Earth, 2020

The discovery came amidst a pandemic unlike any other. However, its implications were not lost on the general public. For the first time in the history of humanity, proof of something moving faster than light itself, had been recorded and analysed. The signals were simultaneously recorded by JAXA, ISRO, and NASA. What was even more incredible was that they were sent by sentient races, proof of extra-terrestrial life. Because it was undeniable, the signals had meaning. There were patterns akin to language in them as per linguists, logic akin to numerals as per mathematicians, and were God’s latest Commandments, as per the Church of Scientology.

Less than a year later, more superluminal signals were detected, this time by observatories across the planet. By this time, a small yet secretive task force comprising American, Indian, and Japanese scientists had already decoded the first transmission. And the reason that the taskforce’s findings were kept a secret from the rest of the world had to do with the very nature of what they found. Thanks to AI, and thousands of human languages to draw from, it had only taken them a few weeks to realise that the signals were an SOS, and also a warning.

The major stakeholders and global power brokers decided that what was considered a joke until then was no longer a matter to be taken lightly. Earth needed a space force, and a fleet.

Rashomon Base, Jovian Moon Ganymede, 2050.

Since the first signal received in 2020, human scientists had further detected more than 2 dozen distinct transmissions, each carrying a similar message of a cry for help and a warning. Each of the transmissions warned of a threat which would be interpreted by the translation AI as ‘Those That Make You Cry For Help.’ It was apparent that alien proper nouns were beyond translation capabilities.

Commander Sheila Shankar was one of the rare third generation System Defence Fleet officers, the grandchild of the first ever Admiral of the System Defence Fleet. She was bored out of her mind at the base on Ganymede, since she had only two other human beings with her, neither of whom were very fun company. She was also bored because it was her sixth and final month on the base, and the most interesting thing to happen in the past months, was a micro asteroid impacting a few kilometres from the base.

‘Commander, there’s a Priority One message from Dark Base.’

These words from Corporal Dazai on her earpiece served to rapidly extricate Sheila from her boudoir of boredom.

‘Send it to the ready room. And have Lieutenant Abrams join us there as well in 5 minutes.’

Sheila changed into uniform and headed to the ready room in quite a bit of hurry, since one didn’t receive a message from Dark Base unless it was a matter of some urgency.

Lieutenant Abrams and Corporal Dazai were waiting for her, with the transmission onscreen.

‘Play the message.’ She said to Corporal Dazai.

He initiated playback.

A distinguished looking Commodore appeared onscreen.

‘This is Commodore Akutagawa of the Reconnaissance Division at Dark Base. This is a Priority One message for Commander Shankar. You are hereby ordered to return to Earth orbit and launch all recon drones at your disposal for deep space sweeps before leaving. Over and Out..

Sheila had a lot of questions, but she knew that they would have to wait. They would have to wait for the months it would take them to get back to Earth orbit, since the SDF didn’t use superuminal communication. Physicists had figured out how to create superluminal waves for communication, but since it involved converting matter the mass of the Moon into energy and then harvesting that, it seemed like faster than light communication would remain theoretical for humans for a few more decades at least. Until then, good ol laser relays would do.

She responded with an acknowledgement of the orders and ordered the corporal to relay it back to Dark Base as a Priority One signal. She then ordered the surly Lieutenant Abrams to launch their entire array of deep space drones, and set them to constantly sweep and relay data back to base. She then prepared to relaunch Rashomon Base back towards Earth. It would be a long and boring journey back, she thought to herself.

Dark Base, Dark Side Of The Moon, 2050.

When the System Defence Fleet was formed, the three countries that had detected the first signal, were the main parties involved. When it came to designing ships and outposts, it was decided that they would design ships that would double as outposts, since it was fuel efficient to have mobile outposts. When it came to the capital ships of the Fleet itself, they weren’t sure whether to go for size or numbers. Finally, it was decided that each founding country would field a capital ship each, and two destroyer class escorts, and other member countries would work on reconnaissance and bases. Which is why after decades of work, trillions of currency units being spent, and global cooperation the likes of which would have been termed impossible earlier in the same century, the Fleet consisted of a grand total of 9 combat ready ships, and 27 base ships. All of which were being mobilised at far Earth orbit.

The capital ships Akagi and Iowa had already assembled with their destroyer escorts and the Delhi was on her way from sub Earth space.

Commodore Akutagawa was prepared for this day, of course, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t still hoping this would all turn out to be a dream, a very bad dream. Less than 7 hours ago, the Delhi, which was patrolling sub terrestrial space had detected superluminal waves on a scale never seen before. It fit a pattern given a decade earlier by a Ghanaian physicist, that predicted the existence of Einstein Rosen bridges that could move at faster than light speeds. In other words, wormholes that could travel through space.

