Survivors

An alien sun rose over an alien world, a small point of distant light that did little to offer warmth of illumination to the deserted cities. It cast stark shadows about the immaculate structures and the silent legions of automatons that tirelessly tended them, each fulfilling its instruction in service of masters who had vanished from knowledge countless lifetimes ago.

Beyond the cities stood forests, mountains, lakes and oceans all hosting life in a diversity unmatched across the known galaxy. Plants from a thousand worlds, wildlife that should never have interacted living in harmony, flocks of birds and shoals of fish all carefully managed by the central computer system that maintained this planet and the army of drones that were its hands.

It was paradise, one created and nurtured and managed. An entire biosphere directed at the insistence of a civilisation long since faded away for a purpose none could even guess. This world was an enigma to those few that knew of it and a myth to those who knew only rumours and stories.

Nobody knew how this place had been built, how the ancients had been able to create technology and wonders that even after countless thousands of years later they remained unmatched. What was unbelievable to the current worlds and civilisations of the galaxy had been routine for the Ancient Akerians, the breathtaking merely mundane. From the great network of hyperspace gates to the casual terraforming of planets to manipulating the very foundations of life itself.

The Akerians had left their mark across the fabric of the galaxy and within the genetic code of every sentient race yet none understood more than the bare basics of what they had wrought and achieved so long ago. While they had laid the foundations for all civilisation and most technology their touch was so distant as to be virtually unfelt. They had become legend, myth, their works the field of scholars and scientists, storytellers and dreamers.

Of all races only one had found any real understanding of the ancient Akerians, that race had been the Jirel, an ashen pale humanoid species with distinctive pointed elfen ears. Telepathic as the Akerians had been the Jirel had the ability to use the traces of left behind Akerian technology more easily and thoroughly than other races, an advantage which gave them an edge for most of their time as a space faring civilisation. This gift had become a curse, the Jirel had been virtually exterminated by an aggressive and paranoid Stellar Empire that feared their telepathic ability and advanced technology With their fall so most of the knowledge gathered on the Akerian wonders was also lost.

Most, but not all.

The Jirel were considered extinct by most of the galaxy, their homeworld burned down and in the process of being terraformed anew by its conquerors, but that was not the whole truth. Some communities had survived, distant groups of refugees, travellers, pilgrims. Some had been found on Shambleau, the ancient Celestial Ark of the Alkerians where they had fled. Others lived in shadows on far flung worlds using their skills to remain hidden like frightened animals.

The largest group though had found a special refuge on one of the greatest wonders of the Akerian civilisation, an artificial planet not dissimilar to the Celestial Ark but considerably smaller. The reason for its creation was as much a mystery as the means of its creation but it had been a sanctuary when nowhere else was available, secret, hidden and best of all mobile.

They had named it Lyonesse, the hidden world of legend. Whether it was the same place as the legends spoke of was another question but to them it didn't matter, the entire planetoid had the ability to perform a warp jump which was enough to keep the small knot of survivors alive and free from anyone trying to finish the job of exterminating them.

This world and all the sixteen thousand or so survivors upon it were the responsibility of Regent Ida, once a High Priestess overseeing a school on Jirel and now struggling to keep this community alive and safe. She was tall and stately with the ice white skin and dull silver hair of her people coupled with the confidence and presence of her rank. It had been a hard role to settle into and while a teacher she had never been a true leader with this level of responsibility. It was only because there had been no other suitable candidates that she had reluctantly accepted the post. Several years later it had become nature though still at times she had to stop and remind herself that she was effectively the ruler of her entire race.

Most people lived on the surface in the well preserved homes and buildings built by the Akerians eons ago, a tiny fraction of a huge city long abandoned. They had found hydroponics and other means of artificial food production which made them self supporting and even comfortable if one could forget the horrors of the past. Children had been born, families grew, people had moved on as best they could. It was on the surface of it a good life and it was Ida's responsibility to ensure it continued to be so.

