For years, the alien Klikiss robots have pretended to be humanity's friends, but their seeming "help" allowed them to plant an insidious Trojan Horse throughout the Earth Defense Forces. Now, in the aftermath of a devastating war, swarms of ancient black robots built by the lost insectoid Klikiss race continue their depredations on helpless worlds with stolen and heavily armed Earth battleships.
Among the humans, the Hansas' brutal Chairman struggles to crush any resistance even as King Peter breaks away to form his own new Confederation among the colonies who have declared their independence.
And meanwhile, the original, voracious Klikiss race, long thought to be extinct, has returned, intent on conquering their former worlds and willing to annihilate anyone in the way.
"Rapid-fire action and panoramic plotting make this a first-class space opera." -Library Journal
Release date: December 10, 2007
Print pages: 672
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Kevin J. Anderson
Eight years of war against the alien hydrogues destroyed planets and suns and wiped out entire populations, both on human-settled worlds and on splinter colonies from the Ildiran Empire.
Instead of uniting the factions of humanity against a common enemy, however, the stresses of war created internal struggles. Hopelessly outmatched against the hydrogues, the Terran Hanseatic League (Hansa) turned against an enemy they knew they could defeat, the scattered Roamer clans, declaring them outlaws for refusing to supply ekti, the stardrive fuel. The Roamers had good reason to break off commerce with Earth after discovering that the Earth Defense Forces (EDF) had destroyed a Roamer cargo ship flown by Raven Kamarov. Nevertheless, the EDF hunted down and destroyed Roamer settlements, even their center of government itself, Rendezvous. The EDF detained many prisoners of war from this conflict at the colony on Llaro, a planet abandoned by the long-vanished race of the Klikiss.
While the scattered clans tried to forge a new government, Roamers found a group of black Klikiss robots frozen on Jonah 12, where Cesca Peroni, the Speaker for the Roamer clans, had gone into hiding. Many enclaves of these robots had been awakened around the Spiral Arm, and the machines went on a rampage, destroying the Jonah 12 facility. Cesca was rescued by the young pilot Nikko Chan Tylar, but the robots shot their ship down, and Cesca was critically wounded in the crash.
The Klikiss robots, led by Sirix, had been mysterious fixtures for years, claiming not to remember their origin. All the while, they plotted to eradicate humanity, just as they claimed to have exterminated the original Klikiss race. After turning against xeno-archaeologists Margaret and Louis Colicos in the ruins on Rheindic Co, the robots killed Louis, but Margaret escaped, vanishing through a reactivated Klikiss transportal. Sirix also kidnapped the Friendly compy DD and tried to convert him to the robots’ cause. Explaining that humans were evil for enslaving their compies, Sirix “freed” DD from his programming restrictions. Instead of being grateful, DD used his newfound freedom to escape. He vanished through another Klikiss transportal, going in search of lost Margaret. Sirix and his robots, meanwhile, continued their sneak attacks on human colonies, including an old Klikiss world called Corribus.
The only survivors on Corribus were the girl Orli Covitz and the hermit Hud Steinman, rescued by the trader Branson “BeBob” Roberts; they were eventually delivered to a new home on Llaro. After bringing them back to Earth, however, BeBob was arrested by EDF commander General Lanyan on old charges of desertion. Despite the best efforts of his ex-wife, Rlinda Kett, BeBob was sentenced to be executed. Rlinda and former Hansa spy Davlin Lotze saved him. During the escape, BeBob’s ship was destroyed, and Davlin faked his own death so that he could quietly retire. Rlinda and BeBob fled in her ship only to be captured by the Tamblyn brothers, Roamer water miners on the ice moon of Plumas.
Jess Tamblyn had left Plumas to continue spreading and reawakening the wentals, watery elemental beings that had saved his life by charging his body with energy. Although this had endowed Jess with incredible powers, he could no longer touch another human being. Long ago, his mother, Karla Tamblyn, had fallen into an icy crevasse on Plumas, and her body had never been recovered. Jess located her deep in the ice and retrieved her frozen form, bringing it to the water mines. In the process, some of his wental energy seeped into her dead flesh. Before Jess could thaw her, he received the desperate message that his beloved Cesca Peroni had crashed on Jonah 12 after the robot attack and was in critical condition. Jess raced off to rescue her.
