By Eric 'Erico' Lawson
Author's Note: About a week or so ago, there was apparently a discussion in the Ben 10/Bwen community about what villains could be "Redeemed". I heard about it after the fact, thought about it, and came to a decision. Some villains shouldn't be Redeemed. But you can still understand them a little bit better. That's the goal with this story. I'm not Redeeming Vilgax or making him a hero. He's a brutal warlord and a monster with grand aspirations of galactic domination. But every villain is the hero of their own story, and most villains don't start out as villains. Their life and experiences fit them to the role. This story is my attempt to UNDERSTAND Vilgax, and to provide an explanation for how he became the feared galactic warlord that we know him as. Shadows59, on Beta-Reading this, said I'd done the job marvelously.
Vilgax makes for a better villain than most, and it has everything to do with his life goals.
The theme song for this story is Metallica's "Hero Of The Day."
Vil, son of Gax, was not born a slave. He became one at the age of five when the Incursean Empire, whose borders had been 300 light years distant in the time of his father and mother's youths, pushed outwards.
"It will be all right, children." His mother Sau had promised them, when the ships belonging to the accursed Frogs rained fire down on the cities of Chimeral, the homeworld of their people. She had held them close and tried to sound brave, even with their father lying dead in the rubble of their home. But for a few minutes' delay out in their fields had the rest of them survived. "It will be all right. The Galactic Enforcers will come. They will stop this. They will drive the invaders away from our world. It is what they were made for, to bring peace to the galaxy."
But the Galactic Enforcers did not come. A shock collar was wrapped around his neck, underneath his tendrils, and another went around his mother's. His sister Fra was still just a baby; she would receive her collar when she started walking, the Frogs sneeringly promised. His mother wept as the Incurseans conquered their world wholesale, but in the dead of the night, she still held to her belief that the Galactic Enforcers would save them, that they just needed more time. That they must be fighting the Incurseans somewhere else, and that they would come as soon as they could.
Sau, mother of Vil, kept on believing that until her dying day. Vil was eight revolutions in age, an adolescent on the verge of his first maturation bloom when she was executed by their overseers for stealing food; food that she had been taking to the sick and the dying that the Frogs refused to feed for them being a 'waste of resources.'
When Fra turned five and received her own shock collar, her brother Vil felt a cold, certain Truth settle into his two beating hearts.
Nobody was coming to save the Chimera Sui Generis. They were on their own.
Vil, son of Gax wasn't like the other Chimeran slaves. He had a sharp mind and fast hands. He had a talent for machinery that he had first used to repair the farming equipment that he and the others used to work the fields. It took his overseers about a month to discover that the skinny child had skills beyond menial labor, and then he found himself being reassigned from the work farms to a mechanic shop in the nearby town.
The Frog who had been put in charge of him was as cruel as the rest, but not as sharp-witted as some of the other Incurseans Vil had known before. He learned to keep his head down and his mouth shut and his work steady. Other Incurseans came to the shop more often, and the rations he received from his overseer improved in quality and quantity. For the first time in years, he was finally eating well. So was his sister, Fra, who squealed with joy every time he came back home with his parcels. "It's so much, brother! You're wonderful!"
Vil gave his small, frail sister a smile every time and patted her head, and screamed inside of his mind. To her, this was normal. She had grown in slavery, and did not remember Chimeral before the Frogs came.
The longhouses they stayed in were pathetic shacks that didn't quite keep out the cold. The older Chimera Sui Generis that they stayed with did their best to educate them, passing on not only their tongue, but their written language as well, their heritage in the only way that they could; with sticks and rocks scratched into the ground, and the beginnings of an oral tradition. They would weave tales of the world-that-was before the Frogs came, and Vil struggled to believe in them. The ones younger than he was couldn't believe it; how could they, when the old ones spoke of buildings as tall as mountains, great gardens that rose out of the swamplands, floating cities out on the oceans that they said their people came from?
They would tell them stories and teach them math and language, and in the morning, Vil would pick up his bag with a few scraps of food and trundle back into town and keep repairing the things that the Incurseans brought in for him and his overseer to fix.
Time passed, and the things that he was told to fix changed. They became more complex. One day, his overseer even told Vil to fix one of the Incursean's fancy space guns. They were sure to remove the power pack out of it, both to keep him from blowing himself up and from using it against them, and it took Vil all day, poring through a manual and pestering the Incursean who was elbows-deep in a polycraft's engine for some of the trickier phrases, before he finally figured out that the problem was a warped phase inducer coil in the housing. He was gleeful when he replaced the damaged part and handed the weapon back over to the Frog who had brought it in. The Incursean had slapped a power pack back into it, charged it up, and then fired a shot down at his feet. As Vil yelped and jumped away, the cruel Frog laughed and declared the work adequate, and Vil fumed at the humiliation of it. His overseer had merely snorted and then told him to get back to work. At the end of the day, along with the usual rations, the overseer handed Vil a box of broken parts and a few technical manuals (In Incursean) and told him to study up.
Vil went back home and unloaded dinner, and after he'd fed Fra and put her to bed, he started in on the pile of junk and books he'd been given. Among the battered and damaged scraps and busted equipment he found a treasure that might not have belonged in the box with everything else. It was a radio.
Working in what little free time he had before bed, Vil spent the next two weeks studying and learning how to fix the subspace receiver. Only after he was sure that every wire, diode, and ground was set correctly did he attach a small power supply he'd stolen from the shop. He was rewarded with the scratchy hiss of the universe's background microwave radiation, and then he started tuning the dial.
Vil was nine revolutions old, and Fra was five, when he found a broadcast on his radio that wasn't Incursean in origin. It was Chimeran.
"To any Chimera Sui Generis who is listening to this broadcast...you are the Resistance."
There were other voices that came over his small and scratchy receiver at night after he returned from work. There were others who were fighting against the Frogs, with varying degrees of success. Vil wanted to help them. He wanted to reach out to them. One major problem was that the Incurseans were monitoring communications. Mentions of trying to reach the Galactic Enforcers to call for help were made.
Vil thought they were wasting their time, but he couldn't have told them that, even if he wanted to. What he could do, though, was prepare.
He kept working hard at his job under the overseer, who quickly learned to appreciate the effort his slave put forward. Vil kept learning things, slowly became fluent in the Incursean tongue, and more importantly, their written language. Over the span of a year, he went from being a useful assistant to a full apprentice inside the regional repair shop. News of the shop's talented mechanic spread, and soon he found entire shipments of Incursean weapons and transports and equipment were being sent to them for maintenance and repairs. The work got busy enough that the overseer had to go and find more help, and Vil was given added responsibilities, supervising the others and training them up to his standards.
And if a weapon on the return shipment went missing with a report that it was 'too damaged to repair', the Incurseans didn't much seem to mind. Other weapons were returned, but with a critical component replaced, and a notation that the original component had been destroyed. Hovercoils and repulsor emitters were misplaced, shipping manifests were altered. It was a mixture of creative accounting, outright forgery, and sleight of hand, but their overseer was as inattentive as always, so long as the work was done and done to his satisfaction. Slowly but steadily, Vil and his team of helpers began to accrue a stockpile of gear, divided up and stashed away in various boltholes throughout the village and in the wilderness beyond it.
Fed on better quality food and with the work soon becoming more physically demanding as they were tasked with fixing up hovercraft, transports, and even the occasional plasma engine, Vil passed through his first maturation bloom with a definition to the muscles beneath his green skin that he had lacked before. His mind grew in equal measure, and by his eleventh rotation, Vil, the son of Gax was fluent in written and spoken Incursean, could field strip a hovercraft into parts and reassemble it in a day, and had finally worked out how to change his one-way receiver radio into a true transceiver. He waited three more days to avoid attracting undue suspicion after taking the last component he needed, then finally sent out a broadcast of his own.
Nobody on the radio used their real names; the chance of the Incurseans listening in on the broadcasts was too great.
Vil, son of Gax, called himself The Mechanic.
"What are you working on, big brother?" Little Fra asked him one night when he had come home early enough that she was still awake with an hour before her usual bedtime when he started in on his projects. A soldering rod in one hand and a telescopic loupe affixed over a red eye for the delicate circuitry work, Vil carefully retracted the tool away from his project before turning to glare at her.
"You need to take three steps back, Fra." He told her authoritatively, and after she pouted for just long enough to make her displeasure apparent, his squidling sibling did so. "I'm fixing something."
"A helper." He said, which was true enough. It was a drone, one that the Incurseans used for supply transports, equipped with powerful grappler arms beneath the main housing that folded up to double as landing struts. The thing had been another piece of equipment too heavily damaged, and for once, it had been their overseer who had declared it junked and thrown it out. True, the main housing had taken substantial damage and one grappler arm and two of the antigrav repulsors were battered after the thing had suffered damage from an entire container of foodstuffs falling onto it.
The Incurseans wasted so much, if they would only spend a little extra time to fix things properly, they wouldn't need to constantly reorder things and make them brand new. Not that Vil was going to tell them to do anything different. It had taken him the better part of a week and had required him learning about antigrav technology from the ground up through service manuals, but…
He finished making the last connections, gave it a burst of compressed air to cool the solder, and tested the circuits with a power monitor. All green and within tolerances.
Vil sealed it up, reattached the power battery, and drew in a deep breath as he reactivated the carrier drone.
The thing's optics blazed to life, and it slowly rose up off of his workbench until it was a foot in the air and turning to look at him. Vil smiled, and Fra let out a happy laugh.
