Dark Harvest

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

Two hours after its arrival, the MNCV Newton’s Prism was joined by dozens of ships dropping out of warp all around the light attack frigate. Space rippled and distorted as frigates, cruisers, and destroyers fell out of their warp tunnels seconds apart from one another. Unlike the Empiricist, which was built from the ground up as a long-term survey vessel, the military ships appeared like blocky stacks of modules and weapons wrapped in thick ablative plating, with none of the grace or fragility implied in the design of the science vessel. The massive command battleship Light of Ages was the last to drop out, appearing in a hollow amidst the other twenty-four vessels of the Martian Socialist Republic’s Third Fleet.

Ivy Czininski drummed her fingers on the arm of her chair on the bridge while Emmy flagged and identified each new ship dropping out of warp by its squawk code and placing a dot onto the telescopic image.

“Keep in mind this is sixteen minutes old already,” Cale said as he materialized behind her on the bridge.

“I’m aware.” The captain said with a twinge of annoyance in her voice.

“Any response from the bird-spiders to our fleet showing up?” Cale asked.

“None yet, Jean did tell them a few times we had more ships on the way, so it shouldn’t catch them too much off guard,” Ivy answered.

The system beeped and Ivy looked up as Emmy started flagging another new set of contacts coming out of warp all around them. There was a moment of panic before she realized that the ships exiting warp were still the Third Fleet, now appearing as doubles on the sensor system since the light of their fleet entering warp had yet to reach the Empiricist.

She sat up straighter in her chair as a request for live video feed from the Light of Ages came through on the tight beam and unconsciously fixed the collar of her shirt.

“You sure you want to be here for this?” She asked Cale wryly.

“Yeah, why not?” Cale said, standing up a bit straighter, “Let’s see if he remembers me.”

“Alright then Emmy, put him on,” Ivy said after taking a deep breath.

The distinguished, salt and pepper haired face of Admiral Adam Wallace appeared larger than life on the main monitor, eyes seeming to peer out of the screen at them.

“Mission Commander Czininski, I’m glad to see you’re well.” He said levelly. “You seem to have stumbled into quite the interesting situation here.”

“Admiral Wallace. You’ve viewed the drone logs we’ve sent I assume, sir?” Ivy asked him.

“I’ve reviewed your drone logs personally,” he replied, “and I’ve got fifty people aboard the Light climbing up my shirt to get access to any additional data you’ve acquired since then.”

“We’ve acquired enough data to clog up the tightbeam for days sir, which is why I thought we should have this conversation before dumping everything on you.” She answered him smoothly.

“Very well, what do you have for me?” He asked her.

“To make a long story short, we’ve communicated a small amount and opened a line of direct dialog, these aliens claim to be refugees from a galactic scale conflict that is making its way toward us, and has the potential to represent an imminent existential threat to humanity.”

He pursed his lips, seeming to digest the information, eyes darting from Ivy to Cale. “Send us everything,” He said somewhat gruffly and cut the connection.

Cale waited to speak until the admiral’s face had been replaced with the starfield once more, “I think that went well.”

Autonomous Cargo Drone
Lighthorse FI-2453
Elliptical Orbit
18,000 kilometers from Gamma Tauri b
March 2219

I fell into, a burnin’ ring of fire, I went down, down, down, and the flames went higher..”  The low, gravelly voice of Johnny Cash resounded through the communications server of the Lighthorse as it fell towards the Jabberwocky on its ballistic trajectory.

From his vantage point above the ring system, Owen watched the first waves of the collisional cascade ripple through the ring structure. In its wake, the ring seemed to boil and churn, rocks that had sedately orbited were now being hurled up into their path. He felt the Lighthorse buck and jink beneath him as they swerved around a large boulder that was climbing into their path.

“You got this Murphy?” Owen asked after lifting the young woman’s administrative mute.

“I got this,” she said in a detached voice, her mind entirely focused on piloting.

And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire, the ring of fire…” Sang Johnny Cash as they made their way closer to the Jabberwocky. Owen continued watching the countdown clock on his suit, impatiently drumming his fingers on the inside of his gloves as the seconds ticked down until the planet was no longer in their way.

