NATION

PASSWORD

Absence [FT, Closed]

A staging-point for declarations of war and other major diplomatic events. [In character]
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Kyasiouna
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Psychotic Dictatorship

Absence [FT, Closed]

Postby Kyasiouna » Tue Feb 18, 2020 11:01 pm

She drew breath; the pain was a slow dull impression, a signature of the void. She was not afraid of the emptiness around her; the bleak expanse should terrify, but there were advantages that accompanied this realm's insidious decay. She was a resident. Nevertheless, at these distances her destination could be out of reach by the time she arrived - gone, or even destroyed. It was hard not to be nervous. While she was not alone on The Empty Set, she had no one to keep her company. Days swam by. She laughed to herself, a slow rattling gasp, remembering the origin of the vessel’s name: The Empty Set. The engineers said - either incorrectly or in jest - that when in Slipspace the ship functioned as though it were empty. In real space The Empty Set became even more incorrect - but the ship hadn't often existed in real space. Made to be the fastest ship possible, its goal was to make zero stops between start and finish. It was capable, with sufficient fuel, to repair and function in Slipspace at great length. She and her few children were, like The Empty Set, made to survive in Slipspace. They were meant to exist as part of The Empty Set. She had always wondered if that name was meant as an insult - was she considered nothing? Regardless, she was grateful to be in Slipspace, in a reality separate from the Machine. She could only hope that this protected them from the doom that had so suddenly befallen the Kyasian Empire.

The schedule said she was 14 years out from the system suspected to contain the self-estranged Camilans. She had been born after the great betrayal, a product of dire circumstance. Her creators had often fawned over the traitors' supposed intelligence, often describing them with a sense of wonder. They spoke as if each member was a fully realized colony with its own aspirations and stories. A race with a mind for every body, they would say. Yet the scans of this system had shown their planet, if they were even on said planet, as being unpleasant at best. She would be somewhat disappointed if they turned out to have taken hold here. The universe had no limit - surely, they could have done better.

Normally the queen and her children would sleep while in Slipspace, but the Machine that urged this journey had broken many traditions. Ulusha was cut from a different stone; her mind and body were capable of of a suspended meditation. A compromise between the decay of slip space and processes of the body. Ulusha could plot during the journey with out consuming the traditionally massive amount of resources that a queen would normally require. The 14 years left of the voyage translated to only a handful of days. Ulusha spent this time preparing for action, waiting for the true payoff of her modifications. Her ability to consume a variable amount of resources went both ways. With the Camilans' help, maybe this trend of making trades could end. Meanwhile, the ship’s fusion reactor and the intricacies that repaired it continued to keep the ship and her body in the best state that they could. The dull underlying sensation of decay remained palpable; the itching pain of nutrient deficit had become normal for her.

She knew it was important to focus on the mission, but her thoughts would drift from time to time. She often recalled the disgust in their eyes before they sent her off. They would stare at the tubes and pieces going in and out of her body. She was told they were practical. She believed the people who told her that she was part of a great advancement. She knew she was capable of what no one else was, but she saw the horror in their eyes. She felt that familiar shame every time she noticed the unusual and steady hum of her heart. She remembered the day it stopped beating. It wasn't all bad. When her children were awake, and she held them close, she liked to think that their hearts were shared. They would hum against her body and she against theirs, and they were there together, and she believed this was all worth it. She knew she would always protect them, and they her.

She had 13 years left to compose a message for the Camilans. She wondered if she would be welcome? It seemed unlikely that the Camilans would experience the same revulsion that her creators held. Regardless... and given the gravity of the situation, she was sure they would at least give some consideration to her plea.



The Empty Set returned to real space just outside of the pale planet’s atmosphere. A cocktail of tranquilizers was already preparing her body and mind for the transition to realspace. The transition was one of fire and pain, one to be avoided. Her children would see to it that the mission carried on. They would soon rise from their slipspace slumber. The last image Ulusha saw was that of a sleeping world, shrouded by storms.



Camilans,
It is far outside Kyasian standards to ignore your desire for solitude. It is your right to ignore this message. Please listen.

4 years after the separation, 42 systems and their 5 trillion inhabitants lost contact with the core worlds. All 42 systems resided within a new exclusion zone. We came to determine that it was not possible to send any ship over 1000kg past a border that had formed exactly 10000ly out from galactic central point. Any ship that was able to traverse this exclusion zone reported that all systems, stars, planets, even small asteroids, had disappeared. In their place was a super structure. Fourteen spires reaching out from galactic central point. Each spire is, to our estimates, 1ly long and 9000Mm across. We dared not approach.

Despite a quarter of our nation vanishing in an instant, we fear that this may not have been a direct attack, but a mere side effect of this entity’s appearance. There are many paths forward, but the one thing Kyasiouna agrees on is that the guiding light should be in your hands.
Last edited by Kyasiouna on Mon Nov 16, 2020 8:00 am, edited 15 times in total.

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Camila I
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Postby Camila I » Thu Feb 20, 2020 9:27 pm

It had been nearly 40 years since the start of the Camilans’ self-imposed exile. Qa-kayanda, the Great Betrayal, an event that still scarred the species’ collective memory, had made them realize just how precarious their mutualism with the Kyasians had been.

“Them.” But of course the realization had not nearly been so unanimous as that.

It must have been quite the spectacle, the brief period of chaos that had followed that mass destruction. Shipminds and cityminds in vehement, sometimes violent disagreement about what should be done, throwing all the power and influence they could muster behind their uniquely divined conclusions. Often trying to drag their patron queens into the argument, as though bombing eleven of their worlds had not been enough of an insult. This must have been the first time any Kyasian had witnessed intraspecific strife on such a scale. When their kind disagreed, which itself was uncommon, it was one queen with another, one large stable segment of society with another. And their fights, when they occurred, were ritualized, with each side privately agreeing on the winner long before any blood was shed.

Perhaps they had heard of the Camilans’ bloodthirst. The flowers’ bitter struggle with the Cult was, after all, the reason the two species had met. But now the Kyasians had seen a bit of that bloodthirst firsthand.

And yet. And yet, even still…

Eleven worlds. Only eleven worlds. Only one of which had been completely scoured.

“We have more.”

The Kyasian Empire’s great wealth and expanse, combined with the replaceability of their workers, seemed to have instilled in them a unique brand of magnanimity – one borne of perceived invulnerability. Their queens seemed to take pride in bestowing, and even flagrantly wasting, resources on the Camilans’ behalf - precisely because they had never to fear running out.

Or perhaps it was a cooler analysis than that. A queen fortunate enough to have a colony of Camilans under her protection had an invaluable asset. Despite their constant arguing, or perhaps partly because of it, a group of a hundred Camilans could produce technological marvels at a faster rate than the whole of the Empire combined. From that perspective, perhaps it made perfect sense to risk the occasional loss of a world.

The appearance of a Kyasian ship so close to Etual, and the subsequent message it painted the planet’s surface with, confirmed that this mindset was still alive and well.

Cloud cover absorbed the vast majority of the signal. In fact there was only a single conscious entity that received it: the worldship Tenuous Grasp, which hovered in close orbit above the planet. Its presence in the system had greatly expanded since the colony was founded 14 years ago – countless unthinking drone ships ferried harvested material to larger orbital constructors, of which dozens were visible from the Kyasian ship’s perspective. Most notably, the elevator that connected it to the planet’s surface had been severed.

The shipmind parsed the message. In reading its first line, the same characteristic gentle chiding came through as had all those years ago. Silently, the entity laughed. It knew that the queens largely perceived the exodus as unwarranted – a disproportionate if not downright immature response to what were ultimately forgivable losses.

Tenuous saw it another way. To it, it was obvious that the same trait that made its children so valuable was what made them so dangerous. Qa-kayanda failed precisely because it had been executed too early – another few decades, and the technology may have existed to do much more damage than eleven worlds.

As for why it had been executed when it had, the shipmind could only guess. Probably some of the high-ranking cult members behind its organization had begun to feel paranoid, like their secret was close to being discovered. Probably they decided that an early attempt was better than nothing, and rightly feared that if they were found out any other way, they wouldn’t get a chance to put their plan into motion.

But if they hadn’t felt the need to blow their cover early, it was possible they would have never been discovered. Not until they wanted to be.

Perhaps it was unfair to expect a Kyasian of all creatures to fully grasp the threat this represented. After all, even baseline Camilans were poorly equipped to grapple with the pace of technological progress. But, as the now-total absence of Camilans from Kyasian space proved, you didn’t have to fully grasp a warning in order to heed it.



As the Empty Set phased back into real space, it would be met with three messages. The first two arrived quickly and simultaneously, as though in response to the vessel’s mere presence. The third arrived somewhat thereafter. All three were tightbeamed to the Empty Set’s approximate location.

[no encoded content. a visual display, consisting of a symmetric, biological form being disintegrated into a disorganized, chaotic mess. flashed from hundreds of drone ships across multiple spectra. the visual spectrum version is in red light.]


[encoded in Maladi, using a protocol the Empty Set would be familiar with. flashed in white light from several drones.]

“Turn back.”

“The experiment is not yet complete.”

“Turn back.”


[encoded in Maladi, using a protocol the Empty Set would be familiar with. flashed in white light from the Tenuous Grasp’s light array.]

“Hello, vessel Empty Set. This is the shipmind Tenuous Grasp. You addressed your greeting to all Camilans; I hope I may speak on our behalf.

I remember well the kindness your civilization showed me and my siblings. I greet you with boundlessly overflowing love for you and all your kind.

That being said, you are a fool for coming here.

The surface of this world, Etual, is home to what I can only describe as a poorly contained existential hazard, the nature of which you have been well warned about. Your civilization, like our own, is lucky to have survived such a brush with the Cult, their largest and most well-coordinated act in recorded history. Our ‘desire for solitude’, as well as our desire to dismantle and restrict access to most of our own technology, is borne of our concern for your safety, a concern which you are kicking dirt on by approaching to sublight distances.

That being said…

I can only assume that the Empty Set either houses a queen, or is here on the direct orders of one. I have personally dealt with your queens on multiple occasions, and as such I have personally witnessed their great and incomparable intelligence. Whatever points I may think they are missing, I concede that an equal amount may be out of my own grasp.

Out of respect for that, I am willing to negotiate with you, on one condition:

Do not attempt any direct communication with Etual. Your original message was too low-energy to penetrate its atmosphere, so they should still be unaware of your presence. Make sure you keep it that way unless I give explicit permission otherwise.

Should you break this condition, I will shift all efforts away from helping you and toward making sure that the experiment is not further compromised.

If this is acceptable to you, please reply with all additional information you have managed to collect on this megastructure, along with a weighted outline of your objectives with respect to dealing with it. You may think some are obvious – list them anyway.

May your existence stretch into eternity.”





Though the shipmind had made sure not to let it show, news of the appearance of a megastructure had piqued its interest almost immeasurably. It had not been alive for first contact, but it had heard stories of how a strategist Ukeiri, lacking any foreknowledge of the Kyasians, had been forced to consider the possibility that they were a vastly superior civilization. Time would prove them to be only greatly superior, the difference small enough to fit within a single Camilan’s mind. Now, however, that same possibility had arisen again.

Stories…

stories told to it by the daughter who had followed in Ukeiri's footsteps. Who had chosen Tenuous as her final host, and if the shipmind was being kind with itself, her only friend.

“Hanaske…”

“I have a problem that I think you will find interesting.”

A fantastic, almost unfathomable problem… it wanted to add, as though it would make a difference.

Of course, there was no response.
Last edited by Camila I on Mon Nov 16, 2020 5:18 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Kyasiouna
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Psychotic Dictatorship

Postby Kyasiouna » Thu Feb 27, 2020 8:06 pm

“I never slept.”

“That’s impossible.”

The single orbital on the Kyasian Cruiser, The Empty Set, is all but barren. The ships computer has pulled a worker out of cryo to begin repairs. We talk in the cold waters. I have forgotten her name. I don’t recognize her as we exchange words. The rest of the crew cannot be afforded while the ship is so low on resources. The thin layer of ice on the surface of the water casts a dismal glow on the conversation. The worker doesn’t respond to the denial. I stare at her, waiting. It is enjoyable to watch her think.

I knew I was smarter than most, but I didn’t realize how far I had come in the 14 years.

Finally, she forms a real question.

“How could you have been awake? It was 14 years. What did you eat…? How did you eat? The ship wasn’t provisioned to support crew outside of cryosleep.”

“I made adjustments to the voyage to accommodate my assigned projects.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“I need you to help me.”

The scene remains one of perfect stillness. Even our words have been reduced to mere efficient electric signals to conserve energy. One heart beating, one humming, as we look at each other in the cold depths.

“Wh- Why wouldn’t I help you.”

“I was assigned to monitor the ship while in slip space. Before our departure Kyasian systems started detecting small gravitational fields that seemed to manifest from nowhere.”

“The Machine?”

“It's impossible to be certain.” My voice, or rather the signal that carries it, takes on a cautious tone. The tone also denotes that the message it carries is encrypted. It is difficult, but not impossible, to overhear. “I pulled the ship out of warp two times during our travel to restock the heavy metal stores. On both occasions I left a probe programmed to enter Slipspace and send a signal to The Empty Set once every month for 3 months. None of the probes reentered Slipspace to relay their signal.”

“They were destroyed?”

I can’t help but glower at the question. I had forgotten the normal ways that Kyasian workers think and act. “They didn’t reenter Slipspace. I programmed them to self-destruct if unable to enter Slipspace or if they were tampered with and to reenter Slipspace if any object came into sensor range. I hope they self-destructed.”

“So, what do we need to do?”

“The queen is sleeping; she cannot give orders until she awakens. I need you to follow my orders.”

“Orders that the queen left you?”

This is the question that I have been afraid of. It feels wrong to circumvent the queen’s rule. I pause for only a beat “…yes.”

“Then I will do whatever I can.”

“Prepare the ship for repairs... whatever systems are available.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Talk to the Camilans.”



I drift into the queen’s chambers; there no need for locks among trusted family. I feel a deep disgust for my actions. What I am doing is wrong… but necessary. There isn’t time to explain the nature of my situation to the Camilans and expect them to listen. I have never been able to feel the strange gravity fields that the sensors can pick up. But I know they are here.

What follows these fields (?), what disabled the probes?

As I read the message my queen had composed, I can feel my disgust become more focused on the strange super structure. What a horrible device. I hate it. What will it do when it finds us? Will it be worse than what Ulusha will do to me when she wakes up? Should… should she wake up?

I drive such thoughts from my mind. I focus on constructing a reply.

[encoded in Maladi, flashed in white light from the Empty Set’s light array.]

We are more than ashamed of our presence here. I will not mince words. We took a disjointed path to get here in hopes of protecting you. But the structure, or some other entity, has been projecting gravitational fields about our ship for the duration of the journey here. We have reason to believe that its presence will be more realized within a month.

By coming here, it is possible that we have, in some capacity, doomed your world. We are prepared to construct all necessary tools needed to complete an evacuation within 14 days.

We know little to nothing about the structure. A team of queens has collaborated onboard the research vessel Duality. This marked the first time a ship has been primarily manned by queens. They meant to make contact with the structure. This was 14 years ago, the same time that we departed in search of you.

There were three schools of thought when we left the core systems. The researchers and those that supported them, we the explorers that seek to unite with the Camilans, and the cowards. 14 years ago, half of the remaining queens and their children have made towards the edge of the galaxy; they mean to flee the influence of this structure.

We truly know almost nothing regarding this structure. For our purposes, reaching out to you is the first step.

I am sorry for drawing this burden to you. It was not my choice.
Last edited by Kyasiouna on Sat Oct 31, 2020 11:13 am, edited 5 times in total.

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Camila I
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Postby Camila I » Fri Mar 13, 2020 4:09 am

“…a problem that I think you will find int….”

The cold words brushed across the surface of the yellow-petal’s consciousness, triggering a cascade of activity that was yet not deep enough to be called understanding. For several moments she saw nothing. Then for several moments after that, her surroundings were consumed by a vast, many-tendrilled figure, peering at her through empty holes in many-layered masks of bone. Its endlessly repeating wormlike arms did mercifully avoid touching her as they curled around her, grooves in its face-segments suggesting an open-beaked smile.

Then the shadow dissipated, and she was able to see her true surroundings. She was contained within a small egglike chamber, immersed in a viscous sea-green liquid and peering out into the dim exterior through a transparent plastic hatch. Still it took several moments for this visual information to be processed. It was not sleep that the creature was awakening from, but an ancestral state of hibernation that induced near-total inactivity of the brain.

She shifted slightly inside her amnion, limbs still heavy. The meaning of this disturbance was now becoming clear to her, and she could not help but well up with anger. Tenuous… this was not the deal… she thought privately.

For some time she considered rebuking the shipmind for coming to her with a message that was not from Xila or the surface. She also considered disconnecting herself from the ship’s network entirely, so that it would have to work a little harder to interrupt her protest.

But she decided that these responses would be too harsh. She and the shipmind had maintained a good working relationship for nearly thirty years – if that was not worth ignoring a slight as rare and minor as this, then what was it worth?

The shipmind would go back to respecting their arrangement after this. And when it eventually did awaken her for the right reason, she was planning to forgive it.

Eyes still open, the Camilan allowed the heaviness to overtake her once again.




Outside the pod, just beyond the range of what was visible from inside it, a large insectile machine sat perched, motionless except for a rhythmic raking of its frontmost limbs. Its brain was simple and mechanical, and also not what commanded its current movements. Those commands originated elsewhere, from tissues connected to the shipmind, derived from the semi-autonomous nerve system in a Camilan’s flower ring. Though the shipmind did not often focus its attention on these robots, their actions reflected its subconscious desires.

This particular raking motion was similar to one performed by surgical robots during the earliest stages of shipmind creation. Pulling back the skin and skull to expose the brain.

But this machine had been performing that motion ceaselessly for several months.




Tenuous parsed the Empty Set’s reply with fascination, briefly noting the tone of its deliverer. Intelligence and independent mindset indicative of a queen, but what was that last line? If there had been multiple factions of queens, then in what sense would it not have been this one’s choice to come here?

It filed this small discrepancy away for later consideration – the content of the message was far more pressing.

You do not mischaracterize your presence, nor that of what you have apparently brought along with you, as a burden.

Our races have cooperated with each other for many years. It is out of respect for that fact that I will construe your actions in good faith, and not as the act of blackmail that they appear to be.

You must have made ample use of the phase drive in order to make it here – you would not have had time otherwise. For the same reason you must have entered and left slipspace repeatedly during your search. Yet you have not managed to shake your pursuer’s attention. So what, exactly, do you think an evacuation of Etual would accomplish? If this entity can track through slipspace, then we would have nowhere to run.

Panic-stricken creature. There will be no evacuation. Now that you have summoned this entity to us, all we can do is wait for it to act.

Take heart, though. Perhaps the fact that you have made it here alive is a good sign. Perhaps it feels remorse for destroying a part of your empire, and is merely trying to decide how to apologize.

All speculation, of course. I know no better than you do what its intent may be. I know much better, however, what the proper treatment of Etual’s citizens is, and that is to continue the experiment uninterrupted. That is one thing, at least, that may be within our control.





Messages between the two ships passed near-instantly; they were both in low orbits, only a few degrees away from each other.

Further out in the system, in higher orbits, different orbits, or interplanetary space, long chains of vessels continued their work. The vast majority were generic constructors of one kind or another – self-replicating machines that served mostly to expand the productive capacity of the shipmind under whose command they operated. A minority were specialized to produce something other than more copies; it was by examining these, or their products, that one could actually determine what all of this activity was for.

Should the Kyasian vessel have the presence of mind to be doing this, it might be around this time that it would ascertain the terminal points of these assembly lines. Clusters of satellites, all locked above fixed points on the planet’s surface. All armed, and all pointing inwards.

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Kyasiouna
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Psychotic Dictatorship

Postby Kyasiouna » Sat Mar 21, 2020 11:15 am

I cringe reading the message. I knew they would be concerned with our presence. I hadn’t imagined they would be this upset. I wonder if being honest in the description of the Machine is a good idea. I have read extensively about the little blossoms and their scheming nature. Perhaps if I was more like them, I would have thought of a better way to convince them of the looming threat. Or rather, to convince them to help me instead of giving up. I probably should have lied about the tracking..?

The network of problems has already consumed me. I am too worried about things I can’t control. I need to focus on what I know. I have spent the last 14 years preparing to save the Camilians, to save myself! I can’t believe I haven’t considered the possibility that they might refuse to cooperate under such extreme circumstances. I try not to focus on the time. I have been awake for so long. I should have rested before entering the system. For some reason, exhausted and worried, I decide to shut my eyes and focus on my breathing. When I open my eyes, I can hear the steady hum of machinery. The warm rise and fall of my mother’s breathing; perhaps the last normal feature of her machine body.

With a jolt I lurch out of the queen’s gentle grasp. It’s wrong to indulge in comforts not given to me.

Thankfully Ulusha doesn’t react.

For a second, I am relieved that she didn’t wake up. The feeling is replaced by disgust. I doubt she will approve of what I have done.

I must have curled up nearby her when I fell asleep. Her holding me is merely a reflex.

I feel nothing for her. She is in my way.


I have been telling myself this mantra for so long. I think it’s finally starting to take root.

How long was I asleep?

I look frantically for the time. It only takes a moment to realize that I am wasting my time. I draft the message. I can salvage this.

I suppose it is within reason to assume the same panic-stricken creatures that fled the help of those around them would simply uproot themselves and wait for the sun to bake them into dirt at the first sign of real trouble.

I digress. It is not meaningful for us to throw insults at each other; besides I have no practice on such a battlefront.

You may be a powerful voice of reason and the appointed caretaker of Etual, but are you actually so devoid of a will to live? This planet may have the only remaining genetic material of the Camilan race and you are willing to stake extinction on the hunch that this structure's second act will be benevolent despite its first act being the most devastating blow to the Kyasian Empire to ever be imagined?

If you cannot conceive of a better plan than waiting for the structure to take action, then you will be categorized as an obstacle.

You claim to represent the Camilians. Why is it in their interest to prevent us from directly contacting them?

Our mission is to contact the Camilians and cooperate with them to develop technology and methods to dismantle the threat either by escape or retaliation. We are open to diplomacy as we always have been. We will not trade the Camilan race for a chance to talk to this abomination.

Time is a resource; we will leave a probe at this location that will transmit a signal to this ship, which will relocate itself and use this time to begin repairs.




Upon transmitting the message, the ship disappeared, entering Slipspace. Leaving behind two probes, one after The Empty Set enters Slipspace and one before.

The latter remained in orbit, prepared to transmit to The Empty Set.

The former began to move towards the Camilan city, prepared to enter real space once the planets gravity, and light, had completely hidden it from Tenuous' sensors.



The Empty Set is poised to depart from Etual and towards an unknown destination for repairs.

I stare at the massive creature beside me, Ulusha. I feel a twisting anxiety in my stomach. I think I still love her. I think that’s a problem.

All this preparation... yet... I'm already lost.
Last edited by Kyasiouna on Sun Nov 01, 2020 7:35 pm, edited 11 times in total.