"It's floating!" His little sister exulted.
"Yes. Yes it is." He agreed, and looked past the drone to a box of loose parts he'd taken home with him over the years. Including the focusing lenses and emitters and barrels for a half-dozen laser rifles.
The Incurseans had numbers and brutality and overwhelming force on their side. They had no imagination whatsoever.
The Mechanic had imagination to spare.
Fra was killed four days before she turned nine.
Vil had returned back to their living quarters after a long day and found it all uncharacteristically quiet. When he walked inside, he was stopped by one of the old ones, who warned him to say nothing about what he saw. Sheltered by the others, Vil was stunned to see other Chimerans, bloodied and dirty and wrapped in bandages with stolen Incursean weapons, lying in some of the beds. They were members of the Resistance, Old Mother Solia explained in a low voice, and had escaped from the next province over.
Fra was amazed that there were people who were actually fighting the Frogs, but Vil did his best to keep her away from them. He had never told his little sister about his own secret identity, his own work. He hid the truth of his actions taken in secret, the reality of his second life, because he was her big brother. Because he thought it would protect her. So he told Fra not to talk about them tomorrow while she was working, to try and forget about them, to try and pretend like nothing was any different than usual. When he left before the sun rose the next morning for work, he was fully intent on doing the same.
The day's repairs were normal for Vil and the others, and he allowed himself to think that perhaps it would all turn out well. That thought lasted until just past midday, when the unexpected and unwelcome sight of a hovertransport full of Incursean troopers passed by outside. Vil's blood went cold, and he dropped his work and raced to the door, getting there just in time to see the patrol screaming out of the village, on their way out into the countryside.
Not there, please, not there, Vil pleaded in his mind. The overseer was in the back on his break, and the other Chimerans only dared hissed whispers to try and pull him back to his duties. It wasn't enough. Vil took off at a dead run, headed for home, headed for Fra.
He didn't make it in time. Even at a distance he could hear the distinct sound of the Incurseans firing their weapons, the fainter sounds of screams. He cried mucus tears from his red eyes and kept on racing, stopping and hiding only when the noise of the transport's engines became audible, and the ship full of murderers passed overhead half a cycle after he'd ducked beneath some scrub brush.
Vil found his home undamaged, but surrounded by corpses. The injured, recuperating resistance fighters now lay dead with holes drilled through their chests from laserfire. More than half of the other permanent tenants lay dead as well either from gunfire or more grisly slashing and stabbing wounds, while the few that were left wavered and chanted the prayers that would guide their spirits back to the Eternal Ocean at their burial.
He found his sister's body among the dead, her red eyes wide and her hand clutching a ragged cloth doll he'd bartered for two revolutions ago for her birthday. It was marred with blue blood, spilled from her neck right above her now stained shock collar. They had slashed her throat open.
He didn't know how long he knelt there beside her cooling body, the last living member of his family, now taken from him. When one of the surviving old ones came to him and shook his shoulder, Vil barely reacted, even if he did return to his senses.
"We were betrayed." The old one said in sorrow, and Vil blinked twice before jerking his head towards her. "I heard them mention Dopa's name, saying he'd been right. He betrayed us for their favor."
The epiphany of a betrayer, a conspirator, a collaborator in their midst, rocked him. Dopa. An older and bitter Chimeran, more concerned with his own lot in life than in the common good. He'd been a part of the field laborers for a year, and had never wasted the chance to complain about things and reminisce about the old days.
The Resistance members who had come begging for aid were dead because of him and the Frogs.
Fra, his sister, was dead because of him and the Frogs.
Vil, son of Gax, son of Sau, brother of Fra, had been dancing at the edge of full commitment to fighting back against the invaders for months. He closed the eyelids of his sister's body to give her rest, kissed her forehead to say farewell, and rose to his feet with something cold and hard and vile burning in his chest.
Other Chimerans would wail and weep and pray to bring peace to the dead, to grieve for themselves and the loss of those they shared their lives with.
Vil was not like other Chimerans. He told the old one to bury his sister in the traditional ways of their people and walked for the longhouse. He walked by the Incursean flag planted in the soil amidst the dead bodies left out in the sun, a warning made clear that all who did not bend the knee would perish. He left it all behind and went to his room, and began to dig up every last scrap of contraband he could find. And all of it was intact. The Frogs had come to deal with an obvious, physical threat. They had come to snuff out the Resistance, to punish those who helped them. Their flag, planted amidst the sea of bodies, was a visible and visceral warning.
They had come to end the Resistance in his province, but they had missed The Mechanic. And now he had nothing left to lose.
That night, death came to the village.
The overseer in the repair shop had been furious to discover that the Chimeran boy who was his favorite slave had run off mid-project, and believing that he had grown too lax, triggered the 'kill' sequence on Vil's shock collar. With the impressive transmission range of the remote, everyone knew that Vil would be lying somewhere, his brain fried and his body cooked, so nobody bothered to go looking for him. Especially after that transport of Incurseans who had flown through the village came back long enough to grab a few drinks from the pub and laugh about the 'Stupid Squids' who had thought to protect a few members of the Resistance. And there was one Chimeran they had dragged in with them that they even bought a round for, even though the fellow's green skin was so pale it resembled bleached seaweed. As the Frogs bragged, Dopa was the Chimeran smart enough to know it was better to cooperate with the Incurseans than to resist them. Everyone knew Dopa. Nobody had really been friends with him before, and they hated him now.
His shock collar was missing, too. He was being put in charge of the village, a Chimeran Overseer to make sure the rest toed the line. They left him with a directional remote to access other shock collars via line of sight, finished their drinks, and left.
The sun was just beginning to set and the Chimerans were feeling suitably cowed while Dopa strutted about, keen to please his masters if for no other reason than survival, when the screams and the sound of laserfire started. The Incurseans in the village grabbed their weapons and ran out to deal with the ruckus while the Chimerans ran in the other direction.
Out of the chaos of red laserfire flying in all directions came a single drone, converted from a cargo carrier, but armored and bristling with weapons mounts. It hovered through the air, rotating optics spinning in a full 360 degree arc and then turning its body to meet the threats that appeared. Not a single Incursean who stuck their head out lived longer than five seconds, and the shots fired back at the drone warped and dented its armor, even knocked off one of its gun mounts, but none of them took the thing down. The ones who weren't blasted by its guns found themselves picked up and torn apart by pincers that were once used to carry heavy cargo containers. Incursean troops and their soft, fleshy bodies meant nothing to it.
Behind it walked an adolescent Chimera Sui Generis boy, his face painted with marks made in blue Chimeran blood, his clothes spattered with grease and dirt, an Incursean longknife resting off of his hip and a laser rifle resting in his hands. It was too big for him, but there was death in his red eyes, and his arms didn't shake.
In all, it took only ten minutes for every Incursean in the village to be slaughtered, and the boy took particular delight in unloading a full power pack of discharges into the Incursean who ran the local repair shop, turning the Frog into so much cooked gray paste. The drone (His drone, the villagers realized and whispered to each other) floated nearby, vigilant for threats and humming softly in the burning night.
"Where's. Dopa." The boy growled out, and then the Chimerans finally recognized who the cold-blooded slayer of Incurseans was. Vil, came the whispers, louder than before. Vil, the boy who fixes things.
Dopa, naturally, had hid when the shooting began, but as the boy shouted out his name, he emerged with his remote in hand, snarled, and pointed it at the boy's head, and the shock collar around his neck.
Nothing happened. The collar should have lit up in response, activated, unleashed tens of decilats of electricity into his body. It took Dopa a few moments to realize that his remote wasn't working, even though it had earlier in the day when he'd tested it out for sheer spite.
Then Vil reached up to the back of his neck and flipped an unseen latch, and the deactivated shock collar fell to the ground with a heavy thud.
Dopa swallowed as Vil slung his laser rifle over his shoulder and pulled out his longknife. "FOD, pick him up." The boy snapped, and the drone flew over, pincer claws at the ready. Dopa shrieked and tried to duck away, but Vil had done something to the robot's programming. It compensated for the traitor Chimeran's wild dodge and grabbed him by both arms, hoisting him up until he dangled a foot off of the ground, kicking wildly and screaming.
Vil calmly walked over, directing the drone to lower Dopa until his legs dragged on the ground. He made his first cuts along the back of Dopa's ankles, small nicks made just deep enough to make the man howl as his calf muscles rolled up into his legs and took away his ability to stand.
"There are those among our people who fight the invaders." Vil shouted out, for now the whole village stood around the perimeter of the gruesome spectacle, watching in horror, or admiration, or some twisted combination of both. "Last night, soldiers from the Resistance from a nearby province sought refuge in our longhouse. The old ones there gave it to them, saw to their care. We made a pledge not to speak of them. But Dopa spoke. Dopa betrayed them. Betrayed us who had kept our word. And when the Frogs came, beckoned by his warning, they dragged them out of the longhouse, still injured and weak, and executed them. And then they did the same to almost every Chimeran in the hut." He made a motion to the drone still carrying a now sobbing Dopa like so much dead weight, and the robot dropped the man into the dust.
Dopa crumbled into a heap, tried and failed to stand with a scream, and then started to crawl away. Vil followed him, and slashed at one arm and then the other, making them useless.
"Please." Dopa sobbed. "Please, don't kill me."
If Vilgax had been mad before, he was boiling at the sound of those words. He yanked up Dopa by the tendrils under his face, a move that was both painful and humiliating as it was effective, and displayed him to the crowd.