The timer his zero and Owen instantly began broadcasting. “Come in Jabberwocky this is Owen McGregor broadcasting from Lighthorse FI-2453, Come in Jabberwocky.

There was a tense moment as he waited for a response, and finally, Alicia Arrari’s voice came back in over his suit speakers. “You picked a hell of a time to show up.”

 

Horizon Breaker Class Exploratory Mining Vessel
FI-EMV Jabberwocky
Elliptical Orbit
18,000 KM from Gamma Tauri b
March 2219

Mike Tellerman had been wearing his magnetic boots when the asteroid slammed into the ship. The force of that impact was enough to break the magnetic locks on the boots, but not quickly enough to prevent the sharp lateral motion from breaking his ankles before the magnetic locks could give way and send him tumbling into a wall.

“Somebody get me a damage report!” Laura Wolf shouted as she extracted herself from Tom Engel and pushed off the wall where she’d been flung into by the impact.

“Take a look for yourself!” Alicia Arrari shouted back from the command chair, “Everything’s going to hell, we’ve lost pressure in fifteen compartments and the entire smelting and processing system is gutting itself.” Alicia barely took a breath before turning to one of the system specialists and continuing in the same tone, “Do we still have working engines?”

“I’m getting a damage report and an error state from the primary fuel lines and the maneuvering thruster system is reporting a loss of pressure though it doesn’t know where in the system it’s leaking.” The specialist responded as quickly as he could spit the words out.

“Damnit! Laura, I need you to lead the damage control parties and prioritize repairs to the engines, Mike, get in a suit and take point with the repair teams. And somebody tell me where that damn music is coming from!”

Laura nodded quickly and pushed off Alicia’s chair as she made her way to one of the system interface consoles, the ship shuddered again as another rock smashed into the already cratered hull, and Johnny Cash’s voice continued unabated.

“I don’t think I’m going to be able to help with that.” Mike groaned from where he found himself relatively at rest with respect to the wall.

“It’s not coming from the ship, we’re getting it over the wideband.” Felicia Downing, the communications specialist answered nervously. Alicia raised and eyebrow and looked from her to the sensor systems specialist, who just shrugged. And then the Lighthorse blinked into the sensor system’s registry at the same time as a voice appeared over the radio.

“Come in Jabberwocky this is Owen McGregor broadcasting from Lighthorse FI-2453, Come in Jabberwocky.

“McGregor?” Mike asked as he gently pushed himself towards Alicia. “Last I heard he was on the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg, what’s he doing here?”

“We’re about to find out,” Alicia growled as she keyed up on the radio. “You picked a hell of a time to show up.”

“I thought you’d say that,” he answered, “The planet’s exploding right? You need to get out of there as quickly as possible. Hard burn off the planetary ecliptic and keep burning until you’re hyperbolic, then let up to one gee, but keep burning until you’re at least an AU from here.”

“That would have been great advice about twenty minutes ago, but we’ve suffered major damage and our engines are down.” She replied irritably. Mike gripped the back of Alicia’s chair and held to it for support, his ankles still threatening to blind him with pain.

“I also thought you might say that,” Owen continued,  “which is why I have twenty EVA specialists with me, who are going to get your ship working in the next hour and a half, which is incidentally about how long we have before the lower orbits go full kessler on us.” Alicia could hear the tension in his voice. She thought he was trying to come off as confident, but she wasn’t sure if he actually believed it.

“What are you doing here, how did you know this was coming?” She asked him.

“It’s a long story, but this happened to us too. We don’t have time for it now though, this whole orbit is going to hell in a handbasket. It’s aliens by the way, you’re about to be sitting in the middle of an alien mining operation.”

Alicia glanced back at Mike, continuing her conversation with Owen, “I expect to hear the full story as soon as we’re safe. How far out are you?” She unkeyed and asked Mike, “What happened?”

“I think I broke my ankles.” He answered palely.

“We’re 10,000 klicks out and closing rapidly, we’ll be performing our hoverslam in the next minute,” Owen replied.

“Tell me what it looks like out there, most of the external cameras are in various stages of death at the moment.” Alicia unkeyed again, “Go to medical.” She hissed at Mike.

