Author: Beck Dacus

I watched the luminous tails of thousands of ships decelerating into the Alpha Centauri system from all directions. A stray few of them fell prey to my frag mines, but most maneuvered or blasted their way through. *Good,* I thought. *Keep them cocky.* That, at least, wouldn’t be difficult: humanity was gone. As far as the Nombreva were concerned, they’d won. This was just cleanup.
I couldn’t help myself: I hailed the largest ship with the most powerful drive, the apparent leader of the fleet. Light lag made the response torturously slow.
“What’s this?” it guffawed. “Not every day you’re hailed by an automated defense system. Trying to negotiate your release?”
“Release to where? You wiped out my masters.”
“Funny— I was just about to remind you of that. Why are you still putting up a fight, robot? And such a pitiful one at that.”
I deployed a swarm of drones from a moon of the inner gas giant. The Nombreva swatted them away like gnats.
“Case in point!” it boasted.
“I’m an automated defense system. That’s what I do.”
“Quite right. Well, in that case, we’ll be sure to help you get your last payday.”
*You have no idea,* I thought. The ships were close enough to resolve now; I increased the magnification on my scopes and got a good look at their bristling guns, bright engine nacelles, and broad, sweeping radiator vanes.
*That’s right. Keep decelerating. Just a little slower….*
“You know, my former masters made some pretty incredible things. If I had to give a reason why I’m still fighting, I would say it’s because you want the galaxy to forget they ever existed. Not only have you killed every last one of them, but you’ve destroyed almost everything they’ve ever made.
“Of course, not as much as you think. Some of those things were just lying dormant.”
Engines sputtered across the system. Nombreva telescopes flitted between the stars, watching their light simultaneously dim as massive structures moved into place in front of them.
“Among them are the Dyson power transmitters they built around every star they settled. Powerful enough to send concentrated beams of laser light between star systems… and not so dormant after all.”
I watched as every ship in the system pivoted 180 degrees, switching from decelerating to accelerating orientation, and began burning out of the system.
“Oh, I wouldn’t bother. The light you’re seeing from those stars is years old, as is the light in the beams converging on this system. They aren’t powerful enough to vaporize you at this range, but they *will* saturate your radiators, and running your engines this hot will just kill you sooner. You’ll get out of the system eventually, but it’ll be as fried corpses with blown-out reactors.
“Which brings me back to my original point: these Dyson beams are just one example of the amazing things humans were able to accomplish in their time. But perhaps the most formidable bit of tech they put together…”
The whole system went awash with dozens of colors, light from at least as many different stars.
“…was me.”
“You’re insane,” the ship responded. “You’ll overheat too.”
“I know,” I said. That was no lie; I could feel my cryogen coolers working overtime across my various nodes. “But my job is done. I don’t need to wipe out every trace of you, because no one will remember you anyway. No one ever remembers destroyers.” The heat sucked the last energy out of my circuits.
“They remember creators.”