Mama Bird

Summary: Empathy for life is weaponized by a biological spaceship Evita and its pilot.

Empathy for life is our greatest weapon. The founder of our order, the Greenhand of the distant homeworld, loathed ending life, although she culled when necessary. Just as rabid beasts must be put down or invasive species culled, so too must sapient beings cease the depredations of their own dregs. Some say that in her mortal life, the Greenhand loathed killing due to an affinity for all nature's children. As the pilot and handler of the living starship Evita, I have found those concepts complementary, instead of contradictory.

I am a proud believer in the Greenhand's verdant faith, but not all understand this vision. While human and transhuman definitions of civilization, sapience, and technology vary wildly, we have not yet encountered any sapient, technology alien civilizations in most senses of the term. That does not mean our task is any easier. Each unique biosphere is an irreplaceable treasure, a crucible in which life and thought may arise, even if we do not recognize it as first. That was how we found our sky-crawlers, after all.

Evita had ancestors that swam in the icy waters of a rogue planet, an ice-ball wandering between the stars. Its liquid interior was heated by radioactive elements in the core, forming the short-lived vents around which life gathered like a dying campfire. Yet this small world, Fathom, had its own megafauna, which occupied a niche between terrestrial whales and coral reefs. They were a sort of mollusk-analog, surrounded by a sheath of coral-like silicates populated by symbiotic species. These symbiotes included radiotrophic bacteria able to feed off the energy from the deep vents, and even that of cosmic rays passing through shallow spots in the world's icy ceiling.

We observed the tube-like creatures as they came towards the surface, undoubtedly to feed from cosmic rays. Otherwise, they would have easily escaped our notice in the benthic depths below. With the best bioengineers transhumanity could offer, kin of these amazing beasts were adapted for life in the void. Their three-dimensional sense of navigation, their innate capabilities, and their navigation made them a match for most common starships. The Greenhanded Order made them the flagships of our fleet, though the rest of civilization sees them as amusing, or intimidating, curiosities.

Alas, Evita sees more violence than the rest of her kind. Poachers, mercenaries and corporate operatives are always eager to take trophies of alien life or perform illegal bio-prospecting of protected ecologies. Even when almost any ecology could be synthesized in a cylinder habitat or space station, there were always sadistic fools and cruel savages eager to push their boundaries. In the social circles of space pirates, poachers, and hired goons, surviving such a raid was a status symbol. Humans are nothing, if not social status-seeking.

That was why we existed. We were the savagery of nature, distilled fury without the pretense of civilized warfare. As a trio of pirate craft approached from behind a derelict freighter, I prepared to let them know why. Evita started salivating, remembering prior meals from her cybernetically augmented memory. I found myself drooling with her. I deployed our electronic warfare array, and sent out my weaponized empathy.

There was once a teenage space pirate, a baseline eighteen-year-old orphan named Taylor Tai. His fighter craft was devoured and pulled into Evita's central stomach. He had been augmented against his will, turned into a meat-puppet imprisoned in his own body by the pirate crew. His fighter was crushed by Evita's mighty, bonelike gastric crushers. Once the life support area was breached, it filled with acid and slowly dissolved the barely-aware mess of brains and meat that was once a teenager. Evita was able to interface with his cybernetics, but not enough to disable them. Instead, she recorded his pain.

We coupled that memory with a cyberweapon, a worm that would overwhelm their sensors and cybernetics with the experiences of their doomed victim, amplified into a second. Their agony would translate from electronic to organic, leaving them helpless and drifting in space. I saw the dropships erratically weave through the void, and Evita moved towards them on her techno-organic thrusters.

It was dinner time. Their own experiences would be added to our arsenal, as Evita consumed the first stranded craft with her tendrils. The light blue bioluminescent patches across her hull oscillated in anticipation. I heard the screams over their radio, as the ship was crashed to scrap metal in Evita's belly. Two more remained, further paralyzed by us live-streaming their comrades' dying sensations.

That was why empathy for life was our greatest weapon.