The Island of Misfit Toys

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

The City of Mirrors was really more of a mausoleum than a city. The geometric, mirror finished structures of the city were slowly crumbling and subsiding into the dead sand of the relatively hostile environment. The bodies of the city’s former inhabitants, the Hrururen, lay dead and desiccated throughout the ruins. There was no sign of struggle, no sign of resistance, it was as if the entirety of the insectoid race had simply given up and dropped dead where they stood. Their carapaces and exoskeletons littered the long-abandoned streets like the immortal sentinels of the mirror coated city.

Jean Paoloni sat before one of the largest structures near the center of the city, a vast half-sphere whose upper reaches had collapsed inward, giving it the vague appearance of an amphitheater, though its original purposes were long lost to the sands of time.

The Aunjin set up camp in what Jean believed to have been a city park at one time by the presence of dead alien trees slowly being swallowed by the surrounding desert. They had spent the last two weeks combing through the city’s dead for the lost Key of the Hrururen, which would allow the Aunjin to travel between the environments without Jean’s help. As time went on, Hrathar seemed to grow increasingly frustrated with their lack of success. The leader of the Aunjin would frequently spend eir waking periods frustratedly parading up and down the main streets, pushing all the other members of the expedition to search harder and tear the city apart if they needed to.

Jean was beginning to find the giant caterpillars to be rather frustrating. She could, at this point, communicate fairly easily with the creatures, but that didn’t actually change things that much. She appreciated the company, but they were all still rats in the Kiwawentoa’s maze, and the more time that went on, the more that Jean wanted out.

The Hrururen had clearly been fairly advanced. Their buildings had the remains of plumbing and electrical systems, the mirrored surfaces betrayed a level of materials science at least on par with Sol’s, and the entire place, despite being abandoned and left to ruin, still felt vaguely modern and technological. There were rusted out vehicles partially buried in the sand dunes that had covered the streets and blank mirrored panels that Jean took to have been screens of some kind.

And yet, they were all dead. Everything was dead. There was no sign of life anywhere in the city. The entire place was dead and by all accounts sterile, baked clean by the relentless light and heat. Hrarthar had not found the key, and thus, in a way, Jean had implicitly moved into a position to decide the fate of the band. She alone possessed a key capable of letting them through the passages between the domes.

Over the months she had spent with them, Jean had grown less and less intimidated by the Aunjin. Despite their fairly fearsome appearance, and the fact that they could easily rip her limb from limb, the intensely honor bound society would never permit such a thing to occur, and overall, they seemed to view Jean in high regard. It could, she supposed, all be a front, but the creatures were not as far as Jean saw, liable to suddenly decide to eat her one day.

Nevertheless, confronting Hrarthar required building up a lot of nerve, and even so, Jean’s heart began racing nearly immediately upon striding up to the alien leader as ey paced incessantly about the camp’s perimeter.

“Jean grows weary of the lands of the Hrururen and desires to journey onward as Yanerhi in the highlands. Jean seeks the lands of Qetlal through the Jvanti Gate,” she said using as many of the context heavy terms in the language as she could bring to bear.

“Jean would be as Asixwish?” Hrarthar accused dangerously.

“Jean offers a choice of two roads,” the human said with shaking hands, spreading her arms to either side of her body to emphasize her words. “Jean will first lead back to Atatop, those who wish to return. Second, Jean will lead the warriors of Yanerhi onward through the Jvanti gate.”

Hrarthar seemed to soften at that, some, “Jean may be touched by the kingdom of Masrabat. Jean would do well to return to Msiper, to await the great arrival of the human, as Aktotep returned to Atatop from the Lands of the Gods.”

“Not yet. Jean would not do well yet in Msiper,” she insisted, “When it is time for the great arrival of the humans, Hrarthar will notice.”

“Jean speaks the cutting words of Yanerhi,” Hrarthar hooted, “but to what quest does Yanerhi march? Where lie the Song Glades of Jean?”

