The merchant ship sat there. Drifting, powerless. Lifeless. Its crew floated nearby, drawn to the hull by the scant fragments of gravity its mass provided. What was left of them anyway; explosive decompression leaves a bit of a mess to be cleaned up.
The Admiral’s face tightened in discomfort. It wasn’t the first merchant ship his fleet had found like this. It probably wouldn’t be the last. Until these Hu-mains, or whatever they were, had been hunted down and exterminated there would always be another of these ‘ghost ships’ to be found.
And the reclamation crews probably found the ‘ghost ships’ just as disquieting as the Admiral did, if not more so. He had listened to the recording that had been made of the haunting voice echoing through the passageways of these ships. Always the same words, always in the same uncouth Hu-mains language. The translators had worked out the lyric’s meaning long ago. Always the same one sentence warning of a female offspring born in the space between planets and stars. A ‘daughter of the void.’
The linguists and cultural experts will still arguing about the meaning of the words, but the Admiral was a student of history. He had made silent contact with a few scholars, for the Admiral could not be seen publicly rooting into his Empire’s true history. Not the one the public knew and loved. The real one, full of treasons and broken oaths, that underpinned the Empire’s steady, unrelenting outward expansion. How it had cleansed world after world of pre-FTL species so that the Empire could colonize them.
The Admiral had received only a single letter in response. He had not expected even that, and had no doubt that most of the scholars the Admiral had reached out to had simply deleted his message unread instead of risking their careers and pseudopods. But that one message had contained the information the Admiral had needed to begin his own private search in the restricted databases that only his rank and mission granted him access to.
A single star-log reference. A system and world long colonized, near the heart of the Empire. A world whose pre-FTL inhabitants hand named ‘dirt’ like so many others, and who had called themselves ‘dirt-livers’ like so many more. A race whose name, in their own uncouth language, his vocalizer enunciated as Hu-mains.
The Admiral was shaken from his introspection by a chime from the communications console. It was too early for the scheduled report of the reclamation teams, so they must have found something either sufficiently interesting or truly horrifying to make an early report. He paused before pressing the accept button on the console. It was a live-link, not a pre-recorded burst, which aroused the Admirals suspicions. He checked the encryption display, expecting some information there, indicating a secure fleet link if nothing else.
Nothing. The message was coming in live, unencrypted, unscrambled… from an unknown point of origin.
The Admiral pressed the acceptance key.
The same Hu-main lyrics whispered out of the speaker… but not the same voice. The recorded one had been resonant, almost like many individuals speaking in unison.
This was a single voice, higher, quavering slightly with the emotion of the lyrics. It dropped down lear the end. Whispering, crooning, in a way that no pre-recorded message could. And then it continued. Twice more it repeated the warning-word, each time quieter and more sure than the last. Then two new words, in a deadly flat tone that the Admiral had never heard before. He looked at the translation screen displaying the meaning of the incoming transmission.
Language of origin: Human.
Speaker: Human Female (Identity Unknown)
“Beware… Beware… Of me.”
The Admiral’s head snapped around to the wailing tactical plot. The missiles had erupted from stealth and were already in terminal sprint-attack mode. His ships’ point defense had no chance to stop them.