Lyonesse had no weapons, at least none they had discovered, but beside its ability to travel vast distances it did have one or two tricks up its sleeve.

Ida proceeded underground, entering one of the pristine yet empty buildings not far from the main cluster of settlements. It had been some manner of administration building and like the rest of the planet still had ample power but nobody had discovered yet how to tap into whatever information lay within its records. They had however discovered a lift which traveled deep into the hollow core of the world, a restricted location Ida was currently heading toward.

After a few moments of travel in the lift she stepped into a wide chamber that opened out into the hollow core of the artificial planet itself. The view was incredible, from here she could see fully across the interior of the planet, at the heart a titanic beam of crackling blue energy that arced from pole to pole connecting them and feeding whatever archaic systems the world possessed, most still unknown to the small colony. The interior of the hollow sphere was lined with countless other chambers that the Jirel refugees couldn't even begin to explore hiding secrets that would take generations if not centuries to locate let alone unlock.

It was spectacle beyond understanding and even after seeing it every day for years it still made Ida feel tiny and powerless. They lived on this planet but didn't own it, often Ida felt like she was meekly trespassing in a grand old museum, or perhaps meddling with a bomb that could kill them all.

This particular chamber had been documented and explored thanks to what it contained, row after row of horizontal transparent pods lined with the delicate filigree common to Akerian architecture. Each was the size of a bed or large chair and was connected to some distant central location they had not found yet by way of cables and transmitters. While just as advanced and mysterious as other ancient technology the Jirel had encountered rooms like this before and knew at least the basics of what it was for. Remote Viewing.

This was the second great advantage of the colony, the ability to use this room to see across great distances, to view the activities of potential threats and enemies before they ever came close, and if necessary to take action. Similar pods had been found in other abandoned structures such as the gate hub at Balun and the Celestial Ark where it had been found that they could massively amplify the natural telepathic abilities of a suitably skilled Jirel. The exact effects varied but it turned out the pods here within Lyonesse were designed to allow a user to see through the eyes of any other person with almost unlimited range. Ida used it to see what was happening on the homeworlds of the other major galactic players, the Gamilans of course but more recently she had taken an interest in Earth, home of the Human Race.

"Morning Regent, did you get plenty of sleep?"

She was greeted by her cheerful aide, Faran Galad, who was checking details for one of the viewing pods. He still had an echo of youth to him though it had been a decade now since the loss of their world, his smile and positive energy one of the things that had pushed her to keep fighting. This was their standard morning routine, Ida would head down here and spend some time doing a sweep of the major worlds to look for potential problems with Galad keeping a watch on the system and ensuring nothing dangerous happened. Ida was familiar enough with the system to use it at a basic level but there was a lot of functionality she did not yet understand.

"Enough, thank you." She smiled back. "I might have overdone it with the wine, Nila needs to watch the alcohol content, that stuff is lethal."

"It was the birth of his first child, I think he served the good stuff."

"Good stuff?" She pulled a face. "Gods help whoever drinks the bad stuff."

She moved up to the largely egg shaped pod and removed her gown, the device requiring it's user to be unclothed for efficient usage. It was of course embarrassing at first but Galad was a professional man and both of them had rapidly moved past the initial discomfort. By now it was just part of the process. She stepped up and climbed in, the clear pod filled with a slightly pink coloured liquid which served to transfer impulses from her body to the technology itself and back again. She had no idea how it really worked but through trial and error had at least found a way to control it.

She settled in to the lukewarm transmission liquid and relaxed allowing herself to be subsumed calming her mind and preparing to connect to the distant core deep within the planet.

"System ready." Galad spoke. "Ready to go for a stroll?"

"Ready."

*

The initial transition was always awkward and terribly disorientating. She had become used to it over the years and with training but it still required intense mental fortitude and beside herself only three others could effectively use the system without losing control. Even then only Ida herself could command the system with any reasonable level of precision.

