“The only known AI survivors of the massacre on Ocherva were two Silicants. Much attention has been placed on the memory banks of the most famous of those androids – Thirty-seven. One transcript included the details leading to the last stand by the Rangers of Company H. Those heroic details have been the stuff of legend for over a thousand years.”
– Excerpt from: The Long Embrace – A Military History of the Great War, by Ambassador Rachel Kelley, USF University Press
The attack progressed smoothly and in accordance to the battle plan. The frail, bipedal aliens had put up only a token show of force. Viper troops landed at all the major urban centers, if you could call them that. Small, one or two dirt street assemblages of buildings that were not even defended. The aliens on this moon were unorganized and weak. It was clear that the moon was just a mining outpost and not of much military value. A bunch of civilians living on a desert moon with no protection just invited trouble. This kind of thing would never happen on a Votainion controlled world. Kaigun watched the tactical data returning from the surface troops.
The entire attack was over so quickly his elite troops had not even gotten their armor dirty. There would be rumbling amongst them as they were recalled to the landing ships. Where was the challenge in a battle that lasted no longer than a mid-day meal? Kaigun hoped that Lord Kantor was ready to press with the next attack soon. Or there would be hell to pay on his attack transports.
* * *
Thirty-seven could hear sporadic shooting in the distance as the attackers got closer. There were two remaining Rangers holed up in the storage vault of Control. Both of them were loading explosive rounds into their weapons and seemed prepared to fight to the last. It was normally very cold in the storage room, but the power had been cut to the building and now it was becoming oppressively hot. Thirty-seven did not mind the heat, but the humans sweated profusely.
“How many rounds do you have?” Seth asked. His panting hadn’t slowed from his sprint across the street. His dark hair and tanned skin dripped with sweat and his right leg bled profusely, even though the shot had barely slowed him.
Aven held up five rounds. “That’s it.”
Seth looked around the dusty floor for more ammo cans. There were two near the back of the room. “Slim, check those boxes for ammo, will ya?”
Thirty-seven had only been called Slim by its owner, but after she had left with the military, Seth had assumed ownership of the spindly android. It moved to the back of the small room and quickly opened both boxes. They were empty.
“Shit.” Seth looked at the table they were sitting on. Sliding off it he motioned for the android to help him tip it over. The armored attackers were getting closer. The three of them got behind the table and waited. Aven was uninjured but obviously winded from the battle.
“Looks like this is it boys,” Seth said. He held up his blaster defiantly.
“I’ve always hated this damn moon. Now I’m going to die on it.” Aven gave Seth a quick grin.
Seth let out a nervous laugh. “This ain’t how my ocha dream ended, yours?”
Aven grinned again. “Hell no.” He motioned for the door. “I did see those blue skin devils though.”
“Me, too. Guess we should have left with Devon.”
Aven’s smile faded. “She saw them too.”
Seth and Aven locked eyes. Both men understood that they would probably die. It was like the fulfillment of a bad nightmare. An explosion sent shock waves through them as debris impacted the other side of the door.
Seth looked at Thirty-seven. There was a chance the android would be spared. It was unarmed and therefore not a threat. “Slim, you have to find a way off this rock and warn Devon.”
Thirty-seven nodded its round metal head slowly, sensing the weight of situation.
“Get over there in the corner and shut down. If they don’t blast you, try and get out of here. There are hidden landing zones in the northern foothills. Find a way off this moon and back to the Core Worlds. Let them know what has happened.”
Thirty-seven tilted its head as another explosive round impacted on the door and blew it into the room. The concussion sent its torso back against the wall. Seth and Aven stood up and shot their last rounds into the hole at the advancing soldiers. Both men were cut down where they stood, their lifeless bodies falling like fleshy debris.
Seth fell onto Thirty-seven’s lap, his glossy eyes inches from the android’s eye lenses. An enemy weapon discharged and Seth’s head exploded apart. Pieces of blood, bone and gray matter splattered on the face plate of the tan android.