"Is that what my sister said when the Incurseans slashed her throat open?!" Vil shrieked, and the crowd fell silent, save for one or two choked sobs as the truth of the slaughter became apparent.
Vil's red eyes were dry. He had shed the last of his mucus tears already. "Serve the Frogs. Die with the Frogs." He hissed, and drew his longknife across Dopa's exposed neck. The Chimeran man gagged as he choked on his own blood, and Vil dropped him back to the ground to die.
He cleaned his knife on the back of Dopa's shirt, sheathed it, and shuddered afterwards. "Thus be it always to traitors." Vil rasped, and turned in the direction of the workshop that had been his prison for years. The crowds parted, making room for the boy who had overthrown a village and avenged the dead, and for the drone that followed him.
The next morning, a weary Vil emerged with four more serviced battle drones and three other Chimerans who had also worked in the shop, who had stayed to help him. They piled in an Incursean transport left behind for the Frogs' official use, turned on the engine, and drove into the wilderness. The rest of the villagers packed up their belongings and scattered as well, knowing that to remain was to invite destruction when the Incurseans returned in force, thirsty for blood. They traveled with stolen radios and listened to hidden frequencies, though.
They listened for the voices of the Resistance. They listened for the voice of Vil, son of Gax.
He no longer called himself The Mechanic.
The Incurseans called him Vilgax.
The Incurseans had never really understood the nomenclature that the Chimera Sui Generis used, it was why Vil, son of Gax had become Vilgax. And yet as the adolescent reached his fifteenth year, he found that he didn't much care that they got it wrong. He knew who he was, and that name inspired such irritation in the Frogs that he and his squad of drones and 'technicians with guns' went up against. Coordinating with other members of the Resistance was difficult at first; it had taken Vilgax months to develop scramblers that would allow his "Mechanic Cell" to keep in touch with the other insular Resistance cells without the Incurseans listening in.
The Frogs' technology had all the earmarks of being borrowed or stolen wholesale from over a dozen civilizations; they had no distinct engineering style of their own. Incursean technology was a kludge, but it made it all that much easier to repair and fabricate replacement parts for. With so many distinctly different manufactured pieces coming together, Incursean tech was meant to be simple to operate and easily repaired.
It also made it incredibly easy to repurpose and reprogram. To subvert. His natural talent with machines was leaps and bounds beyond most Chimerans' scope of understanding. Even the other Chimerans in his Resistance cell seemed forever in awe. The Mechanic Cell traveled more and saw more of the various provinces of Chimeral than any of the other cells, who were busy running operations in their home territories. For Vilgax, who had no home or family to go back to, becoming a transient wasn't a hard shift. Especially when the needs of the war against the Frogs required it. Passing off the radio scramblers was a task he didn't dare trust to anyone else but himself and his men.
Trusting anyone else was hard. The scar of his sister's death and the bastard responsible for it still cut deep, two years into their operations. There was the matter of all the looks they received at every Cell that they met with. Some looked at him with disbelieving eyes, wondering how a child ended up in charge of their team. Others scoffed at the concept openly and refused to speak to him, going straight to his second in command Eval, who had seen twenty-three revolutions to his fifteen. On those visits, Vilgax fumed and stormed off to work on his growing army of drones and machines.
But the worst of the visits to the other Resistance cells were when his reliance on machines was openly questioned. 'Why do you use machines so heavily? Machines can break down, require work to repair! And machines are the weapon of the enemy!'
His men knew why, but never bothered to explain why. It was Vilgax's story, it was Vilgax's pain, and it was not theirs to share.
"Machines do as they are programmed." Vilgax crafted his standard answer. "They do not betray you."
Two and a half revolutions after his sister was murdered and Vilgax was created, the Mechanic Cell had met with every Resistance cell except one; the Flashpoint Cell. Vilgax had amassed a full squadron of sixteen drones, including four heavily armored 'walker' drones once used for crowd suppression. His team was now outfitted with Incursean body armor (Refitted and augmented for greater effectiveness) and Incursean laser rifles and plasma lances (Again, retooled for greater power output). The Mechanic Cell had become large enough that it was more of a small army, and the largest trick was not surviving enemy encounters, but sneaking around enough to not stumble into one and thus expose themselves to a much fiercer counterattack. Luckily, Vilgax had learned how to forge a shipping manifest and sneak it into the Incurseans' CombatNet so their transits were not usually accosted by patrols as they went from point to point. Usually. The more vigilant Frogs sometimes dug a little too hard, and limped away with a bloody nose. Or they didn't limp away at all.
They were on their way to meet with the Flashpoint Cell, tucked away on another transport, and the vibrations of the journey made it impossible to do any of the delicate work on his projects. Vilgax's men settled for the larger tasks; field-stripping weapons and cleaning them, rechecking programming, running inventory.
His right-hand squid Eval found him tucked away in a corner, working on the drone that had started it all; FOD. Frog Obliteration Drone. The older Chimeran leaned up against the wall and chuckled as he folded his arms. "The amount of time you spend tinkering with poor old FOD here, I would think the other drones would get jealous."
"Drones don't get jealous. They don't get mad. They don't get depressed. They just run programs." Vilgax repeated a phrase that had been spoken far too often.
"I've also noticed in all the revolutions we've been together that you work on FOD more often when you're worried about something."
"I'm always working on FOD, or one of the other drones."
"Then you're always worried."
"It's kept us alive this long, hasn't it Eval?" Vilgax smirked, finally looking away from the drone's wiring to grin up at the older Chimeran.
Eval laughed a little at the joke, then sobered his expression. "So what are you worried about, boss?"
Vilgax still felt a little thrill every time one of the others in Mechanic Cell called him boss. Few others did, even though he'd been fighting as hard and as long as any of them. "This last meet-up. Flashpoint has a reputation."
"They fight harder than the other cells. They broadcast more." Eval agreed.
"The first radio transmission I picked up when I was a boy?" Vilgax mused. "It was Flashpoint's leader. Retribution. Gave me chills. He is charismatic, and he inspires, but he is reckless."
"And you aren't?"
"I put machines in the line of fire." Vilgax countered. "Not Chimerans. He sees his own as equally expendable to achieve his objectives. And he dreams big."
"Don't you?" Eval countered, keeping to his habit of poking at Vilgax with question after question. Vilgax hated the habit, but Eval never used it to disrespect him, only to get him to think, so he put up with it. "We're all fighting for the same thing, you know. To get the Incurseans to leave our world. To gain back our freedom."
"It's just that Retribution thinks it has to happen overnight, or with a single mission." Vilgax pointed out bitterly. "Freeing the whole of Chimeral is different than freeing a village, Eval. There are days I don't think he understands that."
"Maybe he just feels he doesn't have as much time to waste as you do." Eval offered.
"That's what I'm afraid of." Vilgax said grimly, worrying about the hundred things that could go wrong because someone raced into the wrong fight.
Hearing someone's voice on the radio was both informative and illusory; you got to learn the sound of their voice, their tone, their heart intimately, and yet none of that told you what they would look like or the trouble they'd been in that scars, wounds, and how they carried themselves would show.
Retribution turned out to be a truly heroic looking Chimeran, and one who dressed in a faded military uniform that screamed Planetary Defense Force from the lapels. Sky Commander Kah, son of Nor. He was middle-aged and his body was hard and lean from the flying he'd done before the Incurseans appeared and wrecked everything. Chances were he was likely the highest ranking officer of the Chimeral armed forces left alive.
Flashpoint Cell headquartered in an old, underground network of bunkers that had once been salt mines in the open plains. It was the sort of place that didn't show up on maps, wasn't considered vital knowledge, and hadn't been used in decades. In other words, the sort of place that the Incurseans would never think to look for.
The former Sky Commander surprised Vilgax when they made their first introductions; he didn't dismiss him out of hand, there was no double take or strange puzzled glance with the subtext of, him, really? There was just a moment to take in the sight of the teenaged Chimera Sui Generis wearing slapdashed armor spotted with grease and hydraulic fluid before Retribution smiled and held out his hand. He really was as charismatic as hell in person, and the fact that 'The Mechanic' who was now Vilgax turned out to be a boy who would have been too young to enlist before the occupation didn't faze the older Chimeran in the slightest. Things were downright pleasant, with the troops of Flashpoint (And they didn't act like guerilla fighters, they acted like soldiers, likely due in no small part to Kah Nor's training) blending well and trading stories of their triumphs with the Mechanic Cell band, and they even had time for a meal together which was more substantial than the cold rations and lukewarm water Vilgax and his troop were used to.
The smiles all came to a halt when someone unrolled a large dropscreen along the mess hall's bare wall and Retribution stood up as the lights went down. Then the briefing began. Retribution had been rather pleased to hear that Mechanic Cell was coming in his direction, but because he lacked a scrambler radio of his own to talk safely, he'd held off on sharing more than a desire to meet Vilgax and his band in person. The reality of his desire to have the only truly mobile Resistance cell working in his province became clear in moments, once the first slide came onscreen.
"This is the largest communications hub in this quadrant of Chimeral." Retribution went on, the easygoing attitude replaced with cold and crisp military efficiency. "Some of you might remember that this was our intergalactic broadcast terminal before the invasion; the Frogs picked up where we left off, then started tacking on their own gear. Now it's double the size of what it used to be, and according to the intelligence my spies have gathered over the revolutions, it has a direct link to every satellite weapons platform that they put in orbit to...Watch us." He had such a sour taste in his mouth at the end there, and Vilgax had to shiver and agree. The orbital weapons platforms were deadly in their purpose and power; a single high-density metallic rod released from orbit and dropped down onto the planet's surface created devastating explosions. They were the threat that his team feared most, the reason they struggled to be so careful. A single call for reinforcements could bring the heavens down on top of their heads.