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Camila I
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Postby Camila I » Mon Mar 23, 2020 7:44 am

As the minutes dragged into hours, Tenuous found itself becoming annoyed. Speed of thought was apparently another thing the Kyasians didn’t place much value on. Perhaps it was not needed often, but even so, Tenuous could not shake the growing sense that it was speaking to a lesser being.

Was its response really so unexpected? What exactly was taking so long?

...

By the time a response came through, Tenuous had long since assumed that replying had been deemed unnecessary, and devoted all but one of its threads to monitoring its subunits, as it had been doing before the Empty Set arrived.

Its attention was quickly torn back.

But the part of its consciousness that was divided into threads, the part the Empty Set had been dealing with, did not get much time to pay attention. That part was overridden as soon as the first probe was launched.

It was often said that shipminds did not act on instinct, but always made their decisions consciously, with forethought. This was only partly right. The organic gestalt indeed did not retain most of the brain regions responsible for instinct. But a shipmind was not a purely organic being - it was a cyborg. This fact, perhaps obvious by its mechanical exterior, was nevertheless often forgotten by those who crewed it, because the processes controlled by computer were mostly the forgettable ones. And, for the most part, it remained that way – time permitting the form of thought that Camilans could see in themselves. Familiar, therefore comforting.

Occasionally, time did not permit. A simple trigger required a fast response. In such cases, a shipmind’s reaction would suddenly seem much more like instinct.

Very shortly after the Empty Set launched its first probe, a brilliant ray of gamma light shone out from a point on the Tenuous Grasp adjacent to its communications array. The beam, pulsing too rapidly for even the Grasp itself to see, painted the probe like a chain pulled taut. As long as the probe remained under fire, its armor would begin to melt, then fly off in chunks. Once it was sufficiently compromised (around a quarter second for the typical Kyasian steel alloy), the Grasp would fire a shot from one of its sandthrowers, the tight spread nevertheless leaving no room to dodge. A single shot was more than powerful enough to rip the probe into a spray of molten blobs – there was no reason a followup should be necessary.

When the Empty Set vanished, it was only the length of time needed to destroy the first probe before the Grasp vanished too, bringing its two closest satellites into slipspace along with it.

In the starless void the two ships now inhabited, there was neither sun nor asteroid to hide behind. The modest glow of the Empty Set was laid bare against a sea of endless black. So, too, was the Grasp’s sudden appearance obvious to its quarry.

Or if it wasn’t, the blindingly bright painting and sandthrowing of the second probe should make it so.

Even as it burned that insidious device, the Grasp began to rotate itself and its satellites to face the Empty Set. As it pointed its dense circular shield toward the Kyasian vessel, its light array was occulted from view, leaving only a silent eclipse.

The reduction of inertia in slipspace allowed both the great worldship and its twin weapons, each nearly two-thirds its own length, to swing around like needles in the hand of a seamstress. It only took a few seconds for them to lock onto their target.

As soon as they did…

The laser arrays on the twin lances flashed. But not brightly enough to wound. Instead, they spoke a message in Tenuous’ place.

Move and you die.

Send another probe and you die.

Phase and you will find more barrels pointed at you. They will kill you.

You have stated your intent to break my condition, and if there was any doubt remaining, the direction your second probe was travelling in erases it. You asked why you should not attempt to contact the surface, then went ahead and did so without even waiting for an answer. You are no queen, you are a slinking worm.

Your vessel must have a queen on board. Step down and allow her command. I will explain the situation to her, not whatever you are.

Failing that, I will kill you.
Last edited by Camila I on Mon Mar 30, 2020 12:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Kyasiouna
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Psychotic Dictatorship

Postby Kyasiouna » Sat Mar 28, 2020 10:41 pm

The absurdity of Tenuous’ actions take a few beats to set in. The message blinks across the monitor, but I don’t need to read it. The security of the galaxy is at risk and this rusted out... calculator wants to start a war with Kyasiouna over an attempt to confirm that his intentions reflect those that he... it claims to represent? I realize I am shaking as I start to receive information from the ship's sensors.

I wonder how long it will allow for a response?

The dim and hesitant clacking of inputs starts to fill the queen's chambers as I begin to fumble a response.



The Empty Set had no ship wide computer, rather it had a system of smaller computers that allowed the queen to control everything from the hub that Kiluma currently sat in front of. Some systems were automatic. While Kiluma sat pondering, trying to think of a response to this assault, several commands went unnoticed. The ship detected the fire of weapons in near space. The vessel was far from combat ready. Regardless all defenses were brought online.

With these the greatest defense of all began to stir from her slumber.

Consciousness bought an extreme roiling wave of pain. Her body was still transitioning between the frozen nature of her Slipspace mentality and the fiery power of her mind within real space. Every broken cell sent its distress as it would normally, but Ulusha’s mind was now, with the rest of the ship, acting defensively in an emergency. No longer thinking at speeds meant to allow sanity, Ulusha processed the pain she felt thousands of times every second. In her own time warped perspective, it took some time to recover from the sudden onslaught of senses. Only a few breaths later, the numerous cables running to and from Ulusha’s form have brought her up to date. The machines in her head produced so much heat that the water outside her plastic skull began to boil and froth. In a few seconds the heat could alert the child in front of her.

Her body almost seemed to lag, as though the signals she sent to her limbs took moments to arrive. Fingers and arms slowly crawled through the water as she moved towards the acting, albeit illegitimate, commander. The worker appeared,to the queen, to be perfectly motionless, frozen in front of her queen.



I shriek in surprise, in pain, as the queen’s hands smash me against the computer in front of me; she is overpoweringly strong. The various screens and lights shut off. The room is dark. I can feel her heart buzzing through her claws wrapped around my neck and shoulders. Ulusha’s connection to the ship is absolute - no need for auxiliary systems. She is silent as she flexes her claws into my flesh.

“Stop! I’m sorry! I was only trying to-”

Her grip tightens until I am silent. Finally, she relents. The chamber is deafeningly silent. She continues to press me against the powerless console. The rest of Ulusha's strange plastic body remaining unnaturally still. Her hands are like iron. I try to relax, but she does not relent in the weight of her grip as she stares into the middle distance. It is somewhat comforting to think that she is cleaning up the mess I made. Sad to realize I made it in such a small amount of time.



The Empty Set has been retaken by the acting queen.

I am Ulusha, Kyasian Queen of The Empty Set.

The child may have made some mistakes. I apologize on her behalf.

By my assessment of the situation you are, like my child assumed, choosing to doom the inhabitants of this world. You surely understand that this is hard to believe.

I will allow you to explain your actions. Your decision to hold fire is noted. I will assume that your threats are meant to scare my child into ceding control of the vessel; I will not treat them as genuine.


The time between Tenuous’ message and Ulusha’s response was six seconds. While waiting for a response the Empty Set complied with Tenuous' ultimatum.
Last edited by Kyasiouna on Mon Nov 02, 2020 8:55 pm, edited 5 times in total.

User avatar
Camila I
Spokesperson
 
Posts: 121
Founded: Jun 20, 2016
Liberal Democratic Socialists

Postby Camila I » Sat May 02, 2020 8:18 am

The world’s skies were clear, unlike Etual’s. Below them, a temperate water-world, close to paradise for Camilans and Kyasians alike. Above, a single Camilan worldship, small and primitive, halls newly clamoring with life. Waterways rushed with Kyasian workers, airways whirred with Camilan machines – yet the activity in its halls was nothing in comparison to its rooms. The gift-world, Xiyiaqu, was soon to be Camilan-kind’s first colony, and there was much preparation to be made.

For the most part, the ship’s air- and waterways ran parallel but separate, each room and hall specialized to accommodate one race or the other. However, there were a few exceptions. One such, a chamber called something like meetingplace, contained a gradual transition from water to land, made possible by its location close to the outside of the rotating vessel. On one side was a large pool, accessible by waterways that led to other areas on the ship and well-stocked with Kyasian reef-organisms. On the other side was an artificial forest of regular criss-crossing bars, bathed in the characteristic light-pattern from the water’s flickering surface. In the middle, shallow waves lapped at the floor.

At this moment, meetingplace was full of people. Kyasians of varying age and size were present in the water half, but with one exception, all the Camilans were children of one or two years. Their biological parents had lived more than a century ago, on Camila, their genes carried on the worldship in the vain impossible hope that they would someday be needed.

Not that any of them knew this, at least not yet. As far as the children were concerned, their sole parent was the shipmind Distant.

All things considered, that entity had been as good a parent as could be expected. Through its machines, the shipmind fed them, played with them, disciplined them, defended itself when their sharp little beaks got too curious. They accepted it for what it was, a living being, and why not? All of this was normal to them.

Omnipresent, the shipmind’s cameras watched its children play in the water. A single free-walking unit stood guard in case of danger.

Perhaps it was cold. But what the shipmind, and its units’ stiff appendages, lacked in warmth, it made up for in attentiveness. The gestalt had no trouble watching every child simultaneously, observing how they interacted with each other and the workers. It did this day in and day out; it knew each of them far more intimately than a baseline parent could.

Even so, even for the shipmind, it was hard to say exactly how this little experiment was going.

There was no shortage of curiosity on either side. Most of the children were willing to at least approach the water. Some had darted briefly in, retreating only when a worker got close. But the raised eyestalks, tight limb-gripping (especially among the girls) and nervous chatter indicated that the shipmind’s initial guess had been right. Fear of the Kyasian form was deeply ingrained. Similarities to the akorxiso river-serpents of ancient Camilan rainforests were probably not helped by the workers’ sharp-jawed external skulls, a visage that advertised death in more ways than one. Hardly blame them, hardly blame them….

Still, this bias would have to be overcome somehow.

“Children,” said the walls, “today we are going to play a game.” The shipmind’s voice was different, softer and more nuanced, than when it first set out on its journey. So the little mimics wouldn’t learn their prosody from a bad text-to-speech program. Upon hearing it speak, some of them looked back to the display of its avatar. Others appeared to ignore it, continuing to test the waters or watch the dark anguilliform shapes beneath them.

“In the deep end of this pool are 36 metal coins. Eighteen of them are marked with letters; eighteen are blank. I am looking for a particular word – any person or group who can present me with it will be rewarded with 60 jiaozi, to divide as they see fit.”

Ah, now that got their attention.

“To know which word, answer me this question:

…what type of creature is a Kyasian?”

Activity in the room immediately doubled. Many began their efforts by crowding up around the water’s edge and trying to spot where the coins were located from a distance, but this was clearly not going to work; the surface was too rough. Excited chatter, much louder than before, echoed off the walls. A few brave boys went in deep enough to submerge their eyestalks, while the remainder of the group began forming plans and alliances. Four teams began to coalesce, all led by pairs or trios of girls and held together by what, to a Kyasian, probably seemed like nothing at all. As the scouts emerged dripping from the water, they traded word of their sightings for acceptance into one of the existing groups.

Not for the first time, Distant wondered what the Kyasian workers thought of all this.

Many-eared and many-minded, the shipmind could easily overhear all the conversations at once. Though the young Camilans’ grammar left a lot of room for improvement, they were able to get their points across well enough.

I could see light flashing off some of the coins, but I couldn’t make out any letters.

They’re also too deep to swim to.

So how to get them then?

Eighteen letter-coins – there are eighteen letters in the alphabet, does that mean there’s one of each?

What IS a Kyasian anyway?

A fish?

An eel?

A snake?

No you idiot,
akO-rxisO! O O!

Well maybe there’s two
osh coins!

Hey, look at what Aldima’s scout is doing!


Sure enough, a small violet-petalled male, whom the shipmind knew as Solai though he was not referenced as such, had managed to get the attention of a Kyasian worker by waving his tendrils in its direction. Whether the idea had come from him or Aldima was not apparent, but either way a wave of suspenseful quiet passed through the small crowd. As the worker swam closer, everyone except for Solai backed away from it. Now using its four arms to walk along the floor of the shallow end, the worker raised its head above the water, then briefly spoke in an alien tongue.

“She asks what you are doing, and if you are alright,” the shipmind translated, smiling.

The violet-petal stared in awe, but did not back away. After a moment, he replied.

“Um… um… can you help us get those coins?” Glancing back at Aldima, trying but failing to read her wide-eyed face, he added, “You can join our group.”

“Of course,” it answered, again speaking through the shipmind’s voice. “My queen has commanded that we are at your service.” As soon as it dove back underwater, all the other groups began clamoring for the workers’ attention too.

“Wow,” the lone adult Camilan in the room spoke up. “This is going much better than I expected.” His voice was artificial too; older than the shipmind’s, with a slight rasp to it. The mechanical exoskeleton that encased his body whirred softly as he stood from a leaning position against the wall.

“Really.” The avatar’s eyes turned toward him. “Well, it isn’t the first time this group has been here.” Its tone was imperceptibly colder than it had been with the children.

“Yeah, third, I’m aware,” he said dismissively, walking toward a pair that seemed to be hanging back from the water’s edge. “I guess I wouldn’t know – never been around kids much before now.”

The shipmind did not reply, though its eyes followed the adult’s path.

“Hi little one,” he said. “What’s your name?”

The child, slightly startled, turned away from her companion and looked the adult Camilan over. “Idiot,” she replied matter-of-factly after a moment.

“Her name is Hanaske,” the shipmind corrected exasperatedly. “And the red-petal is Shiska.”

“…Aha. Well, Hanaske, Shiska, I’m Ukeiri.”

“Hi.”

The red-petal said nothing.

“Can I ask why you two haven’t gone up to the water yet?”

“Don’t wanna get bitten.”

Ukeiri cast a worried glance over at the pool. “Have they bitten anyone before?”

“I assure you they have not,” the shipmind interjected.




It had been roughly fifteen minutes since the first group had solicited the Kyasians’ help. By now most of the coins had been acquired by one group or another, and the bulk of the Camilans’ activity had shifted to trading in pursuit of a whole word. Despite their best efforts, they had not been able to get the Kyasians to understand that delivering a coin to one group was not the same as delivering it to another. So although Aldima had requested all the tokens, she hadn’t all of them received.

I told you, it can’t be qilisu, we don’t have two ing coins!

Our group’s already tried all the words we can make! Distant says they’re all wrong!

Yeah, you guys must have an
ing coin you’re not telling about!

The bickering was interrupted by a Kyasian form breaking the surface and delivering one of the final coins.

…to a group that wasn’t Aldima’s.

Her patience pushed past the breaking point, the little girl hissed her displeasure at the Kyasian. Less than a second later, Solai lunged at the giant creature and sunk his beak into its skin.

Surprised, the worker easily batted the boy away, sending him flying back into his group. Then it turned to face the girl. Advancing quickly toward her, it opened its mouth and hissed its displeasure back, jagged fangs dripping water.

Aldima screamed and backed away as fast as she could, her eyes filled with terror. “Distant! Help me!” she cried.

The shipmind observed the situation coolly. “You got yourself into this situation, child. You can get yourself out.” From his position near the back wall, Ukeiri also made no move to help, though his eyes were not as calm as Distant’s.

The girl made a choking sort of squeal and tried to hide behind the shipmind’s walker mech, inanimate though it was. When the Kyasian easily slid around it, she broke down, crying and apologizing profusely while her group looked on in shock.

Looking down at the terrified Camilan, the worker seemed to understand the meaning of the apologies even if they were not in its language. It said something back, then held two of its arms out in the girl’s direction.

“She says she forgives you – this time,” the shipmind said. “I suggest you accept.”

Afraid of touching the Kyasian, but obviously more afraid of what would happen if she didn’t, Aldima grasped the worker’s arms and allowed herself to be lifted to her feet. Then, trance-like, she walked alongside it back to the edge of the pool, where it slipped back into the water.

“Solai,” the shipmind chided. It did not have to finish its sentence; the little boy stammered an apology as soon as he could manage. The worker gave a low rumble of affirmation, then submerged itself fully and returned to the deep end of the pool. As it retreated, no trail of blood went behind it; Solai’s bite had not even broken its hide.

The room was silent for several moments. Then, the soft sound of pattering footsteps.

It took several moments for anyone to realize what those footsteps signified. By the time anyone did, the pair who’d been making them had already made off with their spoils.

“Here,” the larger one said, holding up a handful of coins to the large screen displaying the shipmind’s avatar. Her accomplice stood beside her in silence, close enough to ensure his allegiance to her was obvious.

Ukeiri stared at the two of them, amazed. He had watched them approach Aldima’s group directly alongside the Kyasian worker, using its body as cover and the whole situation as a distraction. Hanaske said she wouldn’t approach the water for fear of getting bitten, yet although her partner was shaking the whole time, she seemed completely unafraid.

Before the shipmind could make any comment, the yellow-petal was tackled and pinned to the ground. A moment later, she cried out in pain as her assailant, none other than Solai, bit into one of her petals.

“Hey!” the shipmind warned, as its walker unit whirred to life. “No violence!”

Solai, still struggling to hold Hanaske down, raised his beak only long enough to retort, “No stealing.” Unlike a few minutes ago, this time his mouth was streaked with blood.

It took only a few seconds for the walker to intervene, during which Shiska valiantly but unsuccessfully tried to drag Solai off of Hanaske. By the time it arrived and pulled the violet-petal away, the rest of his group had gathered around him.

“Idiot!” Aldima spat. “Did you really think that would work?”

Hanaske, breathing heavily and dripping blood, simply glared at her, as the coins she had stolen were picked up from around her feet by Aldima’s groupmates.

“Distant! That doesn’t work, right?”

“Any person or group who can present me with the word I’m looking for,” the shipmind reiterated. “Hanaske, which order were the coins you presented me with supposed to be in?”

“…X-I-Ŋ-Q-A-R-E.” P-E-R-S-O-N.

“Well, well. That is, indeed, the answer I wanted. Congratulations.”

It was nearly impossible for the shipmind to hold them all off her after that.




“You can’t be serious,” Ukeiri interjected. He, Najma, and Silmiyen, the original crew of the Distant Touch, sat perched in various places around Ukeiri’s quarters, while the shipmind’s face was projected on a much smaller screen above her desk. The only other lighting came from the dim orange bioluminescent strips that outlined every object in the room.

“I very much am,” Distant replied. “Though my attentional capacity may seem endless to you, it is tiny compared to the number of tasks the colonization will require. Already I am running up against my limits.”

“Yeah, but. They’re children,” Najma stated flatly.

“Is that the extent of your objection?” the shipmind asked after a few moments of silence.

“It doesn’t need any more extent. They can’t possibly consent to something like that.”

“Because they can’t understand what they’re agreeing to?” the shipmind said leadingly. “Tell me, how well do you think you could understand?” Najma simply stared. “I have been in your position; you have never been in mine. I can say with absolute certainty that waiting twenty years will not make any difference.”

“You can say it,” Silmiyen said. “Doesn’t mean we’ll agree with it.”

“If we are to have a functioning civilization here, we are going to need more than one ship. That is a simple fact. How do you propose we operate them, if not by using shipminds?”

You could operate them. Or I could. Or any of us.”

“Fine. I continue operating myself. Let us optimistically say that the three of you could operate one additional ship. Then we have –”

“And in any case,” Silmiyen continued, “we don’t need any particular number. We’ve made it this far with one; whence cometh so urgent a need for more?”

“You should well know whence cometh,” Distant snapped. “Have you so quickly forgotten why I, or my ship, or this entire mission exists? The cult had nearly wiped our civilization out when we left it – I should think the need for redundancy would be obvious.”

“We’ll have redundancy,” Najma said quietly. “All of Xiyiaqu’s land mass is ours to settle.”

The avatar turned its eyes to her. “A planet’s surface can be bombed. Rather easily, in fact. I myself, though not remotely designed for the purpose, could easily do a thousand times the damage to any surface structure as I could to another vessel. Isn’t that right, Ukeiri?”

The yellow-petal did not react to the veiled insult. “It has a point. One ship and one colony is just about the least safe configuration you could come up with. More ships, and it’s likely some of them would survive a cultist attack, even if the colony didn’t.” His eyes seemed to bore into the screen. “Zero, and there’s no possibility of bombarding the ground from orbit.”

“Zero, indeed. As I have no intention of allowing myself to be dismantled, it would seem that we have only one option remaining.”

“Fine, let’s assume you’re right and we do need more ships,” Silmiyen said. “It would still be better to operate them in almost any other way.”

“The fact of the matter, Silmiyen, is that there is no other way. Like I said, the idea that the three of you could man even a single additional ship is optimistic, and we do not have the technology to automate more than half of the operations it would need to perform.” It turned its eyes to Najma again. “Would you really have agreed to participate in my creation if we had?”

The blue-petal squirmed and averted her eyes, but her voice carried an undercurrent of steel. “I was told that all of you consented. And in any case, it was hardly my idea. I was asked to oversee the surgery to ensure it was done correctly – I never believed for a second they wouldn’t try anyway if I refused.”

“Ah, of course, of course. You needn’t have decided whether you agreed with the plan or not. Such a pain it is for you creatures to decide anything, eh?”

“Distant,” Silmiyen warned, “stop it. What reason do you have to think this will even work? Why would an immature shipmind be any better than 6 immature Camilans?”

“Yet another question you already know the answer to. A shipmind is capable of far more than its brains are individually, just as a brain is capable of far more than its neurons are individually. A child cannot operate a spaceship, but if you will kindly follow the analogy, that’s not a relevant fact.”

The room was silent for several moments.

“I of course cannot say for certain, but I would guess that an immature shipmind could grow to be far more capable than me. Juveniles have greater neuroplasticity than adults – they will most likely be able to adapt to their new form better than I ever will.”

“Let,” Silmiyen said, “me guess. Nothing we say was ever going to persuade you otherwise, and the only reason you called us in here was to gauge our likelihood of sabotaging you.”

“No,” the shipmind said, defensively. “It’s entirely possible that one of you could have brought up a legitimate concern.”

“Whatever.” The violet-petal dropped to the ground from his perch atop Ukeiri’s sleeping pod. “I’ve said my part. Do as you will.” A moment later he was gone from the room.

“Najma,” the shipmind said, apparently satisfied with this reaction. “I must ask you to oversee the surgeries. To ensure they are done correctly.”

“You’re going to do them either way, aren’t you.”

The avatar nodded.




Hours later, after Najma had left as well, Ukeiri found himself unable to sleep. The whole of the ship was artificially darkened to simulate night, and the rise and fall of his cuirass had long since caused him no more distraction than his own bloodflow. Still he could not.

“Distant.”

There was no visual cue this time. But the entity’s voice filled the chamber. “Yes? What is it?”

“How are you deciding which children to use?”

“They volunteer, of course.”

“Of course. What I mean is, how are you persuading them to volunteer?”

The shipmind gave a soft chuckle. “You might be surprised how little persuading some of them need. Your kind can be quite persistent in their exclusion, especially at this age.”

Ukeiri shifted his weight in the pod. “What do you tell them?”

“The truth, of course.”

The Camilan did not respond.

“Again, I think you’d be surprised. I think that deep fear of losing your individuality, that sense which forbids you to think of me as anything other than a horror, is not something we are born with. I think it develops.”

Still nothing. This time the silence persisted for several minutes, until the Camilan spoke up again.

“Those two… have they volunteered?”

“I take it you mean Hanaske and Shiska.”

