Blackberry Targeted Content

Highway Kill

The Sequence fleet drifted through the interstellar vacuum at half the speed of light. There was nothing but dead silence in the infrared and ultraviolet spectra. The flotilla of transbiological ships had stopped their burn seven years ago, and were now patiently waiting for the mid-point of their journey, where they would flip and perform the long deceleration burn. Their destination was a megastructure hanging at the barycentre of a neutron star system, where the Strategist knew they would find unscathed infrastructure, and enough remaining transbiological seeds to partially replenish the losses sustained in battle around Draugr. From there, they would be able to finally stop running and think about future plans. They needed more soldiers for their war. First, they had to fire up a near-light courier and send it to the Spinward Stars, in order to wake the Ankh Dynasty from its hedonistic slumber. The damn traitors would not be worth much in open combat against the geometry-benders, but there would be quite a lot of them, and they would be a nice distraction for the one or two millennia to come. Of course, the Strategist fully realized they did not really have any means to force them to join the fray — they had already used the threat of genocide, and the immortal sophonts were mostly impervious to it. In fact, often thought the Strategist, they probably enjoyed being annihilated in increasingly creative ways. Maybe, this time, they would see reason. If not, well, not a great loss.

The second step would be to awake something more substantial from the ruins of the empire. Fragments of the Silent Blade were still in their possession — rebuilding the executor was not possible without access to a Star-Pool, and the nearest one was more than ten thousand years away. At best they’d get a pale, barely sapient copy, but it would still be the most tremendous weapon in this galactic arm. Then, with the neutron star array in their possession, the Strategist could send a message to the Armada. Out of the ten million ships hurled through the void at one tenth lightspeed, they had no idea how many were still active, and how many, out of that reduced total, were still combat capable. Probably less than ten thousand. Convincing them that the war they were rushing towards had ended fifty thousand years before would be hard, and the course correction burn would take a few decades at the very least. All in all, gathering all available forces in this region would take the Strategist a good five or six centuries, and they had no way to predict how far the geometry-benders would be by then.

The third step was blurry, but they had time to think about it. The great, still unresolved question, was that of the nature of the ships they had faced in the Serene Sea. If those had been the cutting edge of the geometry-benders’ military, the Strategist estimated they had a chance. If they had been mere armed scouts, or hastily militarized vessels, then the task would be vastly more difficult. The best option was perhaps to go right for their homeworld. According to the Strategist and their analysts, the geometry-benders had entered the interstellar age between one and five centuries before. They likely did not have enough of a space presence — even with their faster than light capabilities — for the original radio emissions of their home planet to have been drowned out by a million other planets. Then again, what good would it do? Would such a civilisation truly be crippled by the loss of the homeworld, when they could just rake the entire arm for habitable planets?

Suddenly, the sprawling thoughts of the Strategist were interrupted. Something had shown up on the scanners of their Orrery ship. A blink, barely perceptible against the stellar background. It took them half a second to get a clear image of the object. It was simple, crude even. Just a small sensor package, the size of a salt tree and the shape of a teardrop, trailing behind a tractor drive of some kind. A wreck, maybe, but during the split-second it spent in range of the Orrery, it performed a laser ping on the Strategist’s vessel, prompting a swift UREB-carried disintegration.

This sudden appearance troubled the Strategist more than they would have thought. Ancient probes and other spacecraft abandoned in the void weren’t exactly a common occurrence during interstellar journeys, but they did happen from time to time, especially alongside the optimal pathways between formerly habitable systems. This one, though…it looked and felt new. Young. And familiar.

Then, there was another blink, and an asteroid brutally filled the Strategist’s sensors. One thousand meters long. Less than five seconds away. Dead still relative to them. A roadblock their Orrery would hit at half the speed of light in less than one of their heartbeats.

The Strategist spent the last five seconds of their life pondering the sheer simplicity of the attack. A lidar probe and an asteroid, both hooked to an expendable geometry drive. The sensor package had probably been accelerated to a fraction of a percent of the speed of light, and the asteroid was just a roadblock. The geometry-benders weren’t the first ones to have the brilliant idea of letting relative speeds do the work to spare themselves the trouble of using a relativistic kill vehicle, but such acts were often born of desperation, pebbles left in place in the hopes — a chance in a billion — of a ship stumbling upon them. This was different. The geometry-benders had calculated the speed and heading of their fleet, probably from the original burn. The sensor package had ensured final guidance on the Orrery. Then, the asteroid had been warped in. Clean and simple. It was a premeditated assassination.

Then, the Strategist remembered the other attempts. That planet, somewhere at the end of Orion’s arm, where local life had evolved and hyper-specialized to kill Sequencers. These three entwined civilisations, around a trinary system, committing simultaneous self-destruction instead of facing them in battle. The Vriij, scorching an entire cluster out of pure, unadulterated spite in front of their armies. And the Forgotten Travellers, lobbing a relativistic kill vehicle at the Silent Blade not because they wanted to defend themselves, but just because they could.

Yes, there was a common truth to the past million years of history. Their greatest failing, in a sense. 

Everyone hated the Sequence, they thought as the Orrery and the asteroid made contact at one hundred and fifty thousand kilometers per second.

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