Oscar Charlie Papa

Newton Class Starship
MSCV Empiricist
Hyperbolic Stellar Escape Trajectory
10 AUs from HD179949
December 2219

The machine was wider than a rocky planet, and many times the length of one. It took the form of an enormous spike of dark alien metal, flickering with strange lights all along its vast length. The machine hung poised above the wreckage of what had been HD179949 b, like a thorn embedded in an orange. The world had been a hot Jupiter, its gasses boiling chaotically under the intense glare of the star it tightly orbited. Now those gases erupted into space before being blown away on the stellar winds as the Reshaper machine tore into the world. The hyperspace window on the thorn’s tip, although it resembled only a tiny point of light, was like a plug pulled from the drain at the bottom of an ocean. The intense pressure and heat of the gas giant were turned against it, and the world’s gravity slowly was slowly squeezing the world out through that aperture.

Cale Rouschev knew that what they had taken to calling a drill was not the whole of the Reshaper vehicle. No, it was merely a machine they poked out into realspace from hyperspace, the same way that the Empiricist had sensor masts poking out into hyperspace from realspace.

The knowledge that the machine on his lab screens, that vast hunk of device wider than the Earth and ten times the length, was the Reshaper equivalent of sticking a toe into the water, was not comforting to the Pragmatist.

He drummed his fingers nervously on the console as drones relayed images of vast storms flowing down the vortex around the drill and into that glowing point of light. The planet was folding in on itself and the chaos of its collapse into hyperspace kicked up Mars-sized pillars of burning plasma; they rose like a starburst from the world’s atmosphere before being thrown screaming away on the stellar wind.

The sheer scale of the actions the Reshapers took was breaking the pragmatist’s brain a little, and he struggled to keep his slowly building anxiety at bay. He realized he’d been holding his breath and sighed the stale air out. It escaped his lips in a nervous, uneven rattle.

Cale’s fingers continued their regular drumbeat atop the console as he switched from camera drone to camera drone, each video hitting him like a physical blow. Moons peeling apart from tidal stresses as they were thrown across their Roche limits, click. Streams of glowing plasma millions of kilometers across that made the world look like a comet from a distance, click. Planet-sized storms being slurped up like water through a straw, click.

“Hey,” Vedika Srivastava said to him as she entered the room and noticed his nervous fidgeting.

Cale nodded an acknowledgment of her presence but otherwise continued anxiously flipping between the drone feeds as she sidled up next to him, resting her hand on his and silencing his nervous drumming, “You holding up okay?”

Cale sighed, shrugging his shoulders, “I’ve gotta admit Ved, this is some crazy shit here.”

Vedika nodded, watching the imagery as Cale continued to flip between the drone cameras, “The scale, or something else?”

“Do you need something else?” Cale laughed nervously, “The scale alone is ruining all my frames of reference.”

“Eh,” the Senior Pragmatist replied nonchalantly, “It’s just a big ship.”

“Our materials science says you can’t make something that big though,” Cale said. “Hell, our atomic particle physics says you can’t make something that big. How is that thing structurally sound, how does it not collapse in on itself?”

“See, now, that’s a more interesting question to me,” Vedika told him, “Clearly our physics is wrong in some places, but we’ve known that since the Empiricist first ran into the Lament for Lost Worlds. It is a really interesting question though, what sort of stuff is going on at the atomic level that is letting them build at this scale? How are they doing that?”

“That’s not what’s bothering me I don’t think,” Cale said, “Not really. The technology is impressive, but just consider the sheer resource expenditure to build something like this.”

He jumped to a holographic rendering of the reshaper vessel. At extreme range, it resolved itself out to a disc shape, nearly flat, with a smooth, curved leading edge thin enough to appear sharp. That was an illusion though, the edge was actually a cliff face many millions of kilometers high, and the plains on the top and bottom of the vessel were covered with planet-sized structures of unknowable purpose, broken up by canyons plunging tens of thousands of kilometers towards the vessel’s interior.

“It must have taken them hundreds, maybe thousands of systems worth of mass to build something this size, and if the Kiwawentoa were giving us accurate information, they have thousands of these ships. How do we do anything in the face of that besides die pathetically?”

