Fabrique Intersolar Deep Space Station
30,000 kilometers from Aldebaran b, Aldebaran
Kaito Pendragon was not happy. He paced the observation lounge with its long row of fake windows, watching the light of the Better Margins’ departure as the little exploration ship performed its pre-warp burn. His wife was on that ship, and she was running off to meet the aliens that had already killed hundreds of people and put all of their lives at risk.
His loathing for Zephyr fucking Athabasca threatened to consume him, and if he’d had laser vision it would have burned through the walls of the station.
“Kaito,” Owen McGregor said to him from a stool at the lounge’s self-serve bar and the captain of the Stoneburner whirled, turning his glare upon his father in law.
“Easy there Kaito, I don’t much like this either, don’t take it out on me,” Owen told him sternly as the other man began to work himself up to shouting something.
Kaito took a breath, shoulders sagging, “I don’t want to lose her,” he said, deflating, “Those aliens…” his voice trailed off and he shook his head.
Owen nodded, his eyes following the exploration ship as it continued to recede into the distance, “Yeah, it seems like a remarkably stupid thing to do for someone as smart as Zephyr is.”
“She’s too smart for her own good,” Kaito said with a snort, “She thinks if she’s clever enough then she can think her way out of everything and normal rules don’t apply to her.”
“And she’s probably right about that at least half the time,” Owen said as he snagged a bottle of whiskey from behind the counter, “She’s never had anything happen to thoroughly disabuse her of the notion yet.”
Kaito’s eyes kept tracking the ship as it became just another star in the distance, “Yeah,” Kaito said, “And who knows how many people will have to die before she figures it out.”
“Hopefully not too many more people,” Owen nodded, pouring two glasses of the brown liquid, “But there’s nothing we can do, she’s our boss, we just work here.”
“Don’t remind me,” Kaito groaned, sinking into the bar stool next to Owen.
Owen handed the younger man one of the glasses and took a sip of his own, “At least she’s going herself and not just sending people off to their deaths.”
“That’s what I mean about her being too smart for her own good,” Kaito said, sipping the drink, “She wouldn’t go if she thought it wasn’t safe, it obviously isn’t safe, but she thinks she’s clever enough to avoid the potential risks.”
“But you can’t avoid a risk you don’t know about,” Owen said.
“You can’t prepare for a problem that’s completely outside your context,” Kaito agreed, “this is some cargo cult level nonsense Owen. She was spouting shit like “a drill is still a drill regardless of scope” in the last meeting like she had any fucking authority on which to declare that the giant piece of alien tech that nearly killed all of us was a fucking drill!”
Kaito bristled and swallowed the rest of his drink in one gulp before slamming the glass down on the bartop.
“Now that she’s gone, you should send out a report to Sol that there’s an ongoing OCP out here and that they need to send someone out from the military or excursion or something,” Owen suggested.
“Oh I already did that,” Kaito smiled a bit, pleased with himself. “I hid a packet of data for George Rathmore in one of the outgoing Lighthorses just after we’d arrived,” he said as he poured himself another glass of whiskey. “As soon as I knew Zephyr was going to try and avoid reporting it, I reported it.”
“She won’t like that at all,” Owen chuckled.
“No,” Kaito smirked, “I suppose she won’t. She left today to make sure she was gone before a response to her initial report of aliens could get back here. She knows this will probably get classified an OCP regardless of her opinion, but she probably thinks if she keeps feigning ignorance and insisting it isn’t an OCP when asked, she won’t be held accountable to the international statute on outside context problems.”
“Pretty sure international law doesn’t work quite like that?” Owen asked him.
“It can actually,” Kaito said, “But Ben, Alicia and I all told her it was an OCP and as captains, we were required to report it, and she tried to make us keep quiet about it.”
“And you outed her on that,” Owen nodded.
“So she can’t claim ignorance,” Kaito nodded, “Three captains, all of whom had received the proper licensing and training, and all of whom are tested on things like when to declare an OCP, told her to report it.”
“And since she still refused to, you went over her head?” Owen confirmed.
“Yeah,” Kaito said, studying his glass carefully, “This company is finished.”
“Maybe this will make her rethink her cleverness,” Owen chuckled, “She needs someone to disabuse her of her superiority, and if that has to be the government then so be it, don’t feel guilty about it.”
“Oh, I don’t feel guilty about it,” Kaito said, “I don’t consider this a betrayal, this is just tit for tat. She betrayed us when she decided to sweep an OCP under the rug and drag a bunch of people back into harm’s way as an exercise in stroking her own ego.”
“How long until the return message to the one she sent reporting the aliens in the first place arrives?” Owen asked.
