Radioactive

Newton Class Starship
MSCV Empiricist
Elliptical Orbit
8 AUS from Luyten’s Star
February 2219

“You ready for this Jean?” Ivy asked her subordinate. They were seated in a small communications booth off of the bridge. It had taken nearly another week of semi-automated database queries between the two parties before they felt confident they were ready to start a real conversation.

The small chamber featured a desk, a chair, and wallscreens on four walls. Jean sat nervously in the chair while Ivy leaned against the closed door.

Jean nodded somewhat nervously. “Let’s do this.”

Ivy took a breath and accessed the room controls through her implant HUD, flipping the recording systems into a high fidelity capture mode. Jean sat up a bit straighter as a red light blinked on in the corner of her own HUD.

“Greetings from Sol. My name is Jean Paolini, I have been selected to represent humanity during this initial dialogue. We have a lot to talk about, and we’re still trying to get an understanding of the information you have presented us with. In your initial message to our vessel, you asked what we are doing here. We came to this place in the vessel we now pilot as peaceful explorers. We seek to learn about the wider universe we find ourselves in, and after our encounter with each other, we know we have much to learn. We would be honored to be the recipients of any knowledge you see fit to grace us with.”

Jean made a gesture with her hand and then waited patiently for the red light to go off before deflating, her shoulders slumping and head falling softly against the glass-topped desk.

Ivy gently clapped the younger woman on the shoulder. “You did good Jean. Now we just wait two hours for them to respond.”

“You know we could cut down on the signal delay by moving closer right, Ivy?” Jean asked her. “All this waiting is gonna to make me really anxious.”

“Yeah me too,” Ivy answered truthfully. “But I don’t want to move us closer until we have backup. Just in case.”

“How long until that happens?” Jean asked her as she stood up and stretched her arms and legs.

“About 20 days if they left immediately upon receiving the courier drone,” Ivy answered her as she opened the door. “Come on, let’s go get coffee, sitting in here worrying about what they say next won’t change anything.”

Jean sighed and slowly pushed herself to her feet. “Alright.”

 

Fabrique Intersolar Deep Space Station
FI-ISCU Pioneer
Elliptical Orbit
30,000 kilometers from Aldebaran b, Aldebaran
February 2219

Zephyr hadn’t slept in three days. Her hands shook as she sipped another energy drink. She had swapped her coffee out for them halfway through the second day straight of investigating the loss of the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg. Of the 208 crew members aboard ship, 193 of them had been neatly tied down beneath sheets in one of the vessel’s smaller holds. Their causes of death varied: the majority suffered acute radiation poisoning, while the remainder were a mix of exposure to vacuum, blunt force trauma, or thermal trauma.

The other 15 were in hibernation pods. Also dead, all of radiation exposure, but they were well enough preserved for some edge case options to be on the table. Even if the 15 in the hibernation pods were recovered though, the loss of life was still staggering, unbelievable.

Every time Zephyr contemplated the number of dead, it made her want to vomit. Doug Farragut told her continuously that it wasn’t her fault. Gyeong Huygens told her to discipline her mind and purge the negative thought patterns from them. Thomas Constantine told her not to think about it.

Zephyr instead starting pulling her hair out. The real problem here, the fundamental reason all of this happened, was that she wasn’t yet god, and she really needed to hurry up and fix that so people stopped dying on her.

“Zeph, you still with us?” Zephyr’s eyes shifted from the clump of hair still clutched in her fist, to Doug Farragut’s kindly expression halfway down the meeting room table.

Zephyr sighed and dragged her mind back into reality, chucking the clump of hair over her shoulder. “I’m sorry Tom, please go over it again.”

Doug nodded and she turned her attention back towards Thomas Constantine, the other station commander, who was attempting to brief her and Doug on the status of the investigation.

“Okay so.” He started with a clap of his hands. “As you know we have the full sensor and computer logs from the Golden Goose. I’ve had fifteen people sifting through them, trying to figure out what happened and where everything went wrong.”

“And your results?” Zephyr asked, a lump in her throat.

“Their fission reactor chamber was hit by a meteor and ruptured. The damage to the pebble bed was sufficient to start a runaway fission reaction and flood the ship with radiation.”

“How’d they manage that?” Doug asked. “The PBR walls are thick enough to survive an impact with a basketball sized meteor going 20 klicks per second relative.”

