Prologue
The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s attack not coming, but on our own readiness to repel him.
Sun Tzu – Art of War

The galaxy is a cold feral place, where species live and die by hand and claw. The myriad of intelligent beings clash and jostle one another for the mere right to exist. Out of the ashes of war, the fabric of sentient society was wrought into a pyramidal class structure split by strength and technology. Older, more established species rule as Patrons over younger Client races that floundered at the base. Each race striving to find their way along the path toward the apex. New primitive species are pawns to be manipulated by the intrusive galactic community.
Below even the lowest of these interstellar players is a young fresh species with innocent eyes that jumped their way into the Galactic Collective. This singular naive race is shocked at the devastating consequences of failure… Extinction.
Lizard Scout Ship, Silent Claw
The crew of the Silent Claw sat helplessly as they watched the battle for Earth unfold. Their stealth ship continued on a ballistic course through the Sol system, hidden from the Human sensors. What initially seemed like a decisive Lizard victory, had suddenly turned sour as the Human ships made impossible FTL jumps from within the gravity-well of their Sun. Somehow, they counteracted the gravity well’s influence on their Alcubierre Drive(A-FTL) (Faster Than Light drive). It was thought impossible to enter subspace inside a gravity well of a star. The gravitational distortion would rip the ship apart. And yet, the Humans had found a way.
The most startling of the reports were from Fleet War Leader Darvus himself, they described Humans boarding their warships. How could they have done that? Why did the Humans think they should attempt it? Species that are sane don’t board Lizard warships if they want to live, they run away as fast as they can.
After two months of sailing through the system undetected, the scout reached the limit of the Sun’s gravity well.
“Prepare to return home to Draconus,” the War-leader said as he stared at the latest scans of the system. The Humans were conducting SAR operations.
The Silent Claw dropped into subspace and took off back to the Empire to report the Humans’ victory. The War Leader knew the Emperor will order these Humans eradicated, they were already too dangerous. The Emperor will also want their amazing subspace technology.
♦♦♦
Bridge, Gnoll Frigate, Light Bringer
The frigate spiraled around the enormous Gnoll freighter as it chased after the smaller, faster pirate ship. The bulky freighter with its spars jutting from the central spine hindered the Gnoll frigate’s response to the pirate’s evasive maneuvers. The pirate ship’s rear laser struck out at the frigate’s shields which erupted in bright green energy sparkles.
The main viewscreens on the bridge of the second escorting frigate briefly dimmed from the bright lightning like energy discharges.
“Do not let it escape,” Lord Volund’s deep voice commanded. The bridge crew’s reaction was immediate, the order sent shivers down the spine of the Ferret at the helm. The last Ferret helmsman had disappeared after a mere three months. The Gnoll Lord had a nasty habit of slaying the inefficient or sending them to the mines of Sar’grett; a dirty, sulfate-mining outpost deep within Gnoll territory.
“Take out their engines,” he commanded the Tactical Officer.
The blue furred officer with a scar that ran the length of his eye to the jaw, twitched his wet black snout before spinning his right hand control to target and fire the frigate’s heavy forward laser cannons.
The powerful Gnoll lasers struck near the pirate ship’s dorsal fin. The smaller vessel flashed in a sphere of golden light as its shields flickered then failed. The ship flipped end on end, its main engines turned to slag. Plasma and atmosphere spewed out in great gouts as the ship tumbled before it smashed into the freighter's shielded comm hub. Plasma and radioactive plating blew away from the damaged outer hull of the freighter forming a sphere of expanding radioactive debris.
The tactical officer onboard the Light Bringer nervously pawed his nose as he turned to Lord Volund, his furry body shaking with fear.
The feline stood, stretching his full eight feet, his dark mane cascaded down his back. “You fool!” he snarled as his eyes zeroed in on the culprit.
The scar faced ferret cringed, huddling low as he could to the console.
“Incoming message from the Wild Roar, my lord,” interrupted the blue-green comms officer, breaking the tension.
Volund took a moment to decide the Tactical Officer’s fate. The Ferret was lucky that the next space dock on HiggramIII was not known for their quality crew replacements. Especially those trained in Gnoll weaponry.
