The attack on the compound began an hour later, when Kiritata radioed in that his team was in position. Special tunnelling servitor drones had managed to quietly drill a tunnel into the lower basement of the building, giving them a path to follow and flank the attackers once the battle began. Their point of entry placed them within an old corridor that led to the upper floors, but as expected, the entire area was infested with automated defences, mostly mines and turrets.

As Chen and the team made their attack, the main bulk of Fed-All soldiers and human mercenaries began their own assault on the compound above ground. Chen could hear the harsh distinct sounds of particle weapons and molecular disruptors, along with several explosions.

Below, things were tamer, but no less dangerous. Kiritata and his Keramlik commandos were the first to move in, and they stupidly exposed themselves to danger when their leader led them into the firing arc of one of the basement’s turrets. Luckily, the antiquated guns were old, and the first volley of mass reactive rounds were absorbed by the Keramlik Justicar’s own kinetic defense shields.

Seeing Kiritata in danger, Toshir and Park leaped forward to protect him with their own superior human-made shields, reducing thousands of energy-accelerated rounds into harmless metal pellets. Chen took the initiative by shooting the turrets one by one with his plasma thrower, which allowed Toshir and Park to engage the rebel troops, who were already making their way down the corridors.

Again, Kiritata and his men took the lead in dispatching the enemy; their plasma throwers turning several corridors into radioactive infernos. Above, the sound of the conflict began to grow louder and louder, even as the defenders diverted more of their forces to engage the combined Fed-All and Human mercenary force in the basement.

Slowly but surely, Kiritata’s team fought their way to the room where the hostages were being held, methodically killing any defender they encountered along the way. Even the makeshift barricades and traps failed to slow their progress.

The corpses of Keramlik secessionists slowly filled up the basement’s corridors, their flesh scorched by plasma fire or reduced to ash by disruptors. A couple of Kiritata’s men fell to turret fire, but they were able to maintain their momentum, and Chen knew that it was only a matter of time before they will reach their target.

Then, in the midst of this smoke, blood, and shattered walls, the Justicar Kiritata whirled around to face Toshir and Park, his eyes bulging and menacing. He stared at them for only a minute, but it was enough to unnerve both veterans.

“Justicar?” Toshir asked. “Is something wrong?”

Kiritata made a harsh sound then quickly turned around to continue the march. He led them to the last defended corridor, which was heavily barricaded by half a dozen Keramlik secessionists. Again, the humans allowed the Keramlik to take the lead, but also keeping close enough to intervene should anything threaten Kiritata.

The corridor was soon ablaze with weapons fire, as desperate secessionists threw themselves at the Kiritata’s combined squad. Many died screaming as plasma and kinetic fire tore off limbs and cooked living flesh inside substandard armor. At length, the battle was over and the only thing left were the smoking piles of xeno meat and bone.

“Hold!” Kiritata ordered as soon as the last enemy combatant was dead, then he turned to his men and spoke to them rapidly. Then with swift, deadly movements, the Keramlik commandoes turned their plasma weapons on the humans.

“You three. Stand there. Don’t move. If you move, head go kraaak. Understand?” Kiritata ordered sharply.

Toshir and Park obeyed, raising their arms in surrender, but Chen hesitated, gripping his weapons even more fiercely.

“Do as he says,” Toshir quickly hissed, and Chen obeyed.

“Doan move, kiddo,” Park muttered, “E’rything’s goin’ a’ be okay. Trust us.”

Kiritata made them stand in an exposed area, near the large, sealed door at the end of the corridor, and assigned two guards to watch them. Chen, Park and Toshir obeyed, not moving a muscle. They stood a few paces away from Kiritata’s men, arms raised and completely still. Kiritata then ordered one of his men to remove the barricades and start working on the door. The Keramlik soldier obeyed, and he began running a bypass on the sealed door.

As the soldier worked, Kiritata and his chief lieutenant began arguing, their translators off. They pointed at the humans, then at the upper floors, where the sound of fighting was also starting to die down. The rest of the Keramlik’s soldiers also looked troubled, their large alien eyes glaring at the humans, as though they were ready to pounce on them any minute.