He arrived just in time. Nikko was alive but helpless, and Cesca was dying. Jess carried them away in his wental ship, begging the water elementals to save Cesca. Though reluctant, the wentals agreed, and in their primordial oceans on Charybdis they altered Cesca, healed her, and made her like Jess. When the two returned to the Plumas water mines, they discovered that Karla Tamblyn, possessed by a tainted wental, had come alive and gone on a rampage in the underground facility. Rlinda Kett and BeBob had barely escaped Plumas in the Voracious Curiosity, but the Tamblyn brothers were trapped, with no way to fight the demonic woman. Jess and Cesca needed all of their elemental strength to defeat the tainted wental.
Jess’s sister, Tasia, who had left her Roamer family to join the EDF and fight in the war, was captured by hydrogues and imprisoned in a bizarre cell deep within a gas giant. There she encountered several other human captives—including her friend Robb Brindle, who had disappeared five years earlier. Tasia and her fellow prisoners were tormented by hydrogues and their sinister allies, the black Klikiss robots.
Pretending to cooperate with the Hansa, the black robots had covertly included special programming in thousands of Soldier compies that were manufactured to assist in the war effort. When the time was right, Sirix triggered that programming, and the computer virus caused Soldier compies to rise up all across the Spiral Arm. On ship after ship throughout the EDF, they turned on the human crews, slaughtering them and stealing Earth’s battleships. At the compy-manufacturing center on Earth, Soldier compies boiled out in an attempt to take over the city, and the desperate Hansa Chairman, Basil Wenceslas, had no choice but to call in an air strike to wipe out the factory and all human soldiers fighting in the vicinity. Expecting a public outcry, the Chairman conveniently let the figurehead King Peter take the blame for the tough decision.
Peter had spent years resisting Basil, going head-to-head with the Chairman on his bad decisions. For more than a year, Peter had expressed concerns about the Klikiss-programmed Soldier compies, but Basil had severely reprimanded him for voicing his objections. After the revolt, Peter’s foresight was obvious to everyone—and Basil Wenceslas hated to be wrong. As the Chairman’s decisions continued to spiral out of control, Peter and Queen Estarra found unlikely allies in Deputy Chairman Eldred Cain, Basil’s heir apparent; Estarra’s sister Sarein, who had been Basil’s lover but was now afraid of him; the loyal Teacher compy OX, who had been Peter’s instructor; and Captain McCammon, head of the royal guard.
Upon learning that Queen Estarra was pregnant, Basil commanded her to have an abortion, because he did not want his plans complicated by a baby at this crucial time. When Estarra and Peter refused, Basil accelerated his plot to get rid of them. He even brought out a replacement, bratty Prince Daniel, who made no secret of the fact that Peter and Estarra would “retire” soon. The King and Queen knew they had to escape before Basil killed them.
After the hydrogue depredations worsened and the Soldier compy revolt stole the majority of the EDF fleet in only a few days, the Chairman saw that Earth was terribly vulnerable. Having already cut off contact with many Hansa colonies because of a shortage of stardrive fuel, he now abandoned every remaining world to concentrate his defenses on Earth. Ignoring the protests of the orphaned colonies, he summoned all functional vessels and placed them into service to protect the Hansa.
Patrick Fitzpatrick III, grandson of former Chairman Maureen Fitzpatrick, was called back to active duty. He began as a spoiled recruit and became General Lanyan’s protégé; following the General’s orders, he himself had shot down Raven Kamarov’s cargo ship. After the disastrous battle of Osquivel against the hydrogues, however, he was rescued by Roamers. He and other EDF survivors were not allowed to leave Del Kellum’s shipyards in the rings of Osquivel because of the information they could reveal about the Roamers. During that time, Patrick gained a new respect for the Roamers and fell in love with Kellum’s daughter, Zhett. But duty required him to help his comrades escape. Though he acted as an intermediary with the EDF and allowed the Roamers to get away, Zhett resented him for betraying her and her clan. Later, as Patrick recovered on Earth, he urged his grandmother and others to make peace with the Roamers. When the EDF demanded that Patrick join in the defense of Earth again, he stole his grandmother’s space yacht and flew off in search of Zhett.
The people of Theroc and their green priests also resented the tactics of Chairman Wenceslas, yet the great worldforest mind—speaking through the wooden golem of Beneto—insisted that the conflict was vaster than human politics. The verdani had barely survived an ancient war against the hydrogues, and now the worldtrees had to fight once more, forming an age-old alliance with the wentals.
