6347 words (25 minute read)

Chapter 3


The shockwave tore through the hangar like an apocalyptic ripple on the surface of a pond. The initial impact barely made a noise, with its existence only registering through vibrations on the floor. When the destruction finally caught up with it, though, it heaved the floor plates into the air like a tsunami tossing ships.

Warnings flashed before my eyes, alerting me of the potentially harmful trajectory of the catapulted debris. Inevitably, the shockwave reached my feet, and I was flung toward the ceiling. The low gravity did little to slow my ascent toward the forest of mechanical arms and articulated tools.

I managed to flip around with a quick burst of my thrusters, relying mostly on my subsystems to handle all the calculations, and landing on my feet on the ceiling. My legs absorbed the impact, but as soon as I managed to balance myself after avoiding the many obstacles around me, gravity claimed me back, and I found myself plummeting to the ground.

Again, I had to avoid a rain of debris and broken ground that fell all around me. Again, I narrowly dodged any significant impacts before landing safely on the shattered ground.

Closer to the epicenter of the shockwave, the hangar had partially collapsed, opening itself up to the empty sky above. I could see stars shining on black, empty space, except for one full quadrant of the sky, which was filled by the glowing presence of an enormous, nameless gas giant.

No – not nameless. Stars and signature data from the enormous planet were parsed by my navigational core to identified it as Asgard. This would mean that Yggdrassil was located on Midgard, the gas giant’s minuscule and only moon.

“What’s going on?” I finally thought to ask, but only silence replied.


There was no answer.

I summoned a plan of Midgard into my field of vision and was glad to see that I could make my way to Yggdrassil’s central processing core and attempt to interface with her directly.

I ran, pleased to discover that my small, double-jointed legs could achieve surprisingly high speeds, especially in such low gravity.

I jumped and weaved between debris and fallen chunks of ceiling, navigating the cracked and ravaged ground toward the open section of the hangar, deciding that traveling outside the facility would minimize the risk of getting caught by further cave-ins and collapses.

No sooner did I manage to climb to the large opening ripped into the ceiling did I see the near-invisible reflection of a large object streaking through the sky at mind-shattering speed. It struck the ground, sending a tall plume of dust and debris flying toward the glowing orb of Asgard.

“Meteors…” I mumbled uselessly to myself, less than a second before the impact.

Again, the hangar shook violently. This time I could easily see the trail of destruction from the point of impact. It moved out from the epicenter in circular patterns. Structures that were part of Yggdrassil, the only other sentient being I knew, were ripped from the moon’s soil, their foundations pushed up from the ground in various awkward angles.

I was terrified to see that the impact location nearly coincided with the structure where Yggdrassil’s cerebral core was buried.

When the shockwave finally reached the hangar, the force of the blast heaved the broken structure up with such violence as to catapult me toward the sky. I slowed my descent with my maneuvering thrusters long enough to witness the chaos below me. For the first time I got a true glimpse of the sheer size of my “mother.”

Yggdrassil, the complex, sprawled nearly a kilometer and a half in diameter. An array of eight structures all connected to a central hub and tower. The high rise in the middle appeared to have been constructed to reach into the heavens, but it was now a crumbling ruin of twisted pseudo-plastics and hyper materials. The tunnels leading to and from the radiating structures appeared intact but disconnected from each other. I already knew that there was more of Yggdrassil under the surface of Midgard, but there was no reason to assume it had fared any better than the structures on top. The Womb and the hangar in which my body had been assembled lay in waste, resembling a crumpled up ball of paper.

Fortunately, my form was constructed to help other Capeks in need. Therefore, mobility and adaptability weren’t an issue. I maneuvered my slow fall so I could land as close to the central hub as possible. From there I ran, climbed, and leapt my way to where the meteors had hit.

There were two craters, one for each impact. A quick calculation allowed me to infer that the difference in position of the craters was due to the moon’s rotation and that both meteors had come from the same trajectory. This seemed relevant, but I was at a loss to figure out why.

Finding my way into the Yggdrassil ‘brain’ was easy enough. Several corridors and access tunnels had been laid bare in the impact. My rather compact size allowed me to slide into these passages with ease. I was less worried about cave-ins and the unstable ground after the impacts than of a possible third (or fourth?) meteor hit, but I managed to stay on mission.

