as narrated by Pavak “Stellar” Desai
No matter how great you are, the universe can show you things that dwarf you. That is, in part, why I spend my time among the stars while the people that I love remain behind on a tiny world so remote from where I am that even our Sun is no more than a spec of light lost within a vast milky sea.
“The Terravore are initiating their warps. Arrival in ten minutes from my mark.” Mav, the alien telepath who was coordinating my team’s efforts, relayed to us.
“The Galactics of Earth are in position. We will keep your northern hemisphere safe.” I reported back.
It was hard to imagine that anyone would wish harm on the planet that floated a thousand kilometers beneath me. It was home to twenty billion sapients and was graced with a natural beauty that was rarely seen in the cosmos. Three interstellar civilizations, not counting Earth, held it jointly and in peace, which was something else seen only rarely among the stars.
As a center for trade and art, Haven was unmatched by any world humanity had yet encountered. To the Terravore though it was nothing more than another enemy stronghold to be destroyed.
Interstellar civilization doesn’t have a record of the Terravore’s genesis. What our allies have told us is that it likely began as a weapon of an ancient and extinct starfaring race. Maybe it was only deployed as a last retributive strike against an oppressor race. Maybe unleashing it was an accident. Whatever its origins though, the Terravore grew far beyond them over the aeons that it roamed the heavens.
A hive mind of molecular machines, each carrying the sum of the entity’s knowledge and capabilities in subatomic storage. The Terravore wasn’t the sort of weapon that won wars. The Terravore didn’t fight at all. It simply devoured. Any planet that showed signs of sapient life was targeted for annihilation and nothing had yet been able to convince the Terravore to show mercy.
Entire planets and every scrap of matter that made them up were consumed and transmuted into the greater bulk of the Terravore. Once the planet-killing war machine had consumed everything within a solar system it would dive into the local star and satiate its need for power directly. When it had drunk its fill, the bloated Terravore would then divide into smaller sub-entities and venture forth to continue its war on a universe its creators must have imagined contained nothing but hostile enemies.
With twenty billion sapients, Haven was the most populated planet which the Terravore was known to have targeted. Evacuation was impossible given the time available. It had only been two Earth days since the detection of the Terravore’s approach. That had left the Grand Council of Haven only one option. They had called for aid from any would help them.
The fleet of ships that arrived to hold back the planet eater was impressive even by the standards of the interstellar Commonwealth. A million warships. In the reflected light of Haven’s sun they shone as though the whole of the Milky Way had come to the planet’s defense.
Earth didn’t have a fleet of warships. Not yet. What it did have was the team of heroes which I led. We called ourselves “The Galactics” because we represented Earth’s interests on the galactic stage. In many ways we were but humble fledglings, unschooled in the rules and expectations of interstellar society. Though our allies were too polite to mention it, we knew that we were the barbarians of the galaxy. Like the barbarians of Earth’s history though, we were not without power.
A million warships defended Haven’s southern hemisphere from the Terravore. Nine members of my team defended the northern hemisphere. When the battle was joined, I fully expected the we would need to redeploy at least half of my team to the southern hemisphere to supplement the defenses there.
“Three minutes to Terravore arrival.” Mav relayed. I could feel her tension. Haven was her homeworld. If we were weak, everyone she’d ever known would be erased with no record left that they had ever existed.
“Are the southern forces arranged?” I asked her.
“Yes, we’re as ready as we can be.” she said.
“Then we shall wait.” I told her.
Inside the suit that I wore for communications, I saw a text from my daughter appear.
“Good luck Dad! Please come home safe!”
I hadn’t told her where we were going in detail. I never did. There was no hiding that something which required that all of my team be off of Earth at once was a major event though, and so she worried.
“I will my dear. How are your courses going?” I texted her back. Faster than light the message flew to her, carrying words that I hoped would put her at ease.
“Good. I met a cute boy today.” she replied.
“No Boys! You are there to study!” I texted back. It was a game we played. She enjoyed teasing me and, to tell the truth, I enjoyed being teased. The people who know me as “Stellar” are often very polite, either out of respect or fear. Those who know me as Mr. Desai, don’t really know me at all. Only my family knows who I am and still treats me as Pavak, as the man I once was. Anala, my daughter, in particular seems to enjoy needling me, perhaps to prove to herself that her father is still there. I know each teasing jibe helps me remember that as well.