Jess Tamblyn, impregnated with wental energy, came to Theroc and allowed elemental water to combine with the worldtrees to create huge verdani battleships. After joining with the Beneto golem and other green priest volunteers, the living trees uprooted themselves and flew into space to join the battle. The wentals would also strike directly at the hydrogues, provided they could be delivered to gas-giant planets. The Roamers brought a large conglomeration of ships to Charybdis and other wental worlds, filled their vessels with the potent water, and launched to hydrogue-infested worlds.
Facing the same terrible war, Mage-Imperator Jora’h prepared to defend the Ildiran Empire. Generations ago, Ildirans had begun a sinister breeding program on Dobro to create a telepathic savior who could form a bridge between Ildirans and hydrogues. Even Jora’h did not know the part he played in these schemes until it was much too late. His green priest lover, Nira, already pregnant with his daughter, had been whisked away to Dobro by Designate Udru’h as a breeding slave. There, over the years, she had given birth to five half-breed children, all with the potential to save Ildira. The Mage-Imperator dispatched his daughter, Osira’h, to communicate with the hydrogues. Although she brought the deep-core aliens to Ildira, the hydrogues were not interested in peace. Rather, they issued a terrible ultimatum: Jora’h must betray humans and help destroy Earth, or the hydrogues would wipe out the Ildiran Empire.
After Nira and other human breeding subjects revolted on Dobro and overthrew Designate Udru’h, Nira was finally returned to Ildira, leaving the splinter colony with Jora’h’s son Daro’h. Back in the Prism Palace, Nira met the historian and scholar Anton Colicos (son of Margaret Colicos) and a group of Hansa cloud harvesters led by Sullivan Gold. Sullivan’s people, including the engineer Tabitha Huck and the forlorn green priest Kolker, had rescued many Ildirans after a hydrogue attack, but the Mage-Imperator had not let them leave for fear they would report his secret agreement with the hydrogues.
Jora’h did not accept the treachery easily. He quietly called his greatest experts to devise a way to fight back, also enlisting the reluctant aid of his human captives. Sullivan and Tabitha, though resenting their situation, worked to improve the Solar Navy.
Nira, meanwhile, was finally able to communicate with other green priests and explain what had happened to her in the breeding camps. Kolker, also cut off from the worldforest, had formed a friendship with the old lens kithman Tery’l, who explained how all Ildirans are linked through thism. Later, even after he reconnected with other green priests, Kolker felt that something important was missing. On his deathbed, old Tery’l gave Kolker a prismatic medallion and told him to continue his quest for enlightenment.
To enforce their ultimatum, the hydrogues sent diamond warglobes to stand sentinel over various Ildiran planets, ready to attack should Jora’h betray them. A cluster of hydrogue warglobes arrived at Hyrillka, the recent site of a ruinous civil war. Hyrillka was being rebuilt by the new Designate Ridek’h, a young and unprepared boy, mentored by the one-eyed veteran Tal O’nh. The threatening hydrogues, however, were unexpectedly destroyed by a force of fiery elemental beings, the faeros.
The ever-spreading war ignited a hydrogue-faeros conflict, and the faeros were systematically being attacked inside their own suns. After the warglobes were destroyed at Hyrillka, a huge clash took place in Hyrillka’s primary sun. When the star itself began to die, Designate Ridek’h and Tal O’nh knew that the planet was doomed. They launched a full-scale evacuation. But after most of the people were gone, the faeros abruptly changed their tactics and rallied from inside their star, overwhelming the hydrogues. Faeros began to appear at a great many systems, battling hydrogues.
The Roamers—led by Cesca Peroni—launched an all-out offensive, unleashing the water elementals against the hydrogues by dropping tankloads of wental water into gas giants. Battles raged in the cloudy depths, and the wentals eradicated warglobe after warglobe. Through Robb’s father, Conrad Brindle, Jess Tamblyn had learned that his sister, Tasia, was being held captive by the hydrogues. Jess fought the hydrogues, rescued Tasia, Robb, and the other prisoners, then raced away with the warglobes and Klikiss robots in hot pursuit. When Jess finally reached the edge of the atmosphere, several enormous verdani treeships and Conrad Brindle were there to assist them. They escaped.
Forces gathered for the final face-off at Earth. Though stripped of most of his fleet by the Soldier compy uprising, General Lanyan prepared the remaining EDF forces for a last stand. Adar Zan’nh of the Ildiran Solar Navy sent hundreds of warliners to assist the Hansa, but he had secret orders (dictated by the hydrogues) to turn against the humans at a critical moment. When the astonishing fleet of enemy warglobes poured into Earth’s solar system, Sirix and his treacherous black robots also joined the fight, turning the EDF’s own ships against humanity. Roamers arrived in the free-for-all, dispatching ingenious new weapons against the enemy warglobes; then a group of deadly verdani treeships arrived, including the one captained by Beneto. At the last moment, Adar Zan’nh turned his Ildiran ships against the hydrogues, as well, and the tremendous battle became a rout. The hydrogues were resoundingly defeated.