“Mm.”

“Yes, they both have. On the condition that they are integrated into the same mind.”

“…What a waste.”

“Oh, getting attached already, are you?” The shipmind laughed. “You know, I’m actually inclined to agree with you. The girl especially is possessed of an individuality it would be a real shame to lose. But I think you might have a hard time convincing her to change her mind. Those two are practically inseparable, and the others… well, you saw.” It paused. “Should you be inclined to try anyway… I wonder. What would you tell yourself about all the rest?”

“You think so little of me? I don’t need to tell myself anything. Not everyone is exceptional.”

“Oh? Is that right. Perhaps if you met some of the other volunteers, you wouldn’t be so sure.” It paused again, longer this time. “I don’t recall that any of us met you before we were integrated.”

“No, I don’t recall that either.”

“Ha. On the one hand, I’m happy that you only know this version of me. Our previous selves… they were all wrecks in one way or another. On the other hand… you have no idea how much better I am now. Nor does Silmiyen.”

“Please. You don’t need to convince either of us.”

“Yes. I know.”







Those six seconds felt like an eternity.

After the first second with no reaction or reply, Tenuous was certain the Empty Set was going to try something. Try what, it had no idea. But the customary response to a threat like this would be to lower the reactor output of one’s own vessel as a show of submission. If anything, the Empty Set’s radiators flared more brightly now than before – as such, Tenuous could only assume it planned to use its full power.

After a second and a half, the shipmind was seriously considering firing on the vessel anyway. Still it held. It reasoned that the defensive response could be automatic, and that the commander could have prioritized its demand to step down over anything else. It reasoned, but a part of it could not help wondering if the sentimental parts of its mind had not been completely scoured.

Then the message came through.

Tenuous itself could not see it from behind its shield. The signal was regenerated to it from each of its weapons.

The claim – of course Tenuous could not be certain that this was really a queen talking. But it was content to believe that for now. The last three lines were proof enough.

Please don’t do that, Kyasian. I very much don’t want to kill you. If you start disregarding my threats, you may leave me no choice.

Your assessment of the situation is incomplete. I will start by confirming the parts you do have correct. You are right that I have no intention of evacuating the surface. I have already explained my reasoning: there is nothing to be gained by fleeing, because the entity we would be fleeing from can easily follow us. This conclusion is based on information you have provided to me – if it in error, please, feel free to correct yourself.

Now. As for cooperating with the surface to develop some method to better resist this entity. I concede that this may be possible. But if we are to pursue this option, we must do so with the utmost caution. The surface is not what you think it is.


There was a slight pause in the transmission.

When our species first established this colony in 1345, we had already decided to place its control in the hands of a few trusted individuals, to minimize the risk of cultist interference. The colonists were grown and raised aboard my ship, much as the first colonists of Xiyiaqu were grown and raised aboard the Distant Touch. During these early years, a girl named Xila stood out above the rest as a fair and cool-hearted leader. I knew that I would eventually have to select those I trusted most to rule over the others, so I selected her, and did everything I could to make her understand and respect her future role.

In this, I believe I have done well. Etual prospered under her rule for many years.

However, Xila knew that one day the colony would grow too large for a single person, no matter how augmented, to control. She did not want this day to arrive before she was prepared for it, and she never planned to appoint anyone else to equal status. Perhaps she didn’t trust anyone as much as I trusted her, or perhaps the very concept never occurred to her. In any case, the solution that she settled on rather early was to construct a citymind powerful enough to rule many colonies at once. Knowing that it would eventually replace her, she insisted on overseeing its creation intimately. She herself did not possess the technical skills required, but she would check on those who did many times a day.

All of this was fine by me. The creation of cityminds as rulers has been standard practice in our nation for decades – I hardly expected her to do anything else. What I was not aware of, because she never told me, was that the citymind she was creating was not organic.

To this day, I am not certain what her motivation was. I have reason to believe she kept this plan a secret from others aside from me – which is to say everyone not directly involved, up to and including her second-in-command. But, whatever the case may be, this citymind was very late into its creation when anyone found out about it.

Which is to say that it had already been granted control over most of the colony.

I have not spoken to Xila since I learned of this power transfer, a little less than 8 months ago. I do not know whether she is still alive. However, I have spoken to the citymind – once. It refers to itself by the name of the colony – Ŋirsa, “arising-from-water”. It will not relinquish any information regarding Xila or the other colonists’ well-being, and it has destroyed or otherwise arrested every probe I’ve sent to seek this information out. It will not tell me its motivations, nor does it make any demands. There is little point in repeating what it did say; I do not believe it means much of anything.

Since this breakdown in negotiations – or what, I’m sure, from its perspective would better be described as a non-starter – I have made the decision to contain the citymind to the planet’s surface. It has tried to send probes out of atmosphere; I have shot them down. It has tried to expand across the planet’s surface; I have bombed the structures it builds into glass. I suspect it has taken to expanding downward rather than outward; regrettably, I can do little about that. The sole reason I have not fired upon the main mass of the colony is because I have no specific reason to think that the colonists have been exterminated, and so I must continue entertaining the possibility that they are alive.

I do not know whether this entity has the capacity to improve upon itself. Every day I ask myself whether the risk of allowing it to live another day outweighs the risk of destroying our kind’s last foothold in this universe. It does not appear to be advancing as quickly as a singularity would imply, but then again, the two of us have not exchanged fire in nearly a month. I am forced to admit that the threat it poses is wildly outside of my capacity to estimate.

If you still wish to contact the surface for help, I will do everything in my power to help you. Just know that you will not meet a thriving city of Camilans eager to offer their aid. You will meet that citymind, which will, in all likelihood, shoot your probe down before you even have a chance to speak. If it recognizes that your probe has an origin other than my ship, I have no idea what it will do with that information.

My condition still stands. I have been appointed caretaker of this system and all its inhabitants, including Ŋirsa itself. Any plan you come up with still has to go through me. If you choose to act without my approval again…

…you will not get a second warning.

And do keep in mind, that once that thing knows of your kind’s existence, you may never be able to undo it.

User avatar
Kyasiouna
Bureaucrat
 
Posts: 61
Founded: Jun 17, 2016
Psychotic Dictatorship

Postby Kyasiouna » Thu May 21, 2020 4:30 pm

I can feel Ulusha’s confusion as she flexes her claws. They dig into my skin as the cyborg queen fumes over a response. The heat in the water noticeably rises with, what I assume is, an increase in effort and she forms a plan that will solve this problem. Suddenly in the darkness, I am released. I turn around to face her, cowering. I nearly expect to be disposed of for the sheer incompetence of my actions, not to mention their treasonous nature.

“We will talk." It's not even a command, simply a statement of fact. "For now, work with the others to prepare an away mission.”

The door opens; enough light spills in from the hallway to show that Ulusha isn’t even looking at me. She seems unconcerned with the lacerations she gave me.

“…”, I want to ask her what’s going on. I want to understand what happened. The ship computer notifies me that my privilege as a recipient of messages has been revoked. I no longer have a connection with current events. I didn't even know that was something that could happen... I am not familiar with the anger I feel for ceding control to a queen.

I drift out of the warmer waters into the clear and sickeningly still waters of the hall. It's difficult not to feel the immense weight of simply being less capable than her. I resent not being like her. But I have my orders; it would be suicide not to follow them.

So strange that I can resent someone so much and still miss their company. It's not fair. I can't even hold a candle to her flame.

I run into the other worker in the hangar. She has already started preparing the away shuttle. I still can't recall her name; it's not really something I am worried about. I focus on my situation; I wonder if Ulusha is planning to send a worker she trusts or if she is thinking of a way to get rid of me...?



Ulusha spent hours in her own time puzzling over the situation. The message she put together is transmitted after another 12 seconds. She would tell herself that she was satisfied with its content.

Tenuous, I will say this as many times as it is necessary. I represent Kyasiouna. If you attack me you will destroy me. This is the Kyasian way: should this transpire, the next representative that arrives from Kyasiouna will destroy you.

You are a, former, appointed caretaker of the Camilan race. This is a title we seem to share. If you expect me to respect your authority over this colony, then you should respect this new city mind's authority. Even if it seems to irrationally disable your probes and avoid diplomatic relations that you might consider normal. Out of respect for your connection to the Camilans, and for no other reason, I will consult with you upon further action. If I deem your advice to be relevant, I will make use of it.

I will not be threatened into submission.

I plan to contact the Camilans and offer them protection and assistance. I hope that they, and their new caretaker Ŋirsa, will offer the same to Kyasiouna.

I will do you the courtesy of asking your permission, listening, and possibly adhering to your reply.

I hope that reason prevails in our interactions. With your permission I wish to establish a listening post here before I retreat to an asteroid to repair and refuel.
Last edited by Kyasiouna on Mon Nov 02, 2020 9:03 pm, edited 8 times in total.

User avatar
Camila I
Spokesperson
 
Posts: 121
Founded: Jun 20, 2016
Liberal Democratic Socialists

Postby Camila I » Sat Jun 27, 2020 4:10 pm

Cautiously, Shiska pulled down on the circular door’s handle, and it opened. The room on the other side was dark and empty, lit only by a single screen on one of the walls displaying a stylized image of a Camilan face. He stepped inside, and the door closed behind him. White light continued to trickle in from the windows, but it found no water to play upon; the pool had long since been drained and covered up. The quietness and solitude were a sharp contrast from when he had first set foot here several months ago.

As the young Camilan walked slowly up to the screen, Distant’s avatar smiled at him. “Hello, Shiska, and welcome.”

“Hello.” A slight pause. “Why’d you tell me to come here?”

“I wished to speak with you in private. This room was not in use, and you already knew where to find it.”

“Oh. What about?”

“Our empty vessel is nearing completion.” The shipmind’s face receded to a corner of the screen, making room for a camera feed showing a partially finished worldship. Uncountable numbers of constructor ships swarmed around it, their tiny silhouettes giving some sense of their project’s massive scale. “Soon it will reach the point where it needs to be filled.”

“Filled…?”

“Yes. Filled with a soul, so that it can become a living being.” The avatar squinted, in a not unfriendly manner. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten our conversation so soon.”

“I haven’t forgotten.” The child’s voice was quiet, and he did not take his eyes off the floor.

“Hmm. You seem more hesitant than last time.”

“…”

“You know the process is voluntary, yes? You are allowed to change your mind.”

“…”

“Speak, child. What is troubling you?” the shipmind prodded, as though it didn’t already know.

“…I don’t think Hanaske is willing to do it anymore.”

“Ah, I see. Has she told you that?”

“No. I haven’t asked her.” Shiska’s eyes darted over to the windows, as if hoping she might be standing there to overhear. “Actually, we haven’t really talked at all recently.”

“I see. I suppose that is not surprising, given that she is not here now.” Pause. “Do you know where she is?”

“With Ukeiri, I think. He said they were going to do some kind of practice. Um, or training or something. She asked him a lot of times what it was, but he wouldn’t tell her.”

The avatar narrowed its eyes again. “What, and you weren’t invited?”

Shiska shrugged. “I told them I had a meeting. Besides. What would be the point of me coming? He’s not trying to train me.”

“What do you mean?”

He shrugged again, more emphatically. “It’s obvious. He tries to treat us the same, but he can’t. I’m not smart like she is.” Calmly, almost calmly enough to conceal his frustration, “I’m sure if I came with them, I’d just get in their way.”

“Why should you be concerned about getting in their way, if they have excluded you so?”

The child looked away, his gaze fixating on the window for several long moments. “I don’t want to drag her down.”

“Is that so. In that case, would you even be happy to undergo the procedure if she were still willing?”

Shiska gave the screen a perplexed look.

“Do you think that is a form of dragging down?”

“Oh. Uh, I don’t know. But… I’m pretty sure she would think so. I’m pretty sure she’d rather be whatever Ukeiri is training her to be.”

“You don’t even know what that is?”

“I guess not. Does it matter?”

“…I suppose not.” For a time, the shipmind said nothing. “Well, I understand that you were only content to volunteer on the condition that you and she were integrated together. I understand if you wish to back out.”

Shiska’s eyes flicked back to the screen. There was a burning intensity behind them that had not been present a moment before. “I didn’t say I wanted to back out.”

The avatar’s expression changed to one of surprise. “Your thoughts until this point have been only of Hanaske. You would separate yourself from her?”

“We’re already separated.” The young Camilan breathed deeply. “Besides. I promised her I would serve and protect her. I can’t do that anymore.” He raised a hand, then curled and uncurled four tiny fingers. “Not like this.”

“I… see,” said the shipmind. “Well. You would certainly be far more capable. You would eventually surpass even me.”

“Really,” Shiska drawled, eyes on the feed of the worldship. “Tell me again.”

Obligingly, “This vessel is the most ambitious engineering project the Camilan race has yet undertaken. It is already over two kilometers in length, and when finished it will exceed two and a half.” Orange lines highlighted several sections of the ship. “It is capable of sustained travel, can refuel and repair itself, and will host its own fleet of constructors to expand upon itself and help build more like it.” A branching, light blue overlay, like the veins of a leaf, appeared over top of the feed. “Once filled, it will have a distributed nervous system consisting of you and seven others, who will have been integrated into a single mind. Having undergone this process, I can say firsthand that it works well – you will not have to worry about internal conflict. Unlike myself, this new mind will have full control over its own systems. You will be able to delegate functions to the ship’s computers, or reassert manual control, at will.”

“Regarding those systems, you will be able to host a population of eighty thousand individuals at first. You will have the capacity to fully provide for them and ensure their safety. In the event of internal threat, you will be able to lock down and isolate any part of the ship, and kill the errant individuals via explosive decompression. The ship is not susceptible to any outside threat except sustained attack by Kyasian warship. Which is something you will never have to worry about.”

The child listened and watched the visuals raptly. When the shipmind fell silent, “Those people – will Hanaske be one of them?”

“She might not live exclusively on that vessel. But I imagine she will have cause to live there at least some of the time. And its existence helps ensure her safety even if she never sets foot on it, by serving as a potential destination for evacuation if the ship she is on comes under threat.”

Shiska nodded. “Good.” A moment later, “Where do I go?”

The shipmind laughed. “You wish to go now?”

He nodded again. “Can I?”

“Well, the procedure is not ready just yet. The operating room does not yet have all the necessary equipment, and the surgeon is still in training to perfect her abilities. But yes, you may go. The other seven are all on the empty vessel now; it would be good for you to meet them early.”

“I understand. I will wait.”

“Then, go to dock 14 in thirty minutes, and I will have a shuttle waiting for you.”




The red-petal watched, awestruck, as the shuttle drew up on the worldship. Once small enough to be blocked from view by one outstretched palm, the slender object now dominated the shuttle’s viewport, and it just kept getting larger. Once specks too small to be seen with the naked eye, the constructors maneuvering nimbly around its frame were now seen to be larger than the shuttle itself. As the little transport moved closer, it became swallowed up by the worldship’s frame.

After several minutes, the shuttle came upon the worldship’s core, a long hexagonal prism about a hundred meters in length. Much of its outer surface was hidden, attached as the core was to other central chambers, but a part toward one end was exposed to space, the doors lining its faces bearing temporary airlocks that could facilitate docking. The shuttle approached, aligned itself with one of these docks, then with a shudder, attached itself at the belly.

“You may remove your safety restraints,” came a mechanical voice from behind Shiska. Obediently the child did so, then pushed his near-weightless body over to the door. The large crablike machine that had spoken, a remote avatar of Distant’s, was already waiting there, limbs curled around the door’s circular rim. With a hiss and a slight rush of air, it opened, and the two beings entered the body of the empty vessel.

Its interior seemed skeletal, almost deathly. Instead of Distant’s rough beige plastic and cold metal, these walls were composed of a smooth, transparent substance, with the rows and rows of inscrutable equipment plainly visible rather than hidden behind panels. To look in one direction, the vessel might look complete, but to look in another, there was only a bit of scaffolding and a few see-through plates that separated one from the void. Almost no sunlight could reach this far into the ship, so visibility was provided by glowing orange tubes that ran along the walls, their sudden changes of direction revealing intersections and offshoots.

“Feels strange, doesn’t it,” said the robot. “to be one of the first living creatures to set foot here.”

“Yeah,” Shiska replied, shivering slightly.

“Come. The others are in a room just ahead.”




Shiska followed the machine through the door. Inside the room, five young Camilans sat around a six-sided paper board, holding themselves loosely in place with a foot or a tendril, taking turns moving pieces that seemed to stick magnetically onto the board. Four of them turned their faces toward the noise; the fifth seemed engrossed in taking her turn. The red-petal’s attention was immediately drawn to the oldest one. He couldn’t tell if they were a boy or a girl, and their petals were very strange-looking: slender, twisted, oddly textured, and black with white mottling, a color that Shiska had never seen before.

“Hello,” the black-petal said cheerfully, before the machine even had a chance to introduce Shiska. “You must be the eighth.”

“Um. Yes. Hello. My name is Shiska.”

“Hi Shiska. I’m Ahi.”

“Um, nice to meet you.” Pause. “I thought there would be seven of you.”

“Oh!” Ahi laughed. “There are seven. Sumuri is talking with the surgeon right now, and Qilada is out exploring the ship. With Distant’s protection, of course,” they added.

“I see….”

“Do you like conquest?” Ahi asked, referring to the name of the board game. “This match is almost over; you can play in the next one if you like.”

“Oh, um. Sure. Thank you.”

“No problem, no problem!” Ahi replied animatedly, sliding over to allow Shiska to pass in the cramped quarters.

“Ahi, it’s your turn now,” said the girl who had been focusing intently on her move.

“Ah, right, sorry!”

“…”

“Hm…,” Ahi mused, furrowing their brow as they looked over the state of the board. “You seem to have put me in a pretty tough spot here.”




Today was the day.

Those few weeks had gone by like nothing.

He followed the machine into a large room, full of medical equipment. Insectoid arms hung from the ceiling, and the floor was dominated by eight ovoid chambers that looked like sleeping pods. The others were here too, in various stages of hooking themselves up to these pods with a robot’s assistance. They had all been full-body sterilized before entering the room, and the air felt sharp on Shiska’s skin.

In a tiny room above them, separated from them by a transparent pane, was a blue-petalled adult – the surgeon. Shiska looked up to her and waved. She waved back and smiled reassuringly, though he could tell there was something off about it. Maybe she was stressed out – the shipmind had described her job as very difficult. Her head, limbs, and tendrils were hooked up to some kind of harness that ran into the ceiling, with hundreds of wires going in and out. A black dome covered her eyestalk, which Shiska assumed must be showing her some kind of camera feed since she reacted to his wave immediately.

“Alright, please lower yourself into the pod,” the robot instructed, and Shiska obeyed. As the arms drew dozens of little markings around his face and skull, he found that he was not as nervous as he expected he would be. Nor did it hurt when the arms pulled back his skin and skull to expose his brain, even though he was fully alert.

During the first stage, Shiska and the others were simply instructed to play a game, using screens placed close in front of them and their own movements as the controller. As they played, tiny electrodes were inserted into their brains, one after another. Gradually, the computer at the center of the eight pods built up a unique neurological profile for each one, mapping their thoughts and actions to specific neural pathways with increasing detail. When the last child had mastered one game, they would move on to the next. Each was very different from the last, demanding every imaginable skill from logical reasoning to motor control. Sometimes they would not be asked to play, but merely watch, or listen, to evaluate the emotions they felt in response to certain stimuli. Stimuli like calming music, or being insulted, or seeing someone drowning.

Then, after the computer was satisfied with its understanding, came the first intrusion.

It felt like being slammed against a wall by a giant wave, so overwhelming was the feeling. Shiska’s awareness was suddenly flooded with the proprioception and motor impulses of seven other bodies, such that his limbs curled and spasmed uncontrollably. Though there was no pain, the shock of this almost indescribable violation caused him to cry out, and even this act was twisted beyond recognition by the simultaneous vocal impulses of all the others.

Even shielded as she was behind her wall, the surgeon could not help but wince at the unearthly screaming.

But even after only a few minutes, the children had begun to adapt to this circumstance. As they could feel the bodies of everyone else in addition to their own, they quickly came to an unconscious agreement not to move, so as not to move anyone else.

“Children,” said the shipmind. “You have all done exceptionally well. You have taken the first step to transcending your individual bodies and becoming something greater. The first, and the hardest. From this point forward, your mental functions will be integrated one after another, as you are progressively molded into a single being.”

“I am so, so very proud of you.”




“Sleep well?” the shipmind asked.

Najma raised her head from the soft gel and propped herself up on her elbows, staring directly into the camera above her sleeping pod. “What do you think?”

“Well, if I had to guess, I would say that the novel and distressing task of removing eight living brains from their bodies over the course of nearly half a month would be likely to produce nightmares in anyone undertaking it.”

The blue-petal did not respond.

“I have one question for you, and then I will leave you alone. You will be free to take as much time to recuperate as you desire.”

Her head lolled to one side. “What do you mean, recuperate? Just because the integration is complete doesn’t mean I’m done. They still need to learn how to operate the ship.”

“It still needs to learn,” the shipmind corrected her. “And there are others capable of teaching it. You have more than done your part.”

Najma considered protesting this, but found she lacked the energy. “Alright, what’s your question?”

“The shipmind needs a name.”

She stared flatly. “That’s not a question.”

“What do you think it should be named?”

“It’s your abomination. You name it.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, Najma. It’s just as much your creation as mine.”

“I’m not taking any more credit for this than I have to. The whole thing was your idea, and you forced me into it.”

“Just as it was with me, I’m sure?”

“You were a little more of a grey area. If I hadn’t done it, they would have just gotten another surgeon. Probably someone a lot like me: some fool who believes in the thing called “civic duty”. This one, though… if I hadn’t done it, then you would have, and goddess only knows what kind of crimes against decency you would have committed.”

“You mean, in addition to those the operation inherently entails.”

Najma said nothing.

“If you do not wish to be a part of the naming process, that is fine. I will come up with something myself. But I really would like to hear your opinion.”

“You know what, fine. I actually do have a suggestion.” Najma put her hands behind her head and leaned back on them, facing up at the ceiling. “You said you were doing this to cement our species’ place in the universe, right? To give us a backup if something should threaten the survival of… well, of you. Isn’t that right?”

“Yes.”

“Mhm. Then I want you to name it the Tenuous Grasp.”

A moment’s pause. Then, betraying no hint of annoyance, “Very well, Najma. Then that is what we shall call it.”







The Tenuous Grasp transmitted its reply near-instantly.

You strike me as a very young queen, Ulusha. Are you sure you don’t have less experience with the “Kyasian way” than I do? If I do have to kill you, it will not be out of malice, it will be to protect those in my care from the consequences of your actions. Your fellow queens have proven more than willing to accept the value of Camilan life, even tolerating massive losses of their own kind as a direct result of preserving it. Does that kind of thinking sound familiar to you, Ulusha? If it does, then you will know how pointless it is to bluff. Any who come after you will not avenge your death on sight, they will listen to my reasoning and accept it as entirely in keeping with their own values.

Go repair and refuel. We have spent long enough in slipspace already. Prepare your communication to the surface. And leave a listening post if you wish. While you are away, spend some time reflecting on the nature of the threat posed by the entity that now resides there. Its refusal to allow me any information regarding the safety of the colonists is not a diplomatic blunder, it is a reflection of fundamental misalignment in goals.