To make matters worse, the base ship Arihant’s drones detected similar waves originating from supra terrestrial space, which it was patrolling. It was a worst case scenario. A possible war on two fronts. Of course ‘fronts’ isn’t a word that makes sense in Space, which was a truly three dimensional battlefield. Movies and books loved to portray the enemy as approaching from beyond Pluto, but the truth was that a sub terrestrial or supra terrestrial approach made far more sense as there were fewer celestial bodies whose orbits needed to be navigated, and there were only a limited number of drones that could be placed into geosynchronous polar orbit. In simpler terms, it was much easier to approach Earth from above or below it, than from the plane of the planetary orbits. And now, it seemed that was indeed what was happening.

Whilst the SDF had been formed to respond to this very kind of threat, it was also understood that there was little that could actually be done against an enemy that could warp space itself. However every fleet ship carried conventional nuclear warheads and the Big 3, as the capital ships were known, carried Antimatter Stabilising Thermonuclear Radiation Amplifier weapons or ASTRAs that generated enough destructive energy to pulverise Moon sized asteroids.

Commodore Akutagawa could not help reflecting on the futility of what they were doing, but remembered that the cost to create a warship fleet had in fact turned out to be significantly lower than the formation of an ark fleet. And, deep down, some collective martial racial memory seemed to be triggered in the human race, since an overwhelming majority of the Earth’s citizens had in fact opted to support the formation of an offensive fleet.

He ordered his Comms Offficer to relay a Priority One message to the Delhi, informing them to hold their position in sub terrestrial space, and that a dozen base ships would be sent to fortify their position. He then sent orders to the Iowa and the Akagi to take up positions in supra terrestrial space, and for the remaining base ships to form up around them.

Capital Ship Delhi, Sub Terrestrial Space, 2050.

Captain Vishnu Dev was both excited and terrified. He was the youngest captain amongst the officers commanding the Big 3 and so tended to be a bit more gung ho about things. But even he understood what it meant when he was facing an opponent who had the capability to travel faster than light. He ordered his crew to switch to action stations, and checked the status of their armament. Unbeknownst to the rest of the Big 3, his ship was retrofitted with a modified version of the ASTRA system. It was based on the old Indo-Russian BrahMos missiles, and featured a hypersonic kinetic component that supplemented the ASTRA. The top brass back home had unimaginatively decided to name it the BrahmASTRA. He hoped it would be enough, as he didn’t place much faith in the masers and nuclear weapons they carried.

He acknowledged the Commodore’s orders and instructed his destroyer escort to take up flanking positions. He didn’t want the base ships to get overly friendly with his capital ship, as his pride as a capital ship’s captain wouldn’t allow him to believe that they were even needed to back him up in the first place.

Base Ship Rashomon, Supra Terrestrial Space, 2050.

Commander Sheila couldn’t believe her eyes when the viewscreen in the bridge showed what seemed to suddenly drop into the space in front of them. Where there was nothing but the twinkling of stars in space, now there was a hulking black behemoth of a ship, and it appeared to be bristling with weaponry. The two capital ships ahead of her would face the brunt of the attack, and her ship was in a moderately safe area with the rest of the base ships but the sheer size of the oncoming vessel meant that she would also be in the line of fire.

She ordered Lieutenant Abrams to ready weapons and Corporal Dazai to send constant reports to Dark Base. Suddenly their viewscreen was filled with a different view. It was of a bridge room, manned by several bipedal beings. And in the captain’s conn sat a being that looked surprisingly humanoid. However the alien captain’s facial features seemed rather bestial, with fangs that seemed to protrude from its mouth, and yellow eyes that seemed to be locked in a perpetual predatory glare.

‘I am pleased to see this planet is still inhabited by you traitorous halfbreeds'. Rejoice, for Lord Vritra has sent me to wipe this planet clean of your treacherous existence. If you had died out prior to my arrival, then my trip would have been wasted.’

How the enemy captain was speaking In every language at once, Sheila couldn’t fathom. Being bilingual, she could hear him simultaneously in English and Hindi, and she could see from the expressions on her crew’s face, they too were in a similar situation.

The capital ships chose that moment to fire, and suddenly the viewscreen was a mass of static as the nuclear warheads bombarded a large swathe of space with hard radiation. All the ships prayed their shielding would hold, as the worst of the radiation ended. However the black ship was still there, seemingly unperturbed in the slightest by the slew of fusion bombs that it had been subjected to. Massive weapons sprang to life all over its hull, then began to spit radiation and exotic particle streams in tandem. The Iowa appeared to explode almost instantly, having suffered a critical hit in its armament chamber. The radiation once again rendered viewscreens useless, and Sheila ordered Abrams to take evasive action, as well as Dazai to send a wide range report of the enemy captain’s words and actions.

