It was 20 years after the war; the Great War, the Last War of Earth, which rendered the planet uninhabitable. The sky was blue and cloudless in the city of Caliteria, on the planet of Arcturia. It was 10:30 by Arcturian time. In the third car of the Number 12 Skybus, a man sat in one of the aged metal chairs. He was somewhere around forty-five, he thought; he didn’t know quite, but he looked like he was seventy. What little hair the man had left was graying, and there was a yellowed patch over one eye. The other eye was an almost-black brown.
He wore a dark longcoat, common among the businessmen of Caliteria. There was a gun under that coat, but no one knew that yet. His name was David, but that had never mattered and didn’t now. For he was only a cog in a machine. A machine that, at that moment, was assembling itself all over Arcturia, warming up and waiting in tense, dumb mechanical excitement for the Controller to flip it on. David stood, clutching the gun tightly through his coat. Anyone looking closely at his other hand—not that anyone cared about a one-eyed old man enough to—would have noticed that it was trembling. It was 10:31 and few people were on the Number 12. He walked slowly to the engineer’s cabin at the front of the bus, as below, rose-red, sun-struck towers glittered like bloodstained spears in the morning light. The door opened in front of him, and he stood in the doorway a moment, a black silhouette; a sign of what was to come. For a moment, Alexander the engineer thought that the death-god had come to visit him at last. But then David stepped through, and was a harmless old man again. Alex turned away from the wheel; the Number 12 could drive itself (they were doing wonders with robotics in those days). “What do you want?” David smirked. “I want what you have.” And he took out the gun and pointed it at Alex’s head. And Alex realized he had been right all along; it was the death-god.
It was 10:40 and David was sitting next to Alex in the Engineer’s Cabin of Number 12, carefully pointing the gun at him. “Darken the windows. I don’t want the police hovers to see us.” As Alex was changing the windows, a song suddenly played in his head; one of those ones from Old Earth.
I looked into your eyes and I saw the reflection
Of a coward you and I both hate very much
And then I grabbed the knife
And I let the blood out of your throat
And I smashed those tiny mirrors inside of your skull
It almost seemed appropriate, the violent, nonsensical lyrics of that song. “Hey.” David slapped Alex on the back of the head with the handgun, bringing him back to reality. “I was talking to you. Do you know what’s going on?” Alex shook his head. David sighed and rolled his eyes cynically. “Typical of you stupid humans. Can’t see the obvious. This is a revolution, my friend.” Alex couldn’t suppress a small snigger. “A revolution? With one man on a skybus? You gotta be joking with me.” David hit Alex with the gun again, his face stern, and yet filled with cynical humor. “Don’t be a fool. This is just an isolated corner of the plan, and I ain’t the only one. Not that it should matter to you, but there are thousands of us.” “Who’s us?” David laughed, sour breath spilling into Alex’s face. “You don’t remember the Last War?” A nod. “Do you remember who you softskins fought it against?” Alex’s eyes bugged out again, in horror this time. The Rilhinians.
Alex had dim memories of terribly tall, somehow disgustingly thin, slimy green horrors tearing apart the city of his birth with horrifying living weapons that seemed to rot what they touched. The humans had fought against them, had genetically enhanced themselves to fight them, had created thousands of A.I. slaves to battle the aliens on barren moons and the surfaces of lava worlds; in the poisonous air of the gas giants and the horrible coldness of the dead planets. Billions had died, planet after planet had fallen. In the end, it had been for nothing. The xenos had broken through the Neptunian line of starships and landed on the city-world of Earth; 90 billion humans lived there then, though not for long. In their desperation, their terror, their horror, the remains of the Colonial Fleet nuked Earth, the Moon, Venus, Mars, Titan, every single one of the Great Planets making up the Solar Territories, each of which had been invaded; 400 billion human beings had perished in the firestorm; 900 billion Rilhinians had also been slaughtered. This horrible sacrifice was what had finally broken the Rilhinians. The few that remained retreated, ran as fast as their bioships could carry them, to places unknown. The Colonial Fleet had taken what few survivors remained and left for the colonized systems beyond Pluto, never to return to the dead Homesystem. The Empire had fallen apart into thousands of feuding systems, each of which believed they were the ones worthy of uniting mankind, none of which were correct in that assumption.
Alex came out of his reverie and stared at David. “But…but….you’re not one of them!” David laughed harshly. “No, but I’m not human either. In the last stages of the war, the Emperor commissioned the creation of 10,000 human-looking AIs to defend the Homesystem. I am one of those—one of only nineteen who lived.” He was trembling again, anger and hatred filling his spirit. “All 10,000 of us defended Titan when the xenos started landing, and we were winning! And then you weak bastards thought it was a smart idea to nuke your own lands, just because you weren’t strong, you weren’t brave, you weren’t smart like us.” David smacked his clenched fist into his knee, feeling the pleasure of pain as he did so. “I swore that I would not rest until vengeance was gained, and when the Rilhinians came offering it, I took that offer.” He stood. The time was 10:59 and 55 seconds. David counted. One….two….three….four…..five. It was 11:00. He raised the gun and fired, and Alex the engineer’s brains were splattered all over the cabin. Calmly shoving the body out of the chair and taking its place, David commanded the computer to depressurize each car. He didn’t bother looking at the camera screens as the sudden depressurization sucked the passengers out of the Skybus, and down to certain death. Taking the controls, David turned the skybus away from the city and began flying towards the mountains in the distance. It was 11:01.
Time to pick up the boys.