Story Submissions for Art Challenge 4

Fantastic opening for the competition! :smile:

Really enjoyed reading this. It reminded me of several themes from the old lore I had already forgotten. (Seriously… doesn’t anyone have a copy of it anywhere?)

It is surprising how much you can fit into 2000 words.

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The timeline? I downloaded it for reference I-don’t-even-remember-when. Here:

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Great! Thanks. I will add the link in the OP of the challenge.

Oh and by the way. Lets keep submissiond in one post only. If you need to make edits then make them in the same old post before the deadline. I will collect the links to each post before we start voting.

I wrote this for the contest, but the story grew to over 3600 words, so it’s far too long. However, I’m not going to cut it down to 2500 words, so enjoy it as it is. Or not. I wish I could get the two short stories I wrote for the old forums…

Duty Unto the End

Jace struggled to regain the sense of awareness that the hammerblow of the enemy round had robbed from him. He lay sprawled in a hallway, though his senses reached no farther than the excruciating pain in his side. He touched the injury, which instantly rewarded him with agony; a jagged shard had pierced his body and remained protruding, a grinding torment that consumed his still-muddled senses.

Get it out.

He gripped the shard, slippery to the touch, and pulled sharply. He screamed at the pain, his eyes flying open and the world suddenly snapping into crystalline focus. The pain began to slowly dull to mere misery as his body adjusted.

Stop the pain.

He gingerly rolled over enough to reach his belt medical kit and tried to think about treatment. Red for bleeding. He heard the hiss of activation. Blue for pain. Another hiss, and he began to recognize his environment – and his condition.

What happened?

Grimacing, he got an elbow under him and looked around. He was briefly distracted as he saw his wound and the volume of blood that had splattered his crew suit. Reflexively, he lay a hand across the wound, then held his palm up to see his blood. Jace’s confusion start to give way to anger as he remembered his situation.

The Monkaten Protectorate had hit their outpost, and Jace’s captain had dutifully risen to engage them with their lone corvette, the Triggerhappy. But the Monkeys had them at a three to one disadvantage, so the captain had tried to draw them away from the outpost while signaling for help. The captain’s ploy had worked until their enemy had battered the Trigger to the point where a single enemy corvette had the clear upper hand. That was the last of the encounter that Jace could recall. He wasn’t sure why he was away from his gunnery station, but he needed to get back to it.

Then he realized that there was no shooting. He froze, listening, sensing. No, the drive was still running. He had gravity. He could feel the thrum of the engines. But all else was quiet.

Jace struggled to his feet, taking measure of his body’s ability to answer his commands. He was sore and stiff and the meds he’d taken didn’t leave him particularly spry, but he could get around. And he could damn well still pull a trigger.

He realized that he was in A Corridor, the central hallway connecting the forward ship compartments. Looking in each direction along the passageway, he saw that he had left a trail of blood and that it led from the bridge.

Right. Intercoms were down. Reported to the captain. Explosion. Crap, gotta get back to gunnery.

Then he held his hand to his side and again looked at the blood on his palm. Very little was flowing now.

The bridge was hit. Captain!

He hammered his palm at a wall intercom panel, hoping to raise the bridge, then realized that internal ship communication was still down. Bracing himself against the wall, he staggered towards the bridge, struggling to push through furniture and other detritus scattered across his path, but stopped short. The emergency curtain that deployed to create an airtight seam blocked access to the bridge, and that was a very bad sign. There was no air on the far side; the bridge was open to space.

Oh Lord. The Captain. Mister Leveque.

He continued, but as he closed the distance, he could see through the glassy drape the wreckage that lay beyond. Worn by his exertions, he rested against the tough fabric and looked at the remains of what had been the ship’s command center. For remains there were, and only that. The room was hardly recognizable, and stars were visible through broad tears in the hull. He focused his attention on the openings, looking for signs of enemies.

Wait. Think. Nobody is shooting. Did we escape?

A ship on warp gives no sense of motion, so Jace had no idea if the ship was parked near a moon or racing across the system at multiples of the speed of light. Even the view into the blackness of space could provide him with no clues.

Frustrated, Jace took a last look at the shattered bridge and began his trip back through A Corridor to get to the gunnery and engineering sections. They had a drive, so he hoped that at least Ashanta would be alive.

Gunnery was first, and Jace was unsurprised to find that it too had lost air. As with the bridge, the emergency systems had deployed in time to keep Corridor A airtight. He immediately spotted Bream’s mangled body lying in gun mount C. Jace hung his head and swore softly to himself, not sure he could keep standing. Forcing himself to look into gunnery again, he could see no sign of Jigger or Sergeant Korpor. Or the ceiling. The entire roof of the section was gone.

