A Prayer for Brighter Days

Constellation Project Colony
UNDSV 15-18 Jericho Ridge
Hyperbolic Stellar Escape Trajectory
1.95 Light Years from Sol
March 2219

Seth Fiegel took a deep breath, trying to calm his fluttering heart as he stood in an aging spacesuit in a cramped airlock deep inside the skin of Colony 15. This is it, he thought to himself; as soon as he gave the word, Regan McKinley, sitting at the ancient computer terminal behind the thick airlock door, would vent the atmosphere from the room.

“It all looks good out here.” Regan’s voice spoke to him through the suit’s speaker. She had networked the suit’s computer to her laptop and was monitoring it remotely. If something went wrong though, there wasn’t all that much she’d be able to do.

He took another breath, and gave the order, “Alright, depressurize the airlock.”

There was a pause, a note of hesitation in Regan’s voice before she activated the controls, “depressurizing,” she finally said.

The turbofans roared and sound drained away from the room as the air left it, condensation began to settle onto every surface, freezing into a thin hoarfrost as the residual atmosphere settled out in the reduced pressure. The lighting in the room flipped, the light above the door Seth had entered through, which had been green, turned red. The light above the far door, which had been red, turned green.

Regan’s voice seemed to come from a very far away place, despite the speaker only being inches from Seth’s ear. “Everything looks good, suit pressure is steady, temperatures are pleasant, your heart rate is kind of high, are you okay Seth?”

The teenager took another deep breath and keyed up, “Yeah, I’m good.”

He double checked the chain that was anchored to both the floor of the airlock and the center of his chest, then turned to the far door, “Opening up.”

There was another small hiss of air as the airlock settled to true vacuum, and sound seemed to grow even more muffled and far away. A wide and brightly lit cavern opened up before him, with a giant mouth yawning open in the floor, gaping open into the void. He turned and looked back into the windows. Lily Emerson stood in the middle, adjacent to the frame they had replaced, arms crossed and lips narrowed, watching him. Behind her, Regan was seated at the ancient computer terminal, her own computer in her lap, wired into the ancient interface, chewing her lip with worry. Harper Jordan stood at the far left pane, hands pressed up against the glass, eyes alight with excitement.

Seth turned away from his friends and returned to the task he had set before himself. He strode across the hangar floor towards the opening in the hull of the colony. The chain rattled on the decking behind him, he could feel it through the suit, and through the floor, but he couldn’t exactly hear it, the eerie silence of the void had descended over him.

He had enough slack on the chain to lower himself a few feet down into the opening, hanging from the colony as it spun to produce gravity, but he wanted to be extremely careful about this, not wanting to be flung off into deep space.

He lowered himself onto his knees beside the opening and pulled the chain taut, letting the slack down into the opening. He gripped the taut chain through his suit and began to climb over the lip. He put most of his weight on the chain and hung over the gap with his feet planted to the edge of the vast door. Slowly, carefully, he walked his hands down the chain, letting out slack, and gently, he pushed off with his feet.

He fell roughly half a meter before the chain regained tension and he swung back out over the opening from under the door. He released a breath he hadn’t been aware he was holding, and then took another as he realized how his heart was racing. He waited until the swinging had stopped before he dared open his eyes.

The starfield whirled beneath his feet, yawning open like a bottomless pit. As Colony 15 spun, the view rotated away from the stars to the massive, also spinning cylinders of colonies 16, 17, and 18, connected together at their nose by the huge deflection disc that was the High Ridge. All around the Ridge, the lights of shuttles and transport ships flickered among the superstructure. The matte white hulls of the UN military fleet stood out even from tens of kilometers away, owing to the station lights reflecting off their white skins. The scale of human engineering on display was humbling and awe-inspiring, and Seth strained his eyes to take in the grandeur of the vista.

And then the colony kept rotating, and the stars returned, whirling, whirling endlessly in the distance.

Seth keyed up, and said breathlessly, “It’s beautiful out here.”

 

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

“What do you mean you can’t fix it?” Alicia Arrari practically shouted. “We have the parts aboard to replace everything why can’t you fix it?” The MIC was finally beginning the settle down, and the impacts had stopped for the moment. Damage reports and error states were being tallied one by one, and it was beginning to look like the worst might be over.

Owen’s voice came back worried, irritable, “There’s no time to fix it. The damage is severe, by the time we get it working this altitude will be unsurvivable.”

