Back when I was alive and connected to my Belphegor, I could operate my Sarcophage swarm like an extension of my body. I saw what they saw, felt what they felt. Cosmic rays washed across my skin, distant supernovae flashed in the edges of my vision, and the beauty of the universe was at my fingertips… even if I’d been unable to appreciate it at the time.
After gaining Lydia’s memories, I could finally enjoy that beauty… except that I was now severed from it. I was merely a simulation of a body and a mind trapped in a formless void. That’s why I experienced no small measure of excited anticipation when Sveta told me she’d connect me directly to her sensor feeds.
That excitement soon vanished. The images presented to me were but pale simulacra; human sensor technology was far less advanced than Sarcophage sensory organs. Where once I had been able to taste the colors of the cosmos, hear the bursts of x-rays thrown up by black hole collisions trillions of light-years away… now I had only a fuzzy, indistinct cluster of blobs rendered by some horrifically primitive system called “LIDAR.”
Still, I could make out the general outline of the battle’s disposition, even from such highly flawed data. It looked like the Sarcophage were swarming the human’s defenses; I recognized a particularly large mass as a Belphegor, likely entering the fray to attack the human carrier vessels. Apparently only three carriers had survived, a fact the human pilots quickly picked up on.
“One of the carriers was destroyed…” Lydia said grimly over remote communication. “We need to hurry, before…”
There was a bright flash on the display, and a second carrier ceased to exist. It had likely been destroyed by the intruding Belphegor. Lydia swore, and I saw Miette’s face twist into a grimace. A few moments later, another carrier slammed into the Belphegor, destroying them both. Now only one of the human ships remained.
“FUCK!” Lydia said rather loudly. “How long until we’re in range?”
Sveta looked at me. I was not in direct communication with the human pilots, as Sveta felt my presence might cause tension, so she relayed everything I said. This was yet another frustrating aspect of my forced isolation.
“We are in range now,” I replied. “Despite the low resolution of the sensor data, I have a good bearing on the general disposition of the Sarcophage forces and which situational protocols they are enacting. I can construct the necessary commands to halt their attack immediately.”
Sveta reported that to Lydia, while simultaneously accelerating our perception of time. I formulated a set of three commands, expressed in gravitational communication waves, and sent them to Sveta. She analyzed them in excruciating detail, not that it did her much good. She was essentially staring at an alien language without the barest hint of how to comprehend it. Her frustration was plain in her expression.
“Explain to me exactly what this does, Moby,” she said at last with a resigned sigh.
“First is an override command. It disables Sarcophage threat analysis and returns them to a default tactical state, as if there were no enemies present. The second command orders them to hold their position and not attack or move. The third command instructs them to relay and rebroadcast an identical signal, which will propagate the instruction throughout the entire swarm in this solar system at 84.252% of the speed of light. Broadcast that precise sequence of gravity waves and they will cease attacking across the entire battlefront.”
Sveta nodded, then linked up with Kometka. A moment later, I saw the broadcast go out on the gravity sensors. It was surreal watching this familiar sight at a remove for the first time. It made me feel oddly… lonely. Once, that swarm had been an extension of myself. Now, isolated from them forever, I was to be their doom.
I felt a twinge of regret, of shame. I was, in essence, sacrificing everything I once was to chase after some nebulous human ideal instead. The unknown, as always, was terrifying. I found myself wishing I could go back, return to a Belphegor and take my place atop the swarm once more. I longed for that familiar comfort, the only life I’d ever known.
…But I quickly thought better of it. After everything I gained from Lydia’s memories, I knew that comfort would be fleeting. I’d seen too much, learned too much, to ever go back. The only option truly available to me was to keep moving forwards, keep aiding the humans, and hope I found a place for myself among them.
What a frightening prospect.
The swarm froze, responding to my relayed commands. The airwaves cleared a bit as they stopped their jamming, and the sensor images became sharper. Sveta let out a sharp gasp at the IFF codes of the last remaining carrier. The Radiolaria had survived; the Hypernova, Synchotron and Telesthesia II had not.
Lydia also gasped in horror. “Yuri… Yayoi…” she muttered. I knew those names from her memories. They were very old friends of hers, very dear friends, who had saved her life after the Third Great Surge. And now, they were very probably dead.
I felt a strange urge to comfort her, a desire to express my condolences. I knew, however, that would not be conducive. Any words from me would only worsen her mood.
“Sveta!” Lydia said, her voice cracking. “Can you use the brain laser… like you did with Genevi…”
“It’s been too long,” Sveta said gently. “The neural energy only remains in our dimension for around thirty seconds after death. It’s been almost a minute, and we’re still not in range. Their souls have already moved on to…” She froze, her mouth opening and closing but no words coming out. It was as if she was trying to say something, but her voice had been switched off. Everyone looked at her in confusion.
“Moved on to where?” Miette asked.
Sveta’s entire body shook, as if she were resetting herself, before she continued speaking. “I’m not allowed to say. I’m truly sorry, Lydia. If we’d gotten here sooner…”
There was a long silence. We drew closer to the battlefield, close enough to make out the Radiolaria retrieving escape pods. Most of the pods were IFF-tagged to the Telesthesia II, and a few to the Synchotron.
