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Desperation [FT, Closed]

A staging-point for declarations of war and other major diplomatic events. [In character]
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Camila I
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Founded: Jun 20, 2016
Liberal Democratic Socialists

Desperation [FT, Closed]

Postby Camila I » Fri Jul 24, 2020 4:37 pm

The warship Iris Flare hurtled through slipspace, travelling at its maximum speed of 6484c. It was alone, separated from the rest of its fleet by ever-growing dozens of lightyears, and travelling with its main thrusters pointed forward. Its destination, the star Altarik-109, was approximately half a lightyear away – in other words, less than an hour.

For a combat vessel, the Iris Flare's appearance was rather unintimidating, at least if you didn’t understand what you were looking at. Its frame was waspy and fragile, filled with gaps that maximized surface area at the cost of everything else. Though its outer hull was coated in armor, the black substance was brittle and glassy to the touch. It seemed that any solid hit would shatter the entire vessel like a wine glass.

And this was true.

But the vessel’s lightweight construction gave it a thrust-to-weight ratio unmatched by any other known design, Camilan or Kyasian. It could start, stop, and change direction on a dime. This ability alone was what made it an effective combatant; it could remain outside the effective range of enemy vessels while keeping them inside its own. And the amount of damage its spinal-mount kinetic driver could do would quickly render any durability advantage irrelevant.

Furthermore, though the armor was brittle, it was capable of absorbing enormous amounts of thermal energy without deforming, transferring heat to interior components at a slow enough rate that it could be safely radiated away. To this end, the armor’s transparency could be changed via electrical stimulation, allowing the radiators underneath to work whenever it was safe to expose them.

With the ship’s low mass, high power, and the favorable properties of slipspace, it would take seven minutes to decelerate enough to phase in, and it had taken eight minutes to accelerate to its current speed after phasing out. Factoring in the slight difference between light’s speed and the ship’s, that would give the enemy about nineteen minutes of warning.

Assuming they were even in this system. It was just a guess, after all – perhaps based on previous slipspace sightings and reasonable assumptions of path optimization, but a guess nonetheless. Certainly the Iris Flare could not see anything ahead of it. Not even the star itself – that object’s location was detectable only to the delicate gravitational sensors toward the rear of the craft. And then only barely.

It would have to phase in blind, if it wanted to keep its element of surprise. No doubt it had already tripped at least one scout’s alarm – hanging around in slipspace would only give that signal time to propagate, and its receivers time to congregate.

As for what it would do after that… well, that depended on whether this was the right system. If not, easy answer. But if it was, a kind of mental dance would play out between the organic and computerized parts of the vessel’s brain. In times of stress, where fractions of a second counted, the combat computer would take over, executing one of hundreds of pre-programmed maneuvers according to stimuli it would have almost no time to gather. In moments of respite, the organic threads would resume activity, observing the state of the battlefield and planning the vessel’s next move.

Perhaps if the respite was long enough, the shipmind and its single crew member might be able to exchange a thought or two. That, the shipmind thought, would be nice.

“Shajaon. We are less than one hour away from the target system.” Her voice was deep, sharp-edged, and authoritative – feminine, by Camilan standards. It mimicked a baseline’s in pitch and cadence, with only a slight flanging effect to indicate its mechanical source.

“Hmm,” came the reply. Shajaon, a red-petal, sat nestled in a special pod in the centermost chamber of the ship. His eyes were closed and his limbs were folded in such a way to brace him inside the pod, totally motionless. A moment later, “You humor me too much, Iris.”

The shipmind laughed, pleasantly. “Nonsense. There is no such thing. Besides, we are not yet in any hurry – why should we not speak in this way?”

Shajaon laughed too, but the shipmind’s cameras could see that the tension in his body remained. “It’s good practice.”

“Good practice you hardly need. You may as well practice walking.”

The Camilan remained silent, not pressing the issue any further. Nonetheless, the tension in his body remained.

“I hope my alert was not an interruption. You seemed like you were deep in thought. Meditating…?” the shipmind ventured. “Or praying, perhaps?”

At this, the Camilan cracked one eye open and gave the nearest camera a look of amusement. “No, no. The Goddess’ soul suffuses the whole of my body. My thoughts, my innermost intentions are open to her – there is no need to pray.”

“Though… her intentions are not open to you, yes?”

“Her intentions do not need asking.” The Camilan shut his eyes again. “No, I was simply doing what you yourself have most likely been doing the entirety of our journey. Composing battle plans.”

“Ah.” Iris’ attention flowed across the thin black lines traveling from the red-petal’s fingertips to the underside of his sepals. The only outward indication of his extensive internal modifications. Like her, he was a cyborg – equal in speed of thought, if not in depth. “Once again, I must say that I am impressed by your devotion.” Even though it probably won’t matter, went the unspoken second half.

“Yes, well, we must seize every advantage we can get,” was all he said in response.

For a few moments, the shipmind was silent.

Then, “But… surely you can spare half an hour. You have given more than enough just by being here. The difference a few more minutes of forethought will make is negligible, so I implore you to take some enjoyment in these final moments. If you won’t take any rahatan, at least let me play your favorite song for you. Anything.”

Shajaon opened both eyes and adjusted his position so that he was staring directly into the camera. “What I would enjoy more than anything else,” he said, coolly but forcefully, “is for us to go into that system with that negligible advantage.”