“Well uh, that’s where things get weird actually,” Tom answered. He fumbled for the small control fob around his neck. Having been born in the generation before implants really became mainstream, Tom thought the idea of having machines in his skull was a bit too weird to accept. He tapped a button on the fob and the wallscreen behind him changed to a wide angle image of Theta Tauri c, with its bands of red, gold, and blue gas swirling through the atmosphere. It’s wide ring of mineral wealth twinkled silently in the starlight, still holding the promise of untold riches. The image was frozen at first but Tom tapped the fob again and it began playing. “This is from one of the planetary observation satellites that the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg dropped into a Molniya orbit upon arrival. I’m fast forwarding through two days of recordings before the signal abruptly terminates. Just watch.”

On the screen, the planet seemed to zoom away as the satellite’s orbit carried it up towards its apoapsis, hundreds of thousands of kilometers above the north pole. Then it slowed to a crawl, passed through the apoapsis and began to fall back towards the world, accelerating as it went. However, about halfway through the descent, something began happening on the planet below. An enormous bulge, like a planet-sized zit, expanded on one side of the world. It swelled rapidly then blew apart into an enormous starburst of gas and debris that reached out beyond the orbits of the moons. As the explosion reached upwards, enormous ripples could be seen propagating through the body of the ring, where the Golden Goose had been orbiting. The entire ring unzipped itself and scattered rocks throughout the lower orbits in a matter of hours, condensed into moments by the playback. To the crew of the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg those few hours would have seemed nearly apocalyptic.

“Collisional cascading,” Zephyr said between pursed lips. “But what makes a gas giant blow up like that in the first place? Did it start fusing or something?”

“Just keep watching please,” Tom said tersely. “You won’t believe me unless you see it with your own eyes.”

Zephyr focused back on the screen. Tiny flashes of light that must have been inter-bolide collisions flickered like distant lightning in the world’s lower orbits, while the surface of the world boiled and churned, with storms rising practically out the top of the atmosphere on impossibly strong updrafts. And then the vast and slow motion explosion began to dissipate and fall inwards towards Theta Tauri c. The blast gouged out a hole in the layers of gas that reached all the way down to the liquid metallic hydrogen core of the world. Sitting in the center of this vast cavity was what appeared to be a black spike of enormous proportions. It was larger than most rocky planets in diameter at the top, and the point reached down to the glowing core of the gas giant.

The satellite was still falling, its orbit would bring it swinging in close to the world at high speed, where it would whip through its periapsis before zooming back outwards towards the major leg of its highly elliptical orbit. As it drew closer and closer, rocks could sometimes be seen flashing across the scene in an instant, and then somewhere near the equator, the image finally cut out, and the screen went black with a flash of static.

Zephyr took a long moment to process the video before she spoke. Her hand clenched and unclenched as she worked her way through the implications of what she had just seen and one of her eyes twitched maniacally as her brain tried to process this new information.

“Zephyr?” Doug asked worriedly. She held up a hand to silence him and met eyes with Tom.

“I’ve seen it with my own eyes and I still don’t believe it.” She said after another moment of considering. “I assume we have footage like this from all of the satellites?”

“This is the most visually striking to watch, but you can see most of the events in all of them,” Tom answered.

Zephyr sighed. Her brow furrowed, her fist slammed into the glass tabletop, and then she was shouting. “Goddamn aliens! We’ve had our find scooped by fucking aliens!”

 

Newton Class Starship
MSCV Empiricist
Elliptical Orbit
8 AUS from Luyten’s Star
February 2219

Sol-Human-Jean-Paoloni, [we/I?] Accept your position as Representative of Humanity. [I/we?] Dreaming-Waking-Transcending Represent <i34_2015 Lament for Lost Worlds>. You find us under most [distressing/severe/angry/unpleasant?] circumstances. Your species Represent a significant [untranslated]. Never before has any Species besides [untranslated] Created a form of faster than light [engine/thruster/drive?] without first being Gifted the [mathematical equation for a form exotic matter]. We are very [curious/inquisitive/questioning?] of your faster than light [engine/thruster/drive?]. [Untranslated] [we/I?] [fear/know/think/worry] the Reshapers Will soon Arrive at Sol. [Our/my?] Purpose is to Evacuate as many Species as possible from [the galaxy] before the Reshapers fully consume it. [Our/my?] [intent/belief/desire] is to visit Sol in [untranslated time interval] and evacuate as many humans as possible.

The response message was splashed across the wallscreens in the communications room again, and Ivy and Jean once again found themselves there strategizing a response.

“Thanks for not capitalizing everything this time Emmy.” Ivy said as she read through the mostly translated response message.

“You should thank Cale for that, he’s the one that adjusted my translation algorithms.” The computer responded.

