Chapter 0:

The Rent Sky

The Siege of Zerai








I stared at the massive screen, which displayed a map of the world where entire continents were red as designated targets for our military battle net. The command staff in the room with me were typing as quickly as they could, painting more and more of the world over.

My finger hovered over the button that would begin an attack of apocalyptic power.

I could barely stop my hand from shaking. One button press and the offshore carriers will launch swarms of drones that will ravage every coastal city we've tagged. One press and the silos across the country will unleash their payload and send dozens of missiles out, each with the power to level half a city. One press and armored columns will sally out from every friendly base around the world, aimed at subjucating the city that suffered their presence for diplomatic purposes.

The weight of the stars on my shoulders has never been so heavy before.

I shouldn't be hesitating. The president was assassinated along with everybody else in his cabinet just twenty minutes ago by a covert Jenoran kill team. In an unlucky coincidence, the Alliance had also picked that time to begin cyberwarfare attacks in earnest. Our tech officers and their defenses were barely keeping them away from our drones and keeping our communications up.

Of course, they weren't working together. Our intelligence network, even under extreme strain, was able to pick up reports of the Alliance military being decapitated and Jenoran communications breaking down.

Andrian doctrine was explicit about what to do should I find myself in such a scenario. Retaliate with overwhelming force. Target any identified production facilities, static defenses, and important political buildings to totally and utterly destroy their ability to fight back, collateral damage be damned. For any nation foolish enough to launch such a brazen attack deserved no mercy.

But one little twitch of my finger would destroy millennia of culture. The ramifications of what I am about to do are overwhelming.

What an awful time for my conscience to kick in, after all these years.

"General. All targets are locked in. Waiting on your go."

I glance over at the officer who spoke and nodded to him. I turn back, swallow hard and lower my hand. My finger rests on the button.

I stare at the blips marking the location of our forces, particularly the offshore drone carriers. In a few seconds, each of them will blossom into hundreds of blips as they unleash the swarms of death they were carrying.


I look over at the officer, who was giving me a carefully calculated neutral look.

"You must execute immediately. The drones will be compromised soon."

There was a hard edge in his voice, and his right hand had casually slipped off of his keyboard and onto his hip, where a holstered weapon was undoubtedly hidden.

Andrian doctrine stated that firing on your officer was an acceptable act under extreme circumstances, should they display an unforgiveable act of cowardice or betrayal. This officer clearly thought that my hesitation was the former. Another few seconds and he'd execute me and push the button himself.

"Stand down, son. I know my duty."

I thought back to the many atrocities that had been commited during the unofficial Cold War in the past few years and found that little nugget of anger inside me that I'd set aside for occasions like this.

I pushed the button, and whispered a prayer to my ancestors.

On the screen, the carriers bloomed into a beautiful pattern of blips that all spiraled out, then coalesced into a blob that started flying right towards the coastline. Streaks denoting anti-missile fire ranged out from the coastline-

The drone blips disappeared.

"What?" Someone muttered into the silence.

A moment later, the blips of the carriers disappeared too.

This time, I spoke. "What the hell?"

Friendly blips all over the world began disappearing in a seemingly random pattern.

"Did they finally take down our battle net?" I asked out loud.

"I'm double checking, sir, but no. Everything seems to be functioning normally."

As if to support his statement, communications officers around the room started recieving reports from various bases around the world. The room quickly devolved into an incomprehensible din of sound, with occasional phrases managing to break free.

"Calm down-"

"-repeat your last-"

"-you're what?"

A communication officer yelled out to me, rising above the clamor.

"Sir, Alpha Base reports that they're under heavy aerial bombardment."

A chill racked my spine. "Bombers? There can't be any stealth bombers that advanced."

"Not bombers, sir. They're reporting-"

The building suddenly started shaking, hard enough that I had to grip the console in front of me to hold steady. I swore under my breath as I tapped a series of commands to bring up an external surveillance view.

A view popped up on a corner of the screen, which I quickly enlarged to fill the screen. The camera was mounted underneath an overhang above the front gate and gave a very clear view of the front courtyard.

There were streaks of light dropping down from the sky like rain. Wherever the light struck dirt, the spot heated so fast that it glowed red, then quickly cooled into glass.

A drop of molten metal dripped right in front of the camera and I realized that the overhang was melting under the barrage. A second later, the lights broke through and destroyed the camera.

I cursed loudly, and nobody called me out on my unprofessionalism. I quickly brought up another view, and another one after that. Each was destroyed quickly. Soon, we were completely blind.

The room was deathly silent. There weren't even any ambient reports from panicking bases punching through.

There were a million different things running through my mind, but I quickly focused on what was important right now.

"We need to get to the bunker," I said. Some people listened, but most had a blank look of shock on their face. "Move it!"

My shout quickly brought them back to Earth, and they follow me to the door. That's one of the perks of rank - being able to leave first in a crisis.

Someone had already keyed the door code in, and the heavily reinforced doors were slowly opening. As soon as the opening was big enough, I squeeze my way through and...

I freeze.

Sunlight is flooding the hallway beyond.

I look up. The ceiling is gone. The lights had already punched through every level of the base. The reinforced command center was likely the only intact room left.

It only just now struck me that the base had stopped shaking and the lights had stopped coming. I could see the sky, with some clouds floating by that were punched so full of holes it was a wonder they hadn't dissipated.

These last few dregs scattered as an alien spaceship made from an unrecognizable alloy descended from orbit to rest directly on top of our base. Even from down here, I can make out the unmistakable shapes of weapons mounted on its belly. All of them rotated as one to point directly at...


I shoved my way back into the command center, knocking over a few surprised people who were in a rush to follow me. I quickly keyed the code back in and the door slowly began sliding shut again.

"Sir, what are you doing?"

"We can't make it to the bunker. This is the safest area of the base." I try to inject as much confidence as I can into my voice.

The room starts shaking again, much more violently than before. Everybody is knocked to the ground, some unlucky few slamming their heads hard enough to get knocked unconscious.

Or maybe they were lucky, because the ceiling is starting to glow.

The ceiling's glow goes from yellow, rapidly shifts to orange, then starts turning red.

We weren't going to make it out.

People say that time slows down when you're about to die, but I couldn't even decide on what to reminisce on before the ceiling suddenly breaks open and a massive beam of light floods the room.


N. D. Skordilis
Joe Gold
Sujin 崇神

The Siege of Zerai