Authors: Christopher Nuttall
“What is that?” She asked, finally. “Are they trying to enclose the star?”
“Uncertain,” the AI replied, flatly. “I am unable to obtain accurate data at this distance. My current position is not suitable for active observation, but I believe that even if they mine the entire resources of the star system, they would be unable to enclose the star unless they mined material from the star itself. Their use of wormholes and gravity technology would suggest that they could accomplish that, but it would seem to be pointless. Even a partial enclosure of the star would give them access to considerable power.”
“Or they might mine other star systems as well,” Chiyo said, flatly. Unlike a warp bubble, there was no theoretical limit to the size of a wormhole. She could see the Killers opening up a wormhole in another star system, capturing an entire planet and launching it into their new system. It would be industrial engineering on a massive scale, but not beyond their technology. “Do we have any bases near this star system?”
“Unknown,” the AI replied, flatly. “My data banks do not contain information that might be tactically useful to the enemy.”
Chiyo nodded, ruefully. The Defence Force was outmatched enough without risking giving the enemy the locations of humanity’s remaining settlements in one disastrous mission. No list would ever be complete – the Community included hundreds of settlements that preferred to keep their location a secret from the rest of the human race, for various reasons – but a disaster could expose billions of humans to their fire. It was something she would have to report to higher authority when she returned to the carrier. If the Killers were mining entire star systems now…they might scoop up and destroy human colonies, quite by accident. They wouldn’t even know what they had done. Resistance would be, quite literally, futile.
There was a sudden pause. “I am picking up a second hexagon,” the AI added, sharply. “It just came into range. This one is smaller than the previous one, but definitely growing larger. They must be using nanotechnology to break down the asteroids and other debris as they are propelled into the hexagons and used as building material.”
“I’d love to get a look at their power field specifications,” Chiyo mused. Humanity had developed its own form of nanotechnology, but the Killers used it on a scale far beyond anything humanity could accomplish – again. Her body had thousands of the tiny machines running through her blood, fixing any damage and extending her life as far as they could, but there were very definite limits. She had never wanted to become a Spacer and give up her gender in exchange for effective immortality, but one day she would have to choose between that or entering the MassMind. “What about…”
The AI sounded an alarm before she could finish. “We were just scanned,” it said, flatly. Chiyo felt her body jolt to full wakefulness again as the implants did their work. “They just located us.”
“So much for the stealth field,” Chiyo said, grimly. “How much did they get?”
“Uncertain, but enough to locate us,” the AI said. “We are unable to take evasive manoeuvres without leaving a trail for them to follow.”
“Compress a full report into the transmitter and prepare to transmit,” Chiyo ordered, tartly. It was just possible that the Killers would ignore them – a tiny scout ship was hardly a threat – but there was no point in taking chances. If she had located an alien ship in her system, she would have wanted to ask them a few questions before letting them go – or destroying them. “Stand by…”
The scout ship rocked suddenly. Chiyo found herself caught in a field that seemed to tear at her entire body for a second, before the Structural Integrity Field compensated for the sudden change in environment. Red alarms flashed up in her virtual vision, warning of massive internal damage to her body; she fought down a wave of pain and struggled to focus. She couldn’t even talk and had to use her implants to transmit a command to the AI.
“They have locked onto us with a gravity beam,” the AI said. It displayed an image of the ship’s course. They were plunging right down towards the sun. Chiyo realised – and almost laughed aloud – that the Killers hadn’t cared who they were or why they were in their star system; they’d just decided that the scout would make additional raw materials for their project. It was almost insulting, but quite typical of the Killers. “Twenty-two minutes to impact.”
“Transmit,” Chiyo ordered, knowing that she would be dead long before the nanites started disassembling her ship. The gravity waves were compressing her, trying to squash her flat. “Get the information out of here.”
“Transmitting,” the AI said. There was a pause. “Signal sent.”
The gravity field increased suddenly and Chiyo blacked out.
“At that point, the signal terminates,” Admiral Brent Roeder said, as the final images of the doomed scout faded and died. “We do not know for sure what happened to Lieutenant Takahashi, but we believe that she was killed in the line of duty, along with her AI. We do not believe that there is any point in a fast-recon mission to attempt to locate any traces of her vessel.”
“You intend to abandon her?” Father Sigmund asked, coldly. “I believe that you could get a starship in and out of the system before the devils could respond.”
“If we jumped a starship into the system, either in a warp bubble or though the Anderson Drive, we will certainly attract their attention,” Brent said, with forced calm. “They will act at once against the starship and the crew will be lucky to escape. The telemetry from the scout suggests, quite strongly, that the craft was broken up and used for raw materials, along with the pilot. I will not waste additional resources attempting to rescue a dead woman.”
