Parallel Graves

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

The great procession had begun the day after Jean’s discovery. The High Leader, whose name she’d learned was Hrathar, had sent her and Msipek back up to the ridge to collect the alien rucksack that also apparently doubled as a key to the hidden doorways.

Over a hundred of the Aunjin departed the village with Jean, venturing into the maze of canyons that filled the environment on the journey to the Gate of Hrururen. Msipek spoke little to her, and prodding em for answers no longer produced long verbose descriptions of high tales from the creature, ey’d clammed up since Kilitotik had discovered Jean.

Kilitotik had apparently gained a good deal of esteem for eir saving of Jean, and she suspected that in a few hundred years “Kilitok and Jean with the Ouoasha” would be a regular part of their speech. So the following day, after they all donned their strange face masks, Kilitotik and Hrathar led the procession out into the maze.

The feeling of celebration however, fell away quickly into a palpable grimness as they made their way through the winding canyons and a gloom settled over the congregation as they ventured deeper in. The path was well travelled and marked by flags and strings of beads that had been run out from point to point along the cliffsides, but the snow covered canyons still felt deeply lonesome and foreboding, and the existence of the Ouoasha didn’t ease Jean’s anxiety.

The huge creatures could easily be lurking under any snowdrift, waiting to ambush the procession. Kilitotik had explicitly mentioned this behavior during the celebrations of the prior evening, and so Jean and all of the Aunjin were on guard for any sign of the ambush predators.

They had been travelling in relative silence for several hours when a shout went up from Kilototik that ey had come to the dying lands. This seemed like a weird thing to celebrate, but a cheer nevertheless spread through the ranks. Jean craned her neck in an attempt to see what had Kilitotik so excited, but all that she could really make out from down amongst the ranks of Aunjin was that the canyon walls opened up ahead into a larger valley.

The group continued shuffling forwards and began to spread out through the larger space. Soon, Jean was through the bottleneck and could see immediately what Kilitotik had meant by the dying lands. Rows upon rows of neat, parallel graves filled the valley floor. Stone cairns covering the bodies of the dead, row after row after row of them, stretching off into the snowy distance.

The congregation spread out across the valley floor, leaving Jean alone near the entrance to the canyon. The Aunjin lit lanterns atop the graves as they moved forward, before settling in a clear area and beginning to set up their yurts. Jean had her yurt with her in the alien key backpack, but she waited to set it up, watching the Aunjin work first.

Msipek drifted over beside her and lowered emself on eir many haunches.

“The Aunjin bury the dead,” Jean noted solemnly, settling down beside Msipek.

“The Aunjin bring the dead to the dying lands,” Msipek confirmed, “The humans…?”

“Like the Aunjin,” Jean said, “The humans bring their dead to the dying lands.”

“The ones who came before eat the flesh of the dead,” Msipek noted, “It is of the kingdom of Nari.”

Jean nodded, agreeing with the meaning she guessed from the sentiment, the kiwawentoa were weird creatures.

“Msipek is as Kasalt in the mountains,” Msipek told her. She frowned, looking at em.

“What will happen to Jean?” She asked with a creeping feeling of dread.

“The poison of Hrururen,” ey answered sorrowfully.

“What is the poison of Hrururen?” Jean asked, not for the first time.

“It is as Jean and Msipek on the high ridge,” ey tried to explain.

“Jean doesn’t understand,” she said with a sigh.

“Msipek is as Kasalt in the mountains,” the creature lamented again.

“Yeah,” she said, “Jean understands that.”

She stood up, brushing the snow from her suit, and began to make her way towards the cluster of yurts that had been set up within the graveyard. Msipek said nothing else to her as she walked away, ey just stood in silent vigil, watching as Jean moved into the growing encampment. Dusk was starting to fall, and it had begun snowing again, so Jean hurried to set up her yurt amid the others. Msipek erected eir own yurt near the entrance to the valley, and remained apart from the encampment, alone among the dead. Jean watched em out at the fringe of the camp with a deep sense of sadness, she didn’t know why the creature was afraid for her, but eir fear unavoidably infected Jean and left her nervous and jittery.