“A week from today it should get here,” Kaito answered, “So we’ll see what the Accord has to say about all of this then.”
Owen nodded and took another sip of his drink; far beyond the walls of the observation lounge, the Better Margins leapt into warp and vanished from sight.
Dirge Singer class Heavenly Container of Life
i34_2015 Lament for Lost Worlds
Hyperspatial Transit Trajectory
The Aunjin were a strange species, and the more time Jean spent with Msipek, the more she began to appreciate how alien the creature was. She still had no idea if they had genders; Msipek always referred to emself in the third person and never used pronouns for anything. There didn’t appear to be any differentiation between members of their species beyond size and fur color as far as she could tell, so if they had any sort of sexual dimorphism, it was very minor. For all she knew, they could reproduce by budding.
During the days, Msipek would go down into the village, and she would remain high up on the ridge, watching the strange creatures parade through the town below. There were guards carrying wickedly pointed spears, walking in neat patrols along predefined routes. There were traders and shopkeepers, carrying goods around and apparently engaging in some sort of barter? There were groups of hunters hauling colossally huge carcasses in from the canyons in chains, parading their kills triumphantly through the camp. And, there were small versions of the creatures, which Jean took as juveniles, causing trouble in the midst of everything else.
She was beginning to think that Msipek’s job was something akin to ‘shaman,’ but the high context speech the creature used for everything made a direct translation difficult, even with the help of the alien ship’s computer systems.
None of the other Aunjin seemed to live alone, or up outside the town like Msipek did, which was interesting. Ey didn’t seem to be an outcast though, or at least, ey were not forbidden from coming and going from the village as ey wished. Eir desire to keep Jean a secret was still somewhat worrisome, and Jean entertained the possibility that the rest of eir kind would not be as kind to her as Msipek had been thus far.
Being trapped in the Aunjin environment in her suit in the long term might have been dangerous for Jean, if it were not for the fact that technologically speaking, the Aunjin weren’t quite as primitive as she had initially believed upon inspection. The tents they constructed were airtight bubbles of thin metals, leathers, and a thick chemical syrup, and with Msipek’s help, she was able to construct one of her own and take her suit off for the first time in almost a month. That had been a painful, disgusting process, but afterwards, she felt wonderful, lounging beneath the small dome she’d built.
There were other things too, like the face masks she occasionally saw the Aunjin don, that she had a suspicion could handle a vacuum based on the fact that their tents were airtight. They seemed to have knowledge of the airless spaces between the environments, which implied they could survive them somehow. The masks didn’t cover their bodies though, so unless their physiology just let them walk around in a vacuum, they’d need a more elaborate suit for it to be safe.
They would have been utterly terrifying were it not for the fact that Msipek was impeccably polite and friendly to her all the time, and had never once treated her with anyone but kindness and respect. Ey had found food that was compatible with Jean’s digestive system and took pains to try and learn to communicate with Jean whenever ey weren’t otherwise busy.
“Why are you keeping me a secret from your kin?” she asked em one evening.
“Jean is as Gistipikt prophesized when Aktotep returned from the land of Gods. Aktotep saw Arosect by the river,” Msipek told her as ey stirred what Jean knew to be foul smelling cocktail that would harden into a semitransparent resin, “Msipek seeks the path of Markeesh, like Tebyor shielded Met’lan.”
“Who is Gistipikt?” She asked em.
“Gistipikt spoke the ones who came before, who spoke the lifting of the Aunjin to Atatop at the coming of the Night Gods,” ey told her.
“Okay, and who is Aktotep, what were the Lands of the Gods?” She continued asking.
“Aktotep saw the Jvanti do to the Hrururen as Arosect was by the river. The Land of the gods is Kaba-Atatop, the no place that is all places.”
“Who is Arosect?” Jean asked patiently. Decoding the creature’s speech took time, but it made sense once she was able to start breaking apart the metaphors. She imagined that from the creatures perspective, speaking to her would be like speaking with a small child.
“Arosect poured the fruit of the Cobo into the river, and spread it all down the waters until no life in the river remained,” Msipek answered solemnly, still focusing eir attention upon the cook pot.
“That sounds bad,” she told em.
“To be as Arosect is to commit the highest of crimes,” ey told her.
“So the Jvanti killed the Hrururen and Aktotep saw it?” She asked em.
“The Jvanti poured the cobo into their waters, and into our waters, but the Aunjin are immune to the poison,” ey explained.
“What is the poison?” She asked, not sure what ey meant by the metaphor.
“To tell Jean of the poison of Hrururen would be like if Azabo had told Tlikit of the Mbahna,” Msipek said, making a sound that Jean was beginning to think was akin to laughter.
Jean sighed and asked, “Who is Azabo?”
