we were where I thought the embassy had been. At least it looked about right.
      "The German one was there, and the Dutch was next door," I pointed to where the familiar buildings had been just off a huge intersection. "Then you'd go up there and make a right and there were several more all in a row."
      "Not now," Nikolaas said.
      "Yeah, I've seen enough," Captain Wood said and got back in the truck. "Let's go. Think we can head south from here to the coast and then follow it down?"
      "One way to find out," I answered, then I looked at him, "so, what were you looking for?"
      "I knew some people that worked at the embassies," he glanced at me, "one of them was an old girlfriend of mine. She was all excited about being transferred down here for the Swiss."
      "I'm sorry," was all I could say.
      "Thank you."

      We drove the rest of the day and arrived back at the compound just after sunset. The other group had gotten back just before we did, and had about the same report we had.
      "The desert has reclaimed the base, but we believe it can be rebuilt to serve," the Prince said.
      "It'll be a lot of work," one of the other officers said, "but the communiqué said that the Panna will send automated construction equipment to do most of the work."
      The Prince shifted in his chair at the mention of the aliens, he didn't say anything but I could tell by his face what he thought of them and there was an uneasy silence in the room.
      Ken broke it by speaking up, "what can we do to help since we didn't get the chance to go fight?"

Penni Potts
British Isles

      I can't help it, I've fallen in love with Marlin.
      He had been very mysterious for a week or more, and then he suddenly announced that he had something for me.
      We had moved into what we called our house not long before and I thought we were happy together, then he started acting oddly and I was afraid he was going to move out or tell me to get out or something.
      But then he did something wonderful for me.
      He got me my telly back! And a big wooly robe to wear while I watched it.

      First I've got to tell you about our house. It really wasn't a house. It was about half of a small house, but it was ours, and we could heat it with a small stove, and it had a place where we could sit inside with some company and eat, which many of the new houses didn't. And Marlin was really happy with the fact that it had what he called a low profile in case the enemy came back looking to shoot something so they wouldn't see it and kill us.
      I helped him and some of the other men build it in what used to be the root cellar of a real house that had been destroyed. They dug out part of the back for our bedroom, and did something to the entrance, and I spent a lot of time plastering everything and making sure it was smooth. And when it was done, I was very happy with what I'd done.
      We moved in and for the first time in my life I found myself in my own home with a man that I thought I might be in love with. I wasn't sure because I'd never really loved anybody other than my own family. But I wanted to love him, I really did.
      And then the week before my birthday he spent a lot of time doing stuff without me, and I got worried that maybe he was having second thoughts. Then I went out to help a couple of the ladies put together some canned goods from things we had harvested and when I came home I found Marlin waiting outside for me, and he told me to close my eyes and he walked me inside and then he showed me a real working television showing a program from the eighties. It even had a disc player that had all sorts of programs recorded on it.
      "I wanted to make sure you stayed here with me," he said.
      I screamed. I shouted. I kissed him. And I fell in love with him for sure and proper, and I promised him that I wasn't going anywhere without him.

      The small set and player ran off a car battery that he had rigged up to a charger and all. But it worked, that's what counted.
      And yes, beginning the next day, I let other people watch my telly.

Combined Allied Fleet
Nebula Six

General Muller
      Commander Pike came offered us the assistance of a powerful fleet, several squadrons of fighters and support ships, supplies, all sorts of ground assault vehicles and troops, automated defensive arrays capable of stopping or delaying an enemy's advance into a particular area, and a 'greatest hits list' of tactics used by the enemy over their history of engaging the Toller in battle.
      The only thing he was lacking was a target.
      And I had the idea for at least one. If the Annunaki would cooperate that is.

      The Panna were monitoring everything the enemy was doing while the Commander briefed me and my staff about his fleet's various ships and their capabilities.
      The Commander had several members of his staff, as well as a few small robots with him of several designs. One of them was somewhat elongated and of the approximate size of a German Shepherd or retriever. And, of course, some of my own staff could not resist calling it K-9 even though it never spoke and seemed to be a portable database and holographic projector.
      "These units will spread out and monitor all traffic in or out of their assigned duty area." Commander Pike said indicating what appeared to be no more than good sized silver balls that were spread out by a group of ships that looked a lot like the old US space shuttle, just without the tail fins. The dog-unit rotated the projection through a field of view that showed the monitors being dropped from the shuttle and then deploying to an equidistant sensor fence in space. "They can operate continuously for a fairly long time." The Commander added.
      "Sir," General Singh said to him when he paused. "How large of an area can they cover?"
      "We have enough of them with us to cover three juns. The Panna can convert the linear measurement," he said to Artist and the others.
      In a second the one next to Artist turned toward us and said, "in human measurements it would be a circle eight hundred thirty six thousand twenty kilometers across."
      I looked over at Paige and could see her working it out. "Sir, that is approximately the distance from our Sun to the planet Jupiter."
      "That's a big circle," I said.
      The Commander nodded and gestured to the display unit to move to the next projection, "We also have explosive tracking mines that can be deployed within the sensor field to destroy any trespassing ships." The display animated and showed a tremendous explosion when an actual enemy transport violated the field. One explosive unit moved in quickly from one side of the ship and detonated, fracturing the ship into two sections, in a moment, another device swooped in from above which resulted in the near total destruction of the vessel.
      "In most cases," Commander Pike said, "the enemy doesn't even realize they've entered the field."
      "Until it is too late," Admiral Nardi said softly.
      "Of course," the Commander said, "if they realized it before, they would not enter the field."
      "Of course," she answered.
      There were a couple of other items the Commander displayed for us, but then we were interrupted by some excited chatter from the Panna.
      "What is it?" I asked the one I had come to recognize as Artist.
      "Sir, the enemy has, as you said, 'taken the bait'. They have relayed the information that we will supply construction machines to build the bases," it said from the communications console. "They are discussing a pre-emptive attack to eliminate the threat."
      For a long moment, I didn't move, then I remembered the source of my idea, "'Target A-F has trouble with its freshwater condenser'," I said softly.
      General Singh and Qi-shi both recognized the quote.
      "Let us hope it works out as well for us," the elderly General said.
      "The strategy was sound then, it is sound now. All that remains now is for us to take advantage of it."
      Commander Pike stood at full attention and spoke confidently, "That, is why we are here."
      "And we thank you for that. Let's work up a plan."
      The Commander was still standing tall, "I had hoped to attack the home world of the AhNeitself to settle a personal vendetta with them from long ago."
      I glanced at Paige, "Many scholars say that the Annunaki and the Nephilim from the Bible are the same beings."
      "They are called other things in our ancient works, most of them like the Rakshasa are not pleasant individuals." General Singh said with some irony in his voice.
      "I bet," Mateo said.
      I nodded in silent agreement while I thought about it. Then I floated the obvious idea, "Two prong attack? Let them commit whatever resources they are going to send at Earth then hit them at home."
      To my relief Commander Pike seemed to like it although his never smiled or nodded or anything like that. But he did say, "If done well it could be a crippling strike to their primary strength in this region of space."
      "The only question is how much of our overall strength do we send to keep them from actually destroying what's left on Earth?" General Singh asked all of us.
      I looked at Commander Pike, "Sir, you have the most experience with them, what do you think their fleet will look like."
      He considered it then spoke to his staff and then to the holographic projector robot in without using the Panna amulet that let us understand him. Something I didn't know you could do.
      "The standard attack force would be nine ships," the Commander said and the projection displayed a convoy like we had attacked before. "There is no reason to believe they would send anything different now. The group that attacked your home planet was a special force made up of three groups, but was a special operation, they have all since gone back to routine duty. The Ahnaee are lazy and creatures of habit. It is only their strength of arms that keep them in power."
      "What about the reptilians?" Admiral Nardi asked him.
      "The foot soldiers, sir." Mateo said respectfully when the Commander didn't seem to understand the reference.
      "Oh, them. They are made in a facility much like the ones that made the fighting ships you use."
      "So they are like livestock? Ahhh, animals." Mateo said.
      "No. Animals have..." the commander said something that took a moment for the translator to render into our language "...parents. Those you call reptilian soldiers do not. They have not had them for many generations."
      "Are they clones?" The Admiral asked and we all waited until the Commander answered.
      "Not now. They used to be such, but now they are engineered," he paused, "like your ships."