Darkness fell, the resin panels of the yurt became covered in snow, and Jean fell into a restless, uneasy sleep.

 

Pacifier Class Scout Battlecruiser
UNDF Mercy Given
Circular Orbit
1,100 kilometers from Earth
October 2219

A chime rang through the Mercy Given’s intercom system and the bright red alert lights flipped back to white.

“One minute, nineteen seconds,” Lieutenant Commander Pandora Eisley reported from her position beside Captain Maeve O’Donnell, “That’s down a good deal from where we started.”

“Still not anywhere near the forty-eight seconds we hit during the battle in orbit,” Maeve complained, stretching and pulling her helmet back off. She’d undergone her second rejuvenation treatment while the ship was being repaired in the wake of the pyramid station strike, and had her age wound back down to young enough that she had to start actively compensating for her hormones again.  

“Yeah,” Dora replied, “I’m becoming convinced the only reason we were able to hit that was because people cut corners in the battle to report readiness faster.”

Maeve pursed her lips, frowning and continuing to strip back out of the bulky emergency spacesuit, “That’s dangerous and against regulations,” she warned, “I assume you’re on top of finding out who did that and ensuring there’s no repeats?”

“I’m working on it,” Dora said as she climbed out of her own suit and began stashing it in the compartment beneath her chair.

“Good, keep at it,” Maeve told her before stuffing her suit into its compartment, “today’s the day we pull up anchor.”

“Frankly, it’s already taken too long,” Dora said, “we should have been out of here months ago.”

Maeve’s eyes went up to the blue world hanging above them on the bridge screens, where the sun was beginning to set over the western rim of Japan. She pulled herself down into her chair and strapped in, “Well let’s do it then, Charlie, input the first set of warp coordinates and start spooling the drive, Dora let me know when we hit crew readiness, and Erica, confirm our departure profile with Pyramid.”

Over the limb of the world she could faintly make out the Malacca elevator cable, where repairs to the ring were still underway. Dora sat down in her own chair and keyed up the intercom, “Stand down general alert drill, maintain general quarters and prepare for warp.”

“Captain, I’ve got our destination input,” Charlie Hatfield told her, “HD172051, seventy-six days in warp, drive is spooled ready for kick on your command.”

“Pyramid station…” Erica Sanger started to say, then stopped herself, “Hold on, there’s some sort of mixup with the departure profiles.”

“We’ve been scheduled to depart now for weeks, what’s their problem?” Maeve asked the comms specialist.

“It’s just…okay nevermind, we’re good, just a network error, Pyramid station confirms scheduled departure,” Erica said with a relieved exhale.

“Dora?” Maeve asked, turning to her second in command.

“Standby,” Dora said, watching on her implants as each crewmember reported their readiness status to the network.

“Who’s holding up the show?” Maeve asked bemusedly.

“Engineering and medical, as usual,” Dora complained. “Engineering is ready now, just waiting on medical.”

“I guess I’ll make my big announcement now then,” Maeve said before keying up on the shipwide. “Attention, crew of the Mercy Given, we are about to embark on our one year mission, far from the comforts of Earth, home, and hearth. Our mission is to seek out new alien life, new civilisations, and new species of fellow spacefarers. We’ve trained for this, we’re prepared for this. I have confidence in each and every one of you to uphold the highest principles and ideals we have as humans, as we make ourselves ambassadors for the human race. Do not let me, or our planet, or our species down. Thank you all.”

“Captain, we’re ready,” Dora said.

Maeve smiled, nodding to herself. Despite the mess at Earth, the terrorist attacks, the failure at Luyten’s Star, her demotion, it felt good to be heading back out among the stars.

“Mr. Hatfield,” she said to the navigator, “take us into warp.”

“Aye captain,” Charlie said as he activated the sequence. The vessel shook and jolted violently as the kick occurred, and the Earth vanished in a flash, replaced by the kaleidoscope bands of the warp tunnel. They were finally underway.  

