MECH - B. V. Larson

One

Three huge shadows slid through the interstellar oceans at the speed of light. As silent as space itself the seedships glided toward a bright K-class star. They were bound for their Homeworld, the fifth planet in the system. Unfortunately, that planet had long ago been blasted to rubble. A dense asteroid belt now orbited in its place.

A few million kilometers from disaster, the ancient navigational organics finally came online and discovered that communications were out with the Homeworld’s long-dead traffic control. After many millennia in the void the organics had grown slipshod in following procedures. Rather than engaging the emergency subroutines, a stored virtual model of the Homeworld was used to set the course. At a leisurely pace, the ship began thawing the crews.

Unaware of their doom, the Parents twitched feebly within their icy chambers, slowly reanimating. On full automatic, all three seedships sailed into the asteroid belt, maneuvering to orbit a planet that no longer existed.

The youngest of the three Parents was the first to awaken. She knew immediately that something had gone wrong. The task force had passed the designated revival point six months ago, and now the ships were rapidly closing on the Homeworld unchallenged. She rose painfully out of her encasement, extended a pod for the first time after eons of cryo-sleep, and attempted to alert her sisters. Soon, more of her sensory organs began functioning and she was able to comprehend the data the ship was trying to feed her.

Despair bubbled through the Parent. The entire task force was doomed. They were about to collide with a mammoth, rapidly spinning asteroid and none of the others were awake enough to avoid destruction. With great effort, she engaged the override and commanded the ship to evade, to ignore its navigational software and switch to auto-defense. Immediately, the vessel swerved and jerked, wrenching the young Parent’s delicate birth-chambers and half-thawed ovaries. Hideous agony ripped through her, but it was nothing compared to the pain she felt for the others as their ships sailed serenely onward.

White pinpoints blossomed upon the surface of the asteroid. Mountain peaks twirled by her ship and barreled away into the void. She was alone.

Assuming she was in hostile territory, the Parent suppressed the ship’s energy emissions and reflections to avoid detection. She let the ship coast through the asteroid belt and on toward the inner planets without applying further thrust. Her swollen organs shuddered with relief as she dumped liberal doses of hormones into her bloodstream. Feeling less stressed she began analyzing the data from the passive sensors and played back stored records from the datapods.

Within minutes she had a new objective. The fourth planet out from the home star had a hotter climate than the Homeworld, but was still habitable. It had been used as a breeding ground for livestock. Now, however, the sensors reported that it was in the hands of unrecognized aliens. Judging by their space vehicles and radio emissions, these aliens seemed technologically advanced, and possibly were the minions of the ancient hated enemy, the Tulk.

Incredibly, the Homeworld itself was gone. She could detect no sign in the modern universe that the Imperium had ever existed. It was possible that she was the only survivor, the last in the universe capable of bearing offspring, the final hope of her race. She thought of the Homeworld, once the center of a vast interstellar empire. Thousands of black starships, the gloaming skyreefs, the air-swimmers soaring over the cliffs of the Grand Abyss—all were gone.

Watching and listening to the nearby aliens, she knew hate. Despite the calming effect of the hormones, she fairly