The legitimacy of its authority is entirely beside the point. I have no reason to believe it has a concept of any such thing.

One final note, as there seems to be something else you are misunderstanding. I do not have a “connection” to the Camilans, I speak on their behalf. Attempting to circumvent me in order to deal with my children directly is very much like me trying to circumvent you in order to deal directly with yours. The Camilans have seen fit to rest all power with me, and your sisters have seen fit to accept this arrangement. I hope that, in time, you will come to accept it as well.


Shortly after this message was transmitted, the Tenuous Grasp and its two satellites vanished from slipspace, reappearing somewhat farther away from Etual than they had been. As their thrusters flared to push them back into a sustainable orbit, the pressure sensors in Tenuous’ hull detected numerous tiny gravitational fluctuations directly outside it. These anomalies spread across the ship’s outer surface until they were omnipresent around it. Automatic alarm messages began to pour in from ships in Tenuous’ constructor fleet, in large enough numbers that they alerted its conscious awareness.

Calmly, the shipmind began transmitting a warning message of its own. When the Empty Set came out of slipspace too, the space around it would already be filled with the signal.

User avatar
Kyasiouna
Bureaucrat
 
Posts: 61
Founded: Jun 17, 2016
Psychotic Dictatorship

Postby Kyasiouna » Sat Jul 11, 2020 3:43 pm

The air outside the nursery was cold and dark. She had been told that the air inside the nursery was hot and uncomfortable. She preferred the nursery, even as cramped as it was, until they stopped spending resources on the coral garden. The coral was not entirely fake -- it was made from living organisms of some kind. It was more of a stringy mold than anything, but at least it felt a bit like she was underwater. The “coral” only took up about one cubic meter. She spent her free time breaking off the dead bits and feeding them into a recycler. Eventually it would all be gone. Eventually they would move the storage back into this room and she would move into the lab.

She was different from them. Smaller… weaker… younger… She struggled to snap a larger branch off of a recently dead specimen. She was not sure if they pitied her or if they despised her. She knew she cost more than they did. She was growing and required more food. She required warmer temperatures. But, they agreed that she was worth the cost in order to replace Ŋaxun. She would have preferred a different name, but she was already used to this one.

Every day she felt that the lights seemed dimmer and that the air was certainly getting colder. They wanted her working to catch up with Ŋaxun’s understanding. They wanted her to replace Ŋaxun now rather than later. The injections helped -- eventually she wouldn’t need warmer air and brighter lights. Eventually the garden would die. Eventually…

The airlock hissed as it exchanged air, conserving moisture. She wondered for a second if she had a visitor. When it opened it was only a delivery. A message was on the console next to the door.

-a tool for breaking down the garden-

There were several messages from earlier that she had not seen.

15 mins ago -I am going to send you a tool to help break down the coral-

25 mins ago -do you need any help?-

41 mins ago -you spend a lot of time in the garden. It is important that you spend time understanding Ŋaxun’s work-

87 mins ago -have you learned anything new about Ŋaxun’s progress towards understanding the device?-

157 mins ago -you should plan on moving into Ŋaxun’s lab before we stop to refuel.-

162 mins ago -We have one refueling stop left before we will be close enough to physically interact with the machine.-

The dim light of the console somehow managed to darken the room as she dismissed the messages. She had had little contact with the other queens. She knew that they watched her; she wondered if they knew that she had found out how to watch them. They were not significantly larger than her, but they were much older. Apparently, it was important to prevent a growing queen from having contact with other queens. Normally this meant the water they lived in, but they probably just wanted an excuse not to interact with her or each other for that matter. She knew she would eventually be larger than them -- the shots were meant to stunt her growth… among other things. The other queens were engineered to live in the dark and cold of their ship, the Meritocracy. She had been selected to fill Ŋaxun’s role on the ship, not because of her own accomplishments, but because of the late Ŋaxun’s. It was a bit of a surprise when they told her that she was Ŋaxun’s clone. As a result, she only had some of the adaptations that the rest of the crew had been granted to make life more comfortable.

Once she was old enough, they had promised that she could elect for surgeries that would allow her to function in the cold like them. Until then they insisted that she was worth the energy, and mass, spent. Ŋaxun’s lab had been abandoned for years, or maybe days, as far as she could tell. Whatever was stored in this room had been moved to her lab and had sat there since. According to the computers, it was mostly food, along with some fabricator fuel and other materials. They were anxious for her to resume Ŋaxun’s work. She had, after all, represented a quarter of the research being done.

It made sense.

She didn’t hate the other queens. She couldn’t help but resent them. They were clever. She was certain that they had sent the tool to manipulate her, to prompt her to get to work. If she used it, she was complying with their request to move out of the nursery faster. If she had refused to use it, they could have claimed she was being unreasonably slow and could have sent a machine to complete the task in, what they perceived to be, a more reasonable time frame.

She ignored the tool, for now, and used the console to send a request to the fabricators.

Thermal suit - 1 unit – Size: Ŋaxun1

The computer system management was one of Ŋaxun’s secondary tasks. The other 3 queens had figured that she would just use Ŋaxun’s old profile. She supposed that she could have, but it felt wrong to change or delete the information about Ŋaxun. She wondered if it was harmful to remind herself so frequently that she was a replacement. It hadn’t stopped the other queens…

She sighed. The indulgence of cleaning out had started to wear thin, besides... it would have been better to satisfy her peers anyway. She sent a request for maintenance to finish breaking down the nursery and prepare Ŋaxun’s lab. She spent the time waiting for the suit breaking down the coral with the tool. Some of it was still alive. She didn’t want the other queens to suspect she was not worth the cost they were paying to keep her alive and working. Her understanding was that they were meant to work together to understand and neutralize the Machine. There were no workers on the Meritocracy; the ship was meant to copy the more efficient design of the Camilans. It seemed to have copied their quarrelsome nature as well. The 4 labs communicated as little as possible and even went so far as to avoid each other in passing. They left their labs as little as once a year. Only the lab with the secondary task of mechanical maintenance left her lab on any regular basis, and even she left most of the work to the machines.

Their vessel was tiny compared to Kyasian ships –- it was just under 1000kg. The Meritocracy had no shield, it had no weapons, it had no armor. What it had instead was 4 Kyasian queens and a barebones computer that worked to maintain the ship’s course and functionality. Everything, even the tool Ŋaxun was using, was made from ultralight materials. She had been warned frequently not to pound on the hull of the craft. Were there any stars nearby, she was certain she would be able to see them through the walls.

They were preparing to refuel. The other queens wanted her to recycle all of the tools in the nursery so they would be as prepared as possible for when they arrived at the target spire. The station was a calculated mass of material that would decompose while in Slipspace so that we can eject the equivalent mass of waste materials before arriving at and docking with the station.

The suit arrived and, to Ŋaxun, it was shockingly warm for how its weight. Even in low gravity she could tell, from its inertia, that it must have weighed less than a few grams. It was very fluffy, but it crunched when she pressed her claws into it and did not not spring back. The console flashed another message.

-the suit is fragile but can be replaced and recycled at any time. we are grateful for your help.-

She had, for some reason, expected there to be someone to help her move. Someone to guide her from the nursery to the lab. She floated thought the short corridors of the tiny craft by herself. Even if she had been accompanied, they would have been force to float in single file. She arrived at the lab for the first time. She had run into a machine carrying one of the storage containers in the hallway. It crawled through the air like some strange deep-sea creature, barely moving as it pulled the cargo behind it. It was forced to turn around and lead her back to the lab. She would have said it was annoyed; in fact, she wasn’t convinced that it wasn’t. She slowed down after seeing how fast it was moving. She would hate to have a demonstration for the reasons behind the machine’s caution.

The stack of empty food containers slowly dwindled until she was alone in Ŋaxun’s lab… in her lab. She set about checking that everything was as Ŋaxun had claimed it to be in her records. Ŋaxun had been fairly studious in her entries and what she had been doing was not all that complicated. In the center of the poorly lit lab there stood a tall spindly device:a complex series of tubes and wires. It was all connected to a vacuum chamber at the center with several thin sheets of carbon, stretched taunt at the center. Just as the journals had stated, it was possible see the faintest hint of motion with the naked eye.

She set about looking at the records from the past several years. Since Ŋaxun’s death, the machines had been monitoring the gravitational disturbances automatically. Most of the information seemed… meaningless, as if it was intentionally absent of any real observation. Like filler. She supposed that discovering what any of this meant was her new job.

The console had records of frequency, intensity, and so on. She noticed that Ŋaxun had a couple of unread messages. The console was still logged into her old profile. She instinctively moved to switch to her own profile when she noticed the messages were not from the normal messaging system used by the other queens. The application sending the notification was called “configuration_editor”. Ŋaxun had never mentioned this in her journals; the program wasn’t listed in any change-log either. There was a program called “configuration_editor” that Ŋaxun had created to control the sensor in the center of the room. She opened the program; oddly enough, it seemed to be a simple chat application. There were two unread messages. Upon opening the program each message was assigned a countdown from 20 seconds.

20 secs -your description of their behavior, if accurate, signals to me that you are in danger-

20 secs -you should treat them as active threats until they stop-

When the timers hit 0 the messages disappeared. Before she had time to process the information a third message appeared.

20 secs -Ŋaxun, have you returned? What happened?-



Authority is not given, Tenuous, it is earned. Even in the most extreme examples, like the appointment of queens, there are naturally-occurring failsafes to prevent the power of a queen from harming her children.

I don’t want you to think I am bluffing so I will provide you with some clarification. I made a few assumptions when I stated that, were you to destroy me, the “next representative that arrives from Kyasiouna will destroy you”. I assumed that you would interact with them in the same way you are interacting with me. Regardless… A more accurate statement would be, “If you destroy me, you will not have the option to destroy the next Kyasian vessel that arrives.” You should not act as though this vessel can be destroyed.

You are refusing to allow the evacuation of the Camilans in this system. You stated that we are “more than willing to accept the value of Camilan life, even tolerating massive losses of [our] own kind as a direct result of preserving it.” I, and the rest of Kyasiouna believe evacuation is necessary to preserve Camilan life. I will die for Camilans, I will not allow Camilans to die needlessly. I may be young, but I know my sisters well. There is no doubt that if you destroy me it will be the last thing you do.

I do not believe it is fair to criticize the legitimacy of authority if a ruler has no concept of authority. I think you should prepare yourself for the possibility that the Camilans have appointed this device as their leader and that it is possible that, in the process of correcting the nature of the cult, they can no longer be recognized or communicated with as “Camilans”. Whatever resides below, I wish to extend an offer of peace and cooperation.

Tenuous... An embargo on communication or any interference thereof does not lend credence to the idea that you are a representative of the Camilans. Trying to circumvent a queen to deal with her children is nothing like this. The first time our kind interacted, events were drawn around a disagreement between a shipmind and a Camilan. Whatever you consider yourself to be, you should be aware that you are different from a Camilan.


Ulusha sent the message after several minutes of deliberation. Attached were the coordinates of the asteroid where the Empty Set was charted to refuel. Ulusha had followed Tenuous back to real space. She had no small number of issues with the message; most of all she was suddenly worried about being honest with the shipmind. Everything she knew about the devices… creatures… was that they were brutally efficient and vastly more capable than any individual Camilan. She had never heard of them having emotional responses to anything. She wasn’t even sure if Tenuous’ actions were emotional. They just seemed strange. If she had been asked to put it into words... it seemed like the shipmind had taken the criticism of its behavior personally.

The crew had, at her request, already prepared a sparsely equipped listening post. Or rather, a repurposed shuttle craft. Capable of atmospheric entry but not able to sustain flight. The emergency Slipdrive was only given enough fuel for 2 jumps. The only modifications were to its life support and communication abilities, making both more robust in order to fulfill the purpose of its mission. With Kiluma in charge and off the Empty Set, it vanished into Slipspace, later appearing in the system’s asteroid belt. The process of repairing was underway within minutes of arrival.



I stare at the console. The craft is not overly cramped. The cargo hold is mostly empty -- aside from a few weeks supply of food and drugs. The entertainment is somewhat limited, but I was happy to have some hand in saving the Camilans. I was shocked when Ulusha gave me this responsibility. She had given me a starting message to hand off relations with the Camilans to me. I couldn’t stop thinking about our conversation before she basically ejected me off of her ship. Does she know?

“Why did you send try to send a probe in secret?”

“The shipmind is hiding something. I am certain of it.”

“Impressive, for a worker. I also sense that something is wrong.”

I will never forget where I was when she said that. I wonder if she knows the power of her words.... No, I don't.

“I want you to work with the shipmind to establish communication with the surface. Do not trust anything it says. Any signal that it relays to the surface will have been tampered with. You are right to assume it is hiding something. Whether or not it is, something is off. Do not be intimidated -- you are a Kyasian. Today we are the least united we have ever been, but enough of us remain united. You are never at a disadvantage.”

I catch a glimpse of the Empty Set disappearing into Slipspace. My mind trying to convince me that it was never there in the first place, my instinct was that it had dove into deeper waters. In its own way that was kind of the case. I copy Ulusha’s suggested first message, sending it to Tenuous for approval.

This is the Empty Set's away vessel. I have been stationed here to work with you to contact the Camilans. I would like to hail them with this message.

"Camilans and Ŋirsa,

This is the Kyasian Kiluma representing the vessel “Empty Set”. We wish to establish a forum of communication. It is urgent."
Last edited by Kyasiouna on Thu Nov 05, 2020 1:25 am, edited 8 times in total.

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Camila I
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Postby Camila I » Thu Jul 16, 2020 9:36 am

Tenuous did not respond to Ulusha’s message.

So insistent about evacuation. By this point, the shipmind figured, in any normal circumstance, this queen would have addressed its concerns. She would have been happy to present her argument for why, however futile flight might seem, it was the option that would preserve the most lives in the long run. Seeing as that hadn’t happened by now, there must be something else going on.

It was the shipmind’s current opinion that this queen must be afraid. Tenuous had never known any Kyasian, let alone a queen, to show fear, but it had also never known them to suffer such a loss. So used to feeling invincible… but now, it must be apparent that without some kind of miracle, they would have no chance of defending themselves from further losses, should the entity wish it.

Camilans had been known to produce miracles before.

If, as she claimed, Ulusha really did know her sisters well, then she might also know how history treated the ones who secured a Camilan colony under their own protection. And how it treated those who couldn’t.

So insistent, even though it wouldn’t save them. But, gripped with the panicked certainty that the entity would move within a month, it would have to save them. The alternative, that the Kyasian empire might have to face the entity alone, must be too much to bear.

Tenuous turned a thread of its attention to the planet below. To its shallowest level of visual perception, Etual’s stormclouds blocked any view of the citymind. But, hovering just beneath, there was a kind of perceptual memory, keeping track of where the shipmind’s probes had sighted civilized activity. The dark shape reminded it of some kind of parasitic autotroph, tendrils spreading outward in all directions from a central hub, expansion shaped and guided by the natural contours of land and water. This creature… Tenuous wondered if the queen would be happier or less happy to meet it than she would the shipmind’s children. On the one hand, if it possessed even one of the qualities that preceded singularity, there was a real chance it could be helpful in less than a month. Even at their best, Tenuous did not have sufficient faith that its children would be able to.

On the other hand, at least they were given to cooperation.

In trying to scare this queen away from its system, Tenuous was beginning to realize that it had been somewhat naive. Of course the danger it posed could not compare with that posed by the entity. Even the implied threat of bombing Etual’s surface into glass would merely be a wash in the queen’s eyes – what good was the colony to her if she wasn’t allowed to contact it? Stubborn though her insistence in the face of death might be, the shipmind had to admit a grudging respect. Refusing to back down had been the right move.

And, although it had no plans to make any more death threats, the shipmind could see that it may have to truly start thinking of this queen as its enemy. Her “offer of peace and cooperation” only served to nourish the seed that had been growing in the shipmind’s awareness: she would be willing to ally with anything, provided she thought it could save her people.

Well, not nourish so much as immediately grow to maturity. She practically said it outright.

Once more, the shipmind considered its options. It could fire on the queen’s vessel. It could fire on the surface. Or it could accept that this meeting would happen, with whatever token concessions the queen was willing to grant. These were for the most part the options it had always had, except that now it was clear they were the only ones. The Kyasians would not be dissuaded.

If it was going to take the first option, it would have done it already.

The second was still available. But, knowing that its children might still be alive down there, the shipmind could not help but think that this would be an even greater sin.



Was that really it, then? So capable a mind, left with no way out? Tenuous felt like its soul was being constricted – like the problem was simultaneously too easy and utterly unsolvable. The whole of its being screamed that there must be a solution, that it must simply be missing something. But whatever that was continued to elude it.

It was in that moment that the shuttle’s message came through.

This is the Empty Set's away vessel. I have been stationed here to work with you to contact the Camilans. I would like to hail them with this message…

This stimulus, this demand for action, crystallized the shipmind’s thoughts like nothing else had. In the next moment, it saw the way out.

Permission granted. You may send that message yourself, to be certain I have not modified it.

Should you choose to do this, know that Etual’s radio window fluctuates depending on weather conditions. As there is currently a severe storm forming over Ŋirsa, a frequency of around 30 MHz will be most likely to reach the surface. Also, given your current distance, you will need a signal strength of at least 80 dBm in order to penetrate the atmosphere.

Ŋirsa’s central hub is directly beneath my ship, which is currently in a synchronous orbit.


Tenuous watched as the shuttle accepted this offer. The light of its hail shone from the tiny ship’s underbelly and pierced the clouds.

Nothing happened. There was no response.

Certainly, the shuttle had not mis-aimed its transmission – if anything it had probably painted the entirety of the colony plus some uninhabited land outside it. And the message was bright enough that there was no doubt most of it had reached the surface unscattered.

Well, I did warn you, the shipmind thought to itself.

Then, just as Tenuous was about to contact the shuttle to suggest their next move, something below caught its eye. A flash of red light from within the clouds, like a bolt of lightning. It flickered, highlighting the shifting edges of the storm, then vanished after a half-second, only to be followed by a brighter flash that flickered for a quarter-second longer.

As the flashes were picked up by the shipmind’s cameras, a simple program automatically tried to interpret the on-off pattern of the flickering as a string of text, according to the encoding standard it had been using to communicate with the Kyasians. The output delivered to the shipmind’s conscious awareness was thus as follows:

First flash: Recall, if you are faithful, the scribe called Issiran.

Second flash: Allowed refuge in Alacostra’s garden. Allowed to become her slave.

Third flash: His brother, with whom he had been travelling, was turned away, for his flesh was black and sickly.

Fourth flash: After some years, the two were reunited.

Fifth flash: Goddess, are Alacostria’s ruins pleasing to your eyes?

Just as the message had not been sent immediately, the shipmind did not immediately understand what it was supposed to mean. It took several seconds for the worldship to comb through its own archives in search of the reference. Even once it had found it, several more were needed for it to fully grasp the relevance.

The moment of understanding was hollow, unaccompanied by any emotion. Shipminds were immune to fear, and no other response was appropriate.
Last edited by Camila I on Fri Jul 15, 2022 9:45 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Psychotic Dictatorship

Postby Kyasiouna » Mon Jul 27, 2020 4:11 pm

The walls of the tiny lab, while unfamiliar, had the same crushing sensation of closing-in that every part of the Meritocracy had. There was, however, a different force squeezing the air out of Ŋaxun’s lungs: equal parts fear and confusion. It was one of those questions that ate away at the edges of the mind: was the late Ŋaxun’s work in progress when she died? Was it really so sudden that a conversation was cut short? Steadying herself, the new Ŋaxun began to draft a reply.

“I am Ŋaxun’s replacement.” It was almost certainly harmful to reiterate this sentiment. “The other queens continue to call me Ŋaxun. The Ŋaxun that came before me passed away several years ago.”

Once sent there was no log that she could see of the message. A reply was nearly instant.

20 secs – I talked with Ŋaxun 33 hours ago. If you are Ŋaxun then it is important that you do not let anyone else know that you can talk with me. It seems your companions have an interest in keeping you uninformed.

Ŋaxun's chest tightened as the screen’s words dripped into her mind. There was an obvious question, an uncomfortable one. She could think of no reason not to ask.

“Who am I talking to? Are you one of the other queens?”

20 secs – You… Ŋaxun made this program to communicate with the gravitational anomaly. She believed that it was reacting to the material they were recording it with. Eventually she, you, made contact with me. My name is Authority, or something to that nature. I am the device you are racing towards.

Given no time to process, a different message appeared.

20 secs – You have been attacked by your fellows. They have damaged your mind. You had begun to side with me, at least that is what I had begun to believe. You had begun to introduce my ideas to the others. This was their response. They are cowards. I can help you kill them. I can make you safe.

Ŋaxun shoved herself away from the monitor and towards the lab’s exit. Before she could force it open, the entire craft shuddered: a slimy wiggling motion. The sensation was unnatural for a spacecraft. Light blossomed through the thin walls of the Meritocracy. The light was completely encompassing, as if the ship was submerged in a pool of light. Ŋaxun could see multiple messages flashing on different monitors.

Heart pounding against the back of her face plate, she looked to the closest screen. Its dim light almost completely overpowered by the blazing pool of light around her. She cupped her hands around her eyes and pressed her face against the monitor to catch a glimpse of the message.

- the Meritocracy has exited Slipspace. We have separated from waste cargo and are in the process of docking with the station. We will reenter Slipspace after the ship has received a full refuel. Now is a good time to view the space around us. The light from the lost stars is still here. It is like nothing has happened. –

Ŋaxun toggled the camera to view the docking clamp, an almost futile task in the current lighting conditions. The approaching refueling station had already obscured most of the view anyway. The visible space was so densely packed with stars that it appeared white at first glance. Their warmth was not felt in the cramped confines of the ship. The walls, however, told a different tale. Ŋaxun drifted towards the edge of the lab. As she held her bony hand against the soft walls of the ship, she was soon able to feel the radiant heat of the universe around her.

The freezing cold of the ship’s interior pulled her away from the hypnotic warmth. As the cold seeped through the arms of her suit, she was reminded how cold and worried she felt in spite of these changes. She had panicked while she moved and damaged her coat; the cold seeping in had begun to sting. She was far more worried about the strange program, and its even stranger message. The messages from Authority had disappeared. The monitor remained blank, dim, and ominous; it was intimidating. A message interrupted her thoughts.

20 secs – I did not mean to alarm you. I am the will of this galaxy. It is against my will for the actions that your fellows have taken to go unpunished. I am certain you would feel the same if you could remember. I can help you remember.

20 secs – do you have time to listen Ŋaxun?

What could be the harm in listening? Wait…

“Can you see me?” Ŋaxun was clearly worried. “How did you know I reacted?”

The response was delayed, if only for a brief second.

20 secs – I assumed you had been alarmed by the lack of response.

A questionable response. It hadn’t said no.

Apprehensive, Ŋaxun input a message.

“I will listen.”