 

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

The dying lands were much wider than the surrounding canyons, but they were still longer than they were wide. The journey from one end of the valley to the other took two days, for a total of three nights camped out amongst the dead. The Aunjin commemorated their dead through word and deed, their very language was composed of the stories of the dead, and each tomb they passed was carefully upkept and had a lantern lit atop it. The effect was that as the procession passed through the valley of death, they brought with them a wave of life and light that progressed along the length of the valley with them, before the flames guttered out again in the snow.

The congregation’s spirits were high during the progress through the valley, despite being surrounded by graves, the Aunjin seemed at peace, and frequently wandered into stories of the dead as they passed particular cairns. Through all of it though, Msipek maintained eir aloof distance, coming off as outright cold compared to the other Aunjin, who had all taken well to Jean’s presence. She still understood little of what they said, but she could usually figure out the more important things from context clues. She gathered that Msipek disapproved of the whole venture, and felt something bad was lurking beyond the Gate of Hrururen.

Nevertheless, the journey continued inexorably onward, and Jean felt good about that, it felt like she was actually making progress at whatever mad game the Kiwawentoa were making her play. After two days and three nights in the dying lands, the procession once more moved into the canyons.

The grim vigilance settled over the trope once more, the warriors’ eyes darting all around, limbs twitching in anticipation of an encounter with one of the various monstrosities that lurked the canyon system. Halfway through the day’s journey, they rounded a corner to confront an enormous crablike creature, which the warriors had all rushed forward and taken down before it had a chance to do anything with its large mass of violent looking serrated limbs. The warriors chained the carcass up and dragged it along behind them, hooting happily at their success.

The third day came to a close, and the congregation found themselves at the base of the far ridge, on the opposite side of the massive, spherical compartment from the village. Beads and flags continued up the ridge, leading to the gate of Hrururen, but the Aunjin didn’t make for the gate that night, and instead set up camp again at the base of the ridge. The mood was cheerful but anticipatory, there was a great deal of excitement and conjecture about what they would find beyond the gate of Hrururen, very little of which could Jean actually comprehend, but the anxious twinge of the unknown was something that seemed to transcend language.

Msipek alone continued up the ridge towards the gate of Hrururen as night fell on the encampment. Jean waited to be sure that no one was paying attention to her, then stole up the ridge behind em.

The climb was steep and treacherous, and around the halfway point it occurred to her that she was being really stupid and that the Ouoasha could show up and eat her at any moment. She was already halfway to the weak and flickering torchlight atop a pole beside Msipek’s tent, and it would have been equally dangerous to turn back as to press forward, so she persisted and climbed the rest of the way to the top.

Jean began setting up her yurt beside Msipek’s when she reached the peak of the ridge, and became engrossed enough in the task that she didn’t notice Msipek come out of eir yurt to watch her.

“Jean is as Itoatha in the lands of Khem,” Msipek said to her as she stood back to look over her construction job. Jean jumped realizing Msipek was there, then caught herself and took a moment to figure out that she had no idea what ey had just said.

She sighed and sat down in the snow before the creature, looking past em at the darkened cliff face, where the hidden doorway glowed faintly in the night, “Jean is as Kasalt in the mountains,” she told em.

Msipek looked at her and said, “Msipek is not Kirrip, thus Jean is not as Kasalt. Jean is as Kirrip, and Msipek is as Kasalt.”

Jean smiled, “no, I’m sorry,” she said with a chuckle, shaking her head.

“Msipek has failed the path of Taybor and may now witness the fall of Met’lan,” ey lamented.

“Jean is not Yumrin,” she said, not exactly sure what she was arguing, “Met’lan will not fall.”

“Jean is as Yanerhi in the highlands,” Msipek said, “Msipek is of the kingdom of Khem, but also the kingdom of Atatop, where the poison of the Hrururen may still lurk unseen.”

“Of what kingdom is this poison?” Jean asked em.

“The kingdom of Qetlal, and the kingdom of Atatop,” Msipek answered.

Jean pursed her lips and nodded quietly, her eyes going back to the door again. The Kingdom of Qetlal, as best Jean could tell, meant knowledge and truth. The concepts finally clicked together and Jean realized the thing Msipek was concerned over was uncovering some sort of infohazard.

“Jean’s suit won’t protect Jean at all from the poison of Hrururen,” Jean said softly, “Will it?”

