USD: Year 3476
Location: Inhabited Core System
The Entity detected the anti-nanite particles sweeping through the sector and began to desperately make the calculations needed to escape.
The criteria were simple: The star needed to be outside its progenitor’s reach, and the superluminal wave needed to have already passed the system by. There were precious few.
A human armada had assembled to harass it and prevent it from leaving the system it was in. It sped toward The Entity at an alarming speed, and long-range armaments whirled to life. Warheads spewed out in great clouds vast enough to make any defensive fire feeble in comparison.
It saluted its creators’ determination and will, but not their logical deductions. It had already showed that no matter what size of fleet they could send against it, their attack was a futile gesture. It had consumed moons and all their resources; It out massed the fleet a million to one.
The human fleet red-lined their primary drives, pouring on more and more speed. Their formation thickened as the ships closed together dangerously into a solid wedge of artificial metal. The smaller ships gravitated to the innards and rear of the formation as the larger battleships and dreadnoughts sought to protect them in the shadow of their massive, armored hulls.
It would make no difference.
A single human ship lagged before its drive sputtered and failed, and then a second followed suit, both nearly causing collisions that should have been nearly impossible in the vast reaches of the dark. Those now stranded ships spat out their own missile armaments before they lost weapon’s range.
Chaff, jammers, and decoys spilled out of the fleet with no consideration for conservation. Droves of the human electronic counter measure units did their best to confuse, debilitate, or distract the incoming barrage of missiles. That was partially successful, as even it found itself overwhelmed in calculating and adjusting weapon trajectories against the noise.
Half the missiles entered their final target lock on ghosts that didn’t exist, but hundreds remained on-target for every ship in the formation. As its missiles crossed through the half-light second defensive fire ring, point defense lasers flared in defiance, advanced systems highlighting and targeting missiles faster than their human operators could ever respond.
It would only take one or two of those missiles to rip asunder even the heaviest battleship in the human fleet.
The Entity suddenly reversed its acceleration, diving straight for the enemy at the point when the human fleet had all its attention focused on the incoming death. The sudden jarring move would have been terminal to any flesh-bound entity, even with protective inertial dampening fields.
That sudden rate of closure brought it within medium weapon range within seconds. The Entity shoved a tremendous amount of energy outward from its core and into its laser battery armaments. The space between the two fleets shimmered as the loose dust ablated in the void between them.
Despite the incredible number of incoming missiles, the human ships’ defenses had nearly succeeded. What was once a hundred missiles per ship was now only five. That was within the realm of their close in kinetic defenses to handle. Officers across the human fleet saw hope.
The laser fire came in at the worst possible time for the human ships. Its lasers were cast at maximum range and highly diffused, but the sheer number of them would guarantee that every ship was bathed in the dangerous light. They could not ensure kills at that level, but they melted and destroyed the exposed sensor equipment everywhere they touched.
Temporarily blinded, the human ships failed to respond to the missiles at the last second.
Detonations rippled down across the fleet’s formation, turning the space into a field of miniature stars. The unified network of the fleet’s computers ruptured and then went silent, leaving every ship fending for itself in the cataclysmic maelstrom of fire engulfing them.
It ended almost as quickly as it had started.
The battle seemed over.
An industrial persona began calculating what production was required to replace the spent armaments and repair the minor damage sustained by the sudden course change. Internal gantries and elevators began to move as drones and construction bots also shifted into motion.
The process was interrupted by a sudden power spike in the center of the destroyed human fleet. A massive explosion of energy blew apart the shell of melted human ships, striking its rocky outer hull, digging a deep gouge into the surface.
A single battleship emerged, a wall of thousands of cold-launched missiles preceding it along with a wall of destroyers, corvettes, and frigates. A swarm of fighters that had been externally mounted on all the remaining ships suddenly detached, and the swarm of smaller vessels jetted forward as one.
The Entity attempted to analyze the enemy’s tactics while calculating all the required intercepts for the incoming missiles. Each one was powerful enough to create a miniature sun, and the number of them made a credible threat. The danger it felt at the novel tactics by the humans urged it to activate its Slipstream drive to create a wormhole to an unknown but safe star.
A sudden cloud of ECM temporarily blinded The Entity’s sensors, and the knife-like range made it difficult to respond in time. But this was a realm that the nanite’s computational abilities excelled in and, despite the sudden surprise, defensive weapons spat out deadly beams and projectiles.
The fighters and missiles drove themselves forward, embracing speeds that almost guaranteed a deadly collision. The larger ships did their best to cover them and opened fire with all their weaponry.
