Syd piloted the starfighter around the destruction of the fleet’s last command ship. Its long body riddled with blast holes. She observed the soundless explosions continuing to erupt from all sides of the ship. The dead crew spilled out into open space from various hull breaches. Their ghostly silhouettes illuminated against the scene. Her friends. The enormous ship was in a slow death dive towards Halon, a bright green planet below the battleground.
“Is anyone else left out there?” an urgent voice asked from her headset.
Syd jolted in her cockpit. She’d been sure she was the last starship still flying.
“Starpilot Syd Rinso here, of commandship Impetus,” she replied. “Who’s speaking?”
“Captain Phank, of commandship Tumultus,” Phank replied. “Thank the Universe, I thought I was the only one.”
“Great to be hearing your voice, Captain. How’d you manage to get off your commandship?”
“Let’s save that story for another time, pilot. What’s your location?”
“I’m near the Impetus. Keeping a low profile floating amongst the debris.”
“Smart thinking, pilot,” he said. “Could I ask a favor?”
“Er — yes, of course.”
“I’m coming in hot by your position, I can’t shake these fucking Robbies off me.”
Syd looked around and saw a lone starfighter twirling in the distance, four Robbie drones on his tail. Each triangular drone rained bolts of red plasma at the flailing ship.
It didn’t take long to debate blowing her cover to help Phank. Syd couldn’t hide forever, she would run out of air. She couldn’t jump out of the system without a commandship. The Robbies would find her. Humans had to stick together.
The flight stick in her hand, Syd tilted up and pushed the thrusters. She accelerated to position herself right behind the attack squad following Phank. He was doing well avoiding the flurry of red blasts shot by the precision killer robots. Syd targeted each drone on her ship’s HUD and fired four smart rounds. Each miniature torpedo met its target, each target imploding in silence.
“I appreciate that,” Phank said.
“Well, I hope you don’t have to return the fav –“
Syd saw the radar blip on the HUD, too late for an evasive maneuver. A bolt of red plasma hit the right wing of her starfighter. The blast shook the ship as she turned into a dive. She looked at the wing, the hole lined with molten metal still glowing red. One of her thrusters failed as she came out of the dive, having made a full loop to double back on her attacker. It wasn’t a drone, but a fighter ship piloted by a Robbie. She saw the robot in the cockpit turn it’s head to face her as she held down the trigger of her laser cannon. A series of blue bolts tore into the Robbie’s ship, and she saw the Robbie eject milliseconds before the ship blew. The robot, humanoid in form, twirled away from the blast into open space.
Syd wondered if the Robbie would even care that it’s going to twirl around in space for the rest of its existence. Her thoughts were put to rest, as Phank hit it with a smart round. Its limbs blew away in different directions.
“I could’ve used that cover sooner, Phank,” Syd said.
“Sorry about that, pilot,” Phank replied, though no real empathy or remorse in his response. “What’s your fuel situation?”
“I’m fine on fuel, down one thruster and low on smart rounds.”
“I need another favor,” Phank said. “I have less than a few minutes of fuel left. I need a tow.”
The man had an agenda. Syd wondered if he only saw her as a tool at his disposal. She’d need to watch her own ass around Phank.
“And where are we going?” she said. “We can’t jump out of here, we missed the retreat.”
“I have a payload. I need to get it down to the planet. To Halon. We didn’t come all the way out here to pick a fight. We came to their world to end them. To end the threat to our existence. We lost this battle, but the war is still on.”
“So, what? I push your dead fighter back towards all the horrors that just killed our whole fleet?”
That’s exactly what they did. Once Phank burned the last of his fuel, Syd deployed a grapple cable and dragged his ship behind her. They didn’t come across any drones, or Robbies, which all must’ve regrouped on Halon.
“What’s the payload?” Syd asked as they got closer.
“A planet killer,” Phank replied.
Syd hated the Robbies as much as anyone else. And the war. It had gone on for centuries and spanned galaxies, causing so much destruction. Though, to kill a planet, that’s not what they were fighting for. The Robbies were the enemy, not their planet. The humans had lost countless planets in their history from their own irresponsible consumption and civil wars. It was in their nature. Would they ever learn? She towed Phank the rest of the way in silence.
Nearing the bright green planet, Syd’s instrumentation lit up. She was surprised the planet’s atmosphere was completely habitable for humans. Robots could survive anywhere, why would the Robbies live on a planet like that?
“The tricky part is going to be getting through the atmosphere,” Phank piped up.
“About that,” Syd said. “The atmosphere, it’s perfect. The planet’s readings, it’s almost too habitable. Do we know what we’re destroying?”
“Lies,” Phank said. “Fake readings, created by the Robbies. Don’t believe them, it’s a trap — devised so we go down there and suffocate.”
That didn’t register correct with Syd, having been a wrench monkey before being a pilot. She knew as much about these ships as anyone. It was critical for her survival of the battle. She knew readings came from the ship, measured real-time, they weren’t received.
The bright green orb was all she could see now. They were close enough, according to Phank. All she had to do was release the clamp and he’d catch gravity all the way down to Halon.
Hundreds of years of war, over.
Syd glanced back at the planet’s readings on her HUD. A perfect planet. Though she noticed her HUD was also displaying a few other blips.
“They’re coming,” Phank yelled. “Drop me, now!”
She looked down to the vast green world below, and Phank dangling below her, as her ship became surrounded. Two Robbies piloting fighters and a swarm of drones positioned around Syd’s ship in a circle. All aimed, but waiting. Syd waited as well.
“Drop! Drop me now, pilot! That’s an order!” Phank yelled.
“Why a planet killer?”
“What? Drop me now. What are you waiting for?”
“If the Robbies don’t need an atmosphere to breath, why kill the planet?”
One of the Robbies caught her eye from its cockpit. Its blue eyes stared back at hers.
“This is no time for debate!”
“I’m sorry sir, I need to know what’s down there, before killing it.”
“And you think they’ll just escort you for a quick peek? Drop me! Now!”
Syd took a breath and pulled back on the flight stick. She tipped her ship away from the planet and accelerated, once at speed, she banked and released the clamp. Phank’s dead ship was slung around her and sent twirling into the blackness beyond. Syd listened to him scream profanities as he sailed away. She felt remorse that he would die alone after all, then she flipped off his radio feed.
The drones had cleared off, though the two Robbies were waiting for Syd as she returned. They each turned their ship and descended into the green. Syd followed.
As the two Robbies led Syd down from the sky, her ship’s readings showed lifeforms all over the place. All she could see were forests and rivers below her as they roared through the air. Since she was a girl, she’d been taught the robot world of Halon was a cold, evil world. A planet-sized robot factory, spitting out killer Robbies on an endless assembly line. Though she didn’t see any of that. All she saw was nature. More than she’d ever seen on a human planet.
A clearing opened up and Syd saw a few strange structures, made out of cloth material. The Robbies landed in the clearing, and Syd followed suit. As she landed, people, actual human people, started coming out of the primitive structures. She jumped down from her cockpit’s hatch and ran up to the humans, without anything planned to say.
“Welcome to Halon,” they greeted her. “Thanks for not destroying us.”
“Who are you all?” Syd asked.
“We’re like you,” someone said. “The Robbies only let in those that decide not to kill this world they’ve made.”
“They made it?” Syd knew Halon was too perfect.
“They made it for us. For humans. Long ago. To save humanity — at least, for those that decide to be saved from ourselves.”
Written for Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge: Space Operatics.