United Nations Embassy Project Mars Dome
Central Administration Building
Sacra Mensa, Martian Socialist Republic
Jacob Chryse paced the lobby of the Central Administration Building in the UN Embassy Project on Mars, riding on a mountain of anxiety instilled in him by the bleating alert from his house systems and the level ten alert mission that Themis had thrown onto every screen in his home, including the ones inside his eyelids.
Jacob was a rank ten Datamancer in the Martian digital government, a position which blended that of a programmer, lawyer, and occasionally a detective or journalist. Datamancers were largely free agents working directly for Themis, the direct output stream for Mars’ government. They existed outside the military, the traditional police, the councils and guilds, intelligence services, and the corporations, they took assignments for whoever offered them the energy credits and answered only to Themis.
The systems had woke him in the middle of his sleep cycle, blasting him into consciousness with blaring alarms and bright lights, generating the image for the level ten time limited mission alert on a holoscreen floating less than a meter from his head. At the time, he’d growled at the system and ignored its message, stepping through the screen and wandering into the kitchen, dazed by his sudden jerk into wakefulness.
He autonomically went through the motions involved with making coffee and stared at a blank corner of the wall where the house systems hadn’t thrown a blindingly bright alert message. Once some caffeine was in his bloodstream and his mind had come the rest of the way awake, Jacob quickly realized he was going to take the mission. More, he realized Themis knew he’d take the mission, she always knew. She had all his data, after all, he mused, she knew him better than any human alive.
He dumped his coffee into a thermos and stumbled into the sharp black clothing that was the staple of his subculture, affixing his cloak around his shoulders as he practically ran from his housing block.
He gulped coffee and absorbed as much of the mission information as he could as Themis led him through the underground city to the UN Embassy Dome.
There was always a risk of a datamancer accepting a mission and then failing to complete or even actively subverting the mission, but Themis had all the data. In his ninety-eight years as a datamancer, Jacob had never accepted a mission and then failed to complete it. He was very proud of his one hundred percent completion rate and thus was quite selective about what assignments he accepted.
He could tell how important his mission was by the way Themis naturally parted the seas to speed his passage through the city. Traffic signals and train transfers lined up perfectly and people flowed out of his way as he hurried past.
The young Junior Undersecretary to the Senior Embassy Project Director failed to understand his urgency, however, and met him with a flat, vaguely hostile look as he paced the reception areas in agitation. She was recent transfer from Earth, and seeing Jacob in the office looking like someone had introduced goth fashion to a member of the fellowship of the ring made her rather uneasy.
“Please sit down Mr. Chryse,” she asked in desperation after it looked to her like he might kick the coffee table in frustration.
Jacob strolled over to the woman. He’d undergone anti-senesenic treatment once, but that was decades ago now, and his hair was once more going grey, retreating from the top of his head. His severe, stern appearance contrasted with his postmodern gondorian cosplay, and the junior undersecretary felt a chill go up her spine as she realized that he took himself completely seriously. He placed his black gloved hands on the glass topped surface of her desk, and she couldn’t help but notice the sword strapped to his hip.
He studied her with his optical implants, feeding Themis what he saw and receiving back the girl’s life story. Through Themis, he had access to everything from the junior undersecretary’s birth certificate, to her graduating college, to her credit score with the Earth corporations. Her name was Annetta West, she had grown up on a floating arcology in the South Florida Sea. She had gone to school at Oxford where she majored in international political science, eventually going on to law school and passing the BAR exam. She joined the UN and worked her way through the ranks to her current position across the desk from him. It was the most prestigious position she had ever occupied and she was a glorified receptionist.
“Look,” he said, holding his hands up in a placating gesture, “I don’t think you understand who I am, or how important it is that I speak to the Project Director right now. You got here six months ago, and know nothing about our society yet. You see the people, but you don’t see Mars, you don’t see the connections between things that bind our people together.”
“So who are you then? I don’t see any sort of official council documents from you, you show up in here looking like some sort of hobbit and expect me to bring you directly to our most senior diplomat? ” She quipped, crossing her arms as she considered calling for security to escort him from the building.
Jacob calmly reached a hand into a side pocket and withdrew a small holoscreen projector. He slapped the device onto Annetta’s desk as Themis generated a rather large list of legal documents to accompany Jacob’s visit, he saw the secretary’s eyes go wide as the digital paperwork scrolled past her.