Jace looked across the room at the end of B Corridor, leading to engineering. Madly, the emergency seals had fired, closing off the corridor, but the damage to the top of the gunnery section extended into the corridor and the systems stopped the loss of air into the adjacent compartment only to see it lost directly into space through the ceiling. Jace glanced up at the ceiling above him and saw that the damage to the gunnery compartment had reached within a few centimeters of the seal on his corridor. He quietly exhaled a whistle.

Jace’s gun mount, D Mount, was thoroughly wrecked, as was A Mount, next to it. On the opposite side, B Mount looked okay. C Mount had taken a couple of direct hits, and the barrel pointed out at a crazy angle. In any case, Jace had no intention of going near Bream’s body, which was trapped in the remnants of the gunnery cupola, largely sheared away from the carriage by the violence of the enemy rounds.

Poor Bream. He couldn’t hit the floor if he fell out of a chair, but that boy was as loyal and hard-working as they come. And there he was, still at his station when everyone else was gone.

He tried to think beyond the loss of the bridge and gunnery sections.

Well, the at least the head is intact.

Engineering was his next destination, but that involved getting through the tough emergency seals. Once broken, the air in his section of the ship would evacuate, so he needed to locate and install an emergency airlock. They were a variation of the emergency seals that contained a small circular doorway. It took two trips to the media room to retrieve them, but he fired first one, then the other, perhaps a meter apart, creating a pair of curtained walls in the corridor.

Jace struggled through the first airlock doorway, then closed it. Then he made it through the second doorway and closed that. He was then in the small space between the second doorway and the emergency seal that closed off the gunnery section. Hard vacuum was on the other side of that seal.

Jace sat on the floor and paused, breathing the air that was remaining in his small space, and getting a little strength back. He didn’t know how difficult his time in engineering would be and he wanted to build what reserves of strength he could. He closed his eyes and set his head against the wall, making best use of air that was soon to be lost.

Then he opened his eyes, and swore at what he saw. That one enemy corvette was still out there, clear as day, slowly approaching.

At that moment, Jace discovered a real sense of urgency. The Monkey corvette was badly mangled. It wasn’t firing as it approached and it sure wasn’t leaving. The Monkeys obviously wanted salvage, and they weren’t going to tolerate any survivors when getting it. Jace had to find anyone who was still alive and get the ship out of there. Ashanta would be able to get the job done. She was probably back there right now, three steps ahead of him, throwing together some kind of weird control system for the warp drive.

He deployed his suit’s bubble helmet and then, using a cutter from the door kits, he quickly sliced open the emergency seal. At the first break, there was a pop as the air in his compartment burst free, but then Jace was free to step into Gunnery. He looked up at the distant ship, doubting that he could be seen just yet, then started across the wide compartment. He glanced over at his ravaged gun mount, then quickly continued on, carefully avoiding looking at Bream’s remains. Reaching the other end of the compartment, Jace sliced through the useless seal across the opening of B Corridor and continued down to Engineering. His movements remained stiff, though his med kit was dealing well with the pain of his injury.

Stepping into Engineering was like walking into another world. Everything was polished and orderly, as if nothing had happened to the rest of the ship. He felt as though he could just settle in and enjoy another bull session with Ashanta.
The only problem was that Ashanta was not elbows-deep in the drive, nor tinkering with delicate electronics on her workbench. She was nowhere to be found. The section was devoid of any humanity other than that which Jace himself had brought. He had worked from the bridge all the way through the ship to reach engineering. What lay beyond Engineering? Engines. Beyond that? Space. Beyond that? Home.

Not home. An enemy corvette. And it’s just me now.

Jace turned and looked back up B Corridor. He swiftly imagined the blue-clad Monkeys rappelling down into the wide-open gunnery section, its weapons useless in efforts to halt the invaders. He could also picture the brief and pointless firefight that would result as he tried to hold engineering. The chokepoint of the access corridor would favor him, but the enclosed space of engineering would not. Maybe they wouldn’t want to damage the engineering spaces with grenades. Maybe they’d just cut a hole in the top of Engineering. It wasn’t going to end well in any case.
He thought of the possibility of hiding. The crew would salvage the ship, and might not get into every nook and cranny that a man might occupy. Then Jace knew shame, because he was no Hastis Industries man if he hid while his crew’s killers picked over the remains of their ship. Their ship. A Hastis ship. He knew that he had to do something.

Jace worked back along B Corridor until he could look out and see the approaching ship. It was coming towards him surprisingly slowly, as if they had suffered significant damage to their maneuvering systems. The ship was certainly beat up, but it lacked the gaping holes and rent hull of the Triggerhappy.