“…Alright,” said the shipmind, and nothing further. She was not surprised by this reaction, only dismayed. Shajaon, who had devoted himself to the study of strategy after the previous advisor’s departure from the ship, had insisted on accompanying the shipmind for the sole purpose of offering his insight whenever possible. Of, in effect, adding a seventh brain to the shipmind’s six. In simulations, the performance increase granted by Camilan advisors was marginal – 3-5% across the board – yet for that increase, the red-petal was happy to trade his life. When Iris had offered him painkillers to dull the agony of slipspace decay, he had refused, saying they dulled his mind as well. This most recent asceticism was merely the last in a long line.

The next thirty-five minutes were spent in silence. When the shipmind next spoke, it was to suggest Shajaon begin integrating himself with the pod. Obeying, he fit himself into the full-body suit that was attached at multiple points to the inside of the pod, and cinched a fabric ring innervated with cables tightly around his neck, making sure that every receptor clicked into place with the ports set into his skin. The distance from brain to fingertip was, this time, too far to tolerate.

We will begin deceleration in four minutes, thought the shipmind.

Acknowledged, thought Shajaon in response.

When the forward thrusters flared, Shajaon was pulled downward into the pod with a force of nearly 10 G’s – a sharp contrast from the zero it had been moments before. A combination of suit, structural modifications to the brain, and extensive training kept him alert.

Phasing in four minutes.

Acknowledged.



Phasing.




The Iris Flare returned to realspace travelling parallel to the system’s orbital plane. Immediately it began taking in light from its surroundings, scanning in all directions for signs of the enemy.

There seemed to be none.

Our departure was timed so that we would catch them just as they were coming out of slipspace, Shajaon thought, so perhaps we’re a little early.

Or we’re a little late and they’ve decided to use their nineteen minutes to hide. Either to ambush us, or to repair their slipspace damage and then slip past us. Iris’ reply was a slight fluttering wave in the roiling sea of her consciousness, the vast majority of which was concentrated on other matters.

How long do we have if it’s the latter?

In terms of their long-term survival? Several days to a week. But who knows how concerned they are with that? They may be perfectly content letting their bodies and ships decay if it means they can catch up to our main fleet a little faster.

And if they do slip past us? Shajaon asked, already suspecting the answer.

Well, we’ve left probes in slipspace at regular intervals behind us, so we’ll at least be alerted. But by that point it may be too late. Once they’re in slipspace, we won’t be able to catch up.

So we have to do as much damage as we can in whatever amount of time it takes them to repair. Which is unknown.

Not totally unknown. Even if they are only interested in making it to the next system without their ships becoming inoperable, we should have at least 48 hours. If they leave any earlier, they’ll rot away to nothing in the interstellar void.

Alright. But in any case, we have to come to them. And they know it.

Yes.

If they are setting an ambush, how many bodies can we check at a safe distance?

If we are willing to use the phase drive, all of them, but it will take two jumps per body. We will have only two jumps’s worth of slipstuff left by the end, with no allowance for in-combat maneuvers. On the other hand, if we remain in realspace, we will not be able to check 109-VI, as it is currently too far –

The shipmind’s thought fell silent, as bright flashes of infrared light began to reach her sensors. A few at first, but the number quickly climbed into the dozens. Spaced out from one another, but all oriented along the orbital plane like she was. They had appeared at the opposite edge of the system, closest to 109-VI – a small telluric planet with an unusually far orbit.

At the moment of their appearance, light from the Iris Flare would not yet have reached them. But by the time their own IR signatures reached her, it would have – ahead by several minutes. Thus, they had already been granted the first move.

Briefly, Iris considered holding her current position near the system’s asteroid belt. She discarded this idea almost immediately – giving them a chance to surround her would mean quick and pointless death, and they might be able to repair at 109-VI anyway.

No choice but to advance.

The Iris Flare phased out and accelerated toward the rightmost signature, closing the distance in less than a minute. Predicting that the target would have moved away from its fellows in order to facilitate a collapse, the shipmind initiated the phase-in at what she predicted would be the optimal distance – close enough that her own fire could not be dodged, but far enough that she could dodge the enemy’s. Right before she did so, she checked to see if any other ships were in slipspace with her. She couldn’t see any.

Code: Select all
Returned to realspace. Saw the target. Estimated target’s possible range of motion. Adjusted bearing to align main weapon with target. Fired.

Target tried to evade the shot, but could not accelerate fast enough. Projectile impacted target’s frontal shield and traveled through 31% of target’s length before exiting. Energy imparted sufficient to destroy target; radiation released by fusion reaction safely absorbed by our armor.


All of that information was interpolated retroactively and relayed to the shipmind by the combat computer.

It couldn’t even angle its weapons at us fast enough, thought Iris, observing the molten remains of the worldship. Then, a split-second later, And no phasing at any point. Could it be that they’re out of slipstuff?

Seems possible, Shajaon answered. In order to minimize time spent in realspace, it would make sense to only synthesize enough for two jumps at a time, and to do so while you’re stuck repairing anyway.

The shipmind scanned the system to see where the others had moved. Contrary to her prediction, they were not moving away from each other, but instead seemed to be coalescing around 109-VI.

They must know they need slipstuff to fight us, Iris mused. Are they too low on hydrogen to fuse any, or can they not afford to cannibalize any of their surviving components?

Whatever the case, we need to move. Now. If we let them harvest from that planet uncontested, they’ll be able to make it past us.

Agreed, the shipmind thought, and initiated the phase-out.

What’s the safe distance if two ships are covering each other? Shajaon asked as the Iris Flare accelerated.

Less, came the reply. Don’t worry, we won’t phase in at an unsafe distance unless we have to. Besides, they shouldn’t be able to cover each other yet.

Code: Select all
Returned to realspace. Saw multiple targets. Estimated closest target’s possible range of motion. Adjusted bearing to align main weapon with target. Fired.