Dazai had barely done so, when suddenly all the screens in the ship stopped responding again, and the enemy captain appeared again.

‘Ah, wonderful, you have not forgotten your roots, I see. Yes, offer what resistance you can, and pray while you can.’ He sneered. ‘Alas, in space no one can hear you pray. Well. Not that they can wherever you might be.’

The screens returned to normal once more, and the black ship’s armaments began to power up again. The Akagi moved to shield as many base ships as it can, and the remaining destroyers did the same. The Akagi’s captain was ordering the base ships to retreat to Dark Base. The dark ship fired yet again.

Capital Ship Delhi, Sub Terrestrial Space, 2050.

Almost at the same instant the reports of a massive black ship appearing in supra terrestrial space began pouring in, Captain Vishnu saw an opalescent ship drop into existence, occupying the space where femtoseconds ago, there was just the lonely chill of vacuum. The ship was massive, dwarfing even the capital ships, and had four long spikes protruding from the front of its hull. They seemed lethal, and Captain Vishnu ordered his crew to prime all weapons for launch, including the BrahmASTRA.

But the ship that seemed almost blindingly white due to the strange sheen surrounding its hull, still did nothing. That was when the reports of the dark vessel destroying the Iowa came in, and immediately, Vishnu gave the order to fire. All the surrounding ships joined in too, releasing salvoes of nuclear warheads and masers to add to his ship’s flurry of ASTRAs. That was when the target ship’s giant spikes began to glow, and suddenly, giant streams of white blue plasma leapt out from the spikes and completely obliterated every trace of the fleet’s weaponry. The masers seemed to do no harm, as the ship then reverted to its state of inactivity, before suddenly seeming to accelerate towards the fleet, only to disappear into nothingness. Vishnu couldn’t believe what had happened. It was as if a massive lightning bolt in space had turned his BrahmASTRA and ASTRAs into nothing. The fear returned, the battle adrenaline having been exhausted, and he crumpled back into his seat.

Base Ship Rashomon, Sub Terrestrial Space, 2050.

As the enemy ship launched another attack, Sheila couldn’t stop herself from mentally screaming for help. Her mind was running at a mile a minute. She understood why the transmissions were so specific about the threat’s name. When faced with certain death, every living being wants help, wants to not die. As she was thinking this, a memory came unbidden to her mind. Her grandfather trying his best to drill Sanskrit verb forms into her, regaling her with tales of gods and demons, and suddenly, it struck her. Why Vritra sounded so familiar. The Sanskrit for ‘help’. How an entire race of creatures existed, that prompted the very gods in her grandfather’s stories to cry for help. The Rakshasas. And then a small thought, as the sensors indicated a massive ship dropping into the space between them and the energy. If the Rakshasas were real, what about the Devas?

The opalescent ship absorbed the black ship’s attacks, its sheen flickering, and ebbing a little, but then suddenly its four horns lit up again, and a bolt of plasma leapt across space to strike the black ship. The dark vessel seemed to shudder from the impact, and suddenly it disappeared, as instantaneously as it had appeared.

Commander Sheila couldn’t believe it. Four horns. Pearly white. Lightning. Airawat. They were saved. Just like in her grandfather’s stories.

Dark Base, Dark Side Of The Moon, 2050.

After the dark ship retreated, the horned ship approached the moon, and all of the fleet once more had their screens hijacked. This time, it appeared to be the bridge of the horned ship. Its captain too appeared humanoid, and yet profoundly other. It appeared exceedingly thin, and had limbs that looked like they could break at any second. It had jet black eyes, including what appeared to be black sclera, and all of its crew and it were both bald. It too seemed to be able to speak in multiple tongues simultaneously.

‘Salutations. I am Indra, leader of my people. We are dismayed that the Rakshasa faction led by Vritra has transgressed in this place, and we are sorry for the losses you have suffered. We have much to discuss. We must do so at the earliest, for now that the Rakshasas have located your planet, Vritra’s Fleet will be sent to raze it.’

After this, Commodore Akutagawa sent a transmission to the alien ship that they would meet immediately at Dark Base, and that he was authorised to negotiate on behalf of the planet as per the SDF Treaty.

The meeting was attended by the captains of the surviving capital ships, as well as the commanders of the destroyers and base ships. The alien captain was accompanied by two of his crew, and from the SDF’s perspective, they all looked identical.

