Hootzek got out of bed. He quickly got dressed and prepared for the day’s labor. According to the Righteous Judgment’s artificial daily cycle, it was about four o’clock in the morning. As was usual for them, both Hootzek and his two colleagues had been sent to bed early enough that this was not a problem.
They set about doing their daily work. They were slaves, and their first job was to prepare things in the morning for when the conduits and other slaves woke up. They were to have the table set and the kitchen ready for the chefs, medications laid out for certain individuals who needed them, armor and weapons ready for soldiers, particularly the Shadow Squad, and arrange that several other things were as they needed to be for the morning.
Their entire lives had consisted of work like this, ever since they were old enough to work. Slavery is all they had ever known. Hootzek’s species had received a two-hundred-fifty-six year sentence a while back for a few illicit conquests. Its sentence was not due to expire until after Hootzek would likely be dead.
He was treated reasonably, so far as slaves go. His life was rather barren of pleasure, but conduit slavery was not usually a fate worse than death. It was deliberately less luxurious then freedom, but not so bad that he couldn’t bare it.
After finishing his morning work, he went to take his first meal break. His food was of a much lesser quality than the conduit crew received, but was not inedible. After this he would go on to serve other functions on the ship until going to bed at eight pm.
Nax woke up at the sound of the alarm. He got down from his bunk. He began putting on his armor and preparing for the briefing. As he did, he noticed that one of the morning slaves had not polished his armor properly. He knew which slave had been charged with that task and intended to beat him later. Generally, slaves enjoyed the same rights as children in regards to physical punishment. It was not to be severe enough to leave any mark nor done unprovoked. Nax, unlike most other conduits, did not really care about these laws. Nax had gotten good at hiding marks on many different species and had always managed to avoid any trouble for his actions.
Meanwhile, on Domination, Molly was welcoming the Commander back onboard after a night buried under a sandy desert.
“Good morning, sir,” she said.
“Good morning,” said the Commander. He turned in the direction of one of the slaves on the ship. “You. Get me some water now, plenty of ice.”
The slave nodded and ran to get the beverage.
“How did you get yourself under there?” Molly asked.
“That one in the green armor, the one who tossed a solid diamond wall aside like it was a small bottle of wine, and who cloaks the Shadow Squad’s drop ship without seeming to have any equipment. He sealed me inside the ship, shifted the sand so much that it made a hole large enough to contain the ship, and buried me in the desert.”
“I see…” Molly said, “Do we have any more clues as to how he does any of this?”
“No, we do not.”
The slave returned with the water. The Commander looked at it. “Not enough ice,” he said. “Go back and try again.”
“Get me a drink while you are at it!” Molly shouted as the slave walked off. She turned back to the Commander. “Do we have any plans for our future engagements with him?”
“No,” the Commander said, “I don’t know what exactly the true limits of his power are.”
Molly nodded. The two went back inside.
Mat entered the briefing room, where the usual AI construct was waiting to explain their mission.
“Hello, Shadow Squad,” the construct said. “Today, you will not be taking on your primary function as assassins, but your secondary function as Special Forces. You have been tasked with the destruction of a major trading city.”
Mat’s unnerved reaction would have been visible had anyone been looking for it, but he was able to keep from interrupting the briefing.
“The city is a major hub of trade for the humans both within their empire and between them and their allies. Its destruction will do significant damage to the Monarchy’s economy. Because of its age the city is still largely powered by a single nuclear fusion reactor at its center. If this fusion reactor were destroyed in the right way, the result would be disastrous for anyone in the area. Your job will be to make your way to the center of the city and plant an explosive device near the reactor. The main door to the reactor is very heavily guarded, and as consequence it will not be the entry point you use. Instead, the bomb will be delivered to the reactor via a small shaft which leads to the chamber housing the reactor. Because of the shaft’s size, it will not be navigated by you, but by an assistant. He is a member of a slave race, the ursonians. He will be capable of navigating the shaft. Once you have gotten him to the entrance to the shaft, you will return here via wormhole. He will navigate the shaft and place the explosive, and then activate its countdown before also returning here via wormhole. Is your assignment clear?”
“Yes,” Aaron said.
“Very well then,” the briefer said, “you will meet him in the main room on your way to your drop ship.”
