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R0: Stray Light from the Pinhole (BigT | Maintenance)

A staging-point for declarations of war and other major diplomatic events. [In character]
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Multiversal Venn-Copard
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R0: Stray Light from the Pinhole (BigT | Maintenance)

Postby Multiversal Venn-Copard » Tue Jan 04, 2022 10:54 pm

R0
STRAY LIGHT FROM THE PINHOLE



This thread covers past and present events in the R0 canon, centering on the R0-0 Defense Pact and its response to the Second Red Incident and the appearance of the Dualism.

In headers, appearances of "[...]" indicate that a number is both very large and irrelevant, but they are not used in all such cases. Dates on posts are formatted as year and day differences from X+0, the year of the most disruptive multiversal events. Posts may not be exactly chronological, but the intended reading order is to simply advance through each one in posting sequence.

This is a "nation maintenance" thread, and it is to be considered closed until further notice. Comments, questions, and assorted input can be TGed to this nation or messaged to me on Discord, if, for some ungodly reason, anyone has anything constructive to say at all. Further information is available on the R0 Information Center, which can be accessed through this nation's factbooks.



In retrospect, it really wasn't surprising that when the Dualism — mechanical, distant, and lost in its own thoughts — finally made itself known to the cosmos, its foremost complaint with reality as it stood was that no one ever stopped making noise. What it nonetheless must have had to consider during this judgement was that R0, the cosmos as a whole, is noise in and of itself.

Formed from waves of potential spilling off an eons-deep reservoir of fallen nations and peoples, even an empty universe's life is chaotic: a pocket of spacetime erupts from nothing to span a hundred gigaparsecs, sprays energy across the barrier as its cosmological constant finally leaks, and then snaps off its continuum foundation to dissolve or collapses into the morass it came from. Introduce just a small amount of matter, and complexity explodes beyond reckoning; introduce life at the frequency it generally appears in most places, and students of history feel quite justified in abandoning the subject upon simply believing that there is too much to think about. Unstable civilizations explode into atomic subcultures and tribes — perhaps corporations, or nation-states, or religions — until their descendants vanish into the haze of activity, swallowed up by their peers or bloating into unrecognizable things. Those who memetically steel themselves instead swell into the hardened multiversal polities as we know them today: inscrutable, near-monolithic pieces of state, their activities measured in numbers too large to fathom and everything within them trivialized, at least for the brief stretch of time that they even last before war or the ontology trap claims them.

R0's story is one of enormous motions, as single acts snuff out galaxies, reshape universes, and start and end lives like trillions of bubbles in an agitated sea. It is also a story of the noise that creates it all. To sample the light that a heated box contained, scientists of old put a tiny hole into the wall to measure how much light of each color escaped — and they eventually discovered that it must be quantized. Each element of a story in R0 is small indeed, at least compared to the movements driving the greatest changes, but talking about these smaller aspects puts people at ease, knowing that each speck of dust might have played its part, however random or uniform, however irrelevant at the end.

The cosmos, at first glance, is indescribable. The victory of the Dualism would be to make a cosmos that none even want to describe anymore.

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Postby Multiversal Venn-Copard » Tue Jan 04, 2022 10:55 pm

PROLOGUE: THE REALSPACE MINDSET


It is sometimes claimed, melodramatically or not, that the cosmos is hostile to intelligence. Many will point to the common sets of physical parameters that produce universes devoid of much except vacuum and hydrogen, the billion-year timescales life needs to survive without a multiversal catastrophe, or the finite nature of resources that ensures that the final anthropic principle remains an impossible hope for R0's inhabitants. Some people, on one side of the aisle or another, further say this implies that R0's creator, if it has one, does not want civilizations to advance.

The common joke, however, among those who stagger out of their universal cradle to discover the kinds of people who made it besides them, is that the cosmos is merely hostile to reason. R0 is a place where following an idea as far as it goes leads to disaster, where trying to cross-reference too many sources invokes a doomsday weapon, and where the real winners take their intelligence — which, after all, was essential in getting their technology this far — and control its applications very, very carefully.

Sometimes, this means making compromises and accepting the side effects.




Dualism-Occupied Nest
Interstellar Space
(Contested, Low Density) Universe R0-525-219 310 241 186, Continuum A
X+1 d341




The rule of thumb the medics had told Juya-Ijeel after the briefing was that every time he heard a click, he'd have to spend about a minute longer in the purification ward when this was all over. With Aziphan senses, however, he barely needed to think about the increasingly high-pitched buzzing noise coming from his helmet, which he counted at three kilohertz and climbing. He could feel the attack inside his skull, the proteins in his brain cells breaking apart in waves with a sensation like pinpricks giving way to static.

The VCMR troops with him, a dozen stubby humanoids and a huge theropod, their own reactions impossible to discern through glossy white environmental suits and black visors, kept moving unabated. The team had spent fifteen minutes floating through the cavernous, spiraling tunnels in zero-g. Their only source of light was the occasional blue ring bursting into existence a few centimeters from the troops' maneuvering halo thrusters, before winking out again. It wasn't like anyone needed flashlights; autonomous scouting drones were beyond useless in a Dualism station like this, but an array of sensors in EM, gravitic, and tachyon frequencies — backed up by Juya-Ijeel's all-round vision and a handful of coin-sized drones controlled by one of the VCMR soldiers — still made the complex an approachable maze rather than an invisible one.

They also provided crucial seconds of warning. What had looked, for the past few minutes, like a blocked-off section a few hundred meters along the spiral suddenly trembled, triggering beeps and warnings from one set of 'scopes after another. "Dead ahead! You've got ten seconds!" The squat little Venn commander darted to one side of the tunnel, motioning the rest of the team to take up similar positions in a circle all around the wall. They flicked levers to arm the attachments below their carbines, some muttering complaints as their own sensors picked up the mass. It was increasingly clear that the whole section, having shuddered to life, was now bearing down on all of them.

Juya-Ijeel steeled his reflexes. His wavegun couldn't wrench a shot through the bottom of the tunnel and down into the twisting complex without turning much of it into debris and risking destroying the sensitive equipment in the core. At the speed that the thing was traversing the spiral — maybe fifty meters per second now — he'd have just an instant to lock on and fire once it crested the last corner and had just a short distance to go before striking them. Judging by the motion sensors' readings, hitting the front of it would be deadly.

The hissing in his head hadn't stopped. The clicks from his helmet hadn't whined any higher, but he'd lost count. He felt himself taking deeper and slower breaths, and trying to recite lectures and demonstrations about underground warfare in his training. An Aziphan warrior had to be prepared for anything, and that meant memorizing all of the scenarios one could find in the field: knowing the brace positions in high gravity depending on the slope, measuring the right angles at which to use one's personal blade against enemies scraping the sides... but, naturally, so very little of it helped. He cursed himself. Why was he getting lost in the details now? Why did knowing what to do seem like such a daunting task?

The Venn troops, one by one, braced against their guns and blasted crude covering walls of synthesized metal in front of themselves, each shaped like a sand dune with a sloping forward face and a wide pocket where they could crouch against the tunnel. The Copard, lowering his whole body and tucking in his feet and tail, did the same, albeit only after letting loose a throaty grumble over the comms. Juya-Ijeel, floating blatantly unprotected in the middle, eased forward and counted the time to go while he raised his gun to his shoulder. He noticed himself having switched to counting heartbeats partway through.

The infrared sensors chirped out a warning first. From around the bend in the tunnel shot a cluster of micromissiles riding plumes of fading plasma, splitting up as they made the corner and spiraling out like a grasping hand. He could barely register the shape before its fingertips exploded; red lines of laser light flicked out from behind him as the VCMR's tiny drones shielded the team with point-defense shots. With their higher prioritization stripped out for this mission, somehow their operator had given them targets manually in the split second before impact.

Only then did he flinch.