She theorised that once the Akerians had used this technology to see into the minds of any being in the galaxy, an incredible system that would make conventional espionage entirely redundant. Ida however did not have that level of control, at least not yet, all she could do was see and hear what an individual on a distant world could see and hear. She couldn't read minds and she didn't have the precision to select a given individual such as an Emperor or President but she could after a lot of practice get close enough to learn some useful information. There was still a lot of randomness which was why she had to use the device every day to keep up and hope to learn something important. Most of the time it was only enough to get a broad feel of current events in a given culture, usually it was enough.

There was also the danger of becoming too attached, of losing oneself in the thoughts of another. That was why Galad was there to kill the link if things went wrong. It was less an issue now after frequent use but in the early days it had been a real danger. Never the less for the good of her people Ida persevered.

Today was different, this time the transition was particularly jarring, painful even. She knew her heart rate was spiking which would alert Galad so she forced herself to relax, to keep the connection open. It took a few moments for the sound and vision to align, for her mind to tap into the alternate set of sensory inputs and process them, sound first and then gradually an image resolving from a blur of colours.

The sun was shining here, bright and radiant. She could feel the warmth on her face despite being an unfathomable distance away locked in a gel filled pod. The system was incredible beyond understanding, she could get lost here, live a life here if her mind wandered away. The technology was so useful but also dangerous, tempting. To stand here and see a beautiful world, a life so similar to that she had lost when Jirel fell... it was torturous. The physical strain of the projection was formidable, but to her the psychological strain was far greater. This window on normalcy.

She stood in a city, tall towers rose high across the skyline, white metal and glimmering glass like a grove of artificial trees. People thronged the streets, electric cars hummed by, ranks of airborne vehicles passed overhead at perfectly spaced distances on perfectly spaced flight paths. She could feel concrete under her feet, the minor variations in the setting of the paving slabs, the rustle of a breeze, the murmur of voices.

Trees lined the streets adding some greenery to the bright hand made world and among them walked the people of this world. Ida had never met them in person but she knew who they were as familiar to her as any other. Humans.

The Jirel had few enough friends in the galaxy, most merely wanted to use their talents if not outright destroy them. Ida had become aware that Humanity had met some of her people elsewhere in the galaxy and had been open with them, friendly, they even fought on their behalf. It had captured her curiosity, why had they done so, what did they gain? Was it truly an altruistic act?

Her research had yielded varied results, Earth seemed a far more pleasant culture than any other she had found, a democracy, an open society tolerant of others, but at the same time they were a people wounded by war and were militarising fast with weapons not seen in the galaxy for centurie, weapons that could erase entire planets in a single volley. They had also shown a willingness to use them in battle.

Of all the worlds Earth was the one she would likely seek to contact, but the increased militarisation was concerning. With war on their doorstep they had no real choice but to arm, but she feared what the long term effects might be. Perhaps in a few years when things settled down she would try to open a dialogue.

Before then though she enjoyed visiting Earth from afar, though this particular city was unknown to her.

She observed the people and the world, strolled back and forth, smelled the scent of the trees and food cooked in streetside cafes. It was idyllic.

An idyll that ended abruptly with a scream of engines and the bang of a low level sonic boom. Ida looked up sharply into the blue sky and scattered clouds, forgetting she was not really there. Around her people did the same, their expressions instantly turning to concern, worry, dread. A ship rushed across the sky trailing black smoke, some sort of freighter perhaps based on its blocky shape. It fell out of control streaking across the sky until it hit one of the distant towers in a flash followed a moment later by a crunching thunder.

The reactions ran like a wave, exclamations, gasps, a few shouts and yelps. The street froze as everyone stopped to watch burning debris running down the side of the tower in streams of smoke and clouds of dust. Ida was as petrified as the rest, the timing of her visit almost macabre as the disaster unfolded before her eyes.