"Before now, we haven't had the personnel or the firepower to move on the Hub." Retribution continued, once the bitter power of the orbiting satellites over their heads was clear to everyone. "But with Mechanic Cell here, we might just be able to pull it off. Once we move on the base, they won't be able to use those drop-pole bombs on us without destroying their operational value in the process. Which makes this a ground war, and neutralizes the Frogs' firepower. We'll move in, neutralize their defenders, set our charges, and evacuate before their reinforcements have time to show up and ruin our day."
There were murmurs of agreement there, and even Vilgax nodded briefly. It made sense.
"There is a second objective to taking the Hub." Retribution added, once the volume had dropped off. "Before we detonate the charges, we're going to use the Hub to broadcast a message. The Hub will have the power and the right encryptions to cut through the interference that the Frogs have been using to prevent us from reaching out beyond our planet. Our window will be narrow, but we have to go for it. We may never get another chance."
"And what exactly will we be broadcasting?" One of Vilgax's engineers called out. "A declaration of war? Because that's kind of a moot point right now." There were laughs at that, and even the former Sky Commander smirked.
"No, not that." He said, shaking his head. "We're going to make a call on the subspace radio to Galactic Enforcers."
The room's residual chuckles died off immediately.
"When Chimeral fell…" The Sky Commander began, his eyes taking on a distant, faded gaze, "We never had the chance to call for help. They jammed our frequencies too quickly to get a message off to the GE. They probably don't even know we're still here, still fighting. But when we call them, they'll come. I had the chance to meet Ultimos once. I was a boy, younger than our genius mechanic Vilgax here was." He gestured to Vilgax, his smile and his eyes warm. "And the one impression I got from Ultimos was the strength of his heart. Yes, he's a Specimen Prime, and invulnerable and strong and he can fly and fire laser beams from his eyes, but it's always been nothing to his heart. When the Galactic Enforcers hear about Chimeral, about how we have been conquered and oppressed by the damned Incursean Empire, he will come. The Galactic Enforcers will come, and we will have the help we need to drive every last damn Frog off of our world!"
A roar of approval came up at that, but Vilgax didn't hear it. The only thing that ran through his mind were the long-ago words of hope spoken by his mother, words that she held onto until she died.
"It will be all right. The Galactic Enforcers will come. They will stop this. They will drive the invaders away from our world. It is what they were made for, to bring peace to the galaxy."
Words that had never come true over the past ten revolutions.
The rest of the mission made sense. Get inside, blow through the opposition. Set the charges, get out, blow it to hell, knock out the satellites keeping them from mounting larger offensives.
But staying long enough to place a call? When the Incurseans would be able to call for help, when lingering even the precious cyles it would take to reach the communications room, find the right frequency, cut through the Incursean CombatNet, and place a call to the Galactic Enforcers would put the entire mission at risk? That was the part that made him hesitate.
It must have shown enough on his face as the lights came up for Sky Commander Kah, son of Nor, to sense that the plan didn't sit right with him.
"You have something to add, Vilgax?" The cell leader asked him carefully.
"How do we know we're not risking our lives over a pointless phone call?" Vilgax demanded. "I was five when the Frogs came. My mother believed they would come. Others believed they would come. Nobody from the Galactic Enforcers has ever come in ten revolutions, and we haven't heard anything about them. The communications my team's been able to intercept and download? There's no reports of the Galactic Enforcers attacking the Empire anywhere near our region of space." He grew impassioned as he kept talking. "The rest of your plan is perfect, Sky Commander. We get in, we blow it to hell, we get out before they can come after us. But if we stay, if we delay…"
Retribution came over and set a hand on his shoulder, cutting him off. Vilgax winced, expecting to be chastised. But the older Chimeran just smiled at him reassuringly.
"There are some victories more important than others, young Vilgax. And there are some things our people need. Like hope. We can give them that if we pull this off."
"Is it worth the risk?" Vilgax asked him worriedly. "Is it worth giving up our lives for?"
"Hope always is. If we lose hope, Vilgax, then we lose everything." Retribution said, squeezing his shoulder gently before letting go. "Do I have your support?"
Vilgax opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came. No sound would come.
He settled for a mute nod, and the room filled with cheers again, drowning out his sense of dread.
The attack on the Hub ended up being everything the former Sky Commander had hoped for, and everything that Vilgax had feared. Carrying their small army of drones, war machines, and Chimeran troopers in repurposed Incursean transports traveling with forged papers all properly submitted, and with the correct clearance codes, their transit to the Hub proceeded without difficulty. The problem, Vilgax knew, wasn't getting there. The Frogs were a lazy army for the moment, sedate and self-assured of their own victory.
The problems, as always, began once they started the attack and the clock started running.
His drones were assigned to taking out the heavy defenses around the perimeter, and the four walkers crashed over vehicles and squads of troops that fired uselessly at them while the large drones turned their cannons on the anti-aircraft guns and missile launchers that tried to turn around on them before they were obliterated. The dozen smaller drones ran roughshod over the Frogs' barracks, suppressing and neutralizing the immediate counterattack.
Machine Cell and Flashpoint Cell's living troopers made their way into the heart of the complex, the massive building and its outliers bristling with radio antennae, satellite dishes, and subspace oscillation transceivers.
"Deploying charges, but these Frogs are giving us a hell of a time!" One of Flashpoint's men shouted over the radio. "Any chance for some drone backup?"
"Negative." Vilgax answered back over his own headset. "All drones are deployed and keeping the reinforcements off of our backs. As soon as they've neutralized their targets, they'll switch over to search and destroy for Incursean threats, so do the best you can. Don't take any chances!"
"Get it done, Flashpoint Five!" Retribution shouted over his own radio, countermanding Vilgax's press for safety. Vilgax wanted to shoot the older Chimeran a dirty look at that, but then another squad of Incurseans up ahead of them deeper in the complex opened fire, and they were all scrambling for cover while FOD quickly retaliated.
The highest concentration of Incursean troopers that weren't in the barracks were all in the main building, as if they were defending the control center. No, that was exactly what they were doing, Vilgax realized, and he brought up his wrist-mounted scanner and tuned to the usual Incursean frequencies.
"Damnit, these Squids have already gotten in, there's no holding them back!" An Incursean voice, panicked and on the ragged edge of military discipline shouted back at whoever he was talking to. "We have to retreat! Order the orbital platforms to level this place!"
"Command says that they can't do that; the Command Codes are hardwired into the Hub's computers, and digital transfer is impossible. You have to hold them off until a physical key can be made and you all can retreat. We're sending reinforcements, but it will be thirteen cycles until they get there."
Vilgax swore and switched back to the Chimeran frequency before looking to his fellow cell leader. "We have thirteen cycles before we get more trouble than we can handle, Retribution. We might want to rethink the secondary objective here."
"No!" Retribution shouted, wild-eyed and deadset on it after hearing the Incursean's broadcast. "We'll never get a better chance! They're not going to fire on us, they can't! We just have to break through! We have to get that message out to the Galactic Enforcers!" Vilgax wanted to shout back at him, but the sound of FOD taking a few more hits than the drone could handle had him swearing and turning his attention forward.
It was grisly work and it ate up the clock, but they made their way through the building, past one Incursean checkpoint after another. FOD was smoking in places, had jettisoned weapons mounts burned to uselessness. Their insertion team had lost half of their numbers, and his drones on the outside had taken a ragged beating. One of his walkers had been blown to bits by an AA emplacement before it had been taken out. Fully half of the smaller drones were good only for scrap, but the troops, barracks, and defenses were neutralized.
"All charges are set!" Their radios blasted to life as the surviving Chimerans reported mission success. "Primary objective achieved, sirs!"
"Fall back and get the transports ready to move. I want all wounded personnel and drones on board so we can get out of here the centicycle that we're clear!" Vilgax snapped, in no mood for any more of Retribution's crazed, crusading tactics. He checked his chronometer and winced; only eight cycles remaining before the Incursean reinforcements arrived. "Retribution, we're out of time!"
"It's just down this last corridor!" The older Chimeran insisted, pointing ahead to a thick barricade of office furniture around a reinforced set of metallic double doors. "That's the control and broadcast room! We get in there, we're good!" It was one last push, and they all charged behind FOD, who absorbed the brunt of the Incursean defenders' weapons fire, finally taking one hit too many and sinking to the floor as its power supply gave out. Two more Incurseans died when they lost their cover, but a well-placed grenade silenced the nest and broke the doors inwards.
It was Retribution who led the charge through the smoke into the control room, with Vilgax shouting for him to slow down. It turned out to be one charge too many.
There weren't many Incurseans inside of the control room, just three of them ducked behind panels and monitors. One of them stuck his head out and took aim with a plasma pistol and scored a lucky shot center-mass, plugging the former sky commander with a blast that tore a massive hole through him. The two surviving troopers, one of them from Machine Cell and the other a Flashpoint veteran, screamed out as he went down in a pool of blue blood and slaughtered the last Incurseans with extreme prejudice.
