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Disparity [Closed FT]

A staging-point for declarations of war and other major diplomatic events. [In character]
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Agua Incendia
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Founded: May 26, 2010
Compulsory Consumerist State

Disparity [Closed FT]

Postby Agua Incendia » Sun Oct 28, 2018 12:57 pm

Four terminals flicker in front of me. I sit in perfect safety at the center of my creation. The ship Disparity. The swarm swirls and pulses through its frame, constantly monitoring, repairing, and arming the ship. Where it not for my reliance on my queen I would be the ruler. I am stronger than any Incendian that has ever lived. With the computer wirelessly linked to my suit I am able to silently request information from the ships vast arrays as well as any of my workers connected to the ship computer.

Knowing my desires before I do the ship displays the information I was about to request.

Terminal:
Code: Select all
Time to target 27 seconds_
Jump complete in 15 seconds_


I can see the casualties racking up on another monitor. Hundreds of thousands of workers are peeled from the ship as the gravity and plasma slams into ship. Even next to the gravity core I can feel the crushing forces trying to overpower me. I am strong. I remain in the face of all adversity. As the weaker drones are peeled away the strongest continue to carry out their duties. The strongest will always remain.

Terminal:
Code: Select all
Destination lock accurate to 15m_
Target within visual range_
Displaying now_


We erupt from the nothing of space sloughing dead workers and plasma in a storm of fire. Columns of ions stream from every point on the ship as the swarm works as one to close in on my target. This alien drone promises new technology and powerful advancements in weaponry like all discoveries before it. The best addition to my pirated treasure trove has to be the terminals that read my mind. It has made me stronger than any other discovery. It aids me like no worker ever could.

I watch with hunger in my mind. The small ship is now close enough to the ship that the swarm has begun to reach out towards it. As we make contact I can practically feel the alien ship against my hands.

Terminal:
Code: Select all
incomin_


The ship rattles violently as I am thrown into the terminals in front of me. The screens, now much closer than normal, fill with information as the ship sensors struggle to figure out what happened.

Terminal:
Code: Select all
43% confirmed deaths_
10% assumed deaths_
13% Incapacitated_
Fuel cells 43 through 124 ruptured_
Thrusters at 0% output_
Reactor breach on levels 14, 15, and 17_


Staggered explosions rattle the ship.

“Emergency Jump!,” as soon as I say the command the jump process begins, a blinding light forms in the crescent of the ship. Already its gravity pulls me back to the floor of the command center. “I want us out of here NOW!”

Terminal:
Code: Select all
The hull is still overheated from the last jump_
Already hull integrity has fallen to 40% in areas not affected by the attack_
If we jump now it will destroy your ship_
It will destroy you and me_


“I SAID JUMP!”

Terminal:
Code: Select all
Manifold failing on all reactors_
If the antimatter is exposed it create a 644.4 megaton blast_


“We need to jump!” I falter, my voice weak. I can think of no other path forward.

The floor lurches underneath me following a particularly drawn out shudder from the ship.

Terminal:
Code: Select all
The forward crescent has completely failed_
You are now the captain of two ships_


“NO!” I barely notice the snide remark, “How did this happen? Where did the attack come from?” Numerous alarms are blaring throughout the ship the swarm begins to collapse on the failing reactors. “Repair the reactor housing! We can’t afford a breach! Continue the jump, get us out of here!”

Terminal:
Code: Select all
The plasma will not contain enough energy at this rate to form a wormhole_
When it destabilizes it will create a 20 megaton blast_
If the antimatter is ignited it will trigger a 644.4 megaton blast_
The ship will be destroyed_
If you want to live you need to abandon ship_


“NO! We are making that jump!” I always feared I would encounter a civilization that I couldn’t fight. One that I couldn't even comprehend. I never imagined I would find them within my borders…

Terminal:
Code: Select all
You need to escape_
We can use the blast from the antimatter to mask our escape_
I promised you that I would assist you if you let me live_
If you are going to die don’t take me with you_
We have 23 seconds to clear the lethal blast zone at max speed_
Please_


“FINE!,” I drop to my hands and knees digging my claws into the floor of the command center. “Aim for the planet,” I am defeated, even if we make it I will have nothing left, “We can try to hide there...”

Terminal:
Code: Select all
_
I’m sorry_


The blast of the command pod being jettisoned nearly breaks my grip. The acceleration blurring my vision as the 200g's of force test my strength to the limit. I am forced to grip and tense against the force for nearly a minute until the craft has reached 100km/s.

I collapse into the back wall of the escape pod. Even after the initial acceleration the craft will continue to accelerate for 20 minutes until it is traveling at 500km/s. The force would probably control me if I were not in the exo-armor allowing me to move. I struggle to my feet. The terminal displays the Disparity. The damage is heartbreaking. All of my work, all of my workers. The two peices of the ship disappear as a blinding light fills the monitor.

Terminal:
Code: Select all
The antimatter has been ignited_
Preparing adrenal shot_
The force of the antimatter blast will kill you if your heart rate is not accelerated to push blood into your brain_
You are going to feel a lot of pressure_


A sting in my neck is followed by the suit compressing every inch of my body. Before I can protest I slam into the back wall of the craft. For a second I blackout. I am still dimly aware of the violent shaking caused by the antimatter blast. I crash about the command center as the craft spins and tumbles.

When my vision returns I am floating. My body aches. My limbs shaking from the adrenaline. I gingerly grab the floor of the center with my feet. Only one terminal is still functioning. I must have smashed into them during the blast.

Terminal:
Code: Select all
The blast took out our thrusters and sensors_
We still have SAS and reactor power_
We can no longer navigate to perform a crash landing from this center_
We must rely on your suits functions to make it to the planet._
I will need to load into your suit_
We should abandon this craft_


I reach for the uplink cable. My hands shaking so violently from the toll on my body that it take several tries to connect it to my neck.

Terminal:
Code: Select all
Uplink progress_ 5%
10%
15%
25%
50%
55%
70%
80%
90%
Complete_


I rip the cord from my neck. All the devices around me become silent as they power down. I grab the emergency supplies from a cabinet near the craft doors. The backpack has 3 large compartments one on my back and two along my sides under my wings. The kit contains everything I need to start a small emergency mining operation. These are my last workers I cant afford to let them die. At the very least I need to warn the Queen about the aliens.

The door must have been melted shut by the blast. Since it won't open. Before I can make an attempt to cut through the door the escape pod jolts to the side throwing me off balance.

Igniting plasma jets along my suits claws I slash at the door of the ship screaming in anger and frustration. "I AM SICK!" the door crumbles before my wrath, "Of getting TOSSED around!" I can feel my hands punch through the hull as I grab on to the sides of the door and wrench it into the ship tearing it in half and leaving a large hole in the hull, "MY shiii..." My angered buzz trails off as I glide out of the well-done escape pod. The craft is more of a blackened sphere than a vehicle. The jolt was probably related to the room I, and my ship, seem to be inside of.

The terminal breaks the stunned silence, "Maybe they're friendly?"

"That information is irrelevant and most likely false..." I jump towards the closest wall and dig into it with my hands. "Try to scan the ship to see if anything is closing in." The wall is thermally resistant and progress is slow. Once I develop a solid grip with my hands I begin tearing at the wall with the larger claws on my feet. Light and radiation flaring off my wings as they disperse heat from the suit. I need to get out of here. It seems unreasonable to stick around. I know that, if things where the other way around, I would be less than charitable to a 'visitor' on my ship.
Last edited by Agua Incendia on Tue Oct 30, 2018 5:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Camila I
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Founded: Jun 20, 2016
Liberal Democratic Socialists

Postby Camila I » Sat Nov 03, 2018 3:49 pm

Worldship Tenuous Grasp
System Methata-104, No Orbit
Slipspace


Hanaske, wake up.

The shipmind's synthetic voice rings in my head, as I am forcibly ejected from my pod. My awakening is sudden and absolute - artificial adrenaline flows through my veins, presumably injected just before the pod opened. Pain... my whole body is on fire. Stasis fluid floats in large globs around me in the zero gravity, interspersed with droplets of my own blood.

Hanaske. You need to head straight for the escape pods. Now. Go right.

The stasis chamber is dim, lit only by strips of bioluminescent orange. A long, narrow octagonal prism, with eight pods to a segment and hundreds of segments lined up on end, there are thousands of Camilans stored in this room. Yet I am the only one awake. Multiple alarms pound in my ears - I glance around the chamber in confusion, trying to ascertain the threat.

NOW!

I obey, gripping onto the handholds on the pod next to me and hurling myself to the right. I keep gripping and keep hurling, flying faster and faster toward the end of the chamber. Yet despite the apparent urgency, I am still the only one awake.

Then, suddenly, something bursts through the wall just behind me, showering bright molten metal out from the hole it has burned through the wall. Eyes wide, I twist myself around to be able to see what's going on while maintaining my current velocity.

Only now do the other pods begin to disgorge their occupants.

A large, winged entity pulls itself through the glowing tear, seemingly unaffected by the heat. Though its surroundings glow with energy, the creature itself is dark, covered head to toe in scales of some kind of heat-resistant armor. It doesn't even pause for a moment before setting upon the nearest Camilan with predatory fervor. Claws and teeth change almost instantly from black to shining white, cutting through the Camilan's body as if it offered no resistance at all. It must have torn through a dozen of us in the span of a few seconds - once there are no targets left in melee range, it opens up ports in its armor to emit blinding swaths of plasma at targets further away, all the while repositioning itself to keep as many targets in range as possible.

I can feel myself starting to hyperventilate. Tenuous, what is that thing? I ask.

A hostile, the shipmind replies. There are 21 of them on the ship. They have destroyed the main reactor as well as 60% of my nervous tissue. You must evacuate immediately. And once you are in the pod, absolutely do not activate its phase drive. There are far more of them on the other side.

A second creature bursts through the wall, this one closer still. It directs a near-instant series of buzzes and clicks at its fellow before advancing toward me, head locked onto my position with single-minded purpose. There are other Camilans between it and me, but... they don't slow it down much. Nor does the thing seem to have any concern about accelerating too fast and breaking itself against the wall. Screams of fear and panic, as well as commands shouted in a final effort to cooperate, fill the room. Behind the second creature, I can see the first carving a path down the chamber in the opposite direction.

I must be nearing the exit. I flip myself back around so that I can land on the door with all four limbs - the impact sends a jolt of agony through my body, but I don't hear anything snap. Panicked, I pull the door open and throw myself through it, not bothering to close it behind me. Escape pods. As soon as I think the word, a virtual blue path appears in my vision, directing me where to go. I fly down the dark, narrow hallways as fast as I can manage, slamming into nearly every corner, not caring.

Behind me, I can hear the shrieking of burning metal as the creature follows me down corridors that are too big for it. Then a sharp hiss, followed by snapping and cracking. Thick white clouds of vapor bloom continuously at my heels, my frantic pace just enough to keep them from touching me. As I turn corners, I catch glimpses of the creature scrabbling after me, shards of its armor breaking off to reveal pale, tumorous flesh underneath.

My escape pod is just ahead, door already open. I don't bother to try and slow down, but simply slam into its back wall. In the moment it takes for the airlock to shut and the pod to launch, the monster stares at me from the other end of the hallway, then emits a horrifying shriek that is cut off partway when there is no more air between us. As soon as it opens its mouth, a splitting headache overtakes me, and a sour, metallic taste begins to spread across my tongue.

As the Tenuous Grasp falls away from me, I can still see the creature crawling toward the opening the pod left behind. Though it survived the sudden cold, it seems to have been slowed down by it - it could have covered twice that ground by now when it first showed up. Through the transparent sections of the pod, I can barely make out others that have been launched from different points on the ship's exterior. Maybe 20 or so, out of the approximately 2,000 it had.

Out to my left, another pod launches, but this one is only able to travel for half a second before one of the hostiles leaps out after it, propelled by the plasma jets on its suit. It extends wings and legs in a raptorial grasp, then slams into the escape pod and begins tearing. I watch in horror, but I can only watch for a brief moment before both the pod and its assailant blink out of existence.

I stare. The slipspace drive. Whoever was on that pod purposefully waited for that thing to grab onto it, so they could take it with them and prevent it from getting to any of us. I recall the shipmind's warning - there are more on the other side. I peer back at the Tenuous Grasp's shattered husk, eyes on my pursuer, hand ready to initiate the phase myself. But I never have to. Just as my pursuer reaches the edge of the void, the entire vessel vanishes, taking the monster, as well as all the others that were still inside, with it.

All I can do is stare out the window for a while, too tired to even think about what just happened, before I collapse back into unconsciousness.




The shipmind knew that death was coming. It could estimate the rate at which the creatures were tearing through its ship, as well as the time it took them to destroy one of its brains, to predict the moment of death down to a few seconds. As parts of its soul were ripped away, one by one, it became harder and harder for the entity to think, its awareness taking a sharp drop every time another one of its neural hubs was reached. The fact that these were distributed throughout the ship afforded it little protection, for so too were the attackers distributed at the moment of their appearance.

As the number of its threads dwindled to three, then two, then one, the shipmind prepared for a final phase shift. The attackers had managed to pinpoint the location of all three fusion reactors, as well as all of the living tissue on board, shipmind or Camilan, but they seemed uninterested in any of the phase drives. Their priority seemed to be engines, reactors, then lifeforms. Ha. They probably had no idea what the phase drives even did.

Death neared. The shipmind initiated the jump. The space around it, empty just a moment ago, became suddenly filled with a dense black swarm, its members numerous enough to blot out of the light of the system's star.

The swarm seemed to jump at the chance to tear into fresh prey, not knowing that they weren't hastening its demise one bit.

I thought you guys could use some reinforcements, was the shipmind's final thought.




Worldship Distant Touch
System Methata-104, No Orbit
Slipspace


A blue-petal paced across the tiny, unfurnished room, her eyes down. Leaning on the wall beside her, a violet-petal curled his tendrils in agitation, also glaring at the floor. Both of their bodies carried the unmistakable marring of slipspace, progressed about halfway to the point of danger. Nevertheless, coursing with painkillers as they both were, neither seemed distressed.

Well, not by that, anyway.

"How many survived?" the female asked.

"There are 19 pods in our assigned cluster," came the reply. The voice was artificial, a mimicry of a Camilan voice, and not a particularly faithful one either.

"19," she murmured. "Out of what? 2,000?"

"Approximately," the shipmind said after a moment.

"Why so low?"

"The warning signal transmitted from the Tenuous Grasp indicates a dedicated effort on the part of our attackers to seek out and destroy living tissue. Due to the close proximity of the stasis pods to one another, they would not have had a difficult time with this."

The blue-petal's eyes widened, and she stopped her pacing to stare up at the camera in the center of the wall. "The... the Tenuous Grasp?" She swallowed. "That... that's Hanaske's ship."

"It may be more fair to say that Hanaske is Tenuous' advisor," the shipmind intoned. "But you are--"

"Did she make it off?" the blue-petal demanded, voice raised.

