This is going to be a story about the recovery of the Lentaa after their disastrous encounter with the Verplaatsen. As well as the individuals mentioned, there are colonies on Piasek, Aristotle, Dragovia, some survivors on Obruza, and some more drifitng through space. The Lentaa are not extinct.
Atnel observed the readings on the monitor. After the fleeing the Verplaatsen, he had ended up rather lost, but now he was pretty sure he was in a familiar region of space. The star systems looked similar to those seen on Aristotle, where there was a Lentaa colony, but they all appeared to be rotated ninety degrees. Based on this, he could judge roughly where Aristotle could be.
Atnel had always been an ambitious Lentaa. He set out to join the Grand Lentaa Fleet as soon as he was old enough, and in his training, had always tried to do that little extra, be better than his colleagues. This had earned him a place, and he had risen in the ranks to captain of one of main ships. He had fought against the Keraran empire alongside the Salsenes and Lutrians, and his ship had dealt the first blow in the Daemoniverse.
He called his ship Atnel's Pride. Some Lentaa thought it was a bit selfish to name it after himself, but overall it tended to be overlooked due to his excellence as a captain. And after all, Atnel was proud of his ship. It was six kilometres long, and had remained undamaged in the Daemon invasion; this had been undone when a piece of shrapnel from another Lentaa ship pierced its left 'wing' during the Verplaatsen attack. The whole wing had been sealed off as a possible hazard.
The engines were some of most powerful in the fleet; they'd been designed by Lar's personal engineer; Lar's sign of respect to him. These engines had also saved his life, allowing him to escape from the Verplaatsen before they could be destroyed. Against all orders, they had fled the opposite direction to the rest of the fleet, to increase their chances of survival.
Atnel called out the pilot. "Change our course so we're heading thataway. We'll pass near enough to see Aristotle, and we can land there. There are colonies on Aristotle."
The pilot grumbled, but obeyed. He knew that Salsenes had colonies there too, and though they were, at large, allies, the pilot had a dislike for Salsenes. One of his friends had been on a Lentaa ship in the Keraran invasion, flying side-by-side with a Salsene ship. The Lentaa ship had been destroyed, and the Salsene ship had survived, and the pilot had blamed his loss on the Salsenes. He had disliked them ever since.
Atnel sensed this.
"Can you put aside your personal feelings, for once? The Salsenes had nothing to do with the disaster."
"They survived," the pilot said gruffly.
"It was by luck, not skill and definitely not betrayal. The Salsenes are our allies, but this isn't about them. It's about us rebuilding the Lentaa race, and I just might know how."
The pilot was clearly disbelieving, but kept on course towards Aristotle.
Soon, the planet was in view. It got larger and larger on the monitors, and then, as it nearly filled them, a group of small spaceships rose to greet them. They were SASes, Scorpion Assault Ships. They were used by the Salsenes, and Atnel was sure these were Salsenes. However, it was a long shot that they'd be recognised; the colonies had been set up while the old ship design was still in use. The extra weapons, different engines and larger side would probably lead the Salsenes to believe they were not Lentaa.
Sure enough, they soon received a communication request. Atnel turned to his technician.
The technician flicked a couple of switches and hit a button, and Aristotle vanished from the monitor. It was replaced by the face of a Salsene. He had apparently been in war before; he wore an eyepatch over the left eye, and a scar stretched from somewhere underneath the eyepatch, right down to the bottom of his chin. As he saw them, his mouth was transformed into a smile.
"I'm Opallan Creer. I'm in charge of the settlement that lies nearest to here. There are some of your kind living in the settlement too, and your welcome to join us."
"I thank you for your hospitality, Opallan. I'm Atnel, the captain on this ship."
"We're glad you are Lentaa - not sure how effective our weaponry would have been against your ship," Opallan said, laughing.
Atnel laughed back. "Why not find out," he said. "You have my permission to open fire."