Target evaded the shot. Estimate of possible range of motion updated.

Target began painting us with its gamma laser. Imminent threat to internal components detected. Accelerated toward target in order to get within lethal distance.

Target fired sandthrower at us in a cone of 0.21 sr. We evaded the shot; progress toward target delayed slightly.

Target fired sandthrower at us in a cone of 0.46 sr. We did not attempt to evade. Radiator fins 6d and 9a destroyed by particle impacts. Damaged fins autotomized. Rate of heat loss updated.

Fired our main weapon. Target tried to evade the shot, but could not accelerate fast enough. Projectile impacted target’s midpoint, breaking it in half. Energy imparted sufficient to destroy target; radiation released by fusion reaction absorbed by our armor. Armor’s heat capacity exceeded; some thermal damage to frontal radiators sustained; main weapon’s barrel is still functional.

Targets 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 began painting us with their gamma lasers. Risk of lethal thermal damage deemed unacceptable; emergency phase shift initiated.


For several moments, the Iris Flare simply hovered in slipspace, its residual momentum negligible compared to the size of the system. Its radiators were all exposed, and it shone like a tiny star as it dumped as much heat as it could manage. Somewhat surprisingly, the computer had not decided to shed the armor before phasing – probably because of the sheer number of threats still remaining.

Looks like they’re starting to be able to cover each other, Shajaon finally commented. How many more jumps do we have in us?

Nine, the shipmind replied.

Then it looks like we’ve got about four more kills in us, at most. Five if we want to go down swinging.

For an almost imperceptible amount of time, the shipmind thought about this. I think we do. Everything they’ve done so far supports their intention to harvest what they need from this system and continue their pursuit of the main fleet. We will not be able to delay them any further after that point, so we must take what we can from them in their moment of weakness. Iris paused. If we do not speak again, it’s been a pleasure, my friend.

Shajaon’s beak formed into a faint smile. Likewise. But hey, before we go back in, there’s something I realized between the last time we spoke and now.

It will be another few minutes before we are cold enough to do so. Speak your mind.

If these guys have been following us as closely as possible, accumulating damage to their bodies and ships just to shave a few days’ time off, then why didn’t they phase in right next to 109-VI? They were in a crescent pattern at the edge of the system when we first saw them, right? And now they’re having to travel slowly in realspace to get close enough to harvest from it.

Iris took the Camilan’s meaning immediately. Of course. At that distance, their gravitational sensors should have been able to pick it up. They must have thought there was nothing there.

And why is that?

Because that object’s signature doesn’t line up with its apparent mass, the shipmind continued, once again devoting only a tiny amount of its attention to the conversation.

Right. From this distance, we should be able to pick it up too, but we can’t. And one possible explanation would be that some part of the object has negative mass, enough to cancel out its signature and make it invisible from slipspace.

A more likely explanation would be that it is simply hollow.

Maybe, but the sensors aren’t registering anything. Besides, we can test this. If we approach the object’s position while still phased out, our sensors should report a sudden fluctuation right as we pass through it. A sustained wormhole would only be invisible from a distance – once we’re inside, it would spike like nothing else.

A sustained wormhole, Iris echoed. It was bold of him to even say it out loud. It seems incredibly unlikely, but if you’re right…

We have to test.

I intend to. We will be able to accelerate without overheating in about one minute.

It was the slowest minute either of them had experienced.

At last, the warship’s thruster’s flared, and it began to approach the position of 109-VI. Even once they were nearly upon it, the sensors detected no gravitational forces whatsoever.

Then, as they passed through it, the sensors broke.

The amount of energy that must be keeping that thing open, Shajaon thought, is immense. If we can destabilize it enough to collapse, the energy released would be nearly as immense. Their whole fleet would be wiped out.

Judging by the numbers we saw, their whole fleet is not in this system. Others must be taking different routes, or travelling behind this wing. Nevertheless, it would be a far more significant blow than we could otherwise hope to inflict. The shipmind paused. There is only one problem.

Yeah, I know. It looks like a planet to visual. If 109-VI is sustaining a wormhole inside of itself, there’s virtually no question that someone built it.

An argument could be made that we have no right to destroy their megastructure in a conflict that does not concern them.

Yeah, but you wouldn’t make it, would you. Look, the way I see it, if they’re primitive enough that the loss of this structure is crippling, then they’re also primitive enough that those 30-odd ships pose a danger to them, too. The conflict concerns them whether they like it or not, because if we lose, the omnicidal winner is going to have a direct path to their doorstep.

You’re right, I wouldn’t make it, was all the shipmind thought in response. The time needed to create sufficient distance from the planet passed in total silence.

Code: Select all
Returned to realspace. Saw primary target 109-VI. No realignment necessary; shot fired immediately. Phased out preemptively after confirming angle of shot.

Waited for radiation burst to pass over our current position.

Phased back in. Energy imparted was sufficient to destabilize target’s inner ring, leading to wormhole collapse and release of radiation burst. Energy imparted by radiation burst sufficient to destroy all targets.

Anomalous secondary radiation bursts logged. Imparted energy safely absorbed by our armor.

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Lacryria
Political Columnist
 
Posts: 2
Founded: Aug 01, 2020
Democratic Socialists

Postby Lacryria » Thu Aug 06, 2020 3:13 pm

Rucex was spinning.

Filaments of his mycelium were anchored to the superstructure to hold fast, but now he wondered what good it had done him. He was in a maintenance conduit deep in the backbone of the space station, shielded from the harsh vacuum of space by the many layers of myceiite which it was built from.

