Ryan dashed madly through the halls, wing tips that had never been meant for running beating out a staccato pattern on the tiles. He could hear the blasts outside the walls, the quick rapport of gunfire answered by the almost silent hissing of the invading army’s weaponry. They had come out of nowhere, appearing in the sky overnight and blasting away several of the largest cities on the planet without any warning. Ryan dodged around a pair of startled interns standing in the middle of the corridor. A particularly loud hiss ended their confusion as a chunk of the wall exploded, priceless artwork and masonry gone in an instant.
Ryan turned left at a juncture, and caught sight of his goal in the distance. A small, unassuming door lay set off to the side next to a pair of lavatories. His people’s tendency to hide important things in out-of-the-way places had helped them weather the first onslaught, allowing them to prosecute a war they were clearly losing. The invading forces were not invincible – Ryan had seen enough of their forms littering the ground, oddly hairless faces peering through broken visors as their bodies seeped a red liquid he assumed was their blood. Their technological superiority, though, had been evident all along. They took control of our communications easily enough, Ryan thought as he ran, so it figures they’d find us sooner or later.
He opened the small door, not bothering to knock. Judging by the madness inside the room, no one would have heard him anyway. Glowing screens covered one wall, displaying security footage from outside the compound. Far too many of those images are blank, Ryan thought sadly. I don’t think we’re going to make it through this one.
The emperor was where Ryan knew he would be, standing quietly next to the device that was his right. The Last Resort stood there, quiet and ominous in its state of readiness. Ryan approached and fell to one knee before the emperor, but he was quickly bidden to his feet.
“Not much point in that now, is there?” The sonorous voice that had enthralled so many crowds held a note of sadness today. He indicated the room around them, the activity panicked in its intensity. “We work to hold on long enough, to let our civilians get to safety, but we no longer have any real chance of escape.”
“Your highness, there is always hope,” Ryan asserted, desperation playing through his voice.
“Ah, the optimism of the young.” The emperor turned to look at him. “So tell me, what news have you brought?”
“Your daughter and son are safe, your highness. The transport left an hour ago.”
“Small comforts.” The emperor sighed. “You have been a trusted friend and advisor.”
“Thank you, highness.”
The emperor waved a dismissive hand. “I speak only the truth. You’ve been with me since we were both children, enduring the same training, taking on your role as my prime guard with tenacity and dedication. I will never forget that.”
“Nor will I, highness.”
The emperor turned back to the screens. Scenes of horror from around the area were displayed in a grid along the far wall. Here a pack of defenders firing into the forests were vaporized by a stray flash of light – some kind of particle beam nobody understood. There, a lone soldier charged a hill held by the enemy only to be cut down by the same weapon. A third showed only a burning husk of a vehicle – one of the few they had left. Nothing they had seemed able to stop the devastation wrought by the invaders – their greatest defenses cut to pieces like meat carved off a carcass. Another screen went black – they were down to a dozen now, the original eighty-one defense points having fallen one-by-one.
The building rocked from some kind of impact. Ryan couldn’t tell what it was – whether it was some of the invader’s pernicious beams causing a section of the structure to collapse, or more of those kinetic energy weapons – weapons no more complex than a guided metal bar driven with great force from the sky – crashing into the ground nearby. We might have had a chance, if those weapons didn’t target everything that moved, Ryan mused bitterly. All of our artillery and military vehicles destroyed in fifteen minutes. And we thought ourselves mighty.
“Commander, what is our status?” The emperor’s voice rang out over the din, its full tones overriding the cacophony of chatter in the war room.
A man looked up. His uniform was bedraggled, as if he’d been dragged out of bed and thrust into it bodily. That probably isn’t too far from the truth, Ryan thought. The commander straightened his lapels and began speaking.
“Sir, most of the roads coming into the area have been taken by the enemy. Our forces have been reduced to a tenth of their original size, and that number falls by the minute. We have had several perimeter breaches of the command center. So far none of the invaders have stepped inside the walls, but that is only a matter of time.”
“I see.” The emperor pondered for a moment. “And what of our other forces?”
“We lost communications with the empire’s other military units approximately three hours ago.”
“And on the rest of the planet?”
The commander shrugged. “Our information is obviously limited in that area, but our spies that are still active report the same story all around – no one has stood against the invaders and met with any kind of success.”
“Thank you commander.” The man returned to his duties, and the emperor sighed. He turned to face Ryan. “It seems like we’re up against the wall here.”
Ryan nodded solemnly. “I don’t see how we can salvage this one.”
“And a moment ago you were so optimistic.” The emperor laughed, a sad sound with no trace of mirth. He held up a controller, retracting the cover from the firing mechanism. He placed his thumb on the button, and smiled at Ryan. “For the glory of the empire.”
A flash of color in one of the monitors caught Ryan’s eye. A hint of clothing and a familiar face being pushed forward pulled at his mind, and Ryan’s mouth dropped. He lunged desperately for the controller in the emperor’s hand, a strangled “Wait!” erupting from his lips.
But then the bomb exploded.