The Shadow Squad left and went into the hallway.
“This assignment is unusual for us,” Mat said. “This job seems fit for an invasion army rather than a squad of assassins.”
“Our current tactics are not exterminating the humans fast enough,” Aaron said. “The humans are more powerful than any of our previous enemies. If we are to eliminate them, we need to do more to kill as many of them as possible as fast as possible.”
They reached the main room. They saw the slave there. He was long and short, like a snake or crocodile. He had scaly skin and was sandy in color. His eyes were bright green, the color of lime as opposed to the hazel of green-eyed humans. He turned and noticed the conduits. He approached and bowed, as was customary.
“You may stand,” Aaron said.
The slave stood. This only rendered him marginally higher due to his anatomy. The Shadow Squad walked out and the slave followed them.
The Photon Squad lowered themselves in their drop ship and approached the city of Drakelcon. They landed on a pad near the fusion reactor at the center of the city. They emerged from their drop ship. They were greeted by a military-looking type. He was a higher-up going by his insignia.
“Come with me,” he said.
The squad followed.
The Shadow Squad landed near the outskirts of the city. They exited, along with the slave.
“Alright,” Aaron said, “the Photon Squad is in the facility from which one would usually enter the reactor core, which is exactly where we are not entering. However, we need to make them think that we’re taking the route they expect us to take. Hence, Nax, Dany, Gar, and I will go to the usual entrance, whilst Kron, Mat, and the slave will head toward the actual reactor core. Kron, keep your focus on ensuring that the humans have no reason to believe that we are attempting to access that vent.”
“Yes, sir,” the Shadow Squad said in unison.
“Yes, superior,” the slave said.
Tim paced across the facility. Along his patrol, there was a window. Well, not really. It was actually a view screen showing a distant part of the city. There were people running about their business. Many civilians had been evacuated, but the importance of this city made stalling trade for a full day impractical, so there were still hundreds of thousands of people walking about it, most of whom were non-combatants. There was a group of workers on their meal break. The restaurant was attended primarily by slaves. It occurred to Tim that the conduits, who professed their moral superiority on the basis that the humans were taking these slaves, were themselves going to kill them. The slave races had not been sentenced by the conduits to extinction and conduits were not under orders to kill them on sight, but conduit attacks often had slave casualties. Conduit records listed these as collateral damage. Humans were not listed as such, as their deaths were the goal of such invasions.
Humans were often accused of being amoral slavers. It was right to call them slavers, but not entirely right to call them amoral. Generally, the same legislations applied to slaves which applied to animals. Slaves could not generally be killed except for food, beaten except for punishment, or forced to participate in gladiator sports. Many slaves were actually house servants or personal companions, some more like pets than sources of cheap labor. When slaves were used for industry, they were generally directing and managing machines rather than laboring manually themselves, or else working counters, which a human might do.
Truth be told, it was sometimes better to be a human slave than a conduit one. The conduits deliberately ensured that their slave’s lives were dull and average, occupied by work and little else. What happiness they got was through idle conversation with each other. A conduit could legally communicate with a slave, but would not typically do so. On the other hand, a conduit slave had many more rights than a human one. A human slave could, in theory, be killed and eaten, though differing biochemistries, which meant that a large number of alien biospheres were completely inedible and the fact that they were usually more useful in other functions, ensured that this was a rare occurrence. It was also easier to get away with abusing a human slave, as they were expected to be within the home and there would be no inspections. On the other hand, a human slave could more easily voice complaint, and such a complaint would be considered by the courts to be sufficient to warrant investigation into the slave’s treatment
Tim focused in more on the civilians. It was his duty to protect them. He couldn’t allow himself to fail. “I need to succeed,” he thought, “for their sake.”
As Kron was busy cloaking himself and the others, Mat and the slave walked quickly toward their destination.
“What is your name?” Mat asked the slave.
The slave looked surprised. “You… you’re talking to me?”
“Yes. I am.”
“I was requesting information.”
“Why would you care about my name?”
“I don’t like referring to slaves as ‘slave’ all the time.”
“Alright then… Gohi. My name is Gohi.”
“Nice to meet you, Gohi.”