      As we began planning for the two upcoming battles it became clear that the Commander had plans to destroy the enemy's home world. Entirely.
      The more I listened to the discussion the less I liked it.
      Finally I had to say what I was thinking, "I will not kill civilians. I know we have every right to wish every one of them dead, but I won't do it. I'll be happy to wipe out their military, but I won't kill civilians."
      Commander Pike's face was unreadable for a long moment. "I'm sorry General, but you are operating under incorrect and outdated information. There are no civilians with them any longer. Each and every one of them works to extend their power and influence. They do not have a growing phase like other species, they are formed as fully mature beings, and already have in them all of the available knowledge of their kind related to whatever they have been made to do. And they know how to use and add to it." He turned to the Panna, "You didn't give that information to him?"
      The closest Panna took a step back, the others shifted nervously, and their eye stalks contracted toward their bodies.
      "I didn't ask them for it. Until now, an attack on the enemy's home world was out of the question." I looked at the Panna, "Can you give me the current information on them now?"
      Two of the Panna relaxed a little, "Yes, General."
      Mateo stepped close to me and looked me in the eye, "Sir, how much of their information can your head hold?"
      I hadn't thought about that, "I guess we'll find out."

      I guess it was fortunate for me that there really wasn't a lot of information about the home planet of the people that called themselves the A Ne. But the Commander was right about one thing, there hadn't been a real civilian population of non-combatants for a couple of thousand Earth years. The overall impression I got from what the Panna gave me, and what the Commander had said, was that their entire species was soulless, and had been for a very long time.
      Part of the information was about the initial inspection of a newly formed person. If any defect was found, mentally or physically, the individual was immediately killed no matter if they had been created to be a house servant or the governor of a subjugated planet.
      I saw their cities, completely without personality, in some cases, tens of millions of empty beings living in them. Their art was all dedicated to celebrating their rule over various species and territories. It reminded me of some of the more egotistic works by human dictators only these expressions were based on their race as a whole.
      And I got a little of the sense that the commander had expressed about their simply not being any innocents on their planet. The A Ne were so conceited that they didn't even allow non-A Ne slaves on their home world to do menial tasks for fear that they would contaminate it in some way. They bred a special class of persons to do the nastier jobs, and then killed them when they wore out or the work made them sick. Thousands upon untold thousands of them, existing, not living. Only to serve their masters.
      They also thought their home system was beyond the threat of attack from anybody because it was their home system if for no other reason. Their philosophy was that if they were attacked, they would respond with the total destruction of their attackers.
      'sorry guys,' I said to myself, 'that's how you started this war.'

      "General?" I heard Mateo say to me.
      I blinked my eyes, "Whoa." I said as the room seemed suddenly bright and a little off kilter.
      Then I felt somebody holding my hand.
      "Are you OK?" Admiral Nardi asked as she released my hand and laid it at my side.
      "I'm lying on the floor so my guess is that I've had better days." I sat up a little and noticed that the Commander was squatting near me. "Sorry about that Commander."
      "There is no need to apologize. When I was first promoted I was given a similar memory transfer by them. I did not awaken from it for several duty cycles."
      "Was I out that long?"
      "No, sir, just a couple of minutes, but you just said something about somebody beginning a war."
      I blinked my eyes again and motioned them to help me up.
      "Yeah, I did," I looked at the Commander, "I understand now. They need to die."
      "Who does? The Ahnaee?"
      "Yes. All of them. They're not even people anymore."
      The Commander's eyes turned to ice, "I, and my fleet are at your service, General."
      I took a deep breath. "Thank you, sir. Let's put our plan together."
      The Commander's entire demeanor changed, "We can make our ships look like moons of the larger planets of your star system and lay in wait for the enemy to pass by in route to attack you in the Panna ships in the inner system. Then we can all attack at once and totally destroy them. I do not intend to let any of them retreat."
      I blinked about three times, "I think we've got a plan. Can you conceal two of the Panna ships with the bulk of our fighter and attack ships as well? That way they'll see what looks like an easy mark on their way in."
      "Of course."
      "Then I think that's it. Let's work up the assignments."

President Dr. Yarah Santiago
Somewhere on The Rivers
Brazil

      I didn't want to leave the plantation, but the sense of my duty to the country as a whole began to really weigh on me. I thought about resigning, but then realized that there was nobody except the Colonel for me to resign to. And I thought having a military officer being the head of state would send the wrong message to both our people and the rest of the world.
      So when Colonel Branto said that there was already something of a new town in Porto Velho that they were calling Nova Porta, or New Port built just downstream of the marshy area that had been the original city. "A man they call Citteo has even started a radio station."
      Since I had told him that I would move the 'seat of government' to the town if there was a town, I had to go.

      And now I missed Mateo more than ever.
      Rodrigo, one of the young men who came and went regularly, said he knew where there was a boat we could use, and came back with a disaster of an old tub that leaked and stunk. And I'm not sure which it did more of.
      "My boat is a good boat," the young man said with more bravado than sense. "It will make the trip to Porto Velho just fine."
      I didn't have the heart to tell him that I would rather walk than even go out on that thing a stone's throw from shore to fish so I said, "We've got today and tomorrow to pack and load up. If your boat is still seaworthy after it is loaded, you will be the captain of my supply ship."
      "Yes Ma'am!" he said enthusiastically.

      As far as my own boat, Andro and Marina had converted his fishing canoe into something larger and far more stable by putting two smaller boats on each side as outriggers and then building a platform on it. To me it looked like the best thing in what we'd been calling our fleet and I was seriously thinking about naming it the Presidential Yacht just for the joke value of it.
      Colonel Branto had been talking about coming back to get me in the float plane, but I dissented as strongly as I could, and assured him that we would be in nearly constant contact and he could have his plane monitor us on our trip.

