Book 4: Chapter 208: Evolution and Divine Remnants

USD: One week after crusade preparations began.

Location: Nu Crateris, Dedia IV Orbit, The Forge-Bay 223, Ythoral Salvage Cruiser.

Ssthik tasted the metal of the scrap that had been fetched from the polluted surface of the planet. The taste was bitter. That was expected for something that had fallen from the heavens and been left to smolder in the toxic atmosphere.

It was not odd that the scrap had been fetched. It was his brother’s work and direction to fetch such things often. The oddity was that they had been blessed with the mind-presence of their Queen, directing them to the remote location.

Ssthik pondered the reason for the Queen’s interest in this specific scrap. Although it was not his place to question, the metal was nearly ruined, the more valuable insides mostly gone. It had been broken into two pieces as the impact site, requiring twice as much work to retrieve.

Nearby, an older nestling screeched as it wrestled with its brother, the metal turrets attached to their backs screeching as they rolled in their play-fighting.

He and his brothers were of the new generation, so he supposed he should be grateful his mind was developed enough to have its own thoughts.

That was necessary to do his work. Ssthik flicked his tongue over the scrap metal plate and determined it was worth the effort of repurposing.

A questioning mind-whisper came from his work-companion and he sent back a mental image of the blackened metal being scoured by the acid vats and then heated in the melter. It would make a good new plate of armor for the warriors.

The other sent back an affirmative response, and Ssthik used his claw arm to slice through the metal, cutting it into an easy to handle square. Then his torso arms picked it up and lowered it down. A small chain of helpers that were learning as they grew passed it along to the transporters, who would ferry it to the acid vat workers.

Bay 223 was efficient as always, and Ssthik was proud to be a part of it. The Queen had twice praised their work before all others, and while that had been a great honor, it had also gained them jealousy from their other brothers.

But the greatest way to show their worth was to continue to work hard and produce the best results. Ssthik was determined to do so.

The next panel was perforated with holes, and he did not even need to use his claw to slice it free, a powerful tug was enough to free it from the scrap body. It was ruined, but the metal was still good. It went down the line to join the other.

The clang of claw on metal echoed through the work bay as the other workers continued to do their tasks. If they continued to be efficient, they might finish within a few cycles.

A loud electric jolt sparked nearby, causing Ssthik to flinch. He raised his claw arm to strike, but it was just a crawler-brother slithering out of a hole in the scrap, its two small arms clutching a blue glowing power cell to its mouth.

Issuing a warning growl, Ssthik reached out and took the device before the crawler disappeared back into the wreckage.

Truly, it was remarkable to find something still functional in the wreckage. The power cell wasn’t an uncommon find in the other things they worked with, but this scrap had been in worst condition than most.

It truly made their specific direction to it even more curious. He passed the piece down the line before shifting on his haunches to the side to prepare for the next cut. His smaller brothers all let out bellows of excitement as they clung to his back and held on as he moved.

The scrap shifted as he moved the grip of his thick lower arms to the next place, generating a myriad array of sounds from the wreckage. Some brothers even scattered in fear.

It was over quickly, and the group got back to work immediately. A new hole lined up with an eyestalk and Ssthik peered inside. A deep puncture ran through the scrap, the metal twisted and torn. In the center of the hole, deep inside, was a small broken metal drone wedged into the frame.

His long tongue flicked out to taste the air, and for some reason Ssthik felt a good feeling about the small piece of metal. His feelings were often correct, so he paused his cutting and extended his long arm to wiggle into the crevasse. When it reached his prize, the tip opened and engulfed the small drone and tugged.

It pulled free easily and the drone’s hands screeched as they remained melted into the fixture, snapping at the wrists. The rest remained intact.

Ssthik pulled it closer to his eye stalk and was disappointed. It was small, and the metal was in no better shape than the rest. Blackened by fire, the only thing that was still intact was the small camera eye and the telltale taste of a small power cell that had been used to power it. Even that was small.

