Supreme Marshal Penk was pleased. The assaults across the Earth’s mystical realms were proceeding exactly according to plan. He had known they would of course. They were his plans, so of course they were superlative ones, but more than that he’d seen the skein of fate that was woven for the Earthlings. He knew how and where each of them would fall, and he knew the glory his victory would bring.
There had been costs for their victory of course. Penk’s plasma charred hand was the most grievous in Penk’s estimation but the loss of personnel would have to be played as the greater sacrifice when he addressed the people back home. Those who died would be given the recognition they’d had been denied in life as Penk spoke to their bravery, their determination, and most importantly, their Purity.
Spoke of those qualities in a generalized manner. Perhaps if one or two had no remaining family it would be worth elevating them as noteworthy martyrs to the cause, but the hero of the affair would and must be Penk himself.
His wound was a blessing in that sense. He would allow one photo of himself carrying his burned limb to circulate just as soon as the injury was fully repaired. People who see that he had give the war his all, but been restored by the power of his purity. They would hail him as a new…
“Jellyfish monster approaching from below,” one of his senior comm tech’s cut in, interrupting Penk’s train of thought.
Everywhere, the Pure Ones and their allies were pressing forward, overrunning or pushing out the Earth’s defenders. The invasion of the mystical sunken city was progressing in much the same manner, but for each step forward the Pure One’ pushed, no defenders arose to fight for the sunken city. It was annoying, if also predicted and accounted for.
“Report when the Electro-Netting had secured the creature,” Penk reported.
“Electro-Netting has been deployed sir,” the comm tech said. “The creature is still rising though.”
“That shouldn’t be possible,” Penk said. “We should be shocking that thing to the point where it can’t think straight.”
“The net does not seem to have landed on it,” the comm tech said. “I’m getting reports from the weapons team that the net is moving away from the creature.”
“It has homing drones to carry it to where it’s supposed to be! How did they miss with it?” Penk demanded, incensed that his meticulous instructions had not been followed exactly. Whoever was responsible for that lapse was going to return home as ash if Penk had anything to say about it.
“The drones have been disabled,” the comm tech said. “The net is being dragged away to allow the Jellyfish to continue it’s approach.
That wasn’t right. Penk knew what the chains of destiny were for the Earth. He’d even scryed the fates of the major actors in the battles and the Jellyfish hadn’t been slated to receive any aid.
Penk felt a surge of cold fear twist in his bowels. Did he have a backup plan, he wondered?
Of course he did. The Jellyfish was as large as a small town. The Electro-Net had been designed to incapacitate the creature but ultimately it had to burn, just like all other Earthly life. Had Penk been a trusting man, he could have relief on the High One’s divine wrath to cleanse the Earth and its realms, but Penk knew better than to trust such an impure being.
So he’d brought his own fire.
“Launch Annihilation torpedos, full salvo, hold back none of our reserves,” Penk commanded. “We’ll reconnect with Brams forces for a resupply after this ‘Atlantis’ falls. Our advance cannot falter. Destiny says we win this battle within the hour.”
“Sir? I’m getting a communique from Ambassador Brams forces,” the comm tech said.
“From his forces? Why isn’t he calling us directly?” It was inconceivable that the Preserver commander had been lost in battle. Fate dictated that they won, and none of the assault force’s commanders were foolish enough to take any risks which might leave them too crippled to enjoy their victory, must less carry the risk of actual death. The only explanation was that Brams was speaking through his underlings as a sign of disrespect.
That was fine. Penk was going to arrange for Brams to die anyway. If Brams gave Penk a better reason to proactively strike out at the Preservers then so much the better.
“Pure One Strategic, this is Preserver Central Ops, do you read us, over.”
“Preserver Ops? Where is your leader?” Penk asked, not bothering to hide the annoyanc in his voice.
“Pure One Strategic, we are experiencing unexpected resistance,” the unknown officer said, ignoring Penk’s questions. Penk was ready to demand Bram’s whereabouts until the next thing the officer said frozen him to the bone. “Our senior command is lost and our forward positions are being overrun.”
“What?” Penk couldn’t form a coherent thought longer than that.
“Senior command has lost contact. Ambassador Brams is not responding to queries. Be advised, we are looking at a tactical withdrawal at this time.”
“No! That’s impossible!” Penk shouted. “We don’t have time for that. The assault must conclude within the hour. We are on the cusp of victory. Do not withdraw!”
Penk’s thoughts were spinning. How could their attack have even been slowed, much less stopped or reversed?
“Pure One Strategic, be advised, withdrawal is non-optional. Enemy forces are too numerous and we do not have the equipment or manpower to withstand them.”
“That’s absurd! We know exactly how many humans there are in the physical realm, and we know what their capabilities are. All of this has been accounted for.”
Penk waited for a response but heart an explosion over the communication channel. When the Pure One officer spoke again he was less composed than he had been.
“Listen, we have no damn contingencies in place for these things, and it’s not just the humans. We’ve got things coming in here with four legs, and six, and eight. We’ve got people who look like you Pure Ones except wearing Earth uniforms. And we’ve got humans. All kinds of humans.”