Mat was not surprised by Gohi’s shocked look. There was nothing formally forbidden or punishable about what Mat was doing, but it was highly unorthodox.
“Thanks,” Gohi said.
“So where do you usually work?” Mat asked.
“6924 a,” Gohi said, beginning to get used to the idea of being spoken to in such a casual way.
“Power crystal mines?” Mat asked.
“Yes,” Gohi said, “after some of the taller slaves mine the crystals I drag them across the desert for several miles. I make trip after trip for about eleven hours a day before receiving recreation time.”
“I see. So, what do you usually do during your recreation time?”
“I mostly have conversations with the other slaves. Why do you keep asking me these things?”
“Just making conversation. I only have this short time with you after all. So then, what do you usually converse about?”
“Theology,” Gohi said.
“I see. Would you like to be more specific?”
“Well, we talk a lot about species theology,” the slave said.
“Oh, I see,” Mat said.
“I’m not a rebel or anything,” Gohi said.
“I believe you,” Mat said, “I know that if I were in you condition I would not be content either.”
“I know that that’s the point,” Gohi said, “I’m not supposed to be content. I and the rest of my race are being punished for the sins of our species.”
“I know,” Mat said, “I’ve always thought that if I were like you, I’d comfort myself by contemplating the fact that, even though I wasn’t living a very comfortable life, I’d still be assisting the Holy Dominion of the Conduits in the good that it does.”
“Perhaps. I suppose that it does do some good by freeing the people who have been illicitly
“And you help,” Mat said, “you can try to take comfort in that.”
“I suppose,” Gohi said.
Having no cloaking, Aaron, Dany, Nax and Gar had to rely on traditional stealth to get to the facility. They managed to get rather close to the facility, having had to kill only a few persons along the way to prevent themselves from being exposed. As they approached the facility, Dany armed a grenade and threw it, killing the two guards posted outside and blowing the doors off their hinges and into the back wall. Quickly, more soldiers ran out, but the Shadow Squad made quick work of them.
The Shadows ran inside, searching for the main entrance in the manner they would if they planned to use it. They were able to easily dispatch all persons thrown at them until they ran into the Photon Squad, with the exception of the Commander, who was elsewhere in the base.
The Photons quickly began firing on the Shadow Squad. The Shadows headed over to cover. Dany pulled out his grenade launcher and loaded several grenades which were designed to refrain from detonating until he gave them a specific command. He fired several, at which point the Photons ran away. He detonated them quickly enough that Crystal was still in the blast, burning her back. She continued to run away as fast as she could. She requested a wormhole to the surface. One was granted. The Shadow Squad followed the other four down the hall, and was able to keep them on the run with their fire.
Suddenly, a shot fired into Aaron’s stomach, just below his heart. The other three turned around. It was the Commander. Aaron sent in for a wormhole and all four of them retreated onto the Righteous Judgment.
Mat, Kron, and Gohi reached the small shaft from which the reactor could be reached.
“Alright,” Mat said, “go on in there.”
“I need to be lifted into there first, superior,” Gohi said. “It is too high.”
“Alright,” Mat said. He picked Gohi up. He was heavy, but not impossible to lift. Mat put Gohi into the shaft. Mat sat there for a moment contemplating what was about to happen. The reactor would explode, killing all of the persons here. This was all completely in line with everything he had been taught. The human species had been sentenced to death, and such a judgment was righteous and within the power of the conduits as the appointed judges of the divine ones, so why did it feel wrong?
By all accounts, it was not wrong. It was unfortunate that so many slaves would have to be killed along with the humans, but that kind of collateral damage was a part of war, and nothing could be done about it. As for the humans, though, their deaths were objectively good. They had been justly sentenced to death and therefore were worthy of it. It was not just right, it was cause to rejoice, but to Mat, it did not seem like it was either. It seemed as though a grave evil was being committed. Mat had felt this before. He felt it often. Not on every mission, but on a certain type of mission. Any time he was killing a person who seemed innocent. Mat knew none of them were innocent, but some felt more innocent than others. He had little problem with taking out someone who had been responsible for millions of conduits dying, or been on the front lines of numerous conquests, but most humans fit neither of those descriptions. Mat had taken the job as an assassin in the hope that he would be able to avoid killing more people than he had to.