“Along with half the crew?” He answered, “I’ll stay here and make myself useful.”

“I can do that.” Owen’s voice said at the same time.

“Laura, what’s the status on the engines?” Alicia turned to her XO

“I’ve got a team tracing the leak in the maneuvering thrusters, and another repairing breaks in the primary fuel line, but the main fusion bottle is throwing error states, I’m pretty sure it took a hit, but we’ve not been able to get anyone down there to check it yet.” Laura answered without looking up from her console.

“Alright keep me updated on it,” Alicia said.

“Lighthorse FI-2453 just began its rendezvous burn.” The sensor system specialist reported from her console.

“We just lost pressure in the main axial corridor between blocks six and thirteen!” One of the other specialists shouted over the din. “Cascade failures continuing in the atmospheric control system!”

Alicia keyed up on the shipwide again, “If you’re alive and aren’t already  in a spacesuit you should probably be getting into a spacesuit right about now.” She lifted her flicked the switch back off and said to the room, “That applies here too, let’s get the emergency suits out of the locker and distributed.”

“I’ve got that,” Mike said, pushing off Alicia’s chair with his hands in the direction of the emergency locker. He kept his legs behind him to avoid hitting them against anything and injuring them further. He arrested his momentum with his hands and started throwing emergency spacesuits at people. Unlike the semi-hard bodied EVA suits, theses were essentially large bags with something roughly approximating arms, legs, fingers, and head. They wouldn’t protect from impacts, but they would keep them alive if the room depressurized. Alicia unstrapped from her chair and began clambering into one when Owen’s voice returned on the speakers.

Jabberwocky, you do not look to be in good shape. The entire centrifugal smelting assembly is just..wrecked, and you’ve got liquid metal still flowing out of the induction furnace into the hole where the centrifuge used to be.”

“What do the areas behind the assembly look like? The engines and reactor, is the ship still in one piece?” Alicia asked in increasingly desperate sounding tone. Mike winced as he shoved his injured feet into the oversized leg of the emergency spacesuit, partly from his own pain, and partly out of sympathy for Alicia, the pain in her voice was obvious.

“She’s holding together.” Owen’s voice came back, causing Alicia to let out a quiet sigh,  “The main axial column still looks to be intact. Some of your magnetic nozzles are damaged, but that’s a relatively quick fix.”

“We’re getting error states from the engine’s primary fusion bottle, make checking that your priority.” She told him.

“Will do,” He responded,  “I’ll bring the Lighthorse into the rearmost bay, we can check most of that from out here.”

“Be careful out there, we just lost seven people to micrometeor impacts.” Alicia pursed her lips.

“Caution is my middle name.” Owen answered her.

“For both our sakes I hope so Owen,” she said.

“Me too,” he replied.

 

Discovery Class Starship
FI-ESV Better Margins
50 AUs from Theta Tauri
March 2219

After over six months of travel, the starship Better Margins fell out of a ripple in spacetime and into the Theta Tauri system. Her computer systems attempted to contact the system of satellites and relays that the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg and spread across the system, only to come up blank.

Theta Tauri b was no more. Theta Tauri c was gone as well. In the seven months since the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg had gone dark, the planets had completely vanished. In their place a series of giant alien machines now swept around the star like giant propeller blades, moving at several times higher than orbital velocity and scooping up every rock, asteroid, comet, and chunk of debris in the system. Captain Benjamin Nesco was utterly flabbergasted. There was no sign of the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg and not even a sign she had ever been there. He feared the worst for them but was utterly at a loss to understand how entire worlds could simply disappear. The alien machines, while incriminating, were almost an afterthought, just one more mystery for the pile.

The captain of the Better Margins, along with the rest of his bridge crew, were in something of a state of shock. They had expected to find death, they had expected the ship to potentially be a complete write off, but it was just gone. Everything was just gone. Entire gas giant worlds and their collections of moons, asteroid belts, comets, everything was either gone already or quickly being swept up by the impossibly massive alien equipment now present in the system.

After a long period of silence, while the bridge crew witnessed the spectacle unfolding before them, the XO, Melissa Stevenson, gently nudged Ben, “Captain, we do we do now?”

