Marathon Class Starship
UNDF Leyte Gulf
9 AUs From Luyten’s Star
Commodore Maeve O’Donnell sipped her third cup of coffee, watching ships dance amidst one another on callouts that were constantly vanishing and reforming as electronic jamming washed over the Leyte Gulf with waves of multispectral noise. ECCM systems struggled to compensate for the interference, sometimes successfully sometimes not. Ships appeared and vanished, doubled and tripled, swapped locations with each other, and seemed to skip chaotically like a broken video reel.
The standoff had been twelve hours in the making, the two fleets darted through one another, ships passing within a few hundred meters of each other as their fleets braided together then separated out as far as 100,000 kilometers before pulling back together again.
“How long are we going to play this game with them?” Henry Osbourne, the captain of the Leyte Gulf, asked her, rubbing his eyes.
“Until they let us talk to the aliens or another UN ship arrives with orders for us to lay off,” she replied, “Best grab a cuppa, it’s going to be a long few days.”
The bald headed captain took a breath, sucking in air past his teeth, they were playing a very dangerous game, and it had all their nerves frayed, “I don’t much care for this. Think we could convince the Martians to stop jamming us if we stopped jamming them?”
“I doubt it,” Maeve answered, “They’re under orders to stop us from talking to the aliens, we’re under orders to talk to the aliens, so until some politician somewhere comes to an agreement, this is the game we play.”
“We did get the Hello package out before the jamming started, maybe we can scatter our fleet in all directions, split them up to weaken their jamming and establish contact that way?” Katie Hawthorne suggested, “If we can force the contact past them, maybe we can get the aliens to talk them into standing down.”
Maeve pursed her lips, “bring up the system board,” she motioned to Katie with her coffee mug. The sensor systems specialist rotated her chair towards Maeve, nursing her own coffee cup as she activated the large table in the center of the CIC. A three dimensional model of the system appeared with the positions of all the ships in theory marked on it. The interference was sending the ships skipping and teleporting and doubling and vanishing, as on the main screen, but the fleets as a whole were still discernable as blobs of constantly shifting vessels.
Henry leaned against the table, dancing his fingers across the surface, he rewound the system timer to just after their exit from warp, after the entirety of the Martian fleet had been registered in the battle computer, identified from the databases of Martian ships, and labelled with a callout. “I don’t think that will work. Their fleet composition is dominated by electronic warfare vessels, the same as ours. And they significantly outnumber us, so even if every ship went in a different direction, they could still have two to three vessels for every one of ours.
“What about drones?” Maeve suggested.
“If we string out drones in the direction of the alien ship every 15,000 klicks,” Katie suggested, “it might let us push a signal through the jamming.”
“The Martians won’t like that at all,” Henry shook his head.
“Think they’ll fire on our drones?” Maeve asked him, raising an eyebrow.
“In this case,?” Henry answered her, “Probably. They consider themselves legally allowed to do it under certain sets of circumstances as per the 2176 Treaty.”
“Yeah,” Maeve said, her voice trailing off as she tried to see the tactical board as a puzzle to be solved. She pursed her lips, “Three chains of drones from every ship in the fleet, on equiangular trajectories, we launch them all at once at the extreme inward curve of our engagement braid, when the separation between our fleets is the maximum, let’s see if we can’t catch them off guard.”
At the moment of most extreme separation between the UN and Martian fleets, the smaller force of UN vessels made their move, launching hundreds of drones into space, angling away from each other in every direction as they attempted to assemble themselves into a vast antenna array. The Martian fleet responded quickly, turning sharply in a four-gee swerve that had crewmembers pressed into acceleration chairs as they closed the gap once more to the UN vessels. Point defense cannons on the Martian ships opened up on the swarming drones, blowing dozens of them away and sending the remainder scattering.
Maeve pursed her lips, taking another sip of her coffee as drones died by the hundred. Despite the heavy losses, her plan appeared to be working, the signals on the wallscreens and the system board were starting to clear of static.
The fleets closed to within hundreds of meters of one another again, the vessels of the two fleets darted past each other, and all hell broke loose.
“Fast movers!” Katie Hawthorne suddenly shouted in alarm as the entirety of the Martian fleet began hemorrhaging small rapidly accelerating objects.
“Drones? Missiles?” Henry asked quickly.
“PDLs are authorized to free fire on all fast movers,” Maeve ordered quickly, transmitting through her headset to all the ship captains and command crews. The space around both fleets erupted in violence as drones exploded and died, lasers flickered invisibly through space, and point defense rounds detonated in starbursts of flak. The trajectories of the fleets shifted, holding within 15,000 kilometers of one, the braid tightening as their fast movers danced around each other. The now escalated conflict held in its expanded steady state like a growing standing wave, another vector of conflict in addition to the electronic warfare systems. The not quite yet a battlefield was growing in complexity as each side escalated in a bid for the upper hand. For two hours, the dual of drones continued with constant violence and fervor, leaving Maeve sucking down cup after cup of coffee in an attempt to stay awake and keep her nerves from fraying too terribly.