"What the hell?" the operator shouted at him. "I thought you Az-" She shut herself up as the last of the explosions' glows revealed an oncoming wall of black metal. Fumbling for his weapon's trigger — how many heartbeats was this taking? — Juya-Ijeel finally clenched it like a lifeline and put a burst down the tunnel to lock it in place and attempt to crush it in from all sides.

Then his vision exploded. Tiny points on the thing's surface blossomed into scattered UV and x-rays from VCMR hyperdensity slugs shunting swathes of its mechanical bulk back against itself. He tried to put it together in his head; there was a cone-shaped armored section in the front, its surface vibrating so wildly that the motion sensors marked the whole meter of open space in front as a hazard, and slits in a circle opening to reveal gun ports —

Guns! He was in the open so they would target the Aziphan, the one who could actually lead their shots astray and stay alive. His training took over once again as the barrels swiveled. He pulsed his gravity unit and veered left and right, then in all directions in what was almost a random walk were it not for the constant feedback from the enemy's weapons. He didn't need to bother the robotic wall for long; the troops taking shots at it used the opportunity to aim for the ports as they opened. The hail of energy pellets died down with each round of dodging — he worried that they'd been trained on his allies instead, but a second count of the number of open ports made it clear most had simply been destroyed within seconds.

The team leader spoke up again. "This one's not going to break! We'll have to dig around. Mmudhyn, let's go your way." The Venn shifted inside their pockets of cover and prepared to dash, one pulling a power multitool off his suit and starting to lase a hole in the floor behind him.

Without warning, a flash from ahead blew Juya-Ijeel's senses out of focus completely; plasma and dust filled the tunnel accompanied by a wave of expanding vapor from the thing's frontal armor. The half-exposed Copard, still trying to reposition himself in cover, roared as the blast scorched his suit and tested the anti-flash coating to its limit. When the x-ray shock had died down, the room going dark thanks to the rest of the soldiers taking cover and ceasing fire, Juya-Ijeel was once again left with only a few loud noises and alerts in his helmet, though a shield integrity warning now joined the rest. He made out the team leader's curse — "solid rounds, use solid fucking rounds!"

He couldn't do much besides keep his gun trained on it. As long as he was focused forwards, he could protect his allies, and they could escape.

Then he thought, for just a moment, about the kilometers of tunnel behind him.

The hiss in his head was deafening. The walls warped and squeezed his vision. Behind him was darkness, and a squad of faceless people who sat behind cover waiting to leap out, and a creature that could destroy him if it got any closer, and an unbearably long distance to run if he had to.

The allegiances and meanings melted, and he was left in a place no Aziphan ought to have been in eons: alone, in a cave, surrounded.

The Venn with the multitool kicked the freshly-cut piece of tunnel plating out with a clang. Shapes moved from behind the dunes of metal. First came the team leader jetting on full-power rings of light, then the drone operator, and then, as his head felt like it was about to split, the next thing to leave cover was a pale, black-mouthed creature with something unidentifiable in its grasp — then a whole pack, led by an enormous beast —

Run. Run. Run now. He didn't know he could even have an instinct like this.

He kicked his legs in the air to no effect, then slammed his gravity unit forward as soon as he realized he still had it. Forward was the safe way; the danger had gone away there. He would round the corner and get away, return to the trees and the safety of home — surely not far, just out of the caves.

His comforting thought lasted half a second before he collided with something vibrating faster than it had any right to.

Juya-Ijeel's shield fizzled out. His own armor speared his skin and shattered his bones. His last thought was how bad the noise was.
Last edited by Multiversal Venn-Copard on Fri May 06, 2022 10:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Multiversal Venn-Copard » Tue Jan 04, 2022 10:55 pm

Combined Operations Citadel [...]
(VCMR) Universe R0-0-57, Continuum A
X+25 d232



Taman-L1 got off his fifth and final train for the day, the nearly empty fractal sub-line having taken him through the last few banks of floors down into the Citadel's residential belly, and had to shake himself slightly more awake than he'd otherwise been this late at night. He'd needed an extra half-hour to pack his things from the surface work site — half a year's stay meant he'd lost more than a few tools and clothes in odd places in his room — and time delays on missed trains kept stacking up. Sure, there were chips for keeping oneself stimulated, but he was a young Venn, he thought; surely he had a lot of energy, and he didn't feel the need to use up an augmentation ration on one of those. Already, knowing he'd have to carry a full backpack two kilometers on foot, he was beginning to reconsider this.

It was quiet in the station, save for the live announcements of a far-too-excited commentator in a booth somewhere. "... Line 16-16 is down... repairs; please use ... transfer ... Ceta's Square and the R-set ..." was about all he caught from her tone line, one word at a time, because she was far too busy in between them in the context line rattling off the exact faults they'd found in the offending train shaft, for the interested. There was probably a problem in the warp bleed system somewhere, figured Taman, not that he was a civilian transit expert; there was usually just a problem in every warp bleed system.

He knew because he'd spent the past six months trying to safely disassemble the power lines on retired military spacecraft and repurpose the components however possible — which, for now, meant filling warehouses with them and hoping nothing came of it. It was a job which he at first thought was easy enough to automate, until he'd found himself gaining just as much confidence in his own labor as with all of the other gigs he'd run under the same first impression.

As Taman joined the handful of other people trickling in and out through the extra-wide doors linking the little station with the Citadel's rectangular-but-irregular maze of glossy hallways, he passed a janitor holding a tablet against the doorframe. The old Venn woman turned and smiled instinctively as the next wave of people passed, then went back to swiping at her device, directing sheets of embedded nanites like moving spots of wet paint to wipe dust off the nearby surfaces. He bowed and briefly opened the dark ridges on the top of his head, upon passing her — a signal of gratitude, if coming from someone who didn't have much else of a choice but to thank another.

⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯

Most people were headed straight through the wider halls, decorated on both sides with facades of offices and screens showing views of space or relaxing environments, but his place was off the common path, and he split from the others to navigate a few sets of ramps and alleys up into even tighter quarters. While the softly-lit metal tunnels could've fit six of him side by side at a comfortable spacing, they were barely big enough to let two Copard walk past each other and not risk them trampling the Venn scurrying around their legs.

Or, as in this case, to accommodate two of them coming in the same direction. All Taman had as a warning was a distant shout before a pair of teen boys stormed in from the right side of the intersection up ahead, craning long forward-facing necks to check the crossing before running on ahead with a combined bellow in response. They were carrying homemade weapons: the one who'd turned in his direction had a vicious-looking spiked ram mounted over his whole spine and head, while the other had a tube tucked under one arm, probably an improvised airgun. Following right on their heels came a small team of young Venn brandishing similar armaments, also likely synthesized in technically-legal bits and then smashed together with personal tools.

Taman perversely wanted to keep going and clear the intersection before anything got worse, but he didn't have much time to mull it over before he was reminded of how bad an idea it was. Not long after the last Venn disappeared from his line of sight, there was a loud crash accompanied by a full round of shouts, then the awful reverberating sound of macrosteel striking itself. Weapon against weapon, armor against hallway, he didn't care to know; there had to be another way out. Flicking his beady black eyes around the hall, past elevators and the facades of offices and apartments, he finally found a door to a Venn-only backup path; Taman had used them elsewhere before, but he hesitated even as he rushed to grab the handle. The rising shouts, plus an airgun's bang and the sudden clatter of a flechette skipping off the floor in the intersection, finally got him motivated enough to fling the door wide and leap in.

Venn backup paths were indeed too small to fit the VCMR's larger species, and they received a lot less attention. The lighting was worse down here, because everyone figured the overflow crowds they were meant for wouldn't have much of a problem simply going a certain number of doors down to wherever they were headed. The surroundings themselves, too, were less vibrant; besides a few locked apartment doors, the backup labyrinth's walls were bare metal. Taman didn't think to keep track of how long he spent making his way through the mercifully silent halls; he spent most of the time simply shaking his head in disbelief at what must've been going on nearby.

