Sandra Wright’s social media posts went viral. So did every other post with information about how to kill the Canteron. But Sandra’s was special, because she already had a slight reputation as my assistant and a researcher on alien life.
“They’re slow,” she wrote, “and their reflexes are awful. I just killed three with one friend without using weapons. All you have to do is get close. Watch out for their guns though.” And then three pictures of Canteron Corpses and her own bloody right hand.
By the time we had reached the roof of the hospital, her words had been reposted thousands of times. And others were chiming in, sharing their own pictures of Canteron corpses. They were sharing their own traps and methods.
It took nearly ten minutes for the human military to respond beyond firing long-range missiles. By the time they had, an estimated eighty percent of the Canteron soldiers on the ground had been killed by humans. Untrained, noncombatant humans.
Mostly, this was the Canteron’s fault. They forgot the difference between a space war and a planet war. There were parts of the battle they outmatched humanity in — their weapons were much more advanced, for one, and their ships practically invincible. But in other ways, they were hopelessly outmatched. They didn’t know the planet they walked on or what sorts of weapons the humans had. They didn’t know that humans, if in enough panic, don’t care about hurting themselves. They didn’t know how dangerous humans are when cornered.
And they didn’t know a thing about Earth or all the dangers it concealed. They either hadn’t read anything about the planet, or didn’t believe what they read.
I had to restrain myself from sending the Canteron mothership a very snarky, “what did you expect?”
Sandra and Nick and another human doctor helped me up to the top of the hospital. The roof was conspicuously devoid of spacecraft, but I spotted Skaalt’s ship flying loops around the Canteron war ship. He was taking evasive maneuvers, and he was being tracked by a few of the onboard guns, but not all of them.
He pulled the ship around as soon as we appeared and practically crashed into the roof in his haste to get to us.
The landing door crashed open, and Skaalt roared down at us, “Get in!”
Sandra sprinted up the ramp ahead of Nick and I, holding her bloody arm away from her body.
Nick got me up the ramp. The doctor ran back downstairs to help with the autopsy of the Canteron soldiers.
Sandra vanished into the shower room, and I heard the water running hard, and then the unmistakable sound of a human retching.
We joined Skaalt in the bridge of the ship, and I had to quickly lock the wheels on the wheelchair to stop myself from rolling all over the room as we took off again. Skaalt’s ship shot past the Canteron warship still hanging over the city and towards the sky.
“Where are we going?” Nick asked.
“Out of here,” Skaalt said. “We can’t stay on a planet that’s being invaded. Too dangerous.”
With that, he threw the ship’s engines to full-throttle, and we careened upwards into the atmosphere. The vibration, as always, was tremendous, and the force sucked the air from my lungs. The clear dome of the bridge filled with streaks of fire.
When it cleared, there was only the faint blue tinge of the atmosphere and the silken black of space remained.
Sandra came out of the washroom. She walked shakily over to where the three of us were clustered. There was dried blood all down her side and crusted under her fingernails, but other than being paler than usual, she seemed okay.
She sat down on the floor next to me and leaned against my chair. I noticed she was breathing fast and deep.
“Are you okay?” I asked her.
Sandra nodded, shook her head. “We just killed three people who were trying to kill us,” she said. “And I have blood under my nails.”
“Those were people to you?” Nick asked her. “They looked like monsters to me.”
I reached down to Sandra and squeezed her shoulder. She grabbed my hand in her clean one and squeezed hard. She was shaking. Nick was too, I noticed, but not as hard.
“Canteron,” I said, squeezing her hand. “Do look like monsters to most species, but they are people. Paradise world evolution works differently than other planets. They had no competition, few predators, no need to do much more than move towards food and away from cliffs. They are perfectly logical in their thoughts because they have no need for emotions or even worries.
“That said, they are still people who have made a habit of stealing other paradise worlds from anyone who would have them, and who are attacking humans for daring to push back on them. They should have expected a violent response.”
“And hospitals!” Sandra exclaimed. “They attacked hospitals! Of all the underhanded, disgusting moves to pull, they went after hospitals.”
“Well,” Nick said, “if they really wanted to cripple us, it was a good idea…”
“But they should have bombed it from the atmosphere,” Sandra said. “Unless…” she gripped my hand harder still, “they were coming after Acharya.”
“No,” I said quickly. Skaalt also rumbled his disagreement. “No. I’m not that special, Sandra.”
She murmured something under her breath.