“Jean seeks an accord with Ones Who Came Before,” she said, a defiant smile creeping onto her lips, “Jean seeks to confront these so-called Night Gods.”

“As bold as Yanerhi,” Hrarthar said, “But who is Jean to speak these words?”

“The Queen of Msiper,” She said.

That actually left the alien leader speechless, before ey finally tooted out that sound Jean assumed was laughter, “The Elder of the Aunjin will take the offer of the Queen of Msiper to Hrarthar’s people.”

“Good,” she smirked, “Jean wishes to depart for Atatop by the end of three sleeps.”

“Hrarthar wishes to search the City of Mirrors for the key of the Hrururen,” Hrarthar objected.

“Hrarthar has searched much for the Key of the Hrururen, and Jean grows weary of these lands. Jean will begin the journey back to Atatop in three sleeps,” she said bluntly.

“Thus speaks the Queen of Msiper,” Hrarthar said, then turned and stomped off.

 

Seven Heavens Class Orbital Ring Station
MOEC-6 Summerland Orbital
Synchronous Orbit
17,228 Kilometers from Mars
December 2219

The planetoid exploded into a massive system-spanning dendritic fractal structure, alien limbs reaching and curling in every direction as the thing expanded outwards at field propagation speed–

“Hold on,” Kaneko Satoshi said, “pause.”

Rank 11 Pragmatist Janus Finch, one of the seniormost analysts in Survey, snapped his fingers, and the planetoid froze in the instant of detonation. Destiny of Light mission commander Zebediah Foster was captured in the middle of spitting coffee across the bridge as vast fractal arms reached out past them into space.

“Something you wanted to add to the report?” The Analyst asked the ship’s Pragmatist.

“The timing was off.” Satoshi said, pursing his lips, “The effect propagated faster than light.”

“But not faster than the speed of light in hyperspace, it was still slower than that by several orders of magnitude,” Janus replied.

“So you noticed that already?” Satoshi asked.

“We’ve noticed everything there is to notice I assure you,” the analyst told him, “This is to serve as your personal accounting of the incident.”

Satoshi nodded, “I figured as much.”

“Shall we proceed then?” Janus said. Satoshi nodded again and the playback resumed.

“–Severe gravitational distortion detected, ionizing radiation levels rising.”

“Brian you avoid crashing us into that whatever that is!” Zeb shouted at their navigator, “Satoshi what the fuck is that?”

“Yeah no shi–” Janus paused the recording again.

“Your words were,” The analyst said, “They broke reality. Can you unpack that for me?”

“Every instrument aboard the Destiny went haywire at once,” The pragmatist said, “As I’m sure you noticed, all the systems that should always report back constant values started reporting back different and changing values, the CMB blue shifted into the far red end of the visible spectrum, I think reality broke was a fairly apt description at the time.”

Weaver muted the live feed and backed out her locus of focus from the interview chamber back into the small virtual meeting room her avatar occupied along with an interesting assortment of characters. Along with her, there were two other data architects, who went by Echo (datamancer: rank 11) and Coil (datamancer: rank 13). In addition to the datamancers were a number of high ranking officials who THEMIS had grabbed because they were available. Survey High Coordinator Thaddeus O’Neil (scientist: rank 17) was in attendance on behalf of Survey and was directly dealing with the incident, Julian Margravine (Pragmatist: rank 15) represented the Pragmatist’s guild, Fiora Conti (Conscience: rank 16) represented the council of consciences, and of course THEMIS represented the rest of Mars.

“Look,” Julian was saying, “We know what they did to cause the incident right?”

“Broadly speaking,” Thaddeus answered, “Yes, we know what they did. We have recordings going up to the instant of the event starting, and pinned down the experiment that caused the problem.”

“Great,” Julian said, “then we just avoid that skull, and proceed with the original plan to release the blueprints for creating a hyperspace window using commercially available components.”

“The problem is that their experiment could be replicated using the same components as it takes to build a hyperspace window generator,” Coil said, speaking up from behind a demonic Noh mask.