“On screen,” Lord Volund snapped through his large feline canines. Gnoll males were powerfully built, like their Earth Lion counterpart. Their shoulders rippled with muscle each time they moved.
The monochrome image of Lord Saga, a fiery female Gnoll, lit up the main comm screen over-looking the bridge. Her golden mane, although not as majestic as her brother’s, still had the genetically tinted reflective highlights of the family bloodline that accentuated her jaws.
“Ha, better luck next time little brother.”
“Hrrrumm... You’ll get your case of champagne,” Volund huffed. Their standing bet was the loser who destroys their prey, bought the other a case of fine Centa champagne.
His sister laughed, her eyes targeting Lord Volund’s tactical officer. Grinning she gave him a single clawed paw salute to the air before cutting the connection.
“Comm, contact the convoy to proceed to Antare’s Reach. The freighter will need repairs.”
Lord Volund sat heavily in his command chair. “Helm, head for Antare’s Reach.”
“My lord?” they would normally wait for the freighters all to leave first. It was a sign of how angry the Lord felt to break protocol.
Lord Volund waved his paw imperiously.
The Helm turned back to his controls and adjusted the Alcubierre drive (A-Drive). The Light Bringer’s engines glowed as it twisted away from the freighter and the pirate ship’s debris. The bull-nosed frigate sparkled with a green glow that formed from coalescing fireflies of matter that wavered then merged into a protective bubble warping space surrounding the ship. The ship twinkled then disappeared as it dropped into subspace.
♦♦♦
Traynor Lizard Colony
The colony would soon run out of food. Rationing had given them a temporary reprieve. Administrator Shinix stood around the war table eyeing his advisors. The mysterious disappearance of their food supplies, including the buildings they were housed in, sent chills down the Administrator’s spine all the way through his tail.
“Administrator, four ships just entered the system.”
“Contact the Blast’me to intercept.” Blast’me was the only Lizard frigate class warship in-system. It was the only warship in-system.
Shinix waited impatiently for the intel to come back. “Well?”
“They look to be of Human design. A carrier, a frigate, and two heavily armed freighters.”
Shinix sighed.
“Administrator, we have an incoming message. In Lizard! The ships are calling themselves the Terran Navy, a Human military organization. They are offering food and supplies.”
“What?!”
“Yes, they are willing to trade food for tech.”
Why? They can just take the tech, given the strength of their armaments?
Once again, the Administrator breathed deeply; wondering if this was a reprieve? If they want to trade, then they’re less likely to shoot, he thought.
♦♦♦
Carrier T.N. Sekhmet, Traynor System
Admiral Dan Prior sat on the bridge of the carrier T.N. Sekhmet and watched the Lizard frigate boost from Traynor III’s orbit on an intercept course with his fleet.
Dan looked over to the status board and shook his head. His fleet consisted of four ships, his carrier, a frigate, and two armed freighters. It was all they could spare on this quick mercy dash mission. Yes, they could have transported food directly to the colony, but then the Lizards wouldn’t see the strings attached to the aid. Dan was there to show them.
He was surprised that there was only one warship in-system. It had been months since the battle for Earth, he had assumed the Lizards would send for reinforcements.
“Launch both offense and defense fighter squadrons,” he ordered. Twelve Astrodevils disengaged from their locking clamps on the outside of the battle carrier and lined up into two formations. Their four ships had now become sixteen.
“Send the prepared message,” he ordered. Dan wasn’t confident that the trade of food for tech would work. Fiona, the T.N. Interspecies Relations Department Head, had argued that Traynor, as an independent Lizard colony, was far more valuable as a friend under duress than a radioactive hole in the ground. At the very least, Dan mused, they could send Traynor III the Lizard POWs that crowded the camps on Earth.

Chapter 1
Squishy Trade Center, T - 4 hours to Battle for Earth
The door to the conference pool slid open, and three Humans entered.
“Admiral, Commander, Tela is this way,” said the soldier as she led John and Jen to seats directly in front of the Squishy alien who soaked in the warm pool.
John could see Tela fidgeted nervously on the stool that rose from the tepid water. His nose tingled as he breathed in the salty, humid air. He had asked to talk to her specifically knowing she was the helmsman of the pirate ship Kato. The Squishy Drakmok had let it slip in an interview with an operative from T.N. Intelligence.