“I am Jacob Chryse, rank ten datamancer and Lord General of the Order of Hermes, here on a level ten alert mission from Themis, and I need to speak to Senior Embassy Project Director Hamilton, now. Not in three hours, not next week, right now,” he said authoritatively, hands settling back onto Annetta’s desk. “Message your director, message her right now, tell her those exact words.”
He could practically see the gears turning in Annetta’s head as the logical parts of her mind teased apart the meaning of his words, realizing that rank ten was the highest grade in the Martian government, and she was looking at a rank ten person on a rank ten mission. He smiled slightly as he watched her go pale. She fumbled for her secure phone and contacted the director.
“Director Hamilton?” She said nervously into the phone, “There’s a man here who needs to see you.” She paused as she listened to the director say something then responded, “He says his name is Jacob Chryse, he says he’s a rank ten datamancer on a level ten alert mission for Themis. He said to tell you that.”
Jacob’s smile grew as the girl lost yet another shade of pigmentation, “Yes,” she said softly, “Yes I understand.” She ended the call and met Jacob’s gaze, “She’ll be right out.”
“She had better be,” he said dangerously, turning his back on her and returning to his pacing.
It took another ten minutes, time during which the junior undersecretary looked like she might faint with fear any moment. Jacob idly considered calling in drone backup on the off chance the girl decided he was a security threat and tried to detain him, but before he came to a decision the inner door to the office slid open and a short, round, and harried looking woman burst through.
“Well, what do you have to say for yourself?” Senior UN Embassy Project Director of Mars, Rose Hamilton, asked him, meeting his gaze with her own visual daggers as he crossed the room towards her.
“We should speak in private,” he said calmly, “This is a matter of grave importance, with implications for the future of the human race.”
Rose looked from him to Annetta, who shrugged, “he wouldn’t tell me what it was about,” she said helplessly as the Senior Director’s gaze bored into her, “He said he’d only speak to you.”
“This had better be good, warlock,” she said, pointing an accusatory finger at Jacob. “Come on then,” she turned and beckoned him back towards her office.
He followed her through the brightly lit corridors of the central administration building, walking between portraits of various UN Secretary Generals, each of them seeming to judge him in their own way. He rebuked their judgments, he was the Lord General of Hermes, citizen of Mars. He strolled after the brown skinned director and entered her office behind her.
She sunk into her chair and met his gaze once more, “Start talking warlock,” she said, once again using the disparaging slang term for datamancers.
He said nothing and set a small device on the edge of her desk. The computer inside it interfaced with the room’s network and Themis forced her way into the office past layers of electronic security.
“That device is currently downloading all of the data Mars has on an alien threat called the Reshapers into your mainframe,” he said, “In twenty-six hours, Themis will go public with the information, releasing it to the Martian internet and media outlets. We’re giving you a day’s advance warning so your government can get on top of this. I’ve seen some of it, and it’s big. There will be a panic among some members of the public.”
“When you say alien threat, what is it you mean,” she asked him, “Does it relate to the aliens your government has been in communication with?”
“Those aliens gave us the warning regarding the Reshapers, and enough hard data to ensure we at the very least seriously investigate their claims,” he replied as Themis fed him information on his optical implants, telling him what to say to the director.
“Well, what are they claiming, what are these Reshapers then?” she grilled him.
“They’re an outside context problem, they’re a civilization near rank three on the Kardashev scale and are in the process of dismantling the entire galaxy for resources regardless of who gets in their way. Is that succinct enough for you?” He said calmly, studying her reaction. She seemed not to entirely believe him but set her jaw in a way that made him think she at least took his claim seriously. She might not believe everything regarding these aliens, but she believed him when he said that Mars would go public with it in a day and that it would indeed cause a stir among the population. She took a long breath and sighed out through gritted teeth.
“You just had to go and complicate my morning, didn’t you?” she accused him as she brought up her screens and started attaching the files he’d dropped onto her desktop into email attachments to the senior undersecretary of the executive administration. Jacob merely smiled back at her as Themis awarded him with a massive amount of energy credits for successfully completing his mission.
Constellation Project Colony
UNDSV 15-18 Jericho Ridge
Hyperbolic Stellar Escape Trajectory
1.95 Light Years from Sol
Regan McKinley had to admit, the bunker was turning into a pretty nice looking clubhouse as more and more stuff was added to it. The main room looking out into the hangar had been filled with old furniture the teens had salvaged, and the plain metal walls were slowly becoming covered over with a combination of posters and graffiti. Rainbow colored christmas lights were strung through all the rooms and hallways in the bunker, and Regan had hacked into the bunker’s network so the intercom played music from an internet radio station over the loudspeakers.
