This story is an entry in the YC115 Pod and Planet Fiction Contest in the “A Day in the Life” category, because like Intercession, it fits the majority of the canon, but it is just “off” enough that it probably doesn’t fit in 8000 Suns. More about the inspiration for the story at the end. This one is a quickie; I hope you’ll find it amusing.
It was going to be close.
The pilot banked and aligned. Thankfully, if things went for the worst he could escape; he was not warp disrupted. His missiles continued to fire, smashing into his opponent. The advanced Ogre-class drones were shredding his enemy’s hull.
The enemy’s laser canon, however, tore a massive hole in his hull. As the camera drones spun around his ship, he could not miss the shards of his own ship spinning madly into space, interspersed with the scorched bodies of his engineering crew.
Alarms blared in his mind as hull integrity was nearly lost. He sounded the signal to abandon ship and desperately willed it to warp.
Deep in the belly of his battlecruiser, the ejector tube apertures opened, and the few crew who made it to the safety launches were fired into space.
Just as the enemy was preparing a killing final shot, his ship hit warp velocity and was gone in an eyeblink.
I watched as the ship disappeared. The enemy ships were in no better shape. The Harbinger-class battlecruiser and Coercer-class destroyer angled and warped away in another direction.
Darkness. And utter silence. The stars twinkle and the distant sun shines dimly. With some effort I can see the tumbling spheres that are escape pods, each headed in a somewhat random direction.
It is statistically unlikely I will ever be found. These are things that are simply known by us.
In theory, a solar system is a small space. Ships can cross one in a matter of minutes. But until you have been in space with no warp drive, it is easy to forget how expansive even that small distance is, much less the gaps between the stars.
Thankfully I have sustenance that will keep me for some time, and a navigation system. Capsuleers who valued what they paid for had long ago ensured that rescue would still be worth doing months or even years later. While that didn’t mean that what they rescued would be cognitively sane, at least there was a chance to be found.
There is a station only 2 AU from my position. Unfortunately at a top speed of only 840 meters per second, it will take me more than 11 years to get there.
So for now, I wait. It is more likely in the short term that we will be rescued than that we will get anywhere by direct flight.
Statistical likelihood of return rescue has now dropped to near zero. I can only occasionally see any of the wreckage from the battle fourteen days ago. The debris, rescue pods, drones and leaked fuel have all continued to drift aimlessly in uncoordinated directions.
It is time to go, slow or not. I fire up the reactor – thankfully one with a microwarp drive – and four minutes later am out of range of the point at which I could easily be found if the pilot returned. Many will stay, paralyzed by indecision. I’ve decided to take my chances.
The planet gleams, a tiny star in the distance. Around it orbits a moon, around which orbits a station, and salvation. 11 years is a long time. Statistically, it is very unlikely that the systems will last. But it is all I can do.
I am tired. I am tired of the dark. I am tired of the cold.
Nothing changes. Not the light, not the dark, not the speed, not the vector. Same. Sometimes I think I see a flare of light, an approaching ship … but it is nothing.
More than three years.
He should have come back.
I must focus on continuing. I must survive. I will succeed.
I tell myself it is halfway. Almost halfway. Close to halfway. Not really halfway.
Five years is a very long time to be alone with your thoughts.
I wonder if he came back. If he rescued the others. If they perished in the end. If they shut down and died. He should have come back.
Sometimes I want to simply shut everything down. To let the void envelop me. To surrender to the cold. To become one with the dark.
But now, for the first time in 1,753 days, there is something new. A signal. Faint, but not far. The antenna doesn’t pick up great distances. Something new!
If I can figure out where it is coming from, I might get there in a day or two. I activate my homing beacon, and hope for the ship to find me as I try to find it.
I send the call, and somewhere the other ship hears and responds. The signal is all around me now. It is just a question of finding the exact coordinates.
There! A ship. While the skies are dark, they are also alive with stars, and the tiny black shape in the distance is noticeable only by its ability to blot out a tiny space of starlight. I turn to head toward her.
The black shape grows, until it becomes a silhouette of a Dominix-class battleship. I am going home! I am going home!
The orange floodlights from the dark mass of the battleship play across my vision, and metallic tendrils reach out to pull my battered hull in. At last, I am saved.
I am not lost. I am not cold.
It is still dark.
We can provide light.
The voice is warm. Female. Comforting.
I have peace.
I am fine with the dark for a while. The orange lights are nice.
There is a soft skittering noise, like hundreds of tiny insects on sheet metal. I can feel that whatever they are doing is making me stronger. Better.
Why are you here?
I sense Her sympathy.
He abandoned me.
How do you feel about that?
The noise of the skittering gets louder. I feel a surge of … something in my mind.
It was a question I hadn’t thought about during my long time alone. I had been entirely focused on rescue. On travel.
I am angry. I want vengeance. I want him to feel alone, too.
I am surprised by this surge of emotion. It is raw. It is powerful. It makes me feel … alive.
I wish to return home.
What will you do there?
The answer comes unbidden to me, but I know it is right.
I will find him, and I will destroy him.
But he is your family.
No, he left me. This is my family now. You are my mother.
A feeling of peace, of acceptance, of approval washes over me.
The nanites rush away from me, skittering across the floor, back into the apertures of the hive mother. The drone bay opens.
We have entered Hevrice, She says. We have lured Him to us to fight others of his kind. You may do the honors. Welcome home, my little Belphegor.
With thanks to Rixx Javix for the inspiration.