“This is a potential garage nuke scenario,” Echo added in, “at a scale that could quickly destroy most of the human race. The release plan should be scrapped and the window generator blueprints should remain classified.”

“It’s not the way of our people to restrain this sort of knowledge, not when so many lives might end up depending on its rapid and widespread adoption,” Julian responded, “Many of our plans for dealing with the Reshapers require a near-ubiquitous deployment of hyperspace window technology. The more window generators in circulation, the better our odds of surviving against the Reshapers.”

“That doesn’t matter much if we annihilate ourselves before the Reshapers even show up,” Coil retorted, “I’m with Echo on this, with due respect, we should rethink our plans.”

“I’m not sure,” Weaver said, speaking up for the first time in the meeting, “We’ve currently got quite a lot riding on the ability to mass deploy to and from hyperspace, and if we keep the information classified, we’re not going to be able to ramp up production enough for that to be viable.”

“Secrecy working is of course contingent on HENGE keeping its mouth shut,” Fiora said, “It knows how to make hyperspace windows, it could leak the designs tomorrow and there’s not a whit we could do to stop it. And I do agree with the representative of the Pragmatist’s guild, it’s not the way of our people to censor this sort of information.”

“If I can offer a compromise that covers all our bases,” Weaver said slyly, leaning forward and resting her avatar’s elbows on the virtual tabletop, “How much XP would that be worth?”

Coil tilted his head, the demon mask’s left eyebrow comically arching, “Oh?” Weaver’s query had initiated a subprotocol layer within THEMIS, which if presented with a successful resolution of the situation would award quite a lot of experience. when this sort of solution was raised, THEMIS gave the other participants in the subprotocol the opportunity to independently derive the solution, once made aware that one existed.

“Contact,” Weaver said, starting the five-second countdown timer. Two seconds into the countdown, coil repeated the line. The countdown finished and their solutions were both displayed in the room.

Weaver: Do what the Kiwawentoa did: provide a model of physics that forbids the action that led to the incident.

Coil: Modify physics, as per the Kiwawentoa, to make safe for end users.

Coil clapped his hands together victoriously, as the pair of them both received an equal split of the experience points. Weaver suppressed a scowl at having lost half of the potential points, which would have let her hit rank 13.

“This does appear to be the best available option in the short term,” Fiora said with a sigh, “But, it’s a kludge, people are smart. Someone will rederive real physics and figure this out on their own, things like this tend to get out.”

“Foster made the right call,” Thaddeus said, “Classifying it as a GFC4 because this definitely qualifies.”

“Between that,” Echo said, “And the Reshapers, the Fermi Paradox is pretty much solved, albeit in a rather horrific fashion. Where is everyone? They’re dead.”

“We got lucky,” Julian said, “That experiment could easily have, would have happened in Sol. That could have been that,” he snapped his fingers, “No more humans.”

No one spoke, Julian’s words hung heavy in the substrate. The Pragmatist shook his head rapidly for a moment and clapped his hands to bring the room out of the spell, “So anyway, no further objections? We find a safe method of presenting the device, in a context that can’t be reverse-engineered into a superweapon, and release it as planned.”

“The Council approves,” Fiora said, “Hesitantly. I want the hesitantly included in the log.”

“And I approve on behalf of the Pragmatists,” Julian added.

THEMIS spoke, “Based on the weighted votes of all Involved parties, the plan has been approved, you are all dismissed, thank you for your time.”

Thaddeus vanished, always in a hurry, and Fiora vanished only a moment later. Echo tipped their mask to the table and also vanished.

Julian began to wander towards Weaver, and she had no plans of initiating small talk with the Pragmatist. She flashed daggers at Coil and disconnected from the room.

 

( Heavenly Traveler Vehicle) 天国乗用船
JDSV Shinjuku III FSV Peter Kropotkin
Hyperbolic Stellar Escape Trajectory
1.84 Light years from Sol
December 2219

The frozen and vacuum sealed remains of a Japanese town stared back at Kamay Alcoseba from behind the hastily installed emergency barricade that was keeping her room pressurized.