King Peter and Queen Estarra used the chaos of the battle to escape from Chairman Wenceslas, and they flew away from Earth in a restored hydrogue derelict. Their loyal Teacher compy OX piloted the vessel, but in order to do so he was forced to purge most of the precious memories and historical files he had so painstakingly gathered over his existence. They had no choice, however; afterward, though he was perfectly functional, most of OX’s personality was gone.
As soon as the Solar Navy turned against the hydrogues at Earth, the sentinel warglobes on Ildira followed through on their threat and began to attack the Mage-Imperator’s palace. Osira’h, though, who had already formed a bridge with the hydrogues, now directed that channel against them. Linked with her mother, Osira’h allowed all the power of the worldforest to flood into the hydrogues, destroying them from within. . . .
With the hydrogues finally defeated, Chairman Wenceslas felt that he could restore his iron grip and make the Hansa strong again. He was astonished to learn that the King and Queen had escaped to Theroc, where they announced the formation of a new government. All of the orphaned Hansa colonies, Roamer clans, and Theroc had joined them. Basil was livid but unable to send a message, because all green priests had cut Earth off from outside communication.
The capricious faeros, having done their part to conquer the hydrogues, continued to range from world to world. They were now unified by a new leader, the remnants of the former Hyrillka Designate Rusa’h, who had gone mad and launched an abortive civil war. Rather than let himself be captured by Jora’h, he had flown his ship into a sun—where the faeros had bonded with him. Rusa’h blamed Dobro Designate Udru’h for his failure, and now returned to Dobro where Udru’h was being held prisoner after the human revolt. Fireballs filled the sky, and a flaming avatar of Rusa’h emerged, confronted Udru’h, and incinerated him. It was only the first step, though, because now the faeros declared war on the Ildiran Empire.
And on the colony of Llaro, Orli Covitz thought she had finally found a new home. Davlin Lotze was also trying to find a peaceful retirement there as a normal colonist. A group of EDF soldiers had been stationed around the transportal to make sure the Roamer detainees didn’t escape. While Orli was visiting the soldiers, the transportal suddenly activated and hordes of monstrous insect soldiers marched through from the far side of the Galaxy—accompanied by long-lost Margaret Colicos and the Friendly compy DD. The original Klikiss race, long thought to be extinct, simultaneously returned to Llaro and numerous Hansa colonies all across the Spiral Arm.
The Klikiss demanded that all humans leave, or be destroyed.
1 ORLI COVITZ
An unending swarm of giant beetlelike Klikiss poured through the transportal on Llaro for days, marching from some unknown, distant planet. During the initial panic, Mayor Ruis and the Roamer spokesman Roberto Clarin had issued a futile appeal for calm among the people. There was nothing more they could do. With the Klikiss controlling the transportal, the colonists had no way to leave Llaro. They were trapped.
The horror and shock gradually dulled to hopelessness and confusion. At least the creatures hadn’t killed anyone. Yet.
Alone on a barren hill, Orli Covitz stood looking toward the termite-mound ruins and the colony settlement. Thousands of intelligent bugs moved over the landscape, investigating everything with relentless, alien curiosity. No one understood what the Klikiss wanted—with the exception, perhaps, of the strangely haunted Margaret Colicos, the long-lost xeno-archaeologist who had spent years among them.
Presently, the fifteen-year-old girl saw Margaret trudging up the hill toward her accompanied by DD, the Friendly compy who had taken a liking to Orli almost as soon as he arrived with Margaret through the transportal. The older woman wore the field jumpsuit of a xeno-archaeologist, its fabric and fastenings designed to last for years under tough conditions in the field, though by now it was tattered and stained.
DD walked cheerfully up to Orli. He studied her expression. “You appear to be sad, Orli Covitz.”
“My planet’s being invaded, DD. Just look at them. Thousands and thousands. We can’t live here with them, and we can’t get off the planet.”
“Margaret Colicos has lived among the Klikiss for a considerable time. She is still alive and healthy.”
Breathing heavily in the dry air, Margaret stopped beside the two. “Physically healthy, maybe. But you may want to reserve judgment as to my psychological health.”
