Zyon Genna had been away at war for more than two standard years, but the hardest part was going home. The small dropship taking him back to his farm also carried his eldest son, Alistair, and his middle son, Rome. The little cabin was weighed down by the ghost of Emerald, Rome’s twin sister. Her remains still hadn’t been recovered. It had been six months since she’d been killed in action, but they’d all have to relive it again when Zyon told his wife, Avalynn, and youngest son, Bode. There were no communications to or from the front.
Bode would be sixteen now. Two years brings a lot of change at that age. He’d been too young for conscription two years ago, and Avalynn was granted a caretaker exemption then. There were no exemptions these days. Everyone had to fight, because if the Preds broke through, everyone would die.
It was an unwinnable war. In that way, and only in that way, it was a war like any other.
It was dusk now on this side of the green subsatellite Ramsay. The dropship put them down in a grassy valley at the end of the sprawling property and swiftly departed, returning to the troop carrier waiting in orbit. Zyon and Alistair wordlessly shouldered their bags and took a few steps toward their home when Rome growled, “No.”
They turned to face him. Alistair had the same small mouth and pinched eyes as his father. Centuries earlier they would have been well suited for poker. But Rome’s face shared his mother’s wild expressiveness, and the thunderclouds that had been gathering there for days were breaking into a violent tempest. The Preds used time and memory as tools where humanity wasn’t far removed from stones and fire. To be on the receiving end of forces such as those, manipulated and weaponized with malicious intent, made many people turn inward, solemn in deference. But Rome, once such a gentle boy, was exploding before them.
“No!” he shouted. “You did this; both of you!” His voice rasped in his raw throat and white spittle formed at the corners of his lips. “We never should have been there. Never should have left. You failed to protect us from the conscriptors, failed again to protect us on the front. How will you protect us now?”
Zyon and Alistair were more statue than human. They’d all left a little of their humanity on the battlefield.
“Nothing to say? Or just too frightened to say it? The Preds will come here and to every world, and you’re content to wait for the slaughter like its the goddamned rapture. Is that it? Well I will not wait. If I’m the only one willing to do something about it, so be it!” In a smooth, practiced motion, Rome removed his service blaster from its holster and fired a plasma round through his brother’s face, leaving a dark red cloud and little else. He pivoted, turning the gun on Zyon, and the valley echoed with a second shot.
Rome fell over like a calving glacier.
Zyon turned slowly, carefully, and saw across the field a young man with and old colonial pulse rifle—pre-war. The man lowered the weapon as he approached. He was within ten meters before Zyon recognized him as his youngest son, Bode. He looked much older than sixteen.
“I was never going to be able to save Alistair,” Bode said matter-of-factly.
Zyon’s heart sank. He felt the implications of that sort of talk before his mind could put words to it.
“I had a premonition,” Bode explained.
“Then they’ve already been here.”
Bode only nodded. He didn’t look much like Zyon or Avalynn, his gene expressions a throwback to generations now forgotten. “The Preds killed Mom last winter,” he said. “I’ll walk you home. We can bury them in the morning.”