He pursed his lips, mind racing but coming up blank. “We’ll observe the system for two weeks, if nothing happens, we’ll return to Aldebaran and report on what we’ve seen.”

She took a breath and tucked her auburn hair behind her ears, “Aliens, we finally meet alien life, and it’s probably already killed over two hundred people.”

“These things…have a way of happening.” Ben replied after a measured moment, “When two civilizations of vast technological differences come into contact, it’s rarely peaceful, even if the aliens are well intentioned.”

“What do you think these ones intend?” She asked him.

“I think these ones intend to finish strip mining this solar system. With regards to us in general, your guess is as good as mine.” He answered her.

“You don’t want to make contact do you?” She queried.

“No way, that’s quite a bit above my paygrade.” He chuckled nervously,  “We’re just going to lurk here at the edge of the system and see what they do. I assume they mined the planets out first, and that’s what happened to the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg, but I want to see if they start building anything here afterward.”

“I’ll see about getting some satellites launched.” She said softly and pushed past him. Ben continued to watch somewhat transfixed as the 12 AU long blades swept through the system.

 

Horizon Breaker Class Exploratory Mining Vessel
FI-EMV Jabberwocky
Elliptical Orbit
18,000 KM from Gamma Tauri b
March 2219

The grey, somewhat cratered deck plating of the Jabberwocky rushed past Owen in a blur of motion as his suited form skimmed the hull at a speed far greater than would typically be considered safe. That said, his situation was far from typical, and the looming threat of micrometeors and the entire ring tearing itself apart encouraged him to make haste.

Anders, Cartlon, Ferguson, and Wells were with him, their suited forms lost somewhere in his blind spot. They were racing down the outside of the ship to the magnetic nozzles. They could go in through the main nozzle into the bottle chamber and check for damage, which was much quicker than trying to reach the same location from inside the ship, especially with the still cascading damage occurring onboard as the mining equipment finished dying.

“Get ready to arrest momentum,” Owen said to his companions as they neared the tail of the ship. Owen rotated his suit so the back thrusters were now pointed in the direction he was flying. “Now on my mark hit the thrusters so you don’t hit me or each other. Three.” He said, making eye contact with Anders through the thick suit glass. “Two.” The other man gave him a thumbs-up gesture. “One.”

Owen engaged the thrusters on his suit and killed off all his velocity relative to the ship. The other suited figures did the same, and they were soon floating before the massive engine bell at the Jabberwocky’s stern.

He keyed up on his private channel to the Jabberwocky’s MIC, “Alicia, I’m now looking at the main drive exhaust, the primary nozzle took a lateral hit clean through both sides, we should be able to route power around it and reconfigure the field distribution to account for the damage.”

“Alright, please check on the main fusion bottle before you get to work on that, we’re not going anywhere without the ability to fuse propellant.” The captain’s voice came back through his suit speaker.

Owen took a breath and changed channels again, going into foreman mode. “Alright, Carlton and Ferguson, I want you two to start going over the damage to the nozzle and tallying up repair priorities for it, Anders, and Wells, you’re with me, we’re going to go through the nozzle into the primary fusion bottle, and we’re doing the same thing as them. Focus on quick fixes, we can do a more thorough job once we’re out of this turkey shoot.”

He received back a chorus of acknowledgments and tapped his thruster to start forward into the nozzle bell. He proceeded more cautiously, not wanting to bounce off the nozzle and hurt it or himself.

Anders keyed up and snickered over the comms as Owen began to pull himself up through the pinch point into the fusion bottle, and Owen keyed up on the foreman authority level, cutting him off, “If I hear one sexual innuendo about penetrating starships, I will globally mute you again Anders.”

“I didn’t say anything,” Anders replied defensively, “I would never dream of implying-”

“Shit,” Owen said on the foreman level. The fusion bottle was completely gutted. A rock had torn through the outer bottle wall, crossed the chamber, and bounced off the far wall of the bottle, rebounding around inside as it spent all of its kinetic energy and leaving it floating slowly through the center of the chamber. “We’re gonna need a new plan.”  

 

Discovery Class Starship
FI-ESV Better Margins
50 AUs from Theta Tauri
March 2219

Two dozen robotic satellite eyes captured the moment that the massive fans sweeping through the system vanished in a short-lived blast of radiation.