The distant, shattered gaze of the older woman discomfited Orli. She didn’t want to imagine what Margaret must have endured among the giant insects.
“I am still getting used to talking with other people again, so my social skills may be somewhat lacking. I spent so long trying to think like the Klikiss. It was very draining.” She placed her hand on the compy’s shoulder. “I really thought I might go mad . . . until DD arrived.”
The compy didn’t seem aware of any sort of threat around them. “But we’re back now, Margaret Colicos. And safe among friends.”
“Safe?” Orli didn’t know if she would ever feel entirely safe again. Not long after she and her father had left dreary Dremen to become colonists on Corribus, black robots had wiped out the settlement, leaving only Orli and Mr. Steinman alive. To make a new start, she had come to Llaro. And now the Klikiss had invaded.
DD’s optimism was unrelenting. “Margaret understands the Klikiss. She will explain them to the colonists and show you how to live together. Won’t you, Margaret?”
Even the older woman had a skeptical expression on her face. “DD, I barely understand how I survived. Though my years of training as a xeno-archaeologist should count for something.”
Orli reached out and took her calloused hand. “Then you have to tell Mayor Ruis and Roberto Clarin what you know.”
DD dutifully took her other hand. “Knowledge is helpful, isn’t it, Margaret?”
“Yes, DD. Knowledge is a tool. I’ll explain what I learned and hope it turns out to be useful.”
As they descended the hill toward the town, they walked directly past several spiny Klikiss warriors and a troop of mottled yellow-and-black builders that had begun to dig long trenches, disregarding any boundaries the colonists had marked. Anxious, Orli held the woman’s hand tightly. Margaret was unruffled, though; she paid no more attention to the individual Klikiss than the creatures seemed to pay her.
“Why are there so many types of Klikiss? They’ve all got different colors and markings.” Orli had even seen some with almost human heads and faces like hard masks, though most just looked like bugs.
“Klikiss don’t have sexes, they have sub-breeds. The large spiny ones are warriors to fight in the many hive wars. Others are gatherers, builders, scouts, scientists.”
“You can’t be serious. Those bugs have scientists?”
“And mathematicians and engineers.” Margaret raised her eyebrows with a certain measure of admiration. “They discovered the transportal technology, after all. They invented the Klikiss Torch and left detailed records and intricate equations on the walls of their ruins. Those creatures solve problems through brute force—and they do it well.”
Orli watched the swarming Klikiss, whose clustered, towerlike structures looked like a giant hive complex. “Do they have a queen?”
Margaret stared with unfocused eyes, as if buried in unforgettable nightmares. “Not a queen—a breedex, neither male nor female. It is the mind and soul of the hive.”
Orli drew the woman’s attention back to the real question. “But what do they want?”
Margaret remained quiet for so long that Orli thought she hadn’t heard. Then the archaeologist said, “Everything.”
Most of the Klikiss had moved back into their ancient city as if nothing had changed in millennia. One huge Klikiss, with a silvery exoskeleton adorned with black tiger stripes, had an extra pair of segmented legs, a carapace full of spikes and polished knobs, and several sets of faceted eyes. Its head/face was ovoid, composed of many small plates that shifted and moved, almost giving it expressions. This one seemed much . . . vaster somehow, more important and ominous than the others. Orli stared, her eyes wide.
“That is one of the eight domates that attend the breedex,” Margaret said. “They provide additional genetic material necessary for spreading the hive.”
“Will I see the breedex myself?”
The older woman flinched. “Hope you do not. It is very risky.”
“Did you ever see her—it, I mean?”
“Many times. It is how I survived.” She offered nothing more.
“So it can’t be that risky.”
They passed by EDF barracks built among the alien towers. The soldiers were pale and frightened, their uniforms rumpled and stained. These Eddies—stationed here with instructions to “protect the colonists” and guard the transportal so the Roamer detainees didn’t escape—could now do little more than watch the invasion, as helpless as the colonists they were supposed to safeguard.
Orli was surprised to see that the Klikiss had not disarmed the troops. “Why do the soldiers still have their guns?”
“The Klikiss don’t care.”
Without asking permission or making any gesture to acknowledge what they were doing, the Klikiss workers began to tear down the modular barracks, ripping open the walls with their armored claws.
The edgy EDF soldiers began shouting. “Wait a minute!” Some of them pushed forward. “At least let us get our stuff out first.”
The bustling insects diligently continued their tasks, paying no more attention to the distraught men than they would to ornamental rocks.