      Early on the second day I walked by the waterfront and saw Rodrigo's boat sitting with the stern underwater and the rest up it up to the sides in mud, and he was nowhere around.
      Later I heard that he had spent a lot of time yesterday patching his boat, and then putting cargo in it, and then patching it some more.
      "He thought that he had it OK, Senora, then he went to bed. When I came out early to start the chores I saw that it had sunk." One of the old women said.
      "Have you seen him yet this morning?"
      "Oh, no ma'am, they stayed up last night drinking some of that awful umbu wine that Jose has been making."
      I couldn't help it, the thought of the taste of that wine made my cheeks tighten involuntarily. Somebody had sent several kilos of the things to us from off to the East where they evidently had more of the little sweet but acidy fruits than they had any use for.

      After breakfast I heard through the others that Rodrigo had come out from wherever he'd slept off the previous night's tipple and found his boat swamped. From what they said, he shouted something about a demon in the river being out to get him, grabbed hold of the bow of his boat and tried to pull it out of the mud. All he succeeded in doing was ripping the front end of his boat clear off the rest of it.
      I found him sitting on the bank where he had fallen, with his head in his hands, with the broken piece of his boat at his feet.
      "I really thought it would be OK."
      "At least it broke here instead of downriver someplace. We'll repack everything and you can help us on Andro's boat when we leave in the morning."
      He looked up at me with wide eyes, "You still want me to help you, even after this?"
      "I need you to help me."
      He sat there for a moment, then nodded, "I will help you any way I can."
      "I'll get somebody to help you unload that stuff and see what is still good."
      "Oh, it will all be good, I knew that boat leaked so I packed it all very well. But I didn't think it would leak that bad."
      "I'll still send somebody to help you unload it and put it on another boat."
      "Thank you ma'am."

      The next morning we didn't get started as soon as I hoped we would, but we did get going before I thought we would. And once we got our order on the river worked out, things went well.
      Three groups of younger people led in long bodied lightweight canoes. They scouted ahead for obstructions in the river of any variety, including partially submerged logs, uncooperative wildlife, or even unfriendly people. And then if they found something, one of them would pull up and stand by to warn the rest of us. Then came my own boat with Rodrigo up front as lookout and lead paddle and Andro in the back with the rudder.
      Further behind we had several larger regular boats, and a whole flotilla of canoes, flat bottomed river boats, and all sorts of other vessels.
      It looked like we were moving the entire state, but in reality it was less than half of the population of our settlement at the Plantation. Others said they would join us if the new city became a reality, others said they wanted to go back to wherever they had come from, and a few would stay there and go on as it had now become their home.

      I knew my own limitations on the boat. Marina was much more competent with a paddle, and the others we had on board with us were as well, so I spent most of my time relaying whatever Rodrigo shouted back to us to Andro and vice versa. That, and I was doing a lot of thinking.
      I was the President of the largest country in South America, and I spent most of my days talking to old women about weaving plant fiber sleeping mats or treating minor illnesses and injuries. I knew nothing about politics, or anything else beyond what had become my world at the Plantation. I listened to the broadcasts from outside, and the updates on the war from the alien radio, but my own grasp of how all of the pieces fit together was limited. Or at least I thought they were.
      And so my thoughts went from a sense of obligation to the people of Brazil and my own oath as a physician, and then back again.

      We even lost track of how many days we'd spent on the river. It was three days or more down to the main Amazon, and then we had to make sure we found the right tributary that would take us upstream to Nova Porta Velho, which would take longer even with a couple of power boats pulling several of our boats against the current.
      Most nights we slept on the boats, listening to the river gurgle along between them, other nights we passed on a sandbar or island with fires burning and somebody standing watch to keep the rest of us safe, then we'd get up and go on again early in the morning.
      We had two boats of fishermen, and a hunter in one of the lead boats that managed to get a marsh deer or a peccary or something else to eat besides fish about every other day. Yes, I know, marsh deer were an endangered species. But I think they're having an easier time recovering after the recent events than my people are. And if I had to chose between eating more piraña, going to bed hungry, or have some roasted deer with my grilled fried bread, guess which I'll choose.

      Finally, after it seemed like we had lived on the river through the jungle for most of our lives and we would never get to anything that didn't have big snakes all over the place, every kind of biting or buzzing bug ever created, and a thunderstorm ever time you'd just gotten dried out after the morning mist burned off the river, we were being greeted by a bunch of kids running along the bank and a real Brazilian flag flying from a flagpole on a pier.
      I wasn't expecting anything except getting off the damned boat and onto dry land. I know I looked like living hell. I hadn't bathed in anything but river water in ages. My clothes needed to be burned and I'm not sure my hair will ever be the same.
      I was not expecting an official state greeting complete with a military band playing "Hino Nacional Brasileiro".

      I did my duty. I stood at attention on the pier and sang along. And even in my condition, the lyrics to our national anthem about our country being a ray of love and hope after we had defied death itself never seemed more appropriate. And I have to say it, I had tears streaming down my face, mixing with the mud on my cheeks and dripping onto my filthy blouse before it was done.
      "Madam President," Colonel Branto said from a line of several officers. All in resplendent and perfectly clean uniforms I might add. "Welcome. We have a hot bath and a strong caipirinha waiting on you in your new Presidential Apartment. Afterward, you may inspect the facility at your leisure, later, there is a dinner being prepared for all of you. My men will see to the rest of your party. Please," he bowed and gestured off to his left where a whitewashed building sat with another flag flying in front of it.
      "Thank you Colonel, that sounds wonderful." But I had to turn to Andro, Marina, and even Rodrigo, I smiled and hugged and kissed each one of them, "thank you, we made it."
      "Yes, ma'am," Rodrigo said, "I told you we would."
      I nodded to him, "Yes you did."

      The apartment was part of a larger building that including an office, and an actual three room medical suite that the Colonel said was so that I could continue my work as a physician. Then through the connecting door I saw my new home. But the first thing I wanted to do was to find that bath he had told me about.
      It was a real bath, of clean hot water with a soap that smelled like flowers, and a caipirinha that may have been flammable, but I needed both. A young woman named Ana Paula that said she had worked at the hospital in Ji-Parana before the attack was in there to help me. And I needed her help too. It took both of us to literally peel my shirt off. In pieces.
      "We were supposed to go there next. After the ceremony in Eirunepé," I said when she mentioned the hospital.
      "Yes ma'am, I was looking forward to meeting you. But then...."
      I didn't know what to say.
      "But I'm glad I finally did get to meet you. And now, you are the President," Ana Paula said sweetly.
      "And I get to meet you, and I'm glad I did."
      "Thank you ma'am. Now, just relax, I'll take your things to..." She looked at the pile of clothes that were beyond filthy.
      "To the dump," I offered as I stepped into the water that was almost too hot. But, compared to what I'd recently gotten used to, I wasn't going to complain at all.
      "Oh, no ma'am. We re-use everything now. Everything." She looked at the pile again. "Almost. I'll see if Tia-Avo wants them for something."
      "OK," I answered as I settled into the water and just enjoyed the feeling of getting clean. "Tell your aunt hello for me."
      "Oh, I'm sorry ma'am, she's not really my aunt, but she is everybody's aunt."
      "I understand," I smiled at an good old memory. "When I was a girl, we had a neighborhood grandmother. My own mother said that Vo Jaqi had been old when she was a girl."
      Ana Paula laughed with me, "so how old was she when you were little?"
      "I don't know, maybe ninety or more," I nodded at the memory of the old woman's face, "and she looked it. Her hair was pure white and she always wore it up on top of her head." I pushed my own hair up to show her, and winced at the touch of it. "Yuck, I forgot how dirty my hair was."
      "Just relax ma'am, when I come back, I'll wash it for you and check for bugs."
      "Yes. Please. That would be wonderful. I'm sure something has moved in and I want it moved out."

