“In combat… w-wait a tic. Is the empire at war or something?”
Within the darkness, Tarou brought his face closer to her flickering light.
“Negative, Mister Teirow. A definite enemy power to oppose the empire does not exist, so war itself is impossible.”
“Yeah? Then what is it. Some sort ‘f scuffle? Is this era like that? Instead of exchanging fists, you bring out the artillery?”
“I wonder, Mister Teirow. Perhaps those sorts of people exist, but Koume’s data bank does not contain any records of such common sense. Could it be some internal power struggle?”
“Oy, you mean like gangsters goin’ at one another? Anyways, what should we do? Gettin’ dragged in doesn’t sound like fun.”
“Let’s see, this ship is only equipped with a laser to blow debris out of the way. By my calculations, if we get into an actual battle, we will undoubtedly fall.”
“Fall… ooooy, what should we do? What should we do!?”
“Yes, what should we do, Mister Teirow. By the way, we’ve almost arrived. I highly recommend you grab onto something.”
No sooner than Koume had finished those words, the tremors visited the ship once more. Tarou quickly crept to the cold sleep device, holding onto it as he activated BISHOP, frantically searching for a way to defend himself.
“It’s nOoOo GoooDdd, thE WeAponnss weeErrre all DetaAAaacheeedd.”
His tone turned strange in the shaking of the ship. In his eyes, there were a number of self-defense features that showed notices of, ‘OFFLINE’, and he guessed they had been separated along with the engine in whatever accident had left them stranded in space.
And just as with the start of the Drive, silence descended without any warning.
… Overdrive terminating…
… reroute_Battery_Circuit terminating…
… Program Noah terminating…
Those green messages flowed in one after the next. The battery used for the overdrive connected back to the residential quarters, and alongside some flickers, light returned to the room.
“Are we… there?”
Tarou strained his ears for sounds of battle, but after thinking a while, he realized it was a stupid action, and gave up. As there was no air for sound to travel through in space, there was no way he would ever hear anything at all.
“Koume, how’re things lookin’? Do we have a screen or anythin’?”
“Yes, we do, Mister Teirow. Let us go to your room. We do not have many displays you can freely change the output of.”
Wit those words, she began turning her wheels towards the exit of the room. Tarou impatiently lifted her up, making a dash for the crew quarters he had fashioned into his own room over the year.
“From the results of a wide-area scan, there are four ships in the neighborhood. They are all around 45km away… oh, it seems one of the ships has fallen. Its response has disappeared.”
“Geh, doesn’t look like they’re here for a picnic!! Did it have to be here and now!?”
Tarou brushed the cups and food trays onto the floor, resting Koume onto the desk. Koume extended some tentacle-like cables from her spherical body, latching onto to the jack at the bottom of the display.
“… ‘Ello, ‘ello, what’s all this. Is that supposed to be… a ship?”
The strange object on the screen caused Tarou to let out a dubious voice. Rather than a ship, it looked like more like a hunk of scrap. Iron rods, plates, cables and glass domes, where if you looked at each individual piece, it seemed as if they had all come from different crafts. Such pieces had seemingly been put into a trash compactor to form a single large lump. The scary part was that it seemed to function properly as a ship. At times its jet engines would spout to control its direction, and from its pipe, beam-like blue lights would occasionally fire out.
“Just how do you make a ship with a design like that… you can’t just write that one off as crazy. Or what is it? We got a genius recycler on our hands?”
“No, Mister Teirow. That craft was not made by human hands. Things are taking a terrible turn. Of the three remaining ships, it seems two of them are WIND.
“Yes, WIND, Mister Teirow. Wild Instructure Natural Drones. They are pretty much AIs that have gone wild. They strengthen and amplify themselves. And if it is for the sake of their own reproduction, they shall make use of whatever structure they find around.”
“Erk, I didn’t catch all of that, but they’re something like space viruses, right?”
“That is right, Mister Teirow. I believe you have the correct recognition of them. It depends on how you define them, but as intelligent mechanical lifeforms, they are seen as humanity’s natural enemy.”
“Oopsies. Then is that how it is? Then if that shoddy ship over there that seems to be fighting them loses, then it’s all over for us too? … Best of luck!! Go get them, you shabby sunnavabitch!!”