The storm came on with little warning. The sky had been clear when Msipek had departed for the village near dawn, but as the morning went on, the false sky darkened with storm clouds, flurries began to tumble out of the sky, and visibility rapidly plummeted. By noon the visibility had dropped to the point where Jean could barely see the village from her place on the ridge line, the sky had turned slate gray, and snow was steadily falling.
The snow continued falling faster as the afternoon wore on, coming down in huge wet heavy flakes that stuck to each other and everything else. Jean was soon coated with a thick layer of snow, and her and Msipek’s yurts were rapidly being buried in the storm.
Jean migrated inside her yurt as evening began to settle in, but she was beginning to grow concerned as the weather continued to deteriorate and Msipek failed to return. Inside her tent, she stripped off her suit and started a fire. The Aunjin used a rather clever valve mechanism that let her get fresh air from the outside without the imbalanced gas mixture poisoning her, she just had to use her suit as a regulator.
She watched the snow continue to fall outside through a thick slab of resin while warming herself before her small fire. Msipek was a grown Aunjin, ey could take care of emself in the weather better than Jean could in all likelihood, so she thought it would be best to hunker down and ride out the storm. Msipek probably wouldn’t want her wandering into the village looking for em after ey had gone through the effort to keep Jean hidden.
Jean fell asleep, and woke to find her tent completely buried in the snow. She shoved on her suit and forced her way through the hatch and tumbled out into the frozen wonderland outside.
The snow had stopped falling and the morning sky was stripped in yellows and pinks from the cloud cover still burning off in the fake sunlight, giving everything a cheerful glow. Msipek and Jean’s yurts were completely buried in snow, looking from the outside like snow covered blisters.
The snow was up to her waist, making it difficult to move around the campsite. She waded through the snow up to Msipek’s tent and peeked inside, but the large creature was still absent. That was concerning. She looked back down the ridge, and could see the beginnings of activity from the town below, so they weren’t completely snowed in.
She started out along the ridgeline towards her usual perch for the day when she noticed that there appeared to be a third yurt beside her own and Msipek’s.
It was slightly smaller than Msipek’s, somewhat larger than her own, and also completely buried in the snow. She walked carefully up to the new tent, not wanting to interrupt some sort of alien mating ritual with her presence, but what she was not expecting was for the yurt to suddenly rise twenty meters into the air and reveal itself as a huge, gangly-limbed monstrosity. A scythe-like claw whipped around towards Jean as the creature’s roar broke the still morning air, and she stumbled back away from it as it’s dozen limbs shifted position easily in the deep snow.
She dodged another claw and rolled away from the monster, ducking behind Msipek’s tent, which it collapsed in one swipe of its numerous clawlike tentacles. The thing stepped almost lazily through the wreckage of Msipek’s yurt, even as Jean poured on the speed as best she could in her suit and the snow. The creature’s movements remained relaxed, ambling, almost like it was playing with her.
Jean leaped over the lip of the ridgeline, trying to get out of whatever it’s line of sight was, and it roared as its many limbs continued carrying it closer to her. Her eyes went back across the snow towards it, and she saw that it was still coming straight at her.
She dropped away from the crest of the ridge, sliding on the seat of her pants down the slope, angling away from the place on the ridge the monster had been nearest to. She had no idea how smart it was, if it could follow her footprints in the snow, if it had already killed Msipek and was lying in wait for her, and she had no idea if it was just playing with her and could catch and eat her at any time if it wanted. She wasn’t particularly interested in finding out the hard way what the answers to those questions were, so she continued racing away from the campsite.
The thing topped the ridgeline and roared again. It paused on the crest of the ridge and then began thundering down the hill towards Jean, it’s long limbs carrying it a dozen paces with each languid step.
The spear came from behind Jean, flying past her to strike the creature off center on its huge bulbous head. It roared and came for Jean, and she continued stumbling back away from it, desperately trying to ward off the scythe claw with her arms as it bore down on her.
And then a black furred Aunjin burst past her, hooting some sort of alien battlecry that her translator could make no sense of. Ey withdrew another spear from a holster of them ey carried and threw the spear into the monster in one fluid motion. Ey leaped past Jean and grabbed the ends of the spears still embedded in the creature. As ey landed from the jump, ey pulled the spear handles down and ripped the serrated blades from the creature in a spray of black ichor. The creature roared and gurgled in pain as the Aunjin warrior stabbed the creature over and over at rapid pace, using three arms per spear as leverage. The beast let out one last tortured cry and toppled over on the snow.
The Aunjin hooted a victory cry, which her implant told her meant, “Yanerhi at the Song glades!”