“Tela, thank you for seeing us.”
Tela’s Octopus-like mantel turned a shade of deep green ::curiosity::.
Before John could continue, Tela spoke up, her sibilant whisper was translated into a female upper English accent common to BBC presenters. “Are you here to send me back to Cassiopeia.”
John looked at Jen before he frowned at Tela. “Should we?”
Silence.
“No, we are not going to send you back. We just seek your advice,” Jen said with a smile.
Tela’s tentacles relaxed.
The island the Humans allowed them to live on was a paradise compared to the crab infested hideaway that the Pirate Captain Kane used as a base.
Tela had made friends here among the Humans. The females were interesting, practicing many of the things she and other Squishy fems did. Human females had somehow managed to get equal rights to the males, unlike her own culture where they were non-existent.
John cleared his throat and leaned forward. “You’ve seen many planets in the galaxy. You know what’s out there. You also know us, Humans.”
Tela nodded at the truth of it.
“We would like your advice on where we should explore, who we should see next?” John asked. The translator on his chest squealed, squeaked and buzzed out his request in the Squishy language. John scrutinized the Squishy but couldn’t get any meaningful sense out of reading her body language. He made a note to himself to brush up on his xenobiology. By the look of it, Jen was having the same problem.
“You have a thing that you do here, on Earth, called tourist.”
John smiled, knowing that she understood the concept of what he was asking.
“There is no such thing,” she said while pointing to the sky with her tentacle, “up there.”
“You don’t have tourism? But that must be worth trillions or more like quintrillions.”
“It is not because they could not, they choose not.”
“Are the other species not curious? Surely the benefits of exploring and engaging with other races would be attractive?”
“You misunderstand, they do not because it is too dangerous. It is too easy to be kidnapped, killed or worse enslaved.”
John was shocked. Looking to Jen then back to Tela, gauging her belief of its truth. His eyes cast down, his mind circled in thought, wondering if this was why first contact was proving to be so hostile. He was saddened by the news that spacefaring civilizations were, in fact, not very civilized. “Surely there is some sort of peacekeeper up there.”
“The main protection a species has is the influence of their Patron.”
“I’ve heard of this term Patron before?” Jen said with her eyebrows raised.
“A Patron is an older, powerful race. Our Patron was the Bear-o’Boar.” Tela’s mantel changed color so rapidly Jen realized she must have mixed emotions about their protectors.
“The Bear-0’Boar?”
“Yes, a terrible and powerful race. The bears enslaved the Ferrets a century before they found us. We only had Intersolar ships then. Bear-o’Boar claimed us as one of their Servant species. At first, their demands were small, but when they told us to build manufacturing technology to clutter our planet, they demanded more than we could give. They wanted water slaves and mercenaries. They wanted Squishys to kill other soft species from deep oceans.”
“What did you do?” John asked, afraid he knew the answer.
“We refused, we fought the Bear-o’Boar.” A blue color ::Sad:: tinged Tela’s mantle. “They destroyed our cities. Many died. Still, we refused, but more Bears came and stole our people to other planets and enslaved all that remained,” Tela said as her mantle turned a dark orange ::Anger::. Her tentacles twitched. “We are few now.”
“Are there other Patrons, better ones?” Jen asked.
“There is the Sil’thik, an insect species or the Choo who are avians. And there’s the Ummfact or the Hipp if you like baby minding.”
Jen frowned at Tela.
“The Ummfact are small creatures that are good with tools like you Humans. The Hipp are a herd species that have lots of babies. Too many for their worlds.”
“So which are better?” John asked.
“Most of them are not better or worse, but they all have superior technology or thousands of worlds to draw resources from. Some have both,” Tela said.
“So none you can recommend,” Jen said.
Tela shrugged her fore tentacles. “They are Patrons.”
John looked at Jen, her consternation mirrored his at the challenge they had before them.
“Okay, what of those other species you mentioned, the Servant species, the lesser species like the Ferrets?”
Tela shrugged. “There are so many... however, it is complicated. The Servant species have a standing amongst themselves and their Patrons. You are new: you would be put at the bottom of species ranking with the Arboreals. Others Servant species will treat you poorly.”