While pulling out his own tablet's map and debating where he was supposed to go next — he'd never had to use these paths in this part of the Citadel — he rounded the corner to get slammed against the metal by the neck by a Venn girl with a knife in her other hand. Cursing himself out for not being careful and watching his tablet slip out of his hand, he didn't focus too hard until she prodded him in the chest with it. She asked him a question with no subtle context-line addendum at all. "Alright. What are you doing down here?" Already, she was bouncing her eyes up and down, confused at who she'd just pinned, but he didn't pay much attention to that, either.

"J-just trying to get home!" he choked out, eyes narrowing almost to a close and hands raised helplessly. "I'm not... I'm not part of any of this!"

Thankfully, she seemed to grasp that he was a noncombatant fairly quickly, releasing his neck but still keeping the knife swiveling around near him. "Huh? Sure isn't rush hour, is it? Risky time to be here. Didn't you hear about the mess?"

"I've been away for work." Taman nodded and opened his ridges to try to convince her to get the knife further away. "There's fighting in the other hall — gunfire — I had to get out..." He struggled to reply, but then took some deep breaths to steady himself. "What's going on; aren't the police going to..." He lost himself again as she chuckled.

"Kill us? Maybe. We're here to do that too," she said, turning to leave and anxiously jogging away. "Go. Hands open at your sides, that'll help."

He did as she instructed, after retrieving and checking his tablet to convince himself he knew the rest of the path. There was a lot of ground to cover; a kilometer and a half was never too intimidating in the wider hallways where plenty of people usually walked and there were enough things to look at, but now, in tighter quarters, he had far too much weighing on his mind as he made one turn after another to feel alright with it.

He didn't see anyone else for the rest of the trip. Nor were there many other signs of the odd little turf war, if that was even what it was. While he could hear further fighting, or at least loud, sharp sounds, from out of sight, there wasn't much to gather from them, especially if they were actually just coming from the local police. Taman found it hard to believe they'd kick up this much of a fuss and not expect to be punished.

⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯

By the time he was home, the noise had stopped and he felt safe enough to open the door into his Combined Living Center with an acceptable amount of confidence. Quite a few whole families' worth of people were up at this hour, but without much to go to or from right now, most were calm and still, talking and reading around the big tables in the central chamber or slowly trickling up to their private rooms to sleep. His arrival disturbed the peace somewhat, as people turned to wave hello, and then disturbed his own attempts to relax, when a familiar child ran up to him. "Oh! Jyeh, what's going on?" Taman said.

"Taman! You're back!" squealed Jyeh. The Venn boy was only eight: he stood maybe two-thirds Taman's height, and his face was still turning from the pink of youth into the more mature scarlet. "You were breaking down the ships too, right? Wanna talk about the ships? They told us about the Super-Leviathans, right, and they kept saying they needed to redo the whole lineup, but that's totally wrong, right? They're so cool! You know, the main gun —" he started belting off technical details in his context line now, some of which might've been accurate, but Taman couldn't parse the kid's grammar too well in his current state.

"You'll have to forgive him," said an elderly neighbor, as Taman was thinking about how to respond to such a burst of military hype from a kid, "he just came back from his own stay at the docks today. I thought they were making everyone in his class go there now... but this one's had a little too much passion for it."

"I... sorry," Taman said, "I'm not really in the mood for it all. I got a bit of a scare on the way home. Nobody told me there was fighting." It'd always been something he'd distantly heard on the news now and again as happening to other places — and a half-year at work not paying much attention to local politics put even that out of his mind.

"Oh. I... must've forgotten to get somebody to warn you. Ah, it's... spreading down here, too." The old man grumbled incoherently, then snapped back to rationale. "You know that's what happens, right, when you try to lock everyone down in jobs no one needs doing. Bullshit programs getting a little too bullshit for everyone, eh? And what's not bullshit?" Attached to his spoken context line was a wordier way to put 'beating the hell out of each other until you get caught and killed anyway'. "About as material as it gets."

"Well..." He didn't have much to say about the fights, and didn't want to anyway. "The election's in a few months, if you think the programs need fixing," replied Taman. He got a few laughs.
Last edited by Multiversal Venn-Copard on Fri May 06, 2022 10:32 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Postby Multiversal Venn-Copard » Sat Jan 22, 2022 1:14 am

Galactic Staging Area
(Contested, High Density) Universe R0-13-[...], Continuum A
X+44 d106



There was no such thing as a wholly standardized operation in Taho-Xhi, but the closest were those that were practically textbook and that everyone had nearly memorized — for example, a counter-stealth "fishing" mission for the benefit of a beleaguered minor state in the next universe over. The task this time fell to Team Miserable, a special-forces cell that had condensed out of some interested operatives a few weeks ago and fully intended on disbanding, as these groups usually did, as soon as possible after the campaign had wound down. The order of the day was to use seventh-tier spacecraft, to try to strike some semblance of a balance between subtlety and multiversal-grade capability — their adversary was indeed a low-end multiversal power with excellent and enormous slipspace-capable craft of their own, so having something appropriate to challenge them was worth excluding the small fraction of Team Miserable's operatives who hadn't earned certifications that high yet.

The locals, if any even had telescopes good enough to see the fifty-odd spacecraft jumping in at the edges of star systems and inside nebulae around the galaxy, would have had trouble concluding they were part of the same fleet — there were at least a dozen distinct philosophies represented in them. A white-varnished drone carrier crackling with blue flames came in on the opposite side of the galaxy as a rusty, oblate armored attack ship, while in between them dropped an innocuous little destroyer, daggerlike and grey with false window decorations to make it look no different from any of a billion other civilizations' designs. Whispered signals through Continuum 0 knitted them and all the other pairs and trios into a well-connected unit, but even improbably-advanced continuum eavesdroppers would have had a hard time getting anything out of their presence. Taho-Xhi's internal signals were encoded and obfuscated well beyond good purpose, especially given their actual contents.

[7] ⌷ ◇ ⪾ deadguyHow long did Boran and IOI say they needed?

[9] ⥨ ⪽ Official-Offal1-3 hrs, as of an hr ago. i can ask again, tell them the cmdr's mad.

[7] ⌷ ◇ ⪾ deadguyNo, I'm fine. We can wait more. Hell, maybe the traffic will clear up a bit further. It would be nice to have clear slips tonight after all that bullshit last week.

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensWhat's the matter, not a fan of digging through the wake from a dirty freighter

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensIt was just a few mpc of turbulent ~million-alpha slush, what got you bothered :^)

[7] ◅ ⌡ Phargery And EmbezilmentSounds like y'all had fun out there. Shame we missed out.

[8] ⛉ ⪾ PloomBfistMissed You A Bunch Too


On the dagger-ship, a gaudy-pink, spindly-limbed quadruped manned the controls at a surprisingly roomy crew station — given the ship's crew of two. Behind him, embedded into the wall, was a half-sphere of computronium, connected to acceleration cards and heat pipes like a tiny planet covered in oversized skyscrapers and transit tubes. As the em-splinter inside the sphere did the math needed to keep their vehicle's systems humming along, and chat messages from the fleet scrolled past on walls of light around the console, the creature squeaked happily.

"Looks good, Zil. Engines off, we're all calmed down. We'll just go and kick everything back on when the slackers get here, eh?"

"Right, right, of course," mumbled the em over the radio, almost drowning his words in unpolished static. "I don't miss having to deal with incompetents. The commander doesn't have to be this generous to them."

"Oh, stop it, they're fleetmates. We're back in the routine, just... y'know, joke around with everyone or run a sim mission or something while you're bored. Was a month of break time too much, maybe?" They whistled oddly. "Could've been shorter if we'd picked up some slack. Or just grabbed a missile barge from the safety budget — it's not like we had to burn all our credit on another AMM-class."

"It's not my fault. I don't want you to keep bringing this up as if something is wrong."