“What are they doing?” Penk whispered as pieces of his perfect future began to flake away revealing the horrible mistake that lay beneath that illusory facade.
“They’re coming at us from all angles,” the Preserver officer said. “We weren’t ready for this. They’re not fighting like we planned.”
“Sir,” the Pure One comm tech said, capturing Penl’s attention away for a moment. “The jellyfish monster is approaching attack range.”
“What?” Penk felt his breath go short and hoarse. How had the monster gotten that close? Hadn’t he ordered Annihilation torpedoes be used against it? Why was it still a problem?
“The Jellyfish monster has risen to be close enough to reach one of our lead ships with its tentacles,” the comm tech said. “The cruiser Perfection is taking evasive action.”
“Have them fire on it!”
“They are firing sir. The creature is being defended.”
“It looks like there are humans there sir. There are roughly 13,000 of them. They were hiding underneath the Jellyfish as it rose.”
“What happened to the Annihilation torpedos? Fire the rest of them. Now!”
“Our full complement of Annihilation torpedos were fired on the first vollet as per your instructions,” the comm tech said.
“What happened to them?” Penk dreaded what the response would be. The Jellyfish was a known issue.
Or it was supposed to be
If it was suddenly revealed to immune to Annihilation torpedos then they’d been wrong in the evaluation of it, which meant they were wrong in their evaluation of the entire assault.
“The humans and their allies captured the torpedos sir. They moved in front of the Jellyfish and apprehended our attack before the missiles cleared a safe range from our ships for detonation.”
“Where are they now?” Penk asked, knowing he wasn’t going to like the answer.
“We don’t know sir. We lost contact with, and control of the missiles the instant they were captured.”
“Pull back then. Tell Perfection to disengage. We’re not withdrawing. Let me make that clear. We are not withdrawing. We are moving to a better tactical position, but we will continue the battle. We must win this fight at any cost!”
“Sir, Perfection is not replying.”
“Tell them this is a direct order.”
“No sir, I don’t think they can reply. The Jellyfish had them.”
“Had them?” Penk asked, his brow knit in confusion.
“Telemetry is showing a cloud of debris at Perfection’s position. The Jellyfish was holding them but then they disappeared in a flash of Em radiation when the creature swung them.”
“EM radiation? What could do that?” Penk asked.
“Well, an Annihilation torpedo could sir,” the tech said. “Background scanning confirms that’s what the blast likely was.”
“Give me a visual on that,” Penk ordered.
A view screen shifted to show a live feed of the disintegrating ship. In the distance, there was another flash as the next nearest ship exploded as well.
“Manual override. Fleet order, detonate all remaining torpedos,” Penk said, unable to believe that no one had do that the instant the torpedos missed their assigned target.
On the view screen, he saw brilliant sparks of light race away from the destroyed ships, all in the same direction, but there were no more explosions.
“We tried that already sir.”
Penk snarled, but his day wasn’t through getting worse.
“Pure One Strategic, be advised, withdrawal has failed,” the Preserver officer said. “Our escape routes are cut off, and we are receiving reports that our forces around the material realm are being neutralized faster than they can report in.”
“How,” Penk said. “How is this all possible.”
“There’s too many of them,” the Preserver officer said. “The humans have too many reinforcements, tree people, and giants, and people who look like the humans but definitely aren’t. And they’re all fighting like madmen.”
“We knew about the Greenglim forces though!” Penk tried to keep from wailing. It was undignified but life wasn’t being fair. This was supposed to be his victory. “There’s billions of them but after the transit they were supposed to be too weak to fight.”
“Well, maybe the problem is that they’re not fighting alone!” the Preserver officer said. “I just shot a human who was wearing one of the trees like some kind of living armor. I don’t think I even killed either one of them. I can hear them burrowing through the ground! I don’t know where they’re going to come up! It could be anywhere! It could be…”
The channel went dead.
From the Sunken City, a new force sallied forth and Penk saw another of his group’s ships vanish in a flash of light followed by that same strange shower of sparks which all rushed away as though flying up to some unknown gathering point in the sky.
“What should we do sir?” The question perplexed Penk. He still had an overwhelming force at his disposal. The loss of Perfection and the other ships was less than 1% of the total he’d brought.
But it was supposed to be an easy win. He’d brought so many troops and so many weapons of war because he didn’t want to have to deal with the battle being a struggle.
Instead he was faced with a conflict that would have a real cost. One that by all rights he should still be able to win. Even with their allies the Earthlings were still outmatched.
Except they shouldn’t even have had a chance at all, and if they managed to make one for themselves, then what were the real odds that they’d being able to craft a victory as well.
Looking at his tactical display, Penk looked for an answer and saw that he had no idea what to do.
“You need to surrender,” Anna said as she stepped through a shimmering golden portal that had formed behind Penk. “You are being used and the High One is going to try to destroy us all. This is the only second chance you’re going to get.”