Newton Class Starship
8 AUS from Luyten’s Star
“Go over it again please.” Jean Paoloni asked a very frustrated Kestral Schiaparelli at the 55th senior staff meeting.
The science officer groaned and rubbed the bridge of eir nose with eir fingertips.
“Okay,” Kestral said taking a deep breath. “Let’s try this with analogies.”
“You were using analogies last time.” Jean groaned.
Kestral went still for a moment, grinding eir teeth together. “Last time I was using higher order analogies in an attempt to be more accurate, but cuss it, I’m using the simple, wrong analogies everyone knows as truthisms.”
Ey projected a 3d image of a sheet of flat spacetime above the surface of the table. “Okay, so this is that really simplified view of flat spacetime that I’m sure everyone here learned in grade school. It’s wrong, our universe is an N-dimensional spacetime where N is… never mind. The rubber sheet is a poor analogy but it’ll do for now.”
Jean nodded along, still trying to grasp all the implications of the information they were going over.
“Now, in that model, we often use a colloquialism to describe the movement of our ships when we activate our Lederman Isolator, we say that we’re ‘kicking off’ of the surface of spacetime.” Kestral continued.
“I’m familiar with the term I use all the time,” Jean said trying to keep the frustration out of her voice. “I also know that’s technically an incorrect way of thinking about it.”
“Right.” Ey went on, “but it’s not entirely wrong or we wouldn’t use it. We can think of the way our drive works in this analogy as moving our ship upwards away from the ‘surface’ of spacetime.”
“Okay…” Jean left the phrase unfinished, resisting the impulse to roll her eyes.
“The alien’s drive doesn’t do that. They punch a hole in the fabric of spacetime and their ship goes down into this space underneath it, what they call hyperspace. I mean, technically we should be calling it hypospace because according to the Jacksonian model it’s nested inside our- …never mind.” Kestral deflated slightly as ey realized ey had managed to complete the point.
“Okay, that I kind of understand.” Jean said scratching her nose, “But it’s also all wrong I assume? It’s not really down at all.”
“No, it seems to be another region of navigable 3-dimensional spacetime, just completely cut off from our own and with its own rules and stuff filling it.” Cale offered.
“Like another dimension?” Jean asked.
“No!” Kestral balked, “That’s a colloquialism too far, if you need to use something like that, at least say ‘another universe’ another dimension implies another axis of motion, all the equations break down, you can’t do that.”
“I suppose if it makes you feel any better, they think our warp drive is impossible.” Jean snarked.
“How do they think we got here then?” Cale asked her.
“I’m not sure,” Jean shrugged, “But they seem pretty convinced that their FTL is the only way to go about it.”
“Well, Kestral and I have been picking apart the blueprints they sent us, and if I hadn’t gotten the designs from aliens in a giant spaceship, I would be inclined to call them impossible, so the feeling is somewhat mutual.” Cale shrugged.
“Moving on from FTL drives,” Ivy began, clearing her throat, and the rest of the table went quiet. Ivy banished the hologram with a wave of her hand. “We’ve been talking to the aliens for a while now. We need to start building up a basic psychological profile on them for when support arrives. As the one who’s been talking to them, what can you tell me Jean?”
“They’re aliens Ivy, I really don’t even know where I would start,” Jean said with a shrug. “I mean, Dreaming-Waking-Transcending seems nice enough? I’m still not sure if I’m talking to an individual or some sort of hivemind. We can’t seem to distinguish between their plural and singular pronouns, if there is a difference.”
“Their language is really dense.” Kestral further elaborated, “They have four independent gas circulation systems, so the range of sounds they can make is enormous, and they’ve encoded complex ideas down into syllables, it makes it hard to pick apart sometimes.”
“We can still make some extrapolations from that. If not an actual hivemind, the lack of a distinction between singular and plural pronouns might indicate a collectivist attitude within their culture.” Cale suggested.
“Or it could be a linguistic relic from an earlier period in the development of their present language.” Kestral countered with. “It’s almost too early to say anything definitive.”
“Here’s the issue.” Evangeline opened up with, after remaining silent for a long time. “We still don’t know for sure that they themselves aren’t the aliens that are doing all this damage. We need to know whether or not they can lie, and if we’re being lied too.”
“You’ve been in their database.” Kestral said to Evangeline, “You know they create works of fiction. That means they can conceptualize lying.”
“Which makes the second question all the more important.” Evangeline responded.
“They already know where Sol is” Cale threw in, “and they knew it before meeting us.”
“How did they know that? They looked through whatever equivalents they have to a telescope, and saw a ship, and knew we were human, how?” The Conscience persisted.