“Besides,” I said, “if they kidnapped me, the entire galactic library and all its allies would be obligated to declare war on them. Whereas if I was killed in an attack with a long-range weapon… well it would technically be my fault for staying on a planet that was at war.”
“That’s crap,” Sandra protested, but I talked on.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “I… I don’t think this will last very long. Let’s figure out how many ships they have and where they are. And then we should probably talk to a human governmental body. I think the safety of the species comes before our rules.”
“You move at a slug’s pace,” Skaalt said. “The European Union says hello. They’ve been yelling at me since we landed in Italy.”
Sandra let my hand go, but I couldn’t bear to not be touching her right then, so I returned it to her shoulder.
“You two relax if you can,” I told the two humans. “Skaalt and I will deal with this while we’re in space.”
Sandra took a breath and stood. “Sure,” she said, “but let’s put a splint on that leg first.”
She had gotten a medical splint from one of the doctors, apparently, and now she pulled it out and went about strapping it to my leg to hold it still. It hurt, but I knew it was important to hold the break stationary, so I didn’t protest.
After she was done, Sandra sat beside me again, put her head against my good leg, and closed her eyes.
“Thank you,” I told her and Nick, “for staying behind and protecting me in the hospital.”
Sandra nodded against my thigh.
“Of course,” Nick said, “we wouldn’t leave you behind.”
Sandra managed, “mhmm.” And then, “sorry. Adrenaline crash.”
I patted her shoulder again, and she sighed against me. Nick collapsed down in a nearby chair.
Skaalt sent the ship shooting across the planet, zipping away from another Canteron war ship that was visible only as a dark spot in the already dark void.
There was a whine from the control console, and Skaalt reached over and hit a button.
“This is the scavenger vessel Quick Sliver,” A voice garbled in galactic common. “Identify yourself or we will engage as an enemy.”
My ears pricked up, and Sandra raised her head sluggishly.
Skaalt hit a button. “This is Skaalt, planetary surveyor. We are protected as diplomats and explorers under Peacekeeper code and Galactic Library code. We are taking shelter from the battle on the planet below.”
“Fuck,” the voice said in English, then in galactic common. “Understood, thank you.”
“What was that?” Sandra asked.
“It’s the Quick Sliver,” I told her. “They’re the ones who started this whole mess.”
“Oh,” Sandra said, “good for them.”
“Dron Acharya says you are the ones who began the war,” Skaalt said into the communications array in English. “Is that correct?”
“Yes,” there was a pause, and then. “We’re here to finish it, if we can.”
Another voice came over the communications line. “Wait, were you down there?”
“Yes,” Skaalt confirmed.
There was another pause before the first voice returned. “This is the Quick Sliver requesting permission to approach and dock with your vessel. We wish to speak with you about the situation on Earth.”
Skaalt looked at the three of us. Sandra and Nick had looked up. The color was starting to come back to them, and the shakes were subsiding.
“It would probably be safer to be with another ship,” he said.
I nodded. The average pirate vessel would be large enough for Skaalt’s personal scouting vessel to land inside of, even. And I would rather be out of sight and surrounded by experienced combatants during an interstellar war.
“Okay,” he said, “but for your own safety, I should tell you that we are carrying three people classified as biological hazards by the Galactic Library.”
“Understood,” The voice said, “we also carry biological hazards, but they are all human.”
Skaalt rumbled in amusement. “Understood. Initiate docking procedure when ready.”
The Quick Sliver was aptly named. It was a sharp, angular ship, agile. It appeared out of nowhere before us, and a scavenger’s grapple extended towards us. It was many times the size of the small vessel we were currently in, and it had no trouble plucking Skaalt’s ship out of the void.
Nick and Sandra both leapt to their feet again as the clamp thudded against the outer hull of the ship.
“It’s okay,” I assured them. “They are just bringing us aboard.”
The humans were still just as nervous when the claw drew us into a huge airlock and set the ship down gently on its landing gears.
There was a hiss, and the entrance sealed behind us. The airlock pressurized and, a moment later, the door to the ship opened.
Three humans and a smallish, quadrupedal, four-armed, green and orange insectoid creature stepped around the doorframe sideways and the insectoid scuttled up the wall to the ceiling above us.
I said, “Lorak!”
“What is a Lorak?” Sandra asked, though clearly she knew because she was making eye contact with a handful of the Lorak’s eyes.
“They are a highly-organized community species,” I said, “that one is a worker-Lorak. But if they have a whole hive, they will have a brood-mother, soldiers, possibly some nurses or specialized workers.”
“They’re like ants?” Sandra asked.