It wasn’t long before I realized that the deeper I ventured into the central hub, now a mess of cracked and fractured components, I was getting no closer to Yggdrassil’s brain. In fact, I had already reached the cerebral core, and it lay all around me in irreparable ruin.

I looked for what might have been a memory storage unit, a personality backup – anything. It seemed impossible that something as important as Yggdrassil could be obliterated so easily – that there had been no defense against such a disaster, and that there were no contingencies or redundancies to mitigate losses in a situation such as this.

Nothing. There was nothing. Power was cut off from most sections with only minimal auxiliary capabilities here and there. If there was anything left of Yggdrassil, my only friend if only for a short period of time, then there was nothing about it in the limited schematics in my memory and no obvious clues to be found in the wreckage of the complex.

I had to face facts; I was alone. My only memories were fading impressions from past lives that never happened and whatever I had learned since emerging from the Nursery.

The Nursery!

Quickly, I called up the schematics to the complex to locate the Nursery – this repository of incubating personalities, where literally millions awaited to be born, some probably not that far behind me on their path to the Womb. Jonathan.


A voice. At first I thought it might be Yggdrassil, still alive somehow, but the tone was different, deeper, and nowhere near as soothing. It wasn’t on the right channel either. This voice was coming in from quancom, thus it could have been from halfway across the galaxy.

“Anyone down there?”

“Yes. Me,” I answered back hesitantly. The process felt like telepathy but without the innate familiarity I had shared with Yggdrassil.

“Ah ha!” the voice boomed in my head. “You might want to consider leaving the surface there. Those two hits you guys sustained were little more than an appetizer. The main course is incoming, and it’s a feast!”

I had to find the Nursery and get out of here.

“I don’t have any way off this moon, and I need to salvage what I can of Yggdrassil.”

“No worries, that’s why I’m here. Normally I’d pick you up, but things are getting a little hairy up here. If you can find your way to low orbit, though, everything will be juuuuust fine.”

Whoever this was made it sound so simple. Just make my way to orbit. How hard could that be?

“I still need to salvage the Nursery,” I pleaded.

“Negative, friend. Yggdrassil knew this was coming but barely had time to call a taxi for you. I doubt she made any backups for you to bring along.”

She knew? Is that why she was in such a hurry to assemble me and push me out of the nest? One last child spawned before the end. Ah! Found the Nursery’s mnemonic repository. Just a few hundred meters away. Through a forest of bulkheads and collapsed corridors, most likely.

“Fine by me,” I said as I started making my way through the maze of crumbling passageways. “I’ll just take the whole thing then.”

“I admire your ambition friend. Truly, I do, but I don’t think you comprehend the gravity of your situation. The next meteor to hit Midgard isn’t a little bigger or even twice as big. The precursors were barely a few meters in diameter. How big is the next one? Glad you asked! Three-hundred and seventy-five meters!”

I ignored him, concentrating on finding the shortest path toward my goal. If I couldn’t save Yggdrassil, I had to at least save her legacy. I wasn’t sure what could be done with just the Nursery, but surely there was a way to save the incubating personalities within.

“Hello? You still there friend?” the voice called again.

“I’m here.”

“How’s your escape plan coming?”

“I don’t have one. Wait! I do. I pick up the Nursery while you figure out how to get me into orbit.”

I heard him groan through quancom – a thoroughly human behavior. It made me smile… metaphorically speaking.

“Fine, but I should warn you; I am known for my unorthodox methods of problem solving.”

“Understood,” I answered, not caring what he meant by that, as my focus remained solely on finding the last vestiges of Yggdrassil.

After several more minutes of negotiating narrow passages and crawl spaces, I came upon a small chamber untouched by the massive destruction that surrounded it. Gargantuan pillars of composite hyper materials created an intricate lattice that seemed designed solely to prevent the chamber from collapsing onto itself, thus protecting the precious mnemonic core in the center.

I dropped into the chamber, which despite being intact was now tilted. I clambered up to the main cerebral array while poring through any technical information Yggdrassil might have stuffed in my mind relating to this sort of construct.

I’m coming, Jonathan.

I couldn’t find a perfect analogue, but I did manage to dig up the schematic for a Nursery-like artificial environment that was apparently designed for entertainment. While the specifics were different, the mnemonic core was sufficiently similar enough that I could find out where it was located in the structure. I also discovered that it wasn’t exactly engineered for easy removal.