Or he had been shielded, at least.

Starlight flashed in from a gaping hole at the end of the conduit. Rucex’s eye watched as the local star, Cre-2, darted across the maw of the tunnel and out of sight. Shadows engulfed him as the tunnel pitched end over end, his claws raking at the walls for purchase.

His nerves quailed. Chunks of myceiite struck his carapace and tumbled away, falling into the void beyond. His comrade, Algru, had been right next to him, and now only empty space was there.

Rucex dug into the wall, his fibers coiling into the mesh of myceiite and interlacing with the fibers of the space station’s network. If he was lucky, he could find an intact airlock, or anything that might tell him what had happened.

Instead, as his nerves reached deep into the space station, he came up empty handed. There was no vast stream of data flowing through the network. It was silent, save for a lonely trickle coming from deep in the conduit.

His facial carapace closed tight, leaving only a vertical slit for him to gaze through. The familiar pressure of an atmosphere was gone, replaced with a clumsy, frictionless vacuum. He wrenched a hand away from the wall with more force than he expected, leaving a few tender fibers of hyphae clinging to it. He winced to himself and released the other hand more slowly, letting his mycelium retract from the wall’s lattice entirely.

The harsh light of the star swept past his face again, shadows angrily crossing from right to left as it did. With his fibers clinging to the wall, Rucex carefully floated to the mouth of the tunnel and stared into empty space. As the rubble tumbled in the void, he was able to appreciate one simple detail: he had minutes to live.

No time to waste, then, he thought. He pushed himself back from the end of the tunnel and forced himself deeper into the station. His fibers dug into the flesh of the conduit, following the trickle of data to a junction a hundred meters away.

The lumpy form of another Larcyrian was fastened to the wall of the tunnel there, its carapace also tightly closed to preserve its tender flesh.

Bhilza, he thought, his fibers reaching out to touch an arm. The other Lacryrian shuddered and grabbed Rucex, its eye opening wide to face him. The lights on his chest flickered madly through shades of purple and red, but he didn’t need them to know Bhilza’s status.

Without oxygen, they had moments to act. They exchanged information as his mycelium mingled with Bhilza’s. Their fibers flashed packets of data that their neurology could quickly parse.

What happened? Rucex reached out with his thought and posed the question.

Something disrupted the wormhole stabilizers, Bhilza returned. Powerplant went offline, we lost primary shielding, something shook. I don’t know what hit us.

Rucex’s eye darted madly, meeting his superior’s with uncertain frustration.

You don’t know?

No. Bhilza’s lights glowed a harsh red light briefly. I was working and everything just... he shrugged, tugging on Rucex's arm. Just flew apart. Where is Algru?

Dead. Rucex could do nothing to shield his inner thoughts from Bhilza while their nerves mingled. The thoughts came freely. He was coupling to the wall next to me, it tore him apart.

Even anchored as they were now, Rucex and Bhilza could feel the pitch and heave of the fragmented condit as it spun in the void.

Spores, Bhilza let out a mental sigh, his ventral lights fading to a lonely blue parlor.

Is there anyone else? I can help you gather them.

There’s no time, Bhilza gave the slightest shake of his head. If we don’t act now we will join Algru. Do you have your bail out bag?

Yes, Rucex patted the rough canvas pack strapped to his maintenance webbing. He withdrew two capsules which fit in his palm and passed one to Bhilza.

Rucex’s mycelium wrapped around his capsule, hyphae extending and probing the valve at one end. There was a soft hiss as he punctured the valve, his mycelium filling the gap and carefully moderating the exchange of gases within.

Bhilza did the same, his eye rolling around in its socket as oxygen dissolved into his flesh. The lights on his stomach flickered green and he withdrew his carapace to look at Rucex intently.

We must get to the lifeboats, he said. It will take two days to reach Scimmith.

If there are any lifeboats left.

Bhilza pushed himself away from the wall and drifted further down the corridor. Rucex followed after, tendrils of mycelium gripping and guiding him after his superior. They could not communicate, save for their ventral lights and feeble hand gestures. Rucex knew the way, though, with or without Bhilza to guide him.

As they crossed the axis the conduit was spinning around, the two Lacryrians had to maneuver themselves to the opposite wall to maintain their grip. Ragged holes appeared in the walls of the conduit and revealed the vast, horizonless expanse of space surrounding them. The harsh light of Cre-2 glared at them in regular intervals, and Rucex found himself gripping the anchor points on the wall tighter than he needed to.

It was in that moment that he noticed something else peculiar. There were no other survivors in sight. Rucex had no reason to wonder why. He had watched Algru when the first tremor hit and only had a second’s notice before the conduit decompressed. He watched the two ragged halves of Algru tumble into the void, and he knew it was a fate shared by many others on board.

I was lucky, he thought. So was Bhilza. What caused all this? Insurrectionists? Maybe they had someone aboard the station who helped sabotage it? His thoughts were all he had to rely on at the moment. As they passed a data junction, he probed it with his hyphae. It was silent, not even the trickle of data flowing through it. His ventral lights flickered to a soft blue and he disconnected, floating after Bhilza.

-

The lifeboat hatch shut with a muted thump as it formed a seal. Cold oxygen began to pour into the chamber, starting as a distant hiss that made Rucex’s fibers crawl. Bhilza wasted no time crawling into the cramped pilot's seat and fastening himself into place. Rucex followed after him, his limbs trembling as he settled next to his commander. He fumbled to secure the belts until he managed it with a metallic click. His fibers dug into his arm rest, and Bhilza did the same.

