Such a pretty little planet, thought the Gate Runner.
She floated above it, unseen, a spec against the unfathomable reaches of near-space. She had been drifting on an orbital insertion for, well, years actually. She had long ago turned her chronometer off; it ticked lazily to a ten days and turned over, a perpetual countdown chronicling the nothingness it took to move from the heliopause to an orbit. Once in the heliopause of an un-attuned gate, she had to use conventional travel to move about the system.
The Gate Runner was not awake for this travel, of course. Her orbital shroud was a clever bit of technology; it surrounded her in a stasis field. The biological portions of her stopped functioning, but the nanotech running around her head kept the basic programs going, letting her monitor the outside universe for problems. The Gate Runner considered it having your cake and eating it too.
No time like the present, she thought.
—Give me the poop, Frank.
—Oh, I am sorry, did you say something?
—Ha ha ha.
—I should run a diagnostic. There is a distinct buzzing in my pickup.
—Planet. Give it up.
—Can I talk you into passing this one by?
—Very well. It is a human populated planet, strain 4. They are advanced gravitonic users. They are in balance.
—Gravitonics? Really? They blink, right?
The Gate Runner was surprised. Normally she did not encounter an anti-gravity based civilization. Why use anti-gravity when one could just blink? Sometimes, when it took an isolated society a long time to discover their gate, they advanced to gravitonic usage. She mentally shrugged. She should have expected it; they were at the end of a long path, after all. Beyond this system, as near as she could tell, was nothing.
—Of course. There is nothing special about the gate below. The only thing unusual is they are at the end of the path you are exploring. All 7 gates are mapped back.
—The 7 in use, you mean.
Frank made the quantum computer equivalent of a sigh.
—Yes yes, fine. One moment, you’re about to slip in orbit. Standby for telemetry.
As she slid into an orbital position, the planet started turning underneath her. Data filled various portions of her HUD. Heavy military. Concentrated populations in cities. Orbital fortifications, upper atmospheric mines, a gigantic data network composed mostly of fiber with a minimal amount of transmission leakage for wireless. They even had atmospheric interceptors, flying machines, which flitted around.
—Jesus, Frank, they are a paranoid bunch.
—Yes yes, one would think they were preparing for a Gate Runner eyeing their little planet now, would you not?
—Hmmmm. Does not make sense. They are at an end of a path that was mapped I do not know how long ago. And you have to go through twenty seven gates to reach a re-alignment. As far as I know, their primaries are stable, joyful galactic citizens.
—Did you pull this location of this gate out of your butt?
Frank sounded annoyed. Usually when he changed the subject, which was his passive-aggressive way of telling her to shut up.
—Maybe. Analysis, please.
—Hard to say. If I didn’t know any better, they know something that we don’t.
—Uh. That’s not good.
—That usually means I ask real nicely to use their gate, and they say “fuck you!” and try to kill me. You know how pissy I get when that happens.
—Well, it is their gate.
The Gate Runner frowned. It was not their gate. It was hers. All gates were hers, whether the inhabitants knew it or not. Always the same argument with Frank. He was annoying as he was tenacious, but at least he had morals and ethics.
Something she, as a Gate Runner, mostly lacked.
The Gate Runner noted she had made a full orbital pass. A descent path appeared in her HUD, shifting as the planet moved below her.
—Start the Gate Runner protocol, Frank, and give me a ping via one of their orbitals. I really hope they give it up. They may be paranoid, but it is a lovely little planet.
—Last chance, Morgan. Last chance to skitter away and leave them be.
—Sorry Frank, I appreciate you asking, really I do, but no. That’s my gate down there, and I am going to use it.
—So be it.
Frank’s booming “male” voice suddenly filled her ears.
“This is the Gate Runner. I must use the gate, but I come in peace. This is my second ask for a peaceful use, I will ask only one more time.”
Morgan held her breath. She was tired of Gate Running. She would much rather plant her feet and lounge on a beach for seven days. Sometimes it happened.
Sometimes it did not.
In reply, her shroud was painted by ladar. The satellite nearest their position re-tasked and promptly blew up, spewing forth a concentrated gamma burst in her direction.
Morgan sighed. Always with the gamma bursts. She was a creature of space; she was well shielded from such mundane weapons.
Kinetics, on the other hand…
—We’re being painted. It’s a gravitonic based detector. And here comes the missiles.
She smiled. Frank sounded annoyed, disappointed and excited all at the same time.
Her HUD started screaming bloody murder. The missiles were kinetic killers and they were…
—Gravtonic kinetics! Prepare for immediate descent!
That was bad. Their civilization had advanced to the point where they could stuff gravatonics in a missile package. That was near the capabilities of her shroud, actually.
Morgan frowned as wings shot out of her shroud; she plummeted to the planet below, her shielding glowing red with the friction.
She snarled. If they wanted to play rough, she would redefine what the word meant for them.
—Disengagement not possible! Engaging armor! Prepare for a drop!
Morgan’s world went gray as her crystalloid nanoscale armor activated. As she disengaged from her shroud, she fell straight down, invisible, a falling spec that would be hard even for a gravitonic detector to spot.
Of course, hard and non-detectable were two different things.
By the time they got another lock, it would be too late.
Such a pretty little planet, thought the Gate Runner.
And it’s mine.