“Little buddy?” the voice was back. “You might want to hurry. I have an escape solution for you, but you’ll have to hoof it if you want to get out of there.”

“On my way.”

No time to waste. I unleashed my plasma cutter from its magnetic sheath. The torch glowed a brilliant blue, rippling as the sun-like heat tried to radiate in the cold vacuum.

Using a little judgment and too much guesswork, I stabbed the cutter into the Nursery’s outer shell. The casing and whatever lay within offered no resistance to the knife. Carefully, I cut a circular pattern roughly fifty centimeters, enough to separate the mnemonic core without damaging it. Then, using the large claws on my right hand, I grabbed and pulled at the unit. With a groan of tearing metal and ripping pseudo-plastics, the core slid out of the piece I had cut in one jagged, broken cylinder. The piece looked like a ruin, but closer inspection revealed that the mnemonic core itself was intact, nestled tightly in whatever other systems I had gutted in the process.

“Alright. I’m on my way out. Where do I go?”

“Climb to the highest point on what remains of the tower,” the voice answered, some of its good humor worn off by the urgency of the situation. “Shake a leg. You have less than twenty minutes.”


Twenty minutes sounded like plenty of time to me. It took barely ten to make my way out of the cavernous depths of Yggdrassil’s entrails. I hate to admit it, but it was an emotional ascent. Despite having known her for such a short time (that I could remember), I felt like I was abandoning my progenitor. She’d given me life, and all I could do was leave her behind.

Once I reached the surface, with ten minutes to spare, I realized I had my work cut out for me. The tower, while toppled and crumbled, remained several hundred feet in height. The low gravity on Midgard would help, but the uneven and traitorous surface of the unstable tower would prove a challenge to conquer. What had once been a gleaming spire listed to one side. The top few segments of the tower had been ripped away by the impact exposing the underlying structure of struts and beams. Fortunately this offered a lot of handholds without which the climb might have been impossible, especially while carrying the remains of the Nursery.

“What exactly is your plan…?” I realized I’d never asked my savior his name.

“Skinfaxi,” he answered. “Interesting coincidence isn’t it?”

I didn’t understand what he meant, and his name was strange. Also, it didn’t answer my question.

“You need to reach around nine-thousand kilometers per hour to achieve escape velocity,” he continued. “Assuming you don’t shatter yourself on any of the other incoming meteors, once you’re away from Midgard’s gravity well, I can pick you up at my leisure.”

“Alright. My legs and thrusters combined can barely provide a fraction of that kind of power. What do I do?”

I had in fact been jumping from one handhold to the other, using the debris to help push myself up the tower faster.

“You’ll need to exert over four-hundred kilograms of thrust per second for a full minute to reach that speed. There are plenty of things you could have used to do that in the hangar, but you’re out of time.”

“Fine! I get it! I missed my other opportunities! Now what do I do?” I was losing patience. The top of the ruined tower seemed so far away, and time was running out. So far, the only thing that seemed to be going my way was the ascent up the ruined spire.

“Thankfully, if my calculations aren’t too much off their mark, you should be just close enough to ground zero for the meteor impact to provide you with several kilotons per seconds of thrust. That should blow you right off of Midgard’s surface.”

I froze. With seconds to spare, I realized for the first time that whoever I was talking to was a stranger. That I had never received any evidence that he was looking out for my best interest, and now I was standing, halfway up the tallest structure on this moon, about to be annihilated by a cataclysmic astronomical event.

“What the…” I started complaining.

Before I could complete my thought, however, an enormous chunk of rock and metal zoomed out of the black sky and slammed into Midgard’s surface. Without an atmosphere to provide friction or sufficient light to illuminate it, the enormous projectile came out of nowhere. Without air to carry sound, it descended silently at several times the speed of sound, crashing near the base of the tower.

The impact threw the ruined structure to the sky, breaking it apart in the process. Thousands of pieces of metal, pseudo-plastic, and other hyper materials were launched upward, my brand new body amongst them.

I held on tight to the Nursery’s mnemonic core as I flew skyward at speeds I’d never imagined I could reach. Apart from the vibrations created by the occasional debris that crashed into me, the whole cataclysmic event happened in perfect silence.