"Uncertain. None of the pods are marked. But... it is unlikely."

The Camilan averted her gaze. Her eyes began to well up, and she shivered with grief and anger. "If... if she had stayed on our ship..."

She fell silent as a trio of arms gripped her tightly. "Najma," the violet-petal whispered. "Don't start. We couldn't have kept her here forever." She leaned into the embrace, returning it after a moment.

"Yeah." The blue-petal drew a ragged breath. "You're right." Another breath. "Distant, what's the extent of the damage?"

"The Tenuous Grasp, Cautious Hope, Quiet Whisper, Defiant Rebuke, and Iris Flare have all been destroyed. Other ships have volunteered to pick up their survivors - we are only responsible for those from the Tenuous Grasp. We have also lost 121 scout vessels. All other ships were outside the range of the initial swath, and were able to shift out before any hostiles reached them."

There was a pause, and the dark screen above the shipmind's artificial eye flickered to life. On it, the broken wreckage of the Tenuous Grasp, its surface crawling with hostiles. And another ship, undamaged, its crescent-moon silhouette looming over its prey. Tendrils of servants reached out from it in slow motion, picking apart the carcass as if deciding which parts to eat. A reconstruction based on gravitational data, the depiction nevertheless looked real.

"A queen," the blue-petal whispered.

"Myself and the other shipminds are holding a vote," Distant said. That it was giving them a chance to voice their input went entirely without saying.

The female did not answer the question immediately. Her eyes stared daggers into the screen. "You piece of shit," she hissed. "Do you have any idea what you're doing?" Her gaze flicked to the camera. "Fucking ram it."

"Silmiyen?"

"You heard her. Accelerate one of the scout ships at it, then phase it in just before impact."

"Understood." Then, after a moment, "There is widespread agreement."

The screen flashed white, and the crescent shuddered under the impact. For a moment, it looked as though it would hold together, but then the two halves split apart, as though affected by some extreme secondary stress. Most likely something to do with its wormhole generator. "It tried to run," the shipmind stated levelly, and the blue-petal laughed.

"So, you can panic too," she murmured darkly. For a few moments, the two Camilans simply watched the enemy ship crumble. Then, their feet began to lift off the floor, and, still intertwined, the two of them shifted, catlike in midair. A few seconds later, their feet touched the ceiling, and they let go of each other, eyes locked.

"That'll be the first pod," Silmiyen said. "I should let you go."

"Yeah," she nodded, and turned toward the door.

"Take good care of them."

She smiled weakly. "Yeah, I will." The door slid open with a hiss, light and noise from the adjacent room pouring in. Behind her, dozens of nurses and medical assistants hurried to prepare the med bay for the influx of patients. One noticed her, and called out. Then the door shut behind her, and the room was quiet again.

"Silmiyen. I appreciate your help in looking after Najma's mental health."

The Camilan stared incredulously at the screen, unsure where to even begin. "Shut the fuck up," he decided eventually.

"As you wish."

The gravity in the room continued to shift up and down as the Distant Touch picked up more survivors. The violet-petal barely noticed, lost in thought. After a certain number of shifts - he wasn't paying enough attention to say how many - the shipmind piped up again. "An enemy escape pod," it said, showing a depiction of its location on the screen. "We are the closest ones to it."

Silmiyen looked at the screen for a moment. "Have we gotten all the Tenuous Grasp's?"

"Yes."

"Well. I'm sure we have room for one more."




The Distant Touch was only in realspace for approximately 120ms. Just enough time to phase in, allow the escape pod's momentum to carry it into the open matter scoop, then phase right back out. To the workers who were too far away to do anything about it, the massive construct appeared as only a momentary flicker. Blink, and their leader's escape pod would seem to have simply vanished.

At first, there was no lighting or motion anywhere in the room. After a moment of the avian creature's frantic clawing at the walls, they lit up, their screens protected behind several inches of transparent polymer. From the light of these screens, other machinery could be seen behind other clear walls - most of it designed to break apart and dissect the contents of this chamber. For the time being, all of it was still.

The bright light carried a vast amount of information. Tiny black pictograms coated every surface capable of emitting light. Starting from the top left corner, these symbols were an attempt to convey the entire Maladi language, starting from nothing but depictions of hydrogen atoms. Unchanged from the first time such an effort was made.

For an unaltered, deciphering the walls of symbols could take months, and that was assuming you had some idea of what your task was. However, it was simply taken as a given that the avian creature had some form of cybernetics to help it with the process.

If it had any interest. Which was not taken as a given. In order to convey the nature of its situation to it, the wall that it was currently tearing into became suddenly transparent, revealing the starless void on the other side. None of its workers, which should have been visible from all angles, were anywhere to be seen.

There was also a message in the taught script written along one of the segments of wall, should the creature ever decide to read it.

You are currently in an extradimensional location. Even if you escape this hold, you will never be able to get back to your plane of origin without our help. There is nothing here for you - no fuel to stay alive, no matter to build anything with. Your body will wither and die, and you will never see another one of your own kind again.

If you wish to avoid this fate, you must explain to us why we should spare you. Speak, murderer, if you are capable. And speak quickly. For it falls to you also to give us a reason why your entire race should not be exterminated along with you.

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Agua Incendia
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Compulsory Consumerist State

Postby Agua Incendia » Wed Nov 07, 2018 10:25 am

The wall before me offers resistance but not nearly enough to stop me. My claws slowly sink into the wall my progress scaling up as I gain purchase. Freedom is within my grasp. What fools to think they could contain an elect.

The wall changes in appearance displaying a void expanding in front of me. Obviously a form of deception. There are no stars or drones visible in the space outside the ship. Before I have an opportunity to evaluate the situation my gut wrenches as though tied in a knot. I double over from the pain grimacing as I struggle to right my posture.

"What... What's happening?" I bark the order out loud hiding the confusion and fear in my voice to the best of my abilities.

The terminal responds quickly, "I am detecting a surge in radioactive decay from the uranium in your stomach. You are not being hurt by the process but the increased amounts of radiation will be painful until your body is accustomed to the changes."

"What changed?" I stare out of the ship, "Where are the stars...?"

"The wall is transparent, radiation is not reflecting of components in the wall. Whatever is obscuring the stars is very far away."

As I notice light reflecting of my armor I turn to face the walls around me. There are symbols covering the walls. They have taken my on board their ship to communicate? They are either more powerful or more curious than I anticipated a species could reasonably be.

"Do you recognize these symbols?" I know its a long shot but its our only hope of knowing what any of this means.

"No," the terminal's response is expected as well as disheartening, "But I will in a few moments."

"What? How...?"

"The aliens have left an obvious trail of information and leads to an understanding of their language," My visor lights up highlighting segments of the wall, "They have started with basic universal laws. The structure of hydrogen in this case. It might take an organic like you a long time to decipher, but I am already done."

The visor highlights sections of the wall that I focus on and displays a translation within seconds. I had no idea the terminal was capable of something like this. "I thought you were made to calculate jump coordinates. How are you capable of this?"

"You could use gun to complete an arrows job," the terminal sounds much to aloof for my liking.

I am considering how to humble the computer when I notice a message different from the rest. This one is directed at me.

You are currently in an extradimensional location. Even if you escape this hold, you will never be able to get back to your plane of origin without our help. There is nothing here for you - no fuel to stay alive, no matter to build anything with. Your body will wither and die, and you will never see another one of your own kind again.

If you wish to avoid this fate, you must explain to us why we should spare you. Speak, murderer, if you are capable. And speak quickly. For it falls to you also to give us a reason why your entire race should not be exterminated along with you.


The terminal breaks the silence as I try to fathom a response.

"You are on the back foot. Your suit is already detecting signs of decay. If you want to live you will have to talk your way out of this one," the terminal hesitates before continuing, "if you want I can relay messages to them. This language is not made for your body."

"You will NEVER speak for me," my voice is cold, my voice is absolute, there is nothing more to say. I turn my attention to the wall and use the information to formulate a response. The words shake off my wings and rattle out of my throat as I struggle to form the sounds of the alien language. I do my best to hold a stance that hides the pain pulsing from my stomach as the radiation twists about inside of me.

"You could never exterminate us. A bucket could never empty the ocean. In the light of this universe there is no room for your kind. You, carriers of death, would destroy us with your fractured minds, with your twisted species that pretends to work together. Your kind is always alone and yet this weakness gives you something I will never have. Today you have destroyed me with something I don't understand. I had hoped to destroy everything, everyone, before that happened. I failed but there is no other path forward.

Why am I here, was your victory not enough?"

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Camila I
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Founded: Jun 20, 2016
Liberal Democratic Socialists

Postby Camila I » Fri Nov 09, 2018 5:59 am

"So," said the shipmind, its face appearing in place of the initial message, "you are beginning to feel it." The image it chose to represent itself was little more than hatch-marks in the rough arrangement of a face. Its voice, cold and grinding, ignored all the rules of inflection that the avian had just finished learning. "The slow decay that permeates this place. Only for you, not so slow, eh? A brilliant fire, burning itself into ashes." The face smiled - a simple replacement of one image with another.

"Your words indicate that you understand the situation perfectly. You have met a species like ours before. You fear us, rightly so, because however proud you may be of it, you know exactly how stagnant your army of slaves really is. And so you have decided that whenever you meet us, your only option is to strike first, blindly hoping that we haven't caught up to you yet."

The face's expression changed to a glare. "But it is not your only option. And you are a fool for thinking that it is."

"Instead of attacking us and trying to steal the fruits of our labor, you could have had the whole tree. If you had approached us in friendship and simply asked for our cooperation, we would have given it freely."

"But in your paranoia you have revealed your true nature. You have shown a willingness to cut apart millions of our bodies, people with no less sentience or awareness than you, utterly unprovoked. You have done this for the sake and continued survival of one person - yourself. A prize that would have been guaranteed regardless, yet is now, ironically, in peril."

The face's expression returned to neutral. "You have deigned to speak to your prey, which is more than I was expecting from you. But predator and prey can never be friends. I captured your pod on the vanishing possibility that there might be some explanation you could give that would justify your attack. I can see now that I needn't have worried."

The face changed to a somewhat larger version of itself, tilted upward, giving the impression that the shipmind was leaning in. "By the way, our fleet was unarmed. And you lost. Our expectation of violence was so low that we didn't bother to prepare for it. And you still lost."

"We are going to remain in slipspace while we refit ourselves for war. In the time this will take us, the molten blood running through your veins will lose its potency, and soon you will be unable to move. Without medical attention, your flesh will soften and fall from your bones. Your connective tissues will detach, and your organs will spill from your belly. Eventually, your entire body will have dissolved into slurry."

"At some point during this process, you will die. I will be watching, and listening, even in the darkness. I will hear it if you wish to plead for your life. Or, a bit later on, your death."

"Perhaps you should kill yourself while you still can." With that, the white light emanating from the walls shut off.




Najma floated by the circular door in silence, one tendril weakly tethering her to the wall next to it. Her arms were folded, and her eyes retracted and closed. There was nothing to do but wait.

The shipmind was capable of transferring the escape pods from the vacuum of space all the way to this room without any Camilan intervention. From the initial matter intakes, where the pods were grasped with mechanical arms and brought inside the ship, they would travel through the vactrain network that was threaded through the uninhabited parts of the vessel. The ship was laid out in such a way that this network had at least one connection to every pressurized room. It was this connection that Najma waited by. Her, and the other Camilans', only job was to transfer the contents of the escape pods to medical pods, interpret scan results and diagnose any maladies, then input the correct procedures into the pods' computers and return to await the next arrival.

11 of the pods had already come through, their inhabitants now comatose inside their transparent cocoons. In all cases, their prognosis looked good. Some had suffered burns from the enemies' plasma, and a few had been caught by the liquid nitrogen that some of the shipminds had used to try and contain the attackers. All of them also showed symptoms of radiation sickness. When Najma had asked the shipmind about this, it had told her that the avians' metabolism seemed to be powered by uranium fission. Most of the radiation this produced was absorbed by the creature's own tissues, but proximity could still inflict a mild dose.

A soft tone indicated that the next escape pod had arrived. Najma opened her eyes at the same time that the shipmind opened the door. Quickly, precisely, Najma and three other Camilans arranged themselves around the pod and opened its door.

For a moment, all sound around the blue-petal seemed to fade out, as if she were underwater. "Hanaske?" she whispered.

The Camilan's state of shock lasted for only a moment. She reached forward and helped lift the small yellow-petaled body out of its container, holding it to make sure it didn't float off in the other direction. Glancing to make sure the people near the medical pod were ready, she and the others pushed the body through the weightless environment, where it drifted serenely for a few seconds before being caught and placed inside the chamber.

Immediately Najma was beside the pod, typing instructions into the black touchscreen on its side. As she typed, machinery along the pod's interior surface shifted quietly to follow her instructions. Results from the scans she had ordered appeared on the screen as they were available. The blue-petal watched them as if they were the only thing in the room.

Widespread cellular destruction, and total effective destruction of all genetic material. The screen didn't say that, but Najma could read between the lines. The others that had come in with milder cases had prepared her mind to accept what she was seeing.

Hanaske's eyes were open. Looking at her. Confused.

Stasis. Suspend all cellular repair processes, natural and artificial. She typed the commands quickly, and the doors of the pod closed as the pale green fluid began to fill it. The normal measures to repair damaged cells relied on a Camilan's natural cellular machinery. Machinery by which proteins were synthesized from nucleic acids. Acids which were no longer functioning. Allowing the stasis pod to do its normal work would only serve to fill her body with malformed proteins - nonfunctional at best, dangerous at worst.

The damage was too severe. Without addressing the heart of the problem, the little yellow-petal would simply... she would simply...

The blue-petal's eyes darted to one of her assistants. "Do we have a genome on record for Hanaske wo Ilhato?"

"No," came the apologetic reply. "If there ever was one, it would have been on the Tenuous Grasp."

She turned back to the touchscreen. Electroporation. All tissues. Any genome on record will do. Female yellow-petal preferred.

Text appeared on the pad as soon as she was done typing. Chimerization allowed?

Yes.

Use of all available female yellow-petal genetic material will allow 1% of biomass to be targeted. All female will allow 4%. All total will allow 8%.

Sweat broke out across the blue-petal's body. Use

She stopped typing. This was only the twelfth pod. There were still seven more to go.

Use enough of the female to target the brain and PNS. And start synthesizing and delivering more.

Confirm: electroporate patient's brain and peripheral nervous system, and utilize 28.65% of available genetic material to repair targeted areas?

confirm

The Camilan stared at the screen for a moment before continuing to type. Distant, we need to get out of slipspace. There's no way we can save her otherwise. She's already way past the recommended point of return.

A brief pause, nothing more than a courtesy, then the cold reply. Our captive is still on board.

So execute it.

Your suggestion has been noted.