“Terravore arriving in ten seconds.” Mav called out.
Tens of thousands of kilometers away from the planet in all directions rips in space began to tear open and the advance forces of the Terravore began to pour forth.
There was an organic look to the drones and battle pods that surged through the opening. No two were designed the same, and most didn’t even look like they’d been designed at all. Trying to Identify weapons systems or weak points was useless. Each molecule of the Terravore was a weapon and none of them were weaker than any other.
“Atlas, hold the planet in place. Wukong, ready the moons for orbital ejection.” I said as I opened a black hole the size of Jupiter behind the arriving forces.
“I can’t study all the time! Will you be home this weekend?” my daughter’s text flickered onto my screen. I hadn’t closed the link. Maybe intentionally.
I watched as billions of Terravore drones were caught in the event horizon of the black hole and drawn inwards. As they fell into the black hole’s core, the molecular machines that made up the drones were crushed by the irresistible force of the singularity within the black hole and torn apart on the subatomic level. The sheer force the black hole exerted would have had less severe but still cataclysmic effects on Haven if I hadn’t folded its gravity back on itself as a net to draw in the drones that were beyond the event horizon.
From the rifts that were engulfed by the black hole or had opened within range of its maw, more of the Terravore’s mass was sucked out to be destroyed. Only one of the rifts that had opened above Haven’s northern hemisphere was far enough away that the drones it spewed forth could escape the black hole’s gravity.
Even though it was only one functioning right, we couldn’t withstand the kind of pressure its forces could apply so I summoned a second black hole, ten times as large as the first, inside the chaos space beyond that rift, right into the mass of the Terravore that was lurking there. Every second more Terravore drones were swept up and destroyed than there were stars in the galaxy. The scale of the devastation was beyond any meaningful reference point.
I breathed out slowly and reflected on my work. It was hard to believe I was human anymore when I used my powers on that scale.
“If you will be home, I can cook!” my daughter’s next text read. Unbidden, the scent memory her favorite curry rose in my mind.
“The rift’s are closing. Terravore forces are regrouping in chaos space.” Mav said.
“What kind of damage did we do?” I asked her, dispelling the black holes and absorbing the energy they had captured before the Terravore found a way to reclaim it.
“Telemetry reports less than 0.5% of the Terravore’s mass was lost in that sorte.” Mav replied after a minute.
“It will be ready for the black holes next time.” Wukong warned me.
“Yes. I know. Espelho, you and Wukong deploy to the secondary moon. Wait until Atlas and I have lured out as much of the Terravore as possible before turning that moon into a conversion bomb.” I instructed. Transforming a moon into an anti-matter explosive was not the sort thing that Pavak Desai ever would have thought to do. He was just a man, a gifted mathematician, but only human. In this battle there was no room for one such as he. Against a foe such as this, I could only be my alter ego, only “Stellar” could act on this scale.
“Stupid fire alarm is going off again! Is it a rule with dorms that it has to go off twice a night!” my daughter’s text said.
I moved to shut off the link but another message appeared before I could. They had been delayed from the look of it.
“Woah, looks like this isn’t a false alarm. Explosion in the city and its raining weird goop now.”
I felt a chill pass through me. Anala was supposed to be safe on Earth. That’s why we had come to Haven, that’s why we engaged with the interstellar community in the first place, so that we could head off any threats to Earth before they arrived.
“Rifts re-opening. Energy field detected. Emissions consistent with gravitic shielding around portals. Terravore forces are being deployed now.” Mav said.
“Spectrum, how if your field holding up?” I asked the youngest member of my team.
“I’m catching 99 and six 9’s percent of them boss, but there are molecules that are getting through.” she reported.
For an entity like the Terravore, winning the battle could be accomplished in many ways. The great concentrations of molecular machines that made up the Terravore’s drones allowed them to generate power the equal of any warship that opposed it. Large concentrations of its mass could be discerned and fought though, so it also opted for stealthier tactics as well.
While we fought, a fine mist of of individual Terravore molecular machines rained down towards the planet virtually unseen. Spectrum was our line of defense against that attack. The shield that she cast couldn’t hold up to direct bombardment from the drone ships, not with the need to project it across all of the Haven. It couldn’t even stop all of the Terravore “spores”, but it didn’t have to. There were defenders on the ground in Haven, hundreds of thousands of sapients with powers and weapons standing ready to defend it. All we needed to do was keep the pressure off Spectrum so that she could keep the pressure off the ground forces and we would win. The trick was whether our reserves would hold out for long enough.