"You don't need to keep buying upgrades, y'know, you're more than set even if you wanted to run ninth tier. Put some credit into our pool, we could pick these things out twice as fast —"

The em raised his voice to cut them off. "I should be clearer. Do not mention this again. This has been the fourth time since our last deployment. I do not want to say any more, because it is obvious — these are mandatory mental health expenditures, and I am increasingly shocked by how carelessly our organization regards its members' needs."

There was silence in the crew station for a moment.

[7] ⏦ ⌡ warcrimer09Hey, what's the reason doctrine asks for cavity rounds on a fishing Tii Migi-class, anyway? It's not like I've ever touched mine.

[7] ⌷ ◇ ⪾ deadguyI'll have to check. I figure you'd be able to just pack more spammers instead next time, right?

[7] ⏦ ⌡ warcrimer09That was my thinking. It'd help if I could actually do anything to bother swirlies at all. Why even risk a fast battleship on the front line otherwise?

[7] ᙂ ᖋ zucumberi think, maybe~, it's because cavity rounds eat screening ships as they try to run, if somehow they escaped all the fishing while in realspace

[7] ᙂ ᖋ zucumberthough i'm probably wrong again...

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensNo, that's right

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensWe've been doing well so far, but if someone digs his way out of a nearby pulsar, let's say, you want to be able to cav him while he's still slow

[7] ⏦ ⌡ warcrimer09Ahhhh. That sounds pretty nice. I get it.

[8] ⧟ ⌡ EGREOGREhad some good laughs popping daljanian "stealth craft" that way in Bon's Mad Run last year --- I spent ten ships' worth on cavs but every one was worth it


"Alright. Here's my offer — we talk about this one last time, just so I can try to understand what's actually going on, and then I don't bring it up again." The creature tilted their head and awaited a reply, but felt the need to clarify. "Look, it really isn't obvious to me, and it probably isn't to most people — they wonder why we don't show up to these things more often. There's got to be a cheaper way to cover this, whatever it is."

Zil, not content to simply reply forcefully, opened a channel of pure static and only then tried speaking. His words were distorted by the language algorithm underlying them; it fell to his copilot to extract their proper meaning: "Pharae. I find it almost impossible to believe that you didn't come to the same conclusion as I did. I would have thought every Taho-Xhi operative, and everyone else in my position, is having this problem too. But perhaps that is my mistake — thinking others are much like myself, and failing to reason out why they manage to avoid spending as much on their issues. I will trust you this time."

There was an awkward silence. Pharae looked around; there wasn't much besides the mostly uninteresting console screens drawing their attention, but they felt the need to emphasize the pause. "Ah. You're waiting for a — alright, go for it." They waved one indiscernible limb.

Somehow, despite running a billion-odd brains' worth of intellect in this splinter alone, it took Zil another few seconds to start speaking after that. "To begin," he said, drenching his thoughts in the sonic fog that implied incredulity, "I have to assume people dilate further and further as they adjust their minds to handle it. I don't see why anyone who receives mental augments wouldn't try to get more experiences out of their time." He watched Pharae tilt their head side to side. "I'm not wrong on this point, no? Many of our fleetmates react and talk fast enough sometimes that it should be obvious."

"It's mostly true," agreed Pharae, "but, eh, it's not an iron law of transsophont minds, or anything. Like, you can tell some people simply don't get them. Sometimes people have one thread running really fast to pack in a ton of calculation time, and then another at real time so they can have fun being surprised at the same rate as everyone else. Or they pack augs but don't dilate because it's tedious, and they just react plenty fast enough for normal slipspace warfare. Or they don't even worry about speed augs, they just let their teammate do all the nanosecond nonsense and focus on tactics instead —" They made another gesture, this time backwards and then at themself.

"Already I realize I should have added a qualifier — once one commits to dilating, assumedly everyone expands their dilation at whatever rate they can properly integrate all of the experiences."

"Let's pretend that's true. What's your followup?"

"...the space of entertaining events is small for any one person, is it not? And once you add the hedonic treadmill, everyone who dilates far enough burns through everything of interest to them in moments — I know I did — until they can increase their capacity enough to expand the sphere of interesting activity."

"Right. I'm worried you might've lost me, so let me try: everyone ought to be cripplingly bored all the time because they get used to all of the entertainment they can dredge up." Pharae squeaked, amused, and took a step away from the console, turning around to face Zil's sphere and staring at one of the acceleration cards sprouting from it. "So you figure that people solve this by — right!"

"I'm glad we could end this conversation so soon," said Zil, suddenly perfectly monotone.

[7] ⌓ ⪽ IgansisTriad Gold EditionHeads up! That's an enemy signature.

[7] ⌓ ⪽ IgansisTriad Gold EditionWe're getting a swirly at... looks like 210-155-27G from here. Heading is pretty much perfectly tangential.

[7] ⌷ ◇ ⪾ deadguyYeah, I noticed that too. Better leave it alone. I think it's just on patrol, probably looking for some folks on our side.

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensWe'd see drones if he noticed us, he'd have to put in a lot more work to ID our guys

[7] ⌓ ⪽ IgansisTriad Gold EditionWe know that.

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensOkay

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensNot gonna stop me from commenting :)

[9] ⥨ ⪽ Official-Offalpremo says should be ok to shoot. if its still here at go time

[7] ⌷ ◇ ⪾ deadguyHell, why not. Might be worth blowing the sniper ships' ammo on.


The fleet communication display kept scrolling by as Pharae, contemplative, finally decided to continue prying. "I'm going to be clear with you, Zil: almost no one I know burns as much of their budget on upgrades as you, not until they've secured everything else, y'know. And I'm willing to bet it's because they see amusement a little differently."

"You don't mean to tell me that our fleetmates shut off their hedonic treadmills altogether." Zil's voice slid, one word at a time, back towards incredulity. "You understand why I haven't even considered this, or thought to speak to anyone about it. It's... self-defeating."

Pharae looked taken aback as Zil raised his emulated voice. They responded in kind, punctuating their words with more noises. "How do you even get that? What's the problem with saying 'oh, let's turn on the Fun Switch whenever I'm doing this activity I think is cool'? Some of these people have been here for megayears; if none of them tweaked their experiences just a little, I'd be shocked."

"If I did this, I would have no choice but to retreat into hedonium for every activity, all the time. Once one modification is acceptable for utilitarian ends, they must all be on the table. I do not think the cosmos needs any more Iknun."

"Alright. We've pinpointed the issue." Pharae exhaled proudly. "It's that you don't have the Taho-Xhi mindset. You're not quite... ready. Really, how long have you spent here? Forty years? And you burned through six tiers of qualification because you wanted the job you signed up for — with an arbitrary service length on the papers — to be less boring? That's a blink, compared to how long you need to get used to. You have to be prepared, y'know, to face down the cosmos and say 'alright, I'm done digging around for fun, I'm going to make it myself,' or..." They trailed off, stumped.

"I have to be irrational," said Zil matter-of-factly, as though Pharae had simply mispronounced the word. "You want me to stop caring."

"I want you to stop wasting the money you could be using on getting us new ships to practice with. Because you think that's fun, right?" Pharae waited for Zil to acknowledge them; they eventually got a digitized hum of acceptance. "And I think it's fun. And that's where the thinking stops. Any more thinking than that — of course you're setting yourself up to fail." They twitched. The weight of the conversation, veering towards that drowning influence neither wanted to name, would be hard to throw off. "How about this," they tried, "we call up fleet — hey, look, chat's stopped for a bit — and we ask them about ideas for little tweaks that eat boredom without... how do I put it... making you nervous about the whole thing. You're right, it's a common problem, but you're in Taho-Xhi; people are gonna have wacky solutions."

"I'm not sure I want to know," said Zil, but he didn't raise any objections as Pharae started composing a message.

