Newton Class Starship
5 AUs from HR 7578
“Exit burn complete,” Jimmy Alderson reported as the Empiricist’s main engines cut out.
“Emmy, what’s it look like out there?” Ivy Czininski asked the shipboard AI.
“No artificial objects have been detected on long range telescopes,” The ship told her.
Ivy sighed and started to unstrap from her seat, “Looks like we beat the Destiny of Light here,” she said.
“Looks like it,” Joy Icaria replied with a nod.
“Should I let the kids break out their toys?” Vedika Srivastava asked.
“Yeah, go ahead,” Ivy announced, “I’m going to grab more coffee, Joy, you have the bridge.”
“Aye Commander,” Joy said, saluting smartly and with far too much gusto. The young Lieutenant Commander was wired more tightly than a straight jacket in Ivy’s opinion. It was a good attitude to have in the navy or marines, but in Survey it came off as overly rigid.
Ivy slipped out of the spin bridge and wandered down the curving corridor towards the nearest galley while Vedika told Cale and Kestral to spool out the periscope into hyperspace. Maybe they’d get lucky, and local hyperspace would have something more interesting than yet another empty solar system. HR 7578 was a quiet pair of binary variables, locked in a tight orbit of each other. There were no planets, there wasn’t even a rubble belt, just the two lonely stars spinning around and around each other.
Emmy had begun brewing coffee for Ivy as soon as she left the bridge, and it was hot and ready for her by the time she reached the galley. She sipped on the nearly scalding drink and relaxed for a moment as the blissfully bitter liquid slid down her throat.
“Thank you, Emmy,” she told the ship appreciatively.
“You’re welcome Commander Czininski,” the AI replied to her.
Ivy headed back for the bridge with her sealed coffee cup in hand. She connected her implant suite to the group chat channel for science team, listening to Cale and Kestral work.
“Yeah it’s fully extended now, all the readings look good?” Cale Rouschev said from the cargo hold that was acting as the hyperspace engineering bay.
“All the readings are slightly different from the set we took in Ross 154,” Kestral Schiaparelli answered from the astrophysics lab, “That could be a local difference in hyperspace, or it could be something off in the instrument calibration.”
“Calibration shifts should affect everything roughly equally, is it a consistent shift or does the difference and amount of change vary?” Cale asked em.
There was a pause as Kestral looked over the data again, before ey responded, “Okay you’re right, it’s not our instruments.”
“What sort of differences are we talking about here?” he asked Kestral.
“Nothing too profound,” ey answered, “Differences in the trace gas composition and density, differing levels of incoming electromagnetic radiation in differing spectrums.”
“Is the cosmic background different?” He asked.
“No, it looks like we haven’t moved far enough to get a noticeable parallax shift on the cosmic background,” ey said.
“That’s sort of comforting,” Cale responded, “Anything interesting on the scopes?”
“We’re still picking up the alien internet,” Kestral said, “I’m sending that to Margaret.”
“Any chance we could use the signals we picked up from Ross 154 and here to triangulate the positions of some of those radio transmitters in hyperspace?” Vedika asked, joining into the discussion.
“Maybe, if we can sufficiently identify specific signals and get a good parallax measure on them.” Kestral said, “we’re not getting anything past fifty AUs in the visual still, too much gas.”
“Margaret, can you check over the alien internet signals we’re getting, see if you can match specific ones to ones that were picked up at Ross 154?” Vedika asked, pinging Margaret Armstrong with the question.
“Emmy and I will look it over,” Margaret replied.
Ivy slumped back into the captain’s chair and took a sip from her mug. HR 7578 remained quiet and tranquil. The twin variables continued their dance around their mutual center of mass, sloughing off vast arcs of plasma and radiation into local space, and nothing much else was happening.
“So Kestral,” Vedika said, breaking a long period of silence on the channel, “Have you had a chance to look at the alien physics models, see how they interact with our own physics?”
“I didn’t,” Cale admitted, “I just copied their blueprints.”
“I know you didn’t,” Vedika teased him, “I watched you convert the alien blueprints into designs for our printers.”
“There are some weird implications when you start putting them together,” Kestral responded somewhat timidly.
“You noticed that too huh?” Vedika said.
Ivy took another sip of her coffee. She didn’t know enough physics to really follow the conversation that closely, but she listened curiously anyway.