Jean stood up and began dusting herself off, and in a sudden burst of activity was back on her butt with the Aunjin standing over her spear tip aimed at her center of mass.
“Jean is friend!” She shouted, hoping whatever Msipek was using to translate her speech was something they all possessed. The creature paused, studying her for a moment, and said.
“Kilitotik is of the Aunjin, Jean is of,” ey trailed off, and wagged the spear slightly.
“Humans!” She said, “Jean is of the Humans, we just moved in next door, we uh, we were uplifted by the ones who came before.”
Kilitotik considered this for a moment, “Kilitotik is as Tekti and Mbasha in the sun lands. Is Jean not of the Kingdom of Msrabat?”
Jean actually knew that one. Msipek had told her the story of Tekti and Mbasha a few days ago in an attempt to explain what happened if one breathed too many fumes of the resin they used for sealing structures. Kilitotik thought Jean was a hallucination.
“Oh, no,” She told em, “Jean is of the Humans, we come from the lands beyond, Msipek found Jean after she fell from the hidden doorway.”
Kilitotik quickly removed the spear and pushed Jean upright in the snow with eir two forlimbs, “Kilitotik is as Kasalt in the mountains! Please forgive Kilitotik this transgression!”
“It’s uh, it’s fine?” She said, “Where is Msipek?”
“Kilitotik insisted Msipek be as Mbara in case the Ouoasha moved unseen in the storm,” Kilitotik gestured with a spear to the dead creature. “Jean is fortunate Kilitotik arrived before the Ouoasha made Jean like the Copeki.”
“Yeah,” She said, looking over the dead creature, “Good timing,” she told Kilitotik with a nod.
“Msipek has been as Utolo,” Kilitotik said with that sound she took as laughter, “It is as the day of the sun in the high glades, a new traveller has arrived, it is a great tiding from the ones who came before.”
“Uh huh,” she said not following the creature’s words at all.
“Quickly, as Jtina rode from Karka to Misbai, Jean must see the high leader, it is a great tiding of our two peoples.” Kilototik seemed excited by the prospect, the warrior was practically bouncing in place. Something about it worried Jean, but Msipek wasn’t around and she couldn’t exactly tell Kilototik no.
“Alright,” she told em, “Take me to your leader.”
Horizon Breaker Class Exploratory Mining Vessel
Docked at Pioneer Station
30,000 kilometers from Aldebaran b, Aldebaran
In the days following the Better Margin’s departure, Owen and Kaito had spread a magnetic chess board out across an unused console on the bridge of the Stoneburner and had made a regular occurrence of playing a game in the quiet parts of the day. The other members of the bridge crew began to involve themselves one by one, and the game was turning into something of a daily event. Owen usually lost when he played anyone but Kaito, who he was familiar enough with to beat half the time, but he enjoyed camaraderie it built among the bridge crew too much to care for his numerous defeats.
Owen was deep into losing his third match in a row that day to Eleanor Murphy when the sensors started going off as the Europan Security Service destroyers ESSV Animal Farm and ESSV Gravity’s Rainbow fell out of warp, subjecting their crews to five gee hoverslams to bring them rapidly to rest relative to the orbiting station. The communications lines rapidly flooded with requests for contact, orders to halt all operations and prepare for boarding, and government-backed information release instructions. Owen forgot the game as Murphy quickly floated away from the table back towards the pilot’s cradle.
“Kaito?” He asked the captain.
“I’m sending them everything already,” Kaito confirmed without looking up from the console Alice normally used, rapidly tapping away at the keyboard as he sent packets of files out across the tightbeam.
“It’s what they’re sending us,” Owen said, studying one of the communications displays.
EUROPAN SECURITY SERVICES SQUAD 3B TO PIONEER STATION. OCP VERIFIED. STAND DOWN ALL OPERATIONS. OCP VERIFIED VIA ALIEN CONTACT NEAR SOL. OCP IDENTIFIED AS RESHAPERS. STAND DOWN ALL OPERATIONS. BEGIN DISSEMINATING WITHDRAWAL INSTRUCTIONS TO ALL HYADES ASSETS. OCP VERIFIED.
“They know more than we do, something else is going on,” Owen said.
Kaito glanced up at the other screen and studied it for a moment before resuming his furious typing.
The message looped as the Accord military vessels waited for Gyeong Huygens to establish a comms channel. Kaito preempted him and established a connection directly between the Animal Farm and the Stoneburner.
The text crawl was replaced by a bald head in a military uniform.
“I’m Captain Anthony Faraday of the ESSV Animal Farm, you might not realize it, but you’ve discovered an outside context problem,” he said, “I’m here to take command of operations.”
“Oh,” said Kaito with a harsh barking laugh, “Oh we’ve realized it all right.”