“We’ll start pushing with the maneuvering thrusters, but you still need to be working on fixing them.” She replied angrily.

“That’s too slow, we’re going to have to resort to plan b, how many Lighthorses do you have onboard?” There was something in his tone of voice, but Alicia couldn’t put her finger on what.

“What’s plan b?” She asked him.

“It depends on how many Lighthorses you have.” He responded cryptically.

“We have three, counting yours, Owen, what’s plan b?”

“We put everyone on your ship in a suit, strap them to one of your Lighthorses, and fly out of here just like we flew in. If we’re quick about it, we can get out while it’s still safe to do so. The Stoneburner is on the edge of the system, we’ll come out of warp there and rendezvous for the trip back to Aldebaran.” It was kind of a mad answer, a Lighthorse had no seats, no compartments to put people in, it wasn’t meant to be used to carry passengers, and with the amount of debris already kicked up, potentially very dangerous.

“That’s completely crazy, you want us to abandon the Jabberwocky?” She told him.

“Yes, right now, the more time we take doing so, the more dangerous it will be to do. If the ring comes apart the rest of the way while we’re still here we’ll have to switch to plan c, which you’re going to like even less than this one.” He insisted.

Alicia looked around the MIC, the Jabberwocky was her ship, her home. Her heart and soul had gone into this place, and it meant the world to her. Without it, she was nothing, she had nothing.

However, if what Owen said was true, then remaining aboard would be a death sentence. Alicia would rather die than abandon her ship, but she would not make her crew do the same. She couldn’t, she cared for them too much.

“Plan b it is,” she responded finally, and changed over to the shipwide frequency. “Attention all hands, due to forces outside of our control, we are forced to abandon the Jabberwocky, all crewmembers should congregate at either Bay 3, Bay 4, or Bay 9, whichever they are closer to. We will use the three Lighthorses in our possession to evacuate in a quick and orderly manner, and we will all live through this.” She quickly keyed back over to Owen, “I want you and your people distributed between the three Lighthorses we have helping strap people in.”

“We’re on it.” Owen’s voice came back over the system.

“Alright,” Alicia said without keying up, “Mike, Laura, get everyone in here down to Bay 3, I’ll be along behind you.”

“You better not try any heroic bullshit and get yourself killed.” Laura replied as she pushed off her console towards the door.

“No one dies here today,” she said, “now get going.”

 

Constellation Project Colony
UNDSV 15-18 Jericho Ridge
Hyperbolic Stellar Escape Trajectory
1.95 Light Years from Sol
March 2219

Seth finished lowering himself down the chain, so that he was hanging by his chest, with his hands free. He withdrew a set of binoculars from the satchel he had strapped over his suit, and held them up outside the glass. It was difficult to get a good view, he had to press his face as close as possible to the front of the helmet, and the spinning of the station made it difficult to keep objects in focus for long, but he was still able to see the distant military vessels in fantastic detail during his brief glimpses.

“I’m going to have to come out here again with a video camera so guys can see this, the view is fantastic.” Seth said into the microphone on his suit.

“I hope you’re being careful.” Lily’s voice came back through the suit speaker, grating and irritable.

“I am,” he replied smoothly, the view was absolutely worth the effort and the risks.

A distant shining star caught his eye as the colony kept rotating, and he put his binoculars to it, resolving it into the drive plume of a ship decelerating towards them.

“There’s a new ship coming,” he said over the microphone.

“Who is it?” Regan’s voice asked him from the speaker system. He strained his eyes trying to make out the tiny details on the distant metallic hull.

“I’m not sure, I thought it was military at first from the drive plume, but the hull looks civilian,” he responded as he watched the ship until the colony turned to hide him from it.

“It seems like a lot of people are suddenly interested in us.” Regan’s voice said softly, “And I’m not sure I care for it.”

“I feel you,” he answered, face still pressed to the front of the suit in an attempt to see through the binoculars, “It makes me nervous, being so interesting.”

The new vessel was much closer as the colony rotated towards it again, affording Seth a much better look at the design. It was covered in antennas and dishes, and bright series of blue stripes ran down one side of the hull. The ship’s name was the real giveaway though, plastered all across the side in letters that took up most of the available space were the words Live from Space.

“It’s a news ship,” Seth said into the suit mic. “Like, big time interstellar news.”

