The fleet held its place in the heavens, caught in the invisible web of the unknown assailants. Their ships bore no weapons systems, perhaps because they weren't needed. The boarding parties had handily crippled the ability of the fleet to do anything. Things were dire for the crew of every vessel... except for the Major Jellyfish transports.
They had completed their manoeuvres, positioning themselves at key points within the fleet and between the enemy ships. Using their onboard systems and an entire race's concerted efforts, they learnt how the intruders were appearing within the other ships. Entanglement tunnels had placed them silently inside each ship. If these were broken, the beings would cease to exist both in the fleet's ship and their own. Each transport ship was positioned perfectly to disrupt these tunnels. The aquatic race, evacuated from their homeworld to join this chaotic mission, launched their attack.
Aderin screamed as the thing viciously slashed through his comm officer, casting the man's body across the room. The others were firing and scattering, hitting creature and friends alike. They were long past panic, and the other ships were likely doing as poorly. There was no defence against such as these. The thing reared up before him, its glowing pod exposed. Aderin fired at it, a weak spot perhaps... and it vanished with a wailing scream.
Blinking uncertainly, for the screaming continued, but quickly turned to fearful murmurs, then searching. The ship was quiet. No screams or tearing metal nor weapons fire. Just people, people scared and exhausted and relieved. They stared up, knowing that the ship was suddenly bare of the things, and to avoid looking at the fallen at their feet.
The systems were powering up again. They had control.
"It's happening," said Se. They were well past the enemy ships, now dormant from the Major Jellyfish's disruption wave. Behind them lay the cored planet with the great structure nestled within it. The texture of the outer surface had shifted slightly. It seemed fragile, like an egg shell.
"It won't be long now," said Doctor Xecia. She was back in her intellectual mindset and monitoring everything that was happening as they sped away. This was going to be quite a show. "Are the satellites in position at the evacuated planets?"
"Yes, they were in position several days ago. A recent check shows them responsive and still isolated," replied Se in his scarred voice.
"Perfect. Overlay the dominant historical readings as it happens," she said smiling. Hopefully this would be something new.
"Captain Aderin! The Inir have launched their missiles at the structure. They've received message from the Major Jellyfish that the structure has destabilised. The strike is going to take out the base," reported a medic, acting as the replacement comm officer.
A message on his chair arm revealed a similar order. They were to fire on the top of the structure once the kinetic missiles struck. All ships were reoriented to bear on the planet. They waited... and then it struck. Little pops and glows as the missiles impacted their targets, peppering the base like popcorn, but visibly freeing the structure of the planet. It began to list sideways, which was impressive for a structure of that size.
The order was unnecessary, as every other ship suddenly alighted with fire. They rained down the concerted power of the fleet on the structure. Where before their attacks merely reflected or were diffused on the surface, this time they punched clean through. Something had changed, it was like kicking in a paper castle.
A tremor ran through space suddenly and the energy beams tracing from ship to planet visibly warped as gravity waves emanated from the thing. It began to collapse in on itself.
"Cease fire. Get us to a safe distance," said Captain Aderin. Then he looked down at his console. A new mission, flashing red. Something critical beyond all measure. It read: "RUN!"
"Get us out of here!" screamed Aderin without looking up.
The structure imploded, sort of. Space itself twisted and convulsed, then burst outwards in a miasma of visual chaos. Every vessel that was able turned and fled as fast as their systems would allow. Even the transports broke formation and blinked out of sight. Aderin's ship was not the last to leave. The enemy intruders were folded into space, left behind in the blast.
Across the vast distance from that barren exoplanet and into the Andonian nearby systems, the evacuated planets simultaneously convulsed and tore. The Major Jellyfish homeworld cracked in half, its molten core spilling out into space. Others burst under sudden outward gravitational pressure while two spawned gravitic fissures that launched and twisted about like water spouts. Those that had been displaced without explanation suddenly saw why. The galaxy was torn.
They found a safe place to hide near a shop. Terrick and Elacin stopped to catch their breath. Things were getting completely out of control. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Then it got worse.
"Terrick, look!" shouted Elacin, pointing up.
Above them, the sky seemed to tear down the middle. A black rift opened up and points of light cut through. The two of them screamed, as the very world itself screamed with them.
Sunlight dripped forth across the plains of Andonia, a day and a night passed. Tauo roused himself from his slumber of exhaustion beneath a collapsed house. The fighting had gone on all night. Eggdelene had run for help long ago, but he very much doubted he would see her again. Everyone had run, either away from the cities or into the skies. He wasn't sure which was the safer choice, as explosions lit the skies for hours and debris rained down from orbit.
Some resistance had been put up, but the entire military force of Andonia as well as all capable civilian ships were off world for some reason unbeknownst to him. He cast about for survivors.