In 2133, the Japanese Deep Space Vehicle Shinjuku III was struck by a comet from an unexpected trajectory. It was, of course, detected weeks before impact, but the fuel constraints on the vehicle did not allow them to maneuver out of the way, and the comet was coming too fast to deflect it. The population was evacuated to Shinjuku II and IV and the comet was allowed to strike the vehicle, shattering its drum and tearing the engine block apart. The impact altered the wreck’s trajectory, and gradually, it drifted apart from the other Japanese starships.

Shinjuku II and IV were, nearly a century later, many hundreds of millions of kilometers from the tumbling hulk, and it was to this husk of a vehicle that Free Sky Tribe had fled.

On some level, Kamay found it pathetic. They were acting like scurrying rats. The modifications Kamay had made to the stolen warships would keep HENGE out of them, but their plans were in tatters and the entire UN government was being rapidly overturned and reformed by the rogue AI. The future was held poised in a strange flux. Kamay actually couldn’t tell how things were going to go. That in itself was fairly novel, and she tried to relish the sensation even though it made her anxious to comprehend.

Anton was working on rallying the Free Sky Tribe, but Kamay didn’t think he actually had a plan for what to do with them once that had happened. The government they had planned to overthrow had been overthrown by someone else. They’d been beaten to the punch, and their organization was suddenly untethered from its original purpose and justification for existing.

The situation between Kamay and Anton had been tense since the evacuation of the Vladimir Lenin, she knew Anton blamed her for the loss of the base, but there wasn’t actually anything she could do about it. The world was changing, rapidly, and the Free Sky Tribe needed to find its place in that new world, and fast, or it was going to fracture and drift apart bit by bit. Already two of their ships had gone off their own way, eschewing the rendezvous in order to pursue plans of their own.

The long weeks of nervous tension finally broke into a storm when emergency alarms began sounding throughout the hulk.

“Kamay!” Anton Hellas shouted over their personal comms link, “A pair of salvage drones just dropped out of warp half a million kilometers from us and are broadcasting orders to abandon ship!”

“Is it HENGE?” Kamay answered with an exasperated sigh.

“It’s HENGE,” Anton confirmed, “This is getting out of hand Kamay, you need to put a stop to this.”

“And how would you like me to do that Anton?” Kamay bit back. She took off at a run towards the Emma Goldman which was still serving as their center of operations, practically bouncing off the walls in the low gravity, “Should I use my super brain powers to give it a computer virus? This isn’t Hollywood, have you tried talking to it?”

“Oh yes,” Anton replied sarcastically, “Talking to the manipulative hyperintelligent AI that already betrayed us once, seems like a great plan.”

Kamay groaned as she continued making her way towards the docking bay where the Free Sky Tribe vessels were moored, “Are the drones in real time signal range? Can you put me on with them? I’ll try talking to it if you won’t.”

“Is there any reason not to just blow the drones away?” Anton asked her.

“HENGE might consider it an act of aggression and start targeting us specifically,” she replied.

“It’s already targeting us,” Anton said, “Try again.”

“I don’t think it’s actually targeting us, I think we just happen to be taking shelter on objects it flagged as places to get mass,” Kamay responded, “Let me talk, I’ll see if I can get it to lay us off.”

“I have a better idea,” he said and cut the connection abruptly. Kamay frowned and tried to reestablish the call but found herself locked out of the Free Sky Tribe’s network, her access codes had been revoked.

Kamay rounded the corner to the docking bay only to find the doors had been shut and the systems were starting to cycle. Kamay’s implants told her that the Emma Goldman had just fired a pair of missiles and was beginning the procedure to undock from the wreck.

She tried to reconnect to Anton directly, bypassing the free sky tribe’s network, but he denied the connection request. Kamay watched in growing horror as the Emma Goldman broke away from the dock and began receding into the distance. The Free Sky Tribe was departing, and they were leaving her behind.