“Yeah, their model seems to be based on a highly extended version of string theory,” ey said, “But it’s missing a third of the fundamental particles in the Jacksonian model, and forbids certain types of field creation and spatial deformation. It categorically excludes them. Their model breaks when you include the extra particles we’ve discovered over the last century.”
“Except for T1XM,” Cale added, “Which their drive also runs on.”
“Yeah and they go about deriving the existence of that in a really weird way,” Kestral added, “It’s like they were intentionally skirting around a portion of physics, you’d almost have to be willfully ignorant to miss the existence of the exoneutrinos and yet still somehow discover type 1 exotic matter.”
“Could they have been intentionally hiding the information?” Vedika suggested.
“It might not even be intentional on their part,” Margaret added, “They were uplifted by the Kianwentoa. The version of physics they were given might have had the dangerous knowledge stripped out.”
“In the context of galaxy dismantling aliens, dangerous might be good,” Cale said.
“What’s so dangerous about our physics though?” Kestral asked, “We’ve been using it for a while now, and haven’t destroyed ourselves with it yet.”
“Yeah but we also missed hyperspace completely,” Vedika said, “We were kind of blindsided by that a bit really.”
“So somewhere in the place where our physics interacts with theirs, is an idea that was considered so dangerous that the possibility was entirely excised from their physics models,” Cale said excitedly.
“Maybe,” Vedika said, “Maybe I’m interpreting this wrong, reading too much intent into their model, but that’s what it looks like.”
“Do I really need to Chesterton’s Fence you two?” Kestral said, “Even if that was the Kianwentoa’s intent, should we be intentionally searching for the possibly infohazardous concept buried in the math?”
“Uh, yes, to both questions,” Cale replied, “Most definitely.”
Kestral groaned and said nothing else.
Fabrique Intersolar Deep Space Station
30,000 kilometers from Aldebaran b, Aldebaran
“This is a good plan,” Alice Pendragon said excitedly, “I like this plan a lot.”
“I don’t,” her husband Kaito grumbled. They were seated at a large round boardroom table in the Pioneer station’s command deck. The room had the appearance of being surrounded by vacuum on three sides, giving a commanding view out into deep space as the ring station twirled like a ballerina around and around the churning clouds of Aldebaran b. This was, of course, an illusion created via the clever use of screens and external cameras, the board room was in fact buried deep within the structure of the ring.
Seated around the room in addition to Alice and Kaito, were Zephyr Athabasca, Doug Farragut, Alicia Arrari, Laura Wolf, Gyeong Huygens, and Jinxiang Roe. Doug had just finished going over the contact mission plan, which would utilize the Better Margins when it returned to make a dedicated contact attempt if Better Margins hadn’t already made contact upon discovering the aliens themselves. Either way, as far as Zephyr was concerned, contact was happening, and it should happen as soon as possible to avoid more incidents like the one in the Hyades.
“Would you care to elaborate on that Kaito?” Zephyr asked from her position at the head of the table.
Kaito grumbled and clenched his muscles in a bid to avoid fidgeting, “I just think these guys are bad news for humanity is all, and we should probably not run up to them and try to introduce ourselves without more context.”
The unspoken statement hung in the air, referencing to the international statute to report outside context events. Doug frowned and Zephyr looked like she’d just tasted something foul.
“That seems like a rather hasty conclusion to draw regarding these creatures, don’t you think?” Zephyr asked.
“No, it seems about the right time for it to me,” Kaito insisted.
“It’s a really big mining operation, that seems pretty within our context,” Alice said.
“You keep saying that,” said Kaito, “But I don’t think you actually realize what you’re saying. You’re seeing something totally outside your reference frame, and are trying to apply a human label to it anyway, that’s dangerous and misleading.”
Doug tried to say something but Kaito cut him off and continued, “You keep thinking that an outside context problem is like this right? You think of someone from our time, going to a primitive hunter gather in a modern marine combat suit. They could fell the mightiest beasts with ease, they’d be capable of withstanding the most adverse conditions, immortal. They’d be a God.”
“But we’re all adults here, and don’t believe in Gods,” Doug sneered.
“But that’s the point!” Kaito shouted, slamming his palm against the surface of the table, “Gods are within our context. Go back to that primitive hunter-gatherer, only this time they encounter a sentient riot control drone.”
