Very Much Like Us

Dirge Singer class Heavenly Container of Life
i34_2015 Lament for Lost Worlds
Hyperspatial Transit Trajectory
June 2219

During the week and a half that Jean Paoloni spent camped out in front of the stone doorway, she slowly covered the surrounding cliff face in carefully written lists. Jean had four columns of words, each scored into the cliff face with a rock in a neat, legible, chicken scratch.

Jean ran her fingers through her increasingly matted hair. Trying to keep it untangled was proving to be an unwinnable battle in the alien nature preserve. The stone doorway was more and more becoming her permanent home. She’d climbed down from the base of the cliffs to the tree line and gone foraging a few times, but as the camp around the potential escape hatch developed and she aggregated more and more of her handmade tools and supplies at it, she saw less and less reason to bother setting up campsites elsewhere. Eventually, the nearby berry bushes and her supply of deer jerky would run out, and she would need to go farther afield to find food, but she hoped to have escaped before that became an issue.

Jean had no idea what was on the other side of the doorway by this point, and she didn’t particularly care. The Kiwawentoa had told her to look for the hidden doorways, and she’d found one. She hated being used as a human lab rat, but if they weren’t giving her much of a choice in the matter, and so she was determined to beat their stupid game.

She reached out with her bare feet and touched the surface of the stone surface of the door.

“Passage. Access. Identify. Human. Identify. Waygiver.” Intoned the door into her earpiece.

“Hidden Doorway. Sol-Human-Jean-Paoloni, Dreaming-Waking-Transcending,” Jean said back to it. The door was silent for a moment, did nothing, then began looping, and she withdrew her foot to study her lists again.

She was slowly working through every sequence of words she could think of that might possibly open the door. She discovered early on that if she spoke while touching the door, it would pause during its intonation as if interpreting what she had said. She hoped that meant the right words would open the door, she just had to find them. She touched her foot to the door again.

“Passage. Access. Identify. Human. Identify. Waygiver.” The door said to her.

“Hidden Doorway. Sol-Martian-Jean-Paoloni. Dreaming-Waking-Transcending.” Jean said back to it. It paused, as if considering her words, and then repeated.

“Passage. Access. Identify. Human. Identify. Waygiver.” It said. Jean withdrew her foot again.

The first few days had been endlessly frustrating, feeling so close to a breakthrough but unable to tell the door what it wanted to hear. She’d felt ready to start bashing her face against the stone on more than one occasion. But after several days of it, she grew calmer and her attempts to probe the problem became more rigorous and meticulous. By the end of the first week, the search for the phrase that would open the door had become an almost meditative experience.

“Passage access, hidden doorway, passage access, hidden doorway,” she mumbled to herself as she tried to think up synonyms. She touched her foot to the door again.

“Passage. Access. Identify. Human. Identify. Waygiver.” The door said.

“Hidden Doorway. Sol-human-Jean-Paoloni. Studying-Hoping-Envisioning.” She said.

The door considered her response and began repeating itself again.

“You’re awfully frustrating you know?” Jean said to the door.

“Passage. Access. Identify. Human. Identify. Waygiver.” The door replied.

“Can you say anything other than that?” She asked it.

“Passage. Access. Identify. Human. Identify. Waygiver.” It said.

“Yeah, yeah.” She said withdrawing her foot from the stone again.

She didn’t really know what the door wanted from her. The fact that it paused in its speech when she spoke while touching the doorway made her think it was looking for some sort of audio trigger, but that could be anything. If the door was expecting her to whistle birdsong at it, she was in for a bad time, since Jean had never been able to whistle.

“You’re awfully boring for a secret passage,” Jean said to the door without touching it, “you don’t even have any cool inscriptions. If you don’t lead to a dwarven crypt I’m going to be very disappointed.”

The stone remained still and silent. She touched her foot to the door again.

“Passage. Access. Identify. Human. Identify. Waygiver.” It said.

“Mellon.” Jean said to it, quoting Lord of the Rings; the stone considered the input and then replied.

“Passage. Access. Identify. Human. Identify. Waygiver.” It said.

“Open Sesame,” She told it.