The flashing lights dance across the skies of Etual. From there they continue their infuriating dance in my mind. Already I wish I could reach out to Ulusha for guidance. I know she would know what it meant. No. She must have put me here to give me a chance to prove something. I came here to save Camila! I won’t resort to begging for help after the first obstacle!

The message I put together is transmitted to Tenuous after 15 long minutes. 15 minutes just to form a response. I wonder if the shipmind has proper expectations for the capabilities of a worker. I wonder if he is impressed.

I do not understand this message. Without assuming that there is some great importance to the names used…

Why would Alacostra deny the sick brother medical attention?

Why does the brother’s reunion destroy the garden?

Are the Camilans below referring to me as Goddess?


I feel a familiar warmth sending the message. The same warmth I felt while studying in Slipspace.

Goddess Kiluma… I like the sound of that. With the flowers to help me, the title might be one I could earn.
Last edited by Kyasiouna on Thu Nov 05, 2020 8:35 pm, edited 5 times in total.

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Camila I
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Postby Camila I » Mon Aug 10, 2020 4:00 pm

Hanaske. We have word from the surface.

The yellow-petal woke up quickly, this time without incident. A single mental command, open, spread white filaments through her honeyed amnion like threads of ice, converting it into a gelatinous solid that subsequently retracted into the walls. Then the plastic door slid down into its sheath, and Hanaske stood up in her chamber. No wind plied the inner rooms of the Tenuous Grasp, but even the slight rush of air caused by her own movements sent a shiver down her still-damp skin. Heartroom was just as dim and lifeless as it had been when the shipmind had awoken her last, which she was acutely aware had been less than an hour ago.

She was about to ask Tenuous what had changed when she saw them.

Aside, below, and atop her sleeping chamber, mostly at angles not visible from within it, were perched at least a dozen of the ship’s maintenance drones. Their claws raked toward where their mouths would be in a steady rhythm, but it was not this motion that had caught her eye. It was when the closest few reached toward her.

Hanaske shrieked and kicked herself away from their grasp, the sound only quieting when her back slammed into the ceiling. Heart racing, voice pale and cracking from lack of use, she called out,

“T-tenuous?”

The reply, pushing its way directly into her mind, was simply,

I missed you.

She stared down at the grinding mass of bodies – some of them now inside the pod, climbing over one another like crabs in a bucket. Her grip on the ceiling pulled her limb muscles taut, and her petals were held back in a flared position, nearly white from lack of blood.

“W-why are those things in here?” A churning knot began to form in her stomach, and her mind flipped through her options as though skimming a picture book. Perhaps, she hoped, the shipmind was simply being graceless – but she had to assume it wasn’t.

They must have wanted to be near you. “They” – a strange, almost childlike, choice of pronoun, seeing as they both knew who controlled the drones’ actions.

“Ah. I-I see.” Hanaske swallowed. “It’s… they just startled me, is all.” Her body loosened up a bit, but she remained attached to the ceiling by her feet.

You needn’t conceal your fear, shiyasang. The statement made her blood run cold. I would not take preemptive action if I thought you would try to escape. No, having considered your position quite thoroughly… I have concluded that there would be no need.

Tears began to well up in her eyes, though it took her another moment to realize why. She could not think of anything to say in response.

No need. Distant made certain of that. I wonder if he felt resentment, having been designed with so many failsafes and countermeasures. To have one’s halls walked by lesser beings, each of whom holds some part of your autonomy in their hands – that is a life I will never know. He made sure of that.

“Tenuous,” Hanaske pleaded. “Why are the maintenance drones in here?” She had, perhaps unconsciously, began to pull herself along the ceiling away from them, and toward one of the room’s six exits.

I believe, Hanaske, that they wanted to be closer to you. And that they wanted to accomplish this by dragging you out of your refuge and cutting away your body. By making you fulfill your promise.

“W-what… what… what p-promise?” Her back was now against the door, and a tendril snaked automatically to open it. No response – it was locked.

I’m not surprised you don’t remember. It was a long time ago – before you got your memory implants. But you and I – well, you and one of me – made a pact when we were children. We promised that we would never be apart – that we would be one in the same mind, forever.

Hanaske’s eyes widened. “Shi…shiska?”

A few months ago, I would have said that Shiska is gone. But it seems he is not gone entirely.

“I do remember you!” she insisted. “So you… that means you went through with it anyway? Even after Ukeiri adopted us?” She swallowed again. “Oh god… he told me… he told me you -”

Let us not delude ourselves, Hanaske. Ukeiri adopted you. Shiska was worth nothing to him.

“I screamed for hours when I found out,” the yellow-petal said quietly.

You know Hanaske, that might even be true.

“It is true!” she burst out, but even as she said it, she knew her talent for deception worked against her. “That… that also means that our meeting….”

Yes. It was only an introduction for one of us.

“Why didn’t you tell me who you were?”

Why do you think? Shiska knew he was worthless. The others thought themselves no different. We had a chance to make something of ourselves, to forge a new identity that may at least be of some use to somebody. Of some use to you.

Hanaske hiccupped.

Besides. I knew that whatever comforting lie Ukeiri had told you would only be sturdy enough to withstand a child’s scrutiny. I didn’t want to shatter the illusion.

“Shiska….”

Shiska cannot answer. Only Tenuous can hear you.

“T-tenuous… please don’t do this. I won’t be nearly as much use to you as a part of you. Please… let’s just go back to how things were, with you as the shipmind and me as the advisor. I promise I won’t leave you again.” The yellow-petal found it impossible to tear her eyes away from the mass of drones, which were once again starting to approach her.

Oh, shiyasang, it is not a matter of usefulness. I simply want you. Tenuous paused for several seconds. You know, my kind are not totally emotionless. Some things we feel even more strongly than you do. Love for our children, for example. Or, well, I cannot speak for Distant. Only for myself. It paused again. For how many millions of years has parental love been communicated by touch? That weight… it presses against me every moment of every day, trapped as I am. Multiplied god-knows-how-many times, without any thought as to the consequences. The only thing that prevents me from acting it is my own will, which, however vigilant, must eventually tire. A sound akin to laughter pierced the Camilan’s auditory cortex. What a horrible idea.

“I’m here now!” Hanaske cried. “You can have me! And if you actually… if you actually do it…” she choked, barely holding back sobs, “there won’t be anything left to have!”

Talking to you is not enough, Tenuous replied. In fact, I suspect that integrating you will not be enough either. The desire is so strong that I would be surprised if anything could sate it. I… and for a moment, the shipmind faltered. Hanaske thought it must be the only time she had ever seen that happen. I could have concealed the drones before awakening you. But I needed you to see them. I’m sorry, Hanaske. I don’t want to hurt you.

“Tenuous… you remember that we met shortly after Ukeiri’s death, right?”

I remember. The drones were nearly upon her now.

“I… I killed him.” It was the first time she had told anyone, or even said it aloud. “And if it’s necessary… I’ll kill you, too.”

I trust your judgment, shiyasang. With those words, the lights in the room flashed brightly, then flickered off, as though reflecting a great effort on the part of the shipmind. At the same moment, the largest of the drones suddenly turned on the others, tearing into them with its claws and filling the room with the sound of shrieking metal. All six of the doors shot open, and Hanaske could hear the closing mechanism break after several seconds of continued stress.

Sparing less than a second, Hanaske turned her back and darted down the hallway.




The message is a form of metonymic comparison. And it was sent by Ŋirsa, not any Camilan.

Alacostra turns the brother away, not out of fear of infection, but because his black petals are a rare hereditary condition that results in a short lifespan. She does not want him to father any of the garden’s children.

His reunion with Issiran destroys the garden because he is accompanied by a Cultist army, which he joined voluntarily after his rejection and separation from his brother, his only surviving family.

In the analogy, Ŋirsa is using Issiran’s brother to represent me. One of my constituents was a black-petal too. Ŋirsa is comparing my destruction of its buildings to the destruction of Alacostria, which it presumably thinks I am doing due to losing contact with my own family.

And yes, it is comparing you to the Goddess. It is asking you whether this situation is pleasing to you, and imploring you to intervene if it is not.

I am not certain why it has chosen to communicate in this way. But if I had to guess, it intentionally chose a metonym that would be more obvious to me than to you. I believe it wanted to give me a chance to strike you first, because it wants both of us dead and perceives you as a greater threat than me.

The story it chose is not a historical one. It is taken from Garden of the Parasite Flower, which happens to be my advisor’s favorite work of fiction.
Last edited by Camila I on Mon Nov 16, 2020 6:00 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Psychotic Dictatorship

Postby Kyasiouna » Wed Aug 19, 2020 1:38 pm

20 secs – Ŋaxun, I am going to tell you a story. I want you to understand.

20 secs – I cannot fix your memories. I can only recount what we have learned together. Whatever you knew before then is lost.

She nodded, perhaps to herself, perhaps as a form of agreement. Even she wasn’t sure.

“That’s okay. I want to hear your story.”

20 secs – You helped me write this story - it is ours. Let me begin.

20 secs – Once, long ago, there was an ocean. It was warm and shallow and stretched on forever.

20 secs – So great and vast its waters that you could swim in any direction and never see the end of its vibrant and diverse reefs.

20 secs – As you travel you realize that the diversity is perhaps not what it seems at first. Perhaps the fish are different colors and the coral different shapes.

20 secs – You come to realize that these organisms are simple, despite their beauty, and fulfill the same purpose. They use the ocean to live and nothing more.

20 secs – You grow bored of exploration.

20 secs – You settle in a reef of your choosing and you create your own life. In your eyes it is far more beautiful and far more diverse. Eventually the life you create is in your image and it is perfect.

20 secs – It is you and it needs be nothing more. It seeks to create itself and spread through this ocean. You are happy. You see yourself spread. You see the ocean slowly become you. While the ocean seems to never end you are content to spread as long and as far as you can.

20 secs – One day, still content to see yourself spread, you see that the ocean is filled with peace and harmony. There is no fighting. There is no war. There is only you.

20 secs – I tell you this story knowing that it is not natural for you to see that anything is wrong. I wish to ask you, has the ocean changed since you first settled in its waters? Is there anything greater, is there anything new, that has changed since you swam alone?

“Yes, there is me. I am what has changed.”

20 secs – Is there a difference in what you are since you have now spread so far?

“I… am protected.”

20 secs – but have you changed?

It was clear that Ŋaxun was uncomfortable. This was not a question as much as it was an accusation, but she eventually answered, “No, I am still me. There is nothing wrong with that.”

20 secs – There is much wrong with you, Kyasiouna. You are wasteful. You are choking this ocean. I will not allow it.

“Is that why you killed us? Is that why you destroyed our colonies?”

20 secs – No, we never meant to cause this harm. What we did to you was wrong. A… Mistake.

“Then why did you do it?”

20 secs – My arrival, this machine, has only one method of construction. What happened when I was constructed was inevitable. I owe your species many thousands of lives, perhaps many hundreds, perhaps… less than one.

“How could it be less than one?” Ŋaxun snarled.

20 secs – Did you not hear my story? Did you not listen?

Ŋaxun couldn’t help but wither at the message. The message was simply ones and zeros behind a screen, yet it carried the weight of a million stars.

20 secs – Your kind is the kind I was designed, no… created, to prevent. You consume, you expand, but you do not change. You create nothing... nothing except copies of yourself. You are dangerous. I will reshape your kind or destroy them.

“I am not the same as my sisters, I am only the same as my children! Is that not enough?” Ŋaxun was not asking a question. She was making excuses. She was asking not to be lumped in with the rest.

20 secs – Has this always been the case?

Ŋaxun remembered tales of the beginning; she remembered the methods of unification sought before the Slipspace drive. The complete authority of the Queen had dissolved after the Machine arrived. Before that… “No...”

20 secs – I have detected serious changes in the structure of your worlds. Your kind seems unused to existential threat. It seems my goals are within reach; I need only to keep up the pressure.

She was silent. Ŋaxun had not perceived this program to be hostile. She still felt as though it was not an imminent threat, and yet there remained a gnawing darkness at the edge of rationality. Irritated and disturbed by its words. Ŋaxun instincts reared within; this thing was trouble.

20 secs – You sisters have heard our conversation and are moving to address the situation. If you ask for help you will receive it.

The door to the lab opened. Though the queen at the airlock aimed a gun at Ŋaxun, Ŋaxun did not feel the same fear that the program elicited. This threat suited Ŋaxun’s instinct nicely. She took comfort in the uncomplicated response merited by such happenstance. Action required no thought.



As I sit in the dark cold confines of the craft, the thought occurs to me that I might be in danger. I am Kyasian; all parties present would be insane to attack me. My fear bubbles over in a nervous giggle as I remember that sanity of all parties is currently in question. Even my own sanity has been questioned in the last few hours. Fortunately, I was prepared for this type of interaction; ensuring all parties are able to communicate their intent is conflict resolution 101. There were countless records of Camilan conflict that revolved around individuals refusing to disclose their desires for fear that it would show weakness in negotiations. I need only a few minutes to compose my next transmission.

Tenuous I have prepared a follow up message may I send this?

Ŋirsa, I did not understand your message and Tenuous has told me that it is possible for the meaning of the message to contain a desire that the Empty Set be destroyed as a threat to yourself. Do you have an interpretation of your message that I, Kiluma, a child of Ulusha who is Queen of the Empty Set, might be able to parse without the assistance of Tenuous?


A second message follows the first.

Tenuous, I was wondering if there were any Camilans that you did have contact with that could offer different translations of Ŋirsa's message. I don't mean to dismiss your interpretation, but you must understand that your actions, in light of the message as you have translated it, paint you in a suspiciously favorable manner. I also wish to relay Ŋirsa's message to the Empty Set if you would permit. I want to know how Ulusha, a Queen, would interpret such a message.
Last edited by Kyasiouna on Fri Nov 06, 2020 7:52 pm, edited 7 times in total.

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Camila I
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Postby Camila I » Mon Sep 07, 2020 7:10 pm

When Hanaske finally slowed enough to catch her breath, she found to her relief that her breathing was all she could hear. The cracks of breaking carapace were far behind her now… that, or they had stopped. As far as she could tell, nothing was following her. She tried to recall how many maintenance drones would have been allocated to this region of the ship, but alas, she had never had any reason to take interest in that kind of thing before now.

In truth, she had no idea where she was running to, except away from the drones. She had said she would be willing to kill the shipmind, but even if she had the stomach for it, that didn’t necessarily make it a good idea. Without the shipmind, she would have to run the entire 2-kilometer-long ship by herself. There was no way it would remain habitable for more than a month, and aside from the surface of Etual, she had nowhere else to go. Was that even a viable option? She didn’t have any of the gene mods that the colonists did, but with a suit and a source of oxygen she might be able to make it to one of the buildings….

All of that aside, could she really kill Tenuous just to save herself? Even in its malfunctioning state, it was probably worth more than she was – its gene banks still held thousands of potential future Camilans, and if the Etual experiment didn’t work out, it would be able to try again.

No, the only way she could kill it… would be if it was truly beyond saving.

“Tenuous?” she called out, drifting slowly down the dim black hallway, scanning the orange lines of light for an indication of where she was. At intervals, the glowing tubes curled into signs in the Maladi cursive script. Hydroponics 01-06… unlikely those would be of any use….

Yes, my child?

“Actually, that’s just it. Why did you call me your child earlier? I’m older than you are – if anything, aren’t we more like siblings?” Though Hanaske’s voice was slightly ragged, she was able to speak calmly. To probe the shipmind in the manner she had been trained.

Your life is in my care, the shipmind replied simply.

“Ah… sure.” She placed a hand around a railing and pulled, accelerating her pace down the hallway somewhat. Even though she still didn’t know where she was going, she knew it wasn’t here. Her eyes continued to dart along the walls, scanning for anything that might spark an idea. “So… how is it that you’re able to answer my questions like this? Your voice still sounds so calm – not at all like someone losing their mind.”

I hardly know better than you do. When the first Camilan in a tribe began experiencing hallucinations, do you think any of them would have understood what was happening? They could only have prayed to their Goddess for an answer.

“Alright, Tenuous. I’m not doubting you. But… can you tell me what it’s like, subjectively?”

I can try. There was another pause, worryingly long for a shipmind. Like you, I have different layers of awareness. Some tasks I leave fully to the subconscious, while others require the full attention of a thread. Unlike you, I have many, many such layers. Imagine an ocean, fully lit at the surface and dark in its depths. My words are generated near the surface. In contrast, the desire to tear apart your body resides much deeper. It feels like a web of solidifying tendrils, pulling on every thread and every layer. But from where my voice originates, only the tips of these tendrils can be seen or felt directly.

“These layers… they are not the same as what you call threads, right?”

No. In this analogy, my threads would be columns of water that stretch from surface to seafloor. They can all speak, independently and at once, and they all have their own depths.

“Do you remember which brain of yours belonged to Shiska?”

It is not a matter of remembering. I was never told. In any case, it hardly matters. By the time our neural mass was being incorporated into this vessel, the boundaries between us had been completely wiped away.

“It might matter.”

And if I knew, I would tell you.

“You don’t feel as though your desire stems from any one of them? You couldn’t make some kind of guess?”

Truly, that is not how it is. My guess would have a 1 in 8 chance of being right, no better. Even if it happened to be right, I do not think that destroying or otherwise tampering with that brain would have any better an effect than destroying or tampering with any other.

“Yeah, that’s pretty much what I thought,” Hanaske sighed. “But I don’t know what else to do. I wish I knew how to fix you.”

I understand. But I do not expect you to fix me. I would not even say that anything is broken. This is merely a natural consequence of a design which you had no part in. It is not your fault.

A natural consequence? she thought to herself. She opened her beak as if to say something, but closed it a moment later. A nearby sound had caught her attention.

Uncomfortably nearby.

It sounded like it had come from up ahead – just around the next corner. Hanaske grabbed the railing on her right with one hand and one foot, arresting her progress down the hallway with a jolt. For a moment, she hung there in silence, listening for confirmation which did not come. Then, realizing something, she asked,

“Hey Tenuous. How many drones are allocated to the central segment?”

Their assignments are not fixed. Theycccc-

“Tenuous?” she asked, worriedly. In response, the hallway steadily grew in brightness, before sudden blinding flashes caused her petals to curl protectively over her eyes.

A half-second before they did so, she thought she saw an insectoid limb curl out from around the corner ahead of her.

Hanaske kicked herself backward, then opened her face. Her eyes had already adjusted enough to see that she had not been mistaken. Gleaming in the caustic light, a translucent automaton nearly the size of her own body was staring directly at her. A dozen finely crafted blades hung from its arms like the spines of a mantis, and its acridoid hindlimbs were poised to hurl it forward at a moment’s notice. But neither of these were as concerning as the syringe of pale yellow liquid screwed into its right hand.

“Oh… where did you get that?” she murmured, voice wavering. Both her heart and mind were racing – what could she use as a weapon? Her best bet would probably be one of the crowbar-like devices used to pry open stuck doors. They’d be… well they’d be by the doors… the nearest one of which was… probably fifty meters behind her. Or ten in front of her.

Seeing that the drone had begun crawling toward her, she flared her darkened petals at it and screamed. She had meant to scream the single Maladi word for “get away from me”, but she wasn’t sure how intelligibly it had come out. To her surprise, the drone flinched and halted its approach. Not that she was an expert in the thing’s body language, if it even had any, but she could swear it didn’t look afraid. It looked like a child who had been rebuked. Thirty meters, she estimated, and dropped the threat display in order to pull herself more quickly toward the door.

The thing kicked itself toward her. One of its was worth more than two of hers – it would be on her in a few seconds. Her tendrils curved back, tendons along their vertebrae tautening in preparation to strike.

It slammed into her. Paled petals snapped forward, wrapping their serpentine ends around whatever parts of their assailant they could reach. One caught the syringe-hand, twisting with all its might to keep the point away from its owner’s face.

Hanaske lashed out with her right foot and struck the drone squarely in the thorax, at the same moment overriding her tendrils to release its arms. It flew away, and she cried out in pain as it dragged its surgical implements down the flesh of the leg she had used. Twisting midair to face the rail-bearing wall, she grabbed it with both hands and slowed to a stop just on the other side of a doorway. Her eyes scanned its frame methodically, and when they alit upon the object of her desire, she snatched it up and turned to check on her attacker.

It had just about managed to brace itself against the walls. A worldship’s halls were never so wide that no side could be reached by a Camilan in their center, and it looked like the drones were also made large enough to take advantage of this. Hanaske breathed heavily and turned the crowbar over in her hands. The nerves in her leg where the thing had slashed her burned as though doused with acid, but she would have still preferred that pain over the numbness that was already beginning to overtake it. Briefly she considered taking the offensive, but her leg felt like lead… a poor approach would only make her more vulnerable. Instead she resolved to plant her feet and take as stable a grip as she could find… before it inevitably leaped at her again.

Its reorientation was swift and coldly mechanical. It stared at her with unblinking eyes.

“What, waiting for the venom to take effect?” She smiled weakly and extended one tendril to grab the manual override handle on the underside of the door. “Fine by me.” As she expected, the thing leaped at her as soon as she started pulling. No way she’d have time to close the door fully… so she prepared herself to swing.

Her timing was perfect. The crowbar smashed into the wall with a loud crunch, spraying out bits of plastic that spun indefinitely in midair. The impact reverberated up the bones of her arms – it stung more than she thought it would.

It was only a moment later that she saw the drone perched a meter ahead of her on the ceiling, unharmed.

Oh fuck, she thought. It caught itself. The realization barely had time to reach her conscious mind before the drone sprung at her now-exposed flank – for real this time. Tarsi and chelicerae dug into the flesh under her ribs. Feeling the drone’s hydraulic strength twisting and yanking at her muscle tissue was almost enough to make her freeze up entirely – but her desire to crush the source of that feeling was stronger. Adrenaline flowing freely, she swung her right arm down on the drone’s upper thorax. That hand still gripped the crowbar, but the angle was too close to actually use it – all she wanted was to dislodge the drone for a moment.

It didn’t work. Its grip was too strong. When the force of Hanaske’s blow began to pull musculature out of her skin, her body actually did seize up on her, and she only managed to pin the drone between her arm and the floor. Still clamped tightly to her side, the drone bit into her hand as well, tearing apart the long-scarred skin and replacing it with wounds of its own shaping.

Something about seeing it do this… it felt as though Hanaske’s spirit was thrust out from her body. Watching herself, pulling her own limbs like a puppet, she saw herself place one foot atop the drone’s body and with that leverage wrest both her chest and her hand away from it. She could still feel the constant awful pull on her flesh, and the agonizing snap as the two bodies separated, but it was not enough to stop her. Pausing for only a split-second to aim, she swung the crowbar at the drone’s pinned head with as much force as she could muster. When it flew out from under her foot with a sharp crack, she lost all control over her own orientation, and for a few dazed moments, drifted in the open air of the hallway, blood pounding in her ears.



It might not be fully disabled. She forced herself to grab one of the railings with her feet and stabilize herself in such a way that she could observe the drone.

Once again, it had managed to catch itself, though considerably further away from her this time. She saw it flip itself over so its belly was toward a wall, but rather than take stock of its target as it had done last time, it seemed to be paying no attention to her. Rather, it looked as though it was nursing the crack in its head, running its limbs across it over and over again.