The best tactic in this case would have been to overload the drive. With the Monkeys coming in so slowly, they must have taken serious damage to important systems. They’d see the building glow from the drive envelope the Trigger, but they’d never get away in time. Jace smiled a nasty smile at the thought of going out with the massive warp flash, visible on sensors far across the galaxy, and killing his enemy with the same blow – with the Monkeys knowing it was coming. That would be the icing on the cake. Unfortunately, drive overloads are not something they teach in gunnery school, and Jace was pretty sure that there was no button anywhere in the Engineering section labeled Overload.

Gunnery school. Jace had done well there, and he knew the Mark 6 inside and out - and Marks 1 through 5 for that matter. Jace knew that the Trigger’s gun mounts were now closer to black powder muzzle loaders than anything else, but he decided to do what he could. Surely he could get a couple rounds out of B Mount before they boarded.
Jace moved to B Mount and clambed into the gunner’s station. Powered down, Jace tripped controls to bring it to deadly life, but it refused to respond. It was lifeless, inert. There was no round in the tube, no power for traversal. The mount looked ready to sling death, but it simply sat and pointed at the limping enemy ship, failing utterly in its designed purpose.

Just like me.

Jace left the cupola and inspected the rest of the mount more closely, ever watchful for movement – or attacks – from his enemy.

The reason for the weapon’s impotence was obvious once he contorted his battered body to a position that let him see the base of the mount and the utter lack of the electronics package that was once located there. Gunfire had torn it from the weapon, with nothing but a few wires and flash-frozen coolant to serve as evidence that it had ever been installed at all.

A Mount and D Mount were writeoffs. That left C Mount. And Bream. Jace and Bream were drinking buddies, competitors, friends. Jace didn’t want to see his friend’s flash frozen corpse still at his post, unable to lift a finger in defense of the ship, never to toast another victory or to grouse about another tight-fisted quartermaster. Never to step onto another new world. Never to… So many nevers.

Damn those Monkeys.

“I know how you are about C Mount, but I’ve gotta take a look, Bream.”

Jace’s voice carried no farther than his own helmet, but he kept talking to his shipmate anyway.

“You really wrecked it, didn’t you? Quartermaster’s gonna be pissed.”

Jace kept talking, making sure that he focused on the wreckage of the gun, and not Bream’s body, which was held in place high on the mount, its arms and legs sprawled.

“Well, we aren’t done yet, are we, buddy? I bet you had a round in the tube when you went down.”

He checked the gun tube and saw that there was indeed a shell loaded and seated. The grey and black banding told him that Bream had selected an armor piercing round before he died, but the gun’s breech was gaping wide.

“You didn’t close the breech, buddy. That’s against regs, you know.”

Jace slapped his hand against the heavy breech mechanism and found that it would move. Bream’s dead hand was draped across the mechanism and it too moved. Jace paused, staring at the hand, then resumed his banter, careful not to let his gaze creep any farther along Bream’s body.

“That’s okay, man. I’ve got this.”

Jace pushed to close the mechanism, but it stopped short. He had to bear down and grunt and groan to get the breech to move the final few centimeters. Unfortunately, it wasn’t locked, and the gun was so wrecked that the electromechanical locks were just not going to trigger. Jace was ready for this. He opened the breech a bit, with the block moving out easily, and grabbed one of the emergency welding patches that had been scattered across the floor of the compartment. He slapped it in place in the breech, tore off the protective strip and muscled the breech closed a second time. Jace couldn’t see or hear the reaction, but he knew that the patch had welded the breech to the gun tube, never to be opened again. He now had one shot.

Armor piercing up!

Next, he had to get a signal to the round sitting in the tube. There would be no aiming, just relying on timing to score a hit. Gunnery school told Jace that the Mark 2 tubes had relied on induction signaling, though at the time he had been more interested in lunch than ancient Mark 2 technology. Now he would put that bit of trivia to good use. He could simply attach a signal generator to the tube itself instead of relying on the modern signaling gear. Mark 2s broke their triggers all the time because of the mechanical connection, but Jace only needed it to work once.

C Mount’s signal generator was junk. Jace already knew that B Mount’s was gone. So he labored his way over to A Mount and was relieved to find an intact generator.

Frequent glances at the approaching ship told him that his time was running out, but he was confident in having his surprise ready for them when they came close. He had the parts he needed. He could hide in the wreckage of C Mount and wait. Then, just as they thought all their problems were solved with a little salvage, well, Jace would make a hole. If he was lucky, right in the bridge. If not, well, any Monkey hole is a good hole.

As he attached the cabling, Jace could feel the presence of Bream’s body in the wreckage above him, and sense the doubt of his friend.

