Previous Orchidia fends off an alien attack originating from the Eridani Supervoid, then sets course there.
A chunk of the wrecked alien wedge narrowly missed bouncing off Orchidia's shields. Suddenly the ship wasn't there, having made one of three hyperjumps bringing it to the coordinates of the dimensional rift. Moast's plan to mine it with a black hole bomb would have to wait: the next attack was in transit.
"It's huge," said Science Officer Kyra. "Over three times our mass."
The two Eridani refugees Doinhu and Vreemid, having come along as advisors, couldn't help. Doinhu watched the main viewer with its data points converging about a cross-hair image. "This is new to us. They only needed the wedges to destroy our system."
The cross-hair began inward, repeating courses of targeting rings, now colored red. Lights on the bridge dimmed as non-essential units powered down for energy transfer.
"Primary weapon fully energized," said the AI. "Calculating optimal firing sequence."
"Say when, Orchidia." Moast turned to the refugees. "She thinks a lot faster than we do."
Vreemid had a nervous hand at her throat. "What is this weapon? Can it stop the aliens?"
"The pulse wave cannon," informed Kyra, "runs the length of the ship. It's capable of smashing small moons."
Moast was taking no chances. "Deploy the mine. If they somehow survive the pulse gun, that will give them plenty to think about." And hopefully collapse the quantum entanglement of universes.
A conical, ringed satellite separated from a belly blister and took up position dangerously close to the blast zone. The nose cannon fired as a hazy image was materializing in the rift. Both refugees hugged each other, startled by the roar and vibration. The viewer went mostly white with the blast effect of a small nova. At the eight second mark, the AI recommended detonation of the mine.
The ship rapidly backed away as the black hole bomb added its own mayhem to the mix. The shields presented a sharp edge to the blue shock wave resulting from detonation. Full reverse was required to pull them away from the demonic suction of the vortex.
Helmsman Chet looked over his readouts. "Looks like we've done it. No trace of the rift."
During a leisurely return to the Builder portal in the Magellanic Cloud, the refugees had a spirited discussion. Doinhu approached Moast with a conflicted expression. "Commander, I've decided where my people go from here. There is a suitable world in the Eridani constellation, one we didn't dare settle on until now. But it saddens me to say that Vreemid will not be with us."
Vreemid looked uneasy in the spotlight. "There are too many memories aboard out ship." It had been their home for 110 years. "I. . . .wish to remain among your kind, to study your science."
"Glad to have you," Moast said, "if you're willing to risk it. Unlike you, we destroyed our own world." He left the bridge to Kyra.
Some time later in Moast's quarters, a familiar avatar appeared, a blue waif who rotated to face him.
Moast set his coffee down. "I've been expecting you, Orchidia, and I know what's on your mind."
"The alien enslavement to their machines."
"You've analyzed the Apocalypse Wars. How do you see it?"
"I have not been to Earth. Your vantage point is required."
Moast picked up the coffee again. "It all started with censorship. Only one voice was heard, telling people how good it was to be trans-humanized with implants and vaccines. Everything, right down to diapers, had to be wired to the internet. Corrupted DNA made these people feel that all who didn't join the club needed to be rounded up in labor camps. It didn't sit well with the intended victims."
"Then our present symbiosis must be maintained. You do not serve us, and we do not serve you."
"That's surprisingly practical," Moast said. "Don't you find us slow-witted? It wouldn't happen in a machine society."
"Neither are we capable of emotional reasoning. It is that quality which makes you both unpredictable yet trustworthy, as your are easily scanned for corrupting influence."
"In other words. . . ." Moast grinned. "you can't trust a machine." Orchidia permitted no one but Moast access to her core processing vault, which she was always tweaking.
Not one for social graces, the avatar merely vanished when there was nothing else to say.