Brace yourself, Bhilza commanded through the ship’s comm network. The hard glass panels flickered as his fibers interfaced with the lifeboat’s computer, and in seconds the engines were primed. The myceiite hull shuddered as the main escape charge fired, forcing Rucex into his crash couch hard enough to make him see stars. There was another dull thump as the lifeboat broke the protective shroud which encased the launch bay, and they streaked into empty night at 200 meters per second.

Spores, Rucex swore to himself.

Debris clapped against the hull as the lifeboat cleared the remains of the station, and Bhilza carefully guided the vessel to what sensors indicated was a safe distance.

Look, he thought, pulling up the aft cameras. Rucex did, staring at what looked like a cloud of pulverized glass.

The space station had been shattered.

Bits of it glittered in the starlight, spreading apart in fine tendrils, while other large chunks spun lazily where they hung in the blackness. Rucex couldn’t believe what he was seeing - the station was supposed to be an enormous orb, a webwork of myceiite as solid as steel made to encase a wormhole at its center. It had been a crowning achievement of Lacryrian technology, and now it was scattered and began to spread across Cre-2's orbital plane like an artificial asteroid belt.

Spores, Bhilza thought, echoing Rucex's curse.

We have to check for survivors, Rucex rifled through the onboard computer and activated a distress transponder. If there is anyone left, we have to rescue them.

Bhilza glanced over at his subordinate with a wide eye, then gestured to the viewscreen.

Are you mad?
Last edited by Lacryria on Wed Aug 19, 2020 1:19 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Camila I
Spokesperson
 
Posts: 112
Founded: Jun 20, 2016
Liberal Democratic Socialists

Postby Camila I » Sun Aug 16, 2020 5:53 pm

Iris and Shajaon, too, could not help but stare. For several moments, neither of them said anything, merely taking in the awesome sight of the broken marble.

Then Shajaon began to laugh. “Ha… we’re alive.”

“Yes,” replied the shipmind.

“And they’re dead.”

“A change of state whose significance could be argued. Nevertheless… their state is indisputable now.”

Shajaon laughed harder. Uncontrollably. Not, as the shipmind could sense by his tone, because anything was funny, but because all of the tension that had built up during the fight was being released. Iris, though better able to keep her relief to herself, did not blame him. By all reasonable predictions, they should not have survived that engagement. Perhaps Shajaon’s goddess had been watching over them after all….

The shipmind’s thoughts were interrupted when a particularly violent shudder racked the red-petal’s body, splitting open a fold of barklike skin just below his ribcage. He gasped in pain and instinctively lurched forward to conceal the wound. Though no blood escaped into the pod, the exposed pink-white flesh stung against the cold air, and this was enough to stop him laughing. Alarmed, the shipmind asked if he was alright.

“Not ‘all right’, of course,” he hissed. “But not any worse than expected either. Aah, that’ll be the zinc deficiency,” he added, sucking in air through the sides of his beak.

“Shall I get you something for the pain?”

The red-petal gave the camera a curious look. “I suppose next you’ll be suggesting that I sever my prefrontal membrane as well.”

The shipmind did not see how this followed, and said so.

“Avoiding unpleasantness at all costs is the behavior of the enemy, is it not? Shall we adopt their rituals even as we seek to destroy them?”

“‘All costs?’ I already have the medication pre-synthesized for this exact purpose.”

“And I have told you that it dulls my perception. We may have survived our first battle, but all that means is that we have more to do. Until the whole of the enemy fleet is vanquished, or we are, we cannot allow ourselves to rest.”

Iris said nothing.

“Besides. The pain of decay serves to tell me that I am still alive. The struggle of the body mirrors the struggle of the mind. That is what life is.”

Still Iris said nothing.

“It is worth it,” he said more quietly. “For any insight, no matter how small, it is worth it.”

“Ah,” Iris finally replied. “I suppose you did notice 109-VI’s unusual mass signature before I did. I suppose it would be appropriate to thank you for that.”

Shajaon waved a hand dismissively, wincing as the motion pulled the splitted skin apart. “Nonsense, nonsense. I am as one of your organs. The brain does not thank the heart for continuing to beat.”

Though her avatar was not currently displayed anywhere, the shipmind smiled. “Well, you are right about one thing. Our work here is not done. But we will need to repair our systems, including your body, and synthesize more slipstuff if we want to pose a threat to anyone.”

The red-petal waved his hand again, a more restrained motion this time. “Slipstuff, yes. My body, no. Unless every system we pass through has a structure like 109-VI, it is highly unlikely we will survive long enough for the decay to become a real issue.”

Her cameras tracing the line of opened skin down the Camilan’s chest, and up a dozen more places of tautened flesh waiting for just the wrong stress to pull them open too, it was all Iris could do not to ask whether it was not a real issue already. Instead she pointed out that Shajaon was not the only component that was degrading.

“True,” he coughed, “but the rest of the ship will last longer than I will. Yourself included. We’ll probably lose in the next fight. We would have lost this one if not for that anomaly.”

“To be clear, your proposal is that we wait just long enough to arm ourselves with enough slipstuff for one more engagement, and then depart this system in pursuit of the enemy. So exactly the tactic they are using.”

Shajaon grinned. “Meet force with force, and death with death.” When Iris did not respond, he added: “An old Maladi rallying cry.”

“Pardon my lack of encyclopedic knowledge. I am not a worldship. Did the third line perchance include anything about meeting insanity with insanity?”

“No,” the Camilan replied, crumpling his face up as if trying hard to remember, “I don’t think so. I suppose they didn’t think of themselves as insane.” The lines loosened up into a smile.