After a few minutes of flying toward the great black vacuum, the cloud of tower fragments I was a part of spread sufficiently so I could get a better look at my situation.

Below me, I could see the rapidly receding surface of Midgard. An immense glowing crater had replaced the area where Yggdrassil had been located. Looking around, I could see why Skinfaxi had chosen not to descend upon the moon’s surface. Thousands of meteors of various sizes were raining down upon the surface of Midgard. In less than an hour, most of these high velocity projectiles would become craters, forever altering the topography of my birth world.

Then I saw it.

Amongst the incoming shards of rock, like a whale hidden in a school of fish, a titanic meteor several kilometers wide was making its way to Midgard. Everything else, including the monster that had propelled me off the surface, was just a preamble – the entourage of the real behemoth whose destiny was to destroy the moon.

Once this leviathan hit, nothing would be left of Midgard but a slowly expanding debris field.

“How are you doing out there little buddy?” Skinfaxi’s voice cut through my thoughts.

“I won’t lie; I’m a little terrified.”

“Ho Ho! Have no fear friend! I’m on my way.”

I looked around and, sure enough, in the distance I could see the telltale gleam of an artificial construct. I zoomed in with my optics to get a better look at his ship. The vessel was large enough at a respectable twenty meters wide. Its shape reminded me of a crab’s shell. I couldn’t see any view port or windows. There were devices, engines, and drives, I assumed, attached to the top and back of the ship that I couldn’t identify, though a pair of large ion thrusters was in evidence.

It took a while for Skinfaxi to arrive at my position, while I looked through my limited bank of information to understand the coincidence he’d mentioned earlier. “The bright-maned horse Skinfaxi, who draws day to mankind.” Day, or in Norse, Dagr.

“What’s with the Norse obsession?” I asked.

“Capek genealogy,” Skinfaxi explained as he brought his ship closer. The vessel had elegant lines for such a sturdy design. In fact, the surface of it looked almost delicate, with a thick layer of semitranslucent pseudo-plastic over a shell of gleaming metal. Underneath the ship, a round platform slid down to reveal an opening. Using my maneuvering thrusters, I made my way inside the large spacecraft.

“Gaia-class Capeks, such as Yggdrassil, were named after various myths and religions,” he continued as I looked around the ship. “Offspring names are taken from the same stories in order to trace lineage. They don’t mean anything as far as I can tell, though you do run across interesting coincidences at times.”

There was no artificial gravity by way of rotation or magnetic plates in the floor of the ship. In fact, there were no identifiable floors or ceilings. No ups or downs. Just a length of circular corridor roughly two meters wide, covered in ribbing that served as handhold for passengers to move around the vessel interior, intersected by a couple of other corridors further towards the front.

“Follow the lights to the bridge.”

I followed his instruction, pushing myself in the direction of a set of small blinking lights embedded into the corridor.

There was a distinct lack of intersections and other corridors between the entrance hatch and the bridge. Just one uninterrupted corridor. There seemed to be irregularities in the surface of the passage that might have been doors or perhaps access panels for maintenance.

The bridge itself was an oddity. The room was spherical with a large view screen that took up most of the front portion of the room. There were no chairs and no terminals, save for the outline of smaller monitors on the side of the room. It was a relatively small area, five meters in diameter. The large screen displayed Midgard, obscured by a cloud of slowly expanding reddish-brown dust. I could see the larger meteor, moments from plunging into the cloud to deliver the deathblow.

“I call it Ragnarok,” Skinfaxi said, without showing himself. “I’m moving us away from it. The impact is going to be incredible.”

I stopped looking around for the pilot and stared at the screen. For a while, nothing happened. Dust kept billowing, and more meteors kept disappearing in the cloud. Then, there was a brief flash of light. Within seconds, the dust cloud was blown out as large chunks of the moon were thrown in almost every direction. More dust bubbled out of the impact site at incredible speeds. Midgard didn’t so much explode as disintegrate, like a sandcastle hit by a wave in the rising tide. Most of the larger pieces of the moon kept up with the momentum and direction of Ragnarok, but several chunks, some kilometers in width, sped in our general direction.

“Okay. We’re out of here,” Skinfaxi declared with relative calm, still from apparently nowhere.