Mat had never joined the military voluntarily. He had been drafted. Drafted solders were allowed to request a specific assignment, though their request could be denied. In Mat’s case, it was not, and he entered the rigorous training gauntlet he would need to be an assassin.
He passed with flying colors, and was appointed to the most elite squad in the dominion. Sadly, that now entailed this. Being assigned to this sort of job was not typical, and indeed, this was the first time Mat had been ordered to bring about destruction on this scale.
Mat knew there was nothing he could do to avoid participation that would not get him killed, so he quickly reminded himself of the relevant doctrine. He drilled it into his own head until the pain of conscience went away for a little while. It would come back, but when it did, Mat would be required, on pain of death, to suppress it once again. He had to. He was eventually able to calm himself. It occurred to him that he probably ought to wormhole out, and he did, along with Kron.
The shaft was something of a maze for Gohi as he entered it. It was designed such that one could not simply throw a grenade in. For one thing, the first stretch was uphill, and it lasted for a long while. It led to a fork, with one path leading the same direction, but downhill, and the other one leading up and to the left. The one to the left was the correct one. Gohi had studied the plans thoroughly, and he knew which way to go.
As he neared the end, he considered the conduit who had spoken to him. It was strange to be subject to a casual conversation with a conduit. He had once seen a conduit child berated for trying to talk with him in such a manner. Slaves were in a state of punishment. It was not usual that they should be allowed the pleasantry of casual conversation with a free person. It was quite deliberate that there was little in life for them to enjoy. He got the feeling that this yellow armored conduit was somehow different from others.
Gohi eventually reached the reactor. The heat was quite intense, and would have been unbearable for most species. Not him though, he had evolved for intense deserts. He also had been given a suit which allowed him to survive the radiation.
Gohi reached the room with the reactor and planted the bomb. It was designed to go off in about forty seconds. He saw that he had been spotted. He didn’t care. He used the wormhole generator he had been provided with to return to the Righteous Judgment, and the closed the wormhole behind him.
The human who had spotted Gohi quickly sounded an evacuation alarm. Instantly, wormholes to evacuation ships opened in the base. The Photons left and got onto Domination. After all of the wormholes had been closed, the reactor exploded. The city was, in its entirety, destroyed. There were no survivors therein.
After dinner on the Righteous Judgment, Mat went off into the Squad’s bedroom. Kron followed him there.
“Why did you talk to the slave?” Kron asked.
“I wanted to,” Mat said.
“You realize that that’s abnormal right?” Kron asked.
“Yes,” Mat said, “I do, but I also know that it does not violate any rule.”
“Well, no,” Kron said, “and I don’t mean to be accusatory. I’ve just never seen it before.”
“Well part of it was boredom, but I have always found that conversing with slaves can be interesting.”
“They have a very different perspective on things then I do,” Mat said. “That always makes a conversation more interesting.”
“I suppose I can see that,” Kron said.
The Commander had been ordered to the comms chamber. The Monarch wanted to have a conversation with him. The Commander bowed as The Monarch’s hologram appeared.
“Hello,” The Monarch said, “You just allowed a major trading city to be blown up along with over eight-hundred-thousand people, likely causing a major economic crash as everything we had that depended on that city is now going to go away. In addition you did so on the day after you were unable to prevent conduits from kidnaping my daughter. You have this one chance to explain why I shouldn’t disband your squad and re-assign all of you to janitorial duty.”
“The conduits did not behave as we had anticipated--”
“Did not behave as you anticipated? Your job is to prevent the Shadow Squad from carrying out their missions successfully. This includes being able to anticipate and counter their strategies. If you cannot do this successfully, you are not fit to continue this job.”
“Now, as for the fate of your squad, you will continue to operate as you currently do until I find someone better to do your job, but your funding shall be halved.”
“But we need that money to operat--”
“So do all of the families whose parents will soon no longer have jobs because they were dependent on the city you just allowed to be destroyed. As of now, you have shown yourselves to be failures. My order shall stand until further notice.”
The Monarch’s hologram vanished. The Commander continued kneeling there. He clenched his fist and gritted his teeth for a second, and then stood up and returned to his quarters.