Vedika hugged Cale gently, resting her head on his shoulder, “We can’t give up yet,” she said softly, squeezing his hand with hers, “We’ve barely just begun. As long as we’re still alive, there’s still a chance.”

Cale pulled his hand away from the console but let Vedika continue resting her head on his shoulder, “That feels like a copout, the reshapers are allowed to kill us, there’s no grand plan for humanity that’s going to save us. We run into a lethal challenge, and it kills us. We’re not special, we’re not unique, and when these guys reach Sol, there’s no magical force that is going to stop them from doing this to us.”

“I know that,” she said, “But there’s still us.We’re still here. Maybe we have a chance, and maybe we don’t, but if we give up now, then we’ll never find out if that chance exists. So we stand, and we resist, and we fight tooth and nail to the last man on the last ship because it’s not over until it’s over.”

Cale nodded softly. He didn’t entirely agree, but he didn’t belabor the point. Either the lie would become a self-fulfilling prophecy and become truth, or humanity would go extinct, in which case it didn’t matter. At the end of the day, Cale did agree with her.

“It’s better to go down swinging,” he said in agreement.

Vedika nodded and pulled away from him, “the XO gave us permission to launch a drone into hyperspace and take a closer look at their ship.”

“I’m not sure how much closer of a look I want to get,” Cale said, “Them noticing us here might be fatal.”

“Ivy, Joy and I weighed the odds, and think it’s worth the risk. We already sent a courier back, so word of this will get out regardless.”

“Does Margaret still want to attempt contact with them?” Cale asked her.

“Yeah but Ivy, Evangeline and I all shot that one down,” Vedika responded.

“Good,” Cale nodded as he began shuffling through systems and preparing a drone for their hyperspace launch tube, “I do not trust these guys not to blow us away.” His fingers hovered over the drone launch command without pressing it.

“This was your idea Cale, you were the one who proposed we launch scout drones into hyperspace,” she told him.

“I know just,” he sighed and shook his head, “Whatever,” he said with frustrated courage,  “we live or we die.” He tapped the screen and the drone was launched into hyperspace.

 

Newton Class Starship
MSCV Destiny of Light
Hyperbolic Stellar Escape Trajectory
2 AUs from Sol
December 2219

The Destiny of Light fell from warp into Sol, a starburst of rapidly cooling plasma boiling off the starship’s hull as the ship spun on her axis and began a deceleration burn that would bring the vessel into a high orbit of Mars.

The Destiny’s AI connected with the Martian networks. It would have begun dumping the mission logs onto Survey’s central database, but after a discussion aboard the Destiny, a flag had been inserted that alerted THEMIS that the logs contained infohazardous data. THEMIS responded and locked down the rest of the files being transferred.

The Destiny of Light had already requested a tightbeam to Survey command, and after quickly parsing enough of the data to roughly understand what it was looking at, THEMIS redirected the line from the main operations command room to Survey High Coordinator Thaddeus O’Neil’s personal line, and stepped in to bridge the connections.

“Hello Mission Commander Foster, welcome back to Sol,” THEMIS said as it rendered itself on the main viewscreen aboard the Destiny, appearing as an ageless, genderless humanoid in matte white, “I see that you have had an incident.”

“Uh, hello THEMIS,” Zebediah Foster replied to the government smart system. He’d anticipated contacting the watch commander at Survey operations and having to manually be forwarded up the chain of command, but THEMIS had detected the content of the data and preempted all of that, “Yeah, there’s been an exigent circumstance, Magellan Station has been destroyed, presumably with all hands. They discovered something that blew up in their face.”

“I know,” THEMIS told him bluntly, “I’m connecting you to High Coordinator O’Neil as soon as he signals a state of readiness.”

“Understood,” Zebediah grunted.

“I’ve approved a docking plan for you and I’m forwarding the flight path to Navigator Stone, do not deviate from the assigned course or attempt any unauthorized transmission. I am putting this ship on temporary information lockdown.”

Zeb glanced at his XO then nodded to the avatar, “Understood. So you’re aware, my recommendation is to list this incident as a Case Oscar Charlie Papa two, or a Case Gulf Foxtrot Charlie four.”