Regan reclined in the hangar operator’s chair, watching Seth Fiegel through the glass windows. The boy was dedicated to his goals, she had to give him that, when he’d said he’d wanted to get the main hangar doors fixed, she’d figured it would end up like a lot of his other projects, where he talked endlessly about what he was going to do without actually making any progress towards doing whatever thing it was he was talking about. But he seemed to take this idea seriously. Another shower of sparks was thrown across the empty hangar floor as Seth touched his angle grinder to some internal component in the door mechanism.
Lily Emerson yawned as she wandered out of the side hallway they had converted into a dorm. She leaned against Regan’s shoulders, resting her chin on the top of Regan’s head as she looked out into the hangar. “He’s still at it huh?” She asked. Seth had been in the suit out in the hangar banging away at the door mechanisms since before she fell asleep.
“Yeah,” Regan answered quietly, eyes glancing up to look at Seth for a moment before returning to her game. “He spent the entire air supply of the suit out there, came in, recharged, and went right back out.”
“Jeez,” Lily said, sounding vaguely impressed.
“Did you finish that mural on the far wall of the locker room?” Regan asked her.
“Not yet,” she yawned, “Do we still have energy drinks left?”
“No, Seth drank them all,” Regan pouted, “Harper went out to get more.”
Lily sighed and draped her arms over Regan, making her intensely aware of the other girl’s presence. She gritted her teeth and returned to her game. After a moment of watching her play, Lily detangled herself from Regan and wandered over to the glass wall separating them from the airless hangar bay.
“Try it now,” Seth’s voice entered the room through the overhead speakers. He was standing back from the door mechanism and observing the exposed panel with a critical eye. Regan sighed, paused her game, and keyed in the sequence on the ancient terminal that would once again try to finish closing the hangar door. The past three times he’d asked her to try activating the doors, the shrieks of the actuators could be could be heard echoing through the metal hull. This time it remained quiet, but for Seth’s whoop of success through the speaker system. Regan craned her neck and realized Seth was slowly moving across the hangar as the floor shifted and the view into the void winked shut with a dull thump.
“Pressurize the hangar,” Seth instructed excitedly through the speakers. It took Regan a moment of searching through the fossil interface to find the air controls on the huge room and start up the century-old pumps.
There was a distant roar somewhere in the ductwork as the air pumps went to work, valves and seals opened, and air roared into the hangar, blowing up a billowing cloud of long settled rust flakes and space dust, obscuring the two girl’s view of the bay.
Regan shoved her headset over her ears and keyed up on the channel she had open with Seth, “Keep your helmet on, I don’t think it’d be a good idea to breathe that shit in.”
“Yeah,” Seth’s voice replied through the speaker system, “It’ll probably take a few hours to settle down or be filtered out of the air.”
“Dust yourself off before you come in, don’t track it into the bunker,” she told him.
“Yes mom,” he teased. She could see his distant suited form strolling across the vast hangar bay, pacing out the confines of the room.
Harper chose that moment to come flying down the stairs with a large crate of energy drinks balanced on his shoulder. “Turn on the news!” He shouted as he raced into the room. When both Lily and Regan stared at him with bewilderment, he set down the crate of drinks and raced to the far wall of the room to activate the holoscreen he had mounted there.
“…Come together in the face of this threat,” A brown skinned woman in a business suit was saying, The ticker at the bottom of the screen identified her as United Nations Secretary General Kelsang Choenyi and Regan felt her eyebrows start crawling towards the top of her head.
“For all of its history, humanity has defied the odds, come together, and lived to survive and thrive another day,” the woman continued.
“The Martians just announced the existence of a second race of aliens,” Harper explained to them as the woman paused to take a sip of her water.
“I know many of you are afraid for your families, for your futures, and for your world, but we will not let ourselves be defined by our fear. We will not let ourselves be defined by our uncertainty. We will survive and thrive, we will come together, and when the Reshapers come upon our system we will make them think twice before messing with Earth.” The woman went silent and the view cut out to a talking head discussing the politics between Earth and Mars following the announcement. Images flashed on the screen of Martian warships repositioning themselves and UN ships responding in kind. Harper turned the screen back off.