“Let’s end this,” Lydia said at last, her voice wavering.
“Roger that,” Sveta responded. She cut the comms and turned to me, once again accelerating our perception of time. “What’s the next step?”
“A complex multi-phase command,” I responded. “Firstly, I will construct a sequence to disable the swarm’s self-preservation instincts. Like all living creatures, Sarcophage have an inherent desire to continue living. Once I have overridden this, I will order them to follow a trajectory into this solar system’s star, where they will perish in the extreme heat of the photosphere.”
“And the entire swarm will follow this command?” Sveta asked.
“I estimate a success rate of 97.252%. There will be elements of the swarm that will not receive the command due to damaged sensory organs, isolated positioning or protocols that override remote control. They will need to be purged manually. Additionally, you will need to manually destroy the two warp-capable scouting vessels positioned above and below the ecliptic, and the warp gate on the periphery of the termination shock.”
Sveta raised an eyebrow. “Warp gate?”
“A prolonged discussion for another time. Let us conclude the current battle before analyzing future tactics.”
“Hrmph,” Sveta said, and I wasn’t sure what that vocalization meant. It did not correspond to any word I knew. “Fine, give me the commands. Let’s get this over with.”
“Hi, everyone! Sorry we’re late!” Miette called out on an open comm channel, forcing a false cheerfulness. As she spoke, the gravity waves emanating from Sveta and Kometka slammed into the Sarcophage swarm. A few microseconds later, following my commands, they turned as one and slowly began to retreat backwards from the Absolute Line, before curving their trajectory towards the sun.
I watched my children fly unwittingly towards their deaths, and a strange melancholy rose up within me. For some reason, my eyes became wet. I searched Lydia’s memories, and found this sensation was called ‘crying.’
I was crying. I was sad. Why?
I felt Sveta’s hand on my shoulder. She didn’t say anything, simply rested her hand there. I took several deep breaths and wiped my eyes. The Sarcophage swarm, for my whole life up until today, had been the only family I had ever known. Insightful as they were, Lydia’s memories were not my own. And now that I’d caused their destruction…
I was well and truly alone.
I continued to sob. My sadness mixed with frustration at my inability to control my emotions. Sveta’s arms coiled around me, pulling me into a tight hug, and I cried into her chest. I don’t know how long we stayed like that; in our accelerated perception of time, it could have been hours.
Eventually, I regained control of myself and wriggled my way out of Sveta’s hug. I was ashamed she’d seen me in such a vulnerable state. For distraction, I turned my attention to the surge of comm chatter that Sveta’s antenna were picking up, allowing my perception of time to return to the baseline; Sveta did the same, silently standing beside me. As the Sarcophage retreated, their jamming cleared up and signals began to pour in from hundreds or thousands of kilometers away.
The AI of the Radiolaria opened a comm window, which showed herself and Captain Savitskaya. “You… you really did it…” Laria said in awe. “I’m getting reports from all across the front. The Sarcophage are retreating! They’re actually retreating! Past the Primary Line, even!”
“Moby ordered them all to fly into the sun,” Sveta said gleefully. “The signal will propagate across the entire solar system, and they’ll all self-destruct in that fashion.”
“The war is finally over,” Captain Savitskaya said disbelievingly, unable to keep herself from breaking into a broad smile.
“HELL YEAH! WE DID IT! WE ACTUALLY FUCKING DID IT!” Sabina cried out.
“We did, yeah…” Genevi added.
They were all so jovial, so happy. It was in stark contrast to my own melancholy. I found myself jealous of them.
“I can’t… is this actually happening? Is this real?” Maurice asked.
“It’s real,” Sveta said, grinning. “It will take several months for the entire swarm to fly into the sun, and there will be stragglers, but…”
“But, thanks to Moby, humanity is finally out of danger,” Miette finished her thought.
“Thanks to Moby, huh? That feels odd to say,” Kometka added quietly. Lydia didn’t say anything, her lips pressed together in a thin line.
Thanks to me? I suppose that was true. I wondered if I’d ever find acceptance here, ever find belonging. At the very least, Sveta seemed to accept me. Perhaps there was hope after all.
“We can debrief later,” the Captain said. “Let’s focus on retrieving the remaining lifeboats. After that… all pilots are hereby ordered to come home.”
There was another outbreak of jubilation from everyone, any conversation soon becoming lost in excited yelling. Sveta muted the comms and turned to me.
“So. IS it over?” she asked pointedly, placing her hands on her hips.
I pushed down my surging swirl of conflicted emotions. “No. But for the moment… yes, it’s over. It will likely be three or four decades before the Sarcophage can threaten humanity at this scale again. Any fresh foothold they gain in this solar system will require rebuilding their war machine from scratch.”
“Hmm,” Sveta said, tapping her chin as she thought. “Well, let’s enjoy the moment, I suppose. But you and I need to have a very long conversation, about EVERYTHING you know. And the first topic will be… warp gates.”
“Naturally,” I responded, and despite myself I felt the corners of my mouth tug upwards. This woman, Sveta, was truly fascinating. Despite her breezy demeanor and outward silliness, nothing escaped her notice. She was a sterling example of a soldier, and despite her artificial nature, a fine representative of the human species.
Perhaps, some day, I would be too.