“I don’t think–” Alice started, and Kaito cut her off too.
“You’re right, you don’t think. Or that is to say, all you have on this is opinions, no data.” Kaito took a breath and said in a much calmer voice, “we should elevate this to OCP status and back off on it.”
“Is that all?” Zephyr asked him.
Kaito fumed in his seat, ignoring the dirty looks Alice was giving him, took another breath, and nodded, “That is all.”
“Does anyone else have commentary on the plan?” Zephyr asked the room.
“We’re throwing a lot of resources into trying to make contact,” Jinxiang, the company CFO, said, “We should have the Better Margins scouting out a mining site, not off trying to make contact with aliens, let the government do that.”
“There are enough resources in Aldebaran to last us for a while, and we have mining rights on the whole system,” Zephyr said.
“We’ve been over this though,” Jinxiang retorted, “This is normally the part where Doug says,” she gestured at him and although it looked for a moment as if he was going to object after that moment had passed, he said what she expected him to say.
“Aldebaran doesn’t have enough rare earths to fabricate all the electronic and engineering components we’ll need,” he regurgitated as requested.
“Right,” she said, “So if we want to get this FTL colony ship design to market on schedule than we’re going to need to find a new source of rare earths.”
“The colony project is going to have to go on hold regardless,” Zephyr shrugged, “We need to print out at least two new EMVs, and that’s going to take months to do. But more importantly, meeting aliens changes everything. It’s a paradigm shift, and we have the opportunity to get in on the ground floor. The aliens might reveal something that makes our colony ships pointless or outdated. I’d like to avoid pouring too many resources into the current paradigm while a new one is clearly looming. We have the opportunity to get in on the ground floor, we should take it.”
Kaito got up from his seat and stomped off without another word. Alice just sighed and shook her head.
“I do love him,” she said, “But fuck is he stubborn sometimes.”
“He’s afraid,” Zephyr said kindly, “The aliens are a big unknown, this vast shrouded spot on our conceptual horizon. We don’t know what’s going to be under that shroud, and he’s right, it could be something really bad. But as far as I see it, you can either flee the unknown, or you can try and make it known. And I don’t see how fleeing a potentially painful truth makes it any less painful when it does finally catch up to you.”
Alice nodded quietly, “He cares about us, his fear is driven out of concern, not small-mindedness.”
“And I’m not going to force him to be involved in it, the Stoneburner can sit in Aldebaran and mine iron if it makes him happy,” Zephyr said, “Maybe that’s the better option, maybe it’s safer. But the unknown has a certain quality to it, being right at the edge of that vast map the human race has assembled, and staring off into the abyss beyond knowledge.”
“Be careful with that,” Doug joked, “Remember what Nietzsche says about starting too long into the abyss.”
“With other men, perhaps, such things would not have been inducements,” she said, quoting Herman Melville, “but as for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas.”
“Shall we call you Ishmael?” Doug laughed.
“If you must,” Zephyr said with a smile, “Let’s go catch a whale.”
Newton Class Starship
5 AUs from HR 7578
Three days after the Empiricist reached HR 7578, the MSCV Destiny of Light fell out of warp into the system with them. They performed a quick sensor survey, found where the Empiricist was in the system, then performed a short hop in warp to land a few thousand kilometers off their flank.
Ivy would have spilled her coffee if not for the spillproof container. After days of sitting on the bridge with nothing particularly of note occurring, the sudden chorus of beeps and proclamation that a ship was exiting warp nearby made her nearly jump out of her chair.
Then, her conscious brain caught up with her nervous system and she settled back into her seat looking slightly abashed as the Emmy informed her the Destiny of Light was requesting an audiovisual tightbeam.
“Yeah put them on,” she said.
The larger than life face of Commander Zebidiah Foster appeared on the forward wallscreen. Zeb was the poster child for Survey. He’d been offered promotions to higher offices dozens of times, but he always turned them down, he loved the frontier too much. With a sharply cut jaw, always-perfectly-styled hair, and an infectious grin, he emitted charisma like a field around himself. Ivy found it all vaguely insufferable.
“G’day Commander Czininski,” he said, “Fancy runnin’ into you round these parts. I hear you’re the woman of the hour.”
“Is that what they’re saying now?” Ivy asked with faint incredulity.