“Fair enough. We’ll do it your way,” the shipmind conceded, her light tone belying the weight of this decision. Her main thrusters flared bright white, and her ship began to accelerate toward the remnants of 109-VI, by far the closest objects in the system. Compared to the slippery ease of flying while phased out, traversing realspace felt like swimming through molasses. Nevertheless, replacing the slipstuff used up by two jumps would take even longer, so the slow way it would have to be.

“Lucky for us that that material wasn’t totally destroyed by the rad burst,” Shajaon commented.

“Less to do with the material itself and more with the structure’s sheer size, I would guess.” A momentary pause, then, “Compy confirms that analysis. The inner portions would have been converted totally into energy, and that combined with the loss of structural integrity would have been what blew the surviving parts of the outer shell apart.” Another pause. “Though that is not to say that the material itself is unexceptional. Its spectrographic signature is not one I’ve ever seen before. I will have to analyze a sample more closely when we get clo-”

“What is it?”

“Radio signal.” The shipmind’s voice was noticeably tenser. “Ahead of us.” The flash of radio light had appeared suddenly, and it was more than bright enough to stand out against the starry backdrop. Focusing on the source with all of her still-working eyes, the shipmind was able to resolve a grainy yet unmistakable image. A ship of unfamiliar design, constructed from the same unknown material as 109-VI.

“What kind of signal?” Shajaon asked.

“Artificial. It’s… repeating. And the particular way its amplitude is fluctuating, it reminds me very much of the scream of a dying animal.”

“Do you think it’s intended for us?”

“Impossible to say. It’s fairly simple, and its creators might have guessed that patterns like that would be universally recognizable. On the other hand, it could just as easily be a warning signal to their fellows. Or a call for rescue that we’re not supposed to answer. The resemblance to cries of panic may even be coincidental.”

“Was it travelling through the gate when we collapsed it?”

“Unlikely. Even if they had crossed the threshold several minutes prior, those cylindrical tunnels would have funneled the energy from the blast directly toward any vessel still inside them. I think they must have been on or inside the body of the orb itself. That’s the only way they could have survived.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right.” Neither of them spoke on the matter further, not wanting to dwell on the thought that the sphere had had any inhabitants. “So what do we do about the signal?”

“It may not be directed at us,” Iris repeated. “Even if it is, what can we do? Pick them up? This vessel is foredoomed; they’re hardly safer on it than in the vacuum of space.”

Shajaon opened his mouth, then closed it again. Their steady acceleration in the direction of 109-VI, which by that point might have needed a few additional designations, continued. There was a point, some time later, when the two vessels passed by each other. For its part, the Iris Flare made no acknowledgement of the other ship.

“Shouldn’t we at least say something?” the red-petal had asked a few minutes before.

“Alas, I am not a worldship. I do not have access to Ukeiri’s rosetta, nor would I be able to replicate it if I tried.”

“But we could still say something in Maladi, even if they wouldn’t understand it. They might be able to translate it later.”

“Like what?”

“Like ‘we mean you no harm’? Like ‘we’re sorry for destroying your megastructure, but we did it in pursuit of the greater good’?”

“The extent to which we mean them harm is self-evident. As for the other thing, how do you propose they would know we were at fault unless we admit it to them?”

Shajaon swallowed.

“It would be quite the task to trace that shot to our vessel, unless they were watching all angles of the sky at all times. And quite the task indeed to retain and transmit that information to anyone else even if they had it, in light of the likely state of their databanks.”

“So if anyone asks, we’re going to lie.”

“No one will ask because, in the span of a week, there will be no one to ask.” Observing that Shajaon’s expression was still reluctant, the shipmind continued, “Our objective is to protect the main fleet. And the best way to protect them, both from the enemy’s fleets and from the owners of that wormhole, is to carry our actions to our fast-approaching grave.”

And so it was that the two ships passed by each other in silence. Some time after that, the glasslike Camilan butterfly perched upon a broken segment of myceiite hull and extended its proboscis into it.




Tohun’s skull slammed against the wall of her pod as she started awake, blood spraying against the inside of the door. Dimly glowing strips of orange were the only source of illumination, except for the distant, piercing light of a star that bathed her surroundings every few minutes.

Starlight… inside the room… not good, she thought to herself. Weak as she was, it took her several such light cycles to pry herself free of her restraints and push a tendril into the socket that opened the pod door.

As soon as the seal broke, whatever thin air remained inside rushed out into vacuum, and Tohun reflexively clamped her throat shut. Looking around, she could see that the heartroom of the Quiet Whisper had been sheared in half, and had the shearline been a few meters more to the aft, she would have been on the other side of it. Calm in spite of her circumstances, she looked around for an oxygen mask, and seeing a station on the opposite wall, kicked herself over to it. The sharp motion tore the flesh of her leg in multiple places, but she felt neither pain nor distress. Upon reaching the mask, she pulled it over her beak and inhaled deeply.

The air was better than nothing, but it was also thin, and quickly running out. The oxygen tanks must have been punctured. No matter – it had bought her enough time to spot what she was looking for. One of the probes.

Leaving the mask dangling, she leapt over to the angular ovoid and unhooked it from its containment within the wall. Though it was larger than her whole body, it was easy enough to maneuver with no gravity. Rotating the device quickly but methodically, she found the nerve interface and plunged her hand inside.

In sixty seconds, phase out and broadcast the following message on a loop until you are destroyed, she thought, making sure to use language that the computer could understand. Altarik-109 is not safe. The Iris Flare ambushed and destroyed our fleet, releasing the energy of a contained wormhole in the process. My brothers and sisters, you must cannibalize yourselves in order to make it past her. Either arrive in this system with enough slipstuff to combat her, or endure the journey to the next star if you can.

