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The Quiet

The Quiet

by bekterry on 1 Jun 2021 for Rookie Awards 2021

This piece was created for my Advanced Illustration course. The prompt was: “Confessions of a [Insert Descriptor] War Veteran.” I ended up doing “Confessions of a Europa War Veteran,” and created a science fiction piece set on Jupiter’s moon Europa. The accompanying short story, “The Quiet,” fleshes out the narrative.

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Here is the finished piece, but below is the story of how I got here.

This video explains my compositional journey from start to finish. I spent four weeks drawing and redrawing this piece until the story finally emerged. Then I spent three weeks bringing the story to life.

Where it started.

Where I found the story.

Where the story unfolded.

Which brings us here.

The Quiet

By Rebekah Terry

The Earth Forces didn’t understand, at first, why it was that The Quiet could never be defeated.

They didn’t seem like a particularly advanced race. Their language was minimal. Their architecture merely functional. They had no written language, so far as we could tell. No art. Their scientific and engineering achievements were those of a younger, less advanced people. Perhaps five or six centuries behind humans.

They seemed simple. Basic. Uncomplicated.

But they were not simple—or stupid. And they were not young.

As the EF discovered later, theirs was an old race. They called themselves the Vedihara, but the ground troops took to calling them The Quiet—for obvious reasons. They hardly spoke—not even a click, whistle, or hum. Even when they moved—nothing. Nothing but the slightest whisper as their hind quarters scuffed the surface of the icy moon. But even this noise—ever so slight—was obscured by the constant wind on Europa.

Although they were odd and strange, things seemed to be going fine for a while. The two races co-existing as the EF explored the planet and interacted with this new people.

Everything was fine, that is, until Juno. Juno was a scientific outpost—a base 10,000 strong focused on learning more about the moon and its ecosystem. HQ checked in with them at 2200, and by 0800 every man, woman, and child on that base was dead.

The Quiet had poisoned the water supply.

Other bases were soon attacked. The reason? Unknown. The silence? Deafening.

EF retaliated, of course, but The Quiet were always one step ahead. No matter how many flanking maneuvers or surprise attacks—the humans couldn’t seem to make a dent in their forces.

At first, the EF thought they must’ve been mistaken about the Vedihara’s transport. Maybe it was better and faster than they’d anticipated? But no, even their ability to travel in the water beneath the ice didn’t account for the fact that no matter what the EF did, they could never catch more than a squad or two. Yet, The Quiet seemed to be able to anticipate their every move.

It was then that a scientist by the name of LaCaille theorized that The Quiet weren’t as quiet as they appeared. They were communicating. We just couldn’t hear them because they were doing it telepathically, and across large distances. They were able to warn their brethren of approaching EF forces. And, not only that, but LaCaille also believed they were able to glean small glimpses of the future, which was why the EF was often only successful when a plan changed at the last moment and The Quiet were too slow to react.

And while this knowledge helped the EF to win more battles—commanders going into the field and not knowing the plan until the last instant, when a randomly chosen plan was sent to them from 390 million miles away—not even this could change the tide of the war.

That was where I came in.

There was another theory by LaCaille—brilliant woman that she was. The theory was that The Quiet didn’t come by their telepathy and knowledge of the future biologically. She thought it had something to do with the ecosystem. Something they injested. Something the scientific base on Juno had unwittingly uncovered before being wiped out.

A small plant—almost flower-like and shaped a bit like a beehive—that grows in the Southern Plains of Europa was the likely target. It was just a little blue flower, but LaCaille believed it was the key, and it only grew in an area the Vedihara had said was sacred to them.

At the beginning of my training with the corp I was approached by some higher ups. They told me that one day I might or might not be selected for a mission. If I was, it was imperative that I follow the instructions exactly—no matter how confusing or odd. No matter if I had to abandon my troop, leaving people to die, in order to accomplish my mission. Nothing, I was told, could be more important.

In the coming months the reality of this encounter seemed further and further away. And when I got the text stream in the middle of one of the worst aerial battles I’d ever seen—I almost couldn’t believe it. And when I told my crew that I had to abandon ship—I was the pilot—they almost couldn’t believe it either.

But I’d received a directive, and they knew what that meant. No questions. Time was of the essence. Because now that I had the info, the likelihood was that The Quiet now had it, too.

When my copilot was blasted and killed by a ground weapon—The Quiet must’ve commandeered one of the artillery outposts below—the crew questioned my decision to leave. Well, actually, they begged me to stay. One even wounded me in a desperate act to keep me there. He might’ve killed me, but another crew member was able to tackle him to the ground, and instead he hit me in the shoulder.

But the text stream was very specific. The war hinged on this moment. Thousands of lives were at stake. I had one mission and I was to risk everything for it. Gather as many samples of this plant as you can. Place them in delivery drones, which all have randomized destination coordinates. Do this until you are either rescued or killed. Do not fight unless to protect yourself. Do not stop for any reason—even to help someone.

There is nothing more important.

Those words stay with me as I crawl along the icy surface, one fist grasping the sacred plant, the other my wounded shoulder. Around me is a graveyard of ships and my fellow soldiers. Above me the battle still rages. And when the spotlight comes down, alighting on my face, I wonder. Will I be rescued? Or is The Quiet coming to claim me at last?

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