“Passage. Access. Identify. Human. Identify. Waygiver.” It said.

She removed her foot again, smiling faintly and shaking her head. The search space for possible word combinations was endless, and the more words she added, the more the problem compounded itself. Even if there was a specific phrase she could say in Martian that would open the door, it could take one human literally millions of years to work through all the possible permutations of the language.

“Maybe I’m going about this wrong,” she said to the door. Thinking aloud helped keep her thoughts in order, and if the door minded being her sounding board, it never said so.

She touched the door.

“Passage. Access. Identify. Human. Identify. Waygiver.” It said to her. She withdrew her foot.

“What if passage access is just what you’re called?” She asked it, “If that’s the case, if the first part is just you announcing yourself, then you want me to identify myself and identify my waygiver. The kiwawentoa either referred to me as Sol-Human-Jean-Paoloni, or Sol-Martian-Jean-Paoloni, so I hope that’s what you want. Then you want me to identify my waygiver.”

She touched the stone once more.

“Passage. Access. Identify. Human. Identify. Waygiver.” It said.

“Define waygiver.” She told it.

“Passage. Access. Identify. Human. Identify. Waygiver.” It said.

“Define identify waygiver,” she said.

“Passage. Access. Identify. Human. Identify. Waygiver.” It told her. She sighed and withdrew her foot again. Well, that narrowed it down to potentially anything. She was hoping the waygiver was a Kiwawentoa that she had met, that narrowed it down to a pretty manageable set.

Jean crossed out each combination from her ever growing charts as she tested it, and finally let out a sigh when she used up the last one to no avail. The artificial sun was sinking low on the far wall of the valley and Jean abandoned the door for the tent and fire pit she had constructed on a flattish spot further along the shore of the pond.

She dug through the alien bag and found her stash of jerky; she sat chewing on the tough meat while continuing to consider the problem. If the Waygiver wasn’t a person then what was it? She had a sneaking suspicion there was no real way out, and this door was simply to study her behavior as she slowly lost her mind trying to open it, but she tried not to let those thoughts worm in, and stay focused on the task she had set for herself.

She tried going over her vocabulary of alien words, trying to remember if one of the creatures had ever used the word before but she kept drawing a blank. She absentmindedly chewed on the hunk of meat and ran the strange fabric of the alien bag through her fingers.

Either the puzzle was meant to be solved or it was meant to be impossible. If it was meant to be impossible then nothing she did would matter so she could discard that possibility as irrelevant. She had nothing better to do then try and solve their puzzle anyway.

If the puzzle was meant to be solved then that meant they must have given her the tools to solve it. But, they hadn’t given her anything, just a bag of her own things.

Her train of thought skipped a beat, stopped, and went back over what she had just considered. She looked down at the strange alien carrying device, still full of her things.

“It can’t really be that simple…” she said aloud, staring at the bag with something just shy of awe. She immediately dumped the contents of the bag on the ground and marched back to the door.

With one hand, she touched the stone surface, and she pressed the bag against the surface with the other.

“Passage. Access. Identify. Human. Identify. Waygiver.” The door said.

Jean wasn’t sure what to say, so she went back to the first line she’d come up with after finding the door, the seemingly obvious answer, “Sol-Martian-Jean-Paoloni. Studying-Hoping-Envisioning,” she said to the stone. It considered her words, and then went silent. Jean felt her breath catch in her throat as the door stopped communicating with her; she felt a faint rumbling vibration through her hands and feet and leapt back as the door suddenly began to slide downwards into the ground.

The void left as the door descended was unlit, and a fierce and growing gust of air began being drawn through the opening. The force of the moving air grew and grew until it was near hurricane strength when the doorway fully yawned open.

Jean shouted an expletive that was torn from her lips and sent screaming into the darkness beyond as she clawed away from the vortex of air forming around the open doorway. She half ran half stumbled clear of the suction point and collapsed against the stone cliff face on the far side of the pond. The air continued to swirl and churn, never actually reaching a stable pressure level. Dust, dead leaves, and bits of detritus swirled around and around the opening before being pulled into the darkness. The strange show continued for what Jean figured to be roughly five minutes and then the door slammed shut as quickly as it had opened.


