Aeqya woke to strobing orange emergency lights. Her pale white eyes slid open and shrunk back into her head in response to the sudden stimulus. Her cryo-tube hissed and slid open, wafting in the scent of stale air and sterilising agents that mixed with the condensing atmosphere of her pod.
With a groan she reached out with her delicate long fingers and pulled her tall and slender form from the pod as the rest of the command crew were also dragged from their slumber.
The odour of unwashed bodies over centuries was nullified by the mind’s inability to process so much information so jarringly. But Aeqya knew from her long time in the service that it would hit her soon.
“Report,” she rasped.
Nietna waved at the holo interface, “Looks like a proximity alert Ma’am… we’re only a third of the way through our journey, about two centuries from any nearby populations.”
“Proximity?” She slid her fingers over her bulbous skull, scratching away the dead skin that had built up over an age. “Are they hailing?”
“Frux it,” she cursed, “Alright team, let’s boot up the bridge, may be a hostile action.”
Nietna and the two other command crew, Drogloe and Fayay, zipped on their jump suits alongside their Captain and shuffled out into the bridge from the cryo bay with haste. They took up their positions in the compact, white panelled compartment and the golden readouts lit up at their presence.
“Computer, bring up a visual of the proximity alert.” Aeqya ordered.
The central screen winked into life and the black void of space was presented to them with an miniscule speck darting throughout it.
“Enhancing,” Fayay’s fingers flew over the golden light panels around her chair, “Designation unknown.”
The flitting image filled the screen now. It was a bulky ship strapped with archaic boosters hurtling through space.
“Several new species have been inducted to the galactic correspondence since we went under, Ma’am.” Drogloe’s yawning voice drawled, “And three that were rejected, this is of the latter, a species called Humanity.”
“Why were they rejected?” Aeqya asked.
“No central government… they can gain individual citizenship but to treat with one human apparently is not to treat with them as a whole.”
“Interesting… Drogloe, bring up specie traits, Nietna, hail them, maybe they aren’t here to fight. Fayay, scan their ship’s capabilities.” Aeqya did not need to hear their acknowledgement, she was half certain they were already in the process of their tasks before she gave the order. A blue light winked on the screen under the human vessel and Nietna signalled her to speak. “Human vessel, this is Captain Aeqya of the hyper cargo vessel you’re approaching. You have triggered a proximity alert with your flight path and we believe you may have hostile intentions, respond or be fired upon.”
A response blared over the ship’s speakers.
“Anybody understand that?”
“It’s no language recorded on the registry, Ma’am.” Drogloe said. “But the different factions of humanity don’t share a common language, it’s likely this is one of the hundreds they possess.”
“How does such a species reach space?” Aeqya commented, “Alright, let’s assume the worse, Fayay, what are we up against?”
“No shields Ma’am,” The command crew stopped what they were doing to look at her. “No energy weapon signatures, they’re leaking coolant like they’ve been severely damaged… but it appears to be an intentional design.”
“They don’t recycle their coolant?” Nietna wondered.
“That’s not the half of it,” Drogloe interrupted, “They have a list of weaknesses pages long. They die on average about two minutes after they are deprived of atmo, if they don’t consume H2O they die in four days and if they consume too much it stops them breathing.”
“How does that make sense?” Aeqya asked.
“That’s not all, they have weaknesses against most gaseous substances in the universe, suffer adversely from stellar radiation, can’t bare heavy forces but degenerate if not exposed to them… the list goes on… They can’t survive extremes of temperature… oh, they become decompressed too…”
“What does that mean?” Nietna asked.
“It means they can’t survive the vacuum of space for any meaningful amount of time.” Fayay explained, “Yet they brave space in that thing?”
Aeqya watched the human vessel loom closer, “Alright, they can’t communicate, their ship is primitive, and they are fragile beings… surely they must be able to detect a weapons lock at least… Fayay, target their cryo capacities with a single energy burst, give them time to change course before you fire.”
Fayay grimaced as she typed commands into her golden read out, “Ah, commander… they don’t have cryo capabilities.”
“Really? I thought we were two centuries away from any settlement… How long do these people live Drogloe?”
“Ah, on average one hundred years.”
The crew were silent as the ship sailed closer.