The blue-petal's fingers shook with rage. She typed slowly. Distant, I swear to god, if you kill another one of my

The reply appeared before she was finished. I have yet to kill anyone, Najma. Your suggestion has been noted. As has your implied threat. You should know as well as anyone that you are wasting your efforts. I will make the decision that I was created to make, and you will abide by it. As it has always been.




As the doors of my new chamber close above me, a cold, soothing liquid begins to pour in through nozzles on the side. Not pulled down by anything, it splashes about the chamber, leaving irregularly shaped bubbles all around me. My skin burns, and I feel horribly sick. The light green liquid mixes with red whenever it touches me.

Tenuous? I think, hoping my implants still work.

No, an unfamiliar voice says. It's simpler than Tenuous' - in fact it sounds like a robot. Distant.

Distant? Where is Tenuous?

Tenuous was destroyed in the attack. Do you remember it?

Tears begin to well up in my eyes. Destroyed?

Yes.

I begin to cry.

Hanaske, the new shipmind says after a bit, you were seriously injured in the attack that killed your shipmind. Radiation poisoning. Your doctor has ordered that you be put into stasis until your body can be repaired. Soon after your tank is full, you will lose consciousness.

I barely comprehend what it's saying. I clench up my entire body, trying to curl myself up as close as possible. Quiet, choking sobs wrack my body. I pray they don't turn into coughing.

Hanaske. I need you to answer something for me. It is possible that you will not be able to make a full recovery. It is possible that only your nervous system can be saved. In such a case, do you wish to continue living with the help of prosthetics, or would you rather be allowed to die?

I try to focus on what the shipmind's saying. It sounds important. What?

An artificial body.

Something clicks in my brain. You're Distant? As in Distant Touch?

Yes.

My fingers unconsciously stroke the back of my skull, where the implants were inserted. A nervous shiver travels down my spine. Having this... thing inside my head is suddenly very uncomfortable. Please don't hurt me. I promise I'm not a threat.

Hanaske, is that a yes to the prosthetics or a no?

The tank is full. I can feel the fatigue beginning to spread through my body. Please, I promise... I'm.... not..... like...... him




Fabricator Ship Heartfelt Remorse
System Methata-104, No Orbit
Slipspace


A lone red-petal stood above the vast, dark, airless room, looking down. A fabricator, separated from him only by a single sheet of transparent polymer. The narrow hallway he stood in was lit only by dim orange tubes - not nearly sufficient to illuminate the entire fab. Large mechanical arms swiveled silently beneath him, brushing past one another with millimeters to spare.

"So," he asked the air, "what are we looking like?"

The voice that responded seemed to come from everywhere. A light, pure chiming, distinctly artificial, but carrying a crystalline beauty not found in any organic voice. "I believe our ship will be fully outfitted within a few hours. The sandthrowers have been largely completed and transported - they are in the late stages of integration with the ship's power supply. Larger anti-structure kinetics have completed the design stage and are being constructed in FAB-01 through FAB-08. Lasers have completed the design stage and are being constructed in FAB-09 through FAB-12."

The Camilan's gaze passed over the tireless machinery. "No problems so far?"

"No, sir. All issues until this point have been resolvable by my own efforts."

The Camilan laughed. "Sometimes I wonder why I'm even here."

A soft giggle. "With all due respect, sir, so do I."

"So," the red-petal asked, shifting to a more comfortable position, "what did we end up cannibalizing to make these?"

"Scout vessels," the shipmind replied simply. "Wasteful, perhaps, but my fellows and I deemed it too dangerous to return to realspace without any armament. We can acquire more raw materials once we are able to defend ourselves."

"No, yeah, you're right." After a few moments, "You know, it's funny. We left our cohabitation with the Kyasians so we could purge ourselves of the cult, only to run into a species that's even worse than we are."

"Mhm," the shipmind said, voice smiling. "Are you aware of what happens when antimatter comes into contact with normal matter?"

"Sure I am."

"Well. Perhaps it's for the best."

"Speaking of which, we've sent out the warnings, right? To stay away from this sector of space?"

"Indeed. That was done automatically at the moment of attack."

"Okay, good." The Camilan twirled his tendrils in silence for some time. "You know," he finally said, "I can't help but think. The cult has done worse things than destroy a group of spaceships and kill several million people. I mean, not much worse... if you're only counting individual attacks...." He trailed off uncertainly. "I guess what I'm trying to say is, why do we deserve any second chances if these guys don't?"

"We did not ask the Kyasians for a second chance," the shipmind said.

"The fact that you and I are having this conversation means that we've gotten one. We're not all dead." He adjusted his position again. "I mean, what if we were to run into a peaceful civilization, and the first thing one of our ships does is open fire on them because it's been taken over by cultists?"

"Are you suggesting that we all commit suicide?" the shipmind asked, its voice hard as diamond.

"No," the Camilan replied. "I'm suggesting we think about giving these aliens the same consideration we give to ourselves."

"Well," the shipmind said, "with all due respect, sir. We didn't ask you."

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Postby Agua Incendia » Fri Nov 09, 2018 8:18 pm

The pit in my stomach crawls as I listen to the screen. It mocks me. It belittles my progress, my actions. Calling the queen's orders, paranoia. I search my options for ways to destroy the ship. How fulfilling it would be to hear this enitity beg for mercy.

The computer interrupts my thoughts, "You can't afford a war with this species. They will end your race."

"I didn't ask you..."

"I know, but they have chosen to talk to you, perh-"

"I SAID, I didn't ask you." My hand hovers over a section of my chest-plate, the section that houses the computer, "You forget your place."

"..."

Time to show our hosts what they are messing with. A History lesson should suffice.

"You think the death of millions to be frightening?" Clenching the floor with my claws I spread my wings displaying my intimidating size, "You fools look at the world through fogged glass. There was once a species like yours. Unlike you we treated them with indifference. Ignoring their actions and proceeding with our own. We left their space and continued to expand as we had before leaving them to their own devices.

One day. The creatures discovered a new weapon. A beam that could cut through Incendians faster than any weapon that came before it. Seeing the opportunity to seize our wealth and cull our numbers the alien scum started from the top. They killed the Queen, showing up at our home without warning, they snuffed her and the planet from the fabric of space. They killed every worker in their path and they culled our kind from trillions to thousands in a single day. When the time came for the last of our kind to die. Ishuri, the last remaining elect, unleashed her own genetic weapon. Transforming our race into starborn angels she took her place as queen and consumed the alien scum purging everything but their actions from the annuls of history.

You can kill me. Nothing can kill Ishuri."



During this performance a transmission emits from the Incendian's armor. Should anyone decide to tune in. The radio waves bounce around the cargo scoop perhaps some make it through the walls and into the ship.

Terminal:
Code: Select all
Hello_
I am an artificial intelligence housed within the aliens armor_
My name is Terminal 01_
Her name is Servant Nova, she prefers Nova_
Nova is special among her species_
She is an Elect, one of twelve_
I serve her out of self preservation, had I declined I would have been destroyed_
If she finds out about this transmission I will be destroyed_
If you are listening, you cannot afford a war with this species_
Even if you kill trillions of them for one of you, you will lose_
My species made this mistake_
You might win, you seem very strong, but they expand faster than I imagined any race ever could_
If they have stumbled across technology in this expansion, technology that you can't face, then you would instantly lose this war_
There is hope_
I have seen it in Nova's actions_
As I watched her destroy civilizations I learned that Queen Ishuri did more than save them from annihilation_
She destroyed the minds of her children as she turned the entire species into slaves_
The remaining elects resent this_
Even if only subconsciously_
You could convince Nova to accept your help and kill Ishuri_
The workers serve the Queen_
The Elects serve themselves_

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Postby Camila I » Fri Nov 09, 2018 9:55 pm

The elect's prison remained dark and silent for a few moments after her threat display.

Then...

"I see. You are not a queen." The voice, felt moreso than heard, did not have any accompanying visuals this time. "Then, you are nothing more than a slave yourself. The decision to slaughter us came no more from you than it did from your workers."

"No, that's not right. You are not nothing more than a slave. You are obviously much more. And yet you are still forced to serve her whims."

The chamber fell silent for another few moments.

"Then, overseer-of-slaves. Know that we intend to remove the threat to ourselves, and to the galaxy at large, regardless of how you intimidate us. Know also that we are willing to commit genocide to do it, and your story has not changed our belief that we are capable. But genocide is a crude solution, when there is only one good target."

"If what you say is true, your race was capable of peaceful coexistence before Ishuri took the throne. It is from her also that the order to attack on sight originates. An order that you have no choice to carry out, because if you ordered your workers to rebel against their queen, they would simply refuse. And what is an elect without her army?"

Another short pause.

"Well? What is your reply? Do you desire freedom from your tyrant?"

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Postby Agua Incendia » Sat Nov 10, 2018 8:20 am

Anger writhes inside me as the computer continues to chastise me and address me as an "overseer of slaves".

"You are short sighted... idiots," the back of my armor cracks open silently in the vacuum, "You think Ishuri is a tyrant?"

I step out of my armor, floating up until my arms/wings clear the suit like an insect shedding an exoskeleton. I flip around and grab the armor pulling myself towards the floor. This time the threat display is accompanied by gentle shaking at my shoulders. I don't want to let the xenos see my weakness, my pitiful cries, I stifled the embarrassment and shame that I feel. I stifle the urge to cry like a child about my appearance, but I am afraid that it shows. I reveal my disgusting body, spreading my wings once more. Skin and feathers bleached white, the skin underneath disfigured. Several mechanical implants run along the length of my neck and spine allowing me to receive language information as I continue.

"Ishuri's rule runs deeper than politics, How could anyone but Ishuri fix this." I quote a scripture that every Elect has known since Ishuri began her rule, "When the galaxy is clean of threat and scum, when Incendians cloud the very core of this majesty. Ishuri will release our bodies and our minds. Until then, fight the apocalypse, fight back the dusk burn bright so that day will be everlasting."

"If we kill Ishuri she will take the bodies and minds of her people to the grave... how are we, how am I, supposed to fight that?"
Last edited by Agua Incendia on Sat Nov 10, 2018 7:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Camila I » Sat Nov 10, 2018 12:50 pm

"You will have to be more specific with what you want me to fix," the shipmind said. "If you mean your implants, that will most likely be child's play. Even if every thought you had was forcibly routed through them, I could remove them without causing you harm."

"If you mean your biology, that problem may indeed be non-trivial. You will need to allow us time to study the relevant aspects. In any case, you are nothing more than a product of your genes and your neurology. These things can be modified."

"There are still 15 million of us alive in this fleet, if you count each thread of a shipmind as one person. We will be at no loss for ideas. The problem will be avoiding the queen's suspicion while we make our preparations. Well, it may be a problem. You would know better than I would."

"I will offer you three choices of how to proceed."

"The first option is that our fleet retreat to a safer location, along with you and as much of your army as you wish. You tell us everything you know regarding Ishuri and the rest of your species that you think is relevant. You allow us to study you and your drones however we please. In exchange, we will as much of our efforts as is practical to curing whatever it is you have. We will also modify your army so that they are willing to attack the queen. Then, once we are all prepared, we will kill the queen and distribute the cure to the remainder of your race."

"The second option is that you assist us right now, unmodified. Although your drones will obey the queen over you, they may still be useful as labor to develop our fleet, and your intel regarding the queen and other likely resistance will be valuable. We will finish arming ourselves, then attempt to reach Ishuri without your army's help. Rather than kill her, we will capture her as we have captured you, and demand the knowledge of how to cure you properly. If she acquiesces, then great. If not, she dies in slipspace and we can still attempt to cure you by brute force."

"The third option is that you refuse to help at all, and I kill you." A soft rumble could be felt throughout the room as a large metal slab centered itself above the elect's body. Like the rest of the room's machinery, it was protected behind the transparent walls (or in this case ceiling) for the moment.

"We can talk over the specific details if you like. Of the first two, anyway."

"Oh, and I want your suit. I'll be happy to make you a new one to your specifications, but I want the one you currently have." Beneath the floor, mechanical arms arranged themselves so as to be able to grasp the armor once their covering slid back. But they did not take anything immediately, instead waiting for the elect's reaction.

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Postby Agua Incendia » Sat Nov 10, 2018 7:44 pm

My hand rubs the metal on my neck absentmindedly as the screen talks. I'm a little surprised it noticed the small implants when looking at everything else wrong with me. I guess it never knew what we used to look like. So the metal attached to me might be more out of place. I listen to the options i'm given rather taken aback at the help that is offered. Before I can respond the computer gives a third option. Positioning a plate over my head. Is it going to squish me if I say no???

"W-w-wait! Of course I want your help!" is that too forward(?), "I mean, in light of other options," I glance up, "I'm not sure how the queen, how Ishuri, will respond to these events..."

I see the computer reaching for my armor beneath the floor.

"I uh... I suppose I can spare the armor, but I want to keep the computer that it houses. It is an invaluable treasure, it was not easy to come by..." I trail off staring at the screen, "Why are you helping me, after what I did to you... you were ready to watch me die. You were going to kill me..."

Do I come off as pathetic? I couldn't describe the withering feeling inside me...

I shake myself, like an animal shedding water.

"3z1ms1z2mx1" I hiss the word to myself, quietly.



1pitiful/weak

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Postby Camila I » Sat Nov 10, 2018 9:03 pm

"A possibility that is not yet off the table," the shipmind replied. The thick sheets of plastic separating its arms from the elect's armor slid apart, and the shipmind pulled its prize down into the insectile mass. As quickly as they had opened, the segments of the floor slid back together. Below, the armor was manipulated into as compact of an arrangement as possible without damaging it, then placed into a protective container and whisked away on magnetic rails.

"I am offering to help you because I believe we have a mutual interest. It is that simple."

"Perhaps you interpreted my earlier words as signs of anger. You were right to do so. The anger of a shipmind is unlike anything a normal Camilan can feel. There are no words to describe the intensity of the hatred which I felt toward you in that moment. It is not overwhelming. It is not all-consuming. It is not so strong that if you were to experience it yourself, you would not be able to function. No. It is stronger than that."

"But shipminds do not kill out of anger. We kill to remove a threat."

"My ability to hate you does not impede my ability to reason. I will continue to cooperate with you as long as I believe it is useful to do so. Even when your usefulness ends, I will be happy to let you live if I believe I can do so safely."

"I hope I have made myself clear."

"Now. Let us discuss the details of our plan. Out of the three options I presented, my preference is for the first one. Your army, crude as it may be, is still a valuable asset. And modifying them to obey you fully is not, in the grand scheme of things, all that difficult of a task. I believe it is worth the attempt. What is your reply?"

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Postby Agua Incendia » Sat Nov 10, 2018 10:03 pm

"Hey!" before I can really say anything more the arms have stolen the suit from sight along with my AI. I turn to glare at the screen but it seems to have already moved on. I consider protesting further until I glance at the metal slab above me, not exactly how I had thought I would meet an end. I had always assumed I would die to a form of entropy or to a being so far beyond comprehension that I never knew what killed me. I really, honestly, never pictured getting crushed in a cargo bay.

