The cold ship tumbled out of rent in the fabric of space, leaking dreams and toxic plasma. In an earlier era it would have spelled the doom of the civilization it was aimed at. Onboard the ship, an army of advanced killing machines were stored in pods set to protect them from the rigors of orbital re-entry and a hard landing on a planetary surface. In the wake of a cataclysmic impact, the drones would pour out and ‘sterilize’ the land to allow their masters to colonize the world without opposition.
“Who does something like this?” Lt. Tym Ovarch asked.
“People who are very inept,” Lt. Xys said.
The two members of the Horizon Breaker’s “Black Team” were the first into the cold ship after its discovery by long range spell scans.
“No seriously, it takes a lot of know-how to put together an army like this,” Tym said. “How do you not double check your hyper-space calculations? From the readings I’m getting, this thing has been drifting for close to five thousand years.”
“Five thousand years used to be how long interstellar trips took,” Xys said. “That’s why people made sleeper ships like this in the first place.”
“Yeah, I know what the primitives were like,” Tym said. “But these folks weren’t primitive. They had warp spells, they should have been able to make the trip hundreds of times faster.”
“I’m linking into the navigation web now,” Xys said. “Or what’s left of it.”
“Please tell me they didn’t try to plot a hyperspace route by the seat of their pants?” Tym said.
Xys made a few noises to indicate he was still processing the data before he looked up from the communication pool he was carrying.
“I don’t think they were that stupid,” he said. “Not a smart race by any stretch of the imagination, but they definitely had a full flight plan in place.”
“What threw them off then?” Tym asked. “Sabotage? Enemy action? Did the murder drones come alive and kill them all?”
“No,” Xys said. “I’m checking their predicted course versus their recorded flight path.”
“Rogue asteroid plow into them?” Tym asked.
“Don’t think so,” Xys said. “If I’m reading this right, they missed a rounding error.”
“A math mistake?” Tym asked. “Someone forgot to carry a one and they wound up drifting off course for fifty centuries?”
“Oh, it gets better than that,” Xys said. “This was the vanguard ship. The drones in the back were meant to be an expendable shock force to go in and prepare the planet for habitation. The actual colonists were going to follow along six months later, after the drones all died out.”
“So I’m guessing the colonists had a rude surprise when they arrived and, oh look, the original inhabitants were still there,” Tym said.
“If I’m reading the telemetry reports right, they got a much ruder surprise than that,” Xys said.
“Some of the murder drones stowed away on the colony ship and wiped them all out?” Tym said.
“You’re really kind of hung up on the drones aren’t you?” Xys asked.
“We’re in a ship filled with beings who’s only purpose is to depopulate a planet,” Tym said. “You don’t find that even a little bit creepy?”
“We’ve been on Black Team for how long now?” Xys asked. “And you find a million killer drones frightening?”
“Not frightening,” Tym said. “Just, you know, worrisome.”
“Well, put your worries to rest then,” Xys said. “They didn’t rise up and overthrow their masters. They’ve been in an enchanted stasis since the ship launched.”
“That is a strong stasis spell,” Tym said.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure we’ll be taking this ship in for study by Imperial R&D,” Xys said.
“Oh, those poor, poor murder bots,” Tym said.
“Now you feel bad for them?” Xys asked.
“Have you met the kind of people they have in R&D?” Tym asked.
“Point taken,” Xys said.
The Imperial policy of giving people second chances in positions where there was sufficient oversight to keep them from getting into further trouble meant that Imperial Research and Development was filled with some of the brightest minds in the galaxy. Not the most stable minds, just the brightest.
Imperial troops owed their lives to the countless inventions that came out of the R&D department, but the sensible trooper still made it a point to never, ever be the first to to test one of R&D’s “new toys”.
“So what happened to the colony ship then?” Tym asked.
“Well see this line here?” Xys asked, pulling up a holographic display. “That’s the course this ship took. Notice anything sketchy about it?”
“They dove in pretty close to a red giant star,” Tym said. “And it looks like that’s right where their course started deviating from the projected plan.”
“Yeah, I’m guessing they were trying to get a gravity assist from the star and didn’t account for the drag from the solar wind quite right,” Xys said. “The colonists path is this one.”
Another line appeared on the graph when Xys tapped the display.
“That appears to plunge right into the gas giant,” Tym said.
“That’s based on the observed telemetry from this ship,” Xys said. “It gets better though.”
“Do the murder bots make an appearance yet?” Tym asked.
“Sorry, still no murder bots,” Xys said. “Check out this communique though.”
He brought up document up onto the monitor.
“Enemy action detected in course alteration of terraforming vessel?” Tym read aloud. “I thought you said it was a math error?”
“It was, but from what I’m reading there were some very angry messages sent back and forth where no one would own up to that,” Xys said.
“What did they do?” Tym asked.
“The corrected for the enemy action,” Xys said.
“And that didn’t work out so well for them?” Tim asked.
“Not so much,” Xys said. “See they corrected for what they thought their enemies had done, but they didn’t correct the math.”
“So instead of correcting as much as they needed to, they over corrected themselves right down into the heart of the star didn’t they?” Tym asked.
“Like I said, very inept people.”
“And unfortunately ones we need clean up after,” Tym said.
“It could be worse,” Xys said.
“Yes, in a million different varieties of worse,” Tym said. “So what aren’t you telling me?”