John sat back, his forehead creased. He guessed the Arboreals were some sort of tree life. So, they would treat us as if we were as smart as some plants? Yay, John thought. How insulting. This was far worse than he had expected. No wonder each species they encountered shot first and talked later. If they survived. John looked at Tela’s dark inky eyes, trying to read any deception in them and couldn’t. The three talked for the rest of the morning.
“Thank you, Tela, that gives us much to think on.”
John and Jen said their goodbyes and headed off. They had what they needed for the UN Security Council briefing. There had been many calls by the public to seek out and partner with other friendly alien species.
John had no such illusions of friendship. Every race they’d come across so far had been aggressive. If Humans could defend themselves, they were better off on their own. What was clear was they needed more intel, which meant going out there. The UN Security Council would not be happy.
The two made their way back to Hope station in orbit. Suddenly sirens blared out a warning. John looked at Jen. They had been expecting the Lizard fleet any day now. Time had run out.

Chapter 2
Rosarito Beach, Baja California, Mexico
The hot lazy beach was shattered by the roar of four gunboat class spaceships, as they flew overhead along the San Diego coastline. The ships spiraled up and out of the lower atmosphere. That morning’s headlines had blazed with another Lizard Invasion. The ships must have been on their way to fight the aliens. Mags felt guilt slice through her at being on the beach enjoying summer days while the Terran Navy and Earth Forces defended their planet. She could have been doing something, doomsday prepping, stockpiling, anything except sun-baking on the beach.
Mags stood shading her eyes to glimpse the vanishing outlines of the ships, the brave souls on their way to war. She gave a silent prayer for the crews to stay safe. On more than one occasion, she had thought about enlisting in the Terran Navy, however finishing her studies would place her in contention for an officer’s position. Mags had no doubt that being an enlisted was a waste of her abilities. She had her sights set on something higher.
Mags reverie was broken when Jake tackled Josh heavily to the sand in retribution for some private slight he’d received earlier. Jake was apathetic towards the whole problem of alien contact and the danger that the Earth was in. He seemed to live in a fantasy world without politics, without fear, without thought as far as Mags could detect, which made him boring. At least Josh had an opinion about stuff.
Mags adjusted the pentagram shaped straps of her elegant black swimsuit and sat back down on her towel. The soft crash of the waves drained the stress from her shoulders. The playful grunts made by the two boys down by the water’s edge offset the feeling of Zen she usually got from sitting on the beach. Shielding her sunglasses from direct sun, Mags watched the boys wrestle each other on the sand and in the water. Suddenly Josh stopped and looked skyward pointing towards the large explosion that could be seen high above them in the stratosphere. It must’ve been huge to be visible through the blue hue of Earth’s atmosphere. Mags hoped it wasn’t the gunships that had previously flown overhead.
♦♦♦
Near Earth Space – Zero hour, Battle for Earth
Space within near Earth orbit was pierced by lizard nuclear strikes. Squadrons of Human gunboats raced in formation from Earth toward the front lines evading the waves of EM energy. The squat boxlike ships rolled then split off in pursuit of the enormous number of missiles fired from the Lizard war fleet.
 The 40 megaton missiles were deadlier than ten Hiroshima bombs. Each was targeted directly at Earth’s major cities.
Vice Admiral Jason Dunn had second thoughts about only sending the gunships and any remaining Earth defenses against the myriad of missiles streaking to deliver their deadly payload. The Lizards were decisively winning the battle. Their fleet spearheaded by the battleship marched inevitably toward Earth like a thunderstorm across the bay.
The Human Forces were breaking up against the onslaught of firepower thrust at them by the battleship and its destroyer escort. The sheer firepower thrown by the Lizards was terrifying.
Six small, cargo-container sized weapons platforms held position near the International and Hope space stations. The platforms were set in rapid-fire mode, spewing continuous laser fire at anything that did not broadcast from a friendly transponder.
Admiral Dunn turned to his aide. “Make sure the platforms’ computers link to sync with any nearby ships and update their laser targeting.”
“Yes, sir.” Captain Perry raced off to speak to computer operations.