“I will. And okay, Jean, we need to tell them not to come to Sol with their big ass spaceship. They’ll wreck all of our orbits with their mass.”

“If the Reshapers show up not too long after and eat the solar system anyway, then that doesn’t really make a difference though, does it?” Jean asked.

“Think about it Jean, do you really think most people are going to take these guys up on their offer to evacuate us? I think when the rest of humanity finds out what’s up, they’re going to want to fight, and defend Sol from the Reshapers, not just run away with our tails between our legs. That means we’re going to need more military ships, more production in general, and all the advanced technology we can get. It also means we need our planets in stable orbits so that we can keep up our industrial production and logistics networks.”

Jean nodded. “Should we show them ours if they show us theirs?”

“Show us…?” Ivy stumbled, she knew the phrase Jean had used, but most of the time it was in the context of teenage sexual experimentation.

“FTL Drives I mean.” Jean quickly answered. “They said they’re curious about our engines. Think they’d trade designs?”

“If these aliens were anywhere near our technology level I would say no, don’t give them things that could let them one up us if this is an elaborate lie. But their ship is the size of a planet. They could destroy most of the human race just by camping out somewhere near the sun and destabilizing all of the planetary orbits with their mass. Given that, I think It’s worth asking, and I’d feel awfully smug if we did manage to get that out of them before our backup arrives.” Ivy admitted.

“Alright well, let’s do this then,” Jean said with a clap of her hands, sitting down in the room’s single chair. She waited for Ivy to activate the recording mode before she began speaking.

“Dreaming-Waking-Transcending, I accept your position as representative of Lament for Lost Worlds. We understand these are difficult times. We have reviewed the information you provided us on the Reshapers, and acknowledge the threat they pose. However, it is not in our nature to flee from this threat. We ask that you please do not bring Lament for Lost Worlds into Sol, so as not to disrupt the local planetary orbits with its mass. We can negotiate a pickup point for those humans who wish to go with you outside of Sol. Also, if you have an interest in our faster than light drive, we will share our designs with you in exchange for your own faster than light drive designs.”

The light went out, and Jean once more deflated as she let out a long breath.

 

Horizon Breaker Class Exploratory Mining Vessel
FI-EMV Goose that Laid the Golden Egg
Elliptical Orbit
129,000 Kilometers from Theta Tauri c
August 2218

“Well, we’ve done it.” Dianica Botheys said with a tired sigh. She had been junior mining foreman, acting as the lead foreman temporarily while Owen McGregor was on leave at Pioneer Station. The last few weeks though, had seen her world utterly upended.

The planet had exploded around them. They’d tried to escape the blast, but the ring they were inside had ripped itself apart. Asteroid strikes tore dozens of holes in the hull, and nearly half the crew was killed in this opening salvo. Their fission reactor had been ruptured, and they’d failed to fully break orbit, instead merely casting themselves into a many week long suborbital trajectory.

Desperation had ruled the day, as the captain sent out EVA workers to try and repair the damaged reactor and assemble the alcubierre ring so they could warp out before their ship fell back into the soup.

That was four weeks ago. Over those four weeks, hundreds more had died. Radiation poisoning claimed many, micrometeor strikes killed EVA workers, unexpected depressurizations killed more, explosions caused by damaged components killed still more, and by the time the alcubierre ring had been constructed and the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg had passed through its apoapsis, she was the most senior surviving member of the crew.

“Almost feels pointless now though, doesn’t it?” Sing Easterly, the one surviving engineer, answered forlornly.

“It’s absolutely pointless.” Esther Volkov, the surviving scientist snorted. “The reactor sort of works sure, but it still leaks like a sieve. If we wrap ourselves up in the warp tunnel in our current state, it’d be like climbing inside a microwave.”

“I’m fairly certain we all have a lethal dose of radiation at this point,” Dianica answered calmly. “But you know what, it still matters. Someone needs to know what happened here. If they don’t get back anything besides our bodies and the ship’s data, that alone will be worth it.”

“Or, we could try to fire the engines again, push fully out of orbit of the planet, then jettison the reactor and try to survive until help gets here.” That suggestion came from Clancy Lehady one of the few EVA workers who hadn’t been killed while installing the drive or succumbed to radiation poisoning.

“Did you miss the part where we all already have a lethal dose of radiation?” Dianica insisted.

“There’s enough hibernation pods for all of us. If we put ourselves in hibernation and jettison the reactor, it might buy us enough time for someone to get here with more anti-rads and anti-cancers.” The old EVA worker crossed his arms and evenly met Dianica’s gaze.

