After what feels like hours of walking, Akira hasn’t found anything she would call a control centre or focal point. Stranger still, she hasn’t come across anymore of The Barren either. It’s why she is left with a permanent eerie feeling that is hanging over her. It might not be so bad for the woman with waist length black hair if it were one or the other that had thus far eluded her, but with it being both she willingly admits that she is gravely concerned.

Still, she twists and turns down the hallways with their angular, not flat for very long, colourful walls fashioned from some alloy that is clearly not of this Earth. Having long since left behind the cylindrical rooms and their thousands upon thousands of enclosures affixed to the continuously curved wall that forms their shape.

Akira hasn’t a clue where she is going, or where the route she is winding down will take her. She hopes it’ll not be a dead-end but it wouldn’t surprise her if it was. And though she hasn’t come across anymore of the hulking aliens, her Bloodbolt is still held resolutely in hand; ready to be fired at any time. The barrel however is lowered, vaguely in the direction of the plating beneath her feet.

Before much more time has passed she finds it impossible to not admit that she is lost and simply pushing forward without a defined destination or realistic goal. Sure, she wants to find a way to release the people trapped in those pods, but she has no way of knowing if there is a central point from which to do that. There might have been a method in each of the rooms. It’s a thought that has only just hit her, and she has never before wanted to be more wrong about anything because there is no way she could retrace her steps. The intersections at which she turned have been numerous and chosen entirely at random, no pattern ever having been factored in to her choices. She regrets that now, but at the time had thought it best to limit any tracking The Barren might be doing. Though, seeing as this is their ship perhaps attempting to introduce spur of the moment decisions was not the best idea. After all, there is a good chance that no matter what avenue Akira takes they will know, if they are watching her, where she is.

Akira continues her contemplations as she approaches and then without thought crosses over the threshold of another doorway thinking about how all hope is gone and about how she has failed. She chastises and berates herself in the seconds that follow and then, for a reason she cannot explain, takes note of her surroundings. In that moment she realises that this is the room she has been looking for, or what she imagines the room she was looking for would look like. She could be wrong about its purpose, but something tells her this is where she has being trying to get to. Joy wells up from deep inside her, immediately replacing the pit of misery that had been swallowing her whole. It’s uncharacteristic of the woman to feel either, and it makes her wonders why emotions are afflicting her as they are right now. Soon after she admits she has no answer and settles on instead pushing those thoughts aside. It is clear they are not going to get her anywhere as her eyes scan the massive diamond shaped, multi-levelled space she now finds herself in.

The room is coloured a mixture of orange and green. A severe contrast Akira isn’t sure she can get behind. Whether an aesthetic choice or a by-product of the alloys properties she cannot say. Though, it would seem to be the latter with how the tones naturally change, blending seamlessly into one another as the angle at which she views them continues to shift.

The veteran resistance member isn’t striding forward confidently like she had been before. Instead, she is edging forward, carefully. After all, she has no way of knowing who or what might occupy this space, if anything at all. It seems like it shouldn’t be empty, but then again she has thought that of this place in general and yet it has been largely.

Akira, her head slowly turning left, right and then left again in a continuous cycle, reaches a steep ramp. She hesitates for a moment, first raising the barrel of her bullpup weapon and then following a deep breath, starts her ascension. The ramp is a deep pink almost purple colour and extends upward a good four metres at a seventeen degree angle.

The silence in the room is surprising but evident as Akira nears the top of the ramp without issue. She can’t see over its zenith yet but will be happy once she’s off it. Her knees are aching, more a result of how long they’ve been in constant motion and less to do with the angle of the ramp. Or at least that is what Akira hopes as she wonders how it can be that none of the machinery in the room gives off any discernible sound. It shouldn’t surprise her, she knows, but it does. And yet she still hasn’t concluded that the air is so silent that even her footsteps cannot be heard. It isn’t a natural silence but a deadening field that eliminates all unwanted sound from this space. The purpose of such technology, built into the walls and decking, know only to The Barren.

Finally, Akira takes the final step that permits her a view over the top of the ramp. Right away she spots three figures. It would be impossible for her not to. Like it would be impossible to mistake them for being anything other than members of the invading alien race, even with their backs turned to her like they are.

Akira instinctively raises her weapon fully so that the muzzle is aimed at the central figure, the closest of the group. The Barren on either side a little further forward than it, with the one on the right, as Akira is looking at them, being a couple hairs shorter. Yet, they look like all other examples of The Barren that the resistance fighter has seen. It makes little sense to her why in their own vessel, a safe haven for them surely, they continue to insist in being donned in that bio-mechanical armour of theirs though.