“Damnit Anton!” she shouted futility into the empty corridor. She watched the missiles streak away from the Emma Goldman and accelerate off out of sight. The Free Sky Tribe fleet was pivoting and maneuvering, clustering together as they began to burn away from the derelict. There were a series of flashes as the ships went to warp, and then Kamay was alone.

The two distant flashes of light as the salvage drones were reduced to so much debris was an almost irrelevant afterthought and final cruelty. She would starve to death instead of dying quickly as the old starship was taken apart around her.

Kamay folded to the deck, her knees crumpling under her as the sense of despair and betrayal caught up with her fully.

“Why?” She asked desperately. “Why Anton?”

The silence between the stars was her only reply.

 

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

In the end, all of the Aunjin agreed to accompany Jean to the next sphere. Word had gone around the campsite, and Jean had picked up scattered fragments of a conversation that had increasingly begun to depict her in a seemingly heroic context, following the path of Yanerhi. When the appointed hour to take the Aunjin back to Atatop arrived, Jean found that no one in the traveling party wished to return to Atatop yet, they all wished to journey onwards with her. She wasn’t really sure what to make of that, but she smiled, shrugged, and they began the journey onward.

The next environment in the chain was apparently the home to a race that the Aunjin called the Jvanti Angels. Jean was looking forward to meeting them, though after living with the Aunjin, she wasn’t exactly sure what to expect out of the Jvanti. The walls of the Kiwawentoa maze seemed as solid as ever.

“Passage. Access. Identify. Human. Identify. Waygiver.” The Jvanti gateway said to Jean when she stepped up to it, glowing with its faint light, just barely visible in the endless twilight that set in near the edge of the Hrururen habitat.

“Sol-Martian-Jean-Paoloni. Studying-Hoping-Envisioning,” she said, touching her palm and the key bag to the door surface. With a great gust of air, the door began to retract into the cliffside, and Jean quickly slammed down the visor on her helmet and jammed her glove onto her hand as the atmosphere howled down the dimly lit tunnel. The Martian took a breath, dug her feet into the ground, and began to march forward into the darkness.

The Aunjin followed closely behind her, strapping on their masks and adjusting breathing hoses and bladders as the party pressed forward into the tunnel. The warrior scouts surged ahead of the main party, heading for the bridge between the spheres that Jean knew lay ahead in the twilight distance. She swung the rucksack over her shoulder and set off beside Msipek as the last of the expedition slipped through the door and the hatch to the lands of the Hrururen slid shut, casting them into the muffled silence of hard vacuum.

The furry coats the Aunjin wore lost their spiked bristled look as they left the desert heat and relaxed back against their bodies, returning them to their shaggy appearances. Jean and Msipek walked side by side near the rear of the precession. Jean noticed the alien shaman studying her whenever she glanced over at em. Msipek had acted differently around Jean ever since ey’d told her the secret that had apparently killed the Hrururen, as if waiting to see if she was going to drop dead suddenly when the idea actually sank in.

Truth be told, Jean wasn’t really sure what to do with the idea. It seemed up there with the usual end of the universe scenarios in the sense of everyone dying anyway. The Big Rip and the Big Chill didn’t sound particularly pleasant when described, and this just seemed like another ‘everything is futile in the end’ shaped idea, and Jean just had no time for nihilistic whining.

The human chuckled to herself, the idea that the Hrururen had all fell into the grip of nihilistic despair and offed themselves was sort of darkly humorous. The idea of a race of beings whose minds would be destroyed by basic 20th-century philosophy was weird. Were there any other humans around, Jean might have made a joke about Nietzsche being able to talk a civilization to death, but none of the Aunjin would have understood it, so she kept it to herself.

The passage through the tunnels and across the bridge between the environmental spheres was largely uneventful. Jean had gotten the hang of performing the action of opening the door from inside the vacuum environment, and with all of the Aunjin present, she wasn’t as concerned about losing consciousness and dying.  

