Authors: Christopher Nuttall
(War of the Gods)
A thousand years ago, the enigmatic Killers destroyed Earth, leaving only a handful of humans in surviving space-based habitats to rebuild as best as they could. Now, the human race has spread through countless star systems, but remains hopelessly inferior to the Killers. The god-like aliens are systematically driving humanity to the verge of extinction.
Desperate times need desperate measures and humanity launches a crazy plan, to board and seize a Killer starship, hoping to unlock their technology. But the Killer plan to rebuild the universe from scratch is well underway, leaving humanity at the verge of total extinction. If they fail, the Killers will be the only form of life remaining in the entire universe…
For Once-Captain Tabitha Cunningham, the dream was always the same.
She was on the observation deck of her spacecraft, the massive bridge ship Endeavour, as it started to rock violently. They were midway between Earth and the Ceres Asteroid Colony, millions of kilometres from anything that could have threatened her ship, safe in the vastness of interstellar space. The political situation down on Earth might have been heating up again, as the Russian Confederacy and the Chinese Hegemony confronted the Atlantic Alliance, but no one would have taken a shot at a Bridge Ship. Only wreckers – terrorists – would have dreamed of harming the ultimate symbol of man’s achievements in space…and no terrorist could have penetrated the security blanket protecting the ships. They should have been safe.
The ship rocked again as she stumbled onto the bridge. “Report,” she gasped, unable to understand what was happening. Endeavour was rocking like a boat out at sea, caught up in a tidal wave, yet there were no tidal waves in space. “What’s happening?”
“I don’t know,” her first officer said. Colin Hastings was young for his position, but out in interplanetary space, there should have been nothing that could have threatened them, or forced them to act quickly. “There’s no damage; the ship…”
A final wave struck the spacecraft as new alarms sounded, reporting the build-up of weird energy patterns in space, far too close for comfort. Tabitha’s eyes snapped towards sensors she never expected to have to use – military-grade sensors intended to watch for possible tracking radars and incoming missiles – to see a massive source of energy shimmer into existence. It struck her, suddenly, that the…event was producing gravity waves as well, and it had been the gravity waves that had rocked her ship. The event wasn’t natural – it couldn’t be natural – but if that was the case, then who was behind it?
She ignored the increasingly frantic calls coming in from all departments of her ship and pulled up the images from the ship’s telescopes. The wave of energy was visible even at their distance, a boiling mass of space that, even as she watched, was drawing into a funnel. It was already large enough to swallow Endeavour and her sister ships and it was still growing. She saw, with a sudden frisson of pure excitement, stars at the rear of the funnel that bore no resemblance to stars seen from Earth, but before she could articulate what that meant she saw the starship appear.
It was massive, fifty kilometres long if it were a kilometre, large enough to utterly dwarf everything that humanity had put into space. It looked like nothing less than a massive iceberg, pointed right at Earth, glittering with strange lights and weird power fluctuations. It was impossible, yet it was in front of her; it was beyond her comprehension. It was almost impossible to grasp the sheer size of the starship.
It was terrifying.
It was as alien as hell.
“First contact,” Tabitha breathed, feeling excitement, yet disappointment – and terror. What value did Endeavour have compared to the behemoth that was closing its wormhole behind it and was advancing steadily towards Earth? What was the human race to the people who had built that massive ship? Were they friends, or would they see humanity as nothing more than ants crawling around their feet? She wished, with all her heart, that she was in Earth orbit to meet the aliens, yet she also wished that she had died before she saw their arrival. The galaxy, the galaxy that humanity had barely touched, was already taken. Nothing would ever been the same again.