“The Reshapers are like, god level in terms of technology, and they’re strip mining the whole galaxy. Apparently, they’re on their way towards Sol,” Harper said, “There’s demonstrations in New York, Paris, Moscow, Sacra Mensa, San Francisco, Seattle, and on a whole bunch of Martian orbitals. There’re riots in like, every second city on Earth and a bunch of the colonies, and the internet boards are blowing up all over.”
“So the Evil Aliens finally reveal themselves to us,” Regan replied, crossing her arms.
“Looks like it,” Harper said, “and people are freaking the fuck out over it.”
“Are we safe here? Is the colony safe?” Regan asked him.
“No one has any idea,” he answered honestly, “But they seem pretty scary to me, maybe Seth’s plan to build a ship and get out of here isn’t totally crazy.”
Their eyes all went to the fourth teen in their group, who was still excitedly stomping around the hangar bay, drawing lines on the dust and grit with his feet.
“Maybe,” Regan admitted.
Malacca Elevator Station, Main Ring
United Nations Defense Fleet Headquarters Building
22,236 Kilometers from Earth
The Defense fleet headquarters was a frenzy of barely controlled chaos. Lower ranking officers darted between offices balancing stacks of tablets and shouting updates to their various teams on their various tasks. The Eighth Expeditionary Fleet slid out of warp over the Earth a week into Martians going public with the information on the Reshapers. Protests and demonstrations were rampant, instability on various colonies was at an all time high system-wide, and fleets of the three great powers were racing from hotspot to hotspot, trying to keep ahead of the spreading unrest.
Maeve O’Donnell understood it somewhat. It was an expression of frustration. People had no outlet for their emotions and so they took it out on society. Everyone was shouting ‘do something!’ at the top of their lungs, but no one was quite sure what to do. Having the news of the Reshapers already circulating when they arrived had thrown Maeve for a loop until she understood that the Martians had sent a ship back towards Sol a week before her fleet arrived at Luyten’s Star.
It meant she had little to offer to Admiral Eastlake to explain the loss of one of her ships, and added yet another level of apprehension towards her upcoming debrief. She had already submitted her written reports, but she still had to actually talk to the Admiral.
As her scheduled debrief loomed closer, Maeve found herself in one of the officer’s lounges, looking out over the Earth. From her height, the Earth was a sphere of blue and green, a gem in the vast wilderness of deep space. The strife that beset the surface was invisible from her altitude, the world seemed tranquil and idyllic.
She sipped a coffee she’d purchased from the bar and settled to stare out at the Earth and wait out her last few hours. Those hours seemed to race by as the Earth below her rotated out of night and into the daylight. Tiny island chains glinted in the morning sunlight, and wispy clouds cast shifting fractals across the surface.
When the appointed hour of her figurative execution approached, she stiffly rose from her seat and made her way through the ring to the Defense Fleet Headquarters building, a towering spire in shiny reflective white pointing inwards on the ring and up towards the central elevator station. She felt herself drawn slightly to the side as she rode the building’s elevator upwards towards the ring’s center of spin, but not enough to give her nausea.
The Admiral’s receptionist was a young chinese woman who smiled and offered Maeve coffee, which she shrugged off. She thought it would likely only make her nerves worse than they already were. After what had seemed like an intolerable amount of waiting, the receptionist announced that the Admiral would see her and opened the door to her office.
As Senior Defense Secretary to the Executive Administration of Secretary General Kelsang Choenyi, Admiral Angela Eastlake was one of the most powerful women in the solar system and overseer of all UN military forces. She had over a century of military service on her record and had been through two rounds of anti-senescenic treatments. She wore a young angular face with blonde hair pulled back into a severe bun, and smiled wanly at Maeve as she entered.
“Maeve, have a seat,” she said, gesturing to the chair across from her desk. The Commodore dutifully sank into her chair and reluctantly met the Admiral’s eyes.
“So a bit of a mess then?” The Admiral asked her.
“A bit,” She admitted before launching into her defense of her actions, “we followed orders and attempted to initiate contact. As expected, the Martians blocked us and there was an accident when two of our ships collided. The aliens left while our ships were blinded by Martian jamming. I’m not sure what else we were expected to do. You sent us in there looking to start a fight, and we started one, and as happens with these sorts of things, people died.”
“I sent you in there to figure out how to talk to the aliens and gave you discretion on how to deal with the Martians–” Angela started to say when Maeve cut her off.
