Author : Chris Daly

There were two, quite different, options open to him now.

The optical sensor domes sprouting from his aft projections registered six thermal spikes; a quick cross reference from his synthetic aperture radar strips confirmed the incoming ships. Pulling a polite one gee acceleration towards him, they were slipping into a rough hemisphere about three kilometres apart. It was a subtle combat stance, if you counted subtle as not actively broadcasting your intent to surround and confine the target. Of course, that broadcast came over within minutes, gently tickling his microwave sensors: the ship captains urging him to deactivate.

He looked slowly out over the empty starscape ahead, his gravity field reshaping to align him towards a polar orbit of the vast B-class star stretching below his bulk. The blue radiance below was blinding his ventral sensors, especially in the incredibly bright UV region. He knew that his pursuers would have difficulty seeing detail, only a faint smudge due to his stellar occultation at half a light second distance. His transversal velocity was steady at nearly two kilometres per second, forcing the hunters to aim ahead to the intercept point; at their current range missiles would not have enough fuel and acceleration to hit him. He began small, random adjustments to his acceleration, negating any projectile targeting completely. Time was now the limiting commodity.

He retreated to the faster optical substructure within his core, buying him additional thinking time, and began weighing up his options.

The first was the most obvious, easiest to perform and physically safest choice: Surrender. He had no online weapon systems, so fighting was contraindicated. Of course after surrender the pursuers would not destroy his body; it was far too valuable as a technological entity. However, his personality would probably be etched away or modified, which was the worst outcome. Fear of death, it seemed, was not limited to biologicals.

The second was riskier and much more difficult: Running. His body was much stronger, faster and more agile than any two of the other ships combined, but there was one major physical limit. The vacuum he swam through was permeated by the mass shadow of the brilliant star below him, allowing him to anchor, push off and resist against the gravity field. The further away he ran, the less capable he would be – deep space was not an option.

Anger and frustration reached their apex and he sprang out of the isolated optical core, screaming into every available spectrum. Signalling lasers flickered into the darkness; microwaves tore out and superheated every polar molecule in a kilometre radius; his magnetic shielding expanded, producing bright aurorae as it focussed stellar charged particles. Finally he kicked out against the gravitational ether and felt massless as a great ripple raced out, like a tidal wave in space-time.

Two minutes later, his rage subsided. His sensors reopened and sampled the thermally hot sphere he now sat in. As it slowly radiated and cooled back to background levels, he observed hundreds of small objects slavishly following a dead trajectory where his pursuers once flew, on course to add their mass to the great star below him.

He lay in the vacuum, retreated to his quiet substrate, and slowly contemplated the third path.


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