Newton Class Starship
MSCV Empiricist
Docked at Magellan Elevator Station
0.9 AUs from Ross 154
June  2219

“Test article three launch successful, all drone telemetry looks good from here,” Vedika Srivastava reported from her console in what the crew was now referring to as the ‘Hyperspace Research Lab’ and was actually supplementary cargo bay three.

Orel Shaw had indeed reported seeing Kestral Schiaparelli and Cale Rouschev taking exotic matter from the fuel supply to Ivy Czininski and upon being informed Ivy quickly made a beeline for them, intending to berate Cale for possibly endangering the ship for the sake of a science experiment. However, when the captain finally arrived, Kestral, Cale, and Margaret were all crowded around a hastily arranged suite of holoscreens talking excitedly about how they might go about translating alien radio signals.

The following week turned into a flurry of intense activity as mankind took its first tentative steps into hyperspace. Blueprints for the ‘hyperspace periscope’ were spread to research teams and engineering groups aboard Magellan Station, modified, and passed back out over the station networks. Various groups ended up competing in a short-term research race to establish the protocols and construction standards for the periscope, and by the end of the second week since their first portal opening, the generator had been moved to the cargo bay, the aperture was expanded, and four generations of periscopes and integrated drone launchers had been attached to the generator. Designs for a complete and self-contained hyperspace periscope module that could be fitted into a standard mating adaptor were en route back to Sol aboard the Dawnchaser, and steady progress on the exploration of Hyperspace had begun aboard Magellan Station.

“It’s all looking good from here, drone is on course and accelerating away from the periscope, data feed is solid,” Kestral replied to Vedika from eir own workstation. Joy Icaria strolled into the research lab and watched the scientists going over their data.

“Should we do four now or wait a bit?” Cale asked excitedly as he watched the drone race away into hyperspace on the periscope cameras.

“I don’t see any reason why not,” Vedika replied and began keying in the launch sequence for the next drone.

“I do, actually,” Joy said, hands in her pockets. “We’re getting ready to move out, our next destination is HR 7578, hand off drone control to one of the Magellan periscopes and power down our hyperspace portal generator.”

“Aww really?” Cale whined, “One of the Magellan Hyperspace research teams is going to be launching a manned pod in a few days.”

“Nevertheless,” Joy began, “We have a mission, and it does not include sticking around here indefinitely.”

“She has a point, Cale,” Vedika said, “And we can’t leave the hyperspace portal open during a warp. All the math says catastrophically bad things happen to your ship if you do that.”

“You’re welcome to remain on Magellan Station to work on the Hyperspace Portal research if you would rather do that,” Joy offered to Cale.

He blanched and shook his head, deflating as he let out a breath. “No way,” he said, “I’m in this for the long haul.”

“Alright then,” Vedika said with a shrug, “Passing control of the drones off to Magellan and retracting the periscope.”

A series of electric motors whined as the periscope cable spooled back into itself. Cale watched the view through the periscope camera cross the strange transition zone at the window boundary and emerge back into real space inside the enclosed window chamber.

“Periscope is withdrawn, all equipment is clear of the aperture,” Cale reported.

“Alright then,” Vedika said with a sigh of her own, “Shutting down the window.”

The machinery emitted a large metallic pop as the window snapped shut and normal physics reasserted themselves. Joy nodded and strolled out of the room.

“HR 7578 is 67 days travel time away,” Kestral said as ey climbed out from behind eir console, “That’s going to be a lot of time to kill.”

“We can always go over the radio data we picked up, see if we can’t pick anything interesting out of it,” Vedika suggested.

“Or,” Kestral said, “We could use the time we have to rebuild our hyperspace window generator at twice the current aperture radius.”

“I vote we do that,” Cale added.

“Was this made a democracy when I wasn’t looking?” Vedika teased, “I’m senior pragmatist again last I checked.”

“Well then oh great leader,” Cale giggled, “What is your commandment for the next two months?”

Vedika crossed her arms, thinking, “I’m rather surprised that you didn’t think of this already Cale, but it should be right up your alley.”