“They started jamming us–” Maeve said before Angela cut her off back.
“And you jammed them back,” the Admiral asserted, “You gave into the conflux trap. You let the situation escalate until you couldn’t possibly hope to escape something going wrong. You let that duel with them continue for twelve hours, you could have stood down at any time and worked out a stable fleet position, then kept pestering them into letting you communicate. Instead, it took a hundred and forty-eight people dying before you de-escalated. Tell me I’m wrong.”
“You aren’t wrong,” Maeve said ashamedly, staring at her feet, “So what happens next?”
“Next I strip you of your command and bump you down to captain and tell the talking heads I dealt with the problem, while I’m internally faced the reality that every one of your peers would have done the same thing in your place,” the Admiral admitted frankly, “I don’t hold you personally responsible for the screwups that took place, but I have to play to the politicians. You’re being given command of the UNDF BCS3 Mercy Given, your one year mission is to find us some aliens and make contact with them. Now leave your Commodore’s bars on my desk and get out of my office.”
Maeve shamefully obliged her request and fled the room as quickly as possible. She felt ashamed of herself and felt every bit of valid criticism against her like a raw wound that had just been opened up.
The secretary started to say something to her, but she took one look at Maeve’s expression and simply smiled conciliatorily. Maeve gave the other woman a stiff nod and made her way for the door.
She held the door open for a young man in a captain’s uniform as she slipped out of the reception area and made her way back to the elevators, continuing to tell herself she wasn’t going to start crying. She was over a century old, she was a dignified woman, and she wasn’t going to cry like a teenager because something hadn’t gone her way. She hadn’t cried for the loss of life on the Normandy and her own personal career loss paled in comparison to that by every metric. She deserved her demotion, and she should be happy she came out of it with a command and a ship, no she definitely wasn’t going to cry.
There was no one else in the elevator when she entered and she mashed the button for the base of the ring. The elevator had descended a third of the way down the shaft when her tears finally managed to silently escape her eyes. The lift was halfway down when a tremor ran through the car and her phone started throwing up urgent security alerts for the floor she had just departed. Maeve’s moment of weakness quickly passed and she blinked back the tears as she stared at her phone screen in growing horror.
Constellation Project Colony
UNDSV 15-18 Jericho Ridge
Hyperbolic Stellar Escape Trajectory
1.95 Light Years from Sol
All their faces were obscured by various sorts of breathing masks. Regan wore an old surplus gas mask from the colony police that she had wrote ‘fuck the police’ and a combination of other colorful slogans onto. Lily was wearing the old spacesuit, which seemed to Regan to be a bit of overkill, but she wasn’t one to judge. Harper was wearing ski goggles and a balaclava, with a surgical mask tucked underneath. Seth had a bandana tied around his mouth like an outlaw in the ancient west, and had the welding mask propped open on top of his head.
The group of teens were attempting to clean up the massive amount of rust and grit that had accumulated in the hangar bay over the years, and it was proving to be a daunting undertaking. The hangar was two hundred meters in length and a hundred in width, it would be possible to comfortably host two games of football at once on the massive open floor.
The pile of loose powdery debris they had swept up was already half Regan’s height in the center and a meter in diameter, and they’d only swept up a quarter of the floor.
“It’s going to take a dump truck to clear all this shit out,” Regan declared, her voice muffled behind the breathing mask.
“Yeah, I didn’t realize there was going to be quite so much of it,” Seth paused, leaning against his push broom and eyeing the mound of dust and debris with a critical eye.
“We could always just override the door safeties so the big door starts opening while there’s still air in the room and suck everything out into space,” Harper suggested. Their eyes went to Regan, she had more knowledge of how the colony computer systems worked than any of them. She thought about it for a moment and then shook her head.
“How many cubic meters is this room? How tall is it Seth? I know you took a bunch of rangefinding data,” Regan asked him.
“It’s seventy-five meters high,” he supplied, frowning as he realized where Regan’s train of thought was going.
“So one hundred times two hundred times seventy-five,” she pulled out her phone and quickly did the math using a calculator app, holding the result out in front of her, “Is one point five million cubic meters of air.”
“And someone might notice that much air going missing at once,” Seth completed her thought for her.
“That’s a lot of air, someone would definitely notice that and come to investigate,” she confirmed, “We don’t want that.”
“Well, what are we going to do with this stuff then?” Harper complained, “Wheelbarrow it out and dump it in the woods outside?”