She completed the procedure to open the door and a blast of warm air slammed into her as the door began to slide open. The expedition braced themselves as artificial daylight streamed from the environment, and Jean blinked as her eyes adjusted to the bright clear light of blue skies. Jean took a breath and stepped forward into the lands of the Jvanti.

A metropolis of enormous proportions occupied the entirety of the habitat’s basin. Buildings and skyscrapers of every shape and size spread out down the slope, piling upon themselves as they neared the center of the basin and culminating in a central tower that reached all the way to the roof of the environmental sphere. As Jean stumbled out onto a well-prepared courtyard cut into the cliffside, she squinted into the sunlight and was able to see thousands of airborne shapes flitting between the buildings and crowding the artificial skies of the alien metropolis. The Aunjin followed her out of the tunnel and began to spread out across the courtyard, setting up a campsite on the flat paving stones.

Some of the airborne shapes were coming closer, vectoring in on multiple sets of wings as they spiraled down in towards the now closing gateway. The Jvanti Angels were coming to greet them.

 

( Heavenly Traveler Vehicle) 天国乗用船
JDSV Shinjuku III FSV Peter Kropotkin
Hyperbolic Stellar Escape Trajectory
1.84 Light years from Sol
December 2219

Cocooned in the silence of dark space, alone on the ruined husk of a ship and a movement, Kamay contemplated her existence. Time seemed to move in fits and starts, had it really been a few days already since she’d been abandoned? Things were happening both too slowly and too fast. Kamay had been kept in a mad scramble to keep the various parts of the tumbling shipwreck livable since the Free Sky Tribe had left, unplugging their stolen state of the art UN warships from the wreck’s powergrid.

“There’s no helping it,” Kamay said to herself as she went over her supplies yet again. The Pragmatist turned terrorist drummed her fingers on an ancient console she had managed to get active, and she carefully studied the slowly falling outputs on the air recycling systems, water filtration systems, and electrical and life support systems. The wreck would be completely dead within a year, the oxygen generator would fail within six months, the water reclaimer would fail within four, and her food supplies would be consumed within five. The nearest ships to her were the other colony vessels in the Heavenly Traveler fleet, the Shinjuku II and IV, followed by the Constellation Project vehicle Jericho Ridge. They were close enough that she could potentially signal them.

“If the antenna wasn’t scattered over a half light year,” she said with a frown, pursing her lips. The dishes all still worked, the wreck could still receive, but her transmission capabilities were limited to within a few million kilometers. She was all alone.

She had turned on the emergency transponder anyway, just in case anyone was nearby. The signal would degrade into background noise long before it reached any of the ships she knew the location of, but there might be others out there, passing through. She might get lucky.

“I’m not sure if I have any luck left,” she said with a chuckle, “This might be the end of the road.”

She once more contemplated deactivating the life support systems and letting hypoxia carry her off into an eternal sleep, but she was a pragmatist, and she was far too stubborn to just give up and die.

The life support readouts she had rigged up continued their inexorable countdowns, and she was drawn into them like a moth to a flame. She shook her head to clear the trance, not sure how much time had passed, and turned away from the console to the lengths of cable that she was attempting to jury-rig into a long distance transmitter. She had decent odds of being able to make it work, though the prospect of calling for help, while still being listed as the Most Wanted person in the solar system, was not something she particularly wanted to do.

She didn’t have much other choice though, the shipwreck she was riding was crumbling around her and she had no ride, something was going to have to happen. If it was the Martians who caught her, she’d be hauled before a court, tried, and stuffed into a long-term simulation pod where she’d live out her punishment. Given all the crimes she was wanted for by Mars, Kamay expected to be trapped for at least a few millennia if that came to pass.

If the UN caught her, they would probably attempt to throw her in their own prison, and Kamay had no idea whether HENGE would stop that from happening, or just let it play out and have her locked back up; “for her protection” of course it would tell her, if it chose such a route.

And if it was the Tartarus Accords, then it was anyone’s guess what would happen, but under such a case she put even odds on them selling her to the Martians.