[7] ◅ ⌡ Phargery And EmbezilmentHi all. Zil's been feeling down lately. Lot of heavy stuff on his mind, wireheading and novelty-burning and all that.

[7] ◅ ⌡ Phargery And EmbezilmentWe're curious about mental longevity — looking for aug suggestions and tricks from longer veterans than ourselves. Zil's of the mind that none of it is legit and he has to keep growing to cover the scrap of legal fun space.

[7] ◅ ⌡ Phargery And EmbezilmentI think I'm having trouble helping him because I'm just very easy to entertain.

[9] ⥨ ⪽ Official-Offalnot sure this is an ok convo to have rn

[7] ⌷ ◇ ⪾ deadguyLet them talk. We can pivot if something happens outside.

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensHey pharzil

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensOr just you, I guess

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensI get the problem, it's an old classic

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensThe no-thought approach is quite literally to scramble your experiential memory every few years, many ultravets just do that

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensIs he not cool with it


"Just the experiential memory?"

"Eh, yeah, it looks simple enough. I guess if someone decides to leave instinct alone and keep polishing their reflexes, a front-end wipe like that could help. You pretend every day's totally new... or every year, or every decade, however often you need... even though you keep getting better at handling it." Pharae gestured as if making an offer. "Sounds like it'd work well for an em. You can still build up a big repertoire of problem-solving skills. You just gotta keep forgetting you have them."

"That sounds..." There was a burst of frustrated crackling. "...disgusting. There's no other way I could try to express it. Life is about... building on oneself as a whole, on one's experience, becoming greater and more complex. I'm not expecting this conversation to get anywhere. They're not going to understand — and even to be charitable, they would not be able to help."

"You're welcome to jump into chat instead and try to make your case," offered Pharae. "We've both got the input."

Zil's silent refusal betrayed more than a hint of fear.

[7] ◅ ⌡ Phargery And EmbezilmentLet's say no.

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensIn this case the other main category of boredom cure is to not give a shit that you picked something ridiculous to keep yourself busy with

[8] ⧟ ⌡ EGREOGREwe call this having a gimmick

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensI was thinking more generally, but sure

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensSee, on the one hand you have people who, not wanting to let their activity define themself, just sideline its relevance in their psyche

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensAnd then they bump up reward from that one thing while the rest of their consciousness does normal stuff

[8] ⧟ ⌡ EGREOGREtake a wild guess what the most common choice is


"Well, now I just feel bad for them," said Zil, with a hint of depressed laughter behind his words. "They hate their job so much they make themselves want to do it. They happily give up everything else that might please them."

Pharae whistle-sighed. "I think you're looking at this way too meta. They do stuff they like, and focus on it, and then they keep themselves focused. None of this says they can't explore on their own time. There's no hard choice between digging madly through whatever ought to be fun and shackling yourself to something you'd otherwise hate. You signed up because you wanted to blow stuff up, right? That's all you need. See, look, Ens's got the same point."

[7] ◅ ⌡ Phargery And EmbezilmentZil's take, as far as I know (he's not keen on talking to you right now) is that it's pointless doing this with one thing instead of exploring to find everything within natural funspace. And obviously expanding that is risky because why do anything but wirehead?

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensYou stop asking this question real fast when you lie back and appreciate spaceships :^)

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensIt's... yes, okay, a little atypical for the usual modosophont

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensBut then you sit back up in your chair and get to work and you can keep functioning as a person while amusing yourself

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensAnd the less you think about optimizing your cognition for perfect bliss the better

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensAnyway the other way to commit to not caring is to, as ogre said, build a personality gimmick

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensTake zooks for example

[7] ᙂ ᖋ zucumberoh no

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensShe gives herself an incurable inferiority complex and an explosive anxiety disorder despite being probably the oldest person here

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensFor ages and ages she's been a huge pathetic loser and loves every second of it, trying to be professional but collapsing into shy-girl lowercase and tildes in chat, never gathering up courage for committing to train for tier eight

[7] ᙂ ᖋ zucumberyou don't really have to call me this stuff in public... i know you already do it in private constantly

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensNo I can't blame you lmao

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensYou get a fuckton of leverage out of it, it's hilarious

[9] ⚹ ⌡ 2ensAnd in terms of gimmick people, I count too, do you think I could keep up this persona for a hundred thousand years without trimming boredom out a bit and locking it down

[7] ◅ ⌡ Phargery And EmbezilmentI'm not doubting there are practical advantages to turning yourself into a fundamentally static person. I'd just like to make it clear that Zil doesn't want that. He's the sort who'd rather, you know, keep growing until he's covered everything new, and then start worrying.

[7] ⌷ ◇ ⪾ deadguyUnfortunately the cosmos doesn't really permit that. We've got limited stuff and limited time. And, well, I'm sure he knows the other part of the risk.

[7] ◅ ⌡ Phargery And EmbezilmentYeah, he knows pretty well.


"So that's it." Pharae looked down at the console, if only because looking at Zil was, in the end, pointless. "I don't know how to help you any more if you're not ready to be there with people. We could... I don't know, we could pull someone aside and talk to them together. I want to get you help, I just..."

Zil's words came out clearer and slower. "You've done perfectly well, Pharae. I understand. And I'd like to thank you." He looked at the fleet comms, which had already shifted to some unrelated argument about sea creatures. "Taho-Xhi is... I saw it as a place to grow. But I think their meaning of the word, if they even have one, simply can't accommodate mine. I don't want to come across as self-superior now — it's just frustrating."

"It's a team where you sign up to fight spaceships," offered Pharae, sensing doubt. "They've got augs and money to keep yourself up to speed, but that's what you signed up for, so either you get cool with doing that, or you leave. And — look, Zil, there's nothing wrong with leaving. People do it all the time. That's what the volunteer thing is about."

A whole minute passed before any more machine-compressed words flooded the radio. Both knew what the other was thinking.

"It would be for my own good to leave. And for theirs." Zil thought for a moment and then tacked on an addendum. "So I will."

"...You've been a good friend. I'll miss you a lot." Pharae reluctantly turned around to look at the sphere. "You can disconnect now, if you want, file your papers, if this is all weighing on you too much."

"It is," admitted the em, tenuously.

"But I'd appreciate if you stayed, just for one last mission. It'd... it'd mean a lot to me."

Zil calmly beeped. "I think this is fair."

He started typing into fleet comms.
Last edited by Multiversal Venn-Copard on Fri May 06, 2022 10:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Multiversal Venn-Copard
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Founded: Nov 03, 2015
Democratic Socialists

Postby Multiversal Venn-Copard » Sat Jan 22, 2022 1:18 am

Multiple Locations
(ex-Isyani) Universe R0-0-1 308 108 129 974, Continuum A
X+47 d10



"Oh — how do you even start thinking about something... like this...?"

An untrained eye might not have registered anything was wrong with the foamy sea of cosmology that filled the bridge's main display — barring a few odd slices in the universe here and there where, according to records, megastructures used to be. It was painfully obvious, on the other hand, that the overlay indicating the locations of recent communications betrayed something much worse. The map looked as if it'd been struck by a volley of bullets. Where the Isyani Confederation once filled whole galactic superclusters and filaments, its sweeping extent was now more hole than substance, regions present or absent practically at random. If the blackout readings could be trusted, the disappearances hadn't hewn close to political boundaries, or even astronomical ones. In one place, half a galaxy reported in where the other half had utterly perished, leaving barren planets around untouched stars. A gigaparsec away, a planet called in to count just a sixteenth of its server farms having faded into nothing.

"Listen up — we're dropping out in five. I want everyone ready to get those transports out the moment we're in realspace again." The ship's captain made a gesture of understanding to their confused subordinate at her console. "You don't start thinking. You do your job. You don't waste your energy to mourn a hundred more than ten. And a hundred million's no different."