 Jason switched screens to check the status of Hope and the International Space Station’s Point Defense; he watched from an onboard vid-cam as the stubby PD missiles launched from their missile racks targeted at the incoming missile barrage. He could see the reload status slowly change from red to green as another salvo was primed for launch. Jason knew that the ISS and Hope Station were weak points in the defense grid. They were sitting targets. He had tried to have them evacuated but was overruled by their respective governments. Jason gritted his teeth, he had no spaceships left to protect them.
He watched helplessly as the PD missiles destroyed only a handful of the inbound missiles as they passed the stations on their way toward Earth. Several of the Lizard’s intelligent missiles veered off to target the weapons platforms, disintegrating them to dust. The remaining eight missiles switched their offensive towards the newly rebuilt ISS. Despite the double layered shields, the 135 crew and scientists aboard the station had no chance. The onboard reactor exploded like a miniature sun killing any chance that there were survivors in escape pods nearby.
Three waves of Lizard missiles flew towards Earth. Land-based plasma cannons fired up at the incoming missiles. The cannons were new technology and were only distributed to the wealthy city states. Not all the targeted cities on the planet survived the Lizard onslaught.
♦♦♦
Rosarito Beach, Baja California, Mexico
Mags picked up her towel and bag, then stuffed all her textbooks and notes inside before she took off towards her car. She had seen enough to change her mind about lazing around on the beach. She had an odd sense of protectiveness towards the Earth that hadn’t been there before the first Lizard contact. She now felt an overwhelming need to contribute, to do her part.
Initially, when the alien presence had become public knowledge, she was one of the many students on campus that held a sit-in, holding electric cigarette lighters up demanding peaceful contact by the authorities. How naïve, she thought now. Racing up the beach she dumped her gear on the back seat of her clapped-out second-hand death-trap of a car. In the background, she heard Josh’s muffled voice cursing at her. Ignoring him, she jumped in the driver’s seat and started the car. The crunch of gears jarred her to release the clutch and force it into gear. Sand sprayed out from the bald tires as the car bolted up the worn track and onto Beach Road heading towards San Diego.
Mags knew that Josh would be able to catch a ride with Jake. She also knew that he would have a few unpleasant words with her because he hated doubling on the back of Jake’s trail bike. Especially when he had to grip it with his knees as he held onto two surfboards the whole time. Jake wasn’t exactly known for his safe riding skills.
Driving on the side roads, Mags reached the back street entrance of the Rosarito Beach Hotel where they had rented an apartment for the holidays. The rundown two-bedroom unit was in stark contrast to the whitewashed walls of the hotel’s facade that dominated the beachfront. Parking her car in the lot Mags walked along the Hotel frontage. She couldn’t help but smile at the pseudo-Mexican architectural style of the hotel that to her, came off as tacky. The faded green plastic-coated beach umbrellas with coconut fronds only served to exaggerate the deep red, lobster-colored tourists that littered the beach. She shook her head as she saw hotel guests clinging to the edge of an azure pool tanning themselves in their pursuit of some imaginary perfection. Wait-staff buzzed around the guests like bees in a meadow of flowers delivering their expensive fruity cocktails.
Once Mags reached their apartment, she gathered her clothes and assorted old fashioned music CDs into her suitcase. Taking a complimentary hotel envelope, she stuffed it with a sheaf of American dollars and wrote Josh’s name on the front. She leaned the envelope against a plastic fruit bowl decoration on the table then ran out the door. Back in the car, she made a final mental note to herself to text Josh where she’d left her part of the holiday rental. Unfortunately, she forgot to send the text entirely. That simple act drove an irreconcilable wedge between her and Josh. Their on/off relationship would never fully recover.
Ten minutes later she was on the highway ticking off items in her mind. The steps of Plan B: finish studies, find a sponsor, get into T.N. Science Division...
♦♦♦
Holiday Accommodation
Jake heard Josh curse at Mags for her total lack of consideration. They both stood frozen as the back of her VW Beetle disappeared up the track trailed by a thin cloud of smoke. Once again, his friend had been left in the lurch. He knew of Josh’s fear of riding on the back of his motorbike. His friend hated the idea of passengering; it was a long way to the apartment with a surfboard under each arm. Jake smiled at the possibility of scaring the hell out of him.