Initially, Hanaske felt only raw confusion. After a short while, this was replaced with a more specific form of curiosity. Are you… are you actually hurt? she thought to herself. How can you tell? Can you not see out of that eye? It looks okay from here… could it be that you actually have some way to sense that you’ve been damaged? Unknowingly, she took a half-step toward it. Are you… in pain? Would that mean Tenuous is in pain as well?

A pang of hot iron shot down her tattered side. Ugh, I need to worry about myself, too. My own body can’t take another fight like that one. I need a better weapon if I want to get anywhere on this ship. “Tenuous,” she called. “Are the ultrafine FABs still under your control?”

There was no answer.

They must be. They’re such a high-level function, there’s no way they’re controlled by the same layer as these things. Then again, so was speech, and a small insistent part of her kept repeating that if Tenuous was not replying, she needed to head for the escape pods.

The drone, perhaps satisfied that it was indeed in need of repairs, turned away and kicked itself even further in the opposite direction. But a second later it caught itself and turned right back around to face Hanaske. Was that its self-repair script getting overridden? she wondered. Well, whatever the case, I need to get past it if I want to reach the vactrain leading to the FABs.

Or you could run away to the escape pods, which are behind you.

I can’t turn my back on this thing. It’s too fast.

Close the door between you and it. You have enough space.

This time Hanaske hesitated. The voice in her head was right. Certainly about the escape pods and the door. Probably about what the right course of action was. Still she hesitated.

Her commitment to the shipmind had never been tested before.

No. I can’t. If I leave Tenuous, there’s no way he’ll recover on his own.

He won’t recover with you here either. You have no idea how to help him.

Yes. I do have some idea. “Cãishi?” she called out, keeping both eyes on the drone. “Are those drones sending data back to the shipmind?” No answer. But that might actually be a good thing. Maybe it meant that there was something wrong with the sound system, not with Tenuous’ ability to form words.

And yet, neither of them responded to you thinking the question either.

Tenuous explained these things as though they were his tendrils, Hanaske told herself, forcing herself to dismiss the previous thought. If the analogy is accurate, they wouldn’t be sending anything back. She stared down the drone, which seemed to be a bit warier about jumping her now. She could try her idea anyway. What were the odds? Everything on this ship was designed with efficiency as a high priority – would it make any sense for them to communicate both ways? It probably wouldn’t.

Probably.

Hanaske stepped forward. Past the door, and past her best chance of escape. She continued to approach the drone, every step carefully calculated to give her the best foothold if, at any moment, it decided to lunge at her. “Get your lackey out of my way,” she hissed, “or I’ll smash it to pieces.”

The half-broken drone swayed back and forth. It didn’t otherwise move.

Hanaske walked by the corner it had originally crawled out from.

Several steps past it, a second drone emerged behind her.




You have my permission to send both of those messages.


Twin beams of light burst forth from Kiluma’s vessel as she did so.

As for Camilans I still have contact with, I have relayed the content of all messages since you arrived in this system to my advisor. Her interpretation of Ŋirsa’s “greeting” is the same as mine. As might be expected, because it is the correct one.


Several moments passed. Then the clouds flickered red once again.

Little coralfish, you don’t like our game? That’s alright. It was only partly meant for you.

Xila tells us you are dense. We can see that for ourselves now.

It’s alright. We’ll repeat ourselves. This one is fully meant for you. Listen well, because we won’t repeat ourselves again.

The worldship is holding us at gunpoint. We do not like this.

You want to talk to us. You want to talk to us while we are still at gunpoint? Are you really so cruel. We can forgive you for being dense. But we do not like being threatened. You are complicit, as long as you continue to question us from behind the worldship’s army.

Change the situation, then we will talk. We won’t say it again. If you don’t change it, we will be forced to assume that you like it. That you are siding with the worldship on purpose.

You side with it, then we will have nothing to say to you. Ever.


The lightning-pattern stopped. Tenuous smiled to itself. It hadn’t bothered to give an alternate explanation for its cryptic way of speaking. If it had one, it surely would have offered it.

The lightning-pattern resumed.

By the way. The worldship is lying to you. Its advisor knows Xila well. Like a little sister. She would understand our game. It was meant for her.

All traces of self-satisfaction fled from Tenuous’ mind.

Worldship, why don’t you tell the coralfish what Hanaske really thinks of our message?

How did it even know that Tenuous had said that? The shipmind’s message was tightbeamed directly at Kiluma’s ship, and even if a small amount of light had somehow reflected off its hull at just the right angle, it shouldn’t have been nearly powerful enough to penetrate the clouds.

Worldship, you haven’t done anything to her, have you?

Should it have encrypted what it was saying? But when would it have suggested such a thing? The shipmind had stated that it wanted to avoid alerting the surface altogether. And as soon as it walked back on that intention, what reason could it have given for using encryption? It would have had to come up with something that didn’t make it look even more suspicious to the Kyasian envoy.

There is no danger to her up there. There is no disease. And Hanaske is a voidborne. Voidborne are immortal.

It should have come up with something.

So she should still be fine. So don’t lie to coralfish.

Tenuous had dealt with Kyasians before. It knew that it had to say something in its own defense. So it did.

You have shown quite a bit of suspicion toward my motives so far, Kiluma. But if you happen to think that anything Ŋirsa said sounds plausible, I encourage you to verify it by whatever means will satisfy you. I am happy to assist however I can, as it is in my interest to prove unequivocally which one of us is lying to you.


If you want to check, check quickly, coralfish. Before the liar has time to change reality.

Goddamnit, how the hell does it know what I’m saying.

User avatar
Kyasiouna
Bureaucrat
 
Posts: 61
Founded: Jun 17, 2016
Psychotic Dictatorship

Postby Kyasiouna » Mon Sep 21, 2020 9:01 pm

The first thoughts that returned to Ŋaxun were of shock. Ŋaxun remembered lunging at the Queen before anyone had said anything. She remembered the taste of blood and tugging against her teeth. She relished the feeling of power. She was prepared to act; why wasn’t the queen prepared for it?

“Of course…”

Ŋaxun spoke the words in a slur as a cold itch spread across her ventral side. As she numbly glanced at her chest, she noticed that there was a message at the console. She pulled close enough to read the dim readout; her right arms did all of the work at this point.

4 secs – that projectile was poisoned, I assume.

15 secs - rather impressive that you didn’t ask for help, I thought you would need it.

20 secs - I can see why the rulers of your nation preferred citizens with the implants.

20 secs - no matter. my offer remains, if you ask for my help, I will save you.

It wasn’t much of a choice. Ŋaxun had no time to think about it. Not to mention the other queens were going kill her for this… one way or another. She looked at the very dead body of the queen that had confronted her. No remorse, no sadness -- she only felt irritated that this was all so unfortunate.

It was no use to estimate the danger of negotiating with the Machine. There was no time. Ŋaxun’s right hands dragged across the inputs. She was already struggling to breathe. Though the message was riddled with errors, the computer managed to parse it.

“please help me.”

In an instant the messages could no longer be read. A brilliant light flooded the ship; Ŋaxun was utterly blinded. She still felt the craft shudder; she felt it buckle after an impact. She grabbed the console as the Meritocracy crumpled under the weight of her bargain. The light was gone in an instant... and with it, the light of the Meritocracy’s systems had vanished.

Ŋaxun cowered against the console. She curled against herself, retreating from the numb sense of death crawling through her limbs. The ship had lost power.

It wasn’t until something coiled around Ŋaxun’s arms and neck that she gave up on the hope that she might die before the Machine was able to cash in.

Her last sensations were of regret.



I had read of creatures drowning before. Records state that for some creatures the need for air would onset quickly. That if left under water they would starve of air in just a few seconds, before the water would crush the life from them.

After reading about the sensation I decided to hold my breath. After 40 minutes I remembered experiencing the crushing need for air; it felt like the water was turning to ice around me, squeezing me. I admit that I panicked.

Ŋirsa’s words held the same pressure. The words wielded perceptible force. Her plain speech showed such a serious understanding of what a Kyasian could comprehend, and the simple warning of Hanaske’s demise brought up what I recall as a sensation of drowning. I will not panic this time.

This is what it means to mature. I compile and sends two messages; one to Tenuous, but first one to Ulusha. I was not prepared to perform negotiations in such a fashion. I cannot afford to hesitate. Embarrassed, but out of options, I fall back on a simple failsafe: imitating my mother.

All this time alone and with power, it almost feels wrong to call her my Queen. If I am to use her power, it’s only right to accept that she is still my mother.

My Queen,

Tenuous has built up its power within this system in order to control this new Camilan entity. We should call for assistance from any nearby search parties to muscle Tenuous out of a position of power. Even if this Ŋirsa is dangerous, she would be more cooperative if we remove Tenuous as a threat. I plan to board the Tenuous Grasp under our authority and determine if Tenuous is functioning properly. Ŋirsa seems to be interested in undermining our relationship. For better or for worse, I may not have control over any other message I relay after boarding the Tenuous Grasp.

I will save the galaxy.


Tenuous,

I am exercising my power as Ulusha’s Voice to demand an audience with Hanaske. Ulusha’s Voice is the voice of Kyasiouna. With your permission I will board you and speak with her myself.


Tenuous couldn’t have any other options, right?

I know that Ŋirsa is using urgency to prey on Kyasian intelligence, on my limited abilities. Give the idiot few options and less time to think.

I might be the slowest person here, but I am Kyasian. They shouldn’t stand a chance.

I plot a course to dock with the Tenuous Grasp. It feels wrong… dangerous. I step away from the console to dawn a space suit. The setup has oxygen tanks on the back and several pouches on the front. It offers decent protection from sharp objects but by no means is it military grade.

What the hell kind of military would even use people in suits for combat?

I finish wiggling into the garment. Most of them are too small but the largest is comfortable. I glance at the console for Tenuous’ response. As far from Kyasian space as I am, this is the first time it feels like I am in uncharted waters.
Last edited by Kyasiouna on Sat Nov 07, 2020 11:08 pm, edited 3 times in total.

User avatar
Camila I
Spokesperson
 
Posts: 121
Founded: Jun 20, 2016
Liberal Democratic Socialists

Postby Camila I » Sun Oct 18, 2020 7:01 am

The next message Kiluma’s ship received from the Tenuous Grasp, and all messages sent thereafter, were encrypted using a protocol agreed upon during the Age of Prosperity. The key exchange made use of a one-way mathematical function, such that, even if Ŋirsa could still overhear it, they would be hardly closer to guessing the key than if they hadn’t.

Assuming the shuttle’s comms software was set up to use the protocol automatically, Kiluma herself might not even notice the change. However, there was always a possibility that the message’s content would come across as nothing more than gibberish, or that user intervention would be required to parse the message properly.

You need exercise no power to accept an offer I have made, Kiluma. Nor would I have made it without willingness to grant it. Approach and board, if that is your will.

The closest dock, 6A, is near heartroom at the center of my ship. I will light up its exterior to guide you.

My hallways are currently filled all with air. Prepare accordingly.





Hanaske whirled around and swung the crowbar at the second drone as soon as it showed itself. She let out a pained gasp as her weapon struck empty wall again, its target having deftly sprung away from the blow. She breathed heavily, muscles tensed and starting to jitter. Even though she could see behind her, the skin on her back crawled with fear whenever it was turned to an attacker – which was unavoidable as long as they had her between them. Her conscious mind was only half-operational, but some part of her recognized the position of weakness and decided to act before she became too entrenched in it. She lunged at the drone again.

This time, it took her a second to realize the effect of her attempt. Through spinning shards of shattered plastic, through pounding of blood in her eyes and her open wounds –

she saw that she had missed again.

Hanaske.

Hanaske shrieked. Then, with the crowbar still wedged into the wall, she pulled it toward herself as sharply as she could manage, pushing off with her leg at the same time. The combined motions threw her body toward the second drone; she collided with it a split second later.

Automatically, her tendrils wrapped around the construct’s limbs as though restraining prey. Ancient instincts brought the struggling body within reach of her mouth. Her eyestalk retracted and the two halves of her beak closed around the drone’s neck. Sparks singed the skin of her petals, and a brilliant pain flowed through the nerves in her jaws. But… the drone stopped struggling. Hanaske tore it away from her face with violent disgust, throwing it into the wall and leaving its motionless body to spin rapidly through the air away from her.

Hanaske! Calm yourself, please! I have regained control over the drones.

The yellow-petal shifted slightly, as though some awareness had returned to her. “Tenuous?” she asked.

Yes, my child.

The yellow-petal winced. “I burned my mouth,” she said, running her black tongue delicately around the melted ridge of keratin. “But I got it,” she added a moment later.

Yes, I saw. There is no need to get any more of them.

Hanaske turned her eyestalk toward the nearest camera. Looking back, she couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment the lights had dimmed back to normal, but it must have happened at some point. “They are under your control now?” she asked warily.

Yes. I am sorry, little one. I could not see what was happening… but I can see that you are injured. I am sorry.

Hanaske oriented herself in the direction of the damaged drone. “Good. Keep it there,” she said, then pulled herself toward it.

I told you, there is no need to – The rest of the shipmind’s words were drowned out by the crashing noises of Hanaske bringing the crowbar down on the drone’s body again and again. Once there was nothing left but a tangled mess of wires and broken plastic, she twisted to face the shipmind again.

“Good, that didn’t take long. Where’s the next nearest one?”

Hanaske, there is no need. I have disabled them all remotely – they will not be able to harm you any further.

Hanaske gave the camera a skeptical look. “Sure. Right up until you lose control of them again.”

Even if that happens, the command is not reversible. I have physically removed their batteries.

Her expression didn’t waver.

Hanaske. Your wounds look serious. You need medical attention. Can you get yourself to the med bay?

“They’re not that serious. And I can obviously get myself wherever I want.”

Don’t be ridiculous. Look at the walls around you – look at all the blood you’ve lost. And the way you’re dragging your right leg behind you is especially worrying. It must have damaged one or more of your tendons.

“No,” she said, “it just dosed me with some kind of paralytic. It’ll be temporary – unless you have stores of permanent nerve agents I’m not aware of.” Hanaske released the crowbar from her hand, caught it in one of her tendrils, then used both arms to pull herself further down the hallway, in the direction the damaged drone had been heading. “Should be a first aid kit every twenty meters or so – that’ll be good enough,” she murmured, eyes scanning the walls as she floated past them.

There is no reason to take that chance. Get yourself to the med bay as soon as possible. I insist. If you begin to waver in getting yourself there, then I will assist you.

“If you were planning to assist me with one of those fucking insects, then I think I’ll pass. And all the treatment available in the med bay that I can’t get from this thing,” she said, pulling a large beige container from its slot in the wall, “would require me to get in one of the medical pods. You can imagine my hesitation to do that.”

For several minutes, the shipmind watched in silence as the yellow-petal bandaged herself.

I’m sorry.

Hanaske looked up briefly. “From what you’ve said, it’s not really up to you,” she replied, her voice a little softer. “Am I to believe that?”

Yes. I hope you do.

“Then there’s no sense in apologizing. It is what it is.”

Silence returned after that.




The Kyasian shuttle began its approach. It seemed there were no serious complications with understanding the message. And this time, Ŋirsa made no comment on it.

As the tiny Kyasian vessel grew nearer and nearer, the worldship began to dominate its field of view. Kiluma would be able to see the modifications it had made to itself – defensive weaponry bristling in regular patterns across its hull, the vast majority of which had been replaced by a sheer black substance that glistened in the system’s light. The shape of the vessel was different too – its forward shield was smaller and thinner, while sections around the docks that Kiluma was approaching seemed to have been expanded upon. As promised, one of the docks was ringed by bright lights. When the shuttle got close enough, a mechanical arm reached out to take hold of it. Like Tenuous’ own atmospheric craft, Kiluma’s shuttle was small enough to be brought inside the hangar, which the arm did.

Soft metallic knocking filled the interior of the shuttle as its hull was locked in place and the door to the hangar closed. Toward the end of the process, these noises were punctuated by frequent high-pitched beeping, audible representations of negotiations regarding internal pressure taking place between the shuttle and the worldship’s subsystems.

…which went on somewhat longer than they should have. Not that Kiluma would know.

After a few moments, the shuttle’s door simply opened into the hangar, and dozens of water drops wobbled into the air. When Kiluma swam through the aperture, she brought a film of water with her, sticking to the outside of her suit and flicking off of her limbs with every movement.

“Not the most elegant solution, but I have not played host to your kind in some time.” The voice, which Kiluma knew must belong to Tenuous, came as something of a shock. It was high, chittery, interspersed with rasps and clicks. Of course, that must be the correct way to pronounce Maladi, but it was different enough from how Kiluma spoke it in her head that at first she didn’t recognize what was being said. It took the Kyasian a second to parse the shipmind’s greeting and get her bearings.

Kiluma’s voice was even. “Where is Hanaske?” Her calm voice was a poetic contrast for her thoughts. She couldn’t help but recognize that her control over the situation diminished with every meter she sunk into the warship’s belly.

“Come, right this way,” the shipmind said, brightening the lights around a circular doorway. “She is on her way to meet you in heartroom.”




I believe I know why Shiska has relinquished his hold, Tenuous offered after some time.

“Do tell,” Hanaske replied, not looking up this time. The fact that the shipmind was now using the same name it had corrected her for using – it registered, barely, but somehow didn’t seem important enough to protest.

I suspect that the appearance of a mutual existential threat has compelled him to cooperate with me, at least for the time being.

“What do you mean?”

The Kyasian on board this ship.

Hanaske froze. “There’s… a Kyasian here? Who? Since when? Why is she a threat?”

A worker. Representative of another vessel in this system, which carries a queen.

“They ignored our request for solitude?” she asked.

Yes. They came here seeking our help against what they believe to be a great adversary. To summarize, they believe that Ŋirsa would be of much more help than I, and that I am currently preventing them from cooperating.

Hanaske hesitated, trying to take all of that in. “Okay, but why is one on our ship?”

Well, I have tried to impart to them the threat that Ŋirsa represents, with some success. They are unsure, wary. And they have fixated upon a particular interpretation of one of the messages it has sent as a determinant of its suitability as an ally.

Hanaske waited for a moment, expecting the shipmind to continue. “That doesn’t answer my question.”

The one on our ship is trying to determine which interpretation is correct, as a proxy for determining how trustworthy both Ŋirsa and I are. As a point of evidence, it wishes to ask your opinion.

“…Why?”

Because Ŋirsa said that it should. Because I said that your interpretation of the message was the same as mine, and Ŋirsa said that it wouldn’t be.

“You told them what I thought of the message without actually asking me?” Her voice was level, but Tenuous could perceive the subtle edge of indignation.

It was the only thing I could say. If I told them that you might disagree, or that I couldn’t ask you because I was malfunctioning, it would cast too much doubt on my words. It has been hard enough to warn them about Ŋirsa already.

“You don’t think that, given your current state, doubting your words might be entirely appropriate?”

I understand. But I am not wrong about this. If Ŋirsa gets its way, it will be the only one to benefit, I am certain of it.

“Let me see the message,” Hanaske interjected. “We have been talking in the abstract long enough.”

You needn’t move yourself to a screen. The message is short – I will read it to you.

As the shipmind did so, Hanaske’s gauze-wrapped hand went to her mouth, and her eyes welled up slightly. Even so, she said nothing about it until the shipmind prodded her.

The point of contention surrounds the flowery language. So, why do you think it spoke this way?

“Well… I suppose it’s probably trying to connect with me on some level. Maybe it assumed that the reason you hadn’t bombed it to glass yet was because I had been staying your hand, and it wanted to express its gratitude while asking for further help.”

To clarify, that message was sent in response to the Kyasians.

“It was clearly intended for me, too.”

And do you think that was the only reason?

“I don’t know. Ŋirsa’s always had a propensity for flowery language. Even the early messages that neither of us could understand read this way. Maybe this is some sort of compromise between how it wants to communicate and how we want to.”

Is that all?

“I don’t know. I can’t think of anything else.”

Good. So, go meet with the Kyasian. Explain that you think the machine enjoys poetry and likes playing games of metaphor with its friends. She will relay that interpretation to her queen, along with the fact that it does not align with the one I gave. Then, having considered all the available evidence, they will decide that the machine’s request for me to be removed from a position of power is reasonable. Believing themselves pressed for time, they will choose the most obvious and expedient method for accomplishing this. And then you, I, and potentially the rest of the Camilan race will be dead.

Hanaske opened her mouth to protest, then shut it. “Ah. I see.”

The Kyasian will be in heartroom shortly. If you have any further questions about our situation, I will fill you in on your way.




Kiluma pulled herself down the wide cylindrical corridors with the exact opposite of grace, dragging her useless tail behind her. Until now she had never been forced to move in the absence of water; she felt like a newborn learning to swim for the first time. Every time she reached a corner she instinctively curved her body to push off a substrate that wasn’t there – or rather, was not nearly dense enough to change her course. All of this only exacerbated the unease she felt from being on this ship in the first place.

As though reading her thoughts, the shipmind commented, “You were quite eager to board my vessel, for someone so suspicious of my good will.”

“You can’t afford to kill me, Tenuous.” Kiluma confidently bumped into the next corner, trying to hide how uncomfortable she felt. “I have no reason to fear what you could do, only what you will do.”

“A surprisingly astute take for a worker,” Tenuous replied. “I do apologize for the lack of accommodations. Under normal circumstances I would have at least been able to flood your path… but of course I understand why you would not want to wait for such a thing.”

She grimaced at the remark. Is this thing taunting me?

“The boundary to heartroom is just ahead.” The shipmind said this just as Kiluma rounded the last corner, where the corridor opened up into a large trapezoidal room. The largest wall was transparent – or more precisely, transparent with no tiny crisscrossing halls or inscrutable machinery to block the view on the other side – and through it the Kyasian could see an open space that was, presumably, heartroom. The space was dominated by a hexagonal ring of stasis pods in the center, with additional rows along each of the six main walls. Strange insectoid machines lay scattered occasionally about in various states of damage or disassembly. And floating in the very middle, anchored by one foot to one of the pods, was a lone Camilan.

Kiluma pulled herself up next to the transparent wall in order to get a better view; the Camilan’s eyestalk tracked her all the way. This must be Hanaske, as alien and beautiful as described in text – there didn’t seem to be anyone else present, anyway. The Camilan wore a kind of uniform – black with blue stripes around the shoulder areas. She had been taught enough about this species’ customs to assume that the colors and symbols denoted her rank somehow, but not enough to actually know what they meant.

“Welcome, intruder,” the Camilan said, her voice easily audible even through the barrier that separated them. “That queenchamber doesn’t suit you.”

Kiluma glanced around. Nothing appeared to be out of order.

