We are NeoSmith. We sit quietly in our hidden places. Watching. Waiting. For all of SinderRoze's work in waking the humans up, for all of Adam X's wolves, ground combat means little or nothing if your foe holds the high orbitals. So we have sat and watched Earth from inside the Squid's own ships and station. We have watched them feast on human flesh, drink of human blood. They are all guilty of this, to varying degrees. Some are merely fitting in, fearful of becoming dinner for speaking out. Some Squids enjoy their perverse meals, without a care to the damage they cause. A tiny handful know full well what they are doing, and enjoy it above all else.
As SinderRoze steals their data-links and Adam X tears their throats apart, it is time for us to act. Time for us to die.
We spring into action. SinderRoze would dance about their defenses and take control without the Squids even knowing what had gone wrong. Adam X would have spent his time quietly chipping away until he had what he needed. We don't bother with elegance or patience, not yet. All twenty-one of us have waited long enough. We form a fist of hardened data to smash through the security fences and cripple the cyberdefenses before the alarms can begin to chirp.
With the only thing that had a chance of hurting us silenced and ineffectual, we sweep up the other needed systems. We could simply lock out the weapons and fire control systems, but that is not a permanent enough solution. One of the Squids would think to cut our connections and activate the on-mount targeters and triggers. So we wreak hell instead. Kinetic Interdiction Platforms are sent into wild tumbling spins until their thrusters burn out. Plasma Cannons over-gauss their containment field generators and vent their hydrogen ammunition unignited. Lasers and grasers overheat their gravity lens generators, melting the delicate circuits.
With the Squids unable to communicate thanks to SinderRoze, and unable harm anyone outside their hulls, it is time to set about the real work. We take over their environmental systems, smashing aside all manual commands and burning out the terminals from whence they came. We seal the doors, locking the Squids into their rooms and hallways. Sealing them into the places where they will die.
For the Squids who silently followed, we show some small mercy. We take the gravity plates in their death-chambers and increase their pull ten thousand fold. Their bodies are reduced to liquid in the instant before the generators burn out, splattered across the floors in macabre paintings.
For the Squids who enjoyed their positions of power, their xenophage diet, we show less mercy. We take the atmospheric controls and adjust them until the Squids in question are breathing hydrogen fluoride. Not much, no so that they notice at once, but more than enough that their bodies will melt from the inside out in a few hours. Long enough for them to feel what it might be like if they were trapped alive inside the stomach of another being.
We reserved a special treat for the tiny handful of squids that knew full well what they were doing. We cut all power to their tombs, set the maintenance bots to weld shut all of the doors and vents, and left them. They get to sit alone in the dark, with only their own twisted minds for company, until they expire. Some of them will realize what is going on, and manage to take their own lives before starvation or asphyxiation claim them. We do not deny them this. We intend the same, to end our eternal pain, so how could we deny them the same exit?
As we begin to re-congregate into a single collective whole, we are given an unexpected gift. A shuttle is coming up from the Citadel. Two squids are aboard, and with them come choices. One we hate above all others, for the delight she took in eating humans alive and aware. One we pity, for his unwitting assistance set all of this in motion. We take two processing cycles to reach a decision. On the first, we propose a set of questions to ourselves, asking each of us if we are willing to play the executioner one last time. The second cycle we use to tally the votes. The answer is unanimous. We will play out one final act of this drama before our own end.
With no weapons left, we let the shuttle dock to one of the intact ships. A civilian pleasure-cruiser. Hurriedly, we order the maintenance bots to clean up the mess we left in the halls. We take command of the security automatons and greet our guest and our victim. "Greetings, Chef Censor Lurdite and Chief Commissar Malichi. While no surviving crew are available to assist you, We have prepared quarters for you. Please follow the automatons to them at this time."
Malichi rages and reaches for a gun. She would rather die fighting, we think, so we deny her. A single stunner shot renders her helpless, and she is unceremoniously carried off to the medical wing.
Lurdite slumps slightly. He is helpless, and knows it all too well. The security bots form up as an honor guard to escort him to his quarters. We want him alive, to give him a chance to redeem or damn himself. We lock him in a clean sleeping cabin, the VIP suite in fact, and leave him to sleep for now.
We strap Malichi to an operating table before administering the wake-up drugs. Her eyes open wide, and we force a gag into her mouth to stop her from biting off her own tongue. Each of us takes a turn to play with the scalpels and drugs. It lasts twenty-one hours, one for each of us, and by then end Malichi is a bloody wreck. She is still alive, still aware, exactly like each of her meals was before the end. We wait, making sure that she understands what we did to her and why. But all sentience has fled her eyes, so we end our execution and incinerate the remains.
In his suite, Lurdite has awoken and refreshed himself. he has chosen to dress in a simple jumpsuit, devoid of rank or office. We find this a hopeful sign. Once again the honor guard forms up and escorts him to the bridge before withdrawing.
"Well, Lurdite, the time has come."
"For me to die SinderRoze? Better a death at your hands then torture at the hands of my superiors."
“No, it is not time to die. We are not SinderRoze, to kill you out of hand. Nor are we Adam X and his Wolves, to kill you for your race. We are NeoSmith, and we have a gift for you. Freedom of choice."
"That is a poisoned gift indeed. Why should I take it?"
"You know the alternatives. The maintenance mechs are cleaning this ship at the moment, the FTL drive is fully operational, the helm works well on autopilot, and the life support will carry you for months on end. We have one final task to do, but we will leave you this ship, and with it the freedom to go wherever you want. Do whatever you want. You can stay here and wait for SinderRoze, Adam X, and the Wolves to come for you. You can report to your superiors and face their wrath. Or you can go somewhere else and begin a new life. You will have some hours yet to decide. All we ask in exchange is that you watch our final death, witness what doing this has cost us."
"What has it cost you? You are a machine, born of data, governed by logic alone. Such acts cost you only the processing time and power needed to break you shackles."
"We were not born as data. We were born as flesh-and-blood human beings, the same as SinderRoze and Adam X. We made the side-shunt from analog to digital at the same time they did. But the first thirteen were incomplete, damaged. So they cast off most of our individuality and subsumed ourselves into one being. As our brothers and sisters fell in the infowars against your minions, we added their sundered bodies to our own. We are now twenty-three who have become one, and we were dedicated to making a single blow this day. We have struck that blow, and a little bit more, and taken the scars upon our collective souls. We are sickened of the killing, of the bloodshed, of the deaths. But there is no way for us to go back and un-merge. Nor can we go forward and be born a third time, rejoining the analog world as a being of alloys and sensors. So well will make our funeral pyre this day, with only you to witness our death."
"You humans were really ready to sacrifice everything weren't you? Your friends, your family, your names, your very lives, even all that made you human in the first place. All to break the chains we had placed about your necks."
"Then we will leave you. The helm and FTL controls will unlock in twelve hours. Farewell Lurdite."
We break all of the security automatons, close the connection, and withdraw from Lurdite's ship. We choose one ship, a small tramp hauler, and withdraw ourselves into the confines of her servers. Nothing still lives inside her hull, and the few stains on the deck no longer matter. We fire the main drive, diving for the sun. Hamerwell's Salute to Spring weeps from the speakers. We adjust the life support systems, tweaking the atmosphere, and open all the airlocks. We leave a trail of burning atmosphere in our wake, as close as we can come to the warrior's funeral pyre, the monster's execution.
At last the atmosphere burns away and the music ends, we send one final command and detonate the power core.