Vilgax raced to the side of Retribution, pressing a bio-foam field dressing into the wound that quickly filled in the hole. The damage was severe, though, and it might not be enough. Plasma shock wounds this large were almost always fatal.
"No, don't talk." Vilgax hissed back at the dying Chimeran. "Damnit, Kah, what the hell were you thinking? You're not invincible, nobody is!"
"Worth it." The leader coughed, blood bubbling on his lips and wetting his tentacles. "For our people."
"You don't help our people by dying for them, you stupid idiot!" Vilgax screamed at him. This was the man whose voice had brought him into the fold. This was the man whose vision and leadership had started the Resistance, and he was bleeding out in his arms. "Come on, stay with me!" He keyed his headset. "Retribution is down, heavily injured! We're ev…"
"NO!" Kah, son of Nor gasped, the rush of his voice carrying over the communicator. His hand, shaking as he lost control of his body, struggled to grab Vilgax's chest armor. "The mission...finish...mission…"
Vilgax made a pained noise and took the older Chimeran's hand in his own. "We have to get you out of here now!"
"The mission." Retribution's eyes were fluttering closed now. "Ultimos. Call. He'll...come. Save our people. Please. Vilgax…"
Vilgax just stared at him. "We need you, Kah Nor. Don't make me do this."
"Save our people. Galactic...Hope…" His counterpart smiled, and his eyes drifted shut. Retribution, the leader of Flashpoint Cell, breathed shallowly.
Vilgax swore and raced to the communicators. "The centicycle I finish this call, we're leaving." He told the other two, who raced to bandage and try to keep Retribution alive. He wanted to leave now, blow the Hub to hell, and never look back.
Instead, he did what Kah, son of Nor, had wanted. He struggled with the equipment, broke through the Incursean CombatNet, and made his call.
"This is Vilgax of the Chimera Sui Generis Resistance on Chimeral, currently under Incursean occupation, calling the Galactic Enforcers. If you're out there, if you're listening, we need your help. Please. Repeat. This is Vilgax of the Chimeral Resistance, calling Galactic Enforcers…"
His second transmission was cut off in a squawk of static, and then a voice came back in reply. "This is Adjutant Magister Dexial of Sector 4519. I hear you, Vilgax."
Vilgax exhaled. "We need help. We need the Galactic Enforcers. We've been fighting the Incurseans for revolutions now, fighting to regain our independence. My superior officer is bleeding out on the floor right now. Send help. We need Ultimos, we need all of you."
The voice didn't answer for long centicycles, and when it did, there was resignation and reluctance in the male's voice. "I'm sorry. We can't. Last revolution, a truce was brokered between the Incursean Empire and the Galactic Enforcers. Your world falls within the newly established boundaries of their sovereign territory. The Galactic Enforcers cannot render assistance to you, Vilgax. I'm sorry."
His hearts pounded furiously in his chest, and Vilgax stared at the speaker in the console that Dexial's voice came out of. "You can't be serious." He choked out. "You can't be serious! My people are dying out here! I lost my father, my mother, my sister to these bastard Frogs! Our Commander is dying because he believed you would come! The hell do you mean, you're sorry?!"
"We can't be everywhere, son." The voice said back, with a little more heat in the face of Vilgax's rage. "We can't save everyone. I'm sorry. You're on your own."
Vilgax wanted to scream for cycles at that. He wanted to curse the man out, curse them all out. He wanted the Galactic Enforcers to all die and spare Kah Nor, spare his soldiers. But Dexial, the Galactic Enforcers, all of them, were light years away. Unwilling to help because Chimeral was on the wrong side of some imaginary line drawn in the sand.
His breath shuddering, he shook his head. "Then oblivion take you all. You useless, spineless bastards." And he pulled out his plasma lance, pointed it at the console, and fired, melting it into sparking slag. "Set the charges for three cycles. Full evacuation." He snapped into his headset, and then whirled to the last two troopers in the control room, and to Retribution.
His blood went cold when he saw that the Chimeran's chest was no longer moving.
"He's gone, sir." The soldier from Flashpoint Cell said solemnly. "You're in command now."
Another piece of Vilgax broke at the news. Somehow, he stayed standing. "We're taking his body with us." He said bitterly, and knelt down beside the corpse of Sky Commander Kah Nor. "I promise you, Kahnor. You didn't die for nothing. I will save our people."
He let his face go hard after that as they raced for the exit, piled onto the nearest transport, and took off.
Twenty centicycles after they lifted clear, the Hub was blasted apart by the dozens of charges littered around the base, and the threat of the orbital weapons platforms were neutralized. The Incursean reinforcements raced to pursue, but never caught them.
Flashpoint Cell's surviving forces were folded into the newly created Vilgax Legion.
And the war went on.
Revolutions passed by like grains of sand. The fall of the Hub allowed them to operate in the open with only ships full of Incurseans to contend with instead of weaponized orbital projectiles.
Resistance Cells that had once been more cautious were emboldened by Vilgax's successes and enraged as news of Retribution's death and the Galactic Enforcers' refusal to send aid filtered through the ranks. Vilgax Legion became a whispered threat with actual weight behind the name, placing its namesake in the lead for reward bounties by the Frogs.
The loyal Chimerans said nothing or told the Incurseans to shove it. Those who, like Dopa, were roped in by selfish greed met the same grisly fate as he had. Serve the Frogs, die with the Frogs became the mantra uttered by those who walked by corpses left to rot in the sun. Signs were sometimes erected, and although they were all destroyed by the Incurseans, the message never disappeared.
Vilgax became a living legend in his time, a deific figure of hope and inspiration. He grew stronger and taller, incorporated more and more of the Incursean's technology into his workings. His drone army doubled in size, then quadrupled. First a province fell, and then as the Frogs raced to send reinforcements to recapture it, another halfway around the planet went dark as well. Work camps were liberated, entire blocks of slaves were freed. The shock collars that had been a symbol of their oppression were repurposed and reused in the Resistance's munitions, and the Frogs soon found themselves on the receiving end of grenades that spat lightning and electrocuted entire patrols mucking through the marshes.
The character of the war changed not long after the Frogs turned biological weapons on a major city in a controlled area about to become contested territory. The Chimeran troopers and civilians found themselves walking through a city of the dead, corpses who had bled from their eyes and clawed at their own faces in neurotoxin induced madness before their autonomic nervous systems were paralyzed to leave them dead from stilled hearts.
Vilgax struck a spaceport two weeks later under the cover of a communications blackout and painted the walls red with their blood. Every ship on the base was captured and repurposed, and the Vilgax Legion took the war beyond the surface of the planet. The rest of the Resistance soon joined as well; those who did not specialize in open warfare became Vilgax's Shadows, continuing the battle at home in their own silent way and funneling intelligence and targets to their brethren.
The campaigns came one after the other, and they all came at a price. For every drone that Vilgax made, he seemed to lose two. For every two Chimerans that rallied to his banner, another one perished. The military losses hurt. The civilian casualties under the jackboots of the Frogs were added to the rallying cries for vengeance that began with the death of his family, and the last Sky Commander.
But what made his forces curse the Incurseans the most was when Vilgax was injured. His hand was crushed by debris when a base they were in fell under attack. A bio-mechanical one, sharp-clawed and augmented took its place, making him deadlier than ever. An explosion and a wave of fire charred him from head to toe, and he spent decacycles in an antibacterial nutrient bath while his engineers and the base surgeons painstakingly applied a prototype skin graft that he had stolen from the Incurseans and improved on. When it was finished, Vilgax became the first Chimera Sui Generis that was immune to the vacuum of space, and had as much effective protection as nanoweave fiber armor. The process was prohibitively expensive, and if he had been offered the choice, he would have refused on that alone. But his people needed him, and they had kept him alive heedless of the cost.
The fact that his entire body was now laced with glowing red channels of subdermal joins was a small price to pay, even if it did make him look monstrous.
Other augmentations followed in the dozens of revolutions that the war went on. Injections strengthened his bones and joints, giving him the resilience to match his strength. A neural interface gave him a form of limited technopathy, the ability to control his machines by thinking an order.
Fifty revolutions after Vilgax had begun his crusade, he and his forces had pushed deep into Incursean space, deeply enough that the Frogs could no longer muster so much of its forces on one world. Now the battle for Chimeral's freedom was fought across four worlds, and one of those belonged to another conquered people.
Sixty revolutions after Vilgax's beginning, fully an eighth of a Chimera Sui Generis' lifespan, Vilgax liberated his first world from the Incursean Empire, and his sole regret was that it was not his own. But the liberation of that world scattered their supply lines. At sixty-two revolutions, the Incursean's stranglehold on the planet Chimeral was broken. The Chimera Sui Generis declared independence and shouted it to the heavens. The ruling body who took over honored their savior, and his planet was renamed Vilgaxia. They granted him the title of Supreme War Lord and gave him autonomy to secure their borders and make certain the Frogs would never return.
Vilgax was invited home for the cycles-long celebration. He dismissed the notification, scoffed at the pomp and circumstance, and began planning the next offensive.
At seventy revolutions after he started, the Vilgax Legions gave the present of a shattered world to their supreme leader; a colony planet that once held millions of Incursean lives, military and civilian alike. The oceans, it was said, ran red with Frogs' blood after he and his armada flew away from it. Vilgax thought it a baldfaced lie. The oceans had only tinted to a faint purple, really.
As the war dragged on, more and more of the Vilgax Legions slowly began to rotate out of their postings and returned home. Fewer volunteered, and Vilgax refused conscription. They either believed in the cause, or they didn't. His legions became more and more mechanical.