Something else was happening too, something she felt more than saw. A rumble, a sensation in her core. It was hard to articulate into words, an unnatural feeling of weight and lightness that alternated as she stood there. Around her people still looked at the crash, but some others were looking in the opposite direction, up behind her as the sun dimmed into shadow. Something massive was in the sky.

Ida looked.

The shape was not a ship, yet it could be nothing else. Metallic, black, huge, but it didn't have the form of a vessel. No Naval architect had made this, it seemed instead alive, grasping. Half insect, half crustacean from some deep ocean, it reached down from the sky with several grasping appendages like thick arms or tentacles plated in metal. More and more people turned to look at it, some stood transfixed, others began to run.

Sirens were wailing in the distance now, emergency vehicles rushing to the crash scene which had suddenly become almost insignificant beneath this vast object descending toward them. It touched down nearby with a shudder that jolted cars as they sat on their suspension and toppled shop displays. It towered over the buildings around it, grossly out of place and seethingly ominous. Vehicles flew around it, both government owned and civilians trying to get a better look at this vast oddity out of curiosity or duty. Ida knew it didn't feel right, not just its alien nature but its intent, every single aspect of its presence was wrong, oppressive, destructive. Her instincts told her this city was just moments from disaster.

More people left and began to scatter, their own fears mounting and overpowering curiosity. Above the visitor high in the blue sky she could make out points of light followed by streaks of white vapour, the signs of objects falling from orbit. Some were ordered, the signature of a controlled descent, others were not. The last time she had seen such a sight was watching the wreckage of the Jirel Navy falling across her homeworld.

There was a change in the monster, a drawing up of power, a shift in its stance as it appeared to rise up on its limbs. It electrified the air bringing the smell of ozone and faint burning, her mouth dried and eyes widened as the vessel shifted its mass on the thick legs, a crackle of red energy began forming near what she could guess was it's head. Without warning it bellowed, a sound like a long mighty horn that rattled glass and set off car alarms, a cacophony of chirps and beeps. The remaining majority of people now began to back away shielding their ears and hunching over away from the source of the sound, to seek escape or shelter, to understand that this wasn't some strange First Contact. A moment later the red static power building around the creature spiked and answered any lingering doubts in a blindingly bright burst of red energy, a lance that ignited the air around it and vaporised several sky cars in its path before biting into a distant skyscraper.

Everything instantly broke down into screaming panic. The masses fled, a stampede of people swarming away from the black monster which now began to advance, it's tower like legs crushing anything beneath them as the vessel fired again, sounding its horn like voice once more. The skies cleared fast as any remaining skycars fled at top speed, a few more falling to the red beam that reached out for them.

On the ground people tried to get into their vehicles, or shelter in buildings, most though just ran. Cries of panic filled the air now, more sirens, more wails, more thuds of stamping feet. Now though new sounds and feelings joined, the sounds of war and destruction. Buildings fell in groans of metal, crashes of rubble and shattering glass. Clouds of dust rose in the sky to be joined by thick black smoke from fires. The sky dimmed as the sun became obscured and Ida's throat was filled with the noxious fumes of burning plastics and choking concrete dust.

Ida followed the crowds, more waves of panic rushing across them as a second, third and fourth ship emerged from the sky spearing the city with more gunfire, sweeping across structures with contemptuous ease sending thousands to their death in seconds. The direction of the exodus shifted to avoid these new vessels, roads filled quickly with the seething mass of people converging on any effective escape route.

A new series of sounds joined the chaos, the whoosh of low flying high powered engines signalling a squadron of fighter craft joining the fray. Ida watched them curve through the air in flashes of white and blue before unleashing salvoes of gunfire and missiles at the closest invader with no obvious effect. Explosions rolled through the air and thumped the ground, the air vibrating constantly with the echoes of destruction, shockwaves rippling across the city as it was methodically sectioned and carved.