“There’s little point in arguing,” President Patti Lydon said, as calmly as she could. It had been a long day even before the War Council had been summoned by the Admiral. “I believe that the Admiral still holds the confidence of his peers and they do not appear to have condemned the decision. I assume that the Lieutenant knew the risks?”
“Yes, Madam President,” Brent confirmed. “Those of us in the Defence Force all know the risks. We live with them every day. We face them every time we scout out a potential Killer star system or shadow a Killer starship. We lose hundreds of people each year to the Killers, or simple accidents in space; we all know the risks.”
Patti nodded tiredly. There were times when she wished that the Community was a more formal structure, but the truth was that humanity could not afford any such structure, not now. The members of the War Council couldn’t share the same asteroid settlement, or even visit each other socially, merely because of the risk of a Killer attack leaving humanity leaderless. There were thousands of asteroid settlements, billions of humans in hiding across the stars, but without the Community, any hope of united action would be gone.
“And another one of God’s Children dies,” Father Sigmund intoned. “How many more must die, Admiral?”
“We have been unable to communicate with the Killers,” Brent pointed out, tightly. His words came in sharp choppy sentences. “We cannot offer to surrender. They want us all dead. We can either try to fight – or hide, hoping that we will not be discovered. As the events last year proved, even the asteroid settlements are not safe.”
“The settlers of High Singapore brought their fate on themselves,” Rupert said. The massive Spacer’s electronic eyes seemed to flicker towards the Admiral, before turning to Father Sigmund. “They were careless and were detectable when a Killer starship entered their system. Other settlements do not make the same mistake.”
Patti scowled. She remembered the images High Singapore – a settlement of several hundred asteroids, comprising over twenty million humans – had sent, in the last moments before the Killers wiped them out. The massive
-class starship had appeared in the system, tracked them down, and systematically blasted every asteroid, while the Defence Force struggled to hold them off long enough for some humans to escape. Only ten thousand humans had escaped the brutal and utterly ruthless attack…and over a hundred Defence Force starships had died in the battle. The Killers had barely slowed to swat the gnats before destroying the asteroids.
“May God keep them,” Father Sigmund said, and for once there was general agreement. “May he take them into his heaven as righteous souls.”
Humanity had once had hundreds of different religions, but the destruction of Earth had wiped out almost all of that rich tapestry. There had been a handful of religion-based asteroid settlements, but over time, almost all of them had merged into the Deists, an overarching religious community. They had borrowed elements from all human religions, but they spent so much time arguing about the actual way of God that they were barely a political power in their own right. Patti had long since decided that that was for the best. The last thing humanity needed was a religious civil war.
“The more worrying implication of all this is what might be happening to other star systems touched by the Killers,” Tabitha Cunningham said. “Are they going to be dissembling other star systems – and, if so, why?”
Patti studied Tabitha carefully as she posed her question. At one thousand and forty years old, Tabitha was probably the oldest person – personality – in existence. When she’d been human, she’d watched helplessly as the Killers destroyed Earth, before setting out on an asteroid generation ship to try to escape the solar system, only to discover that she’d been beaten to the new system by a warp drive starship. It had been a surprisingly friendly meeting and Tabitha, now on the brink of death by old age, had accepted the offer to be transcribed into the MassMind. She now represented the MassMind on the War Council. Patti had learned to value her insights, but she was from a very different age. She had never accepted that humanity had to hide indefinitely.
“They appear to be building a Dyson Sphere or a variant on the theme,” Rupert grated. The cyborg studied Tabitha thoughtfully. The Spacers grafted artificial implants onto their bodies, giving up their gender and much else to live and work in space without any form of protection. They also looked obscene; their flesh and blood mangled by implanted machines and augments. The Spacers claimed to be immortal, and it was true that they only died through accidents, but most humans considered it a high price to pay. Only those who feared that the MassMind wasn't true immortality wanted to join the Spacers. “That would grant them access to even more stupendous sources of power.”
“Indeed,” Administrator Arun Prabhu agreed. The Technical looked around the holographic simulation of the dying star system. “The current theory is that they might even be able to take control of the star altogether and collapse it into a black hole. It would give them another source of power.”
“I believe that we are slipping away from the point of this meeting,” Tabitha said. “Computer; return to general display.”
The image of the star system vanished, to be replaced by an image of the galaxy, seem from a view point high above the galactic core. It gave the illusion of god-like power to the War Council as they gazed down on the perfect image, spoiled only by the hundreds of tactical icons as they orbited the galaxy. The red icons marked known Killer star systems, or the locations of known Killer starships on their endless hunt for intelligent life to exterminate; the blue icons marked some of humanity’s settlements. Patti had grown up with such maps and knew how to read them; humanity was steadily being driven to the brink of extinction.
