art by Jason Stirret
by Rob Butler
Tyllaxis pressed a button and fired off the day's rockets. He did it now with a heavy heart. The war had been churning on for centuries. In his early days as a junior he remembered how ardent he had been. The fifth planet had to be punished. Their crimes were unpardonable.
He glanced to his right. Now he was in charge and his junior sat in turn at his side. She had asked him that very morning, with some hesitation, "What exactly did they do?"
Tyllaxis did not know. And when she asked why they still fired the rockets every day, all he could give her was the party line: "To ensure our security."
The screens showed the rockets arcing away through space, on course. It would take nearly half a year to reach their target. They followed yesterday's rockets and those from the day before. A continuous stream of terror and death.
One year later and Tyllaxis bowed his head as the words of comfort were read solemnly over the grave. She had been so young. She would have taken over from him by next winter, when he was due to retire. Now she was gone and his retirement was on hold. So many people were dying. It seemed to hit the youngest first and hardest. So far there was no cure for the plague. He returned to the control room after the ceremony and fired off the day's rockets.
Two more years passed. The control room was empty. There was no sound other than the hum of electronics and occasional beeps from the computers. Tyllaxis sat alone, his eyes focused on a cobweb around the launching button. Outside, the rocket bays stood silent. Nothing moved apart from small dust flurries stirred up by the wind.
Suddenly he jumped as an alarm sounded. Killing the noise, he stared in astonishment at the instrumentation. Three spaceships had entered orbit. With mounting horror he scanned them and confirmed they were fifth planetary vessels. A lander was undocking and on its way down.