      I was washed, and Ana Paula trimmed some of the worst of the mess out of my hair. And I had a well fitting outfit that they said they'd found in a shipping container of clothes that would never be delivered. So after my second drink I felt like going out and doing the Colonel's inspection.
      "You look wonderful, ma'am." Ana Paula said to me as I inspected myself in a mirror.
      "Thank you," I said and handed her the empty cup. "Another one of those and I wouldn't feel anything. But, I'm ready. Where should I go?"
      "The Colonel is probably at the headquarters building."
      "I don't know where anything is. Would you be my guide?"
      "Of course ma'am."

      It was a whirlwind tour, and by the end of it, I was exhausted.
      I got to see the people that had traveled with me, and most had also had a chance to wash and change clothes and then see where they would be living and a few had even begun to move in. A few, Rodrigo for one, was thinking about going back.
      "You don't wish to be part of the Earth Defense Base we are building?" The Colonel said to him.
      "You're doing that here?"
      "That is why we moved. This base will be the center for the defense of the entire continent."
      His entire demeanor changed, "In that case, yes sir, I mean, yes ma'am. I mean."
      "We know what you mean," I said to him.
      "And now," Colonel Branto said, "I believe our dinner is ready."
      I followed his eyes and saw a pole building with lights on inside. Electric lights, and music.
      "You've got electricity." Rodrigo said with wide eyes.
      "For four hours in the evenings and two in the mornings from the hydro station south of town," the Colonel said to us, "and we're working at extending that even more by repairing more of the dam."
      "Colonel Branto, I am impressed. Thank you."
      He bowed and then extended his arm to escort me to the dinner.
      And suddenly, I felt like I really was the President.

Bo and Sammi
The Mid-Atlantic, USA

      One of the things I that continued to surprise me was how remarkably creative we could be. Of course some of our efforts backfired, sometimes spectacularly, like when we overloaded the solar array with devices and we found out just how hot wires can get and that melted plastic can really stink. But fortunately for all of us, those incidents were relatively rare and we always seemed to learn from our mistakes.
      The first thing we did was to run a good power supply to the radios instead of relying on things like somebody being willing to ride a bicycle to turn an alternator. Once we found out that several people out in the world had started broadcasting again I wanted to make sure we could hear any news, especially if it involved those that had gone off to fight. So we put together an amazing contraption of solar arrays, voltage regulators, RV batteries and whatnot that not only worked, it worked well.
      Until we overloaded it that is. But we learned our lesson, and once the shed aired out we fixed it.
      Fortunately we didn't lose anything critical, which means something that we couldn't replace with what we had on hand, and we were back in business in short order.
      Once our communication with the outside world was restored we worked out a way to run or charge the things we needed, and then a selection of the things we wanted, like the rechargeable batteries we used for flashlights and the walkie talkies.

      But then again, compared to some, we were still as primitive as we could be.
      We'd heard that a group down in Laurel had built a furnace on the packed mud where the Rocky Gorge Lake used to be and were melting down stuff to recast into all sorts of other stuff. The operation was said to be really crude, and the only things they'd been successful at re-forging were aluminum and mild steel, but it was a start.
      Others had become experts at salvaging and repurposing whatever they could find, and were building a barter system to trade things with other groups that were doing the same thing.
      Another group had taken as their mission the job of rebuilding bridges and making the roads more passable where they'd been shattered.
      The other day on the radio, some guy from Windsor, Canada had announced a partnership with a group of survivors in Detroit to re-establish ferry and boat service on a couple of the Lakes. Again, with an eye on developing some sort of trading arrangement with those around the Lakes.
      We'd thought about working out a trade agreement with those in our own neighborhood, but so far mutual distrust and suspicion that somehow one side or the other would come out ahead on the deal prevented anything more than swapping a handful of fishing weights for a couple of arrowheads. But at least we were able to keep talking to the groups from upstream. Both of whom appeared to be a lot worse off than we were.
      It was the group that came down from Cumberland that really woke us up. They had rebuilt a steam engine and were making a trial run to see how far they could go before being stopped by something like a bridge being out or a tunnel having collapsed.
      "We're doing OK," their leader said to us. "Since we've got coal and water, we decided to use them. If something can be run on steam, we're running it. We set to work and even got the old power plant back up. It may not be pretty, and I doubt if we'd ever get a permit for it if somebody come around to inspect it. But it works."
      "What if it breaks?"
      "We'll either fix it or do without. So far, we've been able to come up with something most of the time. And considering they blasted most of the city like they were mad at it, I think we've done pretty damned good."
      From what we'd heard, the enemy had missed Cumberland during the initial attack. So when they came back through, they went after it with a vengeance. A traveler had come through not long after the attack and said the town looked like a giant had hit it with a sledgehammer to the point that the river had changed route and was going around further to the west and north of where it had been and didn't come back to its old way until after it ran into the old drainage channel by the high school, only to do the same thing at the airport just downstream. Evidently what had been the airport was now a lake and the rest of that loop in the river was now an island.
      Those that had survived the massive attack had taken awhile to get over the shock, and then
      "We brought a couple of carloads of the railroad ties up from the factory and just started rebuilding. We needed lumber and they were down there so, we borrowed them."
      "You use what you've got," we agreed.

      The good thing about our discussions with the group from Cumberland was that since we were effectively the end of the line for their rail road, and not far from here a good sized barge could navigate the river without too much trouble, we discussed our town being a shipping point for stuff they were sending out and then sorting out what they were bringing back up.
      "It'll be a lot of work to move stuff over the hill and all that," they said.
      "Less work than either re-digging the tunnel or building a new bridge."
      He raised an eyebrow and then stuck out his hand, "partners?"
      "Partners."