The alien starship ignored all attempts to communicate with it as it closed in on Earth. It ignored pleading messages from one political faction or another. It ignored the UN’s attempt to greet it in the name of Earth. It ignored offers of friendship and military alliance, pleas and supplications, promises and threats, choosing instead to maintain its ponderous approach. Despite its size, it was moving far faster than Tabitha’s ship, seemingly unconcerned with the laws of physics, as humanity knew them. It slid past the moon’s orbit, past the L4 and L5 colonies, and seemed to pause, only a few thousand kilometres from Earth itself. There was a sudden jump in power…
…And a white streak of light flashed from the alien starship towards Earth. Tabitha watched in horror as the pulse came down somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, sending great gallows of vaporised water into the atmosphere and causing tidal waves all across the planet. The second came down in Europe, detonating with the force of a thousand atomic bombs; the third came down in China. Pulse followed pulse – the Middle East, North America, Russia, Antarctica and countless more – until the entire planetary ecosystem had been thoroughly destroyed. The orbiting defences, designed to stop missiles rather than alien attack, could do nothing. The alien ship was sitting well outside their range.
Her view changed as the firestorms raged across the planet. She was no longer on her ship, but standing on the surface, watching her friends and family, her country and her planet, burning away under the alien bombardment. She was untouched by waves of fire that eradicated cities and continents, wiping the human race out of existence. She could hear the sound of nine billion people crying out in agony as they died, smell their burning flesh as they burned, feel their hands desperately grabbing at her for a safety she couldn’t offer them. Again, she watched her planet die…
And she was floating in space, watching the alien craft completing its task and slowly moving away from the planet, ignoring the orbital habitats and the remains of the human race. It seemed to pause, just long enough to look on its work and find it good, before it opened up the wormhole again and vanished, leaving a dead world behind. On the surface, the planet was still burning.
And then she woke up, screaming.
“We have entered the system,” the AI said. “Awaken.”
Lieutenant Chiyo Takahashi came awake as her bio-implants pushed stimulants and refreshers into her bloodstream. For a long moment, she stared around in confusion, before remembering where she was – and why she’d been in hibernation. The tiny scout ship, so small and insignificant that no one had bothered to give it or its AI a name, was approaching a Killer star system. In theory, even the Killers would be unable to detect her presence. The tiny ship had been stealthed completely, using the most advanced human technology, but no one knew just how the Killers did what they did. Her probe into their space might end with her death at their hands.
“I’m awake,” she slurred, as she pulled herself upright in the command chair. Her mouth tasted bad despite the best efforts of her implants and her enhanced genetics, so she washed it out with a glass of recycled water. She called up a reflector field and winced at her face. Her oriental features looked tired and drawn. “Report.”
“Passive sensors are detecting traces of Killer activity,” the AI reported, its voice as dispassionate as ever. No one programmed a scout ship AI to show emotion. “Optical observation confirms the presence of a major Killer base. We are flying right through the heart of their territory.”
“And it all seemed so easy back when the Admiral was briefing us,” Chiyo muttered, peering down at the holographic display as it sprang to life in the darkened cockpit. Back on the carrier, her task had seemed simple, but now she was flying through a Killer star system at a reasonable percentage of the speed of light, it was much more daunting. If the Killers caught a sniff of her presence, she wouldn’t last long enough to do more than scream for help that wouldn’t come. “Show me what you’ve detected so far.”
The holographic display expanded to reveal the solar system in all its glory. Humanity might not have mastered gravity technology – just how the Killers were able to manipulate gravity so easily was a mystery – but the scout ship’s sensors could detect the use of gravity technology at a considerable distance, along with the presence of anything else that cast a sizeable gravity field. The planetary system was fairly average – seven planets, three of them gas giants – but the waves of focused gravity crossing the system told another story. There was no way that such gravity waves existed in nature. The Killers were in residence.
“I am detecting powered sources from four of the planets,” the AI added, illuminating the active planets. “It would appear that the Killers are tearing the planets apart.”
Chiyo winced, wondering if the planets had developed intelligent life – or any kind of life at all – before the Killers came calling. Humanity knew little about their tormentors, but one thing they did know was that the Killers were brutally xenophobic and completely ruthless. A thousand years of covert space exploration and careful observation of thousands of star systems had confirmed that the Killers had wiped out hundreds of other intelligent races, leaving any survivors well hidden, as well hidden as the remains of humanity itself. It was quite possible that the
forms of intelligent life left in the Milky Way were humanity and the Killers.