“You know the killer drones?” Xys said.
“Yeah,” Tym said. “They’re waking up aren’t they?”
“They are indeed.”
“You why I used to like being on Black team?” Tym asked.
“My sparkling wit?” Xys asked.
“Sure, and…” Tym said.
“My powerful and stunning physique?” Xys asked.
“You do make good mancandy, but there’s another reason too,” Tym said.
“Because we usually have a Crystal Guardian running around with us who could take down a million angry murder bots in her sleep?” Xys asked.
“Yeah, that.” Tym said.
“I think her vacation’s up in about two weeks,” Xys said.
“Wonderful,” Tym said. “Then we only need to fight off the million murder bot army for two weeks then. That’s only thirteen days, twenty three hours and fifty nine minutes longer than we’re actually likely to last. This is going to be so fun.”
“We could call in the rest of Black Team you know?” Xys said.
“I was more thinking we’d call in the Horizon Breaker’s deck guns on this one,” Tym said.
“I’m not liking our odds there,” Xys said. “The deck guns don’t do ‘precision’ so much.”
“There’s a reason they’re called Annihilation Turrets,” Tym said.
“Can’t say I’m super fond of being annihilated,” Xys said.
“That’s why I’m thinking we shouldn’t be here, and we shouldn’t be here really soon.”
“I’m not super fond of unplanned space walks either,” Xys said. “This ship is armed you know, and our survival shields aren’t all that resilient.”
“How many of the drones are awake so far?” Tym asked.
“None yet,” Xys said. “The stasis thaw cycle seems kind of long on the spell they were under.”
“Maybe that’s why it lasted that long?” Tym said. “Can we reverse it?”
“We’d risk killing all of the drones,” Xys said.
“That doesn’t sound so bad,” Tym said.
“And ourselves,” Xys said. “Any everyone in a two light second radius.”
“It’s just never easy is it?” Tym asked.
“Would they pay us piles of money if it was?” Xys asked.
“They pay you?” Tym asked. “I thought we worked for the food in the cafeteria?”
“Hush, I’m trying to reverse the wake-up order,” Xys said.
“If you blow me up, I will haunt your ghost,” Tym said.
Several tense and silent moment followed.
Requests for status updates came in from the Horizon Breaker, which Tym dutifully answered. Without Officer Fari on board, the communication links between the away team and the ship weren’t as robust and wide as usual, but thanks to her tutelage they still had the information sharing capabilities of a top of the line espionage vessel, despite their designation as a “Fast Response” vessel.
“Black Team’s coming for us,” Tym said.
“Captain Okoro let them?” Xys asked.
“He’s leading them,” Tym said. “Also we’re not supposed to kill the murder bots.”
“I’m glad you mentioned that,” Xys said.
“Just about to have the stasis spell smoke them all weren’t you?” Tym said.
“Of course not,” Xys said. “And once I get done pulling out these modifications there’ll be no evidence to support that notion at all.”
“So how many of them do you think we can take?” Tym asked.
“I’m good for a hundred I’d say,” Xys said.
“So nine hundred ninety nine thousand or so for me?” Tym said. “I’d better get some stretching in.”
“Probably less than that,” Xys said. “I think a couple thousand of the stasis pods failed over the years.”
“A couple thousand?” Tym said. “Well that makes all the difference then, bring them on!”
“You’re an idiot, you know that?” Xys said.
“Yeah, but I’m a lovable one,” Tym said. “Aren’t I?”
“Sure,” Xys said. “I mean there’s people who love sentient slime mold, there’s gotta be someone out there for you.”
“You two going to invite us in or do I get to carve a new docking port in this ancient can?” Captain Okoro asked.
“Docking port cycle starting now sir,” Tym said.
“Have you inspected the drones yet?” Hanq asked.
“Not yet,” Xys said. “The pirating spells are still establishing control of the ship.”
“What do the scanning spells have to say about them?” Hanq asked.
“Nothing,” Xys said. “We can’t get a read on what they are until we get them out of the stasis fields.”
“The ship’s logs list them as an ‘acquired’ weapon race,” Tym said. “Apparently whoever built this ship went out and bought a batch of the most vicious animals they could find to stock it with.”
“Prioritize getting us into the sleep chamber,” Hanq said. “I want to see what we’re dealing with.”
Ten minutes later the sleep chamber door cycled open, it’s security overridden and burned out an Imperial R&D tool which the Horizon Breaker’s crew had been unfortunate enough to field test a few months earlier.
Inside the sleep chamber there were rows of narrow shelves, hundreds of feet high, which held over a million stasis cylinders in total. Most of the cylinders were perfectly opaque, the stasis effect preventing even light from exiting or entering the chambers interior.
“We’ve got the sleep cycle overridden,” Xys said.
“Except on these four,” Tym said.
It had taken the kind of desperate, last minute work that is as likely to result in catastrophic failure as anything else, but between the two of them, Xys and Tym had gotten things under control. It was what they did when the chips were down and why Hanq had sent them in together and alone in the first place. Some people just need the right audience to perform well.
“Let’s see what have here then,” Hanq said and touched the final override button to dispel the stasis effect.
With a rainbow shimmer, the spell fell away from the container revealing the horrible, deadly creature that awaited within. The was a silent pause, broken only when the creature finally spoke.
“Where…where am I?” asked the human who’d been asleep for five thousand years.