She followed the crowd, merged with them as a single unthinking mass flowing away from danger. Beneath her feet were discarded items, shattered glass and detritus, upturned rubbish bins emptied into the street, in some places even bodies. Some routes were blocked by collapsed buildings or the stalking behemoths leaving only one direction to escape, almost as if they were being herded.

She became uneasy, seeing the pattern. They were being directed, funnelled, to what purpose she didn't know but this destruction wasn't random. What waited on this edge of the city was unlikely to be salvation but something far less hopeful.

She made a choice and pushed aside from the sea of people, forcing her way clear and through the doorway of an abandoned shop now wrecked stumbling over it's products tossed across the floor with not even looters stopping to empty it. Ida ran to the back and through the employee partition to the rear stairs climbing higher and higher, breathing heavily while making her way up several floors before reaching the roof.

She emerged to a different world, the sky hanging red and oppressive as smoke and dust filtered out the light of the sun and replaced it with the glow of blazes raging through the city. The sky was still, the fighter squadron gone and no further attacks were being prepared, only the shadows of the great monsters moved now joined by occasional flashes of red as they erased one target or another.

On the horizon were brighter flashes, points of light that faded into tall mushroom clouds boiling black and red as nuclear weapons detonated. She could not tell if it they were used by attacker or desperate defender.

It had become in a few short minutes a vision of hell, red skies, choking fumes, clouds of dust and debris mixed with rumbling thunder and the cries of people. Above them all stood the creators of this horror, shrouded in smoke and flame, faceless and inscrutable, serving only to destroy and crush.

It was too much like the past, too much like the burning cities of Jirel on the day the defences had failed and the bombs had rained down. She had watched the extermination of one world and now stood aghast seeing that same process again, but this time it was Earth and these enemies like nothing before encountered.

She had to do something, something to help, even if it was just to give the survivors a place to live.

Ida forced herself out of the connection, drifting and fading, her final image that of the great warmachine striding toward the fleeing people, covering hundreds of metres in each step. It looked down on them like a hunter surveying a helpless prey and as it peered she could see glowing orange eyes where it's face would be. This was not a ship, metal as it was it was alive, aware, satisfied.

She left the world chilled to the soul and awoke with a jolt back within her own domain under the spindly rafters and supports of the ancient observation complex. Her head was throbbing and stomach unsettled which reminded her of the first time she had used this great machine and ended up in hospital for a month. She had grown stronger and smarter since but this had been a particularly grim session.

"Are you alright?" Galad called over as she blinked her eyes back into focus.

"I'll be fine, I need you to check communication channels quickly, human ones."

"They are already being monitored, no changes."

"No changes?" She frowned in disbelief.

"Just standard news and entertainment broadcasts." He expanded. "We're fairly close the their homeworld, we can see their long range channels for outer colony links."

"Their military?" Ida asked.

"We can't decode anything but the traffic volume is normal, their fleets are still preparing for battle with Gatlantis."

"I don't understand, they were being invaded." She grimaced. "A massive assault, we should be seeing much more comms traffic, distress signals, ship movements."

"Nothing, it's all quiet." Galad answered. "Did you see something else? Maybe a warning?"

She pulled herself up but before she could swing out off the bed the floor shifted. At first she imagined it was her own dizziness but the sudden call of a voice told her it wasn't.

"Galad? Galad! What happened?"

"Something just activated, I don't know!" His voice shouted as he braced against his control panel. "It's not the machine, it's near the core."

"What does it look like?"

"Massive power surge, I've never seen this before, it's drawing energy from reactors we didn't even know we had!"

Ida couldn't be too surprised, with their small group of survivors they hadn't been able to explore even a tiny percentage of this ruined old planet. Clearly it had deeper mysteries, hopefully nothing related to why this world had been abandoned in the first place.

"Energy is reaching a peak, space is distorting!" Galad warned. "It looks like..."

Whatever answer he thought he knew he didn't get a chance to explain it before everything turned white.