There was work to do. Direct-level comms buzzed with the nervous, desperate chatter of a thousand humanitarian fleets from a thousand civilizations and species, urgently rallied by their alliance chains or simply storming in of their own accord. With their earpieces set to tune in to the highest-priority messages, most of the crew were listening only to the Yunat directors trying to handle traffic and spread the efforts of disparate groups apart. Even with five days to mobilize the whole cluster, the workers who'd arrived were stretched too thin.

The rest of the crew were busy at their stations, but the captain took a moment to follow up. "I don't want you thinking that you need to distract yourself. It's important work. I can't tell you a life isn't worth being afraid for. Just... don't let the number get to you."

The number had thirty-five digits.

⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯

The salvager was small — most considered one hundred meters well below ideal for interuniversal trips — and its slipspace tunnel was weak and quiet, only barely squeezing it through the rushed, unfinished blockades around the hundred-parsec-wide cloud of shrapnel and rapidly-decaying black holes that had once been a solid shell bearing lush city-dotted land and engineering space. Fine maneuvering through the debris, sadly, required slowing down, so for minutes after sneaking past the distracted guards, the ship had brought itself down to ever-lower multiples of c, dodging chunks that still kept their hyperdensity and phasing more-or-less cleanly through everything else on the way to the juiciest-looking target.

Finding anything worth the time and risk at all had been a challenge for the crew, no matter how effective their active radar was at closer and closer range. The star-system-dwarfing banks of computers, of course — by far the most valuable salvage on a typical megastructure wreck — had gone all at once with the incident, leaving only vacuum. Gravity control and reinforcement had disappeared too, and with them the remaining bulkheads and plates of the shell had little to do but collapse, sputtering every handful of square meters until microscale black holes tore them apart and were in turn silenced. What the salvager finally locked on to, and approached at now only a few kilolights, was a slowly-tumbling bay for shuttles that looked almost untouched by the disturbance despite, if its velocity was at all a reliable indicator, having been right where the ground used to be.

The crew had little time to think about how the oddly-placed structure might not have matched their notes on what Isyani technology looked like before the slipspace in front of them, dialed to an alpha in the trillions in an instant, whipped itself into an impenetrable soup and dragged the ship to an uncomfortable near-halt inside its own tunnel. When the disruptor rounds streamed in, few stayed conscious for long.

⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯

"They could have been more proactive, you understand," dripped the voice of a gas-bag diplomat in a dark room. Incoherent voices drifted in and out of perception in the far distance, the echoes of conversations elsewhere in the remote assembly broadcast through space. "An 'urgent letter' from their representatives, some timid commentary from a retired military analyst... this is all our guardian-states felt they needed. They could have simply taken control over the proceedings, as they did two cycles ago, and every cycle before."

The reply came from nowhere in particular, though the one present knew its source, in its nation's capital. "The VCMR is in a crisis, deadlocked for decades — do you think they would be ready to host once more with their level of preparation? The Yunat — thoroughly occupied — told the Pact everything we needed to know, and our allies simply ignored it. It was their fault in mistaking the traditions for an elder's ramblings — our region's great powers knew very well how we ought to have held the exercise."

"Come now," scoffed another in the assembly. "Let's not leap to calling our fellow Pact members incompetent. It was an obvious conclusion, given the threat we now face, that we should prepare to confront it on the battlefield. That the usual hosts wanted us to go for each others' throats again — and in our first exercise as a Pact, no less! — and were ignored is no surprise. It was a mistake, yes, but not an inexcusable one."

The voice from the capital responded. "And most of a universe now lies dead, its ships and factories missing, its systems wiped scattershot of intelligence, by a force we know all too well. The force, indeed. This mistake was inexcusable. The urge to self-preserve must rightfully override any alliance, any Pact, when it comes time to decide. We cannot trust this union to lead us to success."

Sporadic murmurs of dissent from the assembly swelled into a frothing chorus.

⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯

The planet was one of many in its position: its infrastructure had vanished in patches, leaving a restless and unfed populace to navigate the torn-out streets and haphazardly deleted buildings. They swamped the now-dirt paths in waves now, so consistently that there was never time for the aid cruisers and the ramshackle teams of volunteers and alien soldiers to part their numbers and lay down safer routes through broken cities.

There was something to be said for the organizational commitment of the Isyani people, even given the knowledge that their way of life had crumbled around them. Once the messages had gotten through, they'd finally grouped up into lines and circles, awaiting rations from cargo ships' overworked crews and setting up camps for themselves. Each city block had focused on something different — some held medical centers, some had crude transportation hubs, and others had simply been stocked by the aid teams with computers and media. Nonetheless, many were not content. An Isyani woman, separated from the crowd to interrogate an alien worker opening crates, had spent the last few minutes screaming until she could learn what was happening.

"It's not true! It's not fucking true! Those were my sons on those ships, my daughters in the bureau, but it didn't get me? I raised them! If there's anyone close enough to them for your demon-worm to jump to, it'd be me who'd go with them —"

"Please, remain calm," said the alien, its face inscrutable behind a glowing mask, its voice coming out placid and ill-formed through its translator. "The mechanism responsible for the Combined Training Exercise incident is complex, and its interactions with social structures are not well understood. Are you well-fed today? Are you adequately occupied with visual and cognitive exercises? Please —" it repeated, as if robotic, "— remain calm. Complementary entertainment is available at the station straddling Streets 6-West and 7-South."

"I don't want to play your damn video games! I want to know why! Why would it do this if it's your bullshit 'memetic' problem, huh?"

The alien shook its head. "Please, remain calm. The situation is under control, but successful short-term containment relies on your cooperation." As if to emphasize its point in the most awkward way imaginable, it eerily glared over at a circle of Isyani who were in the midst of a heated conversation. If it conveyed any emotion successfully at all, it was disgust with their conduct.

"It's a fucking coverup, isn't it, you mindless goons? There's been a coup, or an invasion, and here you are, pretending you have to use this pathetic excuse we've all heard stories about over, and over, and over." She reached out and grabbed two of its arms, making it screech and spin its head around to alert its better-equipped kin. "But guess what, psychopaths, we're all sick of it. There's no fucking 'memetic' problem here! There's just a bunch of flimsy lies."

"Please," repeated the alien once more, but this time putting an entirely different stress on the words, as another pulled an odd tool from a pouch resting on its featureless, textureless body. "Remain calm." She was about to yell something else when the new stranger's device flashed and dropped her to the ground, limp but occasionally twitching.

The two workers exchanged eyeless glances. The one that had been grabbed made a confused gesture. After a moment, they calmly paced to opposite sides of the unconscious Isyani and carted her away from the rest.

⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯

The clear-skinned diplomat noticed how much anticipation the alien chieftain was letting show as she approached him in the local greeting pose. Around him, his warriors — three-meter hairy mammalians with spears sporting brand-new microlithic edges — paced around, trying not to disturb the activities of their own village but clearly just as anxious as their leader. She pondered to herself why the Grand Council of Five Systems had thought it wise, all those years ago, to invite the slowly-uplifting primitives to a wargame beyond even its own comprehension, much less that of people who barely knew that the lights overhead were other worlds.

"It is another great honor to meet a dark-sky messenger. These are times of plenty, and your work has brought us to greatness," boomed the chieftain when she came to a halt, rattling her translation device with fresh meaning that hadn't been there for the contact last year. "Tell me. We have waited five generations. It is the time your people have told us is due. Is the great game of our elders to begin?" On cue, his men cheered.

"I bring grave news," said the diplomat, quickly switching to the pose for deference. Stretching fatigued her old body, but offending this planet's rightful occupants was a fool's errand. "The game began as planned, but there was an accident. Disaster claimed a host of our friends. It's been called off." She breathed to steady herself and reminded herself of the Grand Council's plan. "We will need time to prepare a replacement game. Forgive us. Even we are fallible."