And then the MNCV Chapel Hill slammed into the UNDF Normandy at the close approach in their combat braid. The two military vessels struck one another with enough force to level a city; despite being glancing blows, the Martian frigate’s relative motion smashed it through the armored skin of the cruiser like it was paper, while friction ground the frigate into the cruiser like cheese on a grindstone.
The two vessels slid against each other with an utterly silent shriek of protesting metal, snapping structural struts, popping pressure vessels, and fracturing bulkheads; hundreds died in seconds as their ships hulls unzipped themselves and vented to space. Volatiles cooked off and chain reactions tore through the vessels as their fuel supplies and weapons magazines detonated, before both ships were momentarily swallowed up in the twin starbursts of their rupturing fusion reactors.
Maeve watched in horror as the wreckage of the two vessels went screaming into the darkness, wreathed in a plasma halo and glowing with residual heat.
“Pull away from the Martians,” Maeve barked into the command channel, “All vessels pull away from the Martian fleet right now, cut electronic warfare and recall drones, begin backing off to 250,000 kilometers.”
“This just got a whole lot messier,” Henry said into the command channel with a sigh.
“Yeah, I was afraid of something like this happening,” Gunnir Coulson of the Waterloo replied into her earpiece.
“Like I said Maeve,” Allison Strange said from the bridge of the Stalingrad, “Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.”
The Commodore sighed and studied the system board. The two ships had collided in the middle of the combat weave, and as the seconds since the impact ticked by, the fleets pulled apart from one another once more. As the UN fleet pulled range, the Martians began turning and vectoring back towards them to keep their forces inside the effective e-war envelope. They were however also beginning to recall drones when it became apparent the UN was recalling theirs.
She took another sip of her coffee and tried to push down the horrible guilt at the deaths that had just occurred under her command.
Maeve moved out of the command channel and started a recording, “Admiral Wallace,” she began, “My condolences on the loss of life that just occurred. I would be lying if I said it couldn’t have been avoided. Our fleet will assume a parking orbit and cease attempts to force contact with the aliens for the time being, we would appreciate if your fleet maintained at least 50,000 kilometers of separation in order to assure a repeat incident doesn’t occur.”
She stopped recording, saved the file, and sent it to Katie Hawthorne, “Katie, I want you to push this at the Martian fleet, ultrawideband, see if you can’t force it through their jamming.”
The system specialist nodded and began instructing her subordinates to push the signal through the jamming systems, temporarily replacing the storm of white noise with signal across a huge swath of bandwidths.
She relaxed her neck and closed her eyes, waiting for the Martians to reply. It took a few moments, then the Martian battleship repeated their trick with the electronic warfare systems, the static haze around the fleet rippling momentarily as the response signal was propagated through the storm of interference.
“Commodore O’Donnell,” the Martian admiral said, “I likewise extend condolences on this avoidable loss of life. I understand the political situation you are operating inside of, but I still request in strong terms that you withdraw immediately from this system. We will maintain distance and jamming on your fleet until you comply or our orders change.”
The Commodore pinched the bridge of her nose and shut her eyes, taking a slow breath. Her emotions were starting to get the best of her as she tried to figure out what exactly had gone wrong. It came back to her at the end of the day, she was responsible, and that weighed heavily on her conscience.
“Commodore? Your orders?” One of the other captains asked her over the command channel.
“Maintain course and orbital vector, cease all active thrusting,” she mumbled out, taking another sip of coffee and trying to burn away the spreading numbness in her heart.
Newton Class Starship
250,000 Kilometers from Lament for Lost Worlds
“Shuttle Number four is docked,” The Empiricist’s AI announced to Ivy Czininski on the bridge.
“Thank you Emmy,” Ivy said as she took a sip of her coffee and turned to Cale Rouschev, “Ready for a close encounter of the third kind?” She asked him. He and Kestral were scheduled to journey back to the Lifeseeker on its next trip.
“I would have been on the first shuttle over if Vedika hadn’t bumped me,” he complained.
“Well, maybe you should have thought about that before that whole cake incident,” Ivy smiled good-naturedly, her eyes going back to the ongoing conflict between the UN and Martian forces. It was sort of beautiful, when the visible sensors weren’t being blinded by laser light they captured images of ships wreathed in halos of tiny detonations as PDC shells exploded and drones were blown apart.
“I should get down to the shuttle bay,” Cale said mostly to himself.
Ivy nodded in acknowledgment as he slipped out the door, leaving just her and Jimmy on the bridge.
She took another sip of coffee and then inadvertently sprayed it across the bridge as the MNCV Chapel Hill and UNDF Normandy collided with one another.
“Sweet baby newton…” She stammered, watching with disbelief as the fleets began to separate from each other and transmit frantic apologies and calls to stand down. It was all hours out of date, but the suddenly massive death toll left Ivy reeling.