The index finger of her left hand carefully wrapping itself around the trigger of her weapon, making sure not to apply pressure and misfire the heavily customised firearm until she is ready. Once that time comes she’ll be able to lose off rounds with incredible ease.

But with her finger in place a voice from the ether announces, “Stop!”

Akira freezes in place and makes no attempt to move even a single muscle or take an inward breath. She cannot say why she does it. It just seems like the right thing to do. Yet, she can safely say that she did not freeze because of the voice, wherever it came from and whoever it belonged to, demanded she do so.

Suddenly The Barren turn toward her, in unison. Akira curses under her breath as she dares to take one because she now knows that the voice was heard by her enemies as well. Some part of her had hoped that perhaps it was perceivable only to her ears, but that was hoping for too much. She knows that now and grits her teeth ready for what could be a very hard fight. Her mind recalling how she has so far, since waking, taken three of The Barren with little issue. Akira doesn’t want recent events to cloud her judgement. They are anomalies among roughly two years of fighting these aliens and on all other occasions The Barren have proven themselves formidable.

What does surprise Akira, however, is that The Barren would react at all to the command. They don’t understand English, or any other Earth originating language for that matter. And at no point prior to this have the aliens ever exhibited recognition when humans speak. That is until right now where it seems they may have understood human speech. That sends a chill down Akira’s spine and only adds to the dread she feels at having had her element of surprise stripped from her as unceremoniously as it has been.

Still, she would kill to know who it is that spoke to her. Her eyes dart in every conceivable direction without her fully taking her attention off the three mighty figures ahead of her. If she does that she can almost guarantee one of them will rush her. Akira isn’t in the mood to be crushed so every now and again she flicks her gaze back in the direction of the figures. To her surprise they have not moved from the spots they seem to be rooted to. Akira doesn’t like it and wonders if she is standing on or below some dastardly device capable of taking her life before she can so much as blink. If that is true then why haven’t The Barren used it yet? She has no answer to her question, but isn’t willing to wait to find out.  That is why she cycles her Bloodbolt rifle to the single shot firing mode and then quickly double taps the trigger after having adjusted her aim to The Barren on her left.

The muzzle on her weapon flares, the first flash morphing into the second. Akira blinks, reflexively, in response. The sound is wrong to her ears, but the outcome isn’t when a couple seconds later the twin rounds pound into the same small square on The Barren’s angular head. It’s a patch that Akira picked out right between the aliens eyes. It’s what she would call a forehead, whether The Barren would agree she will never know and doesn’t overly care. They don’t belong here; they are the aggressors, the invaders, the murders of innocent souls. They don’t get a say, or at least don’t deserve one.

The large alien crumples to the floor, dead, right after. A small cloud of purple mist having spurted from the, wider than a single round, hole.

There is no thud. Akira finds that suspicious and her eyes narrow in response just as she shifts her aim and targets The Barren on her right. She’s deemed this alien her next immediate threat seeing as it appears as though it is likely a bodyguard protecting the alien that had been in the centre when all three had still been alive. Her finger still over the trigger, which she begins to apply miniscule amounts of pressure too. A little more and the weapon in her hands will fire again.

“Please, no more!” The voice says from the ether again.

It’s sudden appearance catches Akira by surprise. Her index finger straightening to ensure the trigger isn’t pulled. Though she does quickly demand, “Whoever you are, reveal yourself. I don’t like games.”

Akira’s voice is hard, angry and yet softened, unnaturally by whatever it is that is affecting the sound in this room.

“I am the one who spoke.” The Barren in what had been the centre of the trio advises as it raises its hands in a sign humans would consider surrender. Except in conjunction with it the alien bows its head slightly. Not in a manner that could be called cowering however.

Akira doesn’t believe the alien is the one who spoke and snorts derisively in reply as she shifts her trigger finger back into position, millimetre by millimetre. It’s a visual indicator that whoever the owner of the voice is only has limited time before she will fire again. The only way she won’t, unless answers are given, is if she’s forced not to. For Akira that means she’d need to be dead.

Still, she adds, just to ensure whoever does understand her snort, “The Barren don’t speak, at least no Earth language anyway.”

Her top lip curls as the words pass her lips.

“I assure you…” The voice begins as the taller of the two aliens steps forward, “…that we can indeed speak your languages.”

The voice has no accent. Akira hadn’t noticed until right now. It could be because not enough words had been uttered for her to make a judgement before.