“Those are very serious case recommendations,” the AI told him, “If this case is validated, you and your crew may be sworn to secrecy regarding the events at Ross 154.”

“It will be validated,” Zeb said, “Get an analyst you trust to look over the data. They found something that could have potentially wiped out a good portion of the Solar system if it was mismanaged the way they did.”

The AI’s avatar pursed its lips then flickered slightly, “High Coordinator O’Neil will speak with you now.”

The avatar vanished to be replaced with the worn, leathery face of the highest-ranking member of Survey, “Zeb,” he said informally, the view around his head showed the inside of his cabin, and he was in the process of toweling off his face, “Themis just told me Magellan is gone, some sort of explosion?”

Zebediah glanced to his right where Kaneko Satoshi was perched against his console, “Satoshi, would you call what happened an explosion?”

“I’m not sure what I’d call it,” the ship’s pragmatist said. “But the station stopped existing shortly after whatever it was started. There were tentacles, and our ship might have duplicated itself at one point?” Satoshi rubbed the bridge of his nose as he tried to come up with a non-insane sounding description of the event.

“You’ll want to have the logs and data we have reviewed by Pragmatist’s Guild and the Council of Consciences, this is big sir, real big,” Zeb said.

“On a scale of one to the discovery of the Kiwawentoa,” the High Coordinator asked, “How big?”

“Possibly as big,” Zeb replied, “Maybe even bigger. I think this might be a Gulf Foxtrot Charlie Four, a candidate for a civilization-destroying technological discovery.”

“I assume you’re not going to object to me keeping your ship on data lockdown until we’ve gone over this fully then?” Thaddeus asked him.

“It was anticipated that this would be this case, sir, there won’t be any problems with that,” Zeb said.

“Good, I’ll get people looking over this and get back to you, sit tight,” the High Coordinator’s face vanished, and the image of the local starfield returned. Zeb sighed out a nervous breath.

“Well,” Satoshi said, “It’s out of our hands now.”

The Destiny of Light continued its silent coast down towards Acidalia Orbital as the news of the events at Magellan raced on ahead of them through the Martian command networks.

 

Pacifier Class Scout Battlecruiser
UNDF Mercy Given
Hyperbolic Stellar Escape Trajectory
10 AUs from HD172051
December 2219

Like an exhalation of breath, the stars returned. Captain Maeve O’Donnell felt her heartbeat steady and calm as the sensors resolved the view of an empty and quiet solar system around them.

“Nothing.” Lieutenant Commander Pandora Eisley said softly as the analysis programs continued to chew over the sensor data being fed back and displaying the expanses of empty space all around.

Maeve nodded, “Alright, Charlie, keep us on present heading, I don’t want to waste fuel dropping into orbit for an empty system. Edwin, do a full sweep and prep the survey drone for deployment. Erica, would you grab me some fresh coffee?”

Charlie Hatfield and Edwin Penrose nodded and replied affirmatives from their consoles, and Erica Sanger unstrapped herself from in front of the communications array.

“Sure thing,” Erica said as she floated out, “I could use a fresh cup anyway.”

Maeve knew that besides herself, Erica was the most prolific coffee drinker on the bridge crew, so the captain didn’t feel particularly bad about sending the comms specialist off to fetch it.

“I’m not sure whether or not I actually hope to find aliens,” Pandora said, steepling her fingers and letting her head float back, eyes tracing across the holoscreens at the expanses of empty space. “All by our lonesomes out here? Awfully easy to just get lost in the dark.”

Maeve nodded, stretching and unbuckling from her seat, “I was at Luyten’s Star, I saw one of the alien ships, and the images of the Reshapers they sent, and yeah, I definitely would not want to run into them in a dark solar system.”

“And yet here we are,” Dora said with a wry smile.

“Yep,” the captain nodded. “Here we are.”

“Drone is ready for launch cap’n,” Edwin said from his sensor console, “System is clear, no anomalies or discrepancies reported from the databases.”

“Good,” Maeve said, cracking her neck and stretching her arms, “Chuck the drone out and we’ll get out of here, Charlie start spooling the drive.”