Opallan was aware that Lentaa were protected by forcefields; last time he checked, however, the ships weren't.
"Are you sure?"
"OK. Here we go."
The SASes opened fire, but the bullets exploded before even touching the ship, and the area around them flashed orange. Opallan gave the order to cease fire.
"What was that?" he asked.
"Flame bubble," Atnel explained. "It's forcefield technology we stole from the Daemons, a race from another universe."
"Another universe? You do have some far-fetched ideas," Opallan said, laughing. "You can come in to land now. I'm afraid there isn't much flat land nearby though."
"Nevermind. The legs can hold the ship up above the trees."
"Look forward to seeing you on the ground."
The SASes turned round and headed back to the settlement, and the Lentaa ship followed. They travelled a few miles from the settlement, and landed, using the 'legs' to keep the ship propped above the trees. The Lentaa opened the hatches in the floor, and they flew out. A few minutes later, a Salsene escort arrived at the landing site, though it was small compared to Lentaa numbers. Among them, Atnel recognised Opallan, and flew over to him.
"I think the Salsenes, and of course your kind, will like having new settlers. There hasn't been much happening round here recently. Except..." Opallan trailed off, his brow furrowed.
Atnel considered questioning him further, but decided to wait until the Lentaa had settled in. And then, he might also talk to him about his plans.
For now, the Lentaa followed the Salsenes back to the settlement. Atnel noticed that since he had spoken to him, Opallan had remained silent.
The Lentaa arrived at the settlement, and they were well greeted by both the Lentaa and the Salsenes. Atnel noticed a Salsene try to engage the pilot in conversation; he flew off with explanation or apology. Atnel shook his head. There were no close friends in this settlement. Atnel saw Lentaa he knew, and greeted them politely, but there were none of his best friends or family. Eventually, he decided to go and talk to Opallan, his curious nature getting the better of him. Opallan heard him coming and turned to face him.
"When we were talking earlier, you mentioned something happening in the village."
"Well, rather, you were about to mention it and stopped."
"Yes. That sounds about right."
"So what is happening?"
"People have been... disappearing. One every night, for ten nights now. There's never any sound, no scream. We go in, there's no sign of a struggle, no blood, no body, nothing. The bedcovers aren't even disturbed."
Atnel stared for a second, processing the information. "How many Lentaa, and how many Salsenes?"
"Five and five."
"Any idea who's doing it?"
"I told you, they disappear without a sound, without a single sign. We don't have a clue what's happening. We tried to cover it up at first, but now that it's reached ten, it's much harder. Only a few people are still ignorant of it."
Atnel was silent. Then he asked,
"Where were the people that went missing? Is there any pattern?"
"None that we've seen. But we can show you the locations if you want. Maybe you'll see something we missed."
Opallan led the way through the settlement, to a house larger than most of the others. He unlocked it with a key which he then placed back in his pocket, and entered the house, followed by Atnel.
He entered a room at the far end of the house. It appeared to be a study. There was a computer standing on a desk, and Opallan switched it on, and hit a few keys to start it up. After a few minutes, it reached the login screen. He tapped in a username, and a password 17 characters long. Atnel made no attempt to see or memorise the keys he was tapping.
The computer logged him in, and he drew up a 2D map of the settlement. He clicked a button on the side, and several houses were highlighted in red. He clicked another button, and the houses were numbered.
Atnel studied the map. Admittedly, the numbers appeared to have been picked randomly.
"Turn off the numbers," he said. Opallan re-clicked the button, and the numbers vanished.
"There," Atnel pointed out. "It's shaped like a V. That's the pattern, I think."
"Then why weren't they picked in order?"
"Probably to make you think there wasn't a pattern."
"But why a V?"
"I don't know."
Atnel paused. "Vrah. No, it couldn't be Vrah. What else? Um..."
"What are you going on about?"
"Maybe the V symbolises species name. But it couldn't be a Vrah. All three of us are allies. Who else? Someone who isn't our allies..."