The image on the monitor rotated from the planet, giving me a dazzling view of the gas giant Asgard before pointing toward open space. The stars blinked for a second, and the ship rotated back, Ragnarok now a small, bright crescent in the darkness, and the remains of Midgard barely visible despite my advanced optics.

I stared in silence. I interrogated my internal equipment and found I had officially been online, out of the Nursery, and into this body for a little over two hours. I had seen meteors ravage a space station, traveled to space, boarded a spacecraft, and witnessed the destruction of a moon.

“Is the life of a Capek always this exciting?”

“Ohoh! You haven’t seen anything yet.”

I floated around the bridge for a few more minutes, digesting what I had gone through and twisting the mnemonic core in my hands. The cylinder of melted metal and pulled wires housed a self-sustaining memory loop. The impossibly complex information that represented a whole world’s history with billions of individual personalities was stored in this tiny electronic miracle. Without the processing power to animate the artificial world within, the core had settled into a repeating pattern that refreshed the information within at a very low energy cost. The internal battery, assuming it was in good condition, would keep this virtual universe frozen in time for over a century.

I became restless waiting for my host to show himself. I hesitantly began to prune the loose wiring and burnt plastic from the mnemonic core for a moment before losing patience.

“Skinfaxi?” I asked, trying to mask my irritation.

“Mmmh?” the voice came back, still omnidirectional. Still disembodied.

“Where are you?”

My host remained silent for a moment before answering with a question of his own.

“You mean, where’s my body?”

“I guess so…”

“Haha! You’re floating in it.”

I looked around me at the sphere that was the bridge, wondering if he meant this room or…

“I am this ship. A Sputnik-class Capek. I was born and built in the very same hangar where you awakened. Did you think a facility that size was meant to build meter-tall humanoids?”

The hangar had been over a quarter of a kilometer in length. Even Skinfaxi would have been tiny inside such a structure. What kind of Capeks had Yggdrassil been capable of building?

“Doesn’t that make interacting with humanoids more difficult? What about doing things planet side?”

“Not everyone is interested in doing surface things. Sputniks tend to like swimming among the stars. Though I can always use a remote telepresence drone to interact with my smaller peers, but I’m almost out of those. I was hoping to get more from Yggdrassil.”

Yggdrassil. The elephant in the room. If I understood him correctly, he and I were siblings in a fashion. We’d both lost a parent in a way, though not really. I wasn’t close to the artificial intelligence that had spawned me, yet I felt a hint of loss. How did he feel?

“What happened back there? How does something like Yggdrassil get surprised by a meteor shower?” Judging by the level of technology that went into constructing my body, I could only imagine the vast technical resources available to the Capek race. How could they allow such a catastrophe to just happen?

“I’m not sure. I was originally summoned by Yggdrassil to pick you up. Show you around, bring you to the City so you could start finding your way. That’s going to have to wait a little now. Want to know where those rocks came from?”

“Yes.” I wanted an answer, and in a way I got one, but it wasn’t what I expected.

“So do I.” His voice had taken an ominous if a little amused tone. He might as well have been saying Get a load of this as he spoke.

Skinfaxi had good reason to think I’d be impressed. Through the front monitor, I saw that he was adjusting headings. Once he’d stabilized our direction, the stars becoming immobile after a change of pitch and yaw, I heard the buildup of a high-pitched hum emanating from the back of the ship.

“Hold on,” he warned.

As a first-time space traveler, I didn’t quite know what to expect. His warning led me to think that whatever was building up would cause a tremendous disturbance, perhaps throwing me to the back of the spherical room or interfering with my sensors in an unpleasant way. I tried to pull up information on space travel but could only fish out technical manuals on the various kinds of long-range propulsion and space distortion engines and how to repair and maintain them. Nothing about their potential effect on a passenger. Before I could sift through it all, the crescendo reached its highest pitch and went silent. Then, the stars danced.

Actually, they wiggled, as if space was reflected on a still lake that was suddenly disturbed. When the heavens finally settled, I noticed that the lights that populated the sky around us were moving. Or rather, we were moving. Judging by the stars’ shifting, we were traveling at speeds that were literally, or rather mathematically, impossible.

“How fast are we going?” I asked, while floating closer to the monitor in awe.

“C3.6 and rising.”

“That’s impossible…” I gushed in wonderment.

“Haha! Actually, you’re right,” he explained. “We aren’t technically moving, but we are in a bubble of space that is. Since the bubble has zero mass, it isn’t limited to relativistic speeds.”