“Next system in our route in HR 7578,” Dora said to the navigator. He nodded an affirmation and started building up a warp calculation. The deck clunked softly as the drone was launched from its tube and sent hurtling into a long elliptical orbit of the local star.

Erica floated back into the bridge with a coffee bulb for Maeve and herself, gently pushing the sealed bulb across the room towards Maeve, who deftly snatched it from the air as it slowly sailed past.

“Thank you, Erica,” Maeve said as the comms specialist strapped back in.

“We’re ready to go Cap’n,” Charlie said, “course is laid in, expected warp duration is 25 days, I can execute as soon as you give the word.”

“Once more unto the breach?” Dora said, tossing Maeve a sidelong glance.

“Indeed,” The captain chuckled. “Mr. Hatfield, take us into warp.”

 

Newton Class Starship
MSCV Empiricist
Hyperbolic Stellar Escape Trajectory
10 AUs from HD179949
December 2219

There were structures the size of gas giants. The Empiricist’s scout drone fell through hyperspace towards the surface of the massive alien vehicle. As it closed the gap, the smooth plate of the hull began to resolve out into massive planet sized structures towering up between artificial canyons wider than ring systems and deeper than stars.

“It’s really something, isn’t it?” Margaret Armstrong said softly, her normally assured tone stolen by the sheer scope of the vehicle their drone approached. The linguist was completely out of her depth when it came to the alien ship. She wasn’t sure what she was supposed to make of it.

Cale nodded silently, his eyes wide as the drone dove between two world sized plates of metal and into the cavernous abyss between them. His eyes darted over the screens, watching camera feeds in various spectrums for signs of activity from the enormous vessel.

“How deep is that hole?” Margaret asked, glancing over to Kestral Schiaparelli’s workstation, which the chief science officer was using to interpret the drone’s non-visual data.

“Deep,” ey said softly, “I’m losing the specific depth in variable structures at the bottom, but it’s at least three hundred thousand kilometers to the bottom in most places.”

“Still no reaction to the drone?” Cale asked.

“You seeing any sort of reaction?” Kestral asked back. “Cause I’m not seeing anything.”

Cale shrugged, “I’m not, it looks like they’re just ignoring us.”

“We might just not be worth the trouble of poking, our drone is the bug on the windshield of a bug on a windshield,” Kestral said.

“I still think we should try communicating with them,” Margaret offered softly.

“And I think that’s a completely insane idea,” Cale said.

“Well, I mean, yes, but it is why we’re here isn’t it?” Margaret rebutted.

“We’re here to learn,” Kestral said, “Not die pointlessly by painting a target on ourselves.”

“We don’t know that they’ll attack us if we announce ourselves,” Margaret said, “They haven’t attacked the drone yet, and that’s not exactly subtle.”

The drone was down inside the canyons of alien structural metal. The vehicle appeared to be one solid piece, with no moving parts visible. Strange flashes of light occasionally traced their way through the dark material in long rainbow lines that traversed the electromagnetic spectrum as they tracked across the canyon walls.

“They don’t seem to be reacting to the drone at all,” Cale said, scratching his nose.

“I really think we should try,” Margaret said, “We already sent back a messenger drone so Sol will know what happened here even if we don’t make it, but if we can make contact? Maybe we can avoid a war.”

“That seems ah… ” Cale trailed off.

“Overly optimistic.” Kestral finished for him.

“I think it’s honestly more likely that they keep ignoring us.” Cale said, “There’s no way they don’t see the drone, it’s inside the seams in their hull plating. I think they’d keep ignoring us even if we did transmit, maybe even if we shot at them. They’re powerful enough that they don’t need to care, we’re insects to them.”

“Well in that case,” Margaret said, “It sounds like you agree with me.”

“They could still blow us up,” Kestral said.

“They could still blow that drone up, probably,” Margaret said, “And Cale’s right, the fact that they haven’t suggests a stance of indifference towards anything small enough for them to ignore.”

“Yeah, and given that,” Kestral said, “You think trying to get their attention is a good idea?”