No matter how you looked at it, the ship Tarou called words of encouragement at wasn’t made with combat as its primary function, and it was likely made for some sort of business. With green colored arms, and multiple cargo holds installed onto it, it continued violently exchanging beams with the WIND. At times, a blue light would surround the whole ship, and Tarou guessed that was the enemy attacks hitting square on, and the shields activating.
“Is there anythin’ we can do to help out? Can we converge our debris beams to power them up… or something? Isn’t the enemy kinda getting close to us?”
“Negative. And negative, Mister Teirow. No matter how we singe the enemy shield with our anti-debris-laser, their shield’s regeneration speed will surely be faster. And the enemy isn’t growing closer. We are moving towards them.”
The display contained the form of the WIND approaching at a frightful rate. What he was looking at was nothing more than some points of light on a radar screen, and while they weren’t doing anything, they would likely make contact soon.
“Oy, oy, oy, oy, what are we going to do? If we get close, they’re definitely going to attack us, right?”
“Yes, that’s right, Mister Teirow. It is only natural that it’s easier to aim the closer you are. It has ceased its attack on the other ship.”
Tarou peered into the display again. It projected an optic zoom on a part of the ominous hunk of scraps. The gun muzzle-like parts that had been aimed on the shoddy ship to that point were slowly turning.
“D-deploy the shield!! Change direction!! Don’t let the enemy set its aim!!”
Tarou cried out as he opened his eyes wide, and started up BISHOP. Within it, he could see the area around the shield control function surrounded by red, notifying him that Koume was trying to assist him. It was an indicator not to touch the area because someone else was working on it.
“Run direction control, full speed… is no good. We’ll all be crushed. Damn, modify template. Conduct rotation centered current location!!”
Tarou expanded the direction control function, changing it from its initial execution to turn around the ship’s center of gravity, and setting the residential quarters they were currently in as the center of rotation. If he didn’t, then following the law of inertia, there was a possibility he would be crushed flat.
The program he took a few seconds to change executed at once; the ship began turning with an elliptical trajectory.
“Whoah!! They’re shooting at us!!”
Blue lights flashed across the display. The camera locked onto the WIND ship switched over to one projecting the mass of light flying at them.
Tarou braced his body, clinging onto the desk for dear life. His slightly-opened eyes could see the beam collide with the ship, before dispersing in all directions and fading away.
“Huh? We didn’t shake as much as I thought we would.”
“Yes, Mister Teirow. This ship has a high mass, and the shields are exhibiting enough of an effect. Unless they continue firing on us for quite a long time, we should be fine.”
Tarou gained some relief from Koume’s voice, but taking those words the other way, they were in danger if the firing continued. The fate of this ship looked no different than that of the shoddy work ship that just had its shield pierced and its armor hit directly.
“Whooooooaaah!! That ship totally just took a hit!!”
Unable to stay as he was, Tarou started up BISHOP again. Anything was fine, he thought, as he desperately worked his head to see if there was any hope of salvation.
“…Heeeey, Koume. You said this ship has a high mass, right?”
“Affirmative, Mister Teirow. I don’t know what this ship was initially, but its scale rivals that of a cruiser. Even if half of it’s been detached, that makes no difference to the fact it is enormous.”
It did have enough capsules for four thousand people after all, he thought, as he programmed away with BISHOP. Koume was rapidly reprogramming the shield management program, and its display was changing around at a frightfully rapid pace.
“… Alright!! And off we go!!”
Tarou gave the direction control program a minor adjustment to finely divert the ship’s course. As there wasn’t an engine, he couldn’t make any major changes, but drawing a slow curve was still possible.
“I don’t know about this WIND thing, but meeting us was the end of adbweh!!?”
Before Tarou could finish his line, the ship crashed straight into the wind, giving it a great shake. Tarou flew to the side as if punched in the face, colliding pitifully into the wall in the direction the ship was headed. Tarou had accelerated proportionally to the ship’s deceleration.
Having hit his head, Tarou hazily probed through the flickering BISHOP screen.
“No… damage. Hehe, take that.”
Tarou looked over all the ship’s systems.
Enduring the pain in his body, he mustered his might to make a face of triumph.