More worlds fell and tens of millions more Incurseans were slaughtered. Vilgax's strategy for the defense of 'Vilgaxia' was simplicity itself; the mass extinction of every Frog that still drew breath. The Empire was slavery and oppression and thrived on Appeasement, on the time that others who beat it back gave it to lick its wounds and strike out again. Vilgax never forgot, and he never forgave, and he never stopped marching.
At one hundred revolutions, after conquering six worlds and destroying four, he succeeded in a masterstroke; an asteroid rich in ferrous iron was configured with transphasic armor plating, energy shielding, and an FTL drive, guided by drones deep within its interior. He ordered it to fly straight for the center of a supermassive blue giant star that the Incurseans had been using as a power source via a solar collection lattice sphere, one that powered one of their largest shipyards in the sector.
It survived long enough to pass through every barrier and static defense while the Incursean fleet struggled with a full two Storms worth of preprogrammed cruisers and dreadnoughts. It survived long enough to phase through the outer layers of the star and breach the core before the shielding gave out and the asteroid and its mechanical crew were crushed by the star's immense gravity and pressure…
But with iron now at the star's center, it survived only three more seconds before exploding in a terrifying supernova that obliterated the entire star system, shipyards, colony world, and a billion more Incurseans lives in one fell swoop. Vilgax watched it all from light years away, well-clear of the blast zone and observing via drone probes with subspace uplinks. With glowing satisfaction and a grim expression that almost resembled a smile, he recorded the telltale stellar signature of a dense gravitational anomaly where the star had once been. He had killed a star and created a black hole in the process.
Twenty rotations later, Vilgax was contacted by the Vilgaxian Congress and ordered to cease operations and return home. The Incurseans were now suing for peace. They had gone to the Galactic Enforcers to see that a treaty ending hostilities would be drawn up.
Vilgax's screams echoed in his ship for the five rotations it took him to fly back home.
Vilgax had stormed from one end of the Chimeran Senate to the other as he had passionately (angrily) argued (yelled) against the treaty that they had brokered with the Incursean Empire, and with the Galactic Enforcers as the notary third party. The terms all flew in the face of the revolutions of hard work put in by his warriors. By him. The Incurseans would be allowed to hold onto their current territories, but the areas liberated by Vilgax were to be declared free and independent systems. The Supreme War Lord's forces were to be withdrawn back to Vilgaxian boundaries, and a neutral zone of twenty light years was to be established between their borders. The Empire would remit war reparations in the form of 10 billion galactic credits to the Chimera Sui Generis, and in exchange, the Incurseans would have their slate cleaned of any charges for atrocities committed during the 'unlawful occupation' of Vilgaxia/Chimeral.
"Nothing has changed." Vilgax rasped, and he dragged his artificial clawed fingertips over the stone wall as he drew near to it, making a horrible scraping sound that made the Senate of fifty 'venerable Chimerans' all cringe. He knew most of them. Some of them had served under him. Some had never been part of the Resistance, had only been civilians. All of them had been touched by the war that had lasted 100 revolutions. "The Frogs still have the same unquenching thirst for conquest that they've always had. If you agree to this treaty, you are throwing away everything that we have suffered to gain. You will be giving them exactly what they want; time to rebuild their empire, to amass their forces, and to prepare themselves for the next crusade. Their Empire endures only when they can expand and steal the resources and enslave the peoples of tens or hundreds of worlds!"
None of them looked at Vilgax with the awe, the respect, the trust that his sacrifices and pain and injuries and life of hardship and endless warfare should have engendered.
"With all due respect, War Lord Vilgax," Senator Vis Moal started out, which was always a prelude to disrespect, "You have not been summoned here to approve this treaty. It is approved. You are hereby to turn over command of your war fleet to the Vilgaxian home guard, who will be tasked with staffing them and seeing to the defense of our borders. They will not be so eager to make a second attempt at subjugating us. You have put the fear of our people into their hearts, and the Incurseans will remember it. After the war fleet has been reassigned, you are then ordered to take your flagship, the Chimerian Hammer, and sail to Galactic Enforcers Headquarters, escorting our key diplomat, Representative Whag Nak. The Incurseans and the Galactic Enforcers have both requested that you be present at the signing of the treaty, and that you sign it as well. After returning home, you are then freed from the burdens of warfare." The Senator sent a smile in his direction. "You can retire. Settle down. Start a family. You have fought longer and harder than any surviving veteran, Vilgax. You can claim some happiness and some peace for yourself at last."
Vilgax growled at that. Happiness. Pretty, empty words to disguise their real intentions. The Chimerans chosen to lead their people were tired of the war. They were so tired of fighting that they would set their weapons down halfway through the battle and leave the fight unfinished. Leave the enemy time to retreat, rebuild, counterattack. They knew nothing of war, these Senators. They mewled about peace and exposed their necks.
Vilgax remembered the feel of the shock collar he had been forced to wear as a boy. He remembered the one around his sister's neck, and the bloody gash above it. It was all painful. He remembered that pain. He needed it. He used it.
This treaty was a mistake. The peace was nothing but a lie, and the Galactic Enforcers, who had been unwilling or unable to help them when they had needed them most, now demanded to oversee everything.
Vilgax seethed in his reinforced skin.
He would not let the Frogs win. He would not let his people be conquered again.
Galactic Enforcers Headquarters
GE HQ was located on a wobbly-shaped planetoid kept locked in a gravitationally neutral position between the star at the heart of its system, the world in the system's habitable zone that the GE used for field training and 'retreats', and that world's two moons. The base's facilities were all built into the heart of the thick-walled planetoid, and its outer surface bristled with communications arrays, gun emplacements, and shield emitters. The most ostentatious part of the base was the visitor's center; an exposed enormous pavilion as wide across as Vilgax's flagship with a durasteel hexagonal framework bubble and reinforced transparisteel paneling that let everyone in that part of the base look out onto the world that the base was locked to. It served no functional purpose. It was a major defensive weakness.
Standing in it, surrounded by aliens from over two dozen worlds with the Chimeran diplomat off hobnobbing, Vilgax struggled to decode the purpose of the enormous open space beyond mere ceremony. He was fast reaching the conclusion that ceremony was the only purpose for this part of the base.
The actual signing of the treaty was still a megacycle away, and aliens in formal outfits and uniforms walked around carrying trays with tall glasses full of alcohol and platters of various finger foods from across the galaxy. A few brave souls approached Vilgax as he stood by the edge of the dome and stared at it and through it, and the servers managed only a few centicycles of stoic silence before they shuffled off. One particularly insistent one got the full weight of his 'I can kill you if I look at you hard enough' stare and whimpered so hard that he nearly spilled his tray as he went running away. Vilgax regretted stepping off of his ship as soon as the diplomat had given him the itinerary.
Signing that damned treaty was bad enough. All of this useless socializing was like torture before the execution.
"War Lord Vilgax." A sybillant, watery and slightly nasal voice wheezed as the presence it belonged to neared, and he went rigid before he clenched both of his artificial hands into fists. There were few vocal characteristics he knew better than that combination, and every time he heard it, he wanted to destroy it.
A hundred Chimeran revolutions of both guerilla and open warfare had trained him for the sound of an Incursean voice all too well. He forced himself to turn his head and saw the Incursean diplomat, Representative Noxxeous, ambling over with a false smile. Walking beside him was an unfamiliar bluish gray alien in a yellow tunic and boots with a white cape and leggings, and clear white eyes.
"Frog." Vilgax spat the derogatory name out with pleasure. The diplomat pulled up short for just a bit, but seemed too well schooled in controlling his emotions to glower in return. Noxxeous did settle for an uneasy laugh.
"You should let the past die, Vilgax. Nobody here has dared to call you a Squid after all."
"Because they know that I would slaughter them on the spot." Vilgax replied coldly.
"Hence why weapons are not allowed in the pavilion." Noxxeous smiled, although it stilled when Vilgax laughed darkly. "What is so humorous, Vilgax?"
"That you think I need a weapon to kill anyone in this room." Vilgax said, and smiled as the color faded out of Noxxeous's warty green skin.
At that jibe, the other alien accompanying the Frog diplomat cleared his throat and took a step forward. "Violence is prohibited in the Galactic Enforcers pavilion, by Article 320-J of the Galactic Code of Conduct. You would be quite in the wrong if you carried through with that threat, War Lord."
Noxxeous coughed and mustered up another false smile. "Ah, this is why I came over in the first place. War Lord Vilgax, allow me to introduce you to Ultimos, the leader of the Galactic Enforcers."
Vilgax's eyes had been kept in a perpetually narrowed state until that point. He knew the name, but he had never met the warrior behind it, had never seen an image of his face.
He had cursed the name for almost a hundred revolutions.
Ultimos held out his four-fingered hand and smiled grimly. "Your reputation precedes you, Vilgax."
Somehow, Vilgax unclenched his hand enough to mirror the gesture, gripping the blue alien's hand tightly enough to make Ultimos twitch his eyes. The two began squeezing the other's hand even as they shook, but it ended up being Ultimos who flinched first, pulling his hand back.
"And yours as well." Vilgax growled. "I have heard the name Ultimos. A friend of mine said that you were a true hero."
"Oh?" Ultimos brightened at that. "Is he here today? Would he want an autograph?"