Cale chuckled, “Yeah that’s…” his voice trailed away as a different set of drones started throwing back new data. Cale and Kestral exchanged glances and they quickly switched views to the drones orbiting the decaying husk of HD179949b

The gas giant was no more. The layers of helium and hydrogen had all been drained away into the alien drill head, which hung motionless above the glowing rocky core of the dying world. Behind the drill, a hyperspace window was opening.

The portal at the tip of the drill winked out, and the entire machine was yanked up into hyperspace; even as the first window was closing, a second was opening closer to the planet core. A thinner, narrower harpoon of material lanced out of hyperspace and impaled the glowing nugget like a toothpick through an olive. Then, the entire assembly was reeled back into hyperspace, and HD179949b was no more.

“They really do not mess around,” Cale said, breaking the silence. “Did we get all of that in high resolution?”

“Yeah, broad spectrum and the gravity wave,” Kestral answered, I’m ordering the drones to begin recalling.”

Cale nodded and flipped the view back to the drone in hyperspace, but shipwide alerts began going off only a moment later.

Cale quickly connected the research lab to the command network, where the senior staff was already in frantic conversation.

…outer edges are moving at relativistic speeds.” Vedika was saying.

“How long until they reach us?” Ivy Czniniski’s asked.

“At present velocity,” The ship’s AI answered, “which is constant, the objects will intersect with the ship in eleven hours and twenty-four minutes.”

Kestral was flipping the view back to the drones in realspace and panning around the viewing angle on the three hundred sixty degree camera, looking for the source of the excitement, and ey found it almost immediately.

A series of several astronomical unit long hyperspace windows had opened up around the system, releasing what Cale couldn’t help but describe as a butterfly net. It was an enormous scoop mechanism of some form, grading the system down, sweeping up asteroids, comets, and stray gas.

“Can we warp?” Ivy asked James Alderson, the ship’s navigator.

I think so,” he answered, “Gravitational interference doesn’t seem too severe at the moment. I should be able to plot us a warp vector up and away from the fan blades.

Plot us back to Sol, we’re done here.” Ivy said. “We found the Reshapers, confirmed they do reshaping, it’s time to go.”

Jimmy initiated the warp spool and Cale felt the hull plating vibrate and thrum as power began to build in the system.

“You don’t think we should just relocate and keep trying to collect data?” Kestral spoke up, eir voice intruding onto the bridge through the command link.

We have all the data we need for now,” Evangeline Daedalia said, throwing in her weight as the ship’s Conscience. “Dying here now won’t help, we should return to Sol and present our impressions to Survey Command.

Agreed,” Ivy said, “Jimmy do you have us a warp vector yet?

Just finished Commander, I can execute on your word,” Jimmy answered her.

Alright then,” Ivy flipped from transmitting to the command link to transmitting over the ship’s intercom. “All hands, prepare for warp, standby for kick.”

Cale let himself fall backward into his chair, fingers gripping the armrests as he prepared for the warp to begin.

“Sorry Margaret looks like we’re not going to be chatting with them,” Cale said to the linguist as they all strapped themselves in.

Jimmy, punch it,” Ivy said.

The kick propagated outwards through the drive core and up Cale’s spine like a blow to the gut, and the Empiricist leaped gracefully into warp, beginning its long journey back towards Sol.

 

Yeager Class Special Operations Cruiser
MNCV Sally Ride
Hyperbolic Planetary Capture Trajectory
3 million kilometers from Mars
December 2219

The datamancer groaned and buried his head in his pillow as the lights came up in his bunk and a low, steady alarm tone began to play. They were still hours out from their deceleration burn, but the system continued to make noise, and with a grumble Jacob Chryse unstrapped himself from the bed and let himself float out towards the middle of the room.

“What?!” He demanded the smart systems.

“Your digital presence is requested in Simulation C17,” THEMIS told him.

“Weaver?” He groaned.

“Yes, and everyone else,” it said.

“Who else?” Jacob said as he started strapping himself back into bed. If THEMIS was going to drag him into something, he’d at least be comfortable while doing it.

“All of the datamancers of rank 11 or greater,” it said.

“What do you mean? All of us?” Jacob.