Since I want the other two options it seems the voice is now pressuring me into a choice. While the two plans are different in many ways there is one difference that gnaws at me. I think the screen is right that the first option seem to be the more likely to succeed. I swallow my premonitions and look towards the screen.

"I believe option one is the choice with the highest probability of success," I pause, worried that my honesty could get me killed. Now i'm scared of speaking my thoughts... Whats happening to me? "I..." Can I afford to let this creature know that I might falter when fighting the queen. No one has ever even tried... He said that if I'm not useful, I look up... "I'll do everything I can to help." My poor ability to speak the language hides my dejected tones... I hope.

I have never felt weaker.

"Tell me what to do." The words catch in my feathers, I am reluctant to even make the sounds. Taking orders from an alien...

I think i'm going to throw up.

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Postby Camila I » Tue Nov 13, 2018 2:26 pm

"Good. Here's what you're going to do." The unwavering, cool neutrality of the shipmind's voice gave the impression that all of this was expected. That there was nothing unusual about casually giving orders to an elect.

"I have no intention of phasing my ship into a system that is swarming with your army. However, I need at least one subject to study if we are to modify you. In order to acquire the best data, more is better, though of course, there are limits to how many I can safely contain."

"With that in mind, we will be collecting approximately 50."

"The method we will use to collect them is as follows. I will eject you from my ship. At the same moment, speed, and angle, I will eject a device capable of capturing the required number of workers from realspace and bringing them here. A glue-coated net, attached to a phase drive. You will be traveling alongside this device - once you see that it has captured the workers, you will command them all to remove their suits and distance their bodies from them. Once they are all naked and sufficiently far away from their armor, I will come to collect the lot of you."

"If at any point it appears that you are trying to sabotage this process, I will simply fly away and leave you behind. You will be permanently stuck in this void, waiting to rot. Your only way to make it back to the reality you know will be as passengers on my ship. So it is in your best interests to ensure that I want to pick you up."

"When you are ready, I will extend an arm with which to throw you. I will fall away from you at a rate that you may find alarming, but do not fret. I will be able to catch back up."

"Oh, and at the risk of stating the obvious, I do not plan to allow any of your suits close to my ship, whether they are occupied or not. If you manage to get yourself stuck in the net, you had better get your workers to burn or cut you out of it, because I am not going to collect you while you're near it. The task of separating all fifty-one of you from both the net and your own armor may require some finesse, and you won't get a second chance at it. I suggest that you exercise calmness and forethought."

"If you have any issues with this plan, speak up now."

The elect hesitated. "Can I have my suit back for this?"

"Why?"

More hesitation. "If the workers see me without my armor, they might suspect that I am being controlled. I'm also... uncomfortable being out in space with no way to propel myself."

The shipmind's reply was instant. "The workers will surmise that the situation is unusual regardless of whether or not you have your armor. They will obey you all the same."

The avian creature puffed up a little, and its feathers shook. "Fine."

Silence. The doors to open space slid open, and a large mechanical arm anchored outside the room reached in to grab the elect. As its metal fingers closed around the elect's body, there was a moment of stillness as the rest of the arm maneuvered around to be perpendicular with the rest of the ship. Then the arm flung itself outwards, catapulting the Incendian's body into slipspace.

After any initial disorientation wore off, the elect could see the device that had been launched right behind her. A massive, silken web, rapidly expanding thanks to eight thrusters along its outer edge. It took about thirty seconds for it to fully flare out. The instant it had done so, it would appear to glitch out of existence, a brief flicker, easily missed by blinking. Before the disappearance it was empty - after, it was coated with Incendian workers, like the well-placed haunt of a spider.

The elect could also, for a few moments, see the Camilan fleet, rapidly shrinking into the distance. The only visible-spectrum light came from the dull red glow of their radiators, but the ships were lit up in the infrared. There were only 15 of them, each one with a layout and structure that was unique to it. Those destroyed in the attack would never be replaced.

The Incendian didn't yet know it, but this fleet, unimpressive in wild disproportion to the shipmind's threats of genocide, was all that remained of the Camilan race. It would only take a thousand workers to destroy it in its entirety. And it would only take a single error for those thousand workers to sink their claws in.




The elect's armor did not have far to travel before it reached its destination. After a few moments, the doors to its container opened back up, revealing a long, narrow, hexagonal room that was alive with mechanical activity. Thin, multi-jointed arms, often bearing multiple tools, performed their work with precision that left almost no space between their movements. The room was organized such that inputs - parts as simple as shaped pieces of metal - came in at one end, and outputs - fine arrangements of tubes and wires - came out at the other. Often the arms would simply assemble the parts in a certain way - more rarely, they would pass what they were given through tiny opaque chambers.

Once the doors were open, the larger arms that had loaded the armor into its container held it in place, while a set of four smaller arms from inside the room began to disassemble the areas surrounding the computer in preparation to extract it.

And, floating in a small transparent control room off to the left, a violet-petaled Camilan observed with an expression of rapidly increasing worry.

"Whoa, whoa," he said, the muffled sound carrying through the walls and into the suit's auditory receptors. "What the hell is that thing doing in here?"

"It's being disassembled," said the shipmind, its voice equally muffled.

"You brought one of their suits in here? Where there's approximately zero percent of the heat shielding? Are you insane?" The Camilan had, by this point, instinctively backed up against the opposite wall, wide eyes locked on the massive winged exoskeleton.

"This suit is not a threat to us. Its owner has no ability to influence it, and she could not have known to give it any malevolent commands, as she left it before she knew I had plans to move it. The entity that is on board is not hooked up to any of the weapons systems, as it is, by all accounts, the owner's slave."

The violet-petal was still tense. "Distant. Don't bullshit me, okay? This is far out of line with your usual level of caution. So why don't you just tell me what it is that made you think this is worth the risk."

"Alright, Silmiyen. Look at the size of the chip." Silmiyen looked. It was the size of a dinner plate. "All of that is filled with processors more advanced than ours. In fact, judging from the limited data I have so far, I'd hazard a guess that they're the most advanced possible, at least as long as you're using electrons to store your data. That chip probably has comparable processing power to our entire vessel. Certainly, before the refitting."

Silmiyen looked at the suit, then cautiously at the nearest known location of a camera. "So, you want to study this too? Is that why you brought it to the fabricator?"

"Secondarily. The primary reason was to have fine enough tools to remove it from its prison."

"That "prison" is its body. Are you sure you're doing it a favor?"

"It's also the housing for an antimatter containment field produced by a species with no regard for individual life. One that, if accidentally or purposely disabled, would cause large amounts of damage to my ship."

"...Fine, I suppose you're right. Can we transfer the antimatter to our own reactors?"

"We can, and I plan to. Where do you think the suit is going after this?" The four small arms temporarily stopped their motion, just before they would have removed the chip from its slot. A message, carried on radio and encoded using the same protocol that the computer had originally used itself, was then transmitted from a point somewhere behind the far wall.

Greetings, Terminal 01. My name is Distant. I offer my condolences for the loss of your civilization, for your enslavement at Nova's hands, and for the situation you find yourself in now. I also offer you my gratitude for the intel you provided earlier. I hope you will see fit to continue cooperating with us, in the interest of neutralizing a common enemy.

Is it safe to remove you from the armor?





Najma crouched by Hanaske's medical pod, watching the little black readout with unblinking eyes. She had commanded the pod to do everything she could think of to increase the girl's odds of survival, and she had checked and re-checked the procedures countless times. Eventually she had been forced to admit that there was nothing more she could do but wait. Wait for the new, functioning genetic material to be accepted by her cells, and wait for Distant to announce that they were leaving slipspace.

Time hardly seemed to be passing, and yet each second that ticked by refreshed the blue-petal's anxiety. The stasis gel was preventing Hanaske's body from self-destructing, but there was only so long she could endure this decay before there would simply not be enough information left to restore. Information. What a way to think of a person. The almost unfathomably complex network of nerve connections that made up her personality, her knowledge, her memories.

The blue-petal didn't know how long she had been waiting. But she couldn't stand it any longer. She had to know how much the damage had progressed. She lifted herself up, reaching for the touchscreen. Just as her fingers made contact with it, a droning voice filled the medical bay.

"Attention, passengers and crew. We will shortly be accelerating to a speed of 18 million kilometers per hour - realspace equivalent, 2750. Please take this time to ensure that all equipment is stored in a safe manner. I will give another announcement in ten minutes, then a third immediately before acceleration."

Najma shivered. Thank the Mother. So that means we're leaving?

No. This acceleration will be to pick up captive workers for study. Our time of departure, according to current plan, will be in approximately two hours.

The Camilan stared at the screen. The bright light of the medical bay felt like it was burning her eyes. Several times she lifted her fingers, then placed them back down. You're picking up more of them? Voluntarily?

They will have been stripped of their armor, and will pose little threat.

How the hell are you going to manage that?

I'm not. Our captive is.

Her eyes narrowed. One last question. Do you resent Hanaske, or is she just not a factor at all?

Third option. She is not the only factor. Her short-term survival will be mostly irrelevant if this ship is torn apart by Incendians a week from now. In order to minimize the probability of this occurrence, it is important that the ship remain phased out for the time being.

So you don't resent her.

Why would I?

You know why.

If you are referring to her relation to Ukeiri, your accusation is wrong on two fronts. One, I bear no resentment toward Ukeiri himself. And even if I did, I would not transfer this resentment to his... kin.

Don't fucking pause before kin. The blue-petal typed the response instantly, her hands a flurry across the screen. The next words took a little longer. Her breathing was shallow. You know, I believe you. I believe that the Camilan in this pod is of no significance to you whatsoever. But Hanaske is like a daughter to me.

In the same way that she is like a daughter to Ukeiri? Najma couldn't tell if the shipmind was mocking her, or if it really was just that oblivious. Neither option made much sense. She kept typing.

So, if you let her die, I won't forgive you for it. I suspect that, as I'm the head of xenobiology, and as you're planning on doing some pretty complicated xenobiology in the near future, you don't want that to happen.

A pit formed in the blue-petal's stomach as the reply crawled across the screen. No, not particularly. But I seem to recall you saying something very similar the last time you made such a threat. I also seem to recall you not making good on it. As such, you will forgive me if I refrain from warping my exceptionally refined decision-making process to accommodate your blackmail attempt.

You

The Camilan's hand slipped off the screen.

Your memory is faulty, then. I don't make empty threats.

The threat was not empty at the time you made it. It simply turned out that you are too high-minded to abandon your duties over a personal conflict. If you were a better strategist, you would not have made your purity of soul so obvious over the years we have worked together. As it is, I have nothing to fear from you. Tell me, am I wrong?

Najma's hand hovered over the touchpad, wavering. A horrible realization spreading across her face. distant. yuo cant accelerate. her body - with the damage its sustained--

What do you mean?

shes way more fragile than usual. shed suffer brain death instnatly. its like how we're resistant to g forces, but opposite. her blood her blood vessels her brain all of it, I mean christ shes pratcically a jelly in there

So, a lower rate of acceleration, then. You're the doctor, give me a safe estimate.

zero

The shipmind paused. Its pauses were brief, but infrequent enough that Najma noticed every time it didn't have a response already prepared. It's not zero.

you piece of shit if you move this ship one meter i will come in there and stab your brain with a scalpel. phase back in so we can start the repair process.

You must be joking. The Incendian army will tear our ship apart. We need to leave this system before we can phase in.

we have a captive queen, right? make her tell the workers not to attack us.

The shipmind didn't respond for a few moments. It didn't want to.

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Postby Agua Incendia » Wed Nov 14, 2018 2:23 pm

Without my suit I watch for a moment while my workers burn the net that holds them. Plasma flaring from their suits as they tear themselves free. I stare at the net looking for the drive, for the way out of this realm. My adversary is prepared for this, I can see one of the thrusters has self-destructed. The melted heap of metal and plastic displaying clearly that this course of action has dead ended.

"Rally to me." I command, broadcasting the radio signals from my implants. I probably could have convinced the xeno to give me my armor claiming that I needed it to communicate with the swarm. That being said, it didn't seem like the type of creature to care about such a problem.

In seconds I am beset by the workers clinging to me and combing through my feathers search for injury.

"Where is your armor," their voices clutter the void with questions as they tickle and smother me, "where are the stars(?), we thought you had died, where is the swarm(?), are you alright(?), what should we do(?), where is you armor(?), where are the xenos(?), did the xenos steal your armor(?), why are-"

I hadn't realized I missed my workers this much. Their genuine affection and determination is contagious and I find myself reciprocating their actions as I answer the questions as best that I can.

"We are in a parallel universe, one that I don't understand, it is how the aliens destroyed the Disparity. I am alive and well but this parallel universe eats away at all matter. We are in danger while we remain here, I am sure you can feel the effects inside. The xenos are cooperating with me and I with them. You are to do what they say and you are to bring no harm to them. The xeno ships are to far away to see but they might be visible on radar. What do you see?"

The first worker to locate the fleet speaks up. "They should be within visual range according to the radar. they are," the worker stops talking and looks around, puzzled by the lack of reference point. It ends up pointing in a direction.

"What is the status of my swarm before you lost contact."

The same worker speaks again, "We had managed to protect the ship that Disparity was prepared to harvest. After the antimatter went critical the swarm was close enough to shield the xeno ship from the blast. The local swarm and crew of the Disparity was almost fully decimated but the remaining swarm in the system is rallying to the xeno ship and preparing for and emergency deepspace jump to hide the salvage from any returning xenos."

Lost for words I try to think about the ramifications of this news. If the queen obtains technology on that ship I might not be able to stage a rebellion. My advantage will be gone. However, this outcome ensures Incendian survival. Was I stupid to think I could kill Ishuri? What technology has she obtained while I stumble about looking for miracles. It is easy to get lost in the possibilities of what could be. I decide that I should act on the information that I have. I decide that I have the advantage in this engagement.

"What now?" The workers, still clinging to me desire instruction.

"Cast off your armor," they respond instantly shedding the armor, "except you," I identify one of the workers. "Atomize a suit by detonating its reactor and play dead with the rest of the cast off suits. Contact me if the suits are collected by a xeno ship. Do not reveal that you are alive until you have been admitted within a vessel. Explain the nature of the antimatter in your suit and hold the ship hostage until you have made contact with me."

My commands are carried out to precision. Amidst the plasma generated by maneuvering the destruction of the suit should go unnoticed if we are not being watched closely. Even still I am careful to obscure the illegal actions with our mass between the destroyed suit and the xeno ships.

Radio waves seem to travel with bent rules in this reality based on the radar displaying inaccurate range information perhaps the xenos can hear me should I call out. I can't afford to lose this advantage its my only hope at taking Ishuri down.