Bolstered by their fellows, several soldiers ran toward the barracks. “Stop! Hold on!”
Klikiss workers tore one section into scrap metal, strewing dismantled bunks, storage units, clothing, and supplies around like garbage. The nearest EDF soldier got in the way of an insectile demolitionist and raised his pulse jazer rifle. “Back off, bugs! I’m warning you—”
The Klikiss swung a segmented limb, decapitated the man, and returned to its labors before the corpse fell to the ground. Outraged, nine uniformed soldiers screamed, took aim with their high-powered rifles, and started shooting.
Margaret groaned and squeezed her eyes shut. “This will turn out badly.”
“Isn’t there something you can do?” Orli cried.
“Not a thing.”
As projectiles slammed into them, the insect creatures didn’t comprehend what was happening. Despite the weapons fire cutting them down, workers continued to destroy lockers full of clothing, equipment, scrapbooks of friends and family.
EDF weapons splattered eleven of the insect workers before the rest of the subhive turned on the soldiers. Dozens of spiny warriors marched up while the soldiers kept firing until their weapons were empty.
Then the Klikiss killed them.
Orli stared at the bloodshed, speechless. Even DD seemed alarmed. A troop of workers arrived to replace the dead insects, and others hauled the human and Klikiss bodies away.
A tiger-striped domate strode up to Margaret and spoke in a clattering language. Margaret made a clicking, unnatural sound in her throat, while DD translated for Orli. “The domate says those newbreeds are defective. They have been eliminated from the gene pool.” It turned away as a new troop of workers continued the demolition of the barracks in order to build their own structures.
“They’re going to kill us all, aren’t they?” Orli asked with grim resignation.
“The Klikiss aren’t here for you.” Margaret narrowed her eyes, staring at the ancient structure that housed the transportal. “I learned something very important when I deciphered their language. Their primary enemies are the black robots. The Klikiss mean to wipe them out. All of the robots. Just don’t get in the way.”
Despite significant setbacks, Sirix and his black robots were undefeated. He immediately formulated a revision to his plan and determined that the robots would recapture—or destroy—one world at a time. The human military was greatly weakened, their governments too scattered to do anything about it.
All of the long-hibernating robots had been reawakened and were ready to complete their mission. The base that the robots had seized on Maratha was nearly completed, and Sirix’s military force would be substantially augmented by the stolen EDF battleships. They would form a metal swarm to crush the humans and then the Ildirans. Extreme and unprecedented violence was the only appropriate course of action.
Until recently, he had felt invincible, but in the free-for-all between the human military, hydrogue warglobes, monstrous verdani treeships, and Ildiran warliners, the robot fleet had been decimated. Worst of all, Sirix had lost many of his ancient, irreplaceable comrades. After millennia of planning, he had expected to conquer Earth and eradicate the rest of humanity, much as the myriad robots had exterminated the creator Klikiss race thousands of years ago. He had never postulated that the hydrogues might lose.
Seeing the tide turn, Sirix had assessed the damage, gauged his limitations, redefined his objectives—rather than admitting actual defeat—and retreated. Now, isolated in empty space, the remaining ships were safe, and Sirix intended to retaliate swiftly. One world at a time. From the bridge of his Juggernaut, he led his battleships toward a new destination. A planet called Wollamor.
He reviewed the tallies of his remaining weapons and resources: Out of thousands of ships, he still had three Juggernauts (one severely damaged), 173 Manta cruisers, seventeen slow-moving but heavily armed Thunderhead weapons platforms, more than two thousand Remora small attack ships, and enough stardrive fuel to grant them reasonable mobility from system to system, provided the engines operated at peak efficiency. They had standard-issue weaponry, explosives, even sixty-eight atomic warheads. It would be enough. Soon, when the rest of his robots completed their tasks on Maratha, they would have an invincible predatory force.
Soldier compies operated the Juggernaut’s relevant consoles, though many stations were unmanned and unnecessary—life-support systems, science stations, communications centers. Dried bloodstains caked the floor and diagnostic panels. Admiral Wu-Lin himself had died here, fighting the rebellious Soldier compies with his bare hands after his weapons gave out. Nineteen human bodies had been removed from the bridge; more than six hundred humans had been hunted down, trapped, and executed on other decks. Sirix had no interest in keeping prisoners. They were not relevant to his plans.
Given time, the bloodstains would degrade, and so long as the systems functioned, he cared little for hygiene or cosmetic appearances. Such things had never been of concern to his insectoid
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