“Have a little faith. It’ll work, okay? All they need to do is come to gunnery. It’s the gaping hole in the ship. It’s obvious. They’ll come in this way and I’ll ruin their day.”

It’s obvious, right? They have to come here.

Very shortly, everything was ready; just slap down on the trigger, the signal goes through the tube, the round fires and those fine sons of the Monkaten Protectorate get blasted straight to hell.

Jace waited as patiently as he could, trapped between waiting for his enemy to come closer and trying to avoid looking at his dead friend.

“See? I told you; they’re coming straight to us. We’ll get a nice solid hit. It’s all in the timing.”

The enemy corvette was clearly moving towards the gunnery section, and it loomed large before Jace. The gun tube was now pointing at the ship and it was just a matter of figuring out the right time to cut loose. Jace dearly wanted to let loose his agent of death, but he couldn’t afford to waste his one shot. So he kept glancing between the firing button and the corvette, waiting for the best possible moment to fire. His mouth was dry and he licked his lips.

Show me something nice and I’ll give you a little present.

The corvette was stubbornly refusing to show its bridge, relying on cameras and other sensors for the approach. That left the heavy armor facing C Mount.

Then the corvette stopped and started to turn away.

What are you doing?

Jace again looked at the firing trigger. Shoot now, before they turn and leave? Are they just stopping before unloading salvage gear? They’re too far away for that.

What are you doing?

Then Jace realized what was wrong. He had cut both emergency curtains leading to gunnery. The Monkeys wanted something still in a pressurized section of the ship. They could see the breached curtains and had turned away from gunnery!

No! Come back here!

The corvette was turning and moving towards the hull breaches at the front of the ship, at the bridge. They were leaving his line of fire! He had to shoot, but all he would hit would be heavy armor plating.

“Dammit, Bream, I need a shot!”

Unconsciously, he turned to face his friend and demand his help, but he turned only to see Bream’s sightless eyes staring back at him, his face burned and broken by the violence of the attack that had taken his life. Jace recoiled in shock, unable to break the gaze of his friend. But his motion rocked the mangled wreckage of C Mount and twisted his beaten body, sending new lances of pain throughout. Though now distracted by the pain, he saw out of the corner of his eye that the shaking of the mount had knocked Bream’s arm free of the wreckage - and it was swinging down.

Straight onto Jace’s jury-rigged trigger.

Jace could only watch as Bream’s arm impacted the device, simultaneously activating it and knocking it free of its jury-rigged perch. In that moment, Jace turned his head to see where the tube was pointed. As the enemy corvette had turned and moved, it had exposed its far side, its damaged hull, ravaged by the fight, and the gun tube of C Mount lined up flawlessly with the enemy’s own engineering section. Yet the weapon sat inert, and his enemy continued to drift by.

Fire, damn you!

Abruptly, the tube spat out its round amid a gout of light, rocking the mount wildly, collapsing the gunnery chair superstructure across Jace’s hips and legs. Jace felt no pain as he watched the near-simultaneous flash of firing and that of impact. No sound reached him, but he was witness to the mechanical carnage wreaked by the round. Gasses vented, liquids sprayed free in a shower of ice, mechanicals were flung away, and more than a few pieces impacted the Triggerhappy, with one or two ricocheting through gunnery. Jace was unscathed, protected from the shrapnel by the sheer bulk of C Mount.

“Bream! You did it! You broke their back!”

Jace watched the crippled enemy slowly roll and tumble through space, content in knowing that the ship would not be a threat to him for a very long time.

“Hey, Bream…”

Jace looked around for his friend, but Bream’s body had been thrown clear of the ship and was drifting off into the black. Jace smiled when he spotted it. Visible in the distance far beyond his friend’s body were three pinpoints of light, gently moving in the distance. The relief force had arrived.

“Hey, Bream. Nice shot.”

Edit: Corrected Bream’s gunnery location to be C Mount throughout the story.

2 Likes

SPOILER: I was bracing for a sad (but heroic) ending, but it turned out to be a happy one :smile: …or at least I assume Jace survived until the relief force reached him. /SPOILER

Great work! Too bad it went so much over the limit… :confused:

Still enjoyed reading it.

Alternate ending for you:

Jace looked around for his friend, but Bream’s body had been thrown clear of the ship and was drifting off into the black. Jace smiled when he spotted it.

“Hey, Bream. Nice shot.”

Then Jace relaxed as best he could, pinned under wreckage as he was. He cast his eye around the floor near him, hoping to find more of the emergency welding patches. With just a few he could cut his way free of the wreckage, but none were within reach. Accepting his plight, he lay his head back against a crushed panel and wondered who would find him first; the enemy corvette or the relief force.