“We could sweep it up into piles along the crease in the door,” Regan thought aloud, “then pull the air out of the room, open the door a bit, and sweep stuff out into space through the open door.”
“We only have the one spacesuit though,” Lily reminded her.
“I’ll do it,” Seth offered, “Help me get it swept into the middle of the room first, I’ll take care of getting it out the door afterward.”
“Alright, but I’m going to go eat something first, we’ve been at this all morning,” Harper announced, strolling off the hangar deck towards the airlock chamber. Lily followed after him in the spacesuit, and Regan started to follow but stopped when she realized Seth was still working away.
She paused, letting the other two drift ahead of her and said quietly, “Are you alright Seth?”
Ever since finding the bunker, something seemed different about Seth. He wasn’t as aimless, instead, he seemed to have gained a laser focus on his personal starship project, and it was a little frightening seeing how dedicated he was.
“Yeah, I’m good,” he said without looking up from the deck.
“I’m serious,” Regan insisted, crossing her arms in front of her chest, “It’s like you’ve turned into a different person, I’ve never seen you this…driven.”
He paused and leaned against the broom handle, “I’m really serious about this Regan, and I know what you’re going to say,” He cut her off as she started to speak, “You’re going to say that all this stuff with the divorce is messing with my head, and you’re probably right, but that doesn’t really change my perspective on it. At least I’m doing something productive,” and with that, he resumed his sweeping.
“I just worry this productive thing of yours is going to kill you. Can’t you just paint or learn to play the guitar or something like a normal person?” Regan asked him.
“If it kills me, then it kills me,” the teenager answered her with a shrug, “I’d rather have a short and interesting life then a long boring and typical one.”
“I don’t want it to kill you, Seth.” She protested, “I want you to still be around for the reunion in a few centuries. Not only that but what you’re talking about could also kill other people.”
“Then don’t help me,” he said simply. Regan’s eye twitched as her mind short-circuited slightly.
“You…” her struggled to find the words, then lanced into him once she did, “This is stupid, you’re being stupid and stubborn, and it’s going to get you killed.”
“So noted,” He said.
“And you don’t fucking care, you don’t care if you live or die, whatever.”
Regan sighed and stomped off across the hangar plain, wandering back to the airlock and brushing herself down thoroughly before stripping off her gas mask and stepping through into the observation room.
Images of starships fighting played across the holoscreen with a news ticker at the bottom, and Harper and Lily were both watching it with rapt attention as they ate leftover pizza.
“What’s this crap?” Regan asked, gesturing to the screen and shoving her hands in her pockets, “More drama in space?”
“Yeah,” Harper responded, “Those ships we saw a few weeks back got into a fight with the Martians, and it spooked the aliens they were talking to. It’s all over the headlines. They also got some good pictures of the alien spaceship, it’s huge and crazy looking.” His voice gradually became more excited as he explained everything that was being announced.
“What a mess,” Regan said with a sigh as information scrolled endlessly beneath the silent images of drones exploding in space.
“…finally ended when the United Nations cruiser Normandy, and the Martian frigate Chapel Hill collided in space during close maneuvers, resulting in over two hundred fatalities between the two ships.” The new anchor continued as the images of the colliding vessels flashed across the screen.
Regan hugged her arms to her chest, strangely captivated by the conflict, drawn toward the images of destruction by some some dark part tugging at her psyche. The image jumped again as the anchor switched topics.
“In other news,” the anchor continued, “Admiral Angela Eastlake, the Senior Defense Secretary to the Executive Administration of Kelsang Choenyi was killed in a bomb blast in her office yesterday evening. Three members of her immediate staff were also killed, their names are being withheld at this time. The terrorist organisation calling itself the Free Sky Tribe has claimed responsibility for the attack. Shortly following the bomb blast, their founder Anton Hellas released a video online in multiple languages, admitting responsibility and declaring that the stars are the birthright of all of humanity. Hellas’ Free Sky Tribe is a militant branch of the Open Sky Movement. Founders of the movement in the Open Sky Tribe on Triton have denounced the bombing and called for an end to the violence…”
“The Open Sky Movement are a bunch of dumb hippies,” Regan rebutted the news anchor, “You can’t just declare yourself an ethnic group, by their logic, we’re spacers, and we’re oh so oppressed right?”
“Oh it’s more complicated than that back in Sol and you know it, Regan,” Lily scolded her, “We are spacers, we’ve lived our whole lives in space, we were born in space, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been to a planet, I’m pretty sure that makes us spacers by their definition.”