“They could have made out our body plans through the ship’s hull with infrared telescopes of sufficient resolution.” Mathias added quietly. “The hull isn’t that thick.” The chief engineer spoke rarely enough in a staff meeting that for a moment all eyes were drawn to him, as if expecting some further input.
“They also know where Sol is.” the Pragmatist reminded them.
“Which is bad if it turns out they’ve been stringing us along and are planning on destroying the Sol anyway.” Jean said before Evangeline had a chance to, before adding, “But, they’ve also not done anything outwardly threatening yet, and have been at the very least pleasant during my interactions.”
“I really don’t want to bet the fate of humanity on them seeming nice.” The Conscience said with a sigh. “Isn’t there something more concrete we can do as a way to test their morality?”
“Oh, there’s any number of ethics questions you could pose to them, I’m just not sure how meaningful they’d be. While ethics are thought to be somewhat universal, the lens you’re looking through is completely different.” Cale said.
“I think it’d be worth doing anyway, if the aliens are amenable to it, if nothing else then for the data it would generate.” Ivy said.
“Asking those sorts of questions could also be seen as overly invasive.” Evangeline argued. “Isn’t there anything we can determine from within the existing set of data we have?”
“Having a lot of data is only so valid when you only have a few people capable of making heads or tails of it, even with Emmy’s help.” Kestral replied.
“I think we should keep hacking at that before we start trying to give them personality tests.” Evangeline suggested. “We’ll have backup along before too much more time passes, let’s not do anything that causes too much of a stir before than.”
“We don’t know if the ethics questions will actually cause any problems,” Jean countered, “And we can ask them if it’s okay to ask those questions.”
“I don’t think we have the data yet to properly phrase either of those questions.” Kestral admitted. “Ethics is a tricky subject, taking it across species lines doesn’t make it any easier.”
“That’s why we need to be cautious. At the very least, waiting another week won’t hurt anything.” The Conscience insisted.
Ivy nodded. “Let’s table the ethics questions for a week and see where we can get on the translations in that time. In the meantime, I want the rest of you to work out some testable hypotheses we can use to determine the morality of the aliens.”
“They eat their dead.” It was a strange way to open a conversation, but that was the first thing Cale said as he entered Ivy’s office, sliding the door shut behind him.
“They’re aliens Cale, tell me why that’s actually interesting.” Ivy said absentmindedly, without focusing her attention away from the report she was writing on her retinal screens.
Cale had prepared a somewhat grand speech explaining how he had divined that information by taking apart the alien’s word for eating and realized it had three of the same base roots as the word for learning and then had gone back into their biological data to determine that they stored knowledge on a level equivalent to genetics and that they could learn by eating the genetic memories of their predecessors, but Ivy had thrown a wrench into that by failing to be impressed by his discovery.
“It’s part of their learning cycle. They store information in something akin to our DNA, at the chemical level. When one of them dies, they eat them to gain their memories.” He still delivered the revelation with unnecessary gusto.
“Cale, Kestral was in here two hours ago to tell me how ey’d figured out that the alien language is polysynthetic. And two hours before that, Evangeline was telling me about their mating habits, which are horrifying by the way. It’s just random noise at this point, you’re the Pragmacist, you’re supposed to interpret all this stuff and paint me a coherent picture, because right now, I don’t have one.” Ivy kept her tone even, resisting the urge to grow frustrated or raise her voice.”
Cale was silent for a moment before speaking, “I’ve let myself get a bit caught up in the excitement of it all haven’t I?” He said softly.
“You have,” Ivy answered him honestly. “And while I’ve mostly allowed it, I really need you in your best condition, this is all really happening, and as exciting as it is, we need to be prepared for what happens next.”
“What happens next Ivy?” Cale asked.
“That’s what you’re supposed to be telling me,” Ivy replied, crossing her arms in front of her chest.
“I don’t know what happens next either,” Cale admitted with a shrug. “Aliens are real isn’t a problem I can solve. And the fact that there might be galaxy eating aliens out there slowly working their way towards us is definitely not something I have a solution to.”
“I know Cale,” Ivy sighed, “and I’m not asking you to solve that. That’s just going to have to be something we take up the chain of command. I would however, really like to be able to tell command whether or not I thought these aliens were lying and stringing us along, or if they’re actually acting out of altruism.”
“I did have something in mind for that actually,” Cale said, “have you heard of a honeypot trap?”
“Not since command school,” Ivy answered him. “But I know what it is. What exactly did you have in mind?”