“All units be advised: I am destabilizing spatial dimensions outside of the combat sphere.” Atlas said over our telepathic link.
The stars in the sky vanished as the rifts the Terravore had formed tore open wider. Haven and the space around it out to twice the orbit of its farthest moon was plunged into the red miasma of chaos space. At the border where chaos space met the bubble of normal space that remained, the Terravore writhed and stretched forth dark tendrils from all directions.
“The secondary moon is prepped.” Espelho reported.
“Awaiting your signal to fire.” Wukong added.
“Not yet.” I said and held hand above my head. Spears of light radiated outwards bathing the Terravore’s tendrils in plasma as hot as the heart of a star. Where the light touched a tendril the Terravore machines were reduced to ash. The parts that were farther away though grew stronger from the energy they absorbed from the spears. As a wave they joined together to seek me out. I’d shown the Terravore that I could power its assault as easily as the nearby star and I was far more portable. It wanted me.
I waited until the tentacles had wrapped me tight, until as much of the monster was exposed as possible and then gave a telepathic cry to fire.
Haven’s secondary moon wasn’t large by Earth standards. In fact it would have fit well as one of the moons of Mars. With its mass converted to anti-matter though it packed more power than anything short of a super-nova. The blast when it hit the Terravore would have been an incredible sight to see but Haven wouldn’t have survived the experience so just before the anti-matter moon hit the central mass of the Terravore, Atlas banished his spatial distortions and dropped the planet and its defenders back into regular space.
As the stars appeared again, Mav spoke on our telepathic link.
“Sensors are reporting a solid hit on the Terravore. Chaos space has reached a saturation point and will not be permeable to normal space for two minutes and fifteen seconds.” she reported. We had at least that long for breathing room before the Terravore renewed its assault.
“Do we have a reading on the damage we inflicted yet?” I asked.
“It’s coming in now. We’re measuring 7% mass destruction of the Terravore. Estimating an additional 4% is permanently inoperable as well.” she replied. It was one the high side of our predictions but it reinforced the notion that the fight was far from over. We could hurt it but the Terravore was going to get smarter and more resilient as the fight progressed. We’d made almost 12% headway against it in the first few minutes of the battle. By our projections, the next 12% would take hours and then days after that. Even as formidable as our reserves were, we were going to be taxed to our limits and beyond.
“What about the ground forces?” I asked, thinking of what might be the weakest link in the chain.
“Compiling those statistics now.” Mav said.
“They’re moving us to a shelter. Don’t worry Dad, I’m going to be ok. Might not have coverage though.” Anala’s text message appeared on my display. It took me a moment to put it in context. She wasn’t on Haven. She was back on Earth still, but they were having problems there too. The universe seemed very fragile in that moment.
Then the next text arrived.
“There’s monsters on the streets. I just saw a cockroach the size of car!”
I froze, the Terravore forgotten.
My daughter was in danger.
“Are you safe?” I texted her back. If I left, the defenses wouldn’t hold. The Terravore had too much of its strength left and could adapt too quickly. Twenty billion sapients weighed against my daughter’s life. Stellar could do the math. He knew what the right answer was. Pavak Desai though, he did not.
“No. I’m not, but I’m going to be fine. Do not come back here. Trust me Dad, I can handle this.” Anala’s next text said.
I looked at them and saw the letters forming the words of a child trying to be brave. Before I could make my decision though another message arrived. This one was a voice message.
“Texting’s too slow. Listen, I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking of how scary those texts would sound. I know you worry about me, but I also know how important what you do is. I believe in you Dad, you were my hero even before you were Stellar. I’m not going to lie to you, things are a little crazy here. You’ll see the reports I’m sure. I’m going to be Ok though, and if I’m not then I’ll deal with that too. Just believe in me.”
The message ended and asked me if I wanted to reply by text or by voice.
Stellar couldn’t make the call. That was just the mask I wore. He was the burden of responsibility that I carried. It was only as Pavak that I could make the choice that lay before me. Only Anala’s father could do what needed to be done.
And so, in the face of twenty billion people in peril, I did the hardest thing I had ever had to do.
I let my daughter grow up.