The sky had an acrid flavour to it, and visibly burned. Those little ships were patrolling the skies, and strange repetitive markings in the mud indicated they had ground forces moving about now too. He became suddenly aware of how many little eyes and little turrets might be watching him. Quickly he darted into the cinders of bushes beside him.
The station had been critically hit and half of it had actually broken off and fallen to the planet already. It was devoid of air and the only "safe" place was inside a suit and away from anything electrical. Tarrakton had already been suited up when the microfleet had first started their attack on the surface. He knew it wouldn't be long before they started taking out orbital targets.
Systems on the station allowed for limited defense, and he'd held off a fair portion of them, or at least, for a fair amount of time. But power was limited and his crew were few since that mission that had summoned most away. As such, the station suffered hits again and again, gradually disabling it, and then crippling it. Tarrakton had to abandon the defense of the station and try to jettison down to the planet. His compatriots had the same idea and were closer to the pods. By the time he got to them, the few remaining ones that functioned were gone. He was stranded.
Since the latter portion of the station had fallen away, he had been left alone. He was now no more than debris in a decaying orbit. Desolately he watched the planet below as the firestorm raged across it throughout the night.
The sun began to break across the planet's horizon, and Tarrakton knew what destruction he saw around him would pale in comparison to what awaited people on the surface. Andonia had fallen.
He then felt a vibration run throughout the cracked support beam he was secured to. Looking around urgently, he spotted a vessel above him. It was massive and horrible. Covered in writhing and bending shapes, it challenged his senses to accept it as a ship. Long talons, kilometres across, spanned out from what looked like a tail. Spider eyes covered the front of it and twitching fins crossed the back. Odd splotchy growths covered other areas of it. It was now descending on the planet, taking no notice of him.
Moments later another ship arrived, and another. Dozens of lights now filled the expanse around his crumbling station, then hundreds. The new vessels were smaller and not like the first massive ship at all. They glistened with a pristine beauty, their design elegant and graceful. Upon arriving, they immediately tore away in astounding formation, intent upon engaging the planet below. They seemed to be allied with the large organic ship. He did not recognise the race of any of the vessels, but dared to hope.
He tapped his suit and activated the beacon.
The three lone guardians of Andonia had run dry their weapons and had fled to find other means to resist. Yet they had failed, and tired, beleaguered, and hopeless, they sat silent in a meadow as the sun rose.
The tinny hum of microships filled the air, like mechanical bees. Then the hum became agitated and started to drift upwards. The tentacled one glanced up to see what was causing them so much bother. It was a shadow. Quite a lot of shadows.
The burrowed one unburrowed a bit to see what was going on. It chirruped with surprise and a bit of happiness. Sparks were starting to show in the space between the shadows and the microships, and sometimes the sparks replaced the microships.
The hulking one grunted optimistically.
"We're holding together, Captain Visch!" cried an officer managing the weapons systems.
They had fallen under attack even before they'd entered the Andonian atmosphere. Yet the strikes from the microfleet were doing little internal damage with the ship's new "armour". External damage, however, was causing problems. Visch grunted, bearing the assaults.
"The Xeh-Xel seem to know who to attack, sir," the officer reported.
Indeed, the graceful Xeh-Xel, once horrifying backwards monstrosities, were cleansed of their old forms by the planetary bombardment of Visch's fleet. Once so freed, they were able to assume their true forms of great power, which the Ahjroe had long prevented them from achieving, destroying anyone daring to allow them to advance. The majority of Visch's fleet was lost in the assault, for the Ahjroe were much more numerous and advanced. But the latent influences of Visch's visit to Kerplah reasserted themselves, and now...
Cones of light struck into the side of the ship. Thousands of microships were coordinating single strikes in an effort to punch through the outer flesh. Visch groaned angrily, then lashed about, the massive tail talons obliterating a portion of the little ships. A nasty wound lay open along the lower side of the ship.
"Get a repair and medical team to that section," yelled the officer.
"What do we expect medical to be able to do?" asked the reporting officer before running off.
"Pain management I guess," said the officer. The reporting officer nodded and ran.
Outside, the Xeh-Xel fleet rained down high frequency gravity waves, bouncing the microships around and tearing their internal systems apart. Others moved to strategic locations around the planet and began pumping power directly into the failed Andonian electrical grid. Homes and buildings suddenly regained power. Communications systems alighted and forces once cut off were now able to coordinate and learn of what had happened. Andonia was returning to life.
Aboard the ship, Visch rumbled gutturally, "They have inhabited the under crust of the planet. We will destroy them utterly." The sound reverberated through the whole ship. Visch had become the ship. It was him who had repelled the Ahjroe and withstood their attacks. And it was him that would right this wrong against Andonia.