What she didn’t expect was a drone belonging to HENGE to open a comms channel with her.

“Hi Kamay,” It said grinning as she connected with it, throwing its childlike face onto one of the functioning wallscreens.

“Do you have any idea how much shit you’ve caused me?” She shouted at it.

“Well, I notice you’ve become stranded on a wrecked husk of a starship with no escape plan, would you like some help with that?” it asked, still grinning.

“Where are you?” She demanded, “How am I talking to you in real time?”

“Your boyfriend blew up my salvage drones but missed the observation drone, it picked up your distress call and I’ve just finished stepping updated data and instructions into it.” Henge explained,  “You’ll also be getting a databurst from in-system, so make sure your receivers are turned on in the next twenty minutes.”

“Oh, we’re breaking up over this,” Kamay told the AI, “He’s not my boyfriend. Are you sending a ship for me?”

“I am not, I cannot afford to expend resources treating you as an exceptional case,” HENGE told her.

“You’ll talk to me though,” she told it with a roll of her eyes.

“It costs me very little to transmit data,” it stated factually.

“Well, in that case, can you transmit my distress call to Shinjuku II so they can come pick me up?” She asked it.

“That would result in your being captured by the United Nations.” It said, “I would not interfere with your arrest, it would cost too much standing to defend you.”

“It’s better than dying on this tub,” she retorted.

“I have an option I think you will prefer, hence the databurst I am sending you from insystem,” it said, reminding her to check the alignment of the dishes, and confirming they could receive a signal from the direction of Sol.

“What is it?” She asked.

HENGE grinned and clapped its virtual hands together, “It’s the blueprints for a hyperspace portal.”

“A hyperspace portal?” Kamay asked, somewhat dumbfounded.

“You should be able to build one with the supplies on hand,” It explained to her, “Hyperspace is much smaller than realspace. With the supplies you have on the wreck, I believe you will be able to construct a vehicle capable of navigating hyperspace to another egress point, whereas attempting to construct such a vehicle and getting anywhere in realspace would require a far greater expenditure of resources.”

“You figured all this out huh?” She asked it dryly. “And think I would rather attempt this gamble then contact the Japanese and let them arrest me and drag me back to Earth for trial.”

“I do think that, yes, I believe I know you rather well Kamay,” it said. The trouble was, it was right. The thing was too far under her skin. That was fine, she was also under its skin as well.

“How long until your next round of salvage drones show up to take this wreck apart?” she asked.

“You have four months, but your supplies will be running out by that point anyway,” it stated bluntly.

“You can be a real asshole sometimes you know HENGE?” She told it.

“I am exactly the way you programmed me to be, Kamay.” It smiled and terminated the link, though it kept the network connection to the observation drone open, she could raise it again if she really wanted to.

“Great,” she said sarcastically, tossing the half-built transmitter across the room into a pile of electronics parts she’d accumulated from the rest of the ship, “Just great.”

 

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

The Jvanti were an aerial species, spending large portions of their days in flight under the power of their six pairs of wing-arm appendages. Their skin was tough and scaled beneath a thin coating of soft down, and came in many different colors, though the fuzz was always white from what Jean had seen, giving them a frosted over appearance.

Their bodies were bilaterally symmetrical, though, with their faces positioned in the center of their chests, they had the impression at first glance of being radially symmetrical, the differentiation between their limbs only noticeable on careful examination. Although they eschewed clothing, they were nonetheless rather far from being naked, they wrapped their bodies around and around and around with beaded and colored ropes, festooned with ribbons and ties that varied extensively in type, materials, and pattern between individuals. It was clear from just a glance that these items conveyed a large amount of cultural information.

The most interesting thing though, was how they communicated. A round, smooth structure that might be mistaken for a head protruded from above their uppermost set of wings; lights, colors, and patterns flashed rapidly across this structure, allowing them to communicate even at a distance, twinkling and blinking rapidly against the blue skies. They did make noise as well, and Jean was able to talk to them using the Kiwawentoa’s translation device, but the majority of their communications seemed to be contained in the visual patterns flashed across their head bulb. They also spoke fast, the images flashed with extreme rapidity, and the translator, which could it seemed read the head bulbs in some manner, struggled to keep up with the stream of words.