Eventually, after several hours in the waves, Josh seemed to dispel all his annoyance with Mags as a smug look danced across his face. Jake had seen that look before when Josh and Mags played practical jokes on each other. Later, in confidence, Josh had told him that the two pranked each other for the sole purpose of make-up sex. It was one of the main reasons Jake was so attracted to Mags; he desperately wanted to experience what Josh had, Mags’ soft silky white Goth skin and rich purple lips caressing his.
When the two men reached their rental, Josh got off the bike, his legs almost gave out from holding on tight for so long. Jake claimed the need to pee so strode up the stairs, two at a time and pushed in the door searching for Mags while Josh stayed in the parking lot and cleaned the surfboards. To Jake’s dismay, Mags and her gear had vanished. Jake pursed his lips. With Mags gone, there was no chance that he was going to be able to corner her for a drunken anything this holiday like he’d planned.
When Josh finally appeared at the entrance to the rental, Jake had flushed the toilet and was adjusting his shorts. “She’s gone Josh, packed her stuff and high tailed it outa here.”
Jake could see Josh’s disappointment. “Damn,” was all he said.
The two walked around the apartment trying to figure out what to do next. As Josh went to check the bedroom for his girlfriend’s things, Jake strode to the kitchen table and picked up the envelope prominently displayed against the fruit bowl. The letter, in Mag’s clean rounded script, was clearly marked ‘for Josh’ on the front cover. Briefly glancing inside, Jake surreptitiously pocketed the envelope.
Jake crossed to the fridge and realized to his delight that Mags had taken off in such a rush that she’d left the best part of a two-day-old pizza still in its battered box. “We got pizza,” he said, pulling the box and the last bottle of beer from the fridge, and smiled.
Popping the lid and between gulps, he said matter-of-factly, “Can you buy a case of beer at the store we passed because I got no money on me. I used it all up in gas carrying your sorry ass from the beach.”
Josh looked at the empty bottles on the table, and the one in Jake’s hand then cursed Mags for not leaving any money.
♦♦♦
Mags Apartment, Downtown San Diego
When Mags got home, she slammed the door. She was in a bad mood. Josh had sent her a scathing text for leaving him on the beach in the lurch with Jake to double him back to the holiday accommodations. Then to top it off, leaving him there without the cash to check out.
Mags frowned, confused at his text and sent back she had left money on the table.
Josh texted back ‘don’t lie, I hate liars.’ He knew Mags must have been short this week because he saw all her newly bought textbooks on the beach. All through the semester Josh watched Mags constantly skip meals because of her limited funds and short time availability to work. On the summer break, she worked double shifts to make up for it. Josh hadn’t seen her around and assumed she was studying because Mags was not a AAA student. It all came down to money. Mags was smart but had to cut classes when she needed money for food or rent. She was currently flush with funds from the extra work during the first half of the Summer break.
Mags saw text after text ping on her phone from Josh. He had just bulled on, accusing her of being a tight-fisted bitch and how he should have listened to Jake when he said she was bad news.
Seething, Mags poured herself a glass of wine then texted him back, ‘WTF are you a baby or what?’ She knew exactly what had happened to the envelope of cash she had left on the table. That lying snake, Jake. Mags knew Josh wouldn’t believe it of his best friend. He’d been too quick to accuse her; it’d always be a shadow over their relationship. Mags took a gulp of wine and paused, staring at her phone. Then she texted how she couldn’t stay because of Jake and what she thought of his friend making sleazy comments on every girl within thirty feet.
It was getting late. So, Mags turned off her phone and logged onto her laptop to flick through her email.
Mag’s day tumbled further out of control when an email from her stepmom blinked on the screen. She guessed what it would contain. A not so subtle request for money and a plea for her to deal with her father who had gone out drinking again.
Mag’s shook her head. She had had enough. She grabbed the bottle of wine from the fridge and started tapping her response. The words she wrote were brusque, hateful words that admonished her parents for not getting their shit together, and if she’d had the money, she‘d have left years ago wiping her hands of the both of them and their dysfunctional relationship. She had disassociated herself from them, from her remaining family. She had written this same email a dozen times, only to let it sit in her draft email folder for weeks until deleting it. However, this time, she took a gulp of wine and pressed send.