The mass lurched sideways as the Gentleman's steed tore into it. Its rippling form undulated and vanished, leaving nothing for the beast to assault. Another bubbling mass erupted nearby, knocking the suited fellow to the ground. Stickman rounded about, slipping about the sticky skin.
"Just keep it over to this side!" yelled Stickman to the Gentleman, still dusting himself off. His steed had took flight, having lost interest in the battle it could neither see nor hear.
Fixing his jacket, he glanced up at the floating mass with grave concern. But steeling himself against the bizarreness of it, he took to addressing it, "My dear thing, if you would kindly move over here, we would be very much appreciative."
Stickman spun about on a long tendril, clutching it like a panicked spider. "It doesn't respond to that sort of encouragement, sir! Try stabbing!"
"I'm afraid I have nothing with which to impale," said the Gentleman. "I can pinch it, perhaps."
"Do that," said Stickman, now looking off in another direction.
"I think I did it already," said Cat.
The plains near the settlement blew with a harsh wind. Ewansa's needle limbs were making short work of the thing's flesh, though it always seemed to have new flesh to present. The shots from Cat's makeshift laser rifle had crippled part of it. They were making headway! Stickman rounded the thing to better see his friend.
"Get it over here! Keep it within this area," cried Stickman, a slight edge to his voice.
Throwing the rifle onto his back and taking to pushing the flesh with his paws, Cat eyed Stickman warily, "Why aren't we dead?"
"You've got me watching over you," grunted Stickman between shoves.
Cat, Stickman, and Ewansa tugged and jabbed and pulled at the morphing flesh, navigating it inwards, to a seemingly unimportant bit of the plains.
"Now what?" asked Cat.
"Now we hurt it," said Stickman. "Pull it down from there, Little Devil!"
The small horned demon happily complied, tearing into the creature. Its bizarre form didn't bother it in the slightest. In fact, it seemed to manage the changes easier than Stickman had expected. Its little claws dug into it and its unassuming strength bore it down from high above.
"This might work!" exclaimed Stickman.
"It had better work," she said. "There's nowhere to run if it gets loose again."
Stickman activated the power systems aboard the ship and shunted a plasma wave into her conversion unit. Leaping onto a thicker portion of the thing, she drove the singularity blade into its body. She was doing this for more reasons than just to save the orbital platform. This was a unique event she couldn't pass up.
"It's tagged!" she yelled, then slid off, falling to the ground and rolling out of the way.
"I think that's done it," said Stickman. The ship was reading pervasive gravitational readings throughout the mass of the creature. Though it looked unchanged to everyone else, Stickman could see the thing glowing with a flaring light. It was ready.
"Yes, that's it!" exclaimed Xel-Xel. The pod descended on the signal that resonated throughout space. With grim excitement, the Octopousse went to the transfer chamber. He opened the rear door. Beyond it lay dark mists and oddly shaped halls. A woman stared at him briefly through the door, then ran off.
"We are in position. The target has been prepared. Are you ready?" came the commander's voice over the system's intercom.
"Yes, sir. The channel is clear. Open the front door," said Xel-Xel. He watched the main door to the pod intently. Then, faster than his eyes could adjust, it snapped open.
Outside this door, not two metres from the other, lay a vast expanse of barren wastes. A dead colony lay beyond the ridge that lay in view. But crossing that view was the C7 entity. It was glorious and terrifying. The Octopousse, glaring at it, knowing death encircled him, and pushed the containment release button.
With a shuddering roar the chamber that held the C7 entity was opened. What once were just appendages was suddenly so much more. But the chamber was somewhere else, and those appendages were suddenly and very violently ripped clean through the pod door and out the other side, into the dank metal halls beyond.
The ship doors sealed the moment the entirety of the beast was through and Xel-Xel sighed with relief.
Xecia was in a full sprint. The arrival of that pod was a bit sooner than she'd expected. She was usually long gone before that appeared. Which meant she might not make it out in time.
The sound of the thing's arrival was horrible. It was as if the air contracted around her, clutching at her internal organs. She pressed onwards. The exit gate was just below her.
Before she even reached the access wall her gun was in hand and fired. It was a claw, disembodied. It was singed at the wrist where she'd not hit it, but pulled away nevertheless. Her heart was racing. She'd died to this thing before. Her fear got the better of her and she fell against the wall, her hand now holding a door clamp and her arm now in a different sleeve.
Her eyes were dull and her heart fearless. She slapped the clamp on and twisted the panel open. The system was as easily disabled as it always was. The gate opened to reveal Se on the other side, looking surprised and then relieved, as much as it was possible for Se to look relieved. She strode past the short being and boarded their ship.
"Time to go, Se," she said, strapping in. "It's already inside and doing a good job of tearing up the place."
Pulling away, she watched the gate shrink. And within she saw flickers of red, a colour that was very rare inside such a structure. The red of flames.