The Fleet
      "Commander, one of my advisors has a most unusual suggestion for the attack on the A Ne home world, if you would wish to hear it." General Muller indicated the person in question.
      The Commander regarded the slightly built Oriental man with thinly veiled skepticism, but then he bowed his head slightly.
      The General nodded, "Mister Qi-shi, You have the floor."
      "Thank you sir." Qi-shi said after clearing his throat. This was the most important recommendation he had ever made in his life. "As I was listening to the overall discussion I noticed one thing about the A Ne. They are expecting a large scale attack force and are prepared for the same." He pushed a button on his controller and the overall display changed to show the entire A Ne system and its various planets and features. "The direct route into their central system is formidably defended. Everything approaching on the direct trade route in or out is heavily scanned and perhaps even boarded. Any ship not passing muster is attacked."
      "That is common knowledge." Commander Pike said.
      "But they have a large number of outer colonies, mines on planetoids, space stations and all of that throughout their system, and the two neighboring star systems as well."
      "They do."
      "According to the Panna information, there is a large number of robotic ships that operate between those facilities. They deliver supplies, ferry domestic passengers, and...."
      "Use one of them to deliver a tetron bomb to the planet," Commander Pike said with the first open emotion anybody had seen from him. "It would have to be heavily shielded from their routine scans, and it would take some time for it to reach the target. But it could be done. General, your advisor is a genius."
      "Thank you, but actually sir, I would propose to use three groups of seven of those ships to deliver a maximum load of both tetron and anti-matter warheads to each of the A Ne stars. It is something else the Panna have theorized, but never tested. For obvious reasons."
      "You mean? ... My God," the Admiral said as her face drained of color.
      Commander Pike's brow furrowed, "Do you believe that would cause a stellar core cascading over-reaction?"
      Qi-shi turned to Paige.
      "It should do something like that," the young woman said. "Neither element would do it by itself, but the tetron explosions should destabilize the outer layers first and then the following massive anti-matter injection may initiate something resembling a localized supernova beneath them, that should then spread. It will take all the antimatter the Panna have and can produce between all of their ships, but I think we can do it."
      "At the very least, the resultant massive solar flares would disable everything in their inner systems for a very long time." Qi-shi added.
      The Comman nodded, "Which, given how dependant they are on their technology, will be just as effective." Then he had a question for the Panna, "Can you produce their courier ships?"
      A rather short Panna answered for his species, "Sir, they used to buy our ships before they subjugated us. Many of the ones they use are still ours. We can send the request to the factories to build new ships that replicate those that have been in service for that long, and make the payload part of the structure as they requested and then send them on their way."
      General Muller looked at the Commander and smiled, "Well? Is it worth a try."
      "Build your ships."

Shoichi and Teruo
      "I still wish the Asian base was in Japan," I said over our dinner.
      Teruo nodded, "Yes my friend, but they said that it must be in an area not full of Earthquakes."
      "There is that," I looked at the bowl, "and I really do miss rice."
      "I miss real food, I know they are trying to make it different, but it is still the same."
      I saw Lieutenant Inoue coming toward us and went to stand up but he waved for me to sit down. Then he joined us with his own bowl of food and a container of water.
      "Thank you for joining us Lieutenant." Teruo said respectfully.
      "It is my pleasure. But I did want to ask you something." He said with a smile in his eyes, "both of you."
      "Yes, sir."
      "The new Earth Defense base they will build in Mongolia. Did you wish to go to it or to stay with the Panna fleet as fighter pilots?"
      I glanced at Teruo and he at me.
      "I'm sorry sir, I didn't know we had a choice," I said.
      "Me either."
      "You do. The Panna have said repeatedly that they are not good fighter pilots, and they are most impressed with us. Us humans. They wish to have some of us stay on and defend them and their home world until the war is over."
      Once again I looked at Teruo and he at me. "I don't know, sir," Teruo said.
      "What are you going to do?" I asked him.
      "I am thinking about staying with the fleet," he said and glanced around the room. "I like this." Then he gestured, "if they could do something about the food it would be better."
      Teruo and I exchanged long looks. He nodded so I answered the Lieutenant, "Then we will stay as well."
      "If they can fix the food," Teruo said with a grin.
      "I'll ask General Singh if something can be done about that. He was going to stay on with our group." The Lieutenant answered, then he looked at his bowl and frowned, "remembering to ask him will not be a problem."

Corporal O'Neill
      I would rather spend the rest of my life without music, at all, than have to play another song so the Panna can dance for another minute.

Abbey
      The boys are sound asleep after another training flight learning how to fly in a close support formation for the coming attack on the enemy fleet that is expected to attack Earth.
      I could hear in the Admiral's voice that she was worried more about this one than the first battle because they Annunaki will be expecting us to come after them.
      Listening to her made me worry about Jay and Amory. They won't be in a fighter that can maneuver and dodge around the bad guys. The Panna told me they were increasing the armor on the ship, but I was still worried about them, like a mother should be.
      And that was just it. Amory was becoming just as much a son to me as Jay was, and I didn't want to see anything happen to either one of them. The young man was alone here. There wasn't even anybody from his home town in America, and the other Americans that were here were either all from the same college or military unit. Whereas me and Jay had Paige and several others from our area of Australia. So we basically adopted Amory and he became an honorary Aussie.

      The training was to give the pilots that had taken naturally to the landing support operation practice doing something that wasn't natural, but worked very well given the capabilities of the ships. In a close formation they could direct all of their weapons at a given point and the combined firepower was absolutely awesome. Or at least, that's what the Panna said about it. And they convinced the Admiral that it was so, and she ordered the Japanese flight officer to look into it.
      Warrant Officer Sato was very thorough in his evaluation of the formation. I watched on the monitor as he had three ships fly in a triangle and attack a single drone target. Then there were five or six ships, and then nine, and so on.
      He came up with the idea that six ships in a five pointed star formation with the lead vessel in the center was the most effective configuration to attack a larger ship. It was also one of the most difficult for the pilots to fly manually. But once the ships learned what their pilots were wanted to do, they were able to maintain the formation throughout the attack, then separate during the escape maneuver to avoid any hostile fire, with little problem.
      Finally I heard Sato tell the Admiral that he was satisfied with the arrangement and their execution of it from his ship in the center of the star formation.
      "Very good, sir. Bring them in and congratulate them for me." The Admiral said with a smile on her face. "I'll instruct the other units to begin their training as soon as you're in."
      "They did do a good job didn't they?" I said to her.
      She seemed surprised that I would speak to her so casually, but she didn't scold me for it, "Yes they did. You are the mother of one of the gunners aren't you?"
      "Yes, ma'am. Jay. And I'm kind of a surrogate mother for Amory, his pilot."
      "Well then, you may tell them well done as well."
      "Thank you ma'am." I answered then went to the flight bay to see them when they landed.

Spade
      "Why do you care? Are you taking a survey or something?" A female pilot said to me with an edge to her voice.
      "Actually I am. I'm trying to find out what kind of foods I need to get for those that are going to stay on board. Unless you like eating that glop," I pointed to a couple of empty bowls nearby.
      The pilot lost her attitude real quick. "You know what I miss. It's going to sound silly...."
      "The last woman I talked to said grilled cheese sandwiches. I don't judge anymore."
      Another pilot from her unit looked over before she could answer, "Put me down for meat loaf. With ketchup." He said.
      She nodded, "Trace always tried to get double portions of it back home. But I miss soup. Real soup, you know, hot, with noodles and vegetables in it."
      "You're making me hungry," her squad mate said.
      "I've been hungry since we got here." I answered and added meat loaf to the list and put another checkmark by soup.