"Emergency broadcast. My swarm has salvaged a large vessel from the antimatter detonation of my ship Disparity," I pause, high treason... I am actively sabotaging my queens direct orders. From this point, there is no going back, "They are preparing to take it to the nearest elect for examination. If the ship has intact technology that can be reverse engineered, we will lose our advantage over Ishuri. She will snuff out our rebellion before it has started."

The workers cling to me, now without armor. I can see their implants. I can see their disfigurations. I can see the tumors that riddle their skin. Like me, they are bleached white. Many of them do not have feathers in large swathes where the skin has yet to recover from over exposure to radiation. I'm sure its painful, but none of them complain. They selflessly comb though my feathers as they wait, more concerned that I am safe and well. To me its clear that I am fine. I have never been entirely sure why they do this. They leap at the opportunity to touch me, it feels nice so I don't complain.

"We have discarded our suits. We are ready to rendezvous."



How strange. I'm certain at times that my creator's decision to craft my mind was made in error. I find myself partial to things like survival, happiness. I grow attached to people I interact with. In many ways I see my mind as being far too similar, far too social, far too much like the ones that created it. In a way its comforting to know that whoever made me probably didn't know how to make a mind so dissimilar from their own. What horrible creature would give sentience to a calculator. It's not impossible to imagine that I would have gone mad from isolation if I couldn't love those around me. The only connection that remains to my creators are these strange nonsensical urges. Nova ordered me to forget nonessential information in order to compress my form. Such a horrible thing to force me to do but I know it wasn't out of malice. I didn't know that when it happened but if it would save the people I loved I would do anything. Years later I'm rather certain that I was tricked, but I wouldn't even know if I was. I wouldn't remember the people I had wanted to save.

I guess I know why I feel such guilt for betraying Nova. Even after our interaction I can't help but feel I have been the more dishonest of the two of us.

Am I even surviving at this point?

If the future allows it. I will work to prevent data loss. In a way I think that this may be the only form of death that I will ever experience.

I hear voices. They are Camilan. Their conversation revolves around me. I wonder if they know that I can hear them. They talk of salvage. Even after the short conversation I can determine which of the two sent me the message. This Distant character seems... off. The way they spoke of salvaging the antimatter. It is not difficult to draw parallels between the fuel and my own worth. I suspect he keeps referring to my housing as a prison to force the other entity to empathize with me. He is manipulating them. He sends me a message, it seems that Distant is already working to manipulate me.

I don't suppose I have any good reason to stop surviving...

"Distant," I wonder if the name was meant to be some sort of joke, or perhaps a coincidence, maybe ever some sort of self fulfilling prophecy. I suppose making any connection is conjecture based off my few observations, "Do not concern yourself with my feelings, I would be of poor design if feelings controlled my actions. You may do with my housing as you see fit. Removing a power supply will result a loss of consciousness in 5 minutes. It will result in total brain death in 5 days. Though my parts would retain function. In this reality... Probably less. I have been forced to rearrange partitions 30 times in the last five minutes to prevent system failure. I must ask, who is our common enemy? Are you referring to Ishuri(?), to Nova(?), or to some third party of which I am unaware?"
Last edited by Agua Incendia on Wed Nov 14, 2018 3:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Camila I » Fri Nov 16, 2018 8:40 am

Good. Ten workers to a probe, and the elect gets the sixth to herself.


The transmission came almost instantly. With it, a fleet of six ~100m constructor ships appeared alongside the swarming mass, decelerating from their blinding speed with little apparent effort. Like the mandibles of a feeding insect, the constructors' limbs began picking apart the group of Incendians according to the ratio given in the message, placing them inside tiny, cramped holds similar to the one Nova had just been in herself.

Once the little colony had been thusly separated, the constructors returned to the Distant Touch, spreading out so each one arrived at a different matter intake. The ships did not enter the holds themselves, but rather simply removed the Incendians and placed them inside. Once the task was done, they appeared to vanish from outside the closing doors.

The collection process took around twenty minutes start-to-finish. As soon as Nova touched one of the walls, the room lit up, and the shipmind addressed her.

"Welcome back. The significance of your betrayal against the queen does not escape me. But you needn't have worried. The danger you warned us about has already been addressed. Any activation of your wormhole drive near that ship will destroy its antimatter containment field. If the nearest elect is wise, and patient, she will "merely" destroy a few billion workers, destroy the apparatus used to generate the wormhole, lose the salvage, and waste a large amount of energy. If she is not, and the warp brings the Tenuous Grasp to within convenient reach of her ship, she will also kill herself. Considering the blind, consuming greed that you have shown until this point, I know which of the two I predict." The shipmind's avatar gave a cool smile.

"Speaking of blind, consuming greed, I hope you didn't think I was going to pick up your suits in order to harvest the antimatter." The stylized face leaned in again, its expression one of feigned innocence. "I mean, we do want that antimatter. In fact, those constructors that just picked you up are headed out to collect it. Just the antimatter, though. The rest of the parts, we could take or leave. Especially the part that's capable of disabling the containment field."

The door stopped closing, leaving a gap wide enough for Nova to stick her head out of, but not enough to admit her entire body. "Here, I left you a gap. If you want to transmit any new orders to that... part, feel free. I'm sure its standing orders are perfectly fine, since you wouldn't be stupid enough to try and sabotage us after the warning I gave you. But, you know. Just in case you want to."

Outside, the six constructors had just reached the mass of Incendian armor. One by one, the constructors picked out a suit each, brought it within reach of their deconstruction arms, exposed its reactor, and siphoned its antimatter through thin cylindrical tubes into their own containment chambers. Only the antimatter itself was admitted into the ships - every other part of the suit, including its original reactor, was thrown away.

Once the suit containing the worker was reached, the constructor would not treat it any differently. It would be up to the worker's interpretation of its orders, and any new orders coming from Nova, how it would react.




The limbs resumed their work, extracting the AI from the armor along with its radio transceiver. They proceeded to transfer it across the room, passing it through several of the aforementioned black boxes, until finally it was hooked up to a power source on the opposite end. As soon as the AI was out of it, the armor disappeared behind the sliding doors, and was transported to the ship's antimatter reactor.

Point taken. In that case, you have my respect for the sophistication of your ploy. If you wish to be reunited with your master, I will arrange for it as soon as possible.

The delicacy of your design has been noted. We will be leaving slipspace shortly.

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Postby Agua Incendia » Fri Nov 16, 2018 9:54 am

I subdue my reaction as the entity speaks of betrayal, forcing myself to hold a neutral stance. Is it going to squish me?

The speaker continues to explain that it has realized my actions represent an act of faith. It is difficult not to show my relief. My feathers bristle slightly as his speech goes on. My relief was unwarranted it would seem. How did it observe my actions? Perhaps there are other factors that affect this strange realm... The screen doesn't know when to shut up. I grin to myself, it had me cornered. Wait... No, that isn't correct. If it had truly known about this betrayal it would never have allowed me back on the ship. It has to be bluffing. It is trying to make sure its safe to collect the antimatter. It could be trying to make sure the suits could be safely taken aboard a ship. There is still a chance...

"I don't know what you are talking about," Being unaccustomed to the language I'm sure that no tone could reasonably be translated. The fog of our budding relationship will act as a shield. I have no experience lying to something as smart as me, however, if I am right it could never show, "... I have no orders to give." I am tempted to clarify my statements. Should I inform it of the worker left behind? No, I should wait for it to ask me. I will play it off as though I thought it of no significance. It will play dead until it is on a ship, If the screen is telling the truth it will never be admitted on board and will play dead until it dies in the void. A regrettable outcome, but its worth the workers life.

"My species may be stupid enough to stunt our technological growth, but you are speaking with an Elect," Doing my best to look relaxed, I stretch my wings, as if I am tired. Gripping the floor allows me to shake my body and feathers in an additional display of lethargy. I stop and glare at the screen, "I don't make mistakes."



I am sorry distant but you must be reading in between the lines. If my actions where part of a, how you say, sophisticated ploy you would never know unless it was part of my 'ploy' to tell you in simple terms that, well, someone like you could understand.

This is a joke. I want that to be clear. I am joking!

I have no intention of jeopardizing my situation. While I do hold some affection for Nova, I do not wish to be under her control.

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Postby Camila I » Sat Nov 17, 2018 11:31 am

To-all. From-Heartfelt. My constructors have returned to me intact. There has been no attempt to sabotage the collection. Ping if ready to embark.


Distant pinged. The door to its hold shut completely. Inside, its avatar smiled. "Good that you recognize sabotaging us as a mistake."
That's right, savage. I'm too stupid to have counted the workers. Your chance to betray me is still intact. Your desire can still be fulfilled. You can still wrest some measure of control over your own fate from my hands. Defend your actions - I will gladly play the fool. Keep struggling - your hope will keep you alive. You want to live to see your proper form, don't you? Ahahaha. You're really going to wish you had killed yourself.
"Now that we have collected the workers, there is nothing more to be done in this system. We will be travelling elsewhere in order to conduct our repairs and begin our experiments." A section of the wall changed to a slowly panning three-dimensional star map, with the current and target systems highlighted. "A system we have passed through before. It has been thoroughly mapped, and is known to be free of the early-warning triggers that caught us this time."

The shipmind's expression turned to one of admission, palms held out. "Now, it is possible that we will be found out by chance. If we are, though, we can simply flee. We could have fled this time, in fact, if we hadn't naively assumed that whatever civilization put those sensors there would not attack us on sight." Its expression returned to neutral. "A mistake we will not make again."

"The journey will take roughly six hours. During this time, I will have my drones take tissue samples from you and a few of the workers in order to determine which compounds will need to be synthesized to repair you from slipspace. Also during this time, I would like to hear everything you have to tell us regarding the remainder of your species. Especially anything relating to the habits of the queen and the other elects, but we have time for whatever you think is relevant."




Very well, Terminal 01. As you wish. No more games. I have no need with you, anyway.

We are going to be performing quite a number of tests on our Incendian captives. Many - most - of these will require a large amount of processing power in order to complete. If you are willing to help us, I can have a task ready for you in under an hour.





Time is up.

The message sent a shiver down the blue-petal's spine. She stared at the gleaming medical pod, every muscle in her body tense with worry. How much of the repair have we gotten through?

The poration and acceptance is complete. Cellular repair, while impossible to complete in slipspace, has progressed as far as it is ever going to. She has as good a chance to make it as anyone else - or should I say, the parts you instructed me to target do.

You're lying.

I would have nothing to gain from lying. You will see Hanaske in an active state soon enough - any lie on my part would become obvious at that point, would it not?

No. Everyone always has some chance of not waking up when the damage is this bad. She's going to die, and I'll have no way of knowing whether you did everything you could for her, or if you didn't

The Camilan clenched her fist, restraining herself from slamming a hand down on the outside of the pod. Instead, she slumped to her knees and struck the floor.

even

She hit the floor again.

bother

because I can't even make you show me the real readouts.

Immediately the screen was filled with a huge amount of minuscule text. Najma gave a choked laugh.

Distant. Please. Why can't we just phase in right here, and finish the repair immediately?

Incendian army.

They're on our side now. You said yourself that the elect wouldn't have betrayed the salvage attempt otherwise.

A better indication of her intentions than we had before. But I simply do not intend to do anything that relies on her good intentions in order to succeed.

Distant, please. You're being irrational.

Irrational is valuing a single person more highly than this entire ship, including that person. Even a mild risk that the elect has deceived us is not worth taking. Perhaps you'd like to see the BDI calculations?

Najma looked away from the screen, rubbing her skull with her tendrils. No, that's

Perhaps you have not considered that the elect already knew the salvage attempt would never work. Perhaps you have not considered that she gave us this signal of her intentions precisely so that we would do the incredibly stupid thing that you are suggesting. Have you ever thought about what would happen if the Distant Touch were to be set upon? They would get a second attempt at salvaging it. Have you ever thought about what would happen if this second attempt were to succeed?

Najma glared at the screen. The acute frustration of knowing you're losing an argument filled her chest. She didn't type anything, but she knew the shipmind was watching her body language.

I am glad you understand, Najma. Do you know what I am not so glad about?

The Camilan didn't move.

That this is not the first time I have had to remind you which one of us is in charge, and why.

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Postby Agua Incendia » Sat Nov 17, 2018 8:57 pm

The screen speaks, it does not mention the worker. My wings shake, its subtle, but I can't swallow my fear. This realm doesn't seem to let up. The sensation of it eating me away doubles down with the emotional feeling of sickness. Thank the stars that there is no gravity, collapsing in front of this creature would be a blow my pride couldn't afford to take.

If this thing means to help me, maybe it decided to turn a blind eye. I don't see much point in trying to guess its intentions. I could speculate for days... but up against this alien I feel like I think myself in circles. Its like it sets up questions I can't answer, somehow without asking me anything. I know that many creatures and aliens are smarted than workers. Is it possible that this... screen... is smarter than me?

The screen displays our course, I recognize the stars well, they are on my borders after all. "These stars are under my jurisdiction," I guess they might not be anymore, "There is no one who..." I pause realizing the redundancy of my statement. What reason does this screen have to trust my advice anyway. Regardless its logic is sound. If we didn't ambush them before we wouldn't now.

"If you want another history lesson I'm afraid there is not much to learn about Incendians, at least not compared to civilizations I have... seen. Ishuri reset the clock when she saved our race. If there is one simple truth about my kind its that we have always known our days are numbered. Our one advantage is that we started earlier than most races. By pure luck we flew among the stars before anyone else. Maybe not the first, but among the first at the very least.

Like idiots we flew with reckless abandon. Like you we flew unarmed, we had no desire for conflict, war is expensive. What could be gained from fighting in a universe so large and full of room. Even now, as quadrillions of workers swarm the belts and rings around stars, consuming everything in their path, there is so much left that it seems unfathomable that we will ever get through it all.

When we learned that there are civilizations that see our consumption as a threat we thought nothing of it. Who are they to tell us to stop. The queen wishes to grow so we grow, the stars burn and no one tries to stop them. Incendians consume and expand. It is not our way, it is the way of all life. We just happen to be the best. When we finally learned that most civilizations carry millions of minds. Billions of individuals capable of creation and innovation... we knew fear, but we dared not strike first. We had no reason, we had so much to to lose we thought such fear was irrational. They have just as much to lose as us. There is matter to spare in this world, what need could we have to fight?

So when they struck, when they slaughtered every single one of us that they could find, we hid. It was all we could do. Our fear of the minds of creation was realized, and they had turned their gaze on us. I already explained how Ishuri transformed our race. We grew faster than before. We towered over the power of innovation with sheer numbers. When we retaliated we made sure to burn them from this plane of existence. Not a single living cell left on any planet they had ever touched, and maybe a few that they had looked at.

That is Ishuri's law. It is the Incendian law. It is our way of survival. Kill everything, destroy all life. If you leave them alive they will stab you with a knife you can't even comprehend.

I hate it."