“We came here straight from Sol. Things are a bit hectic back there right now, there’s a lot of people saying a lot of things,” he admitted, “But where you and your crew are concerned, the majority of it seems to be positive.”
“Anything interesting or relevant?” She asked.
“Someone found Reshapers in the Hyades Cluster,” He said.
“So they’re real?” she asked quickly, throat tightening slightly at the implications.
“By all accounts they are, but the Hyades are 200 light years back the other direction,” he said.
“That’s out from the galactic center, not inwards,” she noted.
“Yeah a lot of other people noticed that too, curious thing huh?” he said, “You think the Kiwawentoa are sending us on a snipe hunt?”
“It’s possible,” she said, “They didn’t really seem like the deceptive types, but they’re aliens so who knows really. They kidnapped my XO and I’m not particularly happy about that. There will be words had when we find them again.”
“When?” He asked her with an amused grin.
“Yes, when we find them again.” Ivy asserted, “They’re out there, they can’t hide in hyperspace forever, and even if they do, we know how to follow them in now.”
“We do?” He asked somewhat confused.
“They gave us the blueprints for their hyperspace portal generators,” she explained, “One of our Pragmatists transferred the design to something our printers could use and fabbed up a prototype. Ross 154 is probably printing a full-sized gate that you could drive a ship through by now.”
He whistled appreciatively, “My, y’all have been busy, docking permission requested,” he said in a far too sexual tone. Ivy groaned and pinched the bridge of her nose.
“Just dock the ships,” she said with a shake of her head.
“Sorry, sorry,” he laughed, walking back the statement on noticing her discomfort, “Destiny, synchronize with the Empiricist,” he said to his ship’s own computer.
“Rendezvous Synchronization requested,” Emmy said to her.
“Go ahead with it,” she told the AI. The two computer systems linked together and solved for the set of Newtonian equations that would carefully bring their ships together, docking ports touching gently. Thrusters fired and gyros counter-rotated, adjusting the positions of the vessels with millimeter accuracy as they slowly slid towards one another in space.
“I’ll meet you at the airlock,” Ivy told him, then dismissed the call before he could say anything more, “Gah,” she groaned after the call terminated.
Joy looked at Ivy and shook her head, “Well, he’s quite the character, isn’t he?”
“That’s one way to describe him,” she said, shaking her head.
The docking process would have been agonizingly slow, were Ivy not a patient woman who was not particularly looking forward to the coming interactions. Zeb meant well, and he was harmless enough, but he just never turned it off. He was running full Zeb all the time, and it was like nails on a chalkboard to her. Nevertheless, the seconds continued inexorably counting down towards their required meeting. She finished the last swig of her coffee and stood up, beckoning to Joy and gently shaking Vedika out of her implant trance.
“Let’s go meet Commander Hairspray,” she sighed, “See if he has anything interesting to say.”
Dirge Singer class Heavenly Container of Life
i34_2015 Lament for Lost Worlds
Hyperspatial Transit Trajectory
The low power warning on Jean Paolini’s suit roused her slowly and painfully. The back of her head, her neck, and her shoulders all throbbed painfully from landing on the rough ground. Her eyes snapped open and she lurched upright, finding herself in possibly the strangest scene she had yet to encounter.
She was propped against some manner of cask or chest made of some indeterminable bone or hide material, inside a tent made of much the same. A fire was crackling cheerfully with an oddly shaped cookpot over it, but it was the creature stirring the pot that forced Jean to beat back her fight or flight response. It was huge and hulking, easily ten meters in length and resembling a centipede in shape. Its limbs were rows of bulky gorilla-like arms terminating in a nest of thin grasping tendrils, and it was completely covered in a shaggy coat of thick brown fur.
The alarm in her suit was going off still, alerting her that it was running out of charge to maintain the atmospheric balance in her suit. The conditions still read as hostile to human on her HUD, which she interpreted to mean that she was still in the same environment pocket. Slowly and carefully, she hooked her pack over her arm and rose to her feet, keeping one eye on the door and one eye on the alien creature before her. She hoped it didn’t have any malintent for her because it could definitely win a fight if she got into one with it, but she needed to charge her suit so she couldn’t just sit there.