“Yep. That was a nice shot.”

Oh, and the title is about Bream’s sense of duty, not Jace’s.

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I’m just a convoy tinkerer. Fix a few things. Fly when they let me. Generally just giving a hand. What am I doing in this barren system behind a yoke of a fighter?
I was doing my regular job, there’s always things to be fixed. When we were at the docking station I was asked to move one of the smaller ships to dock with the depot. Here at the end of the line the regular pilots have to take a lot of time off making staff short. I keep up my flight time just to be able to fill in here. For me this is the fun stuff.
After the processes minerals had been unloaded and the life, repair and replacements loaded I noticed a man in military uniform talking to our convoy leader. Not that unusual. They want respect one way or another. Some convoys call their leaders Generals. Pretentious little bugs aren’t they.
I got a call and was asked if I wanted a better paying job in the military. I’m happy here so I said no thanks. There always trying to get floaters like me.

It was bad and I had just gotten to sleep. It was like there loaders had changed shape some how and the paperwork was all wrong.
We were queuing up to go to hyperspace, another round trip. Something went wrong on the lead craft. It flew back glancing two other ships before it could be stopped. I got pulled in, as expected, The damage was bad enough the lead ship and the second were going to stay behind. I had my work cut out.
The military insisted on helping. They had to make themselves look as necessary as possible after all. Our damaged ships were set to pilots only. I went back to sleep.
I awoke and was sent to an assembly barely given time for my overalls. Me and a few lost looking folks herd lots of things we didn’t understand something about a fight and something important to fight for. And we were going to fight for that. I had herd stories of people being shanghaied to go fight. Drats.
I was given a ship and a bloody lip for saying well trying to say anything. I was assigned the last spot on the left wing. With no time a claxon sounded and I was in “my” ship. With some help I found were I was assigned. Bright lights flue away from us. Fire bloomed in front. I didn’t know what all the symbols meant on my screen. One of them was big.
Beep beep incoming. The missiles were close before the screen saw them. Anti Missiles defense got most, my fellows got the rest. Some of our group tried to flee. It was explained not to with a few blast.
When our opponents got close enough to see I was shocked. The ships were the same THE SAME!!!
It wasn’t some other faction we were fighting it was our own.
Were they pirates who had stolen the ships? If so they weredoing a good job. Is this another faction forming? Splitting up into more groups can’t be the answer. Could it be an alien race who stole our ships and boy that sounds dumb. Could I pay attrition to the war I’m in so I don’t get blown up?
It’s hard to see out of my helmet after I puked in it. Auto cleaners are working though. Too bad there isn’t such a system in my pants.
Ok now, get into position press the red button. Not the blue button as it does nothing. With a little help from me the ship can kill my opponents. I call them opponents because I don’t know who they or who “we” are for that matter.
The big dot went to the edge of the screen the little dots followed, good. BLINK that one didn’t make it.
I think I got a couple opponent’s ships, got hit by some shrapnel and broke a headlight. I’m glad I’m a mechanic. The exit door got wedged Having people on both sides of the door helped a lot. I asked if I could become a full time mechanic and was told no. I have to do it part time now.
Wow training. So that’s what the dots mean. And before I can keep all that in my head I’m off again.
Now to check and see how many wings there are and how full the wings are and FLASH and back to paying attrition to the fight I’m in. Anti missile system seems to be working. The other side is being insistent this time. How green are we? As far as I go I’m glad there concentrating on the other side.
Lots of light from that side. We just stay on our side. Move up a little and pick off any one who’s head peaks over the right wing.
Didn’t even scratch the paint that time. Back to being a mechanic. Oh my goodness there’s a body part in here. At least I know the automatic tourniquet works.
That was good training I might acutely remember some of it. And off to fight again.
There’s a HUGE space station there, it’s on the edge of my screen and still huge.
I’m not so lucky as last time. There concentrating on us. I’m not shaking as much and crap that was close. The anti missile was slow that time. I’m going to be spending time on my ship tinkering when I get back.
WHAT another wave of them?!? Bright lights on my side and I’m the new wing leader. Thanks a lot Major or whatever.
Counting the blue and the red dots I think were lousing. Why did they retreat? Low on fuel? Amo? Lunch time?
I don’t even get my ship fixed before being called back. The left blinker is stuck on. I feel like an old man.
We have two less wings. And several wings with fewer ships then they should have. Or not. I don’t really know.
Many bright lights and I yet live. Must have been the broken flashing light. Don’t get the old geezer must be there motto.
The big ship, ours that is, looks worse for ware. We didn’t even get close to there big ship.
I’ve got to do something. My star map isn’t working. I don’t know were I am There are only us and them. No one else. Were lousing.
If I can take my radio and monkey with the settings.
Confustacation!!! Both sides want what ever were fighting for for and there the superior fighters! Our side and there side are fighting for SAME person! That is to say if we win this general gets the station and if they win the SAME general gets the bace!!! There talking about each other by first names!!! Is this nothing more then a grudge match! Browne points at best. I’m going to be sick.
I have no real enemy. There are just the people who kidnaped me. This is nothing. I just want to live through this.
And off I go to fight for Lieutenant Commander Ego to beat Lieutenant Commander Ego. May they both louse.
Now if (shoots missile) I do this right, I can, oops sorry guy next to me, well who was next to me, was distracted by deactivating my call sine and fanning dead. And drifting toward opponent’s side. I can grab call sines and pick out one that has died and is a guy then go to my home with them.
I’m just a newb. No one will know the difference. I can fane being there mechanic I brought my overalls.