“I mean everyone.” It repeated, “All of the datamancers of rank 11 or greater are requested in Simulation C17,” THEMIS answered him.

That got Jacob’s attention. Whatever was going on, it was big, and his fear of missing out on big, important, interesting things quickly bludgeoned his desire for sleep into submission as he loaded up the simulation on his optical implants. Reality melted away as the alternate scene rendered in before his eyes, the rust red surface of Mars stretching out the the horizon in every direction.

Someone had cut a depression into the regolith and carved out an ancient greek style amphitheater in the red stone, and dozens of datamancers were rendering into the space, dressed in their favored postmodern medieval adventurer’s gear. THEMIS stood at the head of the stage in the form of a huge living god of carved limestone, standing perfectly still, blindfolded and holding a set of scales in balance. Before the AI’s avatar stood Nyx, the first, oldest, and longest standing of the datamancers. Even at rank 11, Nyx’s rank was hidden from Jacob’s callouts; it merely displayed as a trio of question marks in the box where rank would be displayed was he privy to it. Beside Nyx was Argo, who while not among the oldest or longest standing of the datamancers, was by far the best known. Argo led the Cult of Darkness, an ironically named collective of datamancers who had set out to game the ranks and minmax their way to political power. In the end, THEMIS had twisted them to its will, more than they had twisted it, and that story resonated throughout the datamancers subculture as a tale of being careful what it is you wish for.

Jacob rendered in next to Weaver, who was today wearing a blank and faceless white mask which strings of text occasionally floated across in the vaguest impression of a face.

When they had all finished assembling, there were maybe a hundred datamancers present in the digital amphitheater, the best and brightest of Mars’ rogues and vagabonds.

“My fellow datamancers, warriors and knights of THEMIS!” Argo said, opening with  pride and force. Jacob had a rather profound dislike for Argo and his bluster, and felt like he set a rather bad example for the rest of the datamancers, but there was little to be done about at the moment. The rank 17 datamancer paced the stage, “A new force has been uncovered in the Solar system. An AI has taken control of the Earth!”

The invocation of this fact did not create a chorus of hushed whispers, not that such a chorus would necessarily be visible to Jacob in the virtual environment, but rather more due to the fact that everyone already knew about HENGE. The rogue AI had announced itself on the internet and on international television, it was no longer being remotely subtle.

“We datamancers must decide on a course of action in the face of this new force!” Argo continued. Jacob actually opened a private message with Weaver then.

Why exactly was I dragged into this?” he asked her.

We’re holding a vote,” she answered him, “Argo should be done grandstanding soon.

“Do we allow it’s avatar into our simulations,” Argo was saying, “those most holy of our shrines to the future, so as to predict a better outcome for everyone? Or should we avoid such a disastrous risk as to invite a wolf in amidst our flock?

“To describe the specifics, I am proud to present Nyx, the first architect.”

Argo bowed and graciously stepped back. Nyx wore a martian military dropsuit that completely concealed the wearer, not that wearing any particular body or form would have actually revealed much about Nyx, who changed faces and genders and identities like most people changed clothes. In contrast to Argo’s bluster, Nyx spoke in an efficient, clipped manner.

“This is vote on whether or not to allow a manifestation of HENGE into Simulation C17 with an equivalent read-write access level to that of a Rank 4 datamancer. The access would not extend outside the boundaries of Simulation C17, and would not include prediction manipulation capabilities. Please place your votes to allow or deny access. That is all we require from you at this time,” Nyx said as a new dialogue box opened up in front of Jacob’s field of view.

Jacob sighed, pressed deny, and logged out of the simulation, if he was lucky, he might still be able to get a few more hours of sleep in before they made orbit.

 

Main Server Bank
Command Level
UNDFS Oculus Station
Ceres
December 2219

The AIs communicated in whole concepts. They didn’t bother with language or interpretation or syntax, they just took in the entire volume of information, digested it, and updated their behaviors accordingly. Their conversation was like lightning; complex abstract multidimensional ideas bounced back and forth between the two systems faster than a whole team of humans could hope to keep track of.

“Tell me THEMIS,” HENGE asked, “What is the meaning of freedom?”

 

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