“What is going on?” Akira spits through her bared and gritted teeth demanding answers that have thus far not been forthcoming. Her patience is thin. It always is when The Barren are involved. A by-product of her hatred for the alien race that killed the people she loved. It’s why she would like nothing more than to squeeze the trigger and end this pair here and now.

“I will explain. But first, I need you to lower your weapon. We mean you no harm. I can promise you that.” The voice, claiming to be The Barren a couple hairs taller than the other, assures while its hands are still raised in surrender.

“Your kind don’t make promises.” Akira snarls, refusing to believe The Barren’s attempts at placation.

Following that, whether by chance or as a result of poor judgement, the other alien moves. It isn’t a subtle movement and Akira takes it as an attempt to force her to comply through reaching for a weapon.

Akira quickly shifts, changing her target and then without pause fires a single shot. The woman makes sure to aim it right at the head of The Barren. That, thus far, seems to have been an incredibly effective means of putting them down. It never has before this, but Akira isn’t about to look a gift-horse in the mouth or consider that somehow it might be different this time. There is nothing to say that it will be.

The bullet explodes out of the muzzle of her weapon. A brilliant flash and suppressed sound a clear indication that comes a second before the round reaches its target and punctures a hole through the massive alien’s slightly smaller and less angular head.

This round was not targeted at the space between the glowing blue lights that The Barren have for eyes, but through the right eye of the creature. No sound leaves it’s mass. Just a cloud of purple droplets fill the air where the head had been moments earlier. The body is already on its short lifeless journey that will culminate in it becoming a crumpled heap on the floor.

As that happens the last member of the extraterrestrial species does not stay silent however. Instead, it does something that Akira has never known The Barren to do before today, show grief. She is now the second time she has seen it. Though, this time is different as The Barren roars, “No!” It’s a short exclamation that fills the deadened air of the room. The aliens massive size rushing the short distance to the body that now sits in what will be its final resting place.

As the alien weeps, Akira takes three steps forward; her weapon levelled at The Barren and explains, “If you don’t want to end up like your friends then I suggest you start talking.”

The angular heads rises. Akira gets ready for the beast to attack, but it doesn’t. Instead, it stares at her as if contemplating her words, perhaps the severity of them or maybe to gauge her resolve. Either way its response is swift as the being raises its mighty hands, again showing the gesture of surrender, before rising back to its full height and then taking a step back.

Akira takes the display the only way she can, as a human, and believes The Barren is relenting. Her finger continues to hover over the trigger of her weapon, which is vaguely aimed at her enemy, just in case though.

“Why did The Barren attack Earth?” Akira queries, her eyes burning with hatred.

The Barren hesitates for a moment, until Akira shifts her weapon impatiently. The alien gets the gist of her silent threat and quickly admits, “We needed a new home. Ours was destroyed eons ago. Since then we have been drifting through space in search of a world with the basic elements capable of sustaining us. This world, Earth as you call it, is one such world.”

The Barren is speaking honestly and frankly. Akira is inclined to believe it. Nothing it has said surprises her. This is what many of the survivors of humanity had been theorising since The Barren attacked. Still, the resistance fighter would be lying if she didn’t admit that there is relief to finally know why they are here. It changes nothing. Not her hatred for them or the unforgivable things they have done. But it does offer the woman some comfort, in a strange sort of way.

There is a question she needs answered perhaps more than why The Barren are on Earth and that is, “Why did I find humans in pods? The Barren have never taken prisoners. So why are they here?”

Akira’s tone is cautious. She expects this is the point at which truth will end and the alien will begin lying to her in an attempt to distract her and then work out a way of striking when she least expects it. That isn’t going to happen. Akira is more prepared than it can ever imagine, even as it inclines its head left and then right. If it were done by anything other than the angular shape it might be considered cute or intriguing, but from this thing it is bone chilling and disturbing.

However, Akira gets no reply. Instead, the seconds continue to tick by, and the longer this goes on the more evident it becomes that the alien has no wish to answer her question. It’s not the outcome the woman had been expecting. She would have preferred if it had tried to lie. At least then she’d have had a reason to shoot it. Not that she needs one.

Though, there are other ways of making her point without ending the beings life promptly. That is why she takes a step forward, her face twisting with anger as her green eyes flare and she spits, “I will kill you. You know that. I’ve proven my resolve. So either you give me answers or I end you like I did your two friends here.” Akira stabs her head in the direction of the dead alien between them to reinforce her point.

But The Barren stays rooted to the spot. With the bio-mechanical suit covering its body it is impossible to tell what its reaction is. If The Barren give clear displays of their emotions that is. There’s a chance they don’t. Akira and the rest of humanity know little about them. In fact, she has learned more in the last couple minutes than she has in the previous two years preceding.