And, if the Killers had their way, one day it would just be them.
A thousand years ago, humanity had been pushing into space when the first Killer starship arrived in the Solar System and opened fire on Earth, bombarding the planet into a radioactive wasteland. The starship had ignored the bases on the moon and the asteroids, perhaps in the belief that the remainder of humanity would writher and die without Earth. Instead, humanity had managed to survive and eventually escape the Solar System, only to discover hundreds of other dead worlds and a handful of habitable planets. Several of them had been settled by humanity…only to be eventually located and wiped out by the Killers. The remainder of humanity now lurked in asteroid settlements and dead worlds, knowing that if the Killers found them, all of humanity’s technology wouldn’t save them. The only saving grace was that the Killers didn’t seem to care about asteroid settlements. No one knew why.
It wasn't the only thing humanity didn’t know about their alien foe. No one, even after a thousand years, knew what a Killer looked like, or even spoke their language. Human archaeologists had explored hundreds of alien worlds – their populations exterminated by the Killers – and decrypted several alien languages, but no one had found a dead Killer world to explore. No one knew why they were so determined to wipe out all other intelligent races, or even how far they’d spread across the universe. The Defence Force’s probes had located dozens of bases…and hundreds of their massive starships, wandering across the galaxy on seemingly-random courses. The sheer scale of the galaxy itself defeated such efforts. Even on the scale the Killers operated, it was like searching for a tiny needle within a very large haystack.
But Chiyo’s commander had lucked out and located
“Wormhole opening, seventeen million kilometres away,” the AI said, suddenly. Chiyo looked up from the display towards the near-space monitor. It wouldn’t have done any good if the wormhole had opened up right on top of her position, but at least she would have seen her enemy coming at her. “Confirmed; one
-class Killer starship, heading in towards the inner solar system.”
“I wonder why they’re heading in at such a clip,” Chiyo said, thoughtfully. If the Killer starship had come in via wormhole, rather than using their still-inexplicable normal space FTL drives, there wouldn’t be a human scout following it. According to the last report she’d downloaded from the Network, there were at least seventeen known Killer starships within a hundred light years of the star, and all of them seemed to be wandering at random. There seemed no purpose at all to their journey, unless they were watching for signs of other intelligent life.
“Unable to speculate,” the AI said, pedantically. “Alert; passive sensors have detected traces of seven other Killer starships powering up their drives. Gravity fields are expanding; brace for possible impact.”
“Understood,” Chiyo said. She’d been told that there were things called tides on a planetary surface, where the gravity of a moon pulled the water into waves and sent them crashing into the land. Space had gravity tides caused by the presence of several heavy bodies – or Killer gravity drives. They could generate waves that propagated across the system faster than light and shake humanity’s starships like a child shaking her toys. She couldn’t have said how it confirmed to being on a beach, or a boat on a real sea; she had never set foot on a living planet. Very few living humans had and those who lived in the MassMind swore blind that no simulation matched the reality. “Alert me if the waves come near us.”
She turned her attention back to the display as the Killer starships came to life. They were massive starships, each one shaped like a massive iceberg, studded with eerie lights and flickering with strange energies, almost like a city come to life. Whatever else one could say about the Killers, they thought
; their starships utterly dwarfed everything humanity had produced. No such starship had been lost in combat with human forces either; the massacres at Terra Nova, Hope, New Jehovah and Peace had been little more than routs. Humanity’s attempts to make a stand against the Killers had been doomed from the start. No one even believed that the Killers had
humanity’s stand. It certainly hadn’t prompted them to go after the remaining human settlements.
“Incoming wave,” the AI said, suddenly. The scout ship rocked suddenly. “No damage; no major course adjustments.”