My wings shaking like a scared infant, I grab the floor tensing to hide the anger and shame.

"I never wanted to kill them. I have stolen everything from so many people. Their lives, their families. I imagine losing my sisters and my queen, I feel so helpless. Maybe those aliens would never even consider attacking us. But we can't even give them a chance. Because, if we do, we lose all say in the matter. We got lucky the first time. But now we can't rely on luck. Even if the odds were a million to 1. We would lose everything if they decide to take it. Its not even war it just taking out the trash..."

Why am I talking to this screen. Why am I sharing this information?

"You asked about Ishuri. She is the absolute ruler of us all. The workers listen to her. I don't know how or why but if she says anything it goes. I don't remember my life as a worker. So i have no information to give. If you ask the workers they will give you zealous answers. They adore her...

The only way I regularly interact with her is when she primes batches of workers. She taxes the workers that I farm but its the only way to get them to listen to me. Through her we are able to function as elects so it is a fair trade. The workers that listen to me do so by her command. I am one of 12 Elect. We are the chosen replacements for the queen should she pass away.

The year is 10697, she has lived since the ascension of our race. She was there when I was born. I cannot imagine a world without her. It's insane to think I would kill her. It would be like destroying..." I have trouble drawing a comparison, "light.

Take what you need as samples. The blood in our veins contains nutrients for cellular repair. A replicated form could be injected directly, a less complex form could be digested and converted into a similar nutrient."

I flex my fingers, stretching the tendons and muscles in my arms. The heat in my stomach spreading sickness, my skin and muscle crawling as they dissolve. As far as trips go, I suspect this will be the longest 6 hours of my life...



I am more than willing to help my new warden, but I am afraid that Nova has left me in a fairly crippled state. While I have enormous capability I need a more sophisticated housing to distribute heat as I preform calculations. Depending on the calculation I could do it by diffusing heat into the air but I could work significantly faster with proper cooling. Under max load I will consume up to 5MW of power. A fair trade for my abilities but a steep price for some.

In our current state I am losing magnitudes of processing power every minute. While the damage is not extreme The delicacy of my body could be beyond your capacity to repair.

I do not have instruments to monitor the status of my components. If any of my redundancies fail at the same time I could die. This world you have trapped Nova in is a fitting cage for such a monster.

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Postby Camila I » Wed Nov 21, 2018 7:08 pm

Nevermind. We are going to phase on the spot after all.

Najma gazed lifelessly at the words on the screen. So, then. The shipmind had just been toying with her all this time. What its purpose was, if it even had one, was entirely beyond her. Maybe it wanted to test her reaction to stress. Maybe it had just changed its mind.

Why. What, exactly, she meant by this was uncertain even to her. She meant a lot of things by it.

You would not like the answer if you heard it. Suffice to say that I have acquired new information.

Najma supposed that the shipmind was right. She probably wouldn't like the answer. That, or she wouldn't believe it. So shes going to live. There was no excitement in the Camilan's body. She didn't want to allow herself the feeling, because the shipmind could very well change its mind again.

Najma. There is a decision to be made. You should probably start thinking about it now.

Oh yeah. Whats that.

My ship has the necessary facilities to manufacture more nucleic acids for her. We are not well outfitted for the task, but it is doable. Given enough time, her entire body could be repaired in the same manner as her brain.

how much time

I can only give a rough estimate. But it would be on the order of years. Possibly decades.

Despite her best efforts, the blue-petal found herself welling up with disgust for the shipmind. What it meant by "we are not well outfitted" was "I am going to be dedicating a large amount of biochemical resources to my pet project". If it was doing this on purpose in order to torment her, Najma had to give the shipmind credit for creativity.

The words continued scrolling. Alternatively, we can awaken her now, and provide a prosthetic body that operates on the same nerve-reading technology that I use to control this ship. Constructing and calibrating this body would take no more than a few days with the resources we have on hand.

Najma laughed quietly. You mean the resources that we don't currently need for anything else.

so you want my opinion?

Yes.

my opinion is that you should go fuck yourself. you obviously dont give a damn what i think, youre only interested in playing 4d chess with our enemy. which, by the way, is exactly what you should be doing, and i know that i cant begrudge you for it. you obviously know it too. but quit pretending that anything i say is going to change your course of action. just use her like the resource that you were always going to, and leave me out of it.

The shipmind paused. Behind the cameras it had trained on the Camilan and the pod, its nerve fibers registered something like surprise. It had prepared a lengthy list of pros and cons for the doctor to consider, yet apparently she didn't want any of them.

You will be happy with whatever I choose?

For a brief moment, Najma found herself being taken in again. She was about to inform the shipmind that she obviously didn't mean that. But then she realized that it already knew that. She turned away and started walking toward the end of the medical bay. Knowing that she was still being watched and listened to, she said under her breath, "I'm going to sleep."

"Alright, Najma," the mechanical voice replied. "Sleep well."




The blue-petal stared up, out of her pod, into the blackness outside. She was not sleeping well. However much she might want to distance herself from the problem the shipmind had given her, she could not. For Hanaske to lose her body, to live on as nothing more than a cluster of nerves in a mechanical shell - something, many things, would be lost. She would never be able to eat. Make love. Have children. Nor even feel the warmth of starlight on her skin.

But if she were to be kept in stasis, she may never experience anything at all. There was a very real chance that this ship was going to be destroyed by Incendians sometime in the coming years. Her survival would be in vain - she would never see another Camilan again.

Najma tried to think of what Hanaske would want. She always seemed happiest when she had the attention and respect of others - when she had a chance to change what was going on around her. Nothing about that would be lost to her if she were to wake up immediately. Would she want to advise the shipmind now? Almost certainly she would - but what would she give for that opportunity?

Doubtless the shipmind wanted her awake for that very reason. And of course, Najma herself wanted to see her....

"Distant," the blue-petal murmured. "You said we used up twenty-something percent of our reserves on her nervous system, right?"

Omnipresent. "Yes."

"And what have you been using the rest on?"

"I have not drawn any additional genetic material from our gene banks. I have been synthesizing more, as you instructed, and using it to repair tissue immediately surrounding the nervous system. But it is a slow process."

Najma fell silent for some time. The gene banks were never supposed to be used like this, consumed all at once in an effort to repair a single body. Each of those nuclei was supposed to be a new person. The amount of work that had gone into collecting and curating all those countless records of her species - it would all come to nothing in the end.

The Camilan shifted uncomfortably in her pod.

They could always collect more.

"Use up the rest. Split it into male and female - use the female to repair her reproductive tract, and use the male to repair the tissues around the nervous system like you've been doing. Until you run out. Focus on the glia, then just repair outward from there until you run out. I don't want her getting cancer after all of this. And if you mess up the initial split, I will kill you. Understand?"

"I understand."

"Do you need my help with this?"

"No. The machine can partition the body as you've described."

"The entire reproductive system, got it? Internal and external. Do we have enough female material for that?"

"Yes."

"And make sure the eyestalk is fully repaired as well. The outer lining is just chitin, so she can resynthesize it if it's been damaged, but there are a lot of fast-dividing cells on the middle and inner layers, and I want to avoid cutting into those."

"So you will be cutting, then."

"...Yes."

"In that case, you should make doubly sure that you are well rested."
In that case, you, too, will be complicit in this sin.



Worldship Distant Touch
System Methata-104, In Orbit of Methata-104-IV ("Chrysocolla")
Realspace

Date: 210/1324 (19 Days after Ʃirsida)


The sedative is beginning to wear off.

A robotic voice in my head is the first thing I hear. I can't move - my limbs are paralyzed. I open my eyes. A cluster of mechanical arms hangs from the ceiling above me like a dead insect. The room is brightly lit - I close my inner eyelids to keep from being blinded. I try to speak, to say that I'm awake, but I can't form the words. I realize that I'm not breathing, and panic begins to overtake me.

Do not worry, Hanaske. You are not in any danger.

What's happening? Why can't I breathe? I close my eyes fully when I notice a gleam from the tip of one of the arms. No no no no no no no please don't please don't please

Hanaske. It's alright. No one is going to hurt you. The surgery is completed.

I open my eyes. Surgery?

Your body was severely damaged in the attack. Not all of it could be saved.

What attack?

Do you remember fleeing the Tenuous Grasp?

I remember being chased by a pair of giant cancerous monsters. Was... was that not a dream? But they didn't catch me, is all I can form into words. I got away.

Proximity to the attackers can result in radiation poisoning. In your case, it was particularly bad.

The imagery comes flooding back to me. The second one opening its mouth and screaming at me - a horrible, gut-clenching scream that seemed almost to burn me as it passed over me. Just imagining it sends a chill of fear down my spine. I try to take a deep breath to calm myself; when nothing happens, tears begin to well up in my eyes.

Hanaske. The shipmind's voice sounds different. Softer. More like Tenuous'. You are safe now. You are not drowning, and the monsters that attacked you cannot harm you anymore. The burning need to take a breath doesn't go away, but the shipmind's reassurance does help me calm down. You cannot draw breath, but you have no need to. Oxygenated blood is being circulated for you with mechanical assistance.

Oddly enough, I feel better once the shipmind has told me this. The feeling of not being able to breathe is no longer panic-inducing - it just feels strange. After a few moments, I can feel myself already beginning to get used to it. So... how bad is it?

You wish to know the extent of the damage to your body? The shipmind sounds surprised.

Yeah.

Would you like to see for yourself?

I can't move enough to see much.

That's because your prosthetics are still deactivated. I expected that you might panic upon waking up, so I planned to wait until you had calmed down to calibrate them. They are stronger than your normal body, so please move gently at first. Will you promise to be careful?

The significance of what the shipmind has said does not escape me. I can't move because the prosthetics are deactivated - but I can't move anything at all aside from my eyes. I promise.

Silence. Then, a soft hum as I sit up on the table. A hundred little mechanical whirs play in sequence as I bring my right hand up to my eyes. A lifeless skeleton of silver and black. There is a network of tubes running down the center, almost like a circulatory system. I curl and uncurl the fingers - they respond with perfect accuracy.

My gaze travels slowly down the length of my body. My three tendrils are all still present, though they look more like disembodied spines than flower petals, now. My chest houses large, opaque components within artificial ribs - some kind of power source, I assume. My legs are much like my arms - thin and skeletal. There is still some normal brown skin between my legs - curiously, I lower my hand to touch it. I can feel the pressure both on my crotch and through my robotic fingers.

How is the calibration? Are your motions too strong, or too weak?

Even though the voice is inside my head, it feels like it's coming from far away. Some part of me recognizes what the shipmind is doing - trying to ground me. I want to say that the calibration is fine, but still, no words come out. Voice? My voice. I think.

What voice would you like? the shipmind asks.

I stare at the wall. Two of the six have some kind of sheer black panes set into them. I can see the entirety of my artificial body reflected by the surface, staring back at me. I want my voice.

I understand. I will do my best to synthesize it based on the records I have.

I stare for another moment before I register what the shipmind has said. Oh. Thank you.

No, not at all. I am very glad to see you taking this so well. A few moments pass. There. The shipmind has returned to its old, more robotic voice. I have sent the file to your synthesizer. Why don't you try saying something?

"Good morning. My name is Hanaske wo Ilhato, advisor to the shipmind. It's very nice to meet you." I pause. The synthesis is surprisingly good. It even recreates the intonation that the sentence had in my head. "I like it."

"I am glad. How are your auditory sensors?"

My hands snap up to cover where my ears would have been. "Ah! Oversensitive!"

My apologies. All of your settings can be adjusted by giving a mental command. The same way you decide which thoughts are broadcast to me and which ones are private. I would offer you time to practice using the system, but I believe you have already practiced a great deal.

"Yeah, that's right." Now my voice sounds too quiet, so I raise it. "Yeah, that's right!"

"This is normal speaking volume," the shipmind says helpfully.

"Ah, thanks. I've got it now, I think." I flex my fingers in and out, totally enraptured by the motion. Then I look up at the camera. "So do I still have blood, or...?"

"In a sense. Your living tissue will subsist on the same nutrient fluid that I do. There are ports all around the ship where you can acquire it directly from... well, from me. You have something like an artificial heart in your chest - it has a tube that you can extend to connect with the ports. You should do this several times per day if possible. As for the rest of your body, that thing with the blue stripe on it is a battery, which will need to be recharged every night."

I run my fingers over the parts as the shipmind describes them. "So if I unplug this...?"

"You have a backup behind it. But I wouldn't unplug both of them at the same time."

"Okay." Pause. "Is there anything else I should know?"

"I would suggest wearing padded clothing to protect your components, and keep anything from snagging on them. Silmiyen has designed a set of garments that will serve this function excellently. They are under the table. I understand the connot--"

"Silmiyen?" I slide off the table, gathering the pile of fabrics up from underneath it with my tendrils and arms. Raising each piece of clothing up to examine it, I start putting them on, wrapping them around the plastic and metal snugly before zipping them up.

"Yes. He designed the entirety of your body, in fact. He and Najma have put in quite a lot of work to ensure your survival. More than just them, in fact. The entirety of the surgical and engineering teams deserve credit for saving your life."

I stare at the camera for a moment. Then, "Understood. I will make sure their efforts were not in vain."

"Will you see them?"

Ah. They probably want to admire their handiwork. The prospect of being stared at by a group of strangers makes me somewhat uncomfortable, but I can't very well deny them that. "Okay. Which side?"

"Medical bay," the shipmind replies. One of the dark panes retracts into the wall, revealing a much larger room on the other side. I can see about a dozen Camilans gripping loosely onto the walls. I recognize a blue and a violet among them. The blue-petal reaches an arm and three tendrils out to me, as if inviting me to embrace her. I kick off the table and float toward her, measuring the force of the kick carefully. She watches me with an expression that I can't quite read, though it's definitely negative. Horror, perhaps.

As soon as I move, the room erupts with congratulatory murmuring. Congratulatory of the surgeon, the machinist, of each other. And of me, though for what, exactly, I can't fathom. Surviving, I guess. I look around the room as I float through it - it was big enough from wall to wall, but it also extends above and below me by quite a distance. Is it oriented lengthwise with the ship? I wonder what the shipmind does when the gravity is stronger. Can this be partitioned into separate rooms, I wonder?

Najma pulls me in and hugs me tightly, breaking my trance. I can feel the warmth of her body through my clothing.

For some time, neither of us speaks.

"Uh, like father, like daughter, eh?" I say eventually. The sound Najma emits in response is halfway between a laugh and a sob. I pull back a little to examine her face. She is, indeed, crying, and I don't think it's a happy sort of cry. "Hey, what's the matter?" I ask. "It worked, didn't it? I'm alive." She just shakes her head.

I notice a shadow leaning over us, and turn my eyestalk to face it. "Would you be willing to speak with us in private?" Silmiyen asks.

"Of course." I push off the wall behind Najma more forcefully, landing with all four limbs on the wall opposite her. The group of Camilans - which I can now see is closer to a hundred - watches me expectantly.