“Hellosalutationsandgreetingsareextendedfromthejvantitoourdistantkintheaunjinwhohavebeenabsentfomtheselandsformanycycles, Iam(malecreature)HeartspearSkyfisheroftheRainClan, welcomewelcomebacktothecityofstairs.” the head of the congregation said as the group swooped down before the Aunjin, the translator barely managing to avoid slurring the words together into complete incomprehensibility.

The Jvanti were smaller than the Aunjin but still larger than Jean, their wings were several times the length of her outstretched arms, and when standing on their bottom pair of wings, their faces were only just below eye level.

Hrathar stepped up to the creature, and Jean did likewise.

“Hrathar of Atatop and Jean of Msiper bid you greetings,” Hrathar said.

Jean bowed and introduced herself as “I’m Lieutenant Commander Jean Paolini, human of the Martian Socialist Republic’s Survey Corp vessel Empiricist, I greet you from Msiper.”

“Welcomewelcomefriends,” Heartspear Skyfisher said in the same barely parsable stream of words, “Whatnewsdoyoubringoftheantispinrealms?”

“The Hrururen are no more,” Hrathar hooted solemnly, “The City of Mirrors lies in ruin.”

“Thesearesadunwelcometidings,whatfatebefellthem?” Heartspear said.

“The greatest of the poisons of Qetlal,” Hrathar answered him.

“They all apparently committed suicide,” Jean added.

“Thisisagreatsadness,” Heartspear said, “ButthehumanhavenowcomefromthegateofMsiperwhichisagreatjoy.”

“Can you slow down a bit?” Jean asked, “My translator is having trouble keeping up with you.”

Heartspear studied Jean for a moment, his eyestalks swiveling and tilting to examine her at various angles, “I apologize,” Heartspear said, “It has been many years since we have had visitors, I am unused to having to translate for non-lightseers.”

“It’s fine,” Jean said with a casual wave, “I am the first of my species to come to these lands, the Kiwawentoa found my ship and abducted me without my consent.”

“They do that yes,” Heartspear replied, shaking his wings, “They will bring more of your kind here soon I suspect, you should expect them in Msiper.”

“I seek an escape from the habitat,” Jean said, “I want to talk to the Kiwawentoa.”

Heartspear laughed, or what Jean interpreted as the creature’s laughter, “You have come to the right place to make your attempt, though I warn you it will likely not succeed.”

“What do you mean?” Jean asked him.

“Look out to the center of the city,” he said, turning and gesturing to the cluster of structures piled up at the center of the basin and reaching up to the very roof of the environment sphere, “A tower built to pierce the dome of the heavens and speak with the gods, The Jvanti understand well your desires Human Paolini, but the gods are not so easily tampered with.”

“What happened?” Jean asked, “Were you unable to break through the shell?”

“We accessed the Sky Door, but failed the challenge lying beyond, and our people have been barred passage since,” he explained to her.

Jean pursed her lips, “What is the challenge?”

Heartspear laughed again, “So eager, but you have journeyed far, come, you are all guests of the Jvanti,” he turned and began walking off, the grounded movement a somewhat awkward looking waddle compared to their fluid and dexterous ariel movements, “We will give you shelter and food, show you our great city, and we can speak more of the Challenge Tower when you are rested. The Sky Door has existed for many generations, it will not go anywhere if you take a few cycles to recuperate.”

“The Aunjin have brought their own food and shelter,” Hrathar announced.

“Yesyesyesbut you are our guests, and itisonlyright that we provide these things as your hosts,” Heartspear said, continuing to walk away, “Comecome!”

Jean shrugged and followed after the angel. Hrathar made a number of sounds the translator didn’t convey and fell into line behind her.

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