General Muller
      The Panna finally confirmed that the Annunaki had decided to go for it. They were dispatching two battle groups to the Earth system to wipe out all sign of resistance and defiance. According to the Panna's translations, the order from whatever they called the central authority of the A Ne was that they were to annihilate all higher life on the planet and make it ready for colonization by Reptilian laborers.
      "So," I said as the weight of that sunk in, "if we don't succeed, they'll go ahead and finish us off."
      "We'll succeed." General Singh said confidently.
      "General," the Panna called Happiest said, "we have news about the courier ships."
      "That was quick," I answered.
      "Was it not supposed to be done quickly?"
      "That's not what I meant. I'm just surprised there is news already." I stammered.
      "What is it?" General Singh asked to rescue me from myself.
      "Five of the courier ships that are bombs have been completed and three have already been dispatched into A Ne space. One of them was instructed to pick up a load of supplies and carry it to a base, and it has done so. It has not been challenged by the control authorities." Happiest said.
      Another one without a name was just as excited, "within the next duty cycle three more will be ready to go."
      "Now that is good news indeed." General Singh said. "Thank you."
      I wasn't so sure, but I hoped that he was right. I still didn't feel right dooming an entire race of people, even if they did have it coming. For some reason I suddenly realized that I did have an immortal soul, and it was not pleased with the mortal side of me.
      "It would be less pleased if I let them wipe out humanity." I said under my breath to myself.
      The chill passed with a deep breath.
      "OK," I said to everybody, and everything, within reach of my voice. "Now we need to move. How long will it take us, and them, to get there?"
      Paige answered both in one shot. "At maximum speed our entire fleet can be deployed in our home system in just over three days. At best speed for a combat group coming from known A Ne strongholds, they could be there in about five days. As they are ordering in two groups, it may take them a little longer to coordinate the attack."
      "Then let's get going," I said, "raise the Commander, let him know that the show is beginning." I paused, "No, don't say it that way, say..."
      Qi-shi is good, "I know what to say to the Commander, sir."

      Once again the actual journey in whatever artificial part of the universe the Panna tunnel through with their energy field was... no, I don't understand a word of it. Paige does, and the Panna do, it works, and that's good enough for me.
      Anyway, the journey was unnoticeable. The ship didn't even feel like it was moving. Until we arrived somewhere out around Saturn and that overwhelming wave of fatigue and nausea and everything else swept over us all at once as we slowed down.
      "I hate that," I said as I held myself up while my knees did a Panna dance.
      "I believe it to be a reaction of our inner ear to the re-entry into normal space-time." Paige said with a green tint to her cheeks.
      "And it doesn't bother the Panna because they don't have ears."
      "No sir."
      "Of course not."

      Three of the Panna ships separated from the larger combined ship and moved to positions out in the system with various parts of the Commander's fleet. Then as we watched the monitor, the dispersed ships vanished into the background of planets and moons and asteroids and all of that.
      As part of their cover, they went as electronically dark and silent as possible, which meant they were only using passive sensors and would not reply to any communications until the battle began.
      The remaining combined ship moved slowly into a high orbit looking up at the South Pole of Earth and we began to at least go through the motions of building the Earth Defense Bases so if the enemy looked, they'd see that the intelligence they had received was true.

      "I'm sorry sir, there is no up or down in space. In most instances, 'down' is where your feet are." Paige said to me as I marveled at how beautiful Antarctica was.
      "Where is Earth in relation to the way we're standing here now?" I asked her.
      She checked a console before she answered, then she faced me and pointed slightly down and to the left. "About there."
      "OK, we're looking down at it then."
      "Yes sir."

      And we waited.

      "General. General." Happiest and Artist were both twitching with excitement.
      "Yes?"
      "We have just confirmed that the news that was sent out, as you said, in the clear, was relayed by a nearby enemy scout ship out of this system to their attack force."
      "Did they see us come in and split up?"
      "We do not believe so, the ship is small and appears to be in orbit of the second planet. It could not have seen our fleet unless it was looking for it, but it has now seen us."
      "Good. When the attack starts, relay its position to some of our guys and tell them to make sure they get it."
      "Yes, General."

Arrival

      "General, do you think we'll have to wait much longer for the enemy?" one of the Panna asked me as they rotated their duty stations.
      "Hhmmmm. Probably not," I answered as I looked up at the display.
      The Panna's eye stalk turned upward and it visibly trembled as it saw what I saw.
      "The enemy has found us." It said after a long moment.
      Then I turned toward the rest of the staff. "Would now be the appropriate time to say something corny like 'all hands to battle stations'?"
      "Yes sir, I think that would be a very good idea," Qi-shi answered.

Part Five

President Dr. Yarah Santiago
Nova Porta

      I'd forgotten what the Panna looked like. It took me a good three or four minutes to get over the shock of seeing them again, and then more than that to get over the shock of seeing Mateo again.
      "Madam President, it is wonderful to see you again."
      I know it wasn't very dignified, but I had to hug him.
      Then I could greet the Panna delegation and the Indian General who was overseeing the building of our defenses.
      Then Colonel Branto took us all to see where we'd already begun to construct part of the base.

      As we walked across the cleared field and the Panna told us where the various features would be, I found myself holding hands with Mateo.

Chris Banks
World Press International, Bahrain

      When I filed my first report as the new stringer for World Press from the new Middle Eastern Earth Defense base I had to stop and think about how my byline used to read. Then I had a smile on my face from ear to ear as I typed up a dispatch that the Prince had promised me would go out over the Panna's communication network about the new base to both the rest of the world and their fleet.
      The only thing he wanted me to make sure I mentioned was that even though the country of Bahrain was no more, the new base would honor their memory as it defended Allah's world from the alien infidels.
      OK, I'd been in the Middle East long enough to know that that sort of hyperbole and posturing statement was as much a part of the landscape as sandstorms and niqabs. So I included it, and then they sent it off.

      For my first news story in however long it really wasn't much. But I did include the line that the Panna's construction machines were something to see.

      Three large robot things went across the dessert where the airbase and even the race track had been, and when they were done, the land was level and any obstruction had been removed. Then they reversed direction and on the way back they built roads and landing pads and foundations for buildings. The last two passes took considerably longer, but still it was only, by Mister Kellen's watch's stopwatch, five hours and forty two minutes from when the Panna ordered the machines to begin to when five fighters and three escort ships were landing to begin their deployment.
      The space ships were remarkable, and the human crews that manned them were mostly from Arab countries.
      One of the men introduced himself as Usman and said that he had spent some time in Bahrain before the attack and he was sorry to see that it was gone.
      I asked him what he had done in the first battle against those that had demolished our world.
      "I led my fighters against the forces of the Devil himself to free the planet of the aliens that have delivered to us the means of defeating our mutual enemy."
      "Very good sir." I said to him, then went in search of a spokesman, if that is the word, for the Panna.