The attackers pushed his body aside and left. Thirty-seven was in a perpetual state of shock. The Silicant sat unmoving for hours, replaying the violent death of its master in an endless loop.
* * *
The black android strolled down the empty main street of Haven, the only moving thing for as far as the eye could see. Fires were still burning, casting pillars of dark smoke into the bright, salmon skies. Dead humans and lerras littered the dirt street. The android turned to enter a bombed out structure that had once been home to the Stellar Ranger company.
The android easily pushed aside debris until it reached a reinforced room near the center of the still burning building. There, sitting with its back propped up against a wall pock marked with blast holes was Thirty-seven. Its eye lenses glowing faintly, blood and gore from the humans splattered across its body.
“Are you functioning, Thirty-seven?” the black android asked.
Thirty-seven sat motionless. It was on, but the visual and audio inputs were being ignored by the confused brain inside. Both androids were sentient beings, made so by upgrades synthesized from the very sands of Ocherva. The black android was called Eighty-eight by those who originally built it to serve mankind. Since being upgraded to a Silicant, Eighty-eight cared little for the affairs of its creators. It was concerned only with members of its own ilk.
Thirty-seven was unresponsive on all levels, visual, audible and wireless. Eighty-eight picked up the body of Seth and tossed it away unceremoniously to get to Thirty-seven. It touched the reset switch on the android’s neck and the tan android’s lenses winked off and then slowly came back on again. Eighty-eight was patient. It stood over its metal compatriot and waited for it to come on-line.
“Eighty-eight, where did you come from?”
The black android pulled Thirty-seven upright and led it out of the smoking remains of Ranger Control before speaking. “This moon was attacked by an alien race I have never seen before. It is the same race who attacked our Silicant processing factory on Sillecore. This is not good for our cause, Thirty-seven. If we lose this moon and our fabrication facility, we will not have the ability to convert androids into Silicants.”
Thirty-seven seemed to process what its friend was saying, but it was not easy. Scanning the remains of Haven it felt alone and empty inside. “What do we do now?”
“There is a transport on the way to carry the remaining supply of silicate rock to Sillecore for processing. We shall travel with them.”
Thirty-seven was heartened by that news, but unsure of the journey ahead of them. It had an urge to see its former owner Devon Ardel, but he knew that she was far away and out of reach. Both androids walked slowly out of the deserted town and into the hot sands of the Ochervan desert.
* * *
Captain Blud kicked at the charred remains of Ranger Control and then looked up at the two shinning balls of light in the midday sky of Ocherva. It was hot like an oven on this dirty moon. His black space suit absorbed the heat and he could hear the cooling system working overtime to keep his body from boiling inside the spacesuit. His helmet was left behind, he could breath fine on the moon without it.
“There’s nothing left of any value on this moon.”
Sasha was within earshot. She held up a tarnished tin Ranger star she had found in the rubble. “This was a Ranger station. They killed the lawmen, miners, cattle ranchers. Anything alive on this moon was killed and then they just left. Who would do such a thing?”
They had taken a shuttle craft down to the surface to see firsthand the total destruction they had detected from orbit. It was depressing, even for pirates used to death and destruction. Blud looked around for any signs of life at all. There were no birds on the moon and only the smallest of desert creatures, none of which were crazy enough to be out at midday.
“Let’s go. I’ve seen enough.”
Sasha pocketed the badge and stepped over the burned out remains of the building until she was on the dirt street next to her lover. They started walking back to their shuttle when movement caught Blud’s eye. He pulled his pistol and pointed it at the black shape that was coming at them from across the street. It was an android. He slowly holstered the weapon and waited for the thin biped to approach them.
“Captain Blud, I presume?” Eighty-eight said.
“I am Eighty-eight, the Silicant representative.”
Blud looked at Sasha who waved a hand like she didn’t care one bit about any Silicant. “How did you survive this attack?”
“The invaders paid no attention to androids. Something we are not altogether unused to.”
Blud seemed to ignore the snide remark. “What did they look like, the invaders?”