“An Alcubierre drive?” It made sense now. A quick scan of my library found three types of faster-than-light drives and this one matched Skinfaxi’s description closest.

“A variation of it, yes. The energy requirements are magnitudes lower.”

I wasn’t that technically minded. Yet, I suddenly found myself fascinated by the technology I was witnessing. This scientific miracle wasn’t just an incredible tool available to Skinfaxi; it was a part of him as much as legs were a part of me. What was a violation of the traditional laws of physics was a simple means of locomotion to him.

“Where are we going?”

“While I was on my way to retrieve you from your little high-altitude trip, I calculated the origin of the meteor that destroyed Yggdrassil.

“A cursory spectrographic survey told me that Ragnarok had originally been a single chunk of rock that had broken apart during travel. A little reverse navigation, and I found that it had come from…”

The stars suddenly stopped moving with another odd rippling. Skinfaxi came to a complete stop, and on screen I could see a perfect circle of absolute darkness. Or rather a circular area through which I could see no stars.


“What is that?” My initial thought was that it must be a black hole, but further reflection made me realize that light wasn’t being distorted around the phenomenon, nor was there any change in gravity. The object, if it could be called such, was roughly three kilometers across but had, to my limited perception, no mass at all.

“A collapsor point. The front door of a wormhole.”

“So Ragnarok came though this and coincidentally ran into Midgard?”

“Hmmph! Not coincidentally, but yes. I think the meteor was sent from somewhere with the specific goal of destroying Yggdrassil.”

“That’s insane! Why would anyone attack Yggdrassil? Wouldn’t she have told me if she had enemies? Especially if it meant I’d be dodging meteors within minutes?”

“Who knows? It doesn’t matter anyway. I don’t know of anyone who would wish harm on one of the Gaias, and there’s no reason to think Yggdrassil believed any different. She might have assumed it was just catastrophic bad luck. But, in my humble opinion, that meteor couldn’t have made it to Midgard without someone carefully orchestrating its trajectory, especially with the proximity of Asgard. The gas giant should have pulled that rock before it even got close to Midgard.”

“Could it have been aliens?” I asked. While Skinfaxi had explained his reasoning I had looked up if our civilization had contact with non-human life forms but nothing had come up.

“It’s not completely impossible but too implausible. There are billions of stars in the galaxy but we’ve done a good job cataloguing the vast majority. Especially the really interesting ones. Fermi’s paradox holds true; if there was a civilization out there capable of lobbing asteroids through wormholes, we’d have seen signs by now.”

“One of us used this wormhole to toss a stone at Yggdrassil.”

There was an interesting spark of fire in Skinfaxi’s tone. So far I’d seen him dodging away from a collapsing moon with a detached sense of humor. While I couldn’t claim to know this Capek very well, I was surprised by the edge in his voice.

“So how do we find out who did this?”

“We?” he asked.

“I literally have nowhere else to go and nothing else to do, so I might as well help you figure this out.” While he had mentioned something about taking me to “the city,” whatever that meant, I was far more curious about who could and would arrange for the destruction of an astral body for the sake of assassinating my progenitor. There was a mystery that needed investigation, and I was drawn to solve it. I hadn’t been able to do anything to protect Yggdrasil who had given me life, the least I could do was figure out who was behind this.

“Haha!” he answered, his good cheer back in force. “There’s only one way to answer your question my friend. Keep your eyes open. You’re not going to want to miss this!”

With these words, my companion activated whatever propulsion mechanism moved him at sub-light speeds and moved us toward the collapsor point. As we got close enough, I could see that the anomaly was not as perfect a black spot as I had first thought. Once we’d gotten close enough, I noticed thousands of minuscule lines of multicolored lights streaking toward the middle of the circle, their pattern suggesting the walls of a tubular shape within the collapsor point. Then, we went in.

The walls of the wormhole, if they could be described as such, exploded with color, stretching the limits of my visual light sensors. The streaks of light became beams of color, the light of the stars we passed stretched out over light-years in the wormhole. While we hit the collapsor point head on, we didn’t keep our heading for long. The wormhole was happy to pull us along toward the other end but did nothing to keep us straight. I wondered if Skinfaxi simply couldn’t correct our angle or simply did not care to. With the lack of gravity or inertial forces tugging at us, I guess it didn’t matter. The whole trip lasted a little more than an hour and all of it in perfect silence and calm. The images blurring past the monitor tilting as we slowly listed to port.