“I suppose. If ants could choose what social niche they wanted to fill during adolescence and were very good at engineering.”
She smiled at that.
Skaalt and Nick were heading towards the ship’s door.
“Do you want me to push you?” Sandra asked.
I thought about it. “Just for the ramp. I’m not used to this thing yet.”
She took the push bars on the chair and wheeled me down the ramp to the side metal floor of the pirate vessel. Nick and Skaalt were waiting for us at the end.
“Hello!” A human voice called, and then another, in galactic common, “Greetings and welcome.”
“Good meeting,” I said back, though not as loudly. They were calling to us so we would know where they were coming from, I thought.
Three humans came around the ship. Two women and a man. All three of them were a little sooty, like people tended to be on scavenger vessels, and all three of them looked very serious. But the moment they saw us, that facade broke, and they gaped at us.
“What happened to you?” The man asked.
At the same time, one of the woman said, “Dron Acharya?” I flicked an ear at her in acknowledgement.
“Canteron,” Sandra said, and raised her arm so they could see the blood all down her side. “We killed three when we were cornered.”
The woman grinned, and I saw two of her teeth, the sharp ones, were just a little longer than the others. It sent fear pinging down my spine. Skaalt shifted his front legs closer together, preparing to launch himself at the humans if needed.
“You killed them?” She asked.
Sandra nodded, and Nick said, “she got two. I got one.”
“And you?” Theresa asked me. I was still carrying the laser rifle we’d stolen from the Canteron across my lap.
“They handled themselves just fine,” I said. “I didn’t have to do much.”
“This is Acharya,” Sandra introduced me. “They’ve been on Earth for almost a year.”
“We know,” Theresa said.
The Lorak made a sharp clicking noise as its antennae collided. All three of my Deathworlders jumped, but the other humans just looked up. “Is that the planetary surveyor?” The Lorak asked in galactic common.
“Yes,” I confirmed.
They crawled down the wall to me and examined me with several careful eyes. “You need to see a medic,” they said.
“What are they saying?” Sandra asked me.
“That I need to see a doctor,” I relayed.
“You do!” Sandra nodded at the Lorak, who was apparently familiar enough with human body language to know she was agreeing with him.
The lead human stepped forward, mostly looking at Skaalt and myself. “Before that,” she said, “tell us what’s happening on Earth.”
Sandra glanced at me. I thought she might be about to insist that my leg be seen before anything else. I could not think of how to tell her that insisting on anything around these humans was a bad idea.
But before I could say anything, Sandra said. “We were in a hospital. They’re targeting hospitals.”
“What?!” The outrage in the chorus of human voices sent the Lorak back up the wall. They disappeared into a passageway halfway up it, and I realized they were going to carry the news to the rest of the hive.
“But, why?” The lead human demanded.
Nick and Sandra just shrugged. Skaalt said, “Well, it would be very effective if it was any other planet.”
“But hospitals!” The other human woman decried.
“No rules of warfare in space,” The man said. “Where’s Carlos at? We’re gonna need more mustard gas bombs.”
Sandra and Nick both looked horrified.
“What’s mustard gas?” I asked them.
“It’s a toxic gas. Melts your lungs in your chest. And your eyeballs,” Sandra told me.
“Chemical weapons are forbidden on Earth,” Nick said. Then, to himself, “can’t take anything for granted in space. Jesus Christ.”
I glanced at Skaalt, who couldn’t scold me about not asking about forbidden weapons, of all things. I didn’t like to think what kinds of weapons would be outlawed on a deathworld.
The Lorak reappeared. “Kasi says to bring Dron to him, and he will look at their injuries.”
Sandra put her hands on the push bars of my chair, but none of the other humans moved out of the way.
“Not yet,” Theresa said.
The Lorak made a raspy hissing noise and settled down on the wall.
“First,” Theresa said, “we need to know if you’re going to help us.”
“Help you?” Nick asked.
“Kill the Canteron,” Theresa said. She crossed her arms behind her back and raised her chin. It was a posture I didn’t know, but Sandra put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. Hard. And now, I thought, she knew how dangerous these humans were.
“I cannot speak for Sandra or Nick or Skaalt,” I said, “but I can’t help on a battlefield.”
None of the other three spoke up. I looked back at them, but their eyes were all fixed on Theresa.
“Yes,” Skaalt said, “we will help. But we are not soldiers.”
Theresa nodded. “You won’t need to fight. We may just need your hands.”
“Okay,” Sandra said. “Now the doctor. Please.”