“Commander, we are receiving a communication from the Lifeseeker.” Emmy announced to her.
“Let’s hear it,” Ivy told the AI. The translation systems had progressed to a sufficient degree that instead of visually displaying words, the AI simply translated the message and stated it over the speakers.
“Lying militaristic humans, your kind have been determined to be violent liars. All evacuations of humans will be conducted via standard methods for use on violent warlike savages. This diplomatic sequence is terminated,” Emmy intoned to her. The Lifeseeker was already turning back towards the Lament for Lost Worlds.
“Send them back this,” Ivy started, “Please, this is all a misunderstanding, we don’t yet have the details on the events that took place moments ago but it was pretty clearly an accident not an intentional escalation of force, we wish to peacefully communicate with one another and learn to coexist in this universe together without violence.”
“You lying humans have thus far told only stories and fabrications, we have no reason to trust your words and trusting your words risks the lives of many species under our charge. We will rescue you from the Reshapers as is our mission, but we will not allow human liars to endanger this mission either,” the kiwawentoa, via Emmy, retorted.
Ivy ground her teeth as Vedika Srivastava and Cale Rouschev ran into the bridge, with Margaret Armstrong, Kestral Schiaparelli, and Morgan Sabaea hot on their heels.
“What’s going on?” The senior pragmatist barked at her.
“I’m not sure,” Ivy admitted, “There was a collision, one of our frigates ran into a UN cruiser, and now the Kiwawentoa are calling us liars and calling off the contact,” Ivy said angrily, “They’re withdrawing the Lifeseeker.”
“Shit,” Vedika swore. On the wallscreens, the nearly invisible propulsive rods of the Lament for Lost Worlds began to flicker and spark with energy. A storm of radiation was building around the enormous ark ship, wrapping it in a cocoon of light and energy.
“Well, we’ve fucked up,” Morgan announced, crossing eir arms. The storm of radiation became opaque, and then faded away into nothingness. The rods began to rapidly contract down towards a center point, racing inwards at relativistic speeds as they folded up on themselves and vanished with a burst of light. It took less than a minute for the Mars-sized ship to disappear, leaving the Empiricist floating alone.
“I have some bad news for you,” Vedika said softly after the tension broke nearly a moment after the ship vanished.
Ivy whirled on the Senior Pragmatist, temper flaring, “Worse than this?” She asked grumpily.
“Well,” Vedika winced, “It did also just cost you your XO.”
Ivy frowned, “Where’s Jean?”
Dirge Singer class Heavenly Container of Life
i34_2015 Lament for Lost Worlds
Hyperspatial Transit Trajectory
The powerful ringing in Jean Paoloni’s ears faded away, and she slowly felt herself drift back into reality. It was a painful settling process, her ego forming back together out of mental noise, realizing that she was a human named Jean Paoloni, and finally realizing that she was floating naked in some sort of holding chamber. The last thing she remembered, she had been arguing with the Kiwawentoa about whether or not humans were liars, and then that overpowering, crushing ringing sound had turned her mind into pudding and left her dissociated and inert as her mind raced uselessly in a million directions at once.
Her eyes darted around the small spherical space she found herself in. The rough coral-like walls were the same as in the Meetingspace, but the room she found herself in was much smaller. If she stretched her body out all the way, her fingertips and toes brushed against the walls of the chamber. The space had no discernable features, no doors, windows, or seams visible in the peach colored material. The lighting seemed to come from a series of tiny recessed light emitters scattered around the perimeter of the room, invisible without getting right up to the surface. This created an unsettling lack of shadows and gave the place an odd flatness.
Jean tapped her knuckles against the walls, but they felt solid all around, it was as if she was somehow embedded in a bubble in solid stone. She pounded harder, but the walls seemed entirely solid.
“Hello?” She asked finally. There was no answer from any sort of system or from one of the aliens. “Hey!” She shouted, “Hey I know you’re out there somewhere, what is this? Dreaming-Waking-Transcending you better explain yourself!”
The walls of the chamber remained silent, her captors failed to answer her. “Fuck!” She shouted in frustration, banging her fists on one wall and pushing off towards the other as a result.
Jean let herself drift slowly across the spherical space until her back gently bumped against the far wall. Silence still reigned, the Kiwawentoa either weren’t listening, or didn’t care what she had to say. She curled up into a ball, resting her chin against her knees. Something had to happen eventually, she prayed they wouldn’t abandon her in there to slowly starve to death, but there was nothing she could do.
The fear and sadness came suddenly, one moment she was somewhat irritated, mostly calm, and then all the dread and anxiety finally caught up with her, slamming into her mind like an out of control transport shuttle. She pinched her eyes shut and hugged herself close as she was wracked by quiet sobs, hugging herself tightly. Nothing changed, the Kiwawentoa remained silent, and slowly the wave of emotions passed and Jean fell into a troubled sleep.