"I know that." He gestured with understanding, then let melancholy spread to his face. Some of the men around him settled down, muttering to each other; one stepped up to his ear and timidly asked a question. "Do tell," the chieftain continued, "could you share what befell them? Is there anything to do to aid a dark-sky friend?" A flurry of agreements echoed from the spearmen.

"I'm afraid the problem is beyond our responsibility, even if we could face it together. Your concern," she said, trying to think about what some stone-agers could even do in a faroff universe cluttered with aid teams, "is shared by many of them, though, and for that we are grateful."

"It's a shame." He looked up at the evening sky and then glided his eyes down, perhaps — she figured — thinking of the landing ships that took his people to the exercise long ago. A faint smile crept across his face. "The elders told us stories of how wondrous the game was... no, how fun. People against people in a pure test of skill. Birds that threw world-shaking suns against those who ate rock and let the darkness guide them... our elders storming a tower and giving the scrawny men the fright of their lives... they told us of so many good days." He shook his head to clear his thoughts when another spearman asked him a second question. "Ah. Fair. What... what stopped us from joining the game earlier?"

"The last game," she tried to explain, "was..." Her thoughts slipped away and into the history books. Before the Pact, it was bedlam. Thousands of teams, countless people misassigned — allies against allies and mortal enemies forced to cooperate. Friendly fire — or "valid" fire with more-than-simulated weapons — took out quite a few combatants. And the organizers, those twin god-races of Venn and Copard, had somehow called it a miraculous success. "I'm so sorry," she stammered. "It was meant so that anyone could train, and find someone good to train against. But this game was different — everyone had to work together. Out in the stars, they're worried about a new enemy, one that can't be fought well with spears or even on a world at all. None of us figured you could do anything. They saw no point in letting us invite you. It was our fault we didn't relay the message soon enough."

"And you are telling the others here?"

"Certainly."

"Then we are done." He ended his sentence firmly and glared at her. "Do return if something happens that concerns us. We were hoping for fun. If you have nothing else to give or take, our time here has yielded all it ever will."

She stopped herself from speaking for a moment just to look at the assembled spearmen, most of whom were now nervously glancing to each other and away, presumably towards things they might otherwise be doing. They had taken this all in stride for people who surely didn't really know what was going on. But their ancestors had been welcomed nonetheless. Perhaps no one ever really did, last time.

She bade farewell.

⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯

[9] × ⊥ ⪽ caos curninglmao. news still screeching about how right we were. pacties going crazy. who'd've guessed sharing everything was not a smart idea???

[6] ⪦ ⪽ Al Ill OlllBombing everyone there was an even better PR move than I'd thought. ASI-tier play from the admirals, honestly.

[6] ⪦ ⪽ Al Ill OlllWe were trying to warn you, dipshits! How were we the only ones who tried to warn you?
Last edited by Multiversal Venn-Copard on Fri May 06, 2022 10:32 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Democratic Socialists

Postby Multiversal Venn-Copard » Fri Jan 28, 2022 8:22 pm

Soras-Omnon Galaxy
(Contested, Low Density) Universe R0-525-897 197 029 963, Continuum A
X+55 d220



The first and only sign the people of the Scoci system's watery planet would have of the skirmish would be, in about sixteen hours' time, a gamma-ray flash lighting up their lone low-orbit probe's spectrometer. At the edge of their system, where a forty-meter tetrahedral drone had sat calmly for the past few minutes, firm reality hiccuped where it met the dubious underpass of a slipspace tunnel. A dart of hyperdense metal ended its flight path there, carefully aimed to pierce its target's fragile core from the very gap between realspace and the cylinder of temporary position along the way. It compressed lengthwise into a jagged ring of exotic particles and radiation in too few microseconds to be relevant, taking everything as it went. From the inside, the drone's hull and armor gave way and contributed a dusty torus of plasma to the wave, its whole body flicking out in nanometer dots of interrupted mass like wet paint at c-fractional. Newly-released gamma rays Compton scattered off anything that held a charge, flooding out from what would have been a wide-angled disc into a near-sphere before their paths were free and they could do what light did best in three dimensions.

The VCMR knew the Dualism's plan — the paired minds had grown fond of leaving just one ship in realspace, where active sensors would pick it up easily, and baiting in a shot before letting the other ships in the area respond. But to the unusually lone First-Scale Support Craft, Artillery — not that the older officers didn't still say "frigate" — streaking in at a gun-run combat-standard fifty teralights towards the spiral galaxy, this was bait worth taking. The gleaming-white, boxy ship riding a ring of blue light behind it had seen ten or fifteen foes in the area without getting a lock on any. Adding one sure kill just made sure its crew would have to worry about one fewer.

The Venn and Copard at their control stations had lined up the gun run from the edge of the supercluster to give themselves time to confirm all the calculations, but told their sharp AI to only let the shot loose when, finally at a perfect range, they were ten kiloparsecs and twenty milliseconds from crossing through the galaxy face-on. Even with so little warning given to the Dualism, though, the sharp was already at work alerting them to the enemy response before they finished the dive. As, anticipating a brawl, it switched to passive radar to get a better view of enemy slipspace tunnels, it counted thirteen signatures scattered around the galactic arm of interest flooring their accelerators and exponentially screaming to combat velocity. Twelve, converging, were about the right size to contain drones like the frigate's first victim; the other, departing, was larger, and far more worryingly budding off new jets of dialed-up space, spraying them like bullets that inflated to system and then nebular size, to churn up the void behind it.

The bubbles glommed together and slowed to a relative crawl, filling the space within and below the arm with an interdiction zone that would press against friend and foe alike. The frigate, completely uncontrollable at such a timescale, rammed into the mass from the side. Where a Continuum 0 newcomer might have lost their metaphorical footing as slipspace shifted from near-frictionless to comparatively sticky and tunnel-proof, it kept plowing on at a speed which was suddenly about three orders of magnitude slower. Thinking at seconds rather than milliseconds as their crash-dive through the galactic disc continued, the crew had a chance to handle the controls — finely enough, at least, to adjust the tunnel. It made a half-circle turn, heading for the same edge it'd crossed on the way in, while throwing a dense ring of counter-drones around itself in tiny tunnels of their own to escape.

Calling its adversaries specks on the horizon would have been an understatement by astronomical proportions, but to the radar they were becoming as clear as onrushing predators — despite each being an eighth the length of their quarry. From twelve drones came twelve wild hails of slipspace spheres, too fast to be seen or avoided, each little hole bearing an explosive wave packet. Without long to aim, and with their target making a first-derivative turn already, the drones' shots went wide by millions of kilometers, hitting the ends of their flight paths instants later and spilling uselessly into the galactic halo kiloparsecs away. Meanwhile, the interdiction zone chased the frigate as it went; its generator-bearing ship had also made a tight turn, spiraling up around the galaxy to keep itself locked on and in range. In response, the VCMR ship added a second derivative to its trajectory — someone aboard punched in some numbers for a shallow triangle wave, and now three times a second it zigzagged even as it kept moving along its arc. For one crucial heartbeat, the Dualism's rounds missed by AU; then, the barrages began to converge again, prompting the crew to stop the triangles and attempt to throw the shots off again by going straight.

The string of feints could never end, not with more and more of the AI pursuers closing through the interdiction into optimal range. While all signs showed the frigate was on its way out, in fact leaving the zone would mean too much of a delay in getting shots on target through two different speed regimes. Instead, the VCMR ship fired up its control thrusters' tiny luminous rings, swerved starboard, and then hooked sharply to port, throwing its whole body around almost half a turn as it prepared a tunnel that began a galactic-arm-sized circle all the way around the pack of Dualism drones. It drifted sideways for just a moment through the thickened but still slick spacetime, taking the opportunity to hose them down with cones of active tachyon radar and rack up target locks.