Admiral Akutagawa, freshly promoted, and resplendent in dress uniform, introduced all the officers and requested Indra to address the assembly.

‘As I said before, you were attacked by a faction of the Rakshasas. Some of you seem to recognise the word, and even my name and my ship. It seems that there are some racial memories of our previous visit. However it wasn’t me who visited your planet then, it was one of my predecessors. The title of Indra is passed on, as is captaincy of my ship, the Airavat or the … Pale Pachyderm, as most of your people would call it.’

‘When did you last visit Earth?’ asked Admiral Akutagawa.

‘Many thousands of your solar cycles ago. It wasn’t just us. The Rakshasas had a civil war, that split their hierarchy. The larger of their two factions sought to destroy the smaller faction before it became a major threat. And so they started to slaughter each other. The survivors of the smaller faction, weary of war and killing, came to us. We were always against the Rakshasa ideology, and whilst we are not able to eliminate their threat, we do possess the means to slow their onslaught on this reality.’

‘And so we found your planet, whose timeline was at a stage where bipedal organisms were evolving. By then some among us wished to join the Rakshasa refugees too, to see if it was truly possible for them to settle and become peaceful beings. And so the existing bipedal primate based lifeforms gradually had their genetic makeup altered by both the Rakshasa refugees and their Deva observers, until the spark of true sentience emerged. Once it did, it became possible to interbreed. And so your species was formed. A union of Rakshasa, Deva, and spontaneously evolved life. This is why it is apparent from your history that you carry both the potential to nurture as well as the potential to destroy.’

‘When we detected the Rakshasas had started their conquering spree in this sector of the Galaxy, we maintained a watch on this planet that was proof that coexistence is possible. We were sure to not give away your position, however your early experiments with the antimatter weapons alerted the Asuras to your presence. And they detected the remnants of the Rakshasa ships in the depths of your planet’s water bodies, that the refugees had travelled to Earth by. And so they set out, spurred on by the thought of wiping out the ones who dared to be different from them not by birth, but by choice.’

‘So your race, the Devas, you are willing to be our allies?’

‘Alas, Admiral, there is only so much we can do. Varuna, the leader of the minor Rakshasa faction, went into hiding when he realised Vritra wanted him dead. Lord Vritra will send his main Fleet here to make an example of you, and not even my ship can defend you from an attack of that magnitude. If you are willing, we have time enough to develop weapons capable of slowing them. We can outfit your own ships with them, and I will summon more of the Deva Fleet to aid you. But we can only aid you, ultimately the choice will be yours. We also have the option of evacuating your entire population. The Pale Pachyderm class of Deva ships can each accommodate a few hundred million stasis pods. You see, we are a nomadic race. Our own population has been on the decline, we are not like the short lived Rakshasas whose lifespans are similar to yours. Our people age much slower, however even with the best shielding we cannot stop our genetic information from getting corrupted at the subatomic level due to the vagaries of time and radiation. Every time we manipulate space, we risk further damage. And so our own population is now no more than a shadow of what it was.’

‘We have dedicated our remaining existence to helping as many races as we can, to escape the Rakshasas. And so we are willing to serve as arks for your kind. We are also willing to aid you in creating weapons. But you must decide.’

After this ultimatum, the aliens didn’t show much interest in remaining in. what was to them, the crushing gravity of the Moon. Even in their suits, they appeared to be experiencing some amount of distress. Centuries and millennia of space travel and exposure to exotic radiation seemed to have moulded them into an ethereal race as a whole.

Earth, 2051

After the Second Global Referendum, humanity displayed its usual reluctance to stick to the rules. Seeing as to how they were descended from a mix of both the Rakshasas and Devas, they stayed true to themselves. Around half opted to evacuate, whilst half wanted to stay and fight.

And so, billions boarded the Devas’ massive ark ships, leaving Earth. After a year, only Indra’s ship remained, filled with the last of humanity’s evacuees. The technology and materials for constructing unfathomably destructive weapons had been given to the SDF, and the newly promoted Captain Sheila Shankar was in charge of the capital ship Iowa’s Revenge. The remaining humans had dedicated themselves to one purpose, and one purpose alone. To fight. And so, new ships and weaponry were being churned out at an impossible rate, the entire planet a giant factory of war. As the last of the evacuees boarded Indra’s ship, Admiral Akutagawa watched them from aboard the newly constructed heavy incinerator ship, The Jigouko. He knew that to fight demons, they too would have to become the demons of yore. And so he watched, as the last of his humanity too, left aboard The Pale Pachyderm.

The End.