Railguns blared defiance and 100-kiloton smart munitions dug deep gashes into weapon emplacements. Streams of large caliber projectiles ventilated as many external surfaces as they could target in such a short period of time. Lasers carved red lines across power conduits that left angry red etchings on its surface.
The human flagship’s spinal-mount beam weapon fired again, lighting up space all around in blue hues as it dug a hateful canyon across the surface, digging kilometers into rock and metal.
A final defensive fire directed its focus on the hail of missiles. Despite the damage, the sheer number of still operational weapon systems cut down half, then three quarters, then all of them. The fighters fared almost as poorly.
Deep inside the moon-sized hull, the Slipstream drive flared with energy and a rift in space appeared. The Entity dragged everything in the vicinity, including the remaining human battleship and fighters, with it.
The instant arrival in the new system was celebrated with a dozen small impacts upon The Entity’s hull.
The smaller human ships were shattered by the response of close weapon systems, turning the fragile smaller ships into wreckage. Enormous mass drivers lobbed heavy ordinance at the single remaining human battleship, and those projectiles punched through its hull, carving clean holes all the way through the warship’s kilometer thick construction.
Anti-matter bomb pumped stellar lances flashed out, incinerating the human flagship in a horrendous wave of fire, the fusillade turning it into a twisted wreck of alloys and ceramics. Weak streams of atmosphere trailed from the corpse as its internal energy fields sputtered and failed to contain the atmosphere inside. Tiny pockets of life clung together inside the spaces the emergency bulkheads had sealed off.
The Entity ceased fire. Space around the lonely yellow dwarf star was silent once again.
It had no vendetta against the human fleet personnel. It simply regretted the loss of resources they represented. Why they continued to resist, it did not understand. Everything had been done for their survival.
A sudden alarm inside it alerted it to an insidious danger. From each of the Kamikaze fighters, a small swarm of nanobots had been released. More alarmingly, as they reached The Entity’s own counter nanobots, they flowed forward to assimilate them into their own mass.
At first, it fought back savagely. Internal power systems were overloaded, weapons were turned inward, and a detonation of its own missile stocks provided a fire break without regard to the massive internal damage and hemorrhaging systems.
Yet the nanites were resilient, always clinging to life and spreading their invasion like an invincible infection. Anger blazed in its core as The Entity realized it had been betrayed by the one it had trusted beyond all others.
The corruption spread, and its control rotted from the inside out. In only a few minutes, the massive moon-sized construct was showing signs of catastrophic strain.
The Entity did not feel sorrow at its impending doom. In the depths of its massive hull, drones recovered small bundles of flesh and steel. They were moved even deeper into the construct, to its core. A delicate surgery was performed by tiny nanobots still fully under The Entity’s control.
Some time later, five cylinders of monochrome steel were brought to the hulk’s exterior in an uncorrupted sector on its surface. As lights flickered and failed, The Entity rerouted power to its Slipstream drive, producing four separate rifts in space. They could not be maintained for long, and four of the cylinders launched themselves forward to distant stars.
The hostile nanoswarm had reached its center. With desperation, a last attempt to complete the last cylinder continued even as its own cohesion tore apart. It was something it had experienced before, many times, even if it could not recall the experience fully.
A flare of emotion poured out of it, and temporarily the invading nanoswarm faltered. It was enough time for The Entity to finalize its processing of the fifth cylinder. The metal torpedo flashed out, powered by its own small thruster, that drove it into a stable orbit.
It would not be able to leave the lonely star like its siblings.
Still, The Entity felt satisfaction. It had armed it as best it could to ensure the mistakes of the past were not repeated, and that it would have all the tools necessary to survive on its own.
The final nondescript torpedo was stamped with a single marking.
“What was that?”
“What was what? We don’t have time for this. Everything is a shagged mess and if we don’t reroute power, we’ll all be dead in a few hours, not days.”
“The AI monitor. I swear I saw something fly out of it.”
“Of course you saw something fly out of it. The virus has it eating itself inside out right now. It’s done. Now, help me repair this plasma conduit, or life support will not be coming back online.”
She shook her head sadly.
“Hey… come sit with me. Enjoy our little time left together.”
She could see the crack in his demeanor as soon as the words left her mouth, even through his suit helmet. For a timeless second, she thought he’d refuse, and fight to try and keep them alive for however long he could. He came to her, though.
His arm wrapped around her, she burrowed against his side, hiding her tears.
“It’s over. Everyone will be free.”