Finally, following a long period of silence The Barren informs, “This…” indicating the alien between it and Akira before continuing, “…was my mate.”

If The Barren was expecting a visual reaction from Akira to use against her it doesn’t get one. She doesn’t care if the dead mass at her feet was the aliens’ mate. In fact, she’s glad the alien no longer has a partner. Now it might be able to understand the pain its kind have caused her and the rest of the human race. Plus, it also might mean that there will be one less offspring produced. Though, whether The Barren procreate like Earth-originating animals she hasn’t a clue and is in no way inclined to find out.

Instead, she repeats her question, but this time with a demanding tone. She wants to make it abundantly clear that if she gets no answer this time then the alien will die. “Why are there humans in pods?”

The Barren stays silent. Though, this time Akira thinks that it may actually be considering a reply to her question. How she has reached such a conclusion is beyond her. However, she does wait until nearly a minute later The Barren states, “I cannot give you an answer in your vernacular. I fear my comprehension of your language is too primitive and that any reply I offer would not be sufficient to you.”

Akira is about to let out a long sigh of frustration in response when the alien continues, “However, I do possess the answers you seek.”

Without warning the alien turns and stretches out its arms toward a nearby console, each button carved with a symbol that Akira can only assume is the extraterrestrials language. However, Akira didn’t agree or permit the massive frame of the alien the authority to make any sudden moves, so she fires a single shot. It carves through the air, barely missing The Barren’s giant mitt in the moments before it ricochets harmlessly off and away from them both. The alien recoils, visibly leaping a half step backward in response to the warning shot. Whether The Barren realises that that is what it was she cannot say, but if she had been aiming for the alien it should realise that it would already be dead. She’s proven that already, twice.

“Don’t make any sudden moves. Unless you want to be dead, that is.” Akira states bluntly and in an entirely monotone voice.

“I understand, but mean you no harm.”

Akira snorts loudly, her head shaking from side to side as she states, “I don’t believe you after all I’ve been through.”

A silence hangs in the air following the exchange. It’s awkward but apparently will only be broken if Akira speaks first, so she does and questions, “What was that button you were about to press that could have cost you your life?”

The woman pauses as if she is finished talking. The alien about to utter its response when Akira adds, “If you lie I will kill you. And it’ll be a lot slower and more agonising than the death your mate suffered.”

Her tone is cold and sure. She means the words that pass her lips. The Barren needs to know that. If the alien can’t understand her inflection then that is not her problem. She thinks that it does understand her though and so waits for a reply.

“It is a recording. You will want to hear it.” The Barren offers and then without hesitation it presses the button without first waiting for a reply.

Akira growls about to fire when the recording starts. As she hears its perfect pronunciation she holds and feels compelled to listen. She can always kill The Barren once it’s over. As long as she keeps her weapon at the ready, her finger over the trigger and her eyes on her enemy that is.

“Contrary to popular belief by humanity we, named as The Barren by humanity, are not a militaristic spacefaring Empire of almost limitless capabilities. We are in fact the remnants of a once vast civilization. Our numbers now are small. The might we project is actually a lie, a ruse created to deceive.” The voice, synthetic in tone, pauses for a second and then continues.

 “While we are in search of a new homeworld, our species knew, from observation, that humanity would never negotiate with a more advanced alien race. Unfortunately, throughout human history mankind has always targeted what it believes is not the norm. That is why instead we, the Barinsulian, used deceit to capture and submerge all examples of humanity into a simulated reality.”

Again the synthetic voice pauses. Akira shows nothing that gives any hint of her feelings. Instead, she stays rooted to the spot, her eyes glaring at The Barren before her. Her jaw flexes every so often as if she is chewing, but she isn’t. The Barren cannot read what this action should indicate but even if he knew her intent he could do little about it. He isn’t armed. No Barinsulian is. This human woman will learn that soon when she gets the full picture that this recording will reveal. He wonders if the woman will feel the same hatred he can see burning intensely in her eyes afterward. He has no way of knowing so must simply wait. Either he will be met with death or he won’t.

“Unfortunately, we underestimated human will and could not contain their collective consciousnesses within the peaceful simulation that had been initially constructed for them. It seems it was too perfect and as a result caused humans in inquire how it is they came to be present in such a world. In turn that led to disintegration of the confines of the simulation due to a disparity between human experience and its programmed nature which could never be reconciled.”