Atnel trailed off.
"See how that point of the V is higher than that one?" he said to Opallan.
"I think the house opposite will be the next target, to make the V equal. I need to be there tonight."
"I just do."
Opallan was surprised by Atnel's change in attitude, but he could tell that something was clearly terrifying him, so instead of questioning him further, simply said, "OK."
Atnel stood in the bedroom of the house he suspected would be targeted. He was too anxious to sit or lie down; instead, he paced about the room. Opallan had made a humorous remark about how there would be no carpet left in the morning, but he wasn't in the room anymore. There were, however, three Salsene and one Lentaa police guards hidden in strategic places around the house, ready to ambush the attackers.
Atnel peered out of the window, but saw nothing. The sky was covered in clouds, blotting out light from the stars. It was pitch black, and he had to strain his eyes just to see the faint silhouettes of the house. Atnel had never seen it so dark as a child, when he was living on Skogland, but then, he had been asleep most of the nights he could remember. Atnel placed the time at around midnight.
The settlement, although Atnel supposed he should probably call it a town, was silent. The house's windows faced in such a direction that he could not look out upon the houses that had been previously targeted.
He heard a creak. It seemed agonisingly loud against the silence. A thought flashed through his mind; underneath the fabric, the stairs were wooden. The ground floor was stone, though, so they must already be at the stairs. Atnel's heartbeat increased, and he began to panic. Surely he would have heard them getting in. Even what he was waiting for surely couldn't get in silently.
Then, considering it, Atnel realised he had no idea what their ground weaponry and guns were really like. He'd heard legends, in which the hero carried guns capable of vapourising anything it touched. What if they had one of them. But, surely they were just a legend?
Creak, creak, creak. The attacker wasn't making much of an attempt at stealth. Maybe he couldn't help it, or maybe he expected the house's normal occupant to be fast asleep. Well, he'd be getting a surprise.
Another creak, and then it stopped, but instead he heard the tap, tap, tap of feet on the wooden floor. But the rhythm didn't sound like something bipedal. It sounded more like a quadruped.
Atnel was staring at the bedroom's closed door, when it vanished. He blinked, and tried to clear his eyes, but it still wasn't there. So they did have a vapouriser or disintegrator.
Then, the entire wall vanished. An arachnid-like creature stooped in, its height forcing it to bow down.
It had four legs, tipped with a single point upon which it stood. It had four arms. Two also ended in a point, but the other pair ended in a hand with flexible fingers. These hands were holding a long gun. The gun had a barrel, handle and trigger, but no ammo feed, supporting the idea it was a disintegrator.
The body itself was covered in a bony exoskeleton, except the back, from which sprouted thick layers of dark blue hair. The head was bent, and hard to see, but it had twelve eyes, and a strange mouth that seemed to extend outwards in four directions.
Even though the creature was in the room, Atnel had no way of knowing if it was a Verplaatsen. After all, he had only seen the spaceships. He decided a test.
"Oi, you Verplaatsen!"
It raised its head sharply, smashing through the ceiling. Angrily, it smashed away the ceiling around it, allowing it to see.
"You!" it growled. "Treacherous Lentaa who dared believe you could confront us!"
Yup, Atnel thought, that's a Verplaatsen.
Attracted by the shouts, the police guards burst into the room, and opened fire. While muttering obscenities and moaning about leaving his armour behind, the Verplaatsen spun round, smashing all three Salsenes round the head with its disintegrator, and then disintegrating the unconscious bodies. Atnel flew at it, shock claws ready, but it grabbed hold of him in midair, and threw him against the far wall. The Lentaa police guard, who had been waiting outside, flew in upon hearing the commotion, but the Verplaatsen raised its gun and fired, and the Lentaa was disintegrated.
However, already lights were turning on in nearby houses. The Verplaatsen swore again, and scrambled out of the room.