“The poison of Hrururen is of the kingdom of Qetlal, not the kingdom of Karka,” ey replied sorrowfully.

Jean sighed watching the door, “Great,” she said shaking her head, “Great.”

 

Martian Survey Corps Outpost
MSCO Magellan
Elliptical Orbit
0.9 AUs from Ross 154
November 2219

Chief Pragmatist Kaneko Satoshi strolled into the main hyperspace lab aboard Magellan station within hours of the Destiny of Light’s docking. The pragmatist had narrowly avoided being sucked into hours of meetings with Zeb and snuck off to hang out with the hyperspace research teams.

The laboratory occupied a massive chunk of floor space inside one of the structural domes on the planetoid’s surface. A huge fixed portal into hyperspace had been erected, and then premade corridors and inflatable hallways had been pushed through the opening and assembled in hyperspace. The permanent linkage was kept fueled by a large windmill like device that pulled exotic matter from the ambient hyperspace medium, making it cost neutral to operate. The base was slowly expanding itself into hyperspace and Satoshi found the whole thing fascinating to watch.

As the Chief Pragmatist aboard the Destiny, Satoshi had full clearance to wander the laboratory floor, taking in the various projects and the stream of traffic going into and out of the hyperspace section of the base.

After allowing himself a few moments of apprehension he crossed through into hyperspace. Gravity fell away at the threshold and he found himself floating down a wide, hastily fabricated station corridor towards a hatch and a junction point. A screen at the junction projecting into virtual space provided directions to an observatory, an analysis lab, an engineering lab, and the operations center. Satoshi took the path towards the observatory, pushing himself deftly along. The station was busy but also quiet, everyone he passed was deeply engrossed in technical conversations or otherwise lost in thought, and paid him little attention as he wandered, just another passing ship’s pragmatist gawking at hyperspace.

And then he reached the observatory, a large transparent inflatable sphere with a nest of equipment and consoles in the center, and he gawked. Massive pillars of gas hundreds of astronomical units tall formed strange cavelike formations on a scale so vast as to be nearly incomprehensible, clouds of dust and strange particles made immense and fantastic shapes, all lit by a weird backlighting in dull red.

“Yeah, everyone does that,” a voice behind him said with a chuckle. He turned and used his implants to find the identity of it.

The dark skinned man was a rank eight cosmologist with several decades of service with Survey, and he smiled bemusedly at Satoshi, sipping coffee from a sealed mug, the callout identified him by name as Lonan Memnonia.

“It is quite a sight,” Satoshi said.

“First time getting a good look at it?” Lonan asked him.

“I saw some images when we rendezvoused with the Empiricist, but this is…” he trailed off, opening and closing his mouth uselessly.

“Yeah,” Lonan chuckled, “Reminds me why I got into science, this is what it feels like to look at the universe in wonder again. You met up with Empiricist though?” he asked, “How is Vedika?”

“She seemed ah,” he fumbled for an adjective more appropriate than the first one that came to mind before settling on “forceful, in her opinions.”

“Mmm,” Lonan nodded, taking a sip of his coffee, “At rank ten, she’s qualified to have pretty strong opinions.”

“She and Cale Rouschev, their other pragmatist, the one who pranked Admiral Wallace? They have this theory that there’s some powerful secrets hiding in the intersection between our physics models and the aliens,” he told the cosmologist.

“A few people had made similar assertions around here, and they’re not entirely baseless,” Lonan said.

“Explain?” Satoshi asked.

“Well for one, if you try to use a warp drive in hyperspace, it’ll turn your ship into a smear of rapidly decaying quark gluon plasma in real space,” he chuckled, “It was one of the first things we tested, the math as to why it happens isn’t completely solid yet, but it seems to be a problem with the expansion of dimensions in the Jacksonian model.”

“Strange, does that imply this is a different universe?” Satoshi asked him.

“For some definitions of universe,” Lonan admitted.

“What else do you think is hiding in the math?” Satoshi asked, his eyes wandering back out into hyperspace.

“Only one way to find out,” Lonan said, “We keep doing science to it.”

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