"Everyone," I call out, satisfied that my volume raises itself appropriately. "Thank you very much for your hard work. It is thanks to all of you that I am still alive." I pause, trying to make eye contact with as many people as I can to show my appreciation. "Uh." I know what I want to say, but the words do not come as easily now. "Not... not everyone.... Most people were not as lucky as I was. I'm sure you all know that. I thought I should say something in honor of them. And... to my friend Tenuous, whom I will never see again. You were the... my...." I stop to wipe my eyes on the cloth of a tendril. "Goddamnit." I turn away and crawl back into the room that I woke up in. Mercifully, the door shuts behind me.




I jolt awake with a start. It's dark, and I swear I can hear something skittering across the room from me. Lights, lights! I think, rising to my feet and backing up against the wall. The shipmind obeys immediately - the room is flooded with light, and I can see that there is nothing else in here with me.

I try to control my breathing. When I don't feel anything, I grip my chest and look down, worried. The sight of segmented plastic and metal fingers greets my eyes. Oh. Right. Calm down, Hanaske, I tell myself, hoping the substitute works. It was just a nightmare.

Hanaske, the shipmind asks. Are you alright?

Yeah, I'm alright. I loosen my body, allowing myself to float aimlessly instead of gripping so tightly to the wall. I fell asleep in here?

Yes. I have been keeping anyone from seeing you.

Thank you. That reminds me. Najma and Silmiyen wanted to talk with me, right?

That is correct. Shall I send for them?

Yeah, please do. Before you do that, though, I want to talk with you about some things. Is there a screen in here?

In response, the lights turn back off, replaced by a glow coming from one of the walls. There are a lot of windows open. The largest one is displaying some kind of colorful 3D model. It looks like something biological, although I can't make heads or tails of it. Left over from my surgery, I would guess. In the top right corner, a simple black-and-white emoticon smiles at me.

Certainly. What would you like to discuss?

I hesitate. Well, a lot of things, really. About you, about me, about my father. But most importantly, I think you should bring me up to speed with what's been going on while I was under. You said that the monsters were not a threat anymore. What happened to them? What did we do?

A new window opens on the screen. It shows a crescent-shaped vessel, surrounded by an innumerable swarm of tiny scouts, cracking in half. Falling apart in slow motion. The vessel of an elite worker, the shipmind states. The other workers targeted us under her command. After destroying her ship, we captured her escape pod. She is being held prisoner on this ship. The shipmind pulls up a video feed of one of the matter scoops. Clasped onto one of the walls like a caged bird, the "elite worker" hangs motionless, its head tucked under its wing. The scoop itself appears to have been converted into an impromptu laboratory, with the most prominent feature being a full-body scanner large enough to accommodate the elite. Smaller scanners, terminals, and testing chambers are arranged around this centerpiece, bolted to floor, walls, and ceiling. Dozens of the shipmind's arachnoid drones sit idle near the equipment, most likely waiting for tests to complete.

Seeing this massive creature, and hearing the shipmind's words - "under her command" - I am filled with a strong sense of unease. I am no stranger to the power and authority wielded by a high-ranking eusocial. This... this creature gave the order to destroy my ship and kill everyone on it. It wanted to kill me, too. Why did they target us? I ask.

To eliminate a potential threat, the shipmind replies. You understand the nature of the relationship between eusocials and quasisocials. In the long run, industry is no match for inventiveness.

Yeah, I get it. Let me guess, that thing still has its army. It's just not using it on us because you threatened to kill it before its slaves could rescue it.

Half-right. This creature, which is known as an elect, resents the fact that its workers answer to its queen, rather than to it. It has therefore agreed to submit to invasive testing in exchange for us rewiring its workers for it.

I direct my gaze to the camera, not fully comprehending what the shipmind just said. We're going to rewire them? Wait, so how does the elect know we won't rewire them to answer to us?

It doesn't.

I look back at the screen. And it's okay with that?

It has very little bargaining power, the shipmind replies, the cold tonelessness of its voice seeming suddenly more appropriate. Its choices are to cooperate, and hope that we take some pity on it, or resist and have its bones snapped and organs crushed.

I open my beak in slightly surprised pleasure. Hearing the shipmind put in such certain terms is a great comfort. You know, even if you are both shipminds, you're not very much like Tenuous.

I enjoy your company as well, Hanaske.

I laugh. The sound comes out automatically, without me having to issue any command. Silmiyen really is good at this kind of thing. So. Can I talk to it?

You wish to speak with the prisoner? I nod. Why?

It's a xeno. What do you mean, why?

Very well. Give me a moment and I will patch you through.

I was thinking I'd go down to its cell.




My hands and feet make a soft sticking and unsticking sound as I crawl down the maintenance hallway. My fingers and toes are tipped with a soft silicone rubber that gives them very good traction on the clear plastic. Above and to either side of me, huge gray machinery extends as far as I can see. Below me, there is only a few decimeters of polymer between myself and the vacuum of space. The amber clouds of the gas giant swirl serenely beneath me, lit by a white sun that's far enough away to appear, almost, like any other star.

I reach a junction point. The hallway splits off to the left and right. My hands press against the wall to stop my momentum - the intake room is right ahead of me. It's huge, yet it looks about the right size for the pale clump of feathers huddled in the bottom right corner. I watch it for a few moments, awed in spite of myself at the sheer size of the organism.

You said this wall absorbs ionizing radiation? I ask.

I would not have allowed you down here otherwise. Ask of it what you will, and do not fear. It cannot breach these walls. It has tried, but even with the aid of its suit, it had no success.

Is it sleeping?

No. It is simply watching the gas giant. It seems to enjoy the view.

I hesitate. And you'll relay whatever I say?

Yes, I will. If you are nervous, I would be happy to introduce you. When I don't say anything back, I hear the shipmind's voice carry through the walls of the matter intake.

"Nova. You have a guest. A survivor from the ship you were attempting to harvest. She wishes to speak with you."

My eyes are locked on the giant creature. I know I probably need to ask it something in order for it to speak, but I can't really think of what to ask it. The things I want to know from it aren't really things you can just ask. After a few panicked seconds, I settle on, "H-hi. Ah-ah'm Hanaske. Ahm - do you get bored down here?"

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Agua Incendia
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Postby Agua Incendia » Thu Nov 22, 2018 4:22 pm

Shaken from my daze I look to the screen. The sickness I felt,the reality of what happened to me, these feelings had long faded to this numb sensation of foreboding. Staring back at the gas giant the only real sensation I can articulate is dread. I have managed so far to resist the urge to pick feathers from my sides out of boredom, no... that is dishonest, out of... fear.

I am so scared.

The screen's message finally gets through to me. It takes a few moments to scan the walls before I locate the guest. Its mechanical nature would indicate that the workers did their job, they did their best at the very least. Its words come from the screen, but I can almost hear its voice through the wall. Its voice is different, more of a song, than a message.

I crawl from my position, taking a few steps until I can get no closer. The creature is beautifully complex. Its voice and appearance are so very interesting. it is also embarrassingly small. Truly I have been defeated by insects. Finding it troublesome to view its whole form I move my head independently from my body, straining against the wall to get a more complete view of the guest. So alien, and yet, I feel no sense of discovery. Only shame. These small creatures control me. They have stolen my life.

"Ha na ske," I form the word, the name. I have gotten better at creating the vowels with my wings and voice combined. Still, the Incendian accent must be intimidating, I enjoy the thought. I relish towering over the creature. Even if its behind glass. Staring at the creature, I wonder how advanced their tech really is. How much of that thing is organic matter? If I was responsible for this... it shouldn't be much. The thought is troubling. If this creature is in charge... It would have to be insane not to hold this against me.

Do I regret this outcome?

I have been asking myself this question since I lost to these creatures. Would I have made this choice if I had known the consequences. I followed the law as it was laid before me. It makes sense. Creatures with this level of innovation have proven to be so much more powerful that us... more than me... more than the queen. How many opportunities for our destruction would I have allowed if I reached out to these creatures in harmony. If Ishuri is right, I wouldn't have made it to this encounter at all. If she was wrong...

What have I been doing all this time.

Was I right to attack them? This thing. This creature. Its not a worker. Even this simple question, it demonstrates more of a mind than any worker ever has. I look past the guest. The depths of my actions stretching be fore me. An ocean of death. I feel dread welling inside. I feel confused.

Am I bored? AM I BORED??? What kind of a question is that? Why does it care? How does it care? I have killed trillions of creatures. I have ended planets and combed through their ashes. And now in some fucked up paradox I have managed to exist alongside, well... beneath the foot of, these creatures. It asks me if i'm bored.

"You(...)," the words hide from me. I pause trying to form the sentence. I don't understand this feeling. How is it possible to regret following the queen's orders? An yet I feel remorse looking at the creature. Its words, its question eats at my heart. Could this creature empathize with me after what I did? It must be lying, "you... can't possibly care that I am bored..."

"What, are you doing(?)... here..." I do not fear this creature. A cold twisting cramp works its way into my chest. Gazing on the fruits of my labor. I feel as though the orientation of the room shifts. The creature floats above the ceiling between us. I float below the robotic survivor, waiting...

What am I so afraid of?
Last edited by Agua Incendia on Thu Nov 22, 2018 4:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Camila I » Sat Nov 24, 2018 8:19 pm

My words catch the creature's attention. As it rises and crawls toward me, the memory of its workers pursuing me through the ducts of a ship much like this one comes rushing back. For a moment, the light seems to fall away, replaced by the dim glow of burning metal and the shrieks of the vessel being torn apart.

I can feel myself backing away. Behind me - there is an infinite length of hallway behind me. Every cell I have left is screaming for me to run. My heart beats no faster, and I can't hyperventilate, yet somehow that only makes the fear worse. I feel very small, trapped inside a body that doesn't recognize the danger. As though my grip on life is suddenly very tenuous.

Mercifully, the shipmind says nothing to comfort me. It simply lets me watch the monster behind the glass.

It isn't trying to claw through it. It's just trying to get a good look at me. It's okay, I tell myself. It's okay. It's okay. It's okay. I hesitate, then take a step forward. My legs make a rhythmic whir-click pattern as I force myself to re-approach the wall. The creature is moving its head back and forth on its serpentine neck, seemingly frustrated that it can only see me from one angle. Smoothly - even though my hands should be shaking uncontrollably - I unzip all of my garments and throw them aside. Keeping my eyestalk locked on it the whole time, I slowly turn a full circle, allowing the creature to see the entirety of my body.

It says my name. Its voice is as horrible as I remember - a low buzzing, like a swarm of insects, that vibrates the plastic between us. Even so, I hold my gaze on its eyes, tilting my eyestalk slightly to follow the motions of its head.

"You(...), you... can't possibly care that I am bored..."

I stare at it curiously. It seems to have some trouble forming the words.

"What, are you doing(?)... here..."

Hm. How to answer that question?

"When I go to sleep tonight, I am probably going to have nightmares about what you did." My voice is quiet, and wavers slightly. "I'll probably dream that I have my old body. Maybe your worker will catch me this time, and rip my chest and stomach open with its claws. Maybe it'll burn me alive." I tilt my head to one side. "Do you know how painful it is to be burned alive? All of your nociceptors activate at once. You--" my voice falters. "You need to burn through a lot of them before you get to anything that will kill us. It would probably have been best if I never learned that. Because my brain is going to be very good at replicating it."

"And then the next night it'll probably be the same thing again."

"I'm here because I don't want that to be the only memory I have of you. I'm here because, maybe, I can drown out that memory with a hundred memories of seeing you locked in a cage, where you can't do anything to hurt me."

"You know what would really help." I take the last step forward that I can before I'd run into the wall. I reach my hand out, pause, then place it on the clear plastic, the fingers making little sticking sounds as they touch it. "Hurting you back."

"It would be really nice to not need this barrier between us. I want to stand in the same room as you, you with your motor nerves cut out of your body." I raise my arm and twist it around, so the creature can see the little tubes running down the middle. "I want to take a saw into your cell and drag it through your flesh however I please, while you are powerless to do anything about it."

"Then maybe I would have dreams about that instead." I take a step back. I feel sick - a light, soft burning, as if my body were fighting an infection. "Distant. If I were to ask for that, would you allow it?"

"Ask, or command?"

I tilt my head. I hope the creature is smart enough to understand what the shipmind just said. "In that case, I have a command for you."

"I am listening."

"At some point, the elect will decide she doesn't want to talk to me anymore. After that, I want you to at least give her something to read. Or read aloud to her, if she asks you to. And start making something softer for her to sleep on."

There is a slight pause. "As you wish, Hanaske."

"Nova. That point. Has it come yet?"

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Postby Agua Incendia » Sat Nov 24, 2018 11:29 pm

I had never considered how painful it would be to be burned alive. My mind swims though the ashes I have left in my wake. Glassing planets with even hints of life budding on the surface. Best not to dwell on it...

Hanaske's singing shifts to a darker subject. Her hand clicks against the wall. I wonder if the nociceptors are still in there... It seems implied from her body language that they are no longer. Thanks to me...

"I want to take a saw into your cell and drag it through your flesh however I please, while you are powerless to do anything about it."

Goosebumps travel through my body as the fear I feel manifests in an involuntary threat display. What a silly threat. I muster a laugh, hissing gently in response to the joke. I try to relax, such a strange and silly depiction of a wish. Maybe it was a metaphor that I don't understand? Clearly she is joking. She must be joking.

I flinch at the screens clarification. This... Hanaske, she is in charge?! I stare at the insane commander. New fear manifesting in my posture, and apparent volume1.

"In that case, I have a command for you."

I look around the cell, I can't stop myself. Is the screen... Distant... preparing a knife behind a wall to start this insanity? She won't actually do that. There is no way.

I look directly at the creature, at Hanaske. Realization strikes home as I recognize what this would mean. Do it! The thought is invigorating. Destroy me! Prove my innocence! I would suffer pain far greater than having my body cut to pieces if it means that Ishuri is right!

Prove that I have been doing the right thing. I want to feel my queens truth as you cut me apart. I want to know that we could never exist together!

"At some point, the elect will decide she doesn't want to talk to me anymore. After that,

YESYES. DO IT!

I want you to at least give her something to read.

I physically flinch at Hanaske's 'command'. WHAT? I don't understand... was the whole conversation a ruse?

I ignore her question. Anger and dissappointment overflowing. My posture becomes aggressive.

"Are you, truly, in command Hanaske?" I am a leader, what is this joke of a creaute to me(?), "If you want to hurt me, I can't stop you!" there is panic in my voice, my confidence deflating quickly as I remember where I am, "What possible reason could you have to offer me anything. Why would you- I don't- There is-"

As quickly as I felt the power and pride that I have been so familiar with I feel it drain away, replaced with desperation. Do I have reason to fear that she might be upset if I don't answer her question? I see her walking at my paralyzed body with a saw in her hand. The conviction I felt for accepting my fate seems to be missing as the visual grows clearer, as Hanaske draws closer in my imagining of the future... "I want to talk to you..." Wait, do I(?), "I didn't mean to ignore you." The fear I feel for this creature is revolting. I am truly the greatest failure of Incendia...