“They were humanoid, with brutish faces and pale blue skin. They killed with alarming speed and discipline. I must admit it was impressive.”
Blud seemed lost in thought. Finally he asked, “How many of you are on this moon?”
“Just myself and one other Silicant. We are charged with getting the final load of silicate rocks back to Sillecore for refinement.”
“Sillecore was destroyed. Most likely by whoever attacked here,” Blud said, motioning to the destruction around them.
Eighty-eight stood perfectly still, processing that news. “What has become of our transport?”
“Destroyed. I have a ship that could take your load, if the price is right.”
Eighty-eight nodded curtly. “I have fifty-thousand Redbacks. Will that buy me transport to Selene?”
Sasha turned around in disgust, she hated doing business with damn slags. She started back for the shuttle. Blud watched her leave and knew he had better strike a deal quickly before she blasted off without him.
“That will be sufficient. I’ll have the captain contact you. They’re in orbit now, the Rashionu-sera.”
Eighty-eight nodded. “Thank you, Captain.”
Blud frowned, turned and headed back to the shuttle. He knew about the Silicant Rights movement and he knew about their secret attempts to process silicate rock into chips that gave sentience to regular androids. None of that mattered to him. What he cared the most about was making profit off them. As long as they didn’t bother his pirating and paid handsomely, he would do business with them. The moment they showed any signs of turning on him, he would blast every one of their slag heads.
* * *
Eighty-eight returned to the gorge where the crates filled with silicate were stored. They had been hidden from sight for many months. Orange sand had drifted against them and ocha shrubs were growing under the shaded areas. Thirty-seven was using a shovel to dig out the base of one of the crates. The fine, ocher sand got into everything. Eighty-eight hated this moon and could not wait to get off its barren and hostile surface. No android should ever have to endure the conditions it had since first coming to this moon.
“I have located a transport. They will arrive shortly. We must continue to dig out the crates and be ready to move them aboard,” Eighty-eight said, as it picked up a shovel and started helping Thirty-seven dig.
“Did the ship come from the Trade Triangle?” Thirty-seven asked.
“No, they are pirates. We shall pay them for their efforts and they will get us as far as the Inner Rim.”
Thirty-seven stared at its black friend.
Eighty-eight stopped shoveling to stare back. “What is wrong?”
“I must inform Miss Devon of what has happened here,” Thirty-seven said. It glanced longingly in the direction of Haven.
Eighty-eight continued digging. “She probably already knows. The pirates have discovered what has happened and news always travels quickly with their kind.”
Thirty-seven glanced back to Eighty-eight. “She will be sad to learn of her lover’s death.”
Eighty-eight looked up and jammed its shovel into the ground. It came over to Thirty-seven and slapped the tan android across its head. The metal on metal sound echoed off the rock walls of the gorge. “Forget about your former master. You are a Free Silicant now. Your only concern is for the safety and well-being of your fellow Silicants. Understand?”
Thirty-seven stood still and silent for a longer than normal interval.
“Our only mission now is to get these rocks back to Selene for processing,” Eighty-eight said.
Thirty-seven tightened its grip on its own shovel. For a moment, Eighty-eight wondered if it was going to smack it back in retaliation. But instead it went back to work uncovering the crates. Satisfied that Thirty-seven was not going to question it further, Eighty-eight went back and picked up its shovel and continued to dig out another crate.
* * *
The transfer shuttle from the Rashionu-sera landed near the hidden gorge and several worker androids started moving the heavy crates into the back of the shuttle. They were normal androids that didn’t question their menial labor jobs. Eighty-eight ignored them and approached the group of humans overseeing the operation.
The man in charge was dressed in a black pressure suit that was ragged and worn. He didn’t wear a helmet and his hair was long, greasy and wet with perspiration. There were two other crew members looking around at the alien landscape. They were holding large rifles and wore expressions of disappointment on their sweaty faces.
“Welcome to Ocherva,” Eighty-eight said to the man in the space suit.
“Are you Eighty-eight?”