Regan’s attraction to Lily and her attraction to misanthropy did battle for a moment before her hormones won out and silenced her desire to keep arguing.
“Fine, whatever,” she mumbled halfheartedly.
“Something bothering you?” Lily asked her.
Regan made a face and tried to find words to express her feelings, “That guy, the one who just blew up that Admiral, he says the stars are our birthright. But I don’t think we deserve the stars. You ever think maybe, it’d be better for the entire universe if humanity just all went extinct?”
“Not really,” Harper answered her absentmindedly, “I mean, we do a lot of bad stuff,” he said, gesturing to the holoscreen and turning the volume down with his implants, “But I think at the end of the day, we’re still a net positive. The Reshapers seem way worse than us.”
“You think we’re a net positive with all of this shit?” She quipped, gesturing at the screen.
“People are capable of all sorts of things Regan,” Lily told her soothingly, “All you can do is try and put out as much good as you can, and hope it outways the bad.”
“I guess,” she replied sullenly, eyes still on the screen, vaguely disgusted at the typical human folly on display. She shook her head as the newscast jumped topics again, showing riots on the Sessrumnir Orbital, and turned away from the other teens and the holoscreen. She needed some time to think.
She slipped out of the observation room and climbed the bunker stairs back towards the surface.
The air had grown bitter and chill as winter closed in on the colony, giving the breeze a painful bite. Regan wandered away from the bunker entrance, lighting a cigarette as she walked off into the fading twilight.
Dirge Singer class Heavenly Container of Life
i34_2015 Lament for Lost Worlds
Hyperspatial Transit Trajectory
Jean thought she was doing reasonably well for herself, but the isolation was slowly starting to get to her. It had been two weeks since the Kiwawentoa had delivered her the small collection of gear they’d taken from her, and she’d not seen or heard another sentient since then.
She found herself retreating more and more into her still growing mindscape as the toll of the social isolation began to set in. She found herself thinking aloud, just to hear another voice.
The gear the Kiwawentoa returned to her had been a godsend. There was a small knife in her suit for cutting patches into shape, and from that, she was able to produce a large number of spears and other useful objects. Her diet consisted of berries, nuts, and seeds mashed together into a sort of stiff bar for easy carrying and strips of deer meat she was hastily trying to dry in order to preserve it.
The deer hunt had presented itself to Jean like a monumental undertaking, the Martian had never killed anything in her life, and the horns on the deer were more than a little intimidating. She’d crouched along a trail for hours, keeping as silent as possible, grasping her homemade spear tightly as she waited for the creature to make its appearance.
When the battle at long last came, it ended up being somewhat anticlimactic. The creature had ambled along the path, and when Jean finally jumped out and spooked it, it dropped its antlers and charged her. She ducked to her right at the last moment, grabbing the deer’s left antler with her left hand and used it as a lever to push herself out of the path of the horns. At the same time, her right hand, the one holding the spear, came around swinging and drove the spear into the creature’s neck.
It made a horribly pained noise as blood spurted from the wound, and it collapsed on the forest floor and died. It had taken less than a minute to take down the creature. The process of hauling it back to her camp and butchering it had turned out to be backbreaking and disgusting work. It had taken her hours to haul the carcass back, and she’d nearly puked several times while emptying out the creature’s guts, but in the end, she had meat cooking over a fire, and pelts drying out to make into clothes.
In the intervening days, she’d made crude clothing, fashioned herself better tools, and successfully cured the meat into tough but edible strips she hoped would not quickly go bad.
Her mind kept returning to the calico colored alien’s words, her instructions to look for the hidden doorways, and the knowledge that they were testing her in some manner. It peeved her to be their lab rat, but she still did her best to set a good example for other humans.
Jean didn’t know exactly what Studying-Hoping-Envisioning was referring to, but after days of wandering the bottom of the valley, she was coming to the conclusion that the hidden doorways, whatever they were, were probably up higher on the valley wall, where the cliff could conceivably open up into a space behind the mountains.
Thus she had begun condensing her things down as much as possible into portable forms she could carry up hills. Most of her stuff fit into the bags the Kiwawentoa had put it inside of, but those bags were strange and clearly designed for alien anatomy. She had carefully braided grasses together into rough shoulder straps and ties, allowing her to carry everything, even so, the rough unbalanced bundle was a pain to lug up the forested slope.