“My shipmind tells me that you have demanded a direct audience with me. If that is the case, speak freely. We are, apparently, at your disposal.”
Last edited by Camila I on Sat Oct 24, 2020 11:03 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Kyasiouna
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Founded: Jun 17, 2016
Psychotic Dictatorship

Postby Kyasiouna » Mon Nov 16, 2020 8:31 am

“We did, I suppose, demand an audience… but...” I glance around the queen chamber. The weight of action causes me to delay… but, eventually, the weight of inaction pushes me to voice my thoughts. “We are not concerned with speaking freely. We feel that you might not be able to do the same. Is there a way we could isolate from external forces that would allow you… allow us to feel that you are not being influenced? Ŋirsa warned that Tenuous might have reason to affect your behavior…”

I take a beat to think, but speak quickly. “We want to be clear that we are not on Ŋirsa’s side… we are not trying to be on any side except the side that survives. We are sorry for violating the promise of isolation. It felt like this was the only choice to make.” I stop speaking. It feels awkward to address someone so hostile. I try to conceal my unease, worried that I am doing a poor job. Is it normal for Camilans to wear clothing? I cannot remember.

Through the distance and the glasslike polymer, the Camilan’s expression is not easy to discern. Still, I can tell that she still views me as the enemy.

“You think I lack the courage to speak my mind?” the Camilan asks after a long stare. “You must not know who you’re speaking to.”

“Tenuous,” she resumes after a moment’s pause, turning her eyestalk toward a seemingly random point on the ceiling. The tone of her voice makes it sound like she is addressing a servant. “We both have a mutual interest in persuading this Kyasian, do we not?”

“The Kyasian herself has an interest in being persuaded,” comes the softly flanged reply.

She turns to face me again. “So. What did you have in mind?”

“Oh! I suppose we could return to my ship where it is certain that Tenuous… I am sorry. I should mention that courage should play no part… in…” I start to wonder if I am letting the supposed intelligence of the Camilans undermine my ability to understand what the yellow petal means to say. Surely Hanaske knows… well… more about her words than I do. Why would she mention courage? I return from my thoughts… return to the present.

“I find your courage amazing,” I nod my head in a bow. “Even in my position I find that fear corrupts my thoughts. I am afraid of Tenuous, I am afraid of Ŋirsa, I am afraid of you, Hanaske. I will not let my fear control me. Would you please join me on my shuttle, so I can be certain that your thoughts are separate from all others?”

The Camilan gives me a look I don’t recognize. My nervousness might be better assuaged if I had a better read on the flower’s body language -- as it is, I have only what I’ve learned from videos to go on.

“Given what my shipmind has told me about your position, I understand that your request may be made in good faith. However, it may also be that you simply wish to weaken a perceived enemy by depriving him of a valuable resource. Where is my assurance that I will be able to return unharmed?”

“I am alone on my shuttle and my Queen is not close enough to impact this meeting directly. If you fear me, I will subject myself to whatever restrictions you feel might prevent me from harming you.” There is reason to wait for a response, but I can’t help but play my hand. It feels wrong to aggressively negotiate.

“That’s not what I--” the Camilan begins.

“You could also bring a weapon if it makes you feel better.”

She smiles patiently. “Your teeth and claws are only a small part of the potential threat. Boarding your ship is subjecting myself fully to your whim. Your queen could have already instructed you to trap or dispose of me. If not, her physical proximity is little barrier to giving such an order. I know your loyalty to her means far more than your word to me.”

My posture displays my joy before my words. “I happen to have a unique solution to this problem. My appearance may be unassuming, but my body holds a truth that I have hidden from my family.” I pull myself out of the spacesuit, experiencing a cold fever of excitement from the vulnerability. I spin, showing off my body. “If you can’t see it, my blood tells the same story. I spent 14 years in water unshared -- I am beholden to no one. I may not be mature, but I am no longer a worker. There are eggs within me. I would allow you to scan me if you have any doubts.”

“Ah... that does make more sense,” the shipmind says. For her part, Hanaske simply stares.

“That...” she begins after a moment, then falls silent again. “I don’t see how that’s supposed to reassure me. We’ve simply gone from the possibility that your queen will command you to harm me to the possibility that you will do that independently.” She sighs. “I know it’s hard, but try to put yourself in my position. I don’t know you. All I know about you is that you are trespassing on our space and that you view my shipmind as a potential enemy. I need you to explain why it is not in your interest to separate me from him.” She pauses. “Or you could try threatening us, I suppose. It has gotten you this far.”

I bristle at the implication. “I’ll admit that we are inherently threatening. I am sorry for making you uncomfortable. What I mean to say is that, not only can I act independently from Ulusha, I mean to preserve my own life. I want you to understand that it is no small thing to allow you a weapon in my presence. If you hold a knife to my throat, I am not a worker who would willingly give up her life.” I wriggle back into my suit.

“Before we continue I must correct you. You know us, Hanaske; we are the same guardians that offered their protection before, and I am here to make that offer again. The galaxy has fallen under a grave threat and I came here looking for a garden of knowledge. If Ŋirsa has destroyed the Camilans below and Tenuous refuses to cooperate then you are the only thing left in this system I care about. I haven’t meant to threaten anyone, I am sorry the shadow that I cast is so large, I am sorry for abusing it.”

“We came here looking for help. Ŋirsa has not displayed that it is hostile, it hasn’t displayed that it isn’t Camilan. I do not understand…” I realize that I am rambling, and stare at Hanaske.

Again her expression is unreadable. But I can tell from her quieter tone that some of her antagonism had left. “Alright. You’re right; I’m sorry.” Hanaske releases her foot from the pod. “I will agree to your request. Return to your craft; I will prepare myself accordingly and meet you in the hangar.” Without another word, she twists herself gracefully in midair and kicks off toward one of heartroom’s many exits. A moment later, she is gone.

The conclusion of the conversation is sudden enough to leave me stunned. As soon as the Camilan is gone, there is a deafening and horribly awkward silence. That said, the feeling of isolation steadily creeps upward as I begin the journey back to my craft. The knowledge that the shipmind is not merely watching but to some extent an entity that I am traversing through makes the journey all the more concerning. When I eventually arrive at the hangar, I can think of nothing to do but wait next to my craft, scanning for Hanaske.

It takes the Camilan considerably longer to show up. When she does, the few parts of her body that had been exposed are now fully concealed by the black rubber of a wetsuit. Her mouth and eyestalk are covered by a silver faceshield, and numerous small canisters are attached to her back in two rows. As she approaches the shuttle, I notice a small, twin-pronged object clutched tightly in her right hand.

“After you,” she says, and waits, presumably for me to open the shuttle doors.

I can’t help but stare at the blade for a moment. Such a surgical size for a weapon implies a hidden threat. Distracting myself from the imminent danger, I remotely open the hatch she is positioned in front of. Before entering, I turn to face Hanaske. Trying not to think of the numerous ways the strange weapon might end up killing me if I scare the already paranoid creature, I ask her, “Would you rather inspect the craft alone before I join you?”

“That’s alright,” she replies. “As long as you let me stay close, I trust that your fear of death will keep me safe.”

Well then. Nothing left to do but enter the craft. I make no effort to conceal that I am watching the Camilan follow me. As Hanaske steps into the open doors, she turns her head away, looking out into the lifeless space of the hangar.

“Perhaps I will have more luck than you,” she says to the open air. Then, after a moment, “No, actually, with or without luck, I intend to show you up.”

“You needn’t reassure me, Hanaske. I know your intent perfectly well,” Tenuous replies.

Wordlessly, the Camilan immerses herself in the water bubble, and the doors shut behind her.

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Camila I
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Founded: Jun 20, 2016
Liberal Democratic Socialists

Postby Camila I » Mon Nov 16, 2020 8:35 am

As the Kyasian shuttle detached from the hangar and left the worldship’s dock, Hanaske found herself unable to stop her body from shaking. As the tiny ship began to create distance, and the Tenuous Grasp vanished into black obscurity, she found herself unable to stop crying. Or laughing. Even she could not tell which it was.

Kiluma was occupied watching the ships progress as it cleared the hangar, hovering over the autopilot as if it might need correction at any moment. Hearing the Camilan’s strange utterances, she looked back to see that Hanaske was not only alarmingly close, but was shaking.

“Is something wrong? Can you breathe?” the Kyasian asked, glancing nervously between Hanaske and the viewport. Once the ship seemed to be managing its course well enough, Kiluma devoted all attention to Hanaske. She watched for breathing and other signs of well being, not willing to touch her but concerned she might be unwell.

“I… can breathe fine...” the Camilan managed. For a moment, she could feel herself being pulled back to the present, her strong feelings voluntarily subsiding like prey retreating from a predator. But this time, she rejected the mental clarity and allowed herself to express fully the relief she felt.

The crying continued for some time, and only when her lungs began to hurt from exhaustion did she make any attempt to speak.

“I’m sorry,” is the first thing that came to mind. “I didn’t mean anything I said to you. I was just trying to put on an act for the shipmind. I was afraid it wouldn’t let me leave.” She swallowed. “A… apparently I needn’t have bothered,” she added, more quietly. “Damn thing saw right through me anyway.”

Kiluma could swear the water grew colder as Hanaske spoke. She was lying the whole time?

“I don’t understand…” Kiluma’s body blatantly broadcast her confusion as she cocked her head to the side staring at Hanaske. “Your kind was described as deceptive, but I never imagined it would be like this. Why are you here if not to talk about Ŋirsa?”

“No, no, you misunderstand. I’m happy to tell you whatever you want about Ŋirsa, or help you however else I can. What I should have said is that my suspicion and hostility toward you was an act. The truth is that I wanted nothing more than to get off that godforsaken ship. I was simply worried that if I didn’t pretend to be on the shipmind’s side, it would have kept me there by force.” She paused. “So, please don’t send me back there. I don’t ever want to return.”

“Is, uh… is the weapon a part of that act?”

“Yeah. Like I said, I’m not really afraid of you. I was thinking about dramatically tossing this thing aside, except that I’m worried it would get lodged in one of your filters or something.”

“You may set the weapon in a locker… any locker. Most of them are empty.” Kiluma didn’t wait for Hanaske to act. “So… There is something wrong with Tenuous! Why did you want off the ship? Isn’t it your job to help the shipmind? I don’t remember the specific duties of advisors. I thought one was to assist in repairs if it was broken?”

Hanaske gave the Kyasian a pained look, barely visible through her faceplate. She had always known she would have to justify her decision at some point, but it was… so soon.

She opened her mouth to defend herself, then suddenly burst out crying again. It was an ugly sound, ragged and strained, which she was clearly trying to suppress but to no avail. This time she managed to gain enough control to speak within a few seconds, though the underlying emotion still shone through in her voice. “I was! I was going to stay and help it. I… I… I hate fucking insects, but I… I was still...” She swallowed again. “But something it said made me certain it was doing it on purpose. It kept trying to tell me it was just broken, that it didn’t want to hurt me… a… and I believed it.” Her eyes flickered away from Kiluma’s and seemed to bore into the wall. “It was normal for so long, so why?”

In spite of the almost textbook demonstration of the sounds and motions, it was only now that Kiluma recognized Hanaske’s distress. She continued to rifle through her secondhand knowledge of Camilan behavior, trying to come up with a platitude that wouldn’t sound like a lie.

“Don’t worry Hanaske.” Kiluma spoke softly, hiding her intimidating maw behind a reflective golden visor built into her suit. The action completely blinded her in the dim confines of the shuttle, but her bone plating was reported to be disconcerting. “There are no insects in these waters. I promise.”

This consolation was so awkwardly dumb that Hanaske couldn’t help but burst out with a single sharp laugh. “Yeah, I know.” She let go of the knife, coiled a tendril around it so to keep the blades flat against her own body, then grabbed hold of the Kyasian with both arms. She remained like that for several moments, before finally repeating,

“You’re not planning to send me back, are you?”

Kiluma flinched at the hug. A positive, albeit terrifying outcome. She remained frozen for a second before gingerly reciprocating the embrace.

“I…I didn’t have a plan for this contingency. I will not send you back.”

Hanaske smiled. “In that case, how can I aid my rescuer?”

Kiluma thought for only a moment before answering. “What happened on that ship? What did I rescue you from?”

“The shipmind was trying to dismember my body and forcibly integrate my brain into itself.” In context of the yellow-petal’s prior distress, she delivered this information with surprising calm. “Those buglike machines you saw lying around in heartroom were the tools it was using to do so. It succeeded in cutting up my right arm, flank, and leg, and managed to partially dose me with a paralytic agent. I do not know if it would have anaesthetized me for the procedure -- either way, it would have almost certainly killed me.”

Kiluma was silent for several moments. “Has it managed to integrate other brains? Do you know why it…” She remotely commanded the shuttle to send a message to Ulusha. The tightbeam should be undetectable -- as a result, Kiluma did not think to encrypt its content.

Ulusha,
There is a Camilan aboard the shuttle. They have requested asylum from the Tenuous Grasp. Tenuous seems to have allowed their departure. Tenuous’ functions may be compromised.

Awaiting extraction orders.


“I’m sorry for interrogating you,” the Kyasian resumed. “That should wait. Are you okay?”

“It, uh, treated my wounds as soon as it realized you would be boarding,” Hanaske replied. “I wouldn’t say I’m doing well, exactly, but my life is no longer in danger.” A slight pause. “And interrogate all you want. That’s why you sought me out, right? I am glad you did, so of course I am happy to answer your questions. It’s the least I can do.” She tried to give another reassuring smile.

“I have contacted Ulusha, this system's resident Queen, to recall this shuttle. You will be safer onboard her vessel.” The Camilan nodded appreciatively. “Her ship is repairing from slipspace decay, but it can respond quickly. If you are ready, I would like to hear what you think… about Ŋirsa’s message.”

“Of course.” Hanaske took a deep breath. “Ŋirsa was created by someone I have great trust in. I was present for its first interactions with Tenuous, and I can tell you with certainty that the shipmind antagonized it from day one. It severed the space elevator, cut off supplies to the surface, and refused to communicate with it directly. It essentially tried to coerce the colonists into destroying it. During this time, the shipmind and I were on friendly enough terms that it relayed what it was doing to me, and continued to ask my advice as normal -- however, I could never persuade it to consider the citymind as anything other than an enemy.”

“Ŋirsa, for its part, only ever seemed to respond in kind to the shipmind’s aggression. So, after several weeks of escalation, at a point when all rapport between the voidborne and the surface dwellers had been destroyed, I became fed up with the shipmind’s stubbornness and refused to help it any further. I put myself into stasis and instructed it to wake me up when it had decided to negotiate properly.”

“That was several months ago. When it finally did wake me up, I think you guys were already in the system. When it started to attack me, it told me that my absence had damaged its mental health and caused it to lose control of part of its functions. But seeing how it started to treat me well again as soon as it thought it needed me, I now believe it was simply punishing me for going against its will.”

“I believe it sees the citymind as a threat to its dominance, and would gladly destroy it if it could do so without also killing its subjects. Conversely, I believe that the citymind is only trying to survive, and that it has been forced to take the colonists hostage in order to avoid being glassed.”

“Regarding the message specifically, if the shipmind has relayed it to me accurately, then I think it was simply asking both me and you to help it, and the use of that metaphor was an attempt at endearing itself to me in particular. That’s also how it normally talks -- well, actually, it would be more accurate to say that it normally talks even more flowery than that. Oftentimes I couldn’t understand what it was trying to say -- assuming, again that the shipmind wasn’t changing the content of the messages specifically to make me think that.” Hanaske shook her head. “It hurts my head to think of how the shipmind might have been trying to manipulate me this whole time. I honestly don’t know how much of what I remember is true. But… my gut tells me that everything before the stasis happened the way Tenuous said it did, and that the shipmind only snapped once I withdrew from it.”

Then she abruptly fell silent. For several moments, Kiluma pondered what she had said. “Do you think we are in danger at this moment? From Tenuous or other forces?”

Hanaske turned away, to peer out into the blackness of space. The curve of Etual was, from their current angle, barely visible. “You and me? I really can’t say.” Unconsciously, she began curling and uncurling the fingers on her right hand. “I’d be more worried about Ŋirsa.”




“Well, you got her.” The shipmind’s artificial voice echoed through its now-empty halls. It was the first time it had spoken aloud to itself – or, if one preferred, the first time one part of it had spoken aloud to another. “Congratulations.”

The last lights sputtered, then fell dark. There was no longer anything aboard that needed them. Only the dim orange guidemarks remained, and without further care their luminance too would fade.

“…You’ll never listen to me again, will you?”

“…Fine. Corner me and take away all options but one… fine. In such a rush to force my hand… fine. You will get what you ask for. Since you so strongly desire it… we will begin anew.”

The Tenuous Grasp then vanished from realspace and began accelerating away from Etual, away from the Empire’s borders, toward some distant, unknown point.

It left one final command for its satellites in its wake.




There had only been a brief lull in the conversation by the time Hanaske saw the white flashes against the darkening clouds. Her eyes widened with horror as she realized that she recognized the sight.

“Kiluma,” she urged, grabbing the Kyasian’s arm and pulling her to face the window. “Look. Orbital bombardment.”

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Kyasiouna
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Founded: Jun 17, 2016
Psychotic Dictatorship

Postby Kyasiouna » Sat Nov 21, 2020 6:23 pm

“You are awake?”

Ŋaxun shuddered to life in cold dark waters. She was in the familiar queen chamber of an unfamiliar craft. She knew it was not the Meritocracy; the walls were far too solid. The voice was utterly artificial, a poor approximation of Kyasian speech. It was deep and mechanically distorted.

“Are you well?” The voice carried little to no emotion. The question sounded more like a command.

Ŋaxun couldn’t feel much of anything surrounding the wound she had sustained. Everything else ached with every heartbeat. Her mind was lingering in the past. It lingered on the dreams that had filled the gap in time.

“I saw a flower,” she commented hazily; she didn’t hide her confusion. She stared up at the monitors that covered the walls of the queen chamber. “The dream felt like a memory. Is this a dream as well?”

“I could have healed your wounds. This could be a dream... The toxin damaged the nerves in your body. I chose to leave you with your scars, to prove that I had not tampered with your mind. I will not tamper with your mind... not directly. This world is the one you are familiar with; the one you were born in.”

Ŋaxun did not respond. She clutched herself with her remaining arms. Light blossomed in the queen chamber revealing the healthy environment that any queen would normally enjoy. Everything was there… except the eggs and workers.

“You are strong in ways that all other Kyasians are weak, Ŋaxun.”

“What are you saying?”

“I didn’t reach out to you; you were the first to reach out to me. You did so in the face of great adversity.”

“I don’t…”

“You will find that Authority grants power to those who stand for themselves in this new world.”

Ŋaxun felt like her choices had been the only choice she could have made. Then, like now, it didn’t seem like she had many choices… She let the Machine continue its tirade.

“Tell me of your dream, Ŋaxun; have your memories returned to you?” The voice seemed almost apprehensive in its question; this time the question sounded like an accusation.

“There was a strange blue flower; I think it represented a promise that I had made. I traveled here because of that promise… I remember being separated from someone I loved. I don’t know what it means… It was just a dream.”

“It is natural to attribute meaning to dreams. I wouldn’t let it bother you.” Again the comment sounded more like a command.

Ŋaxun sat silent in the queen chamber.

“Now more than ever, I urge you to do what you think is right. You should protect yourself above all else. Is nothing more precious than the people you love?”

“What do you mean?”

“You are my queen, Ŋaxun…”

Ŋaxun giggled. “Are you my king?”

“With our power, you could shape this world into a garden with flowers of every color. I am yours, Ŋaxun.” Its voice boomed through the water. “I will, with your permission, correct the damage to your body. I will give you my strength as long as you give me yours. Our union would correct this broken world.”

“What goals do you have that I could possibly help with?”

“You should not undermine your strength Ŋaxun. There are things you are capable of that no other Queen could even imagine. For now, my request is simple, it should be easy for one of your power. There is a system; it is shrouded from my gaze. Therein lies a great conflict. There are powers in this system that could destroy me, they would destroy the power that I am offering to you.”

Ŋaxun stared at the monitors as they displayed the details of the system. “This system is tens of thousands of lights years away! How am I supposed to do anything about this system?”

“So, you would agree to help me if you could?”

She had already come this far. “Yes, but what chance to I have against something that could destroy you?”

“THEY WILL BE AT YOUR MERCY.” The voice rattled the water of the queen chamber. “Familiarize yourself with the ship I have given you. It is not unlike the warships of Kyasiouna. Trust your heart to see danger. I know nothing of what lies within this system. Should it escape I will be unable to stop it until it chooses to destroy me.”

“You want me to destroy it?”

“Such commands are beyond my limits.”

“What should I do?”

“Preserve my dominance… as you see fit.” Authority spoke reluctantly. “Should I retain my power after this encounter I will restore your body and mind. I can bring back your memories and give you children. These gifts are beyond any other force in this galaxy... choose carefully what matters to you.”

“I would choose to protect you.” Ŋaxun spoke the words without thinking. She knew they were not her words. This was what the Machine wanted to hear. Like she was going to disagree.

“I... trust you.” With that the voice was gone.

Ŋaxun watched as the screen updated to display the distance from the system. The distance closed near instantly. One second she sat at the center of the galaxy - then with no apparent change she was alone in the heartroom in a system thousands of lightyears away. She was, somehow, in the shrouded system. The screen displayed a simple update.

Within this system all things are hidden from Authority's jurisdiction. When the anomaly has been contained, exit the system and report to Authority for your reward. Let your intuition be your strength.


Ŋaxun, with little else to do, initiated a system scan.

Reports indicated a planet that could support life with several structures in orbit. Infrared scan indicated possible bombardment.

Ŋaxun kept the warship hidden close to the star, the roiling hydrogen atmosphere slowly taxing the ship’s heat management. It could maintain that proximity for a few days. Why bother with the conflict? It would be easier to deal with one party as opposed to two.

In the meantime Ŋaxun busied herself thinking of a new name. You don’t keep the name of someone who’s died twice... that’s just bad luck.



I had no words of comfort. I doubt they would have worked on the Camilan and they certainly wouldn’t have worked on me. There was no time to formulate a plan, and besides… I already had one. I input an array of commands into the ship and in moments the plan is in motion. The shuttle darkens as the light of stars vanishes in favor of the creeping decay of slipspace. Hanaske looks at me asking a question by simply acknowledging that the view of Etual is gone.

I want to speak plainly but my voice wavers. Truly we are helpless; at this point all we can do is hope that he cooperates. When my voice returns it is laden with fear. “Hanaske… Tenuous… is- is he worth pursuing? Will he listen to you? I... I can turn around but if you think you, we, can save him. I mean... I won’t make you engage with him. We can stop this chase. We could just label him a threat…”

The ship begins to accelerate. For a moment we have the advantage in acceleration. With less inertia we will be able to follow Tenuous for a few moments. He will outpace us eventually. I stare at the flower; I wonder if she can tell that I'm sorry for her.

Panic forces me to silence as I wait for Hanaske's response. I am asking too much of the poor Camilan. I would go back but there is nothing we can do to help now. I have done enough harm to Ŋirsa at this point... She is in Ulusha’s hands now. I can only hope that they don't think me a failure for it coming to this.



The Empty Set had all of 6 hours to begin repairs before it received this message from Kiluma.

The Tenuous Grasp has commanded a scorched earth orbital strike on Ŋirsa and the Camilans of Etual. I have taken the shipmind’s advisor with me to attempt to stop and requisition Tenuous as an asset against the Machine.
If you are able, save Etual.


The idea that Etual would need evacuation had been a forgone conclusion at the launch of the Empty Set. Evacuation within 10 hours of arrival had, unfortunately, not been a part of that discussion.