“Dreaming-Waking-Transcending, we would like to offer access to a deeper level of network connectivity.” Jean said smoothly into the microphone, “We believe this will aid our efforts to translate and understand one another’s languages. However, we have reason to believe that taxing this conduit could overload our computer systems and render our ship inoperable, so we request that you do not exceed channel throughput of 200 tb/s.”
The recording light on the edge of her visual field blinked off and Jean sighed, dropping her head and letting her curly brown hair fall in front of her face.
“You think they’ll buy it?” Ivy asked Cale, drawing Jean’s attention back to the other occupants of the room.
“Well, there’s two lies baked into the honeypot.” Cale answered, “One is stated, the other is unstated. They might realize that exceeding that bandwidth won’t actually harm us, and keep within the restrictions to play along, but there’s also other less obvious backdoors in the subsystems they could attempt to exploit, and we can watch for that as well.”
“Like Kestral said, they know how to lie,” Jean said softly from behind her hair. “They have works of fiction, that means they understand lying.”
“That doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t still take the bait, humans fall for this trick, and we obviously understand lying,” Cale argued.
“It’s not usually presented in quite so obvious a way with humans though,” Jean responded as she pushed her hair out of her eyes.
“There’s not much we can do about that,” Ivy replied. “Now it’s just a matter of seeing what they do.”
“If they realize we tricked them in some way, they could react with hostility.” Jean said.
“We should probably be ready to bolt if they start doing anything.” Cale answered.
“I’ve had the warp coils spooled up since the moment they showed up.” Ivy responded calmly. “We’ll get through this, just a couple more weeks and we should hopefully be getting some backup.”
Constellation Project Colony
UNDSV 15-18 Jericho Ridge
Hyperbolic Stellar Escape Trajectory
1.95 Light Years from Sol
The arc welder flickered brilliantly in the dimly lit underground chamber, throwing the room into stark monochrome every time it activated.
“Almost finished,” Seth Fiegel said from behind the heavy welding mask he wore.
“Good.” Regan said, rubbing her legs together, “It makes me nervous being down here with the air leaking out, and it’s cold.”
“Well, hopefully it should start warming up soon. I’m telling you Regan, this place is going to be so dank once we get it all set up.” Seth grinned behind the welding mask and went back to sealing the big chunk of sheet metal they’d stolen into the broken window.
“Yeah, until someone comes down here and finds us. Someone will eventually be interested in this place.” Regan retorted as she fidgeted in an attempt to keep warm while she poked at the ancient interface terminal through woolen mittens.
“You worry too much, they stuck that tarp over the hole and forgot this place existed.”
“That’s exactly what I mean,” Regan insisted, “There’s no way they’d just leave this hole in the colony leaking air, people could die, the colony could depressurize.”
“That was never going to happen,” Seth assured her. “For one, the entire colony has some huge backup tanks, enough to last like, a thousand years at least. But more importantly really, even just our own cylinder is massive. There’s so much air inside it that it would take decades for it all to get sucked out through a hole this size.”
“So you really think they were just going to leave it like this?” Regan asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Well, they can’t just leave it, leave it,” Seth answered. “But they could put it off, throw a tarp over it and seal the outside hatch, ignore it as long as it doesn’t seem to cause any immediate issues, pass it off to the next administration after an election, its politics Regan. How long does it take them to fix the roads when they get damaged?”
“Yeah, that’s true.” The other teenager answered. “We’ve probably got a while in that case.”
“Yeah, maybe someone else will find it in like fifty more years, but I really don’t think anyone’s gonna care that we’re down here.” Seth said before once more firing up the arc welder.
“So what, you’re going to just move in then?” Regan practically had to shout over the roar of the welder.
“More like a home away from home, a place we can chill and hang out away from our parents. Somewhere to escape to when they’re being shitty.” Seth replied in a muffled shout from behind the welding mask.
“Seems like a weird place to hang out.” Regan admitted when Seth deactivated the arc welder, “It’s not super cozy, and we already have the water tower for that sort of thing.” She shivered involuntarily, despite the sweater she had carried out to the bunker and put on once they’d gone inside.
“The water tower’s less fun to hang out at in the winter, If it doesn’t start warming up once the pressure leak is fixed, we’ll just bring some heaters down and plug them in.” Seth activated the welder once more in another series of short pulses.
“Still,” Regan said once he stopped welding, “It’s just a sort of dreary place. All metal and industrial.”
“Oh, just wait, Harper should be here soon with pizza and beer, we’ll get some decorations and christmas lights strung up, get some chairs down here, figure out how to open that big door all the way so we have a few out into space, it’ll be great.” Seth fired up the arc welder in one last burst, then lifted the mask from his face and set the welder down.