“Thank God,” Chiyo breathed. The course they were on should take them through the star system without passing too close to any Killer facility – although no one, of course, was sure what ‘too close’ actually was. The Killers might have ignored a routine fly-though their system, but she knew that if she came too close to one of their facilities, they would respond. Her tiny scout couldn’t stand up to their weapons for more than a second. “Show me their position.”
“The fleet is moving towards Planet One,” the AI said. “They do not seem to be in a hurry.”
Chiyo eyed the AI’s icon suspiciously, suspecting that it was making an impossible joke, before turning her eyes back to the display. The Killer starships didn’t use warp bubbles or even the Anderson Tachyon Drive – at least as far as humanity could tell – but it didn’t seem to hamper them any. No human technology could have generated a warp bubble large enough to cover a Killer starship, but their gravity drives could propel them through space at sublight speeds with ease – and then there was their inexplicable FTL drive, or their wormholes. The AI was right; whatever they were doing, the Killers were in no hurry. They advanced on the world, ominous intent clearly written in their formation, and surrounded it. Chiyo had the mental impression that the world was
under their gaze…
“Power spike,” the AI snapped. “
The display seemed to blur as the Killers went to work. The rocky planet was struck by beams of powerful energy, rapidly disintegrating into an asteroid field. Chiyo watched in terror and awe as the Killers wove their gravity net around the asteroids trapping them and slowly funnelling them towards the star. The sheer power left her speechless; the Killers hadn’t just rendered the world uninhabitable, they’d torn it apart! It made no sense to her at all. The system had plenty of asteroids they could have used without destroying an entire planet.
“They may have required additional resources,” the AI suggested, finally. It would have been monitoring her physical condition and would have known that she was on the verge of going into shock. She relaxed slightly as her implants fed more calming drugs into her system. “Human theorists suggested, at one point, destroying Mercury in order to use the presence of Sol to assist in working the released ores. The Killers may have evolved a similar concept.”
Chiyo said nothing for a long moment, watching as the Killers continued their task. “We may even be on the verge of discovering another Killer shipyard,” the AI added, in hopes of raising the human’s enthusiasm. “The construction of
certainly requires considerable resources.”
“Maybe,” Chiyo said, slowly. “They could still have mined the asteroids for a hundred years and not run out of material to produce a thousand
The next few hours passed slowly. The Killers were wrapping the entire system in beams of gravity, somehow using the star as a source of power. Beams of gravity reached out across the star system, catching the newly formed asteroids and pulling them in towards the star. The Killer starships broke off as the beams of gravity took over and headed towards their next target, the second rocky world. Chiyo watched as that world, too, was shattered, the raw material released pulled towards the star. The sheer scale of their power kept her focused. She couldn’t believe that anyone, even the Killers, would destroy an entire star system just for fun. There had to be a deeper purpose in mind.
“I am picking up additional power fluctuations from the star itself,” the AI said, as new icons appeared on the display. “They do not seem to confirm to any previously observed Killer activity.”
“They’re not planning to rip apart the
,” Chiyo said, in flat denial. It seemed impossible…but with such command of gravity, it might just be possible. It would also mean certain death for her. Without the star’s gravity, her scout ship would be hurled away on the wrong course and she’d never locate the carrier again. She would have to risk a transmission, which might bring the Killers down on her. “They can’t…”
“Apparently not,” the AI agreed. “Power fluctuations are coming from an installation orbiting the star at ten thousand kilometres.”
“It should have melted,” Chiyo said. Ten thousand kilometres was
on a cosmic scale. If she took her scout ship so close to the star, it would be destroyed. “Show me; direct optical observation.”
The image appeared in the centre of her display, dimmed to protect her eyes. The star was a massive white globe; the installation, a massive hexagon seemingly floating just above the star, was a black shape. The AI put up a scale for her without even being asked; the hexagon was over a million kilometres across, huge beyond imagination. The Killers had built vast structures before, but this…Chiyo felt, not for the first time, the huge gulf between humanity and their tormentors and felt afraid. How could anyone hope to stand against power like that?