As it swung back into place to continue flying in its wide circle parallel to the galaxy's plane, one gun with a good lock and an on-the-button operator let out a volley. Where one dart came out at the start of the engagement, what emerged now were hundreds upon hundreds, vibrating slipspace with an electric staccato as a long string of bubbles carried the deadly needles to their destination. The drone made an oddly skewed double-diagonal and dived, spearing through the galactic disc in an instant even through the interdiction. The fusillade of macrosteel spikes, aimed only well enough to ensure they stayed sealed tight for a few hundred kiloparsecs, eventually skipped off their own bubbles like stones and dissolved somewhere outside the halo. The Dualism's evasive command still couldn't save its ship: three more streams came in from VCMR guns that had linked up their firing solutions, converging against the distant speck in a triangle and finally landing a round onto it at some obscene number of petalights. Passive radar picked up nothing more than the enemy slipspace tunnel simply ceasing to exist with a flash, the small trailing portion fading within a handful of CPU clock cycles. Clean kill.

The Dualism's attempts to reply with its pack — they'd had to group up on one side of the wildly swerving VCMR spacecraft, dipping in and out of the galaxy as they flew — were short-lived. At long last, the squad of drones that the frigate had thrown clear of the interdiction had made galaxy-sized loops, lined up their own attack runs, and came shooting back, entering the zone and slowing to a still respectable two hundred gigalights. With their shorter ranges, despite the reduced speed, each only had one chance for a gun run of its own, these ones taking the form of fine-tuned shotgun blasts of macrosteel flechettes, belching forth by the dozens. The enemy drones had enough time for one evasive maneuver apiece; most cleared them from their assailants' kinetic sprays. One less-fortunate tetrahedron, struck from the side with a collapsing round that pancaked against its armor and slammed it violently to the side, hit the other side of its slipspace tunnel and found itself dashed against relativistic reality, turning into a spray of fast-decaying particles and photons like all of the projectiles that both sides had pelted each other with so far.

In the end, the more relevant consequence of the close-range suicide mission was its indirect one. Already stuck between maneuvers for a tenth of a second, the VCMR drones — some passing within mere parsecs of the Dualism's combatants — were easy targets for carefully-timed return fire. With all the hypervelocity precision of hitting one atom with another from countless miles away, most of the enemy drones landed their first hits, taking a half-dozen VCMR drones out of the picture. In the moment of distraction, though, with their gun turrets turned away to counter the reckless attackers, they had exposed themselves to a further tachyon-beam sweep from the frigate and a full, angry broadside from all fifty-two guns. Space knotted up around the frigate, carrying streams of mass from inside and hurling them into the fray like javelins. The streams, fanning out through the void and closing the distance with no more warning than lasers would at another scale, oscillated between targets to split their fire as it became convenient but nonetheless kept a steady sandblast of munitions against them all.

Two more drones were down with little fuss before the rest could again adjust their arcs to evade and begin their counterattack, corkscrewing around stars and nebulae as they lunged faster than before to close the distance further. Another, with half its frame blown out by a near-miss that scattered debris into its tunnel, lost its traction and crashed — pushed too hard by its engine and jets through the slushy interdiction zone, it simply swung an arcsecond out of alignment for an instant too long and disintegrated into physical incompatibility. The rest secured their locks again as the chase exited the galaxy. The frigate fishtailed in a great sine wave, but the Dualism's quick predictive routines weren't fooled this time. One of a thousand-odd wave packets from the return volley finally splashed through the VCMR ship's tunnel.

The seven remaining drones noted a series of tiny flashes trailing the ship, detonating against the side of its tunnel. But it kept moving. So they kept firing.


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A vibration came through the CIC in just one sharp shock — the speed of sound in gravity-gridded plating and bulkheads was unthinkable. What took a second to start up, though, was the full damage assessment, not least because a Venn crewman strapped into his seat had to force down the contents of his stomach before thumping his console and configuring the computer's output. F-prime's screens were all still up, as they ought to have been, but particle beads and wavefunctions needed time to trickle their way back into the damage column and restore the hole to full strength. Worse yet, a chunk of rear plating had fractured and burst apart, scattering dust back against the tunnel and exposing a rack of damaged internal guns.

"All good," came the announcement from the captain, a Copard squatting in the midst of the two-decked but still cramped room. "Restart the evasion routines... let's just keep them guessing."

There were downsides to punching in orders oneself as thousands of shots kept hurtling past, some missing by only kilometers. The Dualism could dream up whole outcomes and plan out whole firing patterns in the time it took to hit a button or move a dial. But slipspace was the great equalizer, and its attacks mercifully kept missing.

The captain spoke fast. Everyone had to under these conditions. "New plan. Low-ramp turn, spook the 'dictor — one round — then we'll mop up." Every word meant more people typing again; the shock had to wear off fast, too. "Think this was long enough to draw 'em in."


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The frigate, having just started and stopped its drunken walk, began a one-eighty turn back towards the galaxy's core. Obediently, the distant enemy interdictor kept swinging its locked-down zone like a net to keep the frigate's speed in gigalights rather than teralights, but now it made evasive maneuvers of its own, correctly anticipating a surprise attack from the brute-force extended range of one of the VCMR guns. It was a risky move on the organics' part; drawing boring power from the other turrets meant the VCMR crew were sacrificing the ability to hit the pursuing drones from afar. But the Dualism, seeing no need to be quite so suicidal with its assets this late in the engagement, yanked them out in hairpin turns just before they closed into what it again correctly reckoned was the frigate's temporary, reduced maximum range.

No sooner were they looping around again and retraining their guns — in the meantime, the VCMR ship had suddenly slowed down an order of magnitude and sped up again to throw off further shots — than it had chased them far enough to enter broadside range. The feint had been only temporary — the interdictor was off the menu, and the drones at mid-range were back on. Again the guns opened up, slinging another buzzing barrage downrange, and a ring of tunnel-concealed explosions encircled the galaxy as the turret operators found their marks for good. The VCMR drones came speeding back, too — while many of their number were still lost every moment to drawn-off gunfire, enough remained that they could close spheres around the remaining enemies.

The explosions died down. One staggered tetrahedron veered out of its old flight path at a clever angle to fool the gunners, but with its allies wrecked it stood little chance against a full firing pattern.

Only the interdictor remained. It kept up its lazy spiral while jinking now and then to disrupt extended-range targeting math — not that much of it was necessary. Shooting out of an interdiction zone already put stress on weapon algorithms; bubbles for bullets needed to pass from one regime to another without straying too far from the round they contained, and "too far" in this case was meters at a cosmic scale where the margin of error made that shorter than almost any computer clock could run. A handful of the frigate's far-lobbed shots simply missed the juncture and collided against their pockets, while the others had been jostled enough that they missed by whole parsecs.

The interdictor kept skating along until, alerted, it made an arc and dove beneath the galactic disc at a speed far higher than it'd been maintaining recently. But the maneuver had failed it. Speared from a safe spot outside the interdiction by a round from afar — and then passed by a slipspace tunnel as instant as a lightning bolt — it burst into particles with all the finality and force of its smaller kin.


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F-one's icon streaked past on the strategic map at a combat-maximum two hundred teralights, traversing the space under the galaxy fast enough that most of F-prime's crew barely registered how close to the Dualism interdictor it had passed on its gun run before it was already exiting the local galaxy cluster. Some, in fact, recognized the interdiction alpha dropping back down to one long before they noticed why.

"Alright. Too long." Fleet comms projected the sharp, almost metallic voice of a Venn captain whose linguistic tone line carried nothing but disgust. "We're getting you out. Two sup-arts is a big deal for them, but this was getting tedious. Recall drones and dive, sector six. Let's get the fleet ready."

With signatures already trickling into radar range from the newly alerted Dualism occupation force above the supercluster — some an awful lot larger than the dozen vaporized drones — nobody on F-prime had to think twice. The mission had been to stir up a response. Rejoining the fangs of the trap made much more sense than staying the bait forever. Sophonts always had to keep on their feet.
Last edited by Multiversal Venn-Copard on Fri May 06, 2022 10:32 pm, edited 3 times in total.


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