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Twilight of Humanity

Chapter Text

“Sir, sensors picking up a small fleet on an intercept course.” The ship’s viewscreen displayed a large sensor reading to the rear of an icon representing their ship. The sensor reading creeped closer and closer - their small transport ship was not fitted with military-grade FTL engines like their pursuers have.

The man sitting in the captain’s chair furrowed his brow. “Drop to sublight on this sector,” the captain indicated an area with a pointing device, “and throw on the cloak. We should be able to dodge them in the debris.”

“Dropping to sublight propulsion.” A thin whine was heard and a small shudder went through the ship as it exited FTL travel. The viewscreen shifted from a star map to show the system outside - a dark red star and a gas giant adorned with a ring of debris.

“Rerouting auxiliary power to cloak…done. Activating cloak in three, two, one.” The ship vanished from visible sight and drastically changed course, heading into the debris ring. As the ship neared the debris, it became more and more apparent that they were heading into a spaceships’ graveyard. Chassis of various sizes - ranging from small fighters to beam frigates four times the size of their cloaked transport - floated, broken and charred.

“Park us behind that frigate wreck and wait for them to call off the search.”

Buzzing from the ship’s computer warned them of ships dropping to sublight travel. The viewscreen showed eight sensor contacts a short distance away. The ship’s humming grew deeper as the helmsman further lowered energy levels to avoid detection as the ships got into visual range.

“Sir,” the engineer looked at the captain, “look at the ships’ emblems.” The viewscreen magnified the image to show eight military fighter ships in greater detail. Each of the eight ships had different emblems in a variety of colors and patterns and were flying in a tight formation.

“That’s odd. I’ve never seen pirates with differing emblems. All their ships would have the same color scheme, the same emblem, to show that they were part of the family or tribe. And those emblems...I’ve never seen them before.”

The eight ships suddenly broke formation and spread out in a searching pattern. It was so coordinated that the ship’s crew looked at each other. These were not pirates - they would not form up and coordinate with such efficiency. Only computers could do that.

“What the hell? Computer-controlled ships? Where’s the command ship, then? Is this military?” Questions flew around the ship while the captain massaged his temples. He didn’t have an answer for them. 

“Drop the cloak and get me the comms. Grab weapons from the locker. Now!” Incredulous looks pierced the captain as he said his orders, but they quickly assented. The cloak was inactivated, and the ship melted into view. The eight fighters quickly responded, speeding to and encircling the transport.

“This is Kaltas, captain of this transport. We hold legal cargoes destined for Uwal and Antar. We are not ferrying weapons or illegal substances of any kind. You are free to board and inspect the craft for contraband, but I ask that you identify yourselves.”

There was no immediate response, nor did the fighters get closer to dock and board the transport. At this time, the contents of the weapons locker - old consumer-grade kinetic and energy weapons - were passed around the crew. They’ve needed it before - they might need it again for whatever’s sitting in the fighters ahead of them.

Voices then spoke. Not a single voice of a hostile pirate or a stern military officer - each word was spoken by a different person, almost as if the sentences were stitched from recordings.

“You do not seem to be a threat. We will not harm you. But we will need your information. Maps. Transcripts. Cargo manifests. Surrender these now.” Silence followed the transmission, the crewmen looking at each other, and at the captain. A buzzing sound from the Comms console showed a continuous transmission from one of the ships to the transport’s computer - they were attempting to hack the ship’s databases.

“ are aware of what we are carrying.”

The captain snapped at the crewman. “Of course I am! There’s no way in hell whatever’s in those ships are going to get the starmap for Anea. They can get anything but that. We can’t let them know where we came from. Comms - get rid of the starmap, quickly.”

The frantic tapping of fingers on a keyboard indicated the comms officer’s efforts to remove the starmap. Beeping from the console indicated errors - he was being overtaken by the hackers. “I can’t get in!”

“We can’t let them get their hands on that map. Weapons - get our turrets firing at that ship. Conn - evasive maneuvers. Now!”

The transport’s mounted kinetic turrets aimed and fired at the hacking ship, causing it to swerve and evade. A beeping from the Comms console indicated the stoppage of the hacking attempt, and the officer managed to delete the secret starmap from their files. The transport weaved through the debris the best as it could while the eight fighters chased it in a spread formation.

“Suppressive fire - aim for their engines! Charge up the FTL engine - I don’t care if it gets damaged. We need to get out of here!” The ship whined as the FTL engine started up and shuddered as it bore some bullets from a nearby fighter.

The turrets aimed at the fighters and fired, with very little real damage. One of the fighters got caught in a burst that set its plasma engines on fire, but the other seven fighters pressed the attack.

“Trigger the chaff.” A cloud of sharp metallic dust exploded from the rear of the transport, enveloping the fighters in it. They went through undeterred. One of the fighters aimed at a turret and fired, destroying it in a small explosion that rocked the ship. Another fighter launched a canister that embedded itself in the hull. The canister exploded, revealing a large robot drilling through the hull and into the cargo hold. Klaxon sounds indicated a hull and security breach at the cargo hold. A quick input from the conn closed blast doors throughout the ship.

“FTL ready in five, four, three, two, one. Engaging!” The conn officer triggered the engine, which buckled and groaned before bringing the ship up to speeds faster than light. The damaged ship shuddered as it increased the gap between it and the remaining fighters. Silence held for a short while as the crew looked at the sensor interface in the viewscreen.

“No pursuit, sir...but there’s something in the cargo hold.” The viewscreen shifted from starmaps and ship diagrams to a camera view of the busted cargo hold. A human-shaped metal chassis roamed the hold, scanning whichever items and consoles weren’t damaged by the breach.

“We do have an emergency forcefield covering the breach. We should get in there and get that bot before it discovers something. Conn, open the blast doors and hold course. Everyone else - move and take that thing down.”

Bullets hailed through the corridor, pinning the men down. The robot had an immense amount of weaponry, and the transport’s weapons locker did not have exotic EMP grenades - they were illegal for non-military use throughout this part of the galaxy.

The captain motioned at two of his crewmen. “Yeoul, Linnet. Get in the service access and try to flank it. We’ll keep it busy.” A pause in the robot’s fire as it reloaded, and the men retaliated, peppering the crate the robot used as cover with bullets. The two crewmen ran across the hall and entered through a small door to a crawlspace filled with wires. Holding their rifles, the men crawled up the space, inching closer to a similar door in a corner of the cargo hold.

“Rotate your fire! Don’t give it an opening to suppress us again.” The crewmen at the corridor took turns firing controlled bursts at the robot, preventing it from firing at them. The robot found a moment to spray the corridor, however, and the crewmen retreated as another stream of bullets pummeled the hall.

In the meanwhile, the small door quietly opened, and the two men took positions behind the robot. They immediately spotted the robot’s weak point - a battery pack strapped to its back. They raised their guns and fired, hitting the battery pack. The robot quickly collapsed upon itself, a powered-down husk. The crewmen rushed in and the engineer ensured the robot could not repair itself or make any more damage by making a few choice cuts and welds.

“Well,” the captain said, “I’ve never seen this type of robot before. Engineering - put this in a nice box for the military to get once we head to the station. I have a pretty bad feeling about the ships we just escaped from, and this foreign robot that crashed through the hull.”

The captain sighed. “I’m too tired to think about this. Try to repair the damage, make sure we’re not being chased, and raise the Uwal military on the comms. I expect a status update when I wake up. Right now, I just want to sleep.”