“I can wait if there’s something urgent,” I protested, but not loudly. The painkillers the humans had given me were beginning to wear off.
Now Theresa turned. She curled one finger in the air and gestured us forward.
The wheelchair squeaked and left a trail of tacky Canteron blood on the floor as it moved. Sandra was still pushing the chair, and Nick was beside me like a guard. Like they would have been able to do anything against these people. Skaalt ducked to follow us through the corridor, since he was taller than even udomach construction usually accommodated for.
Since I wasn’t walking, I was able to concentrate on the ship around us. The Quick Sliver was abuzz with sound and motion. I saw Lorak moving inside rooms, but no humans. I counted five in all, plus the one who had notified the ship of our arrival, so that made at least six Lorak. And I knew that there were at least seven humans in the crew from previous reports. So it was an almost even split between them.
It was fascinating that a human group had been able to integrate with a species so different from them. I had seen such things before, but humans were such a young species, and so inexperienced with space travel, I would have thought they wouldn’t be able to handle socializing with Lorak at all.
One of the Lorak workers came out of a room ahead of us, their antennae twitching. Rather than wait for us to pass, they climbed up the wall and passed us while upside-down. The woman leading us murmured a greeting in galactic common to them as they passed, and they returned a click of their limbs.
I was too curious to stay quiet.
“Excuse me,” I said in English, “what’s your name?”
The woman didn’t even look back at me. “Theresa,” she said.
“Theresa,” I repeated, “how long have you been on the Quick Sliver?”
She turned her head and looked at me out of the corner of her eye. “Why do you care?”
“It’s my job to care about these things,” I said.
“Well,” she said, “you’re off the clock.”
I decided to wait for a friendlier person to ask more.
Theresa took us to the door of the ship’s cafeteria and opened it for us. The room was identifiable only because it was connected to the kitchen. It had been transformed into a medical bay except for one corner, where a table with ten chairs sat.
A lorak and a human were waiting in the medical bay. At the sight of us, they both leapt to their feet.
“Bring them here,” The Lorak said in galactic common, gesturing towards a medical cot that had been bolted to the floor. “Tell me what happened.”
I was more in my element now, and I boosted myself up onto the bed using my good leg and my arms. “The bones in my legs are prosthetics. This one has been damaged twice in the last year, and it broke when I was pushed to the ground today.”
“Your bones are synthetic?” The human asked in perfect galactic common.
I nodded to them, “Only my legs.”
“We won’t be able to do much here,” The lorak said, “but we can ease your pain and properly immobilize the break. And then we can let the Galactic Health and Wellness Coalition know you need more medical attention. Someone can be sent to tend to a planetary surveyor.”
I nodded my assent, and the Lorak scuttled up the nearest wall and into the kitchen to a fridge.
“What’s your name,” I said to the human in English.
“Ferdinand,” He said. He was examining my leg very gently, pushing and pressing. “I think I can at least set this for you.”
“Don’t bother,” I said, “the synthetics can’t heal like a human bone.”
“What does that mean?” Sandra asked, sounding fearful.
“A routine surgery,” I said, “to replace the damaged bone.”
Her eyes widened in horror, but Ferinand just made a little curious noise.
“Space age technology is so much less elegant than I thought it would be,” He commented, “especially medicine.”
I flicked an ear in amusement. “I said the same thing when I first learned how it was done.”
“You are way too calm about this,” Sandra muttered.
“You are the one who killed two Canteron with your bare hands a few minutes ago,” I said. “and you are being very calm about that.”
“I’ve been too busy worrying about your damn leg to think about it!”
The lorak, who must be Kasi, came back to me with a syringe of clear fluid. “Lay down and roll onto your side,” they instructed me curtly.
I did as I was told, and Kasi pulled my clothing aside roughly with two of their hands, exposing my lower back and hips. They paused, antennae waving at the edge of my vision, and then I felt a sharp jab between two scales, and my whole lower body went blessedly numb and fuzzy.
Instantly, I felt a thousand times better. My mind started to spin again. I was painfully curious about how the Canteron were faring on Earth. Also, I wanted to know how my humans were doing.
I rolled onto my back so Kasi could remove the crude human splint on my broken leg.
“Sandra, Nick, Skaalt,” I said, “do what the humans here say, but do not fight the Canteron yourselves if you can help it.”
“Okay,” Nick said.
“Happily,” Skaalt said.
Sandra said nothing, but she was glaring at me and frowning.
We’ll be cracking open the space ships, mostly,” Ferdinand said, “so no need to fight. We’ll let the rest of the humans do the work. If there’s any left to do, that is.”
