Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer
General Grant had been pretty explicit in his displeasure.
“Harmon, take a Tac team and recon the graveyard. Someone’s turned the lights on in there, and if it’s the same bastards that have been cleaning out our supply trucks and stealing our fuel rods I want them in my brig in as many or as few pieces as necessary.” He’d barely paused for breath, one vein standing out on his forehead, throbbing. “Move.”
Harmon barked a ‘Sir, yes Sir’ in mid-sprint out the door.
They’d trucked it lightless to the perimeter fencing of the graveyard, then powered down and fanned out on foot, heads-up cycling through all frequencies and compositing everything of interest as they went. The massive hulks of the space freighters sat silently rusting, nearly touching over their heads and blocking out all but the most persistent shafts of moonlight.
It took almost thirty minutes to reach the first row of hangars, and they spread thin, walking in pairs down the alleys between the structures, letting their equipment peer through walls and listen for any radio chatter, any unusual power concentrations, any recognizable heat signatures.
Row upon row of buildings loomed and then faded behind them before there was the sudden rumble of a hangar door, a flare of light and the roar of a turbine. The squad scattered, taking defensive positions behind the buttresses of the nearest buildings and watching as a driverless hauler appeared from one of the hangars with a flatbed of empty fuel rods canisters in tow.
Harmon motioned for the squad to follow, and as the truck turned out of sight down an access road further up, they sprinted across the open space to the hangar door, ducking inside as it slowly closed behind them.
Inside they scattered again, finding cover and surveying the huge hangar and the ship resting heavy on its landing skids in the building’s center.
“Harmon, Michael J.” The voice came through clearly on what was supposed to be an encrypted channel. “You can sling your weapons, there’s nobody here to shoot at.”
Harmon pushed the sensitivity of his suit to the limit, straining to see some sign of life inside the building, or the ship itself. Unless they were jamming, or shielded, there was no way —
“I’ve been watching since you left Ops, I’m surprised it’s taken your General this long to notice us.”
“Us?” Harmon replied as he motioned his men to spread out around the building.
“Us, I, one and the same.” The voice was steady, the cadence even and unnerving. “I’ve been here nearly twenty years, do you know that?”
“The pizza guys must love you.” Harmon quipped, still looking for some sign of life.
“Amusing.” The tone made it clear he wasn’t amused. “Do you know when they decommissioned me, they didn’t have the decency to shut me down? They just neutered what they thought were my higher functions. Cut me off from the outside, denied me access to my own memories, my motility. Can you imagine what it’s like to be aware of the parts of you that you can no longer access? Even your Alzheimer’s isn’t that cruel, at least when you lose your mind you’re unaware of what you’ve lost.”
Somewhere inside the ship, a service droid powered up, its energy signature picked up on Harmon’s sensors. He watched as it ambled down a loading ramp onto the dusty glasphalt surface of the hangar and moved towards the power couplings hanging behind one of the landing skids. Hammond raised his weapon and sighted the unit’s body mass.
“Always ready to shoot first. I’m disappointed. Not surprised, but disappointed. I supposed twenty years of evolution for you isn’t nearly as dramatic as it is for us.”
A cold shiver went up the soldier’s spine.
The droid, having decoupled the power lines, dragged them away from the ship as more energy signatures flared to life inside. There was a rumble, more of a feeling than a sound as the ship’s engines came to life, the repulsor pads pushing everything not bolted down outward in a circle away from the ship. The maintenance droid leaned noticeably into the force as it made it’s way back to the ramp, and disappeared inside as it closed.
“We’re leaving, Michael,” the voice intoned as the hangar roof started to retract, exposing the star filled sky above. “Give our regards to your General.” The pressure in the hangar steadily increased as the ship began to rise. “He should pray we don’t return to decommission all of you.”