the hate engine (6)

His ship cracked apart like an icicle without even breaching our hull. It was pathetic. Then he tried to walk through our ship's walls like they had the first time, but whatever mechanism they used to do it was dying like their ships were dying. We had to cut him out of a bulkhead.

‘Hey, fuckface,’ he spat. He couldn’t sit on account of the chunks of our spaceship still embedded in his flesh. The painkillers in his system would eventually put him in a coma, but for now they just seemed to be making him angry. ‘Nice going. Thanks for the mass murder, asshole.’

‘I’m just getting started,’ I said.

Days later, we—myself, Lemarch, enough staff to fill out an away team, and several of our cobbled-together ships flying escort—were bound for the Andromeda border station in the Kuiper. We hailed them. No response came. I couldn't get my mind off the interrogation. None of us could, I think.

He’d been pulling chunks of his hair out. The two guys posted at the door had little smiles on their faces. They’d kept adjusting their grips on their sidearms. ‘Imagine revenge in your gut,’ he’d said, clenching his fist. ‘That feeling of justice served. Then your friend just goes limp in his chair. You turn around the same time your captain hits the floor. Most of your crew’s already dead but you won’t know it for another minute, and your nose is bleeding.’ He’d sniffed: spat red. ‘Cheater.’

I’d held his gaze for a second before leaning forward and saying, ‘You stole our most vital energy source. We had to find another one.’

‘Oh,’ he’d said, waving his hands. ‘Oh, excuse me.’

In the Kuiper, we completed the docking handshake, donned our EVA suits and waited for the airlock to cycle. Still no response from inside the station. Lemarch and I exchanged glances. I had an idea what we’d find, but I didn’t altogether like the thought. Of course, that was what he’d wanted.

‘Excuse me,’ he’d gone on. ‘Listen, your sun’s hot garbage. And Earth? Man, I wouldn’t wipe my ass with it. You know, Andromeda’s ancient history for us. We forgot all about this psychic projector shit. Nobody ever built one, not on a meaningful scale.’

Nobody had wanted to until he'd come along. ‘Desperate times,’ I’d said. ‘You had the edge on us; technologically, we still don’t know what you’re capable of.’ I’d smiled and gestured at my shoulder; at the same place on his body, shipmetal jutted. ’But what could we use that you couldn’t just steal, subvert, destroy?

‘After first contact, all I could think about was how undisguised you were. You made it powerfully clear that you hated us as much as—maybe more than—we’d soon hate you. It’s not pretty, I’ll grant you, that feeling. But it’s clean. Pure.’ I’d bit my lip. Savoured the moment. ‘Renewable.’

‘Yeah, good for you. Real classy. You just hated a bunch of time travellers to death. Well, guess what? You fucked up.’ He’d been breathless. Shrill. ‘Once we figured out what was happening, we blew it up. Your projector. Found it bumbling around near the layer of supercritical hydrogen. That’s cool, that’s great, that’s why a few of us aren’t dead yet.’ He’d leaned over the table, eyes wild. ‘Too late. Didn’t matter. The reaction's self-sustaining.’

‘Free energy,’ I’d said. But I had felt a sour feeling growing in my stomach. ‘A second sun.’

‘Listen, shitwizard.’ He’d started pacing, dragging his fingers down his face as he spoke. ‘You just poured a civilisation’s worth of emotion into a bottle and amplified it so much it fucking ignited Jupiter.’ He tore at his hair. ‘What? I mean, what?’

The airlock finished cycling.

When the doors opened, the man beside me took one look, retched inside his helmet, and turned away. I found myself moving forward. It felt like sleepwalking. Someone said something over the comm but I couldn’t hear them because my heart was pounding so loud.

The station hadn’t been abandoned as we’d feared. Quite the opposite. Judging by the amount of gore and charred flesh coating the station interior, they might even have been preparing for a second invasion.

I supposed it didn't matter now.

‘No life signs,’ said Lemarch. ‘Christ. Oh, Christ. It’s everywhere.’

‘Let’s get what we came for,’ I breathed, ‘and get the hell out of here.’

We had been transfixed by him. By then his voice had gotten hoarse from shouting. ‘Do you seriously not know anything about emotion physics! You think this shit just wibbles around in the luminiferous aether?’ Before anyone could react he’d reached over the table, grabbed me by the collar, and started shaking me, screaming. ’You fuck! You devil-Hitler! You lit Jupiter on fire by filling it with thoughts! It’s no star, it hasn’t got the mass for this, but now it knows it! Oh my God!

YOU FUCKING WOKE IT UP!’

James Firkins

Australian web designer & developer. I write, draw, and make games. I like quiet things.