Defy the Stars(4)

By: Claudia Gray

Pure evil.

Noemi’s eyes narrow as she sees the first hatches open. Thank God, these are smaller ships, but they’re still carrying a powerful mech force. If they could just blast one or two of the Damocles ships into atoms before they launch their deadly cargo—

Too late. The mechs shoot out wearing metal exoskeletons, with just enough sheathing to keep the robotic warriors inside from freezing in the coldness of space. As the Genesis fighters approach, the mechs begin to shift position. They spread their limbs wide to expand their shooting range, like carnivores pouncing on prey. As long as Noemi’s fought, as hard as she’s trained, she still shudders at the sight.

“Attack sequence—now!” Baz calls, and battle cries echo through Noemi’s helmet. Noemi spins her fighter left, choosing her first target.

Over comms, one guy yells, “Kill ’em all!”

Blaster bolts from the mechs slash through the air toward Noemi, fiery orange streaks that could cripple a fighter in moments. She banks left, fires back. All around her, Genesis fighters and Earth mechs scatter, formations dissolving in the chaos of battle.

Like most people of Genesis, Noemi believes in the Word of God. Even if she sometimes has questions and doubts the elders can’t answer, she can quote chapter and verse on the value of life, the importance of peace. Even though the things she’s blowing out of the sky aren’t truly alive, they’re… human-shaped. The bloodlust stirred up inside her feels wrong in a way that all her righteous fury can’t entirely cure. But she powers through it. She has to, for the sake of her fellow soldiers, and for her world.

Noemi knows what her duty to God is right now:

Fight like hell.


AS ABEL FLOATS IN ZERO-G, IN THE DARK QUIET OF A dead ship’s equipment pod bay, he tells himself the story again. The black-and-white images flicker in his mind with total accuracy; it’s as if he’s watching it projected upon a screen, the way it was shown centuries ago. Abel possesses an eidetic memory, so he only needs to see things once to remember them forever.

And he enjoys remembering Casablanca. Retelling himself every scene, in order, over and over again. The characters’ voices are so vivid in his mind that the actors might as well be floating in the pod bay beside him:

Where were you last night?

That’s so long ago, I don’t remember.

It’s a good story, one that holds up to repetition. This is fortunate for Abel, who has now been trapped in the Daedalus for almost thirty years. Roughly fifteen million, seven hundred and seventy thousand, nine hundred minutes, or nine hundred and forty-six million, seven hundred thousand seconds.

(He has been programmed to round off such large numbers outside of actual scientific work. The same humans who made him capable of measuring with perfect precision also find the mention of such numbers irritating. It makes no sense to Abel, but he knows better than to expect rational behavior from human beings.)

The nearly complete darkness of his confinement makes it easy for Abel to imagine that reality is in black and white, like the movie.

New input. Form: irregular flashes of light. The drama stops cold in Abel’s mind as he looks up to analyze—

Blaster bolts. A battle, no doubt between Earth and Genesis forces.

Abel was marooned here in just such a battle. After a long silence, warfare has reignited in the past two years. At first he found that encouraging. If Earth ships were again coming to the Genesis system, they would eventually find the Daedalus. They would tow it in to reclaim everything inside, including Abel himself.

And after thirty terrible years of suspense, Abel would finally be able to fulfill his primary directive: Protect Burton Mansfield.

Honor the creator. Obey his directives above all others. Preserve his life no matter what.

But his hopes have faded as the war has churned on. No one has come to find him, and no one seems likely to do so in the near future. Perhaps not even in the distant future. Although Abel is stronger than any human being and a match for even the most powerful fighter mechs, he can’t tear open the air-lock door separating him from the rest of the Daedalus. (He tried. Despite knowing down to the hundredth decimal point the ratios working against him, Abel still tried. Thirty years is a long time.)