Vilgax stared at him. "He is dead. He's been dead for 90 revolutions now. His name was Sky Commander Kah Nor, and to his dying breath, he believed that it was worth any sacrifice to send a communication out to the Galactic Enforcers. He believed that your people would come. He believed that you would come." At the end, Vilgax was snarling, and the Chimera Sui Generis took full advantage of his height, towering over the more normally sized Ultimos.
Ultimos went ashen at the damning indictment.
"But you did not come." Vilgax shanked the knife in harder. "So we fought a war for our freedom and our survival all on our own. We have no need for heroes on Vilgaxia, Ultimos. We have no need for the Galactic Enforcers." His red eyes flickered over to Noxxeous. "Unlike some species."
The Incursean sputtered at the implication. "After countless revolutions of war and too much blood spilled, our glorious Emperor in his infinite mercy entertained the Galactic Enforcer's pleas for a resolution to the conflict."
"Interesting. And how many revolutions, exactly, have the Galactic Enforcers been pressing the Empire for peace?" Vilgax mused, side-eyeing Ultimos. "It could not have been many. I remember a time when the Galactic Enforcers refused to become involved in our little conflict. No, from where I'm standing, they only started to pay attention you begged them to come in to claim the moral high ground."
"You killed tens of millions of our people!"
"You killed seventy million of mine." Vilgax replied, feigning boredom.
"You caused a star to go nova!"
"Your people used biological weapons on a city and made my people bleed from their eyes." Vilgax examined his metallic claws. "Tell me, Noxxeous, what do you call a million dead Frogs?"
"A good start." Vilgax snorted.
"Enough! Both of you!" Ultimos cut in, looking sickened by the discussion and just angry enough to do something about it. He subtly shifted between them, placing himself in the way. "The war is done. You are here to sign the treaty that brings it to a close. I understand that there will be bad blood between the Incurseans and the Chimera Sui Generis for generations to come, but there will be peace after this."
"The Incurseans don't believe in peace." Vilgax told him sarcastically. "And if you had enough sense, you'd realize that all you're doing is giving them time to rebuild. In a hundred years, Ultimos, they will spread out like a wave of death and you will find yourself fighting the same battles. Then you will ask yourself why you ever bothered with Appeasement in the first place."
"I didn't...we didn't have…" Ultimos stammered, before pressing his lips together. Out of shame? No.
He had started to say something he hadn't meant to. And Vilgax, who had interrogated countless Incurseans, could read him easily. Ultimos wore his heart on his sleeve.
He didn't want to. They didn't have a choice.
Which meant that the Galactic Enforcers...were weak. They played at being the galaxy's defenders, but they were useless in the face of a true threat. Whatever treaty they had signed with the Incurseans before Kah Nor had died on the floor of the Hub had been a terrible bluff.
They were still bluffing now, and either the Incurseans realized it, or they felt that by pushing this peace treaty, they would get the Galactic Enforcers to protect them while they rebuilt.
Vilgax felt sick to his stomach. It was all going to happen again, if he let it. If he let the weak politicians of Vilgaxia, the sniveling, lying Frogs, the impotent Galactic Enforcers all do what they were planning to. His signature on that treaty would be a death sentence deferred.
Nausea burned into purpose, and War Lord Vilgax saw only one way forward.
"To oblivion with all of you." Vilgax hissed, and stormed away, forcing servers and diplomats and security staff to scatter clear of him as he stormed past all the smaller beings.
"Vilgax! Vilgax, wait!" Ultimos shouted, flying after him. He caught up to Vilgax in short order, before he had crossed a fourth of the distance that led out of the pavilion and to his waiting shuttle. "The treaty signing ceremony hasn't been finished yet, you still need to…"
Vilgax whirled about and snapped his arm out like a whip, tightening a clawed hand around the alien's throat. Ultimos's white eyes went wide as he tried to make a sound and failed to; the grip around his windpipe was too strong.
"I will sign nothing today." Vilgax snarled, and slammed Ultimos down into the floor hard enough to crack the marbled tile. He let go and stepped away, rasping bitterly. "You defend nobody and you do nothing that matters. Hide behind your pieces of paper with pretty words, Hero. Pretend that you are better than all the rest of us because you don't stain your hands with the blood of your enemies, because you show weakness and call it mercy. You and your organization are useless. You are worse than useless, because you promise hope and help, and then never offer it where it is needed most. And because you don't, children die or grow up fighting a war that they should never have been asked to fight in the first place!"
Ultimos wasn't hurt and wasn't injured, but he was shaken up. Vilgax registered movement and caught sight of a brain in a jar hovering on tentacles racing to his side. Vilgax scoffed and turned about, storming on. He still heard the whisper.
"...I'm sorry." Came Ultimos's apology and farewell, all in one.
Nobody stopped Vilgax as he reached the far end of the pavilion. Nobody stopped him as he walked to the hangar bay where his shuttle was located. But Eval stopped him there when he walked to the rear access door, his faithful second in command who had been with him since he freed his first village.
Eval's eyes were wide in worry. "Sir, what's happened? Our diplomat just commed me, told me to stop you and drag you back to make a formal apology!"
"Whag Nak will be disappointed." Vilgax snarled. "To hell with this sham of a treaty. To hell with the Frogs, to blazes with Ultimos, to oblivion with the Galactic Enforcers and our Senate's misguided delusions. The Incurseans are using them all, buying time with false hopes and lies." It was all so obvious now, Vilgax realized, and his two beating hearts crackled from the burst of freedom and pain that it caused.
He shut his eyes. "My war's not done, Eval."
Eval's heels clicked together. He was coming to attention. "Understood, sir. Where are we going?"
Eval had been with him from the beginning. He had stayed on with Vilgax even when others rotated out, when his fearsome reputation made those with weak stomachs ask for assignment elsewhere. His loyalty was without question, and if Vilgax asked him to come with, to follow him into the darkness between the stars, he would do it.
Vilgax knew what had to be done.
"Where I'm going, you can't follow, Eval. I need to know there's at least one man who will protect our people."
"While you go and wage unsanctioned war." Eval pointed out, because that was what Vilgax intended. To continue the fight without the authorization of Vilgaxia's Senate, in the face of the Galactic Enforcer's wishes.
It was the only way forward. "Let them call me a warlord and a terrorist." Vilgax got the words out, leaden and metallic on his tongue. "I will do what I must to protect our people." He finally opened his eyes and looked to Eval, who struggled to hold himself together. Vilgax set a hand on his shoulder. "But I can only do that if I know you will remain as the second line of defense."
And then Vilgax brought his other arm up to his chest armor, to the rank insignia welded to it. It was the work of seconds for his claws to slip underneath and loosen it, then pry it free. The emblem of War Lord, the supreme commander of Vilgaxia's armed forces sat small and cold in his hand. He held it out to Eval.
The other Chimeran swallowed hard, and in spite of the mucus welling up in the corners of his eyes, he managed to hold himself together. "On my honor, War Lord Vilgax. Our people will be safe. I promise you." He took the emblem and cradled it gently.
Vilgax exhaled quietly. "You are War Lord now. I am taking the Chimerian Hammer."
"The ship was always yours, sir." Eval came to attention and saluted, pressing a fist to his chest. "Be safe."
"I will be true to my mission. I was never safe." Vilgax reminded Eval, and they had a moment of honesty before Eval pulled the taller Vilgax into a tight hug. Vilgax patted his back exactly twice, then pulled back and climbed into his shuttle.
A cycle later, he docked with the Chimerian Hammer and the ship flew away from GE HQ in a burst of its FTL drive. Two cycles later, the flagship of the Chimeran home fleet was reported stolen by Vilgax.
It was five more rotations before the Treaty of Vilgaxia was signed. When it was, a second document quickly followed it, one that the Incurseans, with the GE's backing, had insisted on as an addendum to not walking away from the table.
Vilgax the Warlord was declared a terrorist and war criminal for crimes against the Incursean Empire, and a bounty was placed on his head.
It changed nothing.
The charge of watching their borders was no longer his responsibility. His war fleet had been stripped from him, relegated to the home guard. With only his flagship and his machines left to him, Vilgax sailed the stars as an untethered force. The mission hadn't changed. Only the ways he had to complete it had.
The neutral zone between the Chimeran controlled spacelanes and the Incursean Empire's borders became his playground. Neither side was supposed to violate it, and Galactic Enforcers ships patrolled to monitor it. The Frogs still snuck in scouts and frigates, and Vilgax crushed them, taking what he could and leaving the rest to drift as debris and frozen corpses. Occasionally, a GE ship caught wind of the Chimerian Hammer and tried to pursue. The lucky ones never caught up to him. Vilgax destroyed the ones unlucky enough to come into weapons range.
He was disavowed by the Vilgaxian government, a true warlord in every sense of the word. Yet they never changed the name of his homeworld back to Chimeral. Too much popular support stood back at home, a solid bedrock of those who were unwilling to tarnish the name of the warrior who had fought for a hundred revolutions and put the fear of oblivion into the heart of the Frogs. He could never go back home. His home did not forget him.
Inside of the neutral zone, Vilgax steadily rebuilt a small army of drones, programmed for lethality, efficiency, and loyalty. Captured ships were repurposed, rebuilt, turned into something more. Bases were built into the heart of large planetoids drifting in the fringes, a series of fallbacks and storage centers guarded by the most autonomous drones, fighter craft and sabotage scouts skilled at neutralizing larger vessels that the emplaced gun turrets couldn't stop on their own. He intercepted Incursean communications and datapackets over their CombatNet with only minor delays whenever they got around to a systems upgrade. Biding his time as fourteen revolutions passed, Vilgax let the Frogs and the GE and even his own planet's leaders grow tired of thinking about him. It was only when he was assured that they had given up on him and grown lax that he finally made his move.