“Oh?” He asked.

“We’re going to figure out how to build an exotic matter scoop that we can stick through the aperture,” she said, “Planning meeting in the workshop tomorrow at our usual time.”

By the time Cale had finished giggling and going over all the implications of having such a device, and how clever it would be to build one, both Vedika and Kestral had abandoned him in the Research lab.


Dirge Singer class Heavenly Container of Life
i34_2015 Lament for Lost Worlds
Hyperspatial Transit Trajectory
June 2219

Jean stood before the stone doorway once more. She had changed into her environmental suit after powering it up from the emergency solar panels. After checking over all the data readouts on the suit HUD and confirming that everything looked good, she prepared to trigger the door mechanism and brave the unknown.

She held her left-hand glove in her right hand, along with the alien backpack that had proven to be the key to opening the door. With her left-hand bare and the backpack in her other fist, she touched both her hands to the doorway.

“Passage. Access. Identify. Human. Identify. Waygiver.” It said.

“Sol-Martian-Jean-Paoloni. Studying-Hoping-Envisioning.” She said.

With a great sucking sound, the door began to slide open again, revealing the darkened corridor beyond. A ring of lights around the doorway revealed themselves to be the source of the externally visible glow, but beyond that, the chamber simply stretched off into the darkness.

This time, however, Jean didn’t fight the flow of air down the tunnel, and instead let it push her along, being careful to maintain her boots’ grip on the stone floor.

She shoved her glove back onto her hand and slung the pack onto her back as she began making her way down the tunnel, moving away from the light and into the growing darkness. The sensors on her suit told her the air pressure was dropping while airspeed was increasing as it howled down the tunnel. Jean was walking into a vacuum.

The light at the entrance grew fainter and fainter as she went deeper, but the walls remained smooth and straight so she had no trouble continuing to plod around with her hands touching the walls.

And then the door winked shut and Jean was thrown into darkness. After a moment of panic, she took a breath and continued walking. The air pressure dropped all the way to nothing, and as her eyes began to adjust to the darkness, she started to see a dim glow coming from far down the tunnel ahead of her.

She hustled down the stone corridor, chasing after the distant light source, and came out of the tunnel into a far vaster chamber then she had been in previously. She was in some sort of transition zone, an enormous tube blocked off in both directions by equally enormous spheres on either side, all made out of that strange coral material the kiwawentoa seemed so fond of. The cavity wasn’t empty though, it was buzzing with activity. Huge tanks and drums rotated on enormous spokes and axles, alien drones whizzed to and fro, and huge indiscernible equipment clunked and clanked along in some mysterious mechanical process.

A walkway of coral material bridged the vast cavity, providing Jean with a way forward, but the expanse before her seemed very exposed, and she had no idea how the drones were going to react to her presence.

She hovered in the doorway debating plans and watching the equipment doing whatever it was it did, but nothing seemed to change in the patterns of activity. She knew she couldn’t stay where she was, she had to do keep going and hope for the best, so with a deep breath she began to stride out across the bridge.

The machinery continued to do its thing, and the drones theirs, none of it seemed to react to Jean. She forced each breath in and out of her lungs, heart thundering as she carefully made each step across the bridge. The drop to the curving base of the cavity was miles and miles below, crisscrossed by dozens of other bridges and filled with whirling equipment; falling would likely be a death sentence.

Another passage gradually loomed up ahead of her and Jean fell into the safety of the tunnel, panting and hugging the wall for support. She’d done it though, she was across.

After catching her breath and letting her heart rate slow back down, she climbed to her feet and started wandering down the new tunnel. Her journey continued much as the prior tunnel had, with no light sources along its entire length. When she finally reached the faint glow of the door at the other end, she stopped, puzzling over what to do.

She was in a vacuum, she couldn’t take off her glove to activate the door without putting herself in severe danger. She ran her gloved hands over the surface, and touched it with the backpack, but it failed to react to her without direct skin contact. That was potentially lethally bad. She had a few hours air left in her tanks and charge left in her suit, after which she’d suffocate either way; if she went back the way she came, she would face a similar problem. She knew the door had closed behind her as she was leaving.