3 Likes

He makes it back.
The moral of the story is: We need at LEAST two different factions to be fighting with.

What I typed up on word and what ended up here aren’t the same.

Took me a bit longer than I would’ve preferred to write it, I do hope that you aren’t too bored by it ^^ (also sorry for being late)

Silent space
It’s been some time since dol went into unchartered space. But he needed an empty system where he could work on the finishing touches of his new sensor array, which would turn radiation into hearable noise. He always found that space was too alive to be mute, and he felt that it was his destiny to give planets and nebulas a voice. The only thing left to do was to test the system extensively and finetune it, and he couldn’t do that when there were cities sprawling on planets and hundreds of thousands of ships messing with the planets radiation footprint. He needed raw, uncolonized material. And there he was now, orbiting a planet no one ever had walked on. Probably. Which was not a good idea in the first place, judging by the atmosphere that mainly consisted of highly aggressive acids. Whoever landed there would have had his ship corroded and dissolved in less than a day. Yeah, that was a planet he would never set a foot on, but he could at least listen to it. An eery sound, as if someone scratched along a blackboard, accompanied by something that sounded like a thousand people whispering in a long lost language. Definitely what he would expect such a planet to sound like. He was about to turn off his sensors to fly to the next planet, when he suddenly heard something out of place. A feeble and clear sound, a sound you would expect from a little bell. Then it was gone, as if it never existed. Did his system glitch? Last time he spent a week to fix a glitch that turned out to be an undocumented dumping ground for radioactive waste material, so he was willing to first make sure that it wasn’t something manmade, even though the idea of anything being there was ridiculous.

Dol spent the next 6 hours circling the position where he heared the sound, scanning extensively but only getting the composition of the atmosphere and the ground. The only thing that spoke against his system being at fault was that the sound of the bell only occured at a very specific location. He continued to narrow down the location, until all his scanners pointed at the same spot on the planet. Suddenly the bell stopped. Dol wondered what happened, and began to start checking his scanners, when the sound came back. However, it had changed. This time it sounded like a wind chime on a stormy day. Whatever it was, it didn’t seem natural. That meant something must exist there. Something exciting. He opened up a comm and set it to broadcast with a local range:

“This is captain dol remarro of the orao’s pride speaking. Can anyone hear me?”

No answer. Exactly what he was hoping for. This was a lucky find. Whatever was there seemed to be able to mask itself from normal sensors. If he could study it, and copy the effect, he would be able to make enough money to spend the rest of his life dedicated to perfecting his sensor. He laughed. Yeah right, as if he would perfect the only thing that would be able to detect his source of income. There was only one problem… How would he get to it?

He spent the next 3 months working on the problem. The best option seemed to be getting whatever was down there, and hightail it. His solution to the atmosphere was a modification of his shield system that would prevent exchange of gases between the outer and encapsulated area. There was only one thing that bugged him. It wasn’t perfect. Fluctuations in his shield could allow for small amounts of gas to bypass the shield, and to top it off, there would definitely be a bigger leak in the shield, when he would haul in whatever was there. His temporary fix, which to be frank was all that he needed, consisted of creating a high pressure area inside his shield bubble. This way, the acidic gas would stay outside. He also spent a good amount of time finding out the approximate size of the object and fitted a special radiation proof container in his bay. With all this done, he entered the planets‘ atmosphere.
The atmosphere was thick. With an effective viewing distance of around 50 metres, dol was basically flying blind, guided only by the chime. The shield flickered visibly whenever there was a fluctuation. But so far, his plan worked. After what seemed to be an eternity, he finally saw it. Just above ground there was a sphere hovering. How could that even exist? Even from such a short distance his scanners still were telling him, that there was nothing, so he had to rely on eyesight to guess the size of the object. It seemed to be roughly 4 metres in diameter and of a silvery-greenish color. Dol spent a solid quarter of a second lamenting the possibility of slowly scooping up the sphere with his ship by carefully flying backwards with an open hangar, then decided to just use his grappling arm. He positioned his ship and slowly extended his grappling arm through the shield. So far so good. He grabbed the sphere, and began to slowly reel it in. When the sphere made contact with the shield, the shield collapsed. In a fraction of a second the protective high pressure area dissipated. After dol realized what just had happened, he cursed and hauled the sphere in as fast as possible. As soon as he closed his cargo bay, dol fled from the atmosphere as fast as possible.