“What are you going to do?” Skaalt asked me.
“I’m going to classify Earth,” I said. “I should have done it months ago.”
“I’m staying with you,” Sandra blurted like she couldn’t hold the words back anymore. “I can help track the Canteron’s movements,” she added after a beat. A flush crept up her neck, which was something I usually associated with humans being drunk, so it just confused me.
Ferdinand yanked on my leg once. Hard. I hadn’t noticed him moving into position for it. At the same time, Kasi pushed hard on my thigh above the break to ground me in place. Even through the numbing, I felt something pop. Relief surged through me for the second time.
“We’ll let the medical bot do the rest,” Kasi said to me.
“I’ll wait for a hospital ship,” I protested. “I’m not in any danger.”
This derailed Kasi, but Ferdinand nodded. “Let’s focus on reducing your swelling,” He said, “Let’s elevate your leg and get a cold compress on it. Then, we’ll probably have to leave you here. So it’s good Sandra will be staying. She can help change out the ice packs.”
Sandra nodded gratefully at him. I made the conscious decision to push their behavior out of my mind. There was a war going on out there. And I had to do my part to bring it to an end. As Sandra and Ferdinand went over basic interim care for a broken limb, how many humans were fighting for their lives?
The answer, I learned later, was none. Because by the time I’d been tucked away safely in the Quick Sliver, there were no living Canteron on Earth. They had all been killed within the first hour of setting foot there.
While I lay on the metal bed and fashioned myself a smaller-than-usual work station, the Canteron died in droves. And after Skaalt and Nick had vanished, Sandra pulled out her own notebook and set it up on the table beside mine. And we sat side-by-side, or, rather, I laid with my leg awkwardly raised in the air, and she sat, and we kept count along with the humans while the Canteron died.
The number of Canteron soldiers who invaded Earth on-foot was, initially, five million. Which is a staggering number of armed combatants for a single-planet civilization. For a military like the Canteron’s, however, it is an infinitesimal fraction of their total population. It was almost an insult to only send five million soldiers to war.
This is how the five-million Canteron soldiers on Earth died.
Of the three million estimated Canteron that attacked hospitals, medical research centers, and other medical facilities, 2,995,948 were killed in the first thirty minutes of the invasion in close-quarters combat with medical staff and patient’s families. Hospitals and medical facilities being full of chemical and physical weapons, I didn’t know what they were expecting. The remaining 4,052 were captured, also by medical staff and family members of patients. An additional two thousand of them died within the next day of injuries sustained in the battle. The rest were captured, quarantined, and eventually formed the core of what we now know about the Canteron’s plans and thoughts.
Of the remaining two million who did not attack hospitals, one million were killed by civilian humans in the first hour of battle. Their mistake here was not leaving humans well-enough alone and insisting on going after civilian populations. Particularly, they went after crowded, populated areas where humans congregated. And although most humans fled from them, and an estimated three-hundred-thousand were killed or wounded, even one human combatant was enough to turn the tables on them. And in every crowded place, there were plenty of humans eager for war.
500,000 Canteron soldiers were killed by human militaries. This includes the small aerial vehicles they wisely deployed for scouting purposes. Human pilots seemed to enjoy picking them out of the air with missiles, guns, and even some rudimentary laser weapons.
The remaining 500,000 fell prey to Earth. It feasted on them. 100,000 died after being mauled by domestic dogs. 50,000 were killed by wild animals, mostly large herbivores they approached too closely. 20,000 were killed by large livestock, including horses and cattle. Five were kicked to death by kangaroos and ten were bitten into pieces by hippopotamuses. Snakes, spiders, and other venomous creatures killed most of the remainder. The rest were killed or severely wounded by plant life or natural hazards. Most of them were captured, treated by human doctors, and survived. All except for the last half-dozen, who died when they were left, tied up, outside of a military building, were bitten by mosquitoes, and died within twelve hours of a disease called yellow fever. The rest of the Canteron prisoners were lucky enough to be kept away from the wildlife by humans.
This death tally doesn’t account for the millions upon millions of Canteron soldiers who died aboard warships in space. The 99% of the army that had not made it to Earth and died without ever seeing a human in the flesh.
Sometimes, when it’s late and I am the only one awake, I think about those Canteron, dying in their spaceships to an enemy they didn’t understand. How terrible it must have been to fly towards war while having already lost. I would say it was terrifying, but Canteron can’t be afraid. So I think it must have been very morbid instead.