He made the Incurseans groan and howl under the strain, and a seventh planet was conquered. By the time that the Empire raced a fleet to take it back and dispose of him, all of its defenses had been rebuilt and reprogrammed, and the manufacturing world of Theta Omnis IV was lost to them, now pumping out drones and ship parts for Vilgax's ongoing war. The Incurseans couldn't stop him. The Galactic Enforcers couldn't contain him. His own government disavowed him and pretended that he didn't exist. The Incurseans quickly began to move their most critical assets and production facilities deep within the heart of their empire. The outlying regions were too vulnerable.
Over Vilgax's second century, he found himself traveling beyond the boundaries of the neutral zone more and more. The area still served as his vital home base, too full of supernovae remnants and debris for anybody to make a truly concerted effort at smoking him out, but the Incurseans, still licking their wounds, still trying to rebuild with the added pressure of a watchful Galactic Enforcers and Vilgax's own campaign of sapping their resources away, now tried to spread a thinner and less blatant net outwards. Taking a page from Vilgax's book, entire ships full of Incurseans were reported 'missing in action' and then as 'rogue terrorists' when they were discovered raising hell in the shipping lanes.
The Galactic Enforcers pursued them as best they could, and managed well enough until the 'Incursean pirates' began banding together, forming pirate fleets.
It took Vilgax nearly a full decade to beat the Frog pirates back behind their borders. The Galactic Enforcers slipped back into familiar patterns and reallocated resources elsewhere in the galaxy, deciding very silently and very realistically that if Vilgax was going to do their work for them, there were other areas that they could see to.
Their policy of indifference Vilgax found offensive, even as he took advantage of it. He tracked the briefings and reports out of Galactic Enforcer encrypted subspace channels and grew ever more disillusioned with them. There were a half a dozen other places in the galaxy forever flaring up. Slavery was rampant, even beyond the Frogs' borders. Skirmishes and violent disagreements happened everywhere. Entire planets seemed all too willing to prove that the best use of their freedoms were to try and deprive others of it.
It was all the same story, the same problem, the same mess everywhere he went, every place he listened in on. The galaxy was a wilderness full of thugs and well-meaning but completely impotent fools possessed of self-delusion and wasted superiority complexes.
By the time he conquered his eighth world, Vilgax had settled into one grisly revelation. It wasn't enough to save his own people by forever driving the Frogs into extinction. Everywhere faced the same dangers.
Conquering eight worlds wasn't going to be enough.
To bring peace to the galaxy, he would have to conquer them all. It would take him a while. The rest of his life, most likely. It wasn't as though he had anything else to do, or anyone waiting for him back on a planet he would never be able to visit again, no matter how often he dreamed of it. Proceeding in an orderly fashion wouldn't do, that much he came to terms with. He'd left the Frogs hurting badly. There was time before he would need to continue his genocide.
His ninth conquered planet came as a surprise to everyone in the galaxy and cemented his reputation as an unapologetic warlord and conqueror. The fact that he left the planet after annihilating all of its defenses, major power infrastructure and research facilities and stealing critical supplies and prototype technology was of secondary importance. It was nearly a full rotation before the story came out that the world of Hona Malus III had likely been hit because they were dealing under the table with the Incursean Empire, thus attracting Vilgax's wrath. The aid programs helping to rebuild the planet dried up mysteriously after that was revealed. Vilgax walked away with the plans for nanobot-laced self-healing hull armor plating, and the Chimerian Hammer became an even deadlier threat. Those on Vilgaxia, when asked about it, intoned an old and chilling phrase to best explain the tragedy of Hona Malus III: Serve the Frogs, Die with the Frogs.
When Vilgax was 170 revolutions old, he moved on the planet Petropia, a longtime member of the Galactic Enforcers and also one of the most stubborn and invulnerable species he knew of. With the timely assistance of a Petropian mercenary, Vilgax destroyed the world when they refused to bend a knee and submit, bringing his total to five destroyed worlds. Supposedly, Tetrax Shard survived and had declared vengeance. Vilgax found he didn't care.
He wasn't sure who sent the galaxy's most feared bounty hunters after him, but it didn't matter. Most were hard-hearted enough to renege on their contracts after Vilgax outbid for their services. The ones that didn't were dispatched by the others.
To Vilgax's mind, it was all worth it. His exploits against the Incursean Empire and the destruction of Petropia now made him the most feared (And subsequently, highest rated bounty) within the galaxy. The spoils taken from the worlds he had conquered had made his ship the most powerful and feared vessel there was, not including the others he had captured, rebuilt, and summoned frequently when shock and awe was called for. The brutality, the fear, the gruesome maneuvers all served a purpose. In time, Vilgax told himself, systems would surrender as soon as he entered their borders.
In time, not even the Empire or the Galactic Enforcers or the dozen other petty dictators and tyrants and slave kings who made trouble around the galaxy would dare oppose him. To save trillions, he would slaughter billions.
As he came towards the end of his second century of life, though, his aspirations remained stymied. The Galactic Enforcers, while not engaging him as often, stubbornly refused to give way to common sense. The Incursean Empire under Emperor Milleous still stood. Something had to change.
And then, something did.
Cephalan Nebula (45,000 Light Years from Galactic Center)
Circa 1954 (Earth Calendar)
"A diplomatic envoy." Vilgax repeated, drumming his fingertips on the armrest of his chair on the bridge of the Chimerian Hammer with keen disinterest. "Why should I be concerned about such things?"
The robotic assistant who hovered about and followed him as he led operations aboard the Chimerian Hammer dipped down a bit before rising back up. "The Galactic Enforcers' diplomatic envoy was refused. According to statistical surveys, this occurs only 12.9 percent of the time."
Vilgax snorted at that. "Again, not that interesting. Aside from the Incurseans, there are about a dozen species I could name offhand that have done so, Changelings included. What about this world...Earth, you said, should inspire my attention?" In truth, Vilgax welcomed the distraction. He'd been working himself into another snit since waking as he considered the slow pace of his goals. His robotic assistant was a far cry from FOD, who was scrapped and gone since before Vilgaxia had been liberated, but it had gotten better at parsing out his moods with its interactive algorithms.
"According to information from your spies within the Galactic Enforcers," The robot went on, and Vilgax smiled at being reminded of that particular triumph in espionage, "the world called Earth is inhabited by a population of bipedal mammalian variants who have just entered their atomic age. Their world is divided into hundreds of countries only loosely organized behind two world powers who have begun an arms race."
Vilgax blinked. "Nuclear weapons." The things were deadly, highly illegal in Galactic Enforcers-aligned space, and seen as the epitome of brute force and nonselective warfare. At best, they caused long-term genetic damage in the survivors and made small regions inhospitable. At their worst before GE had cracked down on their manufacture and use, they had left planets barren wastelands for hundreds of thousands of revolutions.
"The planet Earth contains high concentrations of fissionable materials. Estimates by GE assessors indicate that the two ruling superpowers now hold hundreds of nuclear weapons and are in the process of building more. They were unwilling to end this buildup of nuclear armament as a condition of being allowed into the Galactic Enforcers coalition." The robot brought up footage from the diplomatic envoy's logs, and Vilgax stroked a hand over the tentacles beneath his chin.
"This species seems familiar."
"They are genetically identical to the pockets of Terran slaves throughout the galaxy. There is a high probability that they are one and the same."
"Ah. Terrans." Vilgax rolled his eyes. Useless, mewling things. Still, a status symbol in some areas that he had not yet dealt with.
There would be time for that later.
"So. A young species." Vilgax said, pushing himself up out of his chair and moving to stand in front of the bridge's reinforced viewport. It would have been a weakness to others, but Vilgax could survive in the emptiness of space. He kept it for the enjoyment of looking out over a world under siege with his own eyes instead of through a camera, and reveled in the additional terror it caused in his enemies. "A young species, assured of their own dominance, so heedless in thinking that they can stand alone against the dangers of the galaxy." He folded his arms behind his back and smiled. "And apparently, more apt to point their weapons of mass destruction at each other than outwards. A very poor sentiment. Perhaps I should remove their dangerous toys from them. For their own good, of course."
"Shall I summon the fleet, Warlord Vilgax?" His robotic assistant inquired.
"No." Vilgax dismissed the request. "I do not think it will be required for something this simple. Set a course for this Earth. I shall see to the details myself."
The ship made a course adjustment and then the stars blurred and faded into the pale blue and purple glow of hyperlight as the Chimerian Hammer's FTL drive engaged.
"Course laid in, sir."
Vilgax stood by the viewport and watched the universe drift by outside of his window. He had been fighting for two centuries now; fighting for his people, for his planet, for peace. Endless fighting and war and destruction, and still the galaxy refused to buckle under, to submit. He terrified them, but he did not terrify them enough. Not yet.
The Galactic Enforcers were weak and his people were tired. If it was not the Incurseans, it would be half a dozen or more of the other races, other coalitions who prescribed to conquest and enslavement and growing fat off of the misery of others. It would not end as things were now.
But with nuclear weapons on hand, and stockpiles of fissionable material on hand that could be processed into weapons and energy sources and safer compounds that would power devices for hundreds, thousands of rotations, it might finally change.
Vilgax would bring peace to the galaxy.
Earth would be his tenth conquered world.