Light came into the tent through a flap in the hide-like material, and Jean could see swirling snow and brightness beyond. Her heart was racing as she slowly crossed the room; the creature didn’t seem to react to her presence, and Jean slipped out the tent flap and into a brilliant snowscape. A complicated three-dimensional maze of canyons and arching stones was covered over in a thick layer of snow and ice spreading out in all directions. The sky was a deep and piercing blue, and the snowscape reflected the sunlight up into a nearly blinding glare before her suit auto-tinted itself down. The tent structure Jean had been inside of, from the exterior, resembled a large yurt embedded in the snowpack. It sat at the top of a high ridge which then continued upwards into a vast vertical cliff face that Jean assumed was the exterior wall of the environment.
Spread out in the canyon below the ridge was an alien town. She saw more wooly centipede-like creatures crawling around amidst dozens of their yurt-like structures. Thin trails of smoke curled up into the cold bright sky, and a brisk breeze sent settled snow billowing and drifting through the clear air.
Jean’s suit beeped again, reminding her of the task she’d set for herself. She sat down on the snowpack and removed the solar charging panels from her rucksack. She laid the panels out on the snow, plugged them all in together and connected them to the suit, the alert message vanished and was replaced by a suit charging message.
Over her weeks in isolation, Jean had grown very patient. The suit power readout climbed slowly, but not slowly enough for her to find irritable. In fact, the power seemed to be going up faster than it had in the Earth environment, which was strange but not bad.
Jean laid down next to the solar panels and stretched as much as she could in the confines of the suit. It was fairly flexible and allowed almost full freedom of motion, but she was still getting sort of sore from being trapped in it for days.
The sun continued to creep across the sky, and the power level on Jean’s suit continued to slowly climb. She dozed off at one point, and when faded back into consciousness from her half-sleep, she found the alien creature was sitting beside her on the snow, carefully examining the solar panels with its strange hair like fingers.
It made a series of hooting noises at her as she sat up, which wasn’t a surprise, but her translator activated and converted the alien’s speech to Martian, which was.
“As the Ones Who Came Before lifted up the Aunjin into their home at the coming of the Night Gods, Msipek lifted up the one who came from above into Msipek’s home at the coming of the Storm Snow.”
Jean looked at the creature, the creature looked at JeanIts’s mandibles were positively terrifying, like a cross between a spider and an angler fish, but something about it’s six radially arranged eyes took Jean aback for a moment.
The structure of the creature’s eyes was nothing like that of a human eye, they lacked a discernible pupil or sclera and were entirely filled with a marbled, mottled pattern of greens and blues. And yet, something in those eyes seemed far more human than anything Jean had thus far encountered in the alien zoo. The lizard in her brain went from utterly terrified to wanting to hug the creature in relief that her isolation was at an end.
She smiled and pointed towards herself with her hands, “I am Jean,” she said.
The creature inclined its head for a moment and then copied her gesture with one of its forelimbs, “Msipek is of the Aunjin.”
“It’s nice to meet you Msipek, thank you for saving me back there,” she said, smiling.
“As the ones who came before lifted up the Aunjin, so Msipek lifted up Jean,” it told her.
She looked at the creature more closely. In the shaggy hair all around its face, beads and brightly colored thread as well as bits of bone and other decorative material had been braided and woven in.
“Is Jean of the Ones Who Came Before?” Msipek asked.
“Jean is of the Humans,” Jean smiled, falling into the creature’s third person mode of speech easily after weeks of silence.
“Did the Ones Who Came Before lift up the humans as they lifted up the Aunijn?” it asked her.
“Err, we sort of lifted ourselves, and just ran into the ones who came before recently,” she said.
“Then it is as Gistipikt prophesized when Aktotep returned from the land of Gods,” something in his tone seemed sorrowful, but Jean had no context on what he was saying, “Msipek will conceal Jean as Markeesh concealed Yumrin.”
“Okay…?” she said, understanding a little of the alien’s meaning, but having no idea who Yumrin or Markeesh were, the specifics meant nothing to her.
Msipek raised itself up onto its haunches and peered closely at her with its blue-green eyes, “Jean will be like Yumrin,” it told her, then climbed over the lip of the ridge and began walking down the side of the cliff towards the village below, it’s many rows of hands gripping onto the icy rock face.
“Who the fuck is Yumrin?” Jean said to herself once the creature had departed.