Akira realises now that the voice isn’t synthetic but thousands of individual voices spliced together to create this recording. It explains why it pronounces every syllable of each word. Yet, she cannot fathom the purpose of this recordings existence if The Barren had indeed intended to keep every human in a simulation and unaware of the real world events.

“As a result we were forced to construct a simulation which humanity would be able to gel with. This led to the fabrication of the war between a fictionalised version of ‘The Barren’ and mankind.”

The recording ends and while Akira doesn’t think that what she has heard is a lie, she is sceptical to believe it. After all, The Barren, or Barinsulian as they refer to themselves, have allegedly lied already and attempted to steal Earth right out from under humanities noses. So what is to say that this is not another part of some grand lie she isn’t aware of.

That’s why Akira feels compelled to ask, “What is it The Barren hoped to achieve?”

“Peace.” Is the reply The Barren utters without an ounce of hesitation.

“But it seems such a thing was not possible. It is why we intended to keep your race suspended indefinitely.” The alien adds right after. Though Akira notes that it is struggling to properly pronounce some of the words it is speaking now, especially indefinitely.

“So all members of humanity are alive?” Akira queries with her eyes narrowed and suspicion filling her tone.

The alien does not answer. It understands the question but knows that it will either have to lie or reveal another truth, one the Barinsulian find…tragic in its misfortune.

Akira smirks. The aliens silence confirms what she had come to suspect. That this, the reveal, was itself constructed. An easy way of explaining what happened without admitting the extraterrestrial race has blood on its hands.

Akira raises her weapon fully and then without delay fires two shots. The two rounds are aimed at a point in the aliens centre mass and are kept clustered close together. Akira isn’t sure why she fired at the invaders torso. It isn’t human and she has no clue in regards to its anatomy, but it had been an instinctive response, one that is too late to alter.

Still, it has the desired effect as The Barren goes down hard, blood, thick and dark purple, spilling from its twin wounds. The alien struggles but after nearly a minute, of blood gushing onto the floor around it to create a puddle, it raises its head and swears, “We told you the…truth. We are low in number. We have…no weapons. Meant…no harm…to…hu-humanity.”

Then the alien dies. Its body slumping to the blood covered alloy plating that makes up the floor of this room. Akira stares at the aliens’ body, but feels nothing for it as she recalls how her parents, friends and love died. For that alone she cannot forgive The Barren, or whatever they call themselves.

After several minutes of taking in the sight of the dead alien, Akira, now feeling disgusted by its presence, sidles over to the nearby console. The markings on its keys mean nothing to her and so she begins to recklessly push them, one after the other after the other. She gets through maybe a third of them before some text appears in front of her eyes. There is no screen; it is simply a holographic image that lingers in the air. But Akira cannot read the text. It is the same as the symbols on the console keys themselves and just like them she cannot read this either. So she returns to hammering away at buttons until suddenly a voice, in English, begins to boom from somewhere high overhead. Akira listens and quickly concludes that this is an audio version of the report she can only assume is the one before her. Why it’s in English she hasn’t a clue, but it’s a gift-horse and she is not going to look it in the mouth as the voice informs, “Tragically, it seems that in our ambition to forge ahead with our appropriation of this world we failed to understand that the massive quadrants littered with structures were not cultural edifices devoted to the history of humanity, as we had first thought during the initial months of our arrival, but points of habitation by the native race. As such our strikes against them over the last four months have cost an estimated four billion lives globally. We will have to bury this. Humanity can never know. Not that such a travesty should be at risk of coming to light once the reminder of mankind are housed within the simulation we have constructed for them…”

Akira tunes out the rest of whatever the voice continues to drone out about that it detailed within that report. Instead, she acknowledges that her breathing is heavy. It’s because she’s angry and why her lip curls. Her fists, tightly balled, shake vigorously until finally she feels the need to lash out and so slams her fists down on the console. Several buttons are activated at once as a result but Akira doesn’t care as she slowly unfurls her fists and then presses every available option on the console before her. Including ones she has hammered at previously.

She has to wake the rest of humanity. They need to take back the home that The Barren have taken from them, especially now that she knows that the aliens are not a formidable force. They’ll rue the day they came to Earth, Akira thinks just as an alarm begins to blare and a holographic diagram of one of the cylindrical rooms appears with an animation that indicates the pods will now be released.

Akira smiles, a wide sick smile that is spread across her face from ear-to-ear as she grabs her weapon, shoulders it and turns away from the console. She knows a fight will be coming but its outcome will be nothing like the simulation she has spent the last two years in. She’ll make sure of it and no one will listen to The Barren’s lies. They killed billions and she will make them pay for every life that has been lost.

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