“Get ready,” Toshir muttered to Park and Chen.

Kiritata quickly whirled around, his four alien eyes glaring at Toshir. “What you tell him? What you say?” The translator’s flat vocals failed to convey the emotion in the Justicar’s shrill, alien voice.

“Nothing,” Toshir said, his face remaining passive.

“You are liar. You are killer. You kill me, human?” Again, Kiritata’s translator failed to convey the panic in his voice.

Finally, the door unlocked with a hiss, and Kiritata turned away from the humans to look at the room beyond the door. What greeted him made him sick. It was the hostages and their young, butchered and slaughtered, their entrails hanging on the walls and tables.

Kiritata was shocked, but that shock quickly turned into anger, and he whirled to face Toshir.

“You knew!” Kiritata accused through his translator, but the humans remained quiet.

“You knew!” He repeated the accusation, pointing his plasma thrower at Toshir, its muzzle red hot. “Who tell you? What you know? Who betray me? Speak, human!”

“We were ordered to protect you, nothing more,” Toshir said calmly, hands raised and face empty of expression.

Kiritata would have struck Toshir with his weapon had his lieutenant not dragged him off to resume their argument. The lieutenant pointed a claw-like finger at each of the corpses hanging on the wall, as though he knew each of them, but Kiritata responded by screaming and pointing at the fallen secessionists out in the corridors, then at the humans, then back at the dead hostages.

“Wait for the signal,” Toshir muttered softly to Chen, taking advantage of the momentary distraction.

Chen nodded his head once in acknowledgement. A soft smile appeared on Park’s rough face.

Weary of waiting and arguing, Kiritata whirled around, his plasma thrower charging and his four bulging eyes bloodshot with rage. He screamed a torrent of untranslated accusations at the humans, and would have pointed his pistol at Toshir were it not for the energy pulse that exploded from somewhere within the room.

For a brief moment, the entire Keramlik squad was helpless.

The humans, though, had expected the diversion and quickly sprang to action. Toshir opened the pores on his skin and flooded the corridor with noxious gas chemicals, eliciting screams and blind weapons fire from the Keramlik soldiers, whose flesh and armor were now peeling away.

Meanwhile, Park’s already bulky body grew in mass and his orange-blue skin began emitting a low-intensity phase barrier. He then quickly tackled the nearest Keramlik commando, snapping his neck with one fluid motion before slamming his comrade into the wall, breaking his spine.

Chen acted as well and shot Kiritata’s chief lieutenant and another commando. He killed the first and wounded the latter, who fell to Park’s rampaging blows in the tempo of the battle. Kiritata and his last remaining commando managed to retreat into the corpse-strewn room, then proceeded to take cover behind the bodies within, firing their weapons at the attacking humans.

One shot hit Park in the shoulder, and the human fell down with a grunt. But Chen and Toshir quickly retaliated, and Toshir’s chemical gas attacks incapacitated the last of Kiritata’s companions. Seeing hope lost, the Justicar emerged from his position and charged the attacking humans, firing blindly in one final, vain attempt to win back victory.

Then something exploded into Kiritata’s chest, and he fell down, wracked with pain. His shield absorbed most of the blast, though not enough to save his life. The Keramlik Justicar glared at the two alien silhouettes who stood over him. A third appeared a few seconds later, wounded on the shoulder but otherwise still battle ready.

Toshir kneeled down beside Kiritata, a soft, almost innocent smile on his face. “My clients paid me to convey a short message: secessionists will be punished,” he said softly. Then he showed him the detonator for the energy pulse that incapacitated his team earlier. He then got up and clasped Chen on the shoulder.

Kiritata made a long, piercing wheeze that may have been anger, sorrow, surprise, or a curse. Chen looked down at the bulging alien eyes staring at him and felt nothing. The battle; the fear of death. There was a purity in this murder, a cold logic that spoke to his own human soul.

He rather liked it. With calm resolve, he pointed his plasma thrower at Kiritata’s torso and fired.

A ball of white-hot energy turned the Justicar’s chest and body armor into ash, and thus Kiritata, hero of the Federated Alliance, fell silent, his four large, avian eyes seeming to sink into his flesh until they were four little dots.