“You finished with it?” Regan asked him, looking up from the old terminal.
“I think so, I’m just checking it now,” Seth replied, withdrawing a cigarette from the pack in his pocket and lighting it. He took a drag of the cigarette and then began waving it around the sheeting he’d sealed the hole with, as if conducting some complex ritual blessing on the metal.
“What’re you doing?” Regan asked after watching him at this for a moment.
“Seeing where the smoke goes.” The boy answered without breaking his focus. He took another drag of the cigarette and blew a cloud of smoke at the metal.
“Anything?” She asked.
Seth didn’t respond for a moment, still seemingly caught in the trance of his impromptu ritual. Then he stuck the cigarette in the corner of his mouth and hopped back with a clap of his hands. “I think we’re good!” He grinned and shoved the welding gear into an out of the way corner. “How’s it going with that console? Could you get into the system?”
Regan looked back down at the fossil of a computer interface. “Oh yeah I can control everything in here, there’s no connection to the main colony networks to mess with things.”
“Wow, nice.” He said, clearly impressed.
“Yeah but you might be out of luck on the opening that big door, I think the actuators are rusted in place.” She continued, “Along with all of the air cyclers and atmosphere pumps for that big room.”
“Well the actuators are an easy enough fix at least,” Seth said as he took a drag of his cigarette.
“It’s in space!” Regan practically shouted. “There’s no air there!”
“There’s an old spacesuit in Lily’s basement, I saw it when we grabbed the arc welder,” Seth answered calmly. “I can fix it.”
“Why do you care?” Regan looked up from the terminal, raising an eyebrow. “It’s just a big empty room.”
“If we fix the door, we can use the space in there,” Seth responded with a glint in his eye.
“For what?” Regan asked.
“For building a spaceship,” Seth said smoothly.
Regan sputtered, “I was sure you were going to suggest we grow weed in there, that’s uh, well it’s different for sure.”
“I measured the space with the rangefinder on my phone, it’s two hundred meters long, we could build a full size ship in there, than just open the door and drop out the bottom into space.” Seth explained.
“You can’t just…” Regan stumbled on the words, “That’s…Do you have any idea how to actually do that?”
“It’ll be a learning experience.” Seth grinned.
“Yeah sure, that’ll be what they say when they’re picking our charred bones out of the wreckage when it all blows up in our faces.” Regan snarked.
“We’ll be careful, but it’ll take a while to even be ready to do anything dangerous, we have to find enough scrap metal to build a hull.” Seth admitted, “It’s a long-term project, something that might take a few years and might never come to anything, but if it does, think of the payoff. Total freedom, we can go literally anywhere.”
“When you put it that way…” Regan said.
“Oi! Somebody order pizza!?” Harper’s voice echoed down the stairs.
“We’re down here!” Seth shouted back up the stairwell.
Harper practically flew down the stairs, sliding down the railing on his butt, boxes of pizza balanced atop one another in his hands. Lily followed more sedately in his wake.
“Nice!” Harper exclaimed upon catching his balance, “You got the sheet installed.” He set the pizza down and started spreading the boxes out on the floor. Regan quickly found herself gravitating towards the aroma as Lily set down a case of beer and a bag of random decorative materials.
“Yeah, it seems airtight,” Seth said as he grabbed a pizza slice. “The breeze seems to be gone at least.”
“If there are any microscopic leaks left, it’s not a big deal,” Harper said through a mouthful of food. “There’s so much air in the colony it’d take millions of years to all leak out.”
“We shouldn’t close that outer hatch until we’re sure,” Regan said before taking a bite of the pizza. “Otherwise if we’re asleep here and there’s a slow leak, the bunker could depressurize.”
“Yeah, it’s probably safest to just keep that one propped open,” Harper said with the half of his mouth he wasn’t using to chew. “Especially if we plan on going outside at any point.”
“Are we planning that?” Lily asked, “I missed that part of the plan, and if I recall I’m the only one with access to a spacesuit.”
Harper and Seth exchanged a meaningful look and Seth answered. “I’d like to.”
“It’s really dangerous,” Lily said solemnly, meeting his gaze evenly. “Space isn’t a game.”
“I know,” Seth said without flinching away. “We’ll be careful.”
“If one of you ends up dead because I let you borrow that spacesuit, I’d never forgive myself,” Lily explained, crossing her arms in front of her chest.
“This is something I need to do Lily, please let me do this.” Seth pleaded.
“I’ll think about.” She answered finally, before sinking onto her knees and grabbing a slice of pizza. Outside, the stars whirled endlessly beneath their feet.