      At the end of the article I gave my impressions of the Panna.
      Personally, I had always hated anything with tentacles. It was one reason I avoided the seafood side of Chinese buffets. I didn't even like seeing things like that in aquariums. But I do have to say this for them. They can build some awesome machines that can do some awesome things.
      That and, individually, they're not bad beings once you get used to them.
      And I'm sure they feel the same about us. Especially since the one that said its name was Prancer told me that his merge-mates at home had a off world pet that had two eyes. And I think it was doing something like laughing when it said it.

Bo and Sammi
The Mid-Atlantic, USA

      "You'll never be able to see it." I said to my wife again. "He said they were in a high polar orbit."
      Sammi just shook her head and kept looking at the sky, "He's up there someplace, so I'm going to look."
      I nodded and looked as well, "We've got all night, we might see his ship."
      I heard her take a deep breath, "I just don't want to see a battle, if we see somebody start shooting, I want to go inside."
      "We will. We will go wait it out, just like parents have always done when their sons have gone off to war."

Panna Combined Ship
Earth Orbit

      "There they are," Paige said staring at the display.
      "Where, I don't see anything."
      "Just watch it."
      Several tiny dots were moving, becoming more numerous, then, getting ever so slightly larger.
      "How far out?"
      "Still several million kilometers, too far to go after yet."
      "Can our other ships see them?"
      "I don't know, maybe. Do you want me to signal them?"
      "Not yet, let's wait until.... I don't know, we can see the white's of their eyes or something."
      "Yes sir."

      The dots on the screen grew larger faster than I expected.
      "Put me on," I said to the Panna at the communications consol. Its eye stalk bobbed up and down after it worked the controls. "All ships, stand by."
      Another minute.
      Three of the enemy's lead ships fired several bursts at us.
      I felt the ship take a minor impact somewhere.
      I waited another minute. Now we could clearly see the larger ship coming in surrounded by swarms of fighters.

      Now was right.
      "All ships all stations. Launch and engage at will. All defensive batteries power up and pick your targets. Commander, come and get them."

      I've heard the ancient stories about a war in the heavens. Such tales are part of the legends of India and the Maya and others.
      What we went through with the Annunaki and their Reptilian cannon fodder was probably a good approximation for anybody with a decent view of it.

      The huge display over our heads had a comprehensive view of everything, including several groups of fighters rising from the three newly completed bases on Earth, the base ship I was on, and now the two incoming allied battle groups led by the huge ships of the Commander's fleet with Panna ships acting as fighter carriers. And in the middle of the closing circle, two batches of different dots with a whole bunch of tiny blips around them.

      The scene went from somewhat serene and maybe a little surreal to absolute chaos in the space of about two minutes.
      Once the real shooting started, a pattern developed in a hurry. Yes we caught the enemy by surprise, but apparently it was not as big a surprise as we had hoped it would be. They moved into a defensive position and kept moving around each other which served pretty well to confuse our gunners.

      According to the Panna who were monitoring the enemy's communications, they were not expecting the combined force that jumped them at all. They had told their Reptilians to be ready for humans in Panna fighters and mounted defensive batteries on the motherships and they were now facing something new again. And it showed.
      That, and their masters hadn't fixed the heat vent vulnerability in all of their ships either. We got word that a couple of them had installed extra shielding over the port, but not all.
      "Lazy and arrogant is right," I said as I watched a column of fire erupting from the backside of one of their battleships as it spiraled out of control, and out of the fight.
      "But that one is heading for us." I nodded toward another enemy battleship on the screen. In a second it launched a massive barrage of weapons fire at us.
      The Panna ship jolted and shook with the impacts even as our own gunners and a flight of fighters returned fire.
      The two ships stood toe to toe for what seemed like eternity then I saw a formation of our fighters heading toward it with a flight of the Chous ships right behind and to one side of them.
      "Allahu Ackbar!" I heard Usman shout from the com.
      The two attack formations worked wonders on the enemy ship, but this one neither retreated nor exploded. It held its course and continued fighting, but with a somewhat diminished capacity for destruction.
      "He's going to go down fighting," I said to myself.
      Now the second Dreadnaught from the Toller Alliance was in on the fight and was dividing its time equally between the other Command Ship and its two escorting battleships. Fighters from both groups were swarming around the three larger ships and every sort of weapon available was being fired every which way all at once.
      "Now that is a battle," Paige said as we watched the fight.
      "Not clean and neat like in the movies," I observed.
      "Or as quick."
      The Dreadnaught was taking a beating even as it dealt out at least as good as it was getting to the enemy.

      And every time one of our own ships vanished from the screen in a blip of light and dust my stomach tightened.

      My stomach got to be very tight.

      Very Tight Indeed.

      "Sir, three incoming ships!" Paige shouted over everything else that was going on.
      "General, it is the Hu, they are coming to attack the A Ne as well." One of the Panna said.
      "Well good for them. Can we tell them to go help that Dreadnaught?"
      "No sir, if we say that to them, they may withdraw."
      "Oh, that figures."
      The Hu's ships were of similar design to their distant cousins the Chous, just larger. In a moment, they were doing exactly what I had wanted them to do, primarily draw some of the enemy fire away from the Dreadnaught that was in trouble until more of our own forces could come to its aid.

      From every movie I'd ever seen, space battles were supposed to be over fairly quickly. This one had now gone on for nearly an hour and I had no idea how much longer it would continue. The Annunaki were not packing it in, and we couldn't.

      Then one of the enemy's command ships just flat out exploded without warning after coming under a ferocious attack from the Commander's flagship.
      "Thank you for that opportunity General," the Commander's voice said over the communication link. "We had engaged that very ship before. This time the outcome was different."
      "My pleasure, sir." I said not knowing what else to say.

      That turned the tables in our favor.

      One of the battleships was seized and boarded by the Commander's forces. Another was destroyed.
      None of the transports even got near Earth. For most of the battle, several of them formed a group like an old wagon train, and ended up coming to a bad end anyway.
      And as for the scout ship out by Venus?
      "History. Sir." I heard a young man answer the open question.
      "Me and Jay watched it crash into the planet, it was cool to see," another added. "Sir."

      "The Hu are leaving, sir." Paige said as the battle wound down and the remaining Annunaki either surrendered or died. "Heading back the way they came."
      One of their ships had taken some damage and was decidedly off pace, but all three were pulling out and no mistake.
      "We didn't even have a chance to thank them." I said shaking my head at the departing ships.
      "That is the way they are, General," one of the Panna said.
      "At least they helped, on our side, that's what counts."
      "Yes."

Aftermath

      It was costly. We still don't know how many pilots we lost. One combat ship that we thought was lost was then found by a patrol and the crew was rescued. The one Toller Dreadnaught had to be abandoned while the Panna's machines fixed it, the damage it has sustained was beyond the capacity of the automatic repair systems to take care of. Especially since much of those systems had been destroyed as well. There were hundreds killed and injured just on it. Some of the other ships were in just as bad of shape, with several of the Chous ships missing and presumed destroyed.
      The merged ship we were on took massive damage and the Panna said that they couldn't separate it right now if they had to until it was repaired.
      But we had won.
      That battle.