Tabitha’s image was one of her in her prime, commander of a spacecraft that had been the most advanced of its time – and pitiful compared to the Killer starship that had destroyed Earth. Patti found herself respecting Tabitha, even though she feared the woman’s icy determination to wreck revenge on the Killers, a desire shared by far too many humans. If there had been hope, Patti would have joined them, but there was none. Every engagement had ended badly for humanity.
“We need to face the facts,” Tabitha said. “We are still retreating from their advance, unable to escape unless we flee the galaxy entirely. We need to find a way to strike back at them.”
“We believe that we may have a way,” Brent said. Patti found herself staring at him, and then wondering if Brent and Tabitha had planned the meeting beforehand. “One of our main problems is that we have been unable to obtain any samples of their technology on more than a small scale. What we need – desperately – is one of their starships to analyse. We believe that we can obtain one.”
He sent a command into the room’s processor and it displayed an image of a Killer starship, a very familiar image. Patti felt her heart race as she took in the massive form, a starship far larger than anything humanity had ever built. The others were showing similar reactions. They all knew what those ships had done to humanity.
“This is Killer #453,” Brent said. “We do not, of course, know what the
call it, but we located this one over a year ago and tracked it as it moved from star system to star system. It appears to be comparatively isolated from the remainder of the Killer fleet and doesn’t seem to have any actual links with any known base. Of course, we can’t hack into their communications network, so we don’t know for sure, but all warfare is based on risk. The important thing is that this ship is isolated.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Father Sigmund said, after a long pause, “but only one engagement has ever been fought against more than one Killer starship.
of the engagements have been disasters. How many more people are you prepared to send to their deaths against this monster?”
“That’s not entirely accurate,” Brent said, firmly. “In their attack on High Singapore, and most of the other engagements, we had to stand and fight. We couldn’t break because the Killers would just have moved on to destroying the asteroids and slaughtering the civilians. That meant that we were permanently exposed to their fire and, when they came at us, they broke through.
battle will be fought in a location that is clear of civilians and our starships can jump in and out at will.”
He paused. “One thing we do know about their ships is that their targeting capability isn’t actually that good,” he added. “If our starships keep evading in random patterns, they will be unable to target them easily and we can pound away at them from relative safety. That will not, however, be the actual threat. The starships will distract the Killers while the Footsoldiers board the craft.”
There was a long pause. “You intend to
a Killer starship?”
“Yes, Father,” Brent said, firmly. “I intend to put an entire army into one of their ships and take control of it from the inside.”
“Impossible,” Patti said flatly. “You don’t know enough about the enemy ships to take control of one.”
“We have volunteers for the mission,” Brent countered, “and at least some understanding of their technology. Even if we cannot gain control, detonating an antimatter mine inside the craft would certainly wreck it and give us something we need desperately – a victory. If we could even get our hands on a real live Killer…we might even be able to learn how to
to the bastards.”
“And even images of what the interior of the craft looks like would be helpful,” Arun added, from his position. “We believe that we are on the verge of unlocking some of their technology, or at least developing theories that account for how it works, but we need additional information to allow us to develop a defence.”
“That still leaves the risk of provoking them into coming after us,” Patti countered. “The Community is on the verge of falling apart anyway. We cannot take the risk of forcing them to drive after us and completing the task of wiping us out.”
“They’re intent on wiping us out anyway,” Tabitha pointed out, sharply. “I’ve been watching and listening through the MassMind. Over the last thousand years, the human race’s….determination to overcome everything in its path has been steadily broken by the Killers. The number of people who have just…given up is astonishingly high, worryingly high. Thousands are seeking refuge in fantasy inside the MassMind or other simulations; hundreds more are committing suicide or just giving up inside. They will locate and destroy every colony of ours, eventually. They even wiped out the pastoral worlds and God alone knows what attracted them there.”
Patti winced. Three hundred years ago, a group of settlers had concluded that the reason the Killers located human worlds so fast was because of the emission signatures caused by their technology, so they’d settled a handful of worlds with nothing beyond hand and water powered technology. It hadn’t been a pleasant life – no one had any experience living in a world without technology – and, a hundred years later, the Killers had arrived, bombarded the worlds into radioactive wastelands, and that put an end to that. Perhaps it was telepathy, as some humans had speculated at the time; there seemed to be no other explanation for how the Killers had located their prey.
“They are set on destroying us all,” Tabitha continued. “We don’t co-exist with them. We merely…wait until they turn their attention to destroying us. If we can take out that craft, or capture it, it will give the human race a boost, a boost we desperately need. If we can’t fight back, we might as well commit suicide now and save them the trouble of exterminating us.”