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andrius-b t1_j8smuqi wrote

"The fleet is in position, sir."

Admiral Matthew nodded, not moving his gaze away from the green-and-purple planet on the display. Even from high orbit, the enormous honeycomb cities of the V'raal were visible, gleaming in the light from the binary suns. The sight was both alien and beautiful.

"Hail them one more time," he said.

"Yes, sir," the communications officer said. "Hailing across all channels."

The planet on the display was replaced by a tall winged humanoid with grey skin who glared at Matthew with large compound eyes. The resemblance to Earth insects was, of course, coincidental; the instinctive revulsion could be overcome.

The alien's lips moved out of sync with a synthesized voice. "Humans. So you show your true colors at last."

"I'm Admiral Matthew aboard flagship Arthra," he said. "We come in peace."

"Your fleet encroaches upon our home," the alien hissed. "In my name as the High Queen, we will fight to the last!"

He sighed. "We do not seek to destroy you. We wish to trade. To exchange ideas. Haven't we had several decades of successful communication?"

The queen made a clicking noise that the computer failed to translate. "Such things inevitably end in the destruction of one of the species involved."

"You've been betrayed before," he said, nodding. "So have we."

"Then you understand what kind of place the universe is. We all clawed our way to the top of our food chains. We do not suffer rivals."

He spread his hands. "Even so, we would take the risk. We would be your friends."

"Friends? You say that even as your fleet draws closer!"

"We only came because you stopped responding to our signals," he pointed out. "Anyone would get concerned when their closest neighbors fall silent."

The queen's translucent wings fluttered, raising her off the floor. "You should have had the sense to stay away. We do not wish to communicate. We do not wish to trade. And if you don't leave, we will destroy you!"

The transmission cut off, and all at once, the bridge erupted into action.

"Orbital defense platforms are locking onto our vanguard."

"Missile launches detected from the surface—"

"Numerous combat craft launching from the second moon!"

Admiral Matthew sighed and slumped back in his chair. "So be it."

The battle was as brutal as it was short. The kinetic weaponry of the V'raal was impressive, but the human ships boasted laser armaments developed in collaboration with the Abetti, antimatter reactors bought from the Gerurians, and superalloy hulls invented on Earth. In less than a day, the planet's orbital defenses were reduced to a cloud of rubble. Still the aliens stubbornly refused to answer any attempts at radio contact.

"There's no choice," Matthew said. "I'll have to land and speak with this High Queen directly."

"Are you sure that's wise, sir?"

He shrugged. "We can't convince them of our intentions if I don't do this much. Prepare the landing shuttle."

In short order he sat strapped in alongside a squad of grim-faced marines. The shuttle shook as it broke into the planet's thick atmosphere. He turned to watch a screen on which the hive-city the first transmission had come from was steadily growing larger.

A siren blared, and the shuttle veered sharply, the straps cutting into his chest.

"They're firing at us!" the pilot exclaimed.

"Steady, lads!" Matthew yelled. "Arthra has orders to provide support."

A pink energy beam lanced down from the skies like a finger of god, and a mushroom of smoke erupted on the surface. Another beam followed. Matthew closed his eyes and sighed.

It was a bumpy ride, but they made it in one piece, setting down on a field before the smocking wreck that was the hive. Matthew pulled on a breathing mask. The marines' sergeant offered him a gun, but he waved it down.

"Stay behind me," he said. "Weapons hold unless I say otherwise."

The sergeant appeared dubious but snapped off a salute. The hatch opened with a hiss of air. Matthew tilted his head up at the scarred wall of the hive looming ahead and grimaced. If only the fools had listened.

He disembarked, his steps springy under the lower gravity. Movement by the hive's wall caught his attention. A V'raal lay trapped under debris, one wing broken and oozing silvery blood, chest laboring for breath. Waving back the marines, Matthew slowly approached and did a double take when he recognized the queen.

She flinched as his shadow loomed over her and shielded her face with an inhumanly slender hand. He stooped and heaved off the debris with a grunt. The queen froze and stared up at him with her prismatic eyes.

He extended his hand. "Let's be friends."

She considered his hand as if it were something poisonous, then let out a defeated hiss. Slowly, she raised her trembling hand to clasp his.