by Michael Haynes
The emissary of destruction awoke as his ship decelerated upon entry into the Grinaldi system. Though the calendar would say a dozen generations had passed since the Grinaldi had methodically, torturously, wiped out his homeworld those memories were fresh in his mind. For him, it had happened only days before.
His consciousness, the only part of him which had been able to make the journey, went immediately to work. He confirmed the computer’s accounting of the ship’s location and checked to ensure that the transmissions originating from the system’s large fourth planet were indeed Grinaldi.
His makers had argued whether a conscious mind was necessary for this mission. There had been some who felt computerized systems were all that the ship required, but others said such a device would be irresponsible, capable of accidentally wiping out other inhabitants if they had overrun Grinald in the centuries between the launch of this ship and its arrival.
The emissary scanned the bandwidths and found broadcasts in several of the languages known to his people from their contact with the Grinaldi. Satisfied, he turned his mind from the receptions and went through the rest of his checklist. But something nagged at him as he worked. Something about the broadcasts. It stayed in the back of his mind as he made final adjustments to the ship’s trajectory and initiated the activation sequence for its weaponry.
Those tasks completed, there was nothing else for him to do in the final time as his vessel approached Grinald. The emissary’s curiosity drove him back to the broadcasts. He scanned them again, trying to determine what had struck him so oddly.
It was music. Strange and dissonant to his senses but undeniably music. None of the information his people had acquired about the Grinaldi suggested they had any concept of this art or, indeed, any arts but the art of war.
He was nearly satisfied by this realization yet something still did not fit. He called upon the computer’s resources to process dozens of Grinaldi transmissions concurrently. The more he heard, the less he felt he understood. There was nothing there which fit with the violent, xenocidic events he associated with the Grinaldi.
The emissary increased his ship’s rate of deceleration, but did not change its course. While it flew on toward the planet, he kept listening, searching now for information about the time between his launch and today.
At last, he understood. Even while the ships which ruined his world flew, the Grinaldi homeworld had been wracked by civil wars. The segment of their culture which had launched those attacks—the only segment that his planet’s scientists and leaders had ever experienced—fell into decline, their efforts split between the wars at home and their resource-intensive interplanetary strike. Their society had splintered and been absorbed into others before his own flight was even halfway complete.
The emissary checked his location. Even though the ship had slowed dramatically there was reason to believe it would be noticed before long.
He could still remember watching friends and coworkers die, visiting his father in the hospital—comatose from his injuries—one last time before being uploaded into the ship’s systems. He was primed for revenge.
But the enemy they thought—the enemy he thought—he would find barely existed. And the weapon he carried was not one for a surgical strike. They called it The Planetkiller.
More broadcasts streamed through his consciousness and he knew that he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t launch his weapon and wipe out the billions of beings alive now who viewed the destruction of his world as an unfortunate part of their distant past.
But he could send a message.
The emissary instructed the ship’s computer to perform new calculations. He reviewed the results and, satisfied with what he saw, adjusted the ship’s trajectory. The new flight path in place, he considered the words he would transmit.
The ship soared toward the innermost planet of the system. With only a brief time before it would arrive there, the emissary sent his message.
“Inhabitants of Grinald,” his ship transmitted in all the major languages of that world, “this is a message from the last inhabitant of the planet which you called Erifon. Take it as a reminder that the path you used to walk was dangerous in ways you never even knew.”
His message sent, the emissary engaged the ship’s weapon and launched it at the system’s first planet. It struck and that small, hot ball of rock exploded beautifully. The computer confirmed the debris cloud formed as expected and would not threaten the Grinaldi.
He did not expect a response to his message, not so soon. And there was nothing else for him to do now that his mission was complete, nowhere for a mind tied to a spaceship to go. After only a brief moment’s thought the emissary set the controls for the heart of the sun and waited to join the rest of his people in eternity.
Michael Haynes lives in Central Ohio where he helps keep IT systems running for a large corporation during the day and puts his characters through the wringer by night. An ardent short story reader and writer, Michael has had stories appear in venues such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Daily Science Fiction.
He is Co-Editor at Goldfish Grimm’s Spicy Fiction Sushi and an Associate Editor for the Unidentified Funny Objects series of anthologies. His website is http://michaelhaynes.info/ and he tweets @mohio73.