“What are they doing here?” Regan’s voice asked him. “There’s nothing to report on here, right?”

“I kind of hope not.” Seth answered her, “The sort of thing that makes interstellar news tends to leave a lot of dead people in its wake.” The colony kept rotating, but the vessel sailed by relatively close to the rotating colony as it made for to dock at the High Ridge, allowing Seth a long uninterrupted view of the blue and metallic ship.

“What’re you here for?” He asked the ship without cuing up his microphone. The giant hull continued its journey in utter silence, failing to give up its secrets.

 

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

“Laura, Owen, Mike, status updates,” Alicia asked over the command frequency from the now otherwise empty MIC.

“We’re 80% loaded up down here.” Owen McGregor reported from FI-2453 in bay 9.

“Approaching 70% now.” Mike Tellerman answered from FI-2291 in bay 4.

“We’re only half done here, it’s taking awhile to get some of the injured crewmembers strapped in.” Laura Wolf said from FI-2144 in bay 3.

“Well, we’re running out of time. I’m watching the ring come apart on what’s left of the satellites.” Alicia said to them. “We’re losing our window, if we can’t launch in the next half hour, the conditions will be too poor for the Lighthorses to survive until their warp jumps.”

“I’m not sure if we can make that window,” Laura said resignedly. “Owen and Mike should launch as soon as they’re fully loaded.”

“We’re not leaving anyone behind to die,” Owen responded. “We always have plan c.”

“You still haven’t explained what plan c is yet,” Alicia answered impatiently. “Other than to tell me I won’t like it.”

“Plan c is we override the safeties on the Lighthorses and activate their warp drives from inside the Jabberwocky.” He answered. “And yes it’s possible, the people on board the Lighthorses will be safe, but it will very thoroughly destroy the Jabberwocky.”

“You gamed this entire thing out ahead of time didn’t you?” She asked him, “What’s plan d?”

“Start improvising,” Owen answered. “Nobody else dies today. Let’s take our time, focus on getting the Lighthorses fully loaded. Until the ship starts breaking apart, we’re in good shape.”

Alicia’s eyes went back to the external monitors, where the ring continued to peel itself apart, scattering rocks everywhere, while the conflagration in the atmosphere rose through the remains of the ring to greater and greater heights, blasting the world’s constituent atmospheric gases into space. “Just be quick about it,” she said over the line, “We might not have much longer before the ship does start going to pieces.”

 

Marathon Class Starship
UNDF Leyte Gulf
Docked at UNDSV 15-18 Jericho Ridge
1.95 Light Years from Sol
March 2219

The Leyte Gulf was the pride of the post-FTL UN fleet. Despite being smaller than the Sun Tzu Class battleships, the command cruisers packed a sophisticated electronic warfare and Aegis platform, giving them far greater battlefield control, with finely tuned sensors extending electronic eyes for millions of kilometers in every direction. It gave Commodore Maeve O’Donnell a great deal of comfort to know that nothing went on anywhere near her vessel, without her ship’s electronic eyes taking notice. She floated the length of the electronic warfare cruiser’s combat Information center, looking over shoulders and studying screen readouts.

“Two new contacts on long range passive,” Katie Hawthorne, her chief sensor system specialist reported, drawing Maeve towards the row of sensor specialists at their stations. “Both vessels squawking friendly, dropped out of warp a few seconds apart. The first is UNDF CEW-21 Waterloo, the second is independent news vessel ORR-CS3 Live from Space.

“What’s that news ship doing here?” Her second in command, and captain of the ship, Henry Osborne asked her.

“At a guess?” Maeve offered, “the same thing we are, looking for those aliens the Martians ran into.”

“I’m assuming they have docking clearance?” Maeve asked Katie.

“Yeah, they’re broadcasting docking codes now. Jericho Ridge reports they were given priority clearance,” the sensor specialist reported confusedly.

“By whom?” Maeve asked the other girl.

“Their codes were stamped by UNIBRA,” Katie answered.

“International Business Relations?” Henry raised an eyebrow, looking at her.

Maeve shrugged, “I don’t decide how the world is arranged, I just live in it. Monitor them on their way in as per normal.”

“We’re also receiving a tightbeam from the captain of the Waterloo, he’s requesting to speak with you in private,” Katie told her.

“I’ll take it in my office.” She said lightly, pushing off the back of Katie’s chair to propel herself towards her office door, “Henry you have the deck.”