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What had he been thinking? It was just a small piece of metal. He began to discard it when a shrill electronic sound erupted from nearby. A blast of metal arrived with a loud blast that clinked against Ssthik’s beak.

The attack was followed by an electronic “Brooop!”

A chorus of roars from the smaller brothers sounded, and dozens of them leapt and scrambled towards the source: another small metal drone that was still intact, wielding a small metal spitter.

Ssthik’s mind raced as he realized the danger and reached out with his long arm to grab the drone. It continued to spit metal at his face, but his carapace was too thick and meant for worse things.

Thankfully, he acted quickly enough that none of his smaller brothers were hurt. A litany of sounds continued to erupt from the active drone as its metal spitter finally ceased operation.

Ssthik brought the two drones together and examined them. It would be easy to crush the active drone, but he hesitated. It was so rare to find something that still worked, especially by the time it arrived to him and Bay 223.

But ultimately, it would need to be scrapped.

That was their purpose.

He turned the drone around in his long arm and considered how best to allow his brothers to slice it open to fetch the still active power core, when suddenly his body and mind tingled.

The Queen’s presence was in his mind, and it was a strong and clear command. “You have done well. Bring the drones to me.”

There was a stillness in the chamber as every worker paused and froze, the echo of the Queen’s voice still reverberating in their minds.

Another worker, well suited for containing the drones, even the active one approached and Ssthik passed them over to him. Not without protest and the boops continued.

Ssthik turned back to carving away the metal, but his mind was distracted.

The Queen has spoken to him directly, and he had been able to taste more than just her command. Why were the drones considered a trading token?

He vibrated, to the dismay of his smaller brothers, before he settled down and decided to focus on his work.

The Queen would have her reasons, and he would continue to work hard to show his worth.


USD: ~Two weeks after crusade preparations began.

Location: Nu Crateris, Hades, Heaven’s Fire II, Rexxor CIC.

Heeler’s tentacles shifted as he watched the holographic display of the amassed fleet. The ships were arrayed in a tight formation, the various classes of vessels and their escorts all in perfect order.

The massive tunnel that acted as an artery through the moon’s core was filled with the ships to the point where it was difficult to arrange them in a way that would allow clear lines of fire as they descended.

The ships were all Rexxor-built, and the majority of them were the new heavy metal carapace ships that had been developed to counter the Hadenic’s primary weapons. The older ships had been left as rear-guard and to defend the resource-rich areas that the Queens were already exploiting.

The ships were blazoned with colors and symbols that represented the various Queens and their broods. It was something that had only recently been allowed, another concession to the Queens.

In his opinion, they were consuming too much media of the humans.

He activated his console and directed the ships to begin their movement. There were four sub-cores assisting him with the control of the vessels. Interspersed in the center of the formation were dozens of large barges containing the ground forces that would be deployed once the ships had punched through the Hadenic defenses and neared the enemy’s great nest.

They had learned to place the Brains deep within the smaller crevices now, so most the fleet would be unable to reach them. The ground force of Rexxor and Drone would be required to do so.

If they failed, there was only one alternative: dig the brain out with the firepower of the fleet, but that would take days or even weeks and the Hadenics would be able to counter them or escape to a new location.

They had done so before.

The chorus of minds greeted him as he opened his mental connection to his brothers. He could feel the determination oozing off of them like a thick syrup. They were ready to fight, to die if necessary. Many would.

But he would make sure that their efforts would bear fruit for the Rexxor.

“Brothers,” he began, the mental noise suddenly becoming still as he broadcast his thoughts. “We now embark on the last phase of our war. Across the interior, our fleets now move forward to deliver a final blow to our enemies.”

There was a muted silence as he continued, every Rexxor carefully listening to the one that had been part of their creation. Not all of them were intelligent enough to understand the words, but the emotion and the intent were clear to all.

“Our victory means our Queens shall prosper, and be able to birth new broods, ones that will be able to thrive in the new world we will create with our own claws,” Heeler finished.

The mental noise began to rise, and then the chorus of minds began to sing. It was a song of war, of victory assured, and of the future that would be theirs.

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