“We can still use the hibernation pods if we use the drive. A lot of good people died to get that drive installed, I say we make use of it.” Sing answered.

“We should vote on it.” Clancy insisted.

“No,” Dianica said harshly. “This is not a democracy. We have a chain of command, we’re going back to Aldebaran, it’s been decided.”

Clancy harrumphed as Dianica turned back to Sing.

Sing nodded and quickly entered the warp parameters into the drive. The reactor began heating up again as a huge power draw was generated by the systems for the first time in weeks. The young woman’s hand hovered over the final execution sequence as the power levels hit 100%.

“Sing,” Dianica said softly. “Take us to Aldebaran.”

The thai girl smacked the button and the ship lurched violently as they were thrown into the warp tunnel.

 

Newton Class Starship
MSCV Empiricist
Elliptical Orbit
8 AUS from Luyten’s Star
February 2219

Jean and Ivy had migrated to the conference room for the next round of communication after being chastised by both Cale and Evangeline for not consulting them first before offering the FTL technology as a trade. All four of them though, were equally flabbergasted when the Ones Who Came Before sent them back the exact technical specifications for their drive as well as detailed instructions on how to build it and even how to build the machines that built it.

The translated text sent with the blueprints were displayed once more on the wallscreens.

Sol-Human-Jean-Paoloni, [we/I?] Offer you the Gift of <Hyperspace> that Humanity may take their Place among The Ones Who Followed After. You [cannot/must not/should not?] fight the Reshapers. They will [untranslated] you. Much of your Species may yet survive if we* act quickly. While [we/I?] will respect your desire that [we/I?] not approach your system. [We/I?] [must/should/can?] request you reconsider, for the [untranslated] of Humanity.

“Well uh, they showed us theirs all right,” Cale said scratching his head.

“I can’t believe they’d just…” Evangeline short-circuited slightly, her arms flailing. “How is it remotely safe from their perspective to go around handing this information out to every alien race who asks them about it?”

“I think we should send them our drive designs.” Jean said with a nod. “It’s only fair and we don’t want to be seen as going back on an agreement.”  

“You shouldn’t have offered them that deal in the first place Jean.” Evangeline said icily.

“Then maybe you should have offered to talk to them instead of having a mental breakdown because we found out about some scary aliens!” Jean wasn’t quite shouting but was very near to it.

Ivy held up a hand and Jean quieted down. “I authorized it. Their ship could wreck our civilization with nothing but its presence in the solar system. I doubt any of our technology just happens to hold the secret to defeating them if we somehow end up at odds.”

“I agree.” Cale said. “I mean, I don’t, it totally might hold the secret, but we also need more information, and the best way to keep them talking and keep them friendly is to keep sharing it. Our FTL drive designs are on the internet. All they’d need to do is tap one of our communications satellites to get it. There’s no point in hiding it from them now.”

Evangeline in her role as Conscience could override Ivy in a situation like this, but she simply sighed and shook her head. “Alright.”

They looked to Jean, and Ivy flipped the system to record once again.

“Dreaming-Waking-Transcending, thank you for sending us your drive design, we will likewise send our own drive designs with this transmission. We have seen the images of the Reshapers you sent us, and understand that they represent a grave threat to our existence. However please be aware that no one aboard our ship at this time has the authority to speak for all of our kind. We will have to wait until more of our kind arrive in order to engage in that sort of diplomacy. In the meantime, we would like to continue exchanging databases and begin a cultural exchange.”

 

Fabrique Intersolar Deep Space Station
FI-ISCU Pioneer
Elliptical Orbit
30,000 kilometers from Aldebaran b, Aldebaran
February 2219

Fractal elves danced through space, twisting and folding in impossible transformations. Spinning many-armed angels of fire collapsed and restructured themselves in a timeless, endless procession of images that seemed to stretch onwards for an eternity. Aliens, faeries, and magical creatures kaleidoscoped into and out of one another, textures emerging and subducting into the larger patterns. The flood of impossible imagery accelerated, shapes blurring past each other, vibrating faster and faster, until the vibrations began to condense into rooms, walls, and people, as Dianica Botheys took her first breath in many weeks.

Zephyr Athabasca’s face emerged from the swirling cascade of information as a changed mind and body struggled to understand the world it was seeing. Dianica felt as if she was coming down from a powerful psychoactive experience, the world becoming more and more real by the moment and she realized, slowly, that she was herself, and she was located inside of her body.

“I thought I was dead.” She finally croaked out after what must have been a small eternity of her eyes darting around madly, trying to make sense of the world.

“You were.” Zephyr answered her with a grin. “Dead and back again.”

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