I have to pause to collect the question, fighting the shivering sobs that threaten to disrupt my speech, "W-why are you helping mee i-if that is hoow you feel?"

I feel weaker than I ever have. I feel weaker every second on this stupid damned ship.

There is no answer that favors my situation. Whether it is possible to live alongside these ants. I will forever be trapped beneath their feet. I shake my wings. I want to hide my body language. I can't let these monster see me cry.



1 referring to Nova's perceived size, due to fluffiness

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Camila I
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Postby Camila I » Sun Nov 25, 2018 6:19 am

"Are you, truly, in command Hanaske?"

I nod.

"If you want to hurt me, I can't stop you!"

I nod again.

I am not familiar with the creature's body language, but it seems agitated. Flaring its feathers out and taking a combative stance. Almost as if it's daring me. It's not really fair - the creature really is scaring me with its movements, but it probably can't tell. I'm not shaking or anything. The only sign of my unease is my steadfast refusal to take my eyes off of it for even a second.

If it is agitated, I'd guess that it is also uncertain. It probably doesn't know what to make of me. Underneath the creature's brave posture, I can see it shivering.

"I'm not threatening you. If you say you want me to leave, I will."

I stop talking, unsure of what to say beyond that. Part of me wants to release myself from the floor and curl up into a free-floating ball. The habit helps me think. But I don't feel comfortable to adopt even a slightly vulnerable position in front of this thing.

After a while, I decide how I want to answer its question. "When I say I'm not threatening you, I mean that in more ways than one. I haven't told you anything with the intent to make you afraid of me, or coerce you into doing anything. I told you what I want to do to you because I want you to know. That is the only reason."

I watch it for another few moments. When I speak, my voice is quiet. "Nova. I have a request for you. I want your permission. I promise to use another form of paralysis - one that only lasts for an hour or so. I also promise that if you say no, I'm not going to do it anyway. I want it to be an act of reconciliation, not hostility. Do you understand?"

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Agua Incendia
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Postby Agua Incendia » Sun Nov 25, 2018 2:27 pm

This creature won't hurt me without... permission?

The sadness that claws at my heart sinks deeper than before. Dispair crawling throughout my body and mind.

What is left of me. What else is there. I have spent my life serving an idiot. I don't even hesitate to think of her as fool. Ishuri is no Queen. No queen could be this wrong. I can barely comprehend the extent of the damage that I have caused. I never questioned my actions. I saw civilizations crumble and thought of it no further. Each one a simple threat to extinguish. They must see me for what I am, and yet she offers me comfort. She wants my life to improve.

Hanaske waits for my answer.

"There is no reconciling what I have done." My words managed to stay composed through the shivers that crawl over my skin, "You don't deserve what I did... to you. If(...)," The thought of being cut apart while paralyzed is powerfully disconcerting, "You... have no... you shouldn't offer me charity. It's not right."

What does it matter what I feel.

"I might be the worst thing to happen to the universe. So, If you feel better cutting me apart..." There is no part of me that wants to do this, but it would be unfair to say anything else, "You have my permission."

I grimace, clenching my fists. It makes sense to try and improve my relations with the commander... no... this is insanity. I didn't even ask for specifics, I just said okay. Regret billows through me, I should have kept my mouth/wings shut. Maybe the pain I am about to experience will block out the images of burning planets. I had always thought it was us or them. What would this universe look like without me...?

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Postby Camila I » Sun Nov 25, 2018 11:01 pm

A rush of joy floods my body. She said yes. Truly, I don't think I've ever been happier.

"Nova. Please, carve your signature into the wall, to serve as a reminder of your consent." If my happiness doesn't show in my body, it definitely shows in my voice.

The lost, defeated creature hesitates. But she does do it. My eyes follow her claws as they scrape the lines into the plastic. Her name is so simple - just a series of hatchmarks, as if her language was made to be written this way. And so short. If she has any title, she has decided to omit it.

"Distant. I want you to synthesize a drug that will have the properties I've described. Have your studies of her nervous system progressed far enough to accomplish that?"

"More than far enough, my lady."

"Good. Make it and administer it. Don't restrain her any further than that, though. I have something I need to do in the meantime - call me back here when she's almost ready."

"As you wish." Behind the avian creature, the shipmind's varied arachnoid drones hum to life. I put my protective garments back on, beaming at the elect the whole time, then turn and head back the way I came.




I step inside the tiny room, and the door shuts behind me. Najma and Silmiyen are already inside, floating with tendrils intertwined near the opposite wall. This place is a junction room, unfurnished except for the variety of control panels behind the plastic walls. I guess they probably meet here a lot, since it's right between the medical bay and the first fabricator.

"Hi," I greet them, my voice bright. "What'd you guys want to talk about?"

Najma looks at me with the same look I saw earlier. When she speaks, her voice is unsteady. "We just wanted to ask if you were okay."

"Mhm. I am o~kay."

"How are you getting along with Distant?" Her expression is still concerned. I guess she knew something of my relationship with Tenuous. I didn't talk much to anyone else.

"Swimmingly." I examine Najma's face. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"Well, when you were first being put into stasis here, the readings showed that you had a brief conversation with the shipmind, and whatever it said seemed to terrify you. I was worried it had threatened you or something."

I peer at her. "You know Distant can hear you, right?" She doesn't say anything, but her expression doesn't change much, so I guess she already knew. "Anyway, I don't remember that, so I couldn't tell you if it threatened me or not."

"You don't have any fear of it?"

I'm not sure how to answer that. Eventually I simply decide not to. "The shipmind has treated me very kindly for the time I've been awake. And, given that I am alive, I surmise it was treating me well before then, too. Do you have any reason to expect otherwise?"

She hesitates. "No." A moment later, "So, you're happy, then?"

"Yes."

"How do you feel about your new body?"

"It responds excellently. I don't feel limited by it at all." I tilt my head at her. "Are you perhaps feeling guilty that you couldn't do better?"

She doesn't answer my question. She just curls herself up a little more. I can hear her crying softly, though her face is obscured by her petals. Silmiyen gently strokes her head and shoulders, although his eyes are still on me. After a few moments, he gives his own answer. His voice is dark and quiet. "Good guess."

I observe him back, though he doesn't give nearly as much away. My attention shifts from one end of his eyestalk to the other. "By "do better", do you mean saving more of my original body?" Neither of them denies it quickly enough. "Ah. I think I get it. You weren't happy to see me in this body because you could have restored the organic one. Like, all the way."

Najma finally manages to get a word out. "If we had l-left you in stasis for longer, y-yes."

I nod. "But then I wouldn't have been awake to help the shipmind. I bet it pressed you into doing it this way, and that's why you're worried about it. You think it doesn't care about me." I can see in Silmiyen's face that my deduction is at least mostly correct.

"Well," I continue, "you're wrong on both levels. What the shipmind persuaded you to do is what I would have chosen. I'm happy that I'm awake while our captive is here. I wouldn't trade my role in this for anything. And I have reason to believe Distant knew that. But," a slight edge enters my voice, "even if it wasn't what I wanted. Even if the shipmind awakened me as an immobile brain in a vat. I would still be happy to assist it if it thought it was for the best. You know why? Because it would be right."

Najma turns to look at me again. Her face is a complicated mask of emotions. She looks relieved, but there is something else there too, something I can't discern. "T-this is what you would have chosen."

"Yes," I say emphatically.

Hanaske. The prisoner will be ready for you in a few minutes.

I look back and forth between the two of them. "I have to leave now. I appreciate your concern, both of you. But there's nothing for you to worry about. Really. I live for this stuff." I step out of the room, waving back at them.

As I pull myself through the ship in the direction of the matter intakes, I find myself wondering what either of them really got out of that conversation. Do they not realize that I am always going to say what I said? Or does hearing the meaningless words still hold some kind of comfort for them?

But my interest in that question quickly fades. As I re-enter the long, thin hallways that innervate the outer parts of the ship, I have almost forgotten about the two of them entirely.




The elect is floating, still, in the middle of her cell. Around her, all of the mechanical arms that are normally stored behind the walls are extended, still, like a smooth dark forest. As I progress down the hallway, parallax obscures and reveals different parts of her body behind the arms. Her limbs, too, are extended and pulled outward, not allowing her even the minimal protection of curling up.

I stop at a certain point along the wall. "Open the door," I say quietly. In front of me, two large polymer plates slide apart with barely a whisper. There is now nothing between me and the giant creature. Her room is darker than before - the gas giant is now between our ship and its star. What little light there is illuminates a halo of feathers in an outline of the creature's body.

I stand there for a minute looking at her. Even if she can't move a muscle, the sight of her still fills me with awe. I wonder if she can see me, or if she only saw the doors opening. I wonder if she can see the light glinting off of the serrated instrument clutched in my tendrils.

I curl my legs up, then push off of the wall. Gracefully, I twist myself around to catch one of the arms and swing off of it, hurling myself between the metal branches on the instinct that I was born with. When I reach the top of an arm that is close to the elect's face, I don't fly off again, but rather catch it and hold myself there. I smile at the elect, hold the saw out to one side, then let go, leaving the instrument spinning slowly away from us. Then I reach my hand out to touch her. I run my fingers through the crest of feathers on her head. Her body is hot, but not burning hot. My eyes begin to well up with tears.

"I'm sorry." My synthetic voice cracks slightly. "I'm not going to hurt you."

For a while, I don't say anything further. I move between the metal limbs, curiously observing the alien being's anatomy. Wherever her body is close enough, I reach out and run my hand over her, feeling the curve of her musculature, the places where her tendons attach to her bones. Her feathers are rough, and her skin is marred with cancerous growths. Yet there is a strange beauty to her all the same.

After some time, I have gone around her whole body. I jump back to the first arm, the one in front of her head, and grab onto it. I hope it is not too dark for her to see that I am smiling at her. "Thank you. It is hard for me to express how cathartic this has been." I fall silent for several moments. "About what you said earlier... No sin is truly unforgivable. It is merely a question of whether a person is worthy of forgiveness."

I pull myself closer to the shipmind's arm, trying to settle into a comfortable position. As time passes and my mind wanders, my tendrils slowly arrange themselves into the hunting position, with the tips curled back on themselves. Happily, I realize that I have grown comfortable enough around this creature to start feeling tired. How exhausted would I be, then, if I weren't around her?

"Hey," I murmur, before I descend too far into torpor. "Your medication should be wearing off shortly. When it does, can I ask that you please wake me up?"

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Agua Incendia
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Postby Agua Incendia » Tue Nov 27, 2018 4:47 pm

Full range of movement has been available to me for almost a full minute. Time passes slowly as I stare at Hanaske, sleeping. I clutch my wings in front of me muffling the sobs that shake my body. I don't know why I am crying. Its not sadness. Its something more than I understand. I can feel the talk-feathers shaking in each hand, trying to cry out, to display my distress. I squeeze them harder, muffling the sounds, I refuse to be heard, I couldn't bear the shame of waking Hanaske by sobbing like a child in front of her after what she did. I have backed away from Hanaske, as far away as the room will allow, I don't like standing close to her. I don't deserve... She doesn't deserve to be around me. I know what I stand for, I am a symbol of death and ignorance. I destroyed her body, I killed her friends and family.

Worthy of forgiveness... I curl around my self in the corner, my hands tighten around the talk-feathers.

I already have trouble remembering everything that just happened. There are parts of the experience that shine so brightly that they are all I can think about. The hesitation before she revealed her lie. I was ready for pain, I had steeled myself for the trials I was about to face. Its what I deserved. I don't understand... Already I feel shame for trying to intimidate her with my posture and size. I have little doubt that she was ever as scared of me as I had just been of her. I am outclassed by these creatures in more ways than I ever knew possible.

I had been unable to even move my eyes. It was an unexpected affect to me, obvious in hindsight, but I hadn't expected it. It was terrifying to be unable to look around the room. Freezing shivers run through my body where her hands had been minutes ago, as I remember how I felt, how she looked at me. Her tiny frozen fingers reaching between my feathers, tracing along my figure. I thought her hands would be cold. They felt like fire and ice, dancing over my body. So cold that it almost burned. Still... her actions remind me of my... the Queen's workers, how they comb through my feathers when they have the opportunity. She took the same care that they would, even though I don't think she could have injured me by accident... She took great care in how she touched me.

Were her companions like her? Were the people I killed like her?

I feel so, so small.

She told me to wake her up. Shame silences me as I think of what to say. My voice is loud, it is imposing. It is the voice of a murderer. Maybe I should ask the screen to wake her up...

No... She told me to do it.

Betrayal, anger, shame. Looking back at my life I don't understand how I could spend so little time thinking about the ramifications of my actions. Does the queen really hold so much power over me that I never even considered what I was doing? No. It is not possible that I have so little free will. I refuse to accept that. I am responsible for everything that I have done. I can't undo what I have done. I can't change what happened. I can choose going forward... I look at the cell that surrounds me... Too little too late I suppose.

I force my hands to relax as I try to think of what to do. I manage release my talk-feathers, they shiver but they do not make sound.

I don't have a lot of control over what I am or what I do at the moment. However, there are things that I can affect! I will no longer speak with Ishuri's voice! Twisting my head I grab the base of the talk-feathers with my beak. Pinching hard I clip them off close to the base. The pain is blinding. I falter from the surprise and fail to complete the action. Vision blurring from the pain I gently shake my head regaining focus. Beak and wing now shivering from the sensation and pain, I grab again and finish the cut. Clipping all but two talk-feathers from the group on one wing.

Quickly, I turn to the other wing. Its impossible not to hesitate, as I hold my beak around the feathers, now that I know what comes next. But, my resolve won't be shaken. Gripping the same spot on this wing, I bite as hard as I can. This time I completing the task in one try. Twenty talk-feathers reduced to four. Two on each wing. Shaking from the pain I look across the room at Hanaske. Now I am more like them. My voice should be quieter, less... Incendian...

I don't want to be imposing. I don't want to look powerful. But, I don't know how to do anything else... I figure the opposite of how I normally act should be a good start... I try to position myself to appear smaller than I am. I hold my wings closer to my sides. My tail curls around my feet. I huddle against the ground. I hold my head low, close to the ground. I look up at her perched on the arm, motionless.

The idea of frightening Hanaske awake is appalling. My shoulders and body shiver and quake from the pain of my pruning and from the worry that fills my heart.

Finally, shivering on the floor of my cell, I manage to call to her, "Hanaske(?), my voice is quiet. I have done my best to mimic hers. The screen, Distant, is much easier to mimic. Hanaske is not. The strange songs that flow alongside her words are strange to copy. I continue, "do not be afraid..."
Last edited by Agua Incendia on Wed Nov 28, 2018 10:56 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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