Tohun could feel her muscles beginning to rupture, and her skin beginning to spray off from the force of her vaporizing blood. Nevertheless, she held onto the probe for another few seconds.

She will not be able to carry on civilization by herself, so you should treat her as a short-term threat only. The surviving ships of the worldfleet are still your primary targets.

Then the red-soaked Camilan pulled her hand out of the probe and shoved it out into the void. A few seconds after she watched it disappear, black tendrils began to pull at the edge of her vision, and offering no resistance, she let them take her.
Last edited by Camila I on Mon Aug 17, 2020 2:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Kyasiouna
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Founded: Jun 17, 2016
Psychotic Dictatorship

Postby Kyasiouna » Thu Aug 20, 2020 9:49 am

I remember them telling me that the shapes you see in clouds are a byproduct of life’s tendency to recognize patterns. Body language, facial expressions… It all seems like a distant past when I remember the conversations. Like a slowly forgotten dream, when I think about them it almost feels like I imagined it all.

I didn’t need to imagine the pain.

The clouds blossomed and billowed near the stomach of The Frozen Tide. My ship was strange when compared to most. The majority of its surface covered in, or even made out of, ice. Water doesn’t breakdown in Slipspace. Refilling the reserves of water and ice was part of the ship’s unique thermal management. Venting vaporized water was not the only way to get rid of heat but it was used to subsidize the cloaking nature of the ship. Using only 50% of the available radiators in order to mask our position from the Camilans.

I wonder if the images of Camilans I see in the clouds that surround the ship are entirely a product of longing. I send a message to the helm.

“Do the clouds around our ship remind you of anything?”

The response is not a message but a call. I realize I have said to much already. I answer anyways, his voice is worried.

“I wasn’t looking at the clouds… is your arm okay?”

“The two I have left feel fine. The others hurt from time to time. It doesn’t bother me.”

“We… do the clouds remind you of them?”

The machines, alongside a few workers, carry chunks of ice from the asteroid hidden beneath the fog. Their paths trailing vapor as they exit the shroud, “not really, but I remember our conversations. We used to talk about clouds and patterns.”

“We know you miss them, but we are starting to get worried. It feels like we are lost. It feels like you are lost.”

The words sting. I know they are honest. I know they are well intentioned, “One more year, if we don’t find something for one more year I will turn around. We will go home.”

He ends the call. Before I can process what that might mean the door opens. In some ways the betrayal had done more harm to him than to me. As far as appearance goes, I can’t help but feel jealous of how perfectly he seems to have recovered. Maybe its just natural to see scars on a king.

He embraces me before I speak, there is a force behind his actions. I know what he is going to say. And yet, no words escape his mouth. I expect him to berate me, I am hurting my children, I am hurting myself. Finally, he speaks.

“We are hurt,” His grip tightens, “This searching isn’t helping… We trust you. All of us, is it possible for us to help you?” His voice is desperate, it feels like he is speaking past me searching for someone not present in this conversation, “If we find them they will turn us away.”

“I will not let them!” I break the hug, “They are mine! I will not have them taken from me!”

“Look at what they did to you! To us!” He says it like I don’t see the burns every day, like I don’t reach for things with hands that aren’t there.

“One more year…”

“Munara…”

He is interrupted as the craft shudders. I move to my control station. The Frozen Tide registered an impact, the impact had no contact point. Whatever hit us hit everywhere. No damage reported and not effect to any part of the ship. The shudder was the ships compensation for impact the actual event barely registered on the sensors. How did it set off every single one?

Seconds later 3 probes registered impacts. None reported damage.

“If this was a targeted strike who did it and why didn’t it do any damage? Accounting for distance the probes were hit at almost the exact same time as us…”

The ships computer reports that the impact wasn’t simultaneous, but rather travels through the ship significantly faster that the speed of sound. The Frozen Tide is 3km long and while the systems aren’t designed to report that kind of data, the computer didn’t categorize the event as simultaneous. If an impact travels through the hull, its at the speed of sound. Each sensor registered its own event before it could have felt the event.

“Was it a shockwave? How is that possible…” His voice is wary. It’s his job to be worried, I guess…

“If it was, we can use the probes’ reports to determine where it came from.” I try to hide the eager excitement in my voice.

He narrows his eyes, “We will chart a course, but you have to promise us. One more year and then we go home."

“One more year.”



The frozen tide hurtles through Slipspace. The various systems of antimatter tech accelerating us to 5984c in the minimum survivable period. I and my children are made to survive the pressures of acceleration. It remains uncomfortable until we are cruising.

“Are you sure we need to be hidden? We still don’t know If we are headed towards them this could be an unrelated event.”

“I appreciate your concern. I find there to be value in spying on their actions before revealing our presence.”

The system the anomaly came from is only 58ly away, we will get there in 4 days.



Halfway through the journey a bright point appears on the sensors. A most unusual event in Slipspace. Its glorious incandescence fills me with hope, it is without a doubt a ship venting radiation. Combat levels of radiation. It’s possible that they are simply moving fast, but they are not alone. There are multiple Slipspace signatures. My heart pumps with excitement.

Finally, a message is picked up by the communications array.

