December 13, 1009 BC
Raydsul Orbital Complex, Cterin, 61 Virginis
Slowly the blue, green, brown and white orb rotated beneath the view port, its view shifting just a little with the rotation of the Orbital Complex.
Cterin was a wonderful world.
Lush green expanses of vegetation, meandering blue rivers cutting through the landscape and its great forests. Great cities were place along the shores of lakes, some of them millennia old, build when the old Empires were great. Monuments, old and new, visited by scholars and tourists daily, at awe to the great works of the Quetzal.
The vast stretches of the oceans, blue and full of life. The massive bulks of the great arches floating along the coastlines on their endless journeys of trade and commerce. Each arch a city of its own, build to house ever growing populations for the last two millennia.
Cterin was a wonderful world. The home world. The birthplace of the Quetzal.
But Cterin was a dying world as well. It was to be the third world to be killed by the great cancer of the plague.
Rynem of the Gerant Vorem, Sovereign of Thriem, stood on the viewport, unblinking eyes staring down at his dying home, the hands of all four arms balled into fists. Even after the past two cycles, he still could not understand why this all was happening. Try as he might he could not understand why the creators of the Onouch’l Automatons would destroy the ecosystems of entire worlds.
“Why?” he whispered as he looked down at his dying home, while he made a high keening noise, not unlike the distress cries of a youngling.
Even from medium orbit, he could see the vast mats of The Plague swimming on the surface of the ocean beneath. Single celled organisms with a shell of dense, hard polymers that grew everywhere, using any resource to multiply.
He had seen images and videos of Quetzal infected by The Plague. How the enzymes and acids produced by the organisms slowly decayed the living bodies, covering them in biofilms of greenish biopolymers, while they writhed in agony.
Nothing could finally kill The Plague. Any conventional attempts to kill the organisms were defeated by their biopolymer cell membranes, no antibiotics could penetrate, no enzymes or acids eat away the cell membranes. Heat and pressure were useless, as was extreme cold. Ionizing radiation had a hard time to penetrate the hydrogen rich biopolymer membranes and if they did, enzymes and other cell products repaired the multiple redundant cell cores.
Only fission and fusion weapons were able to hold The Plague at bay, but at what cost? How could one destroy the entire planet with nuclear weapons to save it from a biological one?
“Why?” he whispered again, his mind trying again to find a way to save his home.
There was a flash of light in his field of view and he closes his eyes, pressed them shut.
Another one. Another shuttle that had launched from the surface, trying to flee from the now quarantined world. A shiver ran through his body as his mind involuntarily supplied him with images of afraid and panicked Quetzal crammed into every nook and cranny aboard the shuttle craft as they ran for orbit. Only to be shot down by one of the surviving automaton craft build by the Quetzal.
“Damn you,” he whispered and opened his eyes again, the claws of his upper hands digging hard enough into his palms to draw blood.
He looked back up through the view port again, only to see another flash of light from another dying shuttle craft.
His voice was louder this time as he turned his upper body around on his coiled up body, staring at the white feathered quetzal that lay coiled up not too far away, unmoving and apparently unfeeling.
“How?” Rynem almost screamed as he glared at the figure. “How can you just sit there without any emotion?”
The Quetzals head rose slightly as he looked back over at him.
“No emotions?” the avatar of one of the Quetzal automaton craft asked, his own voice a horse whisper. “No… emotions.”
The light of a third noiseless explosion flashed through the view port and a holographic image came into being next to the coiled up form of the avatar. Slowly it began to cycle through the images of one Quetzal after the other, each with a name displayed beneath it. Faster and faster.
The white feathered avatar pressed his own eyes shut and seemed to tremble.
“I grieve for every life that I am forced to take,” he said silently. “Those faces? They are the faces of everyone aboard one of the shuttle craft that I was forced to destroy to enforce the quarantine. Thirty two thousand, five hundred and forty-six lives. Afraid for their lives. Filled with panic from having seen their fellows die a horrible death from The Plague.”
The avatar drew in a simulated breath.
“You have no idea how I feel,” he continued, his voice almost dead. “I am forced to kill those that I have been constructed to protect. I have to kill them to ensure the survival of those in orbit. To ensure the survival of the final convoy, before the Onouch’l return to ensure everyone in this system is dead.”
He opened his eyes again, white pupils staring back at Rynem.
“You should go,” the avatar said softly. “You have a duty to your surviving people, just as I have a final duty to protect this world from the Onouch’l.”