There was really only one thing she could do. Take off her glove, talk to the door, and get through it against the wind current trying to pull her back into the vacuum before she lost consciousness.

She took a few deep breaths, savoring the last of her air, then sucked in as much as she could. While holding her breath, she ripped off her left-hand glove and shoved enough of her left side against the stone that the backpack also made contact with the door.

The door spoke to Jean through the earpiece, saying the same thing the prior door had. “Passage. Access. Identify. Human. Identify. Waygiver.”

Jean used her last breath of air and shouted into the interior of the suit. “Sol-Martian-Jean-Paoloni! Studying-Hoping-Envisioning!”

The stone surface shifted and suddenly Jean was being blasted by a torrent of freezing air, trying to shove her back into the darkness. The door opened into a blinding snowstorm and the blizzard swirled in around her.

Her suit alarms began shouting alerts at her as she staggered through the blinding snow and wind away from the doorway. Various monitoring equipment was reporting dangerously high carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in the air, and Jean hastily shoved her glove back on and switched her suit into mixture balancing mode. Outside temperature displayed as negative thirty degrees celsius, and visibility extended only a few dozen meters at best.

Jean kept walking, moving away from the opening and its pull, but the strong winds remained. The door slid shut behind her and left her in the strange frozen wasteland. She sighed and began to trudge off through the knee deep snow. She’d barely gone fifty meters when the surface beneath her gave way. She twisted as she fell, all sense of up and down vanishing as she tumbled through a blinding whiteness. She landed on her back, her helmet smacked the ground and the back of her head slammed into the inside of her helmet. Her vision exploded into a starburst of pain, and darkness swallowed her up.


Independent Colony Vessel
IRDSV Bahar Min Al-Barzakh FSV Vladimir Lenin
Hyperbolic Stellar Escape Trajectory
1.86 Light Years from Sol
June 2219

Margaritifer Ross had just finished donning her armor and packing her few personal belongings into a rucksack when Anton’s message came on over all the shipwide speakers.

“Today my comrades in arms, today we will strike another blow against the oppression that is the so-called United Nations. Warriors, pilots, the spirit of workers everywhere goes with you today, as we fight not just for our own freedom, but theirs as well. The eyes of the system are upon us, the hopes for liberty and freedom journey with us.”

Margaritifer left her bunk and headed down the hallway for the ship that would take her to the ship they’d be using for this operation. Anton’s voice continued through the speakers, taking on a haunting, otherworldly quality as it echoed up and down the corridor.

“A man named Carl Sagan once said, that by the time we are ready to colonize even the nearest neighboring star system, we would have changed. He thought the simple passage of generations would have changed us, the necessities of life in space would have changed us.” Anton paused for a moment for effect before continuing, “He claimed we would have more of his strengths and fewer of his weaknesses and that our race would be more confident, capable, far-seeing, and prudent.”

Margaritifer snorted at the absurd optimism of the statement. Humanity had reached Alpha Centauri decades ago, but nothing had changed at all as far as she saw it. Anton seemed to have foreseen this reaction though, as he went on.

“Many in the tribe would say this man was a fool, that he was wrong, that humanity is every bit as horrible now as it was then, still riven by rivalries and hatreds even as we venture forth among the stars. But, I believe differently,” Anton said, “I believe that we have changed, and today, the Free Sky Tribe will prove that to everyone. Today we will live up to the promise Doctor Carl Sagan made those years ago, today we will begin to create a new world!”

Margaritifer couldn’t help but feel herself smile as a cheer echoed up and down the halls in reply.

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One thought on “Very Much Like Us

  1. > “We’re going to figure out how to build an exotic matter scoop that we can stick through the aperture,” she said, “Planning meeting in the workshop tomorrow at our usual time.”

    > By the time Cale had finished giggling and going over all the implications of having such a device, and how clever it would be to build one, both Vedika and Kestral had abandoned him in the Research lab.

    Well, if we can siphon matter from hyperspace, who’s to say it doesn’t also work the other way? Wouldn’t surprise me if that was what the Reshapers were doing, grabbing our matter for their uses, like Cale would grab exotic matter for use by us.


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