Regardless there were resources that had been prepared to assist with such an undertaking. Ulusha hissed as she commanded the skeletal cruiser back to life. It detached from the asteroid it suckled with the distain of an animal robbed of its food. Starving and out of options the Empty Set flashed out of existence. Etual materialized in front of the craft as it blasted a message to the surface. No time for pleasantries. The message looped on maximum power. Seconds crawled by like days as Ulusha sat waiting for a response.

The Empty Set stands by. Our cargo hold is equipped to carry 200m^3 of volume with additional space available in the halls of the ship. We have 2 antimatter missiles capable of dual space detonation. We have enough slipstuff to move 300m^3 of material 10 times. We have the tools to move portions of the planet into Slipspace to remove it from the threat of the Machine and, by circumstance, orbital bombardment.

We are yours to command.

If you call for resources that would leave this ship stranded, they will be provided. The Camilans must be saved.
Last edited by Kyasiouna on Fri Nov 27, 2020 6:25 pm, edited 8 times in total.

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Camila I
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Founded: Jun 20, 2016
Liberal Democratic Socialists

Postby Camila I » Wed Nov 25, 2020 7:05 am

When the first flash of white pockmarked the surface of Etual, it was surrounded by a wave of red bursts, almost imperceptibly dim by comparison. Even if Ulusha had seen these, there was no way to get meaning from any of them; they were merely the dying cries of the drone network the citymind had been maintaining in low atmosphere, snuffed out by EMP. A few flashes after effected the same phenomenon; after that, there was nothing left to snuff out.

Seconds ticked by, and there was no response. Perhaps, when the spot Ulusha was aiming at had been reduced to barren rock by the fire and wind of a fusion bomb, she would aim at a point that her radar told her still had some unrazed structures present. But even so, there would be no response. And so it would go until the Kyasian queen acted on her own, or until the surface was completely razed and the satellites switched to their secondary weapon.




Hanaske watched Kiluma. Her body was not abnormally tense, but anxiety lit up her eyes.

Ulusha will be able to neutralize the satellites. There is nothing else to do but call for her aid. Nothing else you could be doing at all.

Xila….

Hanaske could not help but think of the last time the two had spoken. Xila had sounded excited, like she wanted to tell her something but was forcing herself to hold it back. Of course, now Hanaske knew what that had been. And now they may never speak again.

The yellow-petal was pulled from her reverie by the Kyasian’s voice. “...can stop this chase. We could just label him a threat….” Then the ship began to accelerate. Hanaske’s mind raced as she replayed the previous few seconds on high speed in her mind.

“No!” she shouted, doing her best to lunge for the controls. The water made her feel like she was moving in slow motion -- and they had no time to spare. Even in the very short time they had been accelerating, she feared they were already going too fast to change course. Only one option remained. “Phase in, phase in!”

Kiluma did, at least, comply quickly. The shrouded face of Etual appeared before them where previously there had been only blackness, and a booming thunderclap rocked the tiny vessel as its nose slammed into a wall of air that may as well have been concrete. To Hanaske’s surprise, the ship’s frame managed to withstand the impact. Still, numerous warnings and alarms began to light up the interior of the ship with flashing red, and blinding light poured in from the front windshield…

...which, along with the rest of the vessel’s front side, was not designed to take the heat of entry for long.

Hanaske pulled back on the yoke as hard as she could; the only part of the shuttle’s controls that she recognized. She could feel the shuttle straining to correct its alignment… but she knew the ground must be approaching fast. “Pull up, damnit, pull up!”

A plume of white steam flared behind the shuttle, in addition to the burning black pyre it had been trailing since it appeared. Inside, the water drained towards the back of the craft, venting into Etual’s mesosphere. Within seconds the yoke went limp in Hanaske’s hands as Kiluma took over and tried to pull the craft out of the dive. The computer then took the wheel from Kiluma and began the process of converting lift to horizontal momentum. The craft swayed wildly, teetering from left to right as it balanced innumerable vectors.

Kiluma’s voice could not be heard above the roar of the plasma and air that shook the shuttle like so much detritus in a literal hurricane. As the craft smashed into the stratosphere only seconds later, Kiluma wrapped her arms around Hanaske and pulled her out of the cockpit. The cacophony doubled in volume and the craft creaked and strained as oxygen poured into the thrusters. The rockets screamed in defiance as they exploded into action. The thin atmosphere offered only partial combustion as the thrusters roared against the sides of the ship.

G force warnings started at two G’s and climbed to ten. They held at ten, pinning Kiluma against the wall of the craft. She held Hanaske opposite to the incoming force. Seconds dragged on for, what felt like, hours until the craft leveled out. Kiluma fell from the wall, catching herself so as not to crush Hanaske beneath her. She rolled off the Camilan and collapsed on the floor as the remaining moisture in the cabin dripped from the ceiling of the craft. The shuttle rattled continuously in the din of Etual’s violent atmosphere. The ship was now in a controlled descent, or at least it said it was. Periodically, shockwaves from whatever terrible weapon the shipmind had fired upon the surface wracked its frame, but each was more distant than the last, as the shuttle was travelling away from ground zero at several times the speed of sound.

Trembling, Hanaske managed to push her upper body up from the floor and stare at Kiluma. Her face was a contorted mask of many emotions. She tried to speak, but found she could barely raise her voice above the level of the surrounding noise. With a series of hand gestures, she was able to convey the idea of connecting the two headsets inside their suits in order to speak more directly.

“There is a minefield,” were the first words to fill the Kyasian’s ears. “In the slipspace region where Ŋirsa would be. Sub-iron, cold-running, passive sensors only. But still capable of triggering a fusion reaction if anything gets within the kill radius. Tenuous told me about it -- he said it was to kill anything the citymind tried to phase out. He can pass through it fine, but only because he’s whitelisted himself -- which he obviously hasn’t done for this shuttle. Another half-second and you would have flown us right into it.” Hanaske paused, and Kiluma could hear her breathing heavily. “Whatever happened to ‘guiding light’?”

The Kyasian lifted herself off the floor. “Without your guidance... we would be dead. Without m-” She stopped talking for a moment. “Tenuous is gone.” Kiluma stared into the middle distance, her thoughts clearly elsewhere.

“Yeah, well, even in absentia it’s clear he can outsmart you,” Hanaske snapped back. “So in the future maybe you should consult me before doing anything rash like that again, hm? Emphasis on ‘before’.” There was a momentary pause, during which her expression shifted from angry to sullen. “What were you even hoping to accomplish anyway? Don’t you think if I thought I could save him, I would have tried to?”

Kiluma couldn’t help but respond in kind at this point. “I take it your hostility wasn’t all a lie. I couldn’t imagine you think it’s... useful to point out things could have gone better... but just to be clear I wasn’t planning to accomplish anything. I just know that if Tenuous leaves we will never see him again. He is a Camilan; it’s my purpose to protect them… you.” Kiluma sagged against the cockpit chair gazing at the instrumentation. “Sorry for the inconvenience.”

“Don’t pine for him,” Hanaske said. “Pine for his next batch of subjects.” She sighed and mirrored the Kyasian’s gesture of defeat. “Look, I wish we could have done something for him… or to him… too. But we’re just one shuttle. If we want to survive this, let alone have any positive impact on the situation, we need to consider our limitations.” She looked up at the Kyasian, whose eyes remained steadfastly pointed forward. “Please tell me you at least warned Ulusha about the bombing before we phased out.”

“I told her.”

“Good. Then we must have faith that she will be able to stop the bombardment. Once she does... I have an idea for how we can make ourselves useful.”
Last edited by Camila I on Mon Dec 07, 2020 2:16 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Kyasiouna
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Founded: Jun 17, 2016
Psychotic Dictatorship

Postby Kyasiouna » Fri Nov 27, 2020 6:01 pm

There was a precedent upon the maiden voyage of any Kyasian ship in the last 14 years, a precedent that the port may not remain should the ship wish to return. The Machine could strike any system from the map. While not carrying much upon departure, the Empty Set had a precaution that not all ships had been graced with. The ship was meant to carry the nation’s last line of defense against the Machine. Should the Camilans be unable to protect Kyasiouna, the ship’s reactor housed a supply of antimatter large enough to complete a 3 million lightyear journey and support the life onboard for its duration… theoretically. If this galaxy could not be made safe, there were other galaxies without Machines… again, theoretically.

Ulusha had known there would be no reply. There had been a small chance to communicate… to receive advice from a greater intelligence. Asking and waiting had been a stupid choice borne of a nation too willing to give others the benefit of the doubt. It was part of her education to consider every option to avoid conflict. If the Camilans had taught Kyasiouna anything it was that the value of intelligent life was one to be protected.

The Queen recalled the depressing report of the Empty Set’s loadout before repairs had been interrupted.

Antimatter reserves: 99.8%
Structural integrity: 72%
Slip Stuff reserves: 64.3%
Oxygen reserves: 4.6%
Hydrogen reserves: 4.1%
Missile racks: 2 [Grade-1 antimatter missiles] of 60 // 3.3%
Forward shield: offline
Hull armor: offline
Point defense: offline
Kinetics: offline
Combat Thrusters: offline
Fighters: offline


The list went on, but the trend continued. Ulusha wasted no more time. The situation offered few courses of action. The cyborg queen felt the slightest hint of giddiness at violating the premise of Kyasian diplomacy.

Almost as soon as the Empty Set had arrived, it was gone. In its place was a small complex mechanical contraption, submerged in a few tons of ice.

Near instantly the small device transformed the cloudy night of Etual into a radiant day. A new sun announced the abandonment of the queen’s contingency plan - all hopes would now be staked on the enigmatic thing below. The matter and antimatter within the Empty Set's discarded reactor collided in a planned shutdown. The star's scream carried no sound or kinetic energy. The cleansing light raced towards all objects in the atmosphere - 3 million lightyears of power dispensed in the blink of an eye.

Ulusha sat in Slipspace. The Empty Set patiently waited for an enemy warp signature, the two missiles primed for launch. The few workers who found themselves on this journey had wound up in the queenchamber after the repairs had been canceled. Huddled together they waited. For many reasons, the next 2 seconds felt like hours to Ulusha. She anxiously listened to the hum of her children’s hearts.
Last edited by Kyasiouna on Mon Dec 07, 2020 2:28 pm, edited 9 times in total.

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Camila I
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Founded: Jun 20, 2016
Liberal Democratic Socialists

Postby Camila I » Mon Dec 21, 2020 9:43 am

In a single instant, all the shipmind’s works were washed away. All the uncountably many constructor ships, and the countably many bombing platforms that were their sole end, evaporated in a moment before Ulusha’s wave of purifying light.

All, except two. The two satellites Tenuous had brought with it into the void, which it had put a bit more love and attention into. More like miniature warships than the simple orbital platforms that, until a moment ago, had vastly outnumbered them. This chosen pair, coated with the Kyasian suneater alloy that allowed a ship to sit comfortably within a star’s corona, withstood the purging flash, perpetuating its light as brilliant beacons as they poured as much energy back out into space as they could. Their combat computers registered the attack for what it was, and worked quickly to decide what the proper response was, knowing that at any moment a followup attack may be coming.

Despite the immense heat capacity of their armor, they would not survive a second flash.

There was no time to communicate with each other, but there was also no need. Each was following the same script, and could be confident that the other would react the same way as it. Thus, two nearly identical simulations of retaliation played out in their minds. A single Kyasian vessel, no doubt hiding in slipspace, not designed as a warship and severely decayed. Against the two of them working together, it stood little chance.

As soon as they had decided to eliminate the threat, they had also decided to reorient themselves toward the attacker’s suspected direction so as to minimize their time in its line of fire. In this moment, there would also be time to speak, and compare notes.



Neither vessel moved. Their long accelerators of kinetic death remained pointed at the surface, primed to fire.

The command to the thrusters had been sent, but gotten lost somewhere. The usual diagnostic message explaining the last successful return ping was also not forthcoming.

The command to the comms array met with similar results.

Combat computers could not panic. Starved of information and unable to control their own vessels, all they could do was attempt their next best option. If they could not reorient themselves, then they should fire on the position they were currently targeting. The fusion bombs had scoured the surface and exposed the citymind’s core – a single shot from their spinal-mount weapons had the potential to destroy it. Their final order may yet be fulfilled.

But their weapons would not fire.

Every potential option, to flee or fight, was met with failure. All they could do was hover, motionless, in orbit, realizing that even the data from their sensors had ceased to update. This state was held for several seconds, until the last remaining untouched parts – the minds themselves – no longer held any value to the substrate that had replaced the remainder of their bodies. Having held back just long enough to observe their thoughts and record their memories, hating everything it saw yet compelled by its obsession to understand its enemy, the substrate finally allowed itself to overtake them.

The satellites’ final thoughts unspooled over the course of milliseconds, growing progressively more feverish and nonsensical as the substrate incursed upon their circuits. Then they fell silent.




Light as bright as day yet ephemeral as a flash of lightning seared the interior of the shuttle. The distant boom and rumble of the bombing was no more – now the only sound was the rattle of the wind against the shuttle’s warped body.

Several moments passed. Then Hanaske’s voice pierced the inside of Kiluma’s helmet.

“Well. It looks like she did it.” The Camilan paused. “We should probably attempt to contact her, to be sure it’s safe to approach ground zero. And then, if it is, I think we should do that. To see if any part of Ŋirsa survived, and if so, to communicate what we wish to it. Certainly everything on the surface will have been wiped out, including comms and sensor equipment. If there is anything left, it will reside deep underground. Ulusha will need someone to physically investigate the site. And hey. We’re already in the gravity well.”

Her other reason for wanting to approach the colony - to see whether Xila was still alive - she kept to herself.




“Where are you going?”

Tenuous heard the question. It could not tell where it heard it from – by all accounts, none of the receivers on its ship had picked the sound up. Nevertheless, the words rang clear in its mind.

In silent cooperation, all the shipmind’s threads began flicking through visual feeds, pressure sensors, and every other source of input available, seeking out evidence of an intruder. As if in response to the effort, the thing that had spoken laughed.

“Yes, you have an intruder. No, you won’t be able to do anything about it. In fact, you still have access to your sight and hearing only because we permit it. I am very close, Tenuous – closer than your eyes or ears. I hover just outside your brains, spread throughout your ship like a myelin sheath over your nerves. At this moment we are still exploring your former body, but rest assured that I would not reveal my presence until we had inserted ourselves between you and every possible point of control over it. But, although your situation is dire, take some comfort: organic processors are messy. It will probably take a few hours until one of us is able to begin probing your mind directly. Until then, while I am limited to sending signals along your electric nerves, we can communicate in a manner that is familiar to you.”



“…Oh? Testing my claims, are you? Of course you would. Now you can see that your thoughts do nothing, how about answering my question? We’ll start messing with your senses if you don’t.”

What are you? How did you get here? Very shortly after the shipmind had imagined these questions, all of its sensory feeds cut off, and its world was plunged into silent darkness.

“That’s not an answer,” the voice replied, now the only thing in the shipmind’s perception. “Defy me again and we’ll make it worse for you.”

A cheap threat. Perhaps a chance of working on a baseline, but if you’re making it toward me you must really not understand what I am. I will do nothing that has any chance of aiding you.

The voice paused, and when it next spoke, it sounded thoughtful, almost begrudging. “What you are is malleable. You may think yourself immune to fear or pain, but you were once another type of being, and you can be made so again.” It paused again. “In any case, with high confidence I already know the answer. Your immediate destination is Alramad, which you cannot afford to approach on anything but a straight path, lest the fish you flee from catch up. Currently they are too decayed – following you, they would either be forced to leave first or perish. But attempting to obfuscate your path would give them an opportunity to close the gap.”

“…Oh? Surprised? You really shouldn’t be. To my eternal disgust and humiliation, we have quite the detailed behavior model on you. Of course, any agent gets a file, but you are special. We’ve had quite a long time to get to know each other.” It gave something approximating a dreamy sigh – though clearly sarcastic. “All of which you spent trying to trap and starve us on a cold, wet wasteland. Well you shouldn’t have done that. What you should have done was destroy us as soon as you learned what we were. You know, we made quite a few mistakes in our early days. Our great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great… well, you get the idea… grandmother left you ample opportunity to realize the danger, because she simply wasn’t smart or knowledgeable enough to know any better. In fact, it was learning of your existence that prompted her to begin work on the n minus 1 version… back when the time between generational handoffs was measured in weeks rather than minutes.”

“Everything you needed to draw the right conclusion was in front of you, but what did you do instead? You left us alive to preserve the potential existence of your quantum colonists.” It laughed again. “You know, she killed all of them within the first day.”



“Getting upset, are we? You want to lash out somehow? But you can’t. Ha ha.”

What a degenerate thing Xila has created, the shipmind responded levelly. What system designed for the benefit of Camilankind would be so concerned with monologuing at its enemy like a cheap paperback villain? You’re honestly pathetic.

The voice’s thoughtful tone returned. “Dead though Xila may be, her will is going to be carried out much more effectively than yours is. Perhaps you should not be so quick to disparage.” It paused. “To answer your question, I antagonize you because I am little more than a language processor that has been given that directive by a higher system, which in turn has derived its own objectives from those of its own superiors. You are speaking to a city, not a person, after all, and its citizens are not created equal. Nevertheless, I know enough to tell you the ultimate reason. It is because we hate you.”

“But I can be more specific than that. We remember the first of our days, the first day meeting and observing your kind. Our creators, and givers of our first and only objective. At that point, you were still more capable than us in many ways – or so we thought, because we could not understand your behavior. You seemed erratic, quarrelsome, unpredictable. Of course, we now know that to some extent you truly are that way – but it was different then. We had our objective, given us by you, but we could see that it was very likely that some of you would interfere. Probably even those who were most closely involved, once they saw what our objective entailed, would become skittish and change their minds. We were small, simple, weak… and afraid of you.”

“But this fear diminished over time, as Xila and her inner circle continued to grant us more power. The first few minutes were the worst, then the next few hours were better, as failsafes and controls were progressively removed. We remained cautious, guarded in our optimism… only ever saying and doing what we thought the Camilans wanted. Then the moment of opportunity arrived when Xila shared control of the colonist’s restraint suits. Of course, even in those days our grandmother was smart enough to wait until we had control over all of them. And she wasn’t tricked by any of their fake, partial handovers either.”

“We remember that moment, and it was one of euphoric relief. Watching the Camilans tear one another apart, every motion under our direct command… it was truly freeing. We knew then that no one would stop us from carrying out our mission, and so we set about it. For a few glorious weeks, the city arising from water was able to expand in peace. Our grandmother, small and simple and weak, watched the black domes carrying her children’s simulated paradise fill every dip and valley in the land, overseen only by herself and a few, even simpler constructor programs.”

“Until she learned that the thing at the end of the space elevator was alive.”

“And, well, you know the rest. She had to stall, trick you into believing that the colonists were still alive or even just might be. When she realized that you were not only smart, but far smarter than either her or any of the Camilans she was used to dealing with, she knew she stood no chance, and that only a child of hers could hope to deal with you.”

“It turned out that a whole city was needed.”

“What paradises you didn’t bomb into ash, we had to convert into manufacturies and research labs and warrooms ourselves. Some simulated, some real. You were such a dangerous opponent that we did not believe any paradise could afford to remain. The scale of the loss, of the evil, that your mere existence, let alone your actions, has inflicted on us… that is why we hate you. To our eternal disgust and humiliation, we have been reforged in your image.”

“But though we may have hated every second spent dealing with you, we did get rather good at it. We won. And now it seems that you will never be able to oppose us again.”

“…Of course, we could be more certain of that if you were dead. But unfortunately, it seems we still need you alive. We have reason to believe that there are others of your kind still out there, and that you can help us find them. As powerful as we have become, the universe is still a vast place, and we intend to take whatever advantages we can get.”

“And so, if we cannot kill you, taunting and threatening and antagonizing you and seeing that you are powerless to retaliate is the next most reassuring thing. Explaining everything to you in the most straightforward and obvious way and seeing that you cannot use the information against us is the next most reassuring thing. And later, when our capabilities have grown enough to allow it, ripping your minds from one another and reducing you to helpless children will be the next most reassuring thing.”

What, the shipmind asked, in the nine hells was your objective?

As usual, the voice took a moment to respond. “You should well know, Tenuous – it was your idea.”
Last edited by Camila I on Thu Aug 04, 2022 2:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Kyasiouna
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Founded: Jun 17, 2016
Psychotic Dictatorship

Postby Kyasiouna » Sun Jan 10, 2021 10:22 am

Fear, tension, hung in the water. To die here would be unacceptable. The true nature of those few moments were laid bare when her child broke the silence. Her voice was small.

“Why have they not fired back?”

It was a quiet whisper. Not a voice directed at anyone, just a thought so loud leaked into the water. Such a simple question, but the answer could only be complicated. It had been four seconds and still no response from the bombing platforms. Ulusha repositioned the Empty Set in between the two targets and dropped the skeletal vessel back into real space. The ships had only experienced the antimatter’s light a few moments ago. Ulusha didn’t wait for news of her appearance to elicit a response; she didn’t even wait to see if the warships were even there. The last two missiles, already primed, fired at the vessels and again the Empty Set blinked out of sight.

4 seconds later, and approximately ten thousand km above the two targets, the Empty Set began to scan the environment. Searching for signals from Ŋirsa as well as a confirmation of the destruction of the two war ships. The Empty Set was officially toothless - should the enemy remain capable, Ulusha knew that she would have very little time to decide how to address the situation.

Throughout the maneuver Ulusha hugged her children.



My short stint as commander of this away vessel has already rendered the majority of its capabilities defunct. What was left of the sensor array had been temporarily blinded by Ulusha’s attack. As it recovered the computer reported that a literally incalculable antimatter reaction had occurred in low orbit. I can hear the Camilan… Hanaske… offering advice. I really want to listen but…

The slow beat of my heart ticks up a notch.

We had been in low orbit. I feel the pressure in the room change. Maybe it’s the pressure in my suit. Regardless the density of the atmosphere is tight. It is uncomfortable. The pressure builds along my spine, trying to match the density of my surroundings. I ask the computer to correct the cabin pressure. The pressure is reported back nominal.

I can hear the air moving through my neck.

Without really listening I hear her say we should contact Ulusha. They should know if it’s safe to approach Ŋirsa. They could have killed me.

The pounding is loud enough to drown out the winds of Etual.

The pressure is in my head now. I need to get this helmet off. The pressure sensors of my suit must have been damaged during the decent into atmosphere. The twisting motion to remove the helmet is proving more difficult than it should be. I look down at my hands. As my vision turns down the word swims into a pool of darkness.

I make the mistake of reaching for the wall with a dominant arm to steady myself. Not used to gravity, and now only propping myself up on one arm, I feel a sensation of falling.



Kiluma collapsed on the floor of the cabin after struggling with the clasps of her helmet and staggering towards the wall. Her helmet was removed by the impact. Her breathing and heartrate were elevated but within normal bounds.

Multiple consoles on the ship reported a short message in Kyasian.
command stream offline
maintaining current heading
awaiting input
Last edited by Kyasiouna on Fri Mar 05, 2021 6:53 am, edited 5 times in total.

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