Rynem stared back at the avatar of Petan, one of the oldest of the Automatons build by the Quetzal, build by his own nation. For a moment he remembered the almost innocent personality the Synthetic Intellect had when he was first activated, ten cycles ago. Gone was that innocence of a Youngling, replaced with the weariness of a veteran warrior that had seen too much death. Gone was the friendly barter between an Automaton craft Intellect and the heir to the Thriem Sovereignty.
32546 Quetzal lives had been ended by him as they tried to flee the quarantined planet below. Lives that had to be ended to ensure the survival of the remaining Quetzal. It was a racial, genetic imperative to ensure the survival of the people, but intellectually it was still hard to see the dead of a world.
Rynem himself had given that order, nearly one cycle ago, as the only one with high enough order clearance that was off planet, when the Onouch’l Automatons had appeared over Cterin for the first time and managed to drop a single bomb filled with The Plague into the oceans of his home. Back then, almost all the other heads of nations had backed him up, only to falter one by one as their own lives were at stake.
Sometimes even the strong instincts for survival of the Quetzal were badly strained. The first shuttle craft had attempted to evacuate the old Sovereign of Thriem, his own predecessor. Attempting to argue for his own immunity of The Plague, it had been one of the Negnal war craft that had destroyed the shuttle during ascent, leaving Rynem the Sovereign.
Then more had tried to leave and the first crews of warcraft had stopped following the quarantine orders until only the Automaton craft were left, destroying every shuttle craft that tried to leave.
“Leave, Rynem of the Gerant Vorem,” Petan said. “You have your duty, I have mine.”
The silence in the room fell again, only the light hum of the environmental systems audible, as the two friends of ten cycles stared at each other.
“You have to preserve with the living, Sovereign of Thriem,” Petan continued after a few moments of silence. “While I guard the dead.”
Unblinking eyes stared at each other, before a hollow, empty sounding chuckle burst forth from the Synthetic Intellect.
“Perhaps it was inevitable,” he said and turned to face the blue, green, brown and white orb that rotated past the view port. “I was named after the Guardian of the Dead. And I shall be guarding a dead world.”
Rynem was tempted to say more, but his friend had changed since the Onouch’l Automatons had first attacked the Ormiold and the Quetzal and Turukal had come to their aid. He had seen a world dying of The Plague. Seen how a quarantine failed and infected the orbital infrastructure. Seen how the Onouch’l had returned and reduced the remaining orbital structures to scrap, only to screen the world beneath from intervention.
Only fifteen thousand Ormiold, all of them colonists in cold sleep, had survived. And entire colony mission of their way of putting settlements on other worlds. A meticulously planned mission what carried everything with it to build a colony for all fifteen thousand colonists from scratch. Mining equipment, fabricators, reactors and solar power grids, live stock in cold sleep, they had everything to create a settlement in less than six months.
And Petan had seen the same on the Turukal home world, all the colony worlds of the three races. Each killed one after the other, its existing ecosphere replaced by one entirely made of The Plague. The Turukal had been able to impose a limited quarantine of the planetary surface, but soon the commanders of military spacecraft and stations had stopped carrying out their orders to destroy shuttles coming from the surface, infecting some stations with the Plague, before the survivors were extracted.
Of the Turukal, twenty five thousand were now in cold sleep, survivors of orbital infrastructure, asteroid mining outposts and science stations. With them came mining equipment and three entire orbital structures quickly converted into FTL capable spacecraft.
Rynem looked back out of the view port for a few moments, before his eyes lingered on the avatar of Petan again.
Everyone owed Petan and the other Automatons their life. Quetzal commanders may have been able to continue to keep the quarantine for longer than the Turukal, but in the end it would have broken. The Automatons kept following their orders, they could calculate what would happen if they didn’t. And it hurt all of them.
Now the transport fleet was ready to depart with the last ten thousand Quetzal from the inner system. And whatever remaining infrastructure they had managed to salvage. All was going into a system only about 15 light cycles away, so far unknown to the Onouch’l Automatons as far as everyone knew. A large asteroid had been selected, hollowed out to hide all their spacecraft and had cold sleep capsules installed in the new internal spaces, powered by reactors and controlled by an Ormiold Automaton that had volunteered to run the maintenance.
Other survivors had fled into the outer system, severing all contact to the inner system and trying to survive on their own. And then there was a fleet that had just up and left on their own.
Who knew? Maybe they would make it, maybe they would not.
“Good luck, my friend,” he whispered as he slowly uncurled from his sitting position and made his way out of the viewing area and towards the last shuttle to the transport fleet.
Hopefully they would all survive this and their three peoples had a future.