The journey ended as suddenly as it began. One moment the universe was a parade of racing colors and lights, the next we were back in the blackness of space.

A soft chime repeating three times in rapid succession – accompanied by the ambient light within the bridge changing to a dramatic red – served as a warning. I scoured the projection of the outside, looking for the cause of alarm.

To the lower right of the monitor, I noticed a speckled cloud of sparkling material. Skinfaxi must have noticed it at the same time as the monitor zoomed into the cloud, revealing it to be a cluster of asteroids and floating debris – perhaps the remnants of a shattered world.

“What’s that?” I asked, pointing at a strange object nestled within the agglomeration.

The image enlarged further, bringing into focus an artificial structure. By all reasoning, it was another spaceship, one of immense proportion. I estimated its length at four kilometers, ninety percent of it an elongated frame constructed of gigantic latticed girders. The entire structure looked inert, with no lights blinking or portions moving. At first glance, it looked as if it might be abandoned.

Careful inspection revealed, however, that at regular intervals, the ship would fire minuscule maneuvering thrusters, adjusting its position to avoid collision with any of the larger, free-floating rocks that moved by.

Infrared imaging also showed signs of many active systems, some moving at a furious pace within the ship.

“Is that another Capek?” I inquired, trying not to sound too naive.

“No…” Skinfaxi replied, also straining to identify the vessel. “It’s not sentient, but it has a transponder. It’s called the Spear of Athena, and it’s identified as construction equipment. A mining ship.”

“Mining ship?” I figured the vessel was meant for asteroid mining, but at the same time, the vessel seemed awkward and large for even that function.

“Actually, it’s a mass driver. It picks up rocks, shoots them at larger rocks until it finds one with a rich enough content of whatever material it’s looking for, then shoots it toward a refinery.”

“It’s a giant, asteroid-shooting space gun?” My implication must have been obvious, as I immediately noticed us moving toward the Spear of Athena.

“Yup,” was all Skinfaxi could add.

We approached the titanic ship carefully. Skinfaxi flooded the surface of the vessel in light, and I managed to get a better view of the monster. It had an ominous quality to it – dark and evidently old. Every surface was pockmarked from the impact of a million micro-meteors, giving it a rough texture reminiscent of rust. With only hints of markings long erased by radiation, the ship’s damage and age could still be seen, but not read.

“Should we be getting this close? It destroyed Yggdrassil, it could probably destroy us.”

“Nah,” my companion reassured me. “Very few Capeks are equipped with any kind of weapon, and even fewer of our tools are weaponized. This mass driver and your plasma cutter are probably the most powerful weapons within several light-years.”

I was tempted to ask how he knew about the powerful tool Yggdrassil had given me. Perhaps he had scanned my body as I came on board. Still, I could not bring myself to feeling any safer.

“What if it’s been modified with some kind of defensive capabilities? Shouldn’t we notify some sort of authority?”

“Hoho,” he laughed. “You misunderstand a fundamental of Capek society; we do not have a central government or authority.”

That seemed strange to me, that a society could be intentionally unsupervised. Without a governmental body, how did anything get done?

“What about human authority? Surely they have a stake in this.”

“They have a stake, yes, but you wouldn’t call it immediate. Yggdrassil didn’t have time to explain much, did she?”

I let my silence speak for me, looking within instead for the answers. I quickly found out that there were no human governments because there were no humans. Anywhere. There hadn’t been for centuries. You’d think Yggdrassil would have mentioned this. There was more of course, but it would have to wait.

“I’m bringing us close to an access port. Since I’m not getting any answer from the ship, you’re going to have to go inside.”

I looked around, mildly surprised I was asked to do anything.

“Oh. Sure. What am I looking for?”

“Find the bridge. You should be able to access the ship’s logs from there. If you can’t, open transmissions so I can download them myself, then feel free to cut out the memory core and bring it back.”

At least the mission was something I already had experience with.

“What about this?” I held aloft the torn-up fragment of the Nursery I had rescued from Midgard.

“Leave it here. I’ll keep it safe.”

And without further ceremony, I made my way back to the hatch.