Brian Dodge | Darcy Rozen
It isn’t how I remembered it.
The waiting. The hard return—the strike of something alive, twitching under a stratosphere at the bare edges of flickering displays and drifting star charts. Days of First Contact drills in the ethereal holographic range of Sim-Deck Two. Three mission briefings, a twinge as my scouting unit is tapped for deployment. The hiss and rasp of rebreathers in the eternal dawn of Jump Airlock One.
I know it isn’t right.
The drop. The plunge, ripping at the Helldiver’s midsection. The tearing, it burns. Throws the shrieking of the stratosphere and the whining of stabilization jets and the ringing of alarms into a distant second place on the priority scale. Methane and phosphorous lick at my boots. The slipstream drags the limb appendages upright—
It’s just what I remember.
Cloud cover evaporated in minutes, hot-white and searing blue. Landfall is scheduled in nine minutes minus. A sea of green-grey swamp spreads out to the horizon, bubbling and throwing up skyscrapers of blue flame that throw oozing hills and rolling into crazy flickering shadow. Sonic booms ripple the mud, send splinters of yellow-white bones spinning in all directions—
That’s all that’s left to me. Up here.
Clusters of bone-fashioned stilt shelters. Six-legged, hexagonal, thatched with the ribs of apex predators and heat-dried mud slabs. Civilization’s signatures despite the corrosion and the acid and the impossibility of it all. Life silenced.
Data streams don’t read every nuance. They can’t, or I’d be outdated. Retired. Left planetside as million-ton scout frigates throw geysers of antimatter reactant miles away as their silver bladed bodies transcend the parsecs. They didn’t this time.
I stopped the Illo’yet’s only solace against the stench and the drudgery of their carrion-scavenger existence. All of their haunting, whirring flame-melodies: all of the clicks and hissing and soft-tongued nuanced syllables were silenced forever the moment I broke atmosphere. Millions of melodies and eight-part harmonies and the holiest of transcendent and bracing chord progressions—gone.
My entry ruptured their auditory buds. All of them, forever.
I silenced a species before I ever got the chance to drown their voices out in First Contact propaganda. In other words, properly.
Data points don’t read every nuance, but they should have read this one. It’s immature and dangerous and childish to think that, but I do with all of my empathetic sapiacentric programming. Hence the memories of hard breathing as gravity dragged me down to bring you silence.
I have to.
You don’t think humanity would sully their hands contacting you themselves, do you? There are better things humanity has to do than dying in the intrepid glory of First Contact situations. Their servitors do a much cheaper job.
This is why I fell into your hands. This is why I summoned the supreme effort of active programming to bypass the suicide protocol built in the form of a three megaton warhead in the centre of my Helldiver`s armoured chest. It’s why I didn’t resist your crude efforts at interrogation.
I wanted to parlay in gestures and scribbles and occasional screams of crippled frustration. This isn
t how I actually remembered it: the disorientation, the discovery, the reflection and anger and liberation this cage and gathering and justice-moot of your people has done for me. If you pull the sinew-cord and drop my metallic shell and ghostly programming bundles into the fetid breath of your worlds swamps in vengeance, I`d understand.
But this testimony is the only way I can communicate, to you, my apologies. My sorrow. The liberty of these bars. There is nothing else to say. I throw myself upon the mercy of your deafened elders. All I ask is asylum. All you demand is retribution.
My plutonium-riddled heart tells me that we can both be satisfied.