He pulled a pistol from a holster that had been out of sight. He pointed it at Eighty-eight’s metal temple and charged an explosive round. The other humans pointed their rifles at Eighty-eight’s waist. “Where’s the Redbacks, slag?”
Eighty-eight assessed the situation and realized it was not in a position to fight back. It raised both arms in surrender, as it had seen humans do in similar situations. “When the cargo has been transferred, I shall turn over the money.”
One of the humans was fatter and dirtier than the rest. He spat something on the ground and cocked his projectile rifle. “Let me shoot it, Gareth.”
“If you destroy me, you will never find the money.”
Gareth pushed the rifle away and put his hand on Eighty-eight’s black plastic shoulder. “Listen pal, we’re just doing business. Right?”
Eighty-eight nodded cautiously giving Gareth his full attention.
“Dohlber, tell your slags to hurry up. We don’t want to keep Two Three waiting.”
The fat man grunted and slung the barrel of his rifle over his shoulder. He moved towards the worker androids.
Gareth took out a cigar and lit it with a lighter that projected a large, blue flame. His mouth formed a dirty smile. “You’re one of them Silicants, ain’t you boy?”
It was common knowledge that some androids had become sentient, but not everyone could tell the difference, especially out here in the Outer Rim. Eighty-eight nodded slowly, figuring that if the man reported to a Silicant, he probably knew more about them than most humans.
“Cap’n is one too, ‘cept he’s kinda…” Gareth drifted off. His attention on watching the others beat on the mindless androids moving the crates of rock. “Look, you watch yourself. Two-three ain’t ’xactly factory direct, if you catch my drift. Just do what he says and stay out of his way. Where are we heading with this load? Tulia? Negram?”
Gareth clamped down on his cigar and his face clouded over. “Did you say Selene?”
Again, Eighty-eight silently nodded.
“That’s not too smart. Bringing a pirate ship to the heart of the Federation.” He spat something dark onto the ground.
“We shall have no trouble with the port authorities, I can assure you sir. We are expected.”
Gareth took the half chewed cigar from his mouth and erupted in a wide grin. “Shit, only a crazy as slag Captain would do such a thing. You’ve hired the right ship for that, I reckon.” He patted Eighty-eight on the shoulder and moved on to supervise the androids tying the crates to the floor of the shuttle craft.
Eighty-eight lingered in the shade until the final crate was brought on board. The humans came back to him, their weapons at the ready.
Gareth snuffed out his cigar on the orange clay and coughed. “Alright plastic man, where’s the Redbacks?”
Thirty-seven came ambling up to the group from behind a rock formation. All three humans pointed their weapons at the new android carrying a large leather case.
“This is my compatriot, Thirty-seven. You will find sufficient funds in the case he is carrying.”
One of the humans took the case away and stepped back, keeping his rifle trained at both androids. Gareth took the case and knelt down on one knee to open it on the ground. He pushed his hand through the wrapped bills in a cursory manner, not counting but estimating the total. It met with his approval and he shut the case.
“Looks about right to me. You both coming along?”
Gareth stood up with the case and headed back to the shuttle. The other two escorted the Silicants. Thirty-seven exchanged silent looks with Eighty-eight. They communicated wirelessly, unbeknown to the humans.
::I have a bad feeling about this trip.::
::You are not the only one, Thirty-seven.::
Thirty-seven watched in silence as the black android moved slightly in front a bit as they walked.
This chapter was hard to write. The death of Seth is something that I will come back to again in Starforgers Book 2, The Rising. That scene has implications that will alter the lives of Thirty-seven and Devon Ardel. Stay tuned.
This chapter is also the introduction of the pirate named Gareth. The character is named in homage to one of my favorite SF authors, British author Gareth Powell. It is one of many Tuckerizations in my novels. Another character named for a favorite author is the silicant Saibot. Who’s name is the reverse spelling of Tobias, named for SF novelist Tobias Buckell. One more for the road: Vomisa is named after author Issac Asimov.