      It was a full day after the battle before we could even begin to celebrate the victory and properly mourn the dead.

      As the mood lightened among the people who were working their way back into our room from wherever they had spent the battle, in fighters or on other Panna motherships or whatever, I noticed that Paige was silent and even had tears in her eyes as she watched a small display on her console.
      "What?"
      "The courier ships."
      "What about them? Did the Annunaki stop them?"
      "No," she said softly. "Eight of them are moving into position to fly into the star in the first system in the prescribed order. We'll know within the hour if it is going to work."
      "So why are you so...."
      "I think it's going to work."
      "And if it does?"
      "Then in a hours and eighteen minutes after the antimatter detonations in the core, everything on the two inhabited planets will be vaporized by the expanding outer layers of the sun. And not long after that, the planets themselves will be destroyed by the shockwave as the core collapses."

      All of the sudden I didn't feel like celebrating either.

      "We didn't start this war," I said softly.
      Paige nodded and pointed to the display where the first ship was approaching the star. "But we're liable to finish it."

      We stood silent for a long time.

      Then the Commander was on the communicator.
      "General Muller, I congratulate you and your staff, and the Panna as well, we are receiving the information that the star has exploded."
      "As are we Commander. I was going to wait until it had reached the targets before I made any statement. Something may still go wrong."
      "Ahh, yes. The Squeezle Maxim. 'If it is at all possible for something to fail, it shall.' I understand completely. I will resume contact to confirm our success."
      "Very good sir. I hope we shall have that conversation instead of the other."
      "As do I sir. I shall stand by."

      "General?" I heard Mateo say to me after the Commander's image faded from view.
      The voice brought me back to reality.
      "Oh, hello Mateo, I didn't know you'd come back up." I turned around and there he was, with some woman I'd never seen before.
      "We just arrived during," he nodded toward the screen that was showing the expanding wave of devastation. "General, I am happy to report that the Brazilian base is up and running, and several damaged ships have landed there for repair, I believe one of them is from the Chous, they said their communications was out and they will report in as soon as possible," he said, then he nodded at one of the Panna and turned to the woman. Now his image was on the largest display for all to see and hear. "General, defenders of Earth, it is my distinct honor and privilege to present the President of Brazil, Doctor Yarah Santiago. And the commander of South America's Earth based forces, Colonel Branto."
      I was not in any sort of mood for this kind of thing, but, I was a professional soldier and as such, I did it.
      "Madam President. Colonel. An honor, I assure you." I said and shook their hands and bowed as many of the people in the room applauded.
      The lady smiled warmly as she took my hand, then she faced the people, "General Muller, and all of you, thank you, thank you for what you have done for all of humanity."
      I glanced over at the monitor near Paige, the outer layers of the Annunaki's home planet's star were about halfway to the two inner worlds of that system. Everything on those worlds had only minutes left to live.
      "We did it all, for humanity." I said.
      "General," Mateo said, "they deserve to see it."
      "See what?"
      "Annihilation, madam President. Of two of the home worlds of our enemy." Paige said softly. "Thousands of millions of their people are about to die. Just as they killed our people."
      She looked at Mateo with something akin to panic in her eyes, "the whole planet?"
      "Yes, ma'am. Two of them."
      "Yes, we should see that," the Colonel said.
      "I agree." She finally said.
      Now the largest monitor showed the exploded star and the bubble of living energy that was now spreading ruin throughout that system.
      "Who's taking this picture?" Colonel Branto asked as we watched.

      One of the Panna answered, "This image is being relayed by one of the A Ne's own space monitoring stations, it is just outside of the orbit of the fourth planet where they have a command array."
      "The array will be destroyed as well, right?" Mateo asked.
      "Yes."

      The room was silent until after the wave of stellar matter had washed over the planet.
      There was some scattered applause, and even a few cheers. But mostly, it was stunned silence and a few murmured prayers.

      "All communications from the A Ne on the planets have stopped." One of the Panna at the monitoring console said after a couple of minutes.

      "Young lady." President Santiago said to Paige. "How many people just died?"
      "We don't know exactly, but the best estimates I've seen said that there were about two and a half billion on the smaller planet, and almost five billion on the larger one. And possibly another three or four million on a couple of space habitats. I don't know if there were any manned ships still in the system or not."
      "Almost eight billion dead."
      "Yes ma'am."

      The image of the Commander was back.
      "Congratulations to your staff General. It is a Great Victory."
      I knew protocol demanded that I reply to the Commander, it took me biting the insides of my cheeks to get it out, but I did.
      "And congratulations to you as well Commander, you had the original plan for the action against their home sector."
      "An honor to share the victory with you sir." He said just as formally as he ever said anything. "I am told the other ships will finish their missions shortly."
      "Yes, sir."

      "Other ships?" The President asked me as the Commander faded from view.
      "Yes ma'am. They occupied three solar systems in close proximity. We dispatched those weapons to each. This was the first."
      "Oh my Lord. How many more people?" She whispered.
      The Panna answered before Paige could, "There is only one inhabited planet in the second system, but there are several orbital and deep space structures. The other system has three planets with their people on them."
      "I'm not good at war," the lady said in a moment, "I will leave it to you. Colonel, if you wish to observe, I need to go find someplace to sit down."
      "Yes ma'am."
      "I'll take care of her sir," Mateo said with one arm around the President and the other holding her hand.

      The image from the first system ended when the wave of plasma from the star reached the monitoring satellite.
      But in moments, there was other news.
      "Sir, the attack on the second star has failed, several of the courier ships were either intercepted or failed to detonate. However, enough damage was done to the star that it is now unstable and the Annunaki are pulling their capital assets out of the system. And they are abandoning the people on the planet in orbit of the star to whatever happens to them and their star."

      The Commander called even the failure of the second attack a success as it disrupted the A Ne's base of operations in that system.
      "I have heard from many alliance worlds. Today is being marked as a day of celebration and our actions are being proclaimed worthy of legend."
      "Thank you commander." I said and bowed my head slightly, then I looked back toward him. "Have you had any information about the third system?"
      "Not as of yet sir. All communications with that region has been cut off."
      "Understandable." I answered.
      "Yes it is. We may dispatch a flight of our long range scouts to see what has happened."
      "Very well, keep me advised when you hear anything."
      "Yes sir. I remain, at your service."
      "Which honors us." I said as respectfully as I could.

      I looked over at the Panna. Then they looked back at me.
      "I want to send a message, open and clear, to the enemy. To any of them that are still out there, their bases, whatever. Is that possible?"
      "Of course General. What do you wish to say to them?"

The Message

      "This message is to the A Ne. To the Annunaki. To the Nephalis. To whatever you call yourselves. No matter what you were to us in our past, you are now our enemy. We will fight you. Now. And Forever."

-end book one-

Continued in Book Two


The Desk Fiction Collection

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