“So, we are two hundred years adrift from any life and we are being attacked by a ship without cryo capacity that is piloted by a species that can’t live more than one century… am I suffering from cryo sickness?”
“No Ma’am, that is correct.” Drogloe said.
“Are… is that ship an AI?”
“No Ma’am, I am detecting a lot of life signs… almost as if the ship itself is a settlement.”
The crew regarded the ship on the screen, “Alright…” Aeqya raised her hands in exasperation, “I tried to be merciful but these creatures are just getting too close. Target their hull, single energy pulse.”
“Firing.” Fayay said.
The ship hummed around them as the energy bolt was powered and discharged towards the human vessel. It banked down evasively and Aeqya smiled, the bolt had a magnetic target lock, it would follow them anywhere. Something emerged from the top of the vessel and splayed out, it was silver and shimmering.
“What is that?” Nietna asked.
“That’s a stellar panel…” Fayay breathed in disbelief. “They think they can harness the energy of our weapon with a stellar panel?”
The green bolt of energy hit the stellar panel and dissipated into it, crackling with energy which was channelled down to the ship via huge conduits.
“Ma’am,” Drogloe said, “I think they just sped up.”
“They rigged a stellar panel to absorb weapons discharges?” Aeqya breathed in wonder. “Do these creatures not fear death like others?”
“No Ma’am, they appear to have healthy survival instincts.” Drogloe said.
“Doesn’t seem like it,” Nietna laughed.
“Ma’am! They’re firing missiles!” Fayay cried.
“Detecting nuclear signatures.” Nietna said.
“Our detonator shields are operational?” Aeqya asked calmly.
Nietna nodded, moments later the nuclear missiles hurtling towards them exploded on their path and the bright flashes of light blinded the screen. The ship computer chimed that the electromagnetic defences had acted successfully.
“Alright, launch phase missiles.” Aeqya said, “They don’t have the technology to repel those.”
“No Ma’am,” Fayay confirmed.
The ship vibrated as their own missiles were fired and tracked towards the human vessel which flew through the dissipating light of the nuclear bombs. Spurts of light jettisoned from their hull and struck the phase missiles mid flight, detonating them early which tore the fabric of reality with hypnotic patterns before dissipating.
“Report,” Aeqya said, “What was that?”
“It looks like they fired physical projectiles from their ship to… literally swat our missiles away.” Nietna said. “Who the hell are these brutes?”
“Ma’am, we can’t touch them!” Fayay was panicking.
“No matter if we can’t, they can’t harm us with their weapons and we won’t slow down for them to board us. We will simply pass each other by.”
The command crew waited silently as they continued on their course and the human vessel flew straight towards them.
“They’re firing retro thrusters.” Drogloe said.
“You see, they aren’t totally insane.”
“Discharge detected Ma’am, they’re firing tethers.” Nietna said.
The hull vibrated with the sound of impacts. The vessel jolted out of sight as it was dragged along behind them.
“Surely that tore them apart?” Aeqya asked,
“No Ma’am,” Fayay cried. “The tethers had some sort of bungie mechanism that dissipated much of the momentum shift… They’re reeling themselves in!”
“Lock all docking ports!” Aeqya cried, “Get me a visual!”
The screen changed and showed a visual of their own hull, shadowed by the looming human vessel as tiny figures drifted out from it to land with magnetised boots.
“Who the hell are these people?!” Fayay said hysterically. “They shouldn’t be alive in a ship like that, they’re just wearing thin suits to protect them from the void that would kill them within seconds!”
“Is that a… blowtorch?” Drogloe zoomed the image in on the device one of the humans was carrying. “That won’t work without oxygen surely?”
They watched as the group of humans set up a clear plastic dome and pumped it full of atmosphere as the human inside waited patiently.
“Crazy. They’re crazy, he’ll blow himself up!”
The human ignited the blow torch and the dome briefly filled with fire, the humans outside backed away in alarm but started jostling each other when they saw that their companion was alive – if singed – within the dome and started cutting into the hull with the torch.
“Surely they can’t get in?” Nietna asked.
“I am not underestimating these creatures anymore, wake the whole ship, arm everyone… we’re about to be boarded by the most dangerous rejects in the galaxy.”
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