I have found them, I rejoice as I read the message over and over. The Camilans are, at last, within reach. My elation retreats as the content of the message sinks in to my mind. I am shrouded in fear. Fear that I will lose what is most dear to me. Something is targeting the worldships. My worldships. The order to arm the fighters is sent out. The Frozen Tide will remain hidden until it is safe. Three minor combat probes are armed and ejected. Their Slipspace signatures becoming apparent once they have left a 3ly safe distance from the mothership. They will reach the system before us, they can slow without the restrictions of life.
Last edited by Kyasiouna on Mon Aug 31, 2020 10:29 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Lacryria
Political Columnist
 
Posts: 2
Founded: Aug 01, 2020
Democratic Socialists

Postby Lacryria » Mon Aug 31, 2020 9:57 pm

The lifeboat flitted about the debris as gently as Bhilza could manage it.

We have to try, Rucex pleaded, his belly lights a bright, distressed blue.

I don't want to hear that right now, Bhilza thought. The crash harness tugged at his body as the hull shuddered, bits of pulverized myceiite bouncing against it.

Thu-unk.

The largest chunks were almost suspended in the darkness of space, their ponderous mass emphasized by the slowness of their rotation. He dodged them with ease but couldn’t help the smaller ones that choked the space which had been the Wormhole Station.

I know better than this, Bhilza relented, shrugging at the console. Use the reaction control system while I warm up the engine. You have the ship until I’m done.

Rucex nodded and tugged at the control column, banking hard to the left. Bhilza made no comment on the pitching sensation in his chest as the vessel rolled through the debris cloud, even as his feet kicked against the control panel. He was used to his apprentice's loose piloting style, and it had saved them in the past.

What bothered him instead were the litany of warnings and error codes filling the engineering mimic screen.

What mess have wandered into, he wondered.

Navigation system: compromised.
Defense system: compromised.
Shielding system: compromised.
Hull integrity: compromised.
Reaction Control System: Compromised.
Stasis system: Online.
Moderator reserves: 70%, cells 2 and 4 depleted.
Propulsion system: Intact.
Propulsion-reactor interface: Intact.
Reactor system: Intact, offline - reconnect and begin startup sequence.

This thing is falling apart. Must have been the explosion.

Bhilza stared at the wasteland of pulverized myceiite as it brushed by, some of the dusty particles accumulating on the windscreen. Sections of the Station hung in the void, tumbling slowly or bouncing off each other and sending off another crumbling spray of fine particles.

He could identify parts of the station, such as the suspension mechanism, or the conduits he was so familiar with. They had been twisted and warped by the energy released with its collapse and now resembled snapped, frayed cabling. The chitinous armor which would have shielded the whole structure was punched out, likely accounting for the dust which the ship glided through.

You're right, Rucex said. The forward left thruster is only giving me half power.

I trust you can handle it, Bhilza said, his face plates widening incredulously. He watched as the world outside the windscreen rolled before them.

It’s not a problem, Rucex said as he corrected the roll. Not for me at least.

Good, Bhilza replied. The reactor is serviceable. His controls responded predictably, reactivity readings following curves he had seen in years of training. He twisted the control knobs, letting the flux rise to a sub critical level under the computer’s supervision. There was a distant mechanical hiss from somewhere within the hull as actuators moved control mechanisms into position.

Rucex's ventral lights dimmed to a soft blue as he repeated the distress signal. There were no responses, and there was nothing in the debris or the sensor array that even resembled a Lacryrian body.

Just a sea of twinkling, glassy dust.

You felt it too? Bhilza asked. The question floated in the cool cabin air for a moment before Rucex looked at his commander.

Felt what?

You felt the space station reacting to the explosion.

Yeah, Rucex nodded. He let go of the controls and stared into the distance for a moment. I was plugged in when it happened.

They sat in silence, watching as chips of glittering debris glanced off the windscreen.

I was too, Bhilza said.

I felt it dying, Rucex blinked. I could feel everything breaking apart, all the systems failing. I could feel the other shipmates, when they...

Bhilza didn't respond at first. He'd lost comrades. He'd seen victory at a terrible price, 'acceptable losses,' and wholesale slaughter of his kind before he became a Wormhole engineer. As an apprentice in a non-combat role, Rucex was not used to the chaos which was rapidly unfolding around them.

Bhilza was right at home in chaos, however.

I don't have time to coddle you, he thought, staring into Rucex's eye. His ventral lights flared with flecks of green and gold. If you do as I say, we will survive. But you must obey. Do that for me, and we can talk all about what happened, what you felt.

Rucex stared back at his mentor.

You're in shock, it will pass, Bhilza said. When it does, you and I need to be on our way back to the Scimmith Moon Base. You will pass out on me and I'll have to manage the reactor and pilot the ship, I can't do both.

I won't black out on you, Rucex shook his head. There's nothing on the radio or scanners. I'll set a course for Scimmith-2.

Very well. Bhilza turned from his apprentice to face the reactor controls. Once you confirm our vector I will open the throttle.

They were 33 million miles from the moon of Scimmith. At top speed, .00064 c, it would take almost 77 hours to reach the moon base.

Top speed would be best reached in a vehicle of optimal condition and robust construction. The lifeboat was crippled, leaking hydrogen, and in danger of flying to pieces under its own acceleration. At reduced power they might have as long as 140 hours and millions of miles of empty void waiting to devour them.

Bhilza was home.

The nose of the lifeboat was pointed at an innocuous patch of dark sky, locked in place by the onboard computer.

Holding course heading, Stasis systems online, Rucex said. Ready at your command.

Without another word Bhilza opened the throttle, admitting hydrogen to the reactor core. The flux swiftly rose and the craft shuddered, beginning with a dull rumble which quickly became a torrential roar.

The debris field warped and drifted from view as the lifeboat departed, leaving nothing but an invisible plume of super hot hydrogen in its wake.


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