Going downhill, the valley hadn’t seemed all that steep, but going back up it while carrying around fifty pounds of stuff in a homemade rucksack was an entirely different experience. Jean found herself panting and wheezing from the exertion before even reaching an altitude where the deciduous forest gave way to conifers.
The valley floor spread out below her in a verdant patchwork of blues and greens. Jean carefully slide her pack off her shoulders and leaned against a boulder, munching on a piece of leathery deer jerky. The sun was still high in the sky, despite the energy she’d exerted, not that much time had actually elapsed since she’d departed the lake shore, she probably hadn’t come all that far yet.
She groaned, then paused, chuckling at how strange her voice had started to sound to her, “I better get out of here soon, or I’m going to actually go crazy,” she said aloud cheerfully, and shrugged the pack back over her shoulders.
The thick leafy deciduous trees gave way to arrow straight conifers as she reached higher elevations, which made the going somewhat easier. The lower forests had been thick with bushes and undergrowth, but up amongst the conifers, the undergrowth was mostly clear, save for a thick layer of fallen needle-like leaves.
The slope of the land grew slowly as she climbed up towards the walls of the bowl-shaped valley. Large rocks and boulders began to emerge from the thick loam in places, jutting up like submerged icebergs showing their faces to the sun. The slope of the walls had been almost imperceptible down on the lake shore, but as she climbed through the pine forest, the slope just seemed to increase without end.
The trees were becoming more straggly and sparsely spread out on the hillside, and the soil had grown more poor and rocky. Tall wispy grasses and brightly colored wildflowers dominated the areas between the trees, and Jean could see that further up the slope, even those failed to grow as the soil gave way to a rocky scree. At the top of a long sloping mound of loose rock and rubble, was the cliff face and the true perimeter to the environment. That was Jean’s objective.
The increasingly sharp slope of increasingly loose scree made this a difficult and treacherous undertaking. The few remaining plants gave way to bare stone as she continued her arduous ascent of the valley wall. Her climb sent avalanches of stone tumbling down the hillside in her wake, raising a cloud of dust into the setting sun.
Jean had hoped to make the cliff face by nightfall and find some sort of shelter in the base of the cliffs, but from up close, the cliff face looked profoundly uninviting. The slope of loose scree clung to the hillsides as much as gravity would allow, leaving no flat places to make camp.
Defeated, she half walked and half rode the wave of debris down the hill to the treeline. When she reached the first of the trees, she fell heavily against it and slung off her pack to set up camp for the night.
Jean woke stiff and in pain as the first cold light of morning began to creep into the valley, driving away the artificial starlight with cheerfully blue skies. She groaned and rubbed her face, brushing away the debris that had accumulated in the night. She hadn’t bothered to make a fire, she’d merely wrapped up in all the layers she had and fallen asleep nearly immediately from exhaustion, slumped against a tree trunk.
The stiffness in her joints and muscles made her severely regret that decision almost immediately after waking, nevertheless, she ignored her protesting body and shouldered her pack once more.
She set out along the curve of the valley wall, staying just above the treeline where the ground was fairly easy to traverse despite the incline. By midmorning, it felt like she had come a long way from her initial campsite. Her angle on the lakes at the valley’s floor had noticeably shifted, and a different patch of cliff face stared down at her from high on the ridge.
Jean continued in this manner for some time, picking her way around scraggly bushes that grew in clusters amongst the tall grasses and scrambling over boulders that had slid down the cliff face. It wasn’t particularly easy progress, but it felt more productive than climbing the valley initially had and far more than mucking around in the scree slopes further up the valley walls.
She was munching on one of her fruit bars when she stumbled onto the stream. A shallow bed of water cascaded through a worn divot in the slope, carving a steeper angle into the hillside with its passage. Wildflowers grew all along its shore, hiding the steep-sided ravine it lay within, and Jean nearly tumbled into it before she caught herself.
The stream was a good thing though, Jean remembered the pond she had been thrown into upon her arrival in the valley, and it seemed like as good a place as any to start looking for hidden doors. She spent the afternoon hiking up the hillside once again, following the course of the stream up the side of the valley.
The ravine opened up into a wide bowl at the base of the cliffs and water bubbled and gurgled over the lip as it began its long descent to the lakes below. On the far side of the pond though, was something that brought a smile to Jean’s lips for the first time in days. Looking like something out of a fantasy novel, the outline of a door was set into the base of the cliff.