After he entered a stable orbit around the planet dol checked on his ships status. It was a dire situation. His ships hull had already begun to corrode, although the process was delayed due to the cold space and lack of reagents. However, the next time he entered an atmosphere, he would have to land his ship and abandon it. Staying in space on the other hand was also not an ideal option. The hull corroded to the point where he was more or less exposed to the radiation, and had become so brittle, that even the smallest microcomet could probably deal serious damage to it. However the cargo bay was in the worst shape. Everything except the sphere was bubbling, and a hull break there was inescapable. So dol was forced to relocate the sphere to another part of his ship, which proved to be nigh impossible, given the size of it. In the end, all dol managed was to move the sphere into the corridor behind the cargo bay, before he depressurized the cargo bay and opened it to delay any further corrosion. After taking care of that, dol prepared the route back home, which turned out to be rather hard with half of his sensors gone. Even his own sensor was damaged. Everything he now got was muffled considerably by crackling, static noise. Hearing this was heartbreaking, but he couldn’t get himself to shut it down. All he could do was to start the warp drive.

As his ship began to build up the warp drive, he watched the construction of the warptunnel. The forces of the warptunnel started to shake his ship around, filling his ship to the brim with rumbling noise. Slowly the rumbling noise turned into a hum, which gained in intensity until it was deafening. The warptunnel seemed to react to the hum, it seemed to blow out of proportions, wriggling like a living worm, until it collapsed in front of the ship. Shocked, dol watched as now the rest of space seemed to follow the warptunnel, expanding in some places, shifting and flowing into itself in other. Dol could no longer bear watching it, the lack of consistency made him feel sick. The speakers provided him with a cacophony of some of the most violent sounds he had ever heard. He tried to shut off the speakers, but his ship no longer reacted to his input. As his whole bridge was engulfed in light, he lost consciousness.

Dol awoke, lying on the floor. He seemed to have been unconscious for quite some time, as he he felt completely whacked. He got up and stretched. What he then saw made him wonder if he was actually awake. Wherever his ship was, it wasn’t space. It was some sort of space, but it seemed to be ever changing. Patches of blackness wandered around on a background of pink, changed size and disappeared, only to appear in another seemingly random place. Everything seemed to move slow, sluggish, as if the space consisted of a highly viscuous matter. From his speakers he could hear:

"… während in … Reis umgef… "

What was that just now? It sounded like words, but none he ever heard of. He focused all his attention to the speakers, and he could swear that there was some sort of music playing for a second or two, but then it turned back into static. He tried to turn the sensors off, but still couldn’t. Still nothing worked. He needed to find out how he could regain the control over his ship or he would be out of luck. He had an idea what could’ve been the cause so he went and took a look. The sphere was still where he put it. It was way more active than at the time when he put it there. It was clearly emitting heat, and seemed to be vibrating so much, that he could hear it humming. He sighed.

“Should never have picked you up.”

Dol didn’t know how long he spent in that weird space. His ships clock has been completely out of whack, showing him different times and dates every few minutes, He tried to keep himself occupied by trying to regain the controls, but nothing worked. Whenever he took a break, he listened to the sound of the speakers, listened to these fragments of otherworldly chatter. After what seemed to be months, He heard something new. The sound of a big bell. At first, he thought that it was just part of the banter, but it kept reappearing. Periodically. It kept getting more clear, until it overshadowed everything else completely, whenever it rang. And then he saw it. A ship, unlike anything he ever had seen before, hung there in the middle of space, not moving even a bit. Dol was sure, that this was the ship from which that darn sphere originated from. He kept watching as he got closer to the ship. When he was close enough, that the ship filled the whole window, he could see something moving. It seemed to open a way in, but his ship was too big to ever fit in there. That was the moment when he realized the sudden creaking all around his ship. His ship was about to collapse. He panicked for a second, then ran to his space suit and put it on quickly. Not long after he had put it on, his ship burst into thousands of little pieces. The first thing he realized, was that space was warm. He could feel the heat through his space suit. The second thing he realized, was that the sphere was about to move past him. He did his best to latch onto it, and watched at the remainder of his ship, as he was sucked into the ship, together with the sphere. Shortly after the sphere entered the ship together with him, the doors shut, leaving him in complete darkness.