“Aye Commodore,” he said sharply. Saluting was an odd looking gesture while on the float, but Henry did it anyway. Maeve admired him for it, he was a good soldier.

The commodore slid the hatch to her office closed and activated the room’s privacy settings, banishing the ever present ears of the advanced AI systems. She floated over her desk and pulled herself down into the chair, not really sitting in it, but floating in a roughly sitting position. She waved a hand across the glass desktop to bring up the haptic interface, keyed into the transmission logs for the pending message for her and accepted the transmission.

Captain Gunnir Coulson’s aging face appeared embedded in the transparent glass screen, lips creased into a scowl.

“Captain Coulson, it’s a surprise to see you out here,” she started, tucking strands of errant grey hair behind her ears.

“Commodore O’Donnell, I bring news regarding the aliens and new orders from Earth,” he replied to her.

“Oh?” She asked him.

“We’ve received word from one of our sources on Mars that the Martian fleet made their contact with those aliens in the vicinity of Luyten’s Star. Your fleet, which will include my vessel as well, is to warp to Luyten’s Star and make our own contact with these aliens.” The other captain didn’t seem particularly taken in with the instructions.

“Do we have a particular strategy for dealing with the Martians in system?” She asked, raising an eyebrow.

“It’s to your prerogative, but priority is to make contact and prevent Mars from gaining a technological advantage over Earth,” he offered, shrugging helplessly.

“And I’m of course left holding the hot potato on the potential international incident this represents,” she offered him an apologetic smile.

He smiled back to her, “I’m afraid so ma’am, but we’re all holding it a bit today.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” she snorted.

“Also, our docking clearance is being held up for some civilian vessel, can you override their clearance so we can refuel as quickly as possible?” He asked her.

“I can’t actually, which is annoying, they have top priority clearance from UNIBRA, and no, I don’t know who gave it to them or why.” She told him.

He sighed and shook his head, “Madness, I don’t know how you handle the bureaucrats, ma’am.”

“One day at a time, one day at a time,” she answered.

“Well, we’re in a holding pattern until they finish docking,” the other captain said.  

“Understood,” Maeve told him, “Just make best speed, we’ll talk again once you’re docked.”

“Aye,” he answered, saluting her before cutting the connection. Maeve sighed and relaxed her neck, a motion which would have under gravity caused her head to lull back but did no such thing in freefall. How she hated politics.

 

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

“We’re just about finished down here.” Laura’s voice came through the speaker system on the MIC as yet another rock reverberated through the hull somewhere. Alicia felt as if every impact was striking her personally, slowly dismantling her soul along with her ship.

“Good,” she said softly, trying to keep her voice from cracking, “good.”

“Is everyone aboard and ready to go than? We have to kick all three Lighthorses within a few microseconds of each other so they don’t damage each other with their Isolator fields.” Owen’s still energetic voice came in over the speakers, breaking the quiet reverie in the MIC.

“Everything’s ready.” Alicia said from her position, still strapped into the command chair in the Jabberwocky’s MIC. Tears began pooling in her eyes, held to them by surface tension in zero gravity and clouding over her vision. “Go, hit it.”

“Wait,” Laura said, “Alicia, where are you?”

“I’m right where I’m supposed to be.” The captain said from the closest thing left to a bridge on her dying ship.

“And where is that?” Laura insisted, the accusatory tone in her voice apparent even over the speakers.

“Just go, we’re out of time, the ship’s going to come apart on its own if you wait much longer.” Alicia argued in favor of her death.

“Oh, I know this game, captain goes down with her ship, I call bullshit.” Owen’s voice came out of the speaker system. “You said nobody dies today, that includes you. If you don’t get onto one of these Lighthorses I swear to whatever alien gods might exist there I will drag you there myself.”

“Owen…” Alicia sighed, another impact shuddered through the hull somewhere. “This is my home, this is all I have.”

His sigh was audible over the speakers, but he didn’t say anything in response.

“We’re not leaving without you Alicia. This is our home being abandoned too, don’t be selfish.” Laura’s voice taunted her.

“You can’t hold up the evacuation for me Laura, this is how I want it to be,” she shook her head and scattered the teardrops away from her eyes.

“I told you Alicia we’re not leaving without you.” Laura insisted. Alicia sighed and crossed her arms over her chest. In some distant part of the ship, another rock rebounded off the abused armor plating and sent another tremor through the hull. Alicia couldn’t help herself, she broke down and started sobbing.

