Jelilah’s cannons blazed rainbow fury. The lasers flickered through a sequence of random wavelengths; let the Draazi shields cope with that. The stars wheeled around her and local space sprouted red flowers: brief curling balls of flaming oxygen from exploding attack ships, both Human and Draazi.
We’re all aliens out here, she thought, and not for the first time.
Dazzling beams strobed round her hull, illuminating her face. It was a close dogfight, only a few kilometres ship-to-ship and she was having the fight of her life. Her full lips were stretched in a wild smile and it was all she could do to not laugh madly; she had been told it disturbed the comms operators.
She jinked and span her Hawk fighter, was it bad to be so in love with this feeling? She was glad they were winning the war, but glad, too, that it was only slowly. She briefly felt guilty about not feeling guilty, despite the lives lost. Then she saw Maarz Riizen, the Red Death, the Draazi’s own ace, and there was nothing but him on her mind.
His lasers were all power, no psychedelic, rainbow trickery like hers. There was no finesse, no slipping quietly past inattentive shields, just brutal force. She watched them punch straight through a Hawk’s shields and hull in one concentrated burst; just another death blossom blooming in heartless space. She sent him two Draazi flowers in return as they spiralled closer.
This was everything she needed, everything she wanted, everything she was.
Then the stars went out.
The telemetry feed died, comms chatter went quiet. Something darker than space began reaching out and swatting fighters of both races. A fleet made of nothing, that came from nowhere. She fired on what she couldn’t see and her lasers just vanished. She saw Maarz Riizen pass in a frantic red streak, evading as madly as she was, having as much luck in taking them down.
This wasn’t fun anymore. She saw her command ship die; saw something creep over it until it simply wasn’t there. Black ribbons slipped around her, but she found gaps, slivers of starlight to follow out. There were more, like grabbing hands or snapping jaws, but she was the best and no alien - Draazi or shadow-thing - could beat her in open space. She was flying for her life.
She screamed until she needed to draw breath or pass out, then she screamed some more. Her thoughts became pure instinct. She was more than a pilot, more than human, Jelilah and her Hawk were riding currents that no other being could feel; nothing could touch them.
And then she was alone. Her fleet was gone, the Draazi were gone, the nothings were gone. Just her and the distant stars, debris, and... Riizen. The Red Death drifted into her field of vision. His ship was intact but he seemed stunned by the sudden absence of action.
She grabbed for the control stick, paused. They were drifting towards each other. Warily, she waited for the distance to narrow, waited till she could see into his cockpit with her helmet’s enhanced vision. He was looking back at her, watching her. He pointed at her, then himself, then motioned towards the remnants of a Draazi Infinity Gate.
With a flare of boosters his fighter kicked towards the Gate. He was turning his back on her, inviting her attack, inviting trust. Humans had trusted Draazi before, once, and the result had been a century of war.
Part two - White