“What just happened?” Benjamin Nesco blinked in surprise, snapping out of his thoughts.

“I’m not sure.” Zhao Biyu, the sensor system specialist answered confusedly. “All that alien equipment just vanished, there was a radiation surge in…everything, EM, A and B, neutrinos, I have no idea what they just did.”

Ben narrowed his eyes, “So are they gone then?”

“There doesn’t seem to be anythi…wait” The specialist interrupted herself, “There’s another surge in radiation emissions.” They all watched as a glowing disc AUs across appeared beneath the ecliptic of the system. Electricity jumped from point to point on the glowing roiling surface in arcs longer than planets as a strange flat storm appeared in spacetime.

“We’re recording this right?” Melissa Stevenson asked Biyu softly.

“Of course.” The specialist answered.

Three impossibly vast prongs began to emerge from the storm. Dark spires of alien metal sparkling with strange lights rose up around the star, like the claw of some enormous monster. The spires began to curl, folding in on themselves to embrace the star in their grasp. Solar storms erupted from the star’s surface, sloughing off massive sheets of high energy plasma as magnetic fields larger than worlds slammed together.

Ben felt his hands starting to sweat as he gripped the armrests of his chair. The bridge crew was silent, held in transfixed awe at the scale of engineering they beheld. The metallic fingers came together at a point above the star and began the descend back into the plane of storms and radiation, dragging the star with them. The claw and star both vanished into the disc of radiation, which then faded away as quickly as it appeared, leaving the Better Margins drifting alone through deep space.

 

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

Ivy closed the door on her office and activated the privacy screens through her implants as she sat down. She brought up the video conferencing screen and accepted the private tight beam connection with her neural interface.

Admiral Wallace’s face appeared on the screen and Ivy unconsciously sat more upright in her chair.

“I’ve reviewed as much of the information as I could without taking a few years and earning a science degree.” He began without preamble. He pursed his lips, and then offered a rare smile, “You’ve done well here Ivy. The actions of you and your crew have been exemplary through and through.”

“Thank you, sir.” Ivy smiled.

“I have a large team of experts who are now somewhat up to speed on what your people have done, and it’s time we put them in touch.” He continued. “On that note, I’ll be sending over a 10th Rank Pragmatist,  a linguist, and a xenobiologist by shuttle. Your ship is going to serve as our physical platform for first contact, congratulations commander, you’re going to be in the history books.”  

Ivy took a moment to process all of what he’d just said, all the while a smile had begun growing across her lips. “Thank you, sir,” she managed to finally say, “does that mean you’ll want us to move our ship closer to the alien vessel?”

“Yes.” He replied. “Once our people have transferred aboard, you’ll move in closer, to one light second out from those ‘oars’ of theirs and initiate real-time communication.”

“Understood sir. Will that be all?” She asked.

“That will be all Commander,” he answered before cutting the connection. Ivy chuckled to herself for a moment then accessed the intercom system with her implants and contacted Cale.

“He remembers. You’re being replaced.”

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2 thoughts on “Dark Harvest

  1. Wow, I’ve discovered this fiction on Saturday, started reading today and just now finished all the backlog, hit “Subscribe” and was about to move on, but an update popped up! Such timing (from my perspective).

    Sagebrysh – thanks for posting your series, I thoroughly enjoy reading your fiction. Apparent rationalist thinking also appeals to me :3

    Like

  2. Swallowing a star in a short enough timeframe to not be worth mentioning seems like a stretch, given the hardness you appear to be going for generally. Stars are quite large. The acceleration implied is staggering, while I haven’t run the numbers I suspect both the “fingers” and the star itself would have to be moving at relativistic speeds, with the fingers reversing that velocity half way through. Actually, super quick back of the envelope calculation ignoring acceleration time suggests a couple of percent of c is in the right ballpark if they sat there silently watching for 10 minutes. Perhaps stretch that out over a few hours at least? Still insanely impressive megascale engineering, but a little bit more compatible with the laws of physics as we know them. He’ll, it’d be insanely impressive even over the course of months.

    Like

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