With their targets dead, Toshir and Park wasted no time in carrying out their remaining tasks. They quickly gathered the corpses together, then piled them up into nice, orderly rows.

They also ordered Chen around. Clean that up. Wipe that memory core. Put that weapon there. Not there! Over there! Pack up these devices. They’re evidence. Don’t worry about that. They’re someone else’s problem. Come on! Drag the bodies inside. Quickly, now!

Soon, a different group of human mercenaries emerged from the upper floor, carrying the bodies of several Keramlik commandos. They placed the bodies next to Kiritata and his men before arming a molecular disruption charge at the center of the room.

Both groups of human mercenaries remained quiet while they worked. They didn’t even glance at one another. They worked mechanically, efficiently, Chen thought, almost as though they had done this before.

After they had carried down the last of the bodies, the second group left the way they came without making a sound. Neither Toshir nor Park acknowledged their leaving, and Chen knew better than to speak.

At length, Chen, Park, and Toshir also finished their work and left through the same corridors that would lead them back to the hole that they had entered through earlier. Above, they can hear human mercenaries packing up their gear and issuing a general retreat.

“Move!” Toshir hissed as Chen began to lag behind them. He redoubled his efforts, but he couldn’t shake away the nausea that engulfed him. They betrayed Kiritata and his men, murdered them. Is there another group waiting out there to do the same to them?

Chen expected an ambush any moment now, a sudden explosion or a bio-chem device to turn them into goo. But none came, and they soon reached a tunnelling vehicle with a human pilot waiting inside. Toshir motioned Chen to enter and shut his mouth, and the youth obeyed.

As they cleared the area, Chen could feel the tremors of an explosion, and he knew that the facility was gone. Who ordered it destroyed? It didn’t matter. All he cared about was the fact that he was alive.

When they returned to the surface, Chen could see a pillar of smoke rising from where the compound once stood. It was such a tiny little thing compared to the soaring skyscrapers that decorated the city’s skyline, but Chen knew that the smoke spread terror to all who saw it.

“Congratulations, kid.” Toshir’s voice interrupted Chen’s ruminations. “You’re in. You’re now a full member of the Company.”


The mission had been a disastrous failure.

All the hostages were dead, along with the noble Justicar Kiritata and his men. The only bright spot in this entire debacle was the fact that Kiritata took all of the Keramlik secessionists with him, thus ridding the galaxy of their evil, and secessionists, as the Federated Alliance was so keen on reminding its people, will be punished!

Furthermore, it was reported that the human mercenaries had conducted themselves poorly during the operation. Fed-All information officers declared that although the humans fought well enough in the beginning, they immediately retreated when they learned of an improvised bomb within the forward area, leaving the brave and selfless Federated Alliance soldiers to bear the brunt of most of the fighting.

Sadly, the blast killed all the soldiers and hostages, along with whatever evidence may have been in the compound. Fed-All rescue drones would later find Kiritata’s corpse along with those of the hostages, but the explosion had so damaged the bodies that it was impossible to conduct a full autopsy. Even so, the Federated Alliance government on Ilm worked fast to dispose of the bodies as quickly as possible.

When news of the debacle finally died down, all that was left were the ruins of a compound and several dozen articles and docu-vids praising the death and sacrifice of the Justicar Kiritata, and the evils of the Keramlik secessionists. More importantly, however, the tragedy gave the Federated Alliance the pretext it needed to pass new legislation to clamp down on secessionist groups all over Fed-All space. Intellectuals and politicians also spoke of the need for “a more robust Federated Alliance,” one that can deal with all sorts of secessionist tendencies among its member states.

As for the mercenaries, they were another matter. The local Fed-All government on Ilm didn’t like to talk about them, so no one talked about them, and over time, the diverse alien masses of the Federated Alliance forgot that human mercenaries had been involved in the entire debacle at all.

For Rodrigo Chen, however, the whole event had been a great tragedy. He had failed his first mission and had performed quite poorly. Despite this cowardice and incompetence, though, the company still saw fit to make him a full member of their outfit and had even awarded him a special bonus for “special services rendered.”


For all installments of “Martyr’s Blood,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1