 

Constellation Project Colony
UNDSV 15-18 Jericho Ridge
Hyperbolic Stellar Escape Trajectory
1.95 Light Years from Sol
March 2219

“Your air supply is half empty, you should probably start heading back in.” Regan’s voice broke Seth out of his reverie, drawing his attention from the endlessly whirling starfield back to the chain he was hanging from.

“Yeah, I’m on my way back,” the teenager said into the speaker before reaching out and grasping the chain with his gloves. Almost immediately, he knew there was a problem. The suit was heavy, really heavy. Hoisting himself up the chain in the suit was much more of a task then he’d previously assumed. His arms strained from the effort to pull himself upwards, legs windmilling uselessly below him as he hung above the endless abyss. His heart started racing, and he felt the panic begin to settle in his gut. He fought to keep his heartbeat steady, even as he felt his breathing coming in shorter and shorter gasps.

“Seth?” Regan’s voice came through the speaker, a million miles away. “Seth are you okay?”

He felt his vision narrowing as his attempts to climb the chain grew more and more frantic and tears began running down his cheeks. The animalistic parts of his mind rebelled against the entire situation and he started to hyperventilate. Regan was forced to watch helplessly as his heart continued to race dangerously fast, his mind lost to some faraway place.

“Seth? Seth what’s happening out there?” Her voice came through the speaker, increasingly upset as he failed to answer. “Seth! Seth!”

 

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

Owen slid open the hatch to the MIC and clanked in, his magnetic boots holding his suit to the floor. Alicia was in her suit, curled up in the command chair in a fetal position. He sighed and deactivated his the magnetic grips in his boots, pushing off gently in her direction.

“Alicia…” he said, reaching out for her. The only response from the captain was a choked sob as she stirred in the chair.

He gently gripped the back of her suit and pulled her away from the chair. “Alicia, you’re going to come with me okay, nobody dies today, alright?”

Her eyes were fogged with tears and she shakily nodded her head. Owen reattached the magnetic grips on his boots and walked across the room, pulling Alicia along behind him as he went. The ship rattled and reverberated around them as Owen pulled Alicia along, rocks of every size and shape impacting the hull like rain on a tin roof.

“Owen, we just had a rock come through the corner of this bay, we’re starting to cut things close.” Laura’s voice said into Owen’s suit speaker.

“Understood,” he responded, and deactivated his magnetic boots again. Pushing off while dragging Alicia with him was hard, but having her added mass also meant that he had to expend more energy each time adjusting course, and each impact was that much harder on his knees. He didn’t care, the strain would catch up to him in a few hours, and his body would be punishing him for months, but for these few moments the surge of adrenaline in his system kept him moving, pushing off of each brace and doorway in the required sequence to pull himself and Alicia to bay 3.

His muscles waited to start aching until the moment he’d handed the still sobbing captain off to Laura Wolf, forcing him to go through the process of of strapping himself onto the Lighthorse while they screamed in protest at him.

“That had better be everyone now.” Owen said over the command channel.

“It is, we’ve got everyone aboard and accounted for.” Laura said to him.

“Alright, I’m pulling Murphy into the command channel.” He accessed the administrative settings through his suit’s HUD and dragged Murphy from private pilot’s channel he had made her into the command channel. “Murphy, you all set up for plan c?”

“Everything’s good to go,” she answered, a small amount of pleasure creeping into her voice, “I’ve always wanted to do this.”

“Alright then, let’s get out of here,” he told her.

Eleanor Murphy activated the preprogrammed command sequence she had embedded into the computer systems of the three Lighthorses. Their AI systems attempted to orient the vessels in space in order to exit warp facing the right direction, but Murphy’s patch overrode that check, along with the proximity check and the local area safety checks. The systems thus gave the thumb’s up less than a millisecond later, and the three Lighthorses leapt away down their warp tunnels. In the moment when the Lederman Isolator activated and the space on the boundary decided which side of the field it wanted to be on, an enormous amount of stress energy was generated on the fabric of nearby spacetime, bunching it up around the bubble of displacement the drone ships had generated. As the Lighthorses vanished, the stress energy released inwards and outwards, instantly turning the Jabberwocky into an incandescent cloud of expanding shrapnel and radiation.

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