2 Likes

Ok I’m a bit retarded so I think I know what happened but could you explain it to me clearly? I would like to know if I like it.

Great! We have 4 stories now, from which 3 are the right length. This is the bare minimum so the latest deadline will stand. However I encourage more people to finish their stories before the deadline :wink:

It’s quite open to interpretation.

As an educated guess, I’d say that Dol got engulfed in a space-time rift together with his ship. When the mysterious sphere managed to anchor to his origin point, his ship cracked to dust and he had no choice but to hang on to the sphere into the unkown.
Maybe a metaphor for a rebirth?

Anyway, it’s my favorite story so far.

@LucasFIN Almost done, just a few loose ends to tie up :wink:

2 Likes

You pretty much nailed one of my intended interpretations, although I didn’t think of it as a metaphor for rebirth rather than an ironic situation where the wish to assimilate alien technology lead to the protagonist himself being assimilated by that technology. Which, given that he’s now aboard an alien structure with undetermined population might as well count as a rebirth, where he is as helpless as a newborn baby.

As promised, here’s my submission for the story challenge. Sorry for the delay!

I aimed at first below 2K words and found myself just below 2k5. I hope you enjoy despite its length.




The sparkle

– On your console, private Karl!

The cold snapping voice of the warrant officer Beth startled Karl from his daydreaming. He immediately straightened up on his chair and checked his gauges and indicators. As he became quickly relieved to see that nothing was wrong, he silently sighed and let his adrenaline rush settle down.
Going back to his comfortable position on his chair, arms folded, he opened his voice communication to reply in a lazy voice:

– What’s going on, warrant officer Beth?
– You’re kidding me, private Karl? You’re supposed to keep your hands close to the console!
– Come on, Beth, the autopilot is doing just fine! Besides, the Deltas are not going to attack us this deep without being noticed and intercepted first.
– That’s warrant officer Beth to you!

Her last heated response brought a small silence. Karl pondered if he should calm down this conversation… no, he’s not going to lose this argument to a bad-tempered woman.

– Just because our company has agreed to play along by your rules and your “yellow code” doesn’t mean you own us. So let’s keep friendly, Beth… just call me “Karl”.

The absence of reply brought a victorious grin on his face. It was easy to imagine the steam of rage coming out of Beth. Though he never met her in person yet, she didn’t struck him as someone with a quick mind from the beginning of this mining expedition. No wonder she joined a mercenary band. Probably better with her fists than her tongue. Or perhaps is she? He wouldn’t mind testing that from the holograms he…

– You insignificant piece of civilian…
– Calm down, warrant officer Beth. Karl is just teasing you. He’s not a fine soldier like you guys are, but he respects your work. I’m sure Karl won’t forget the titles… right Karl?
– Yes sir, certainly.

Jim’s thick Irish accent could certainly not be mistaken. His voice always seemed hearty, but he knew his superior long enough now to hear that he was getting irritated. Because of his huge competence in asteroid mining, Jim closed an eye on most of his “teasing” with exterior colleagues. However his reprimands could really be burning.
Fine, he’ll play along. The asteroids fields are getting near anyway, it won’t be long before…

– Warrant officer Beth! There’s something weird. My radar is detecting now small echoes but not continual. Maybe…

Suddenly, Hana’s channel crackled then went dead silent. The Bold Eagle flickered then disappeared on Karl’s radar. Alarms triggered, and went soon after drastically red as orders were shout in the communication channels. But Karl couldn’t react. He was utterly bewildered and frozen. The enemy ships magically appeared on the radar out of nowhere. Who are they? They don’t have the typical Delta signature, nor Centauran…

By the time he got hold of himself again, the autopilot flew him out of Beth’s formation.

Easy prey.

Contemplating a planet view in her private quarter was a rare privilege that she never tired of. Best way to meditate and gather concentration before an important confrontation, also.
Sitting in the lotus position, she was preparing herself. This was not going to be an easy fight, probably a long and trying for her first one, from what she learned of her previous Centauran encounters.

A soft warning sound from her desk computer broke the silence. She was receiving an internal call. This better be worth her time, she asked not to be disturbed until the encounter was ready or for anything below urgency. She stood up and crossed the small distance to her computer. Her living quarter would be branded as “humble” on any planetary building, but on a capital ship it was a real luxury.

As she sat in front the camera to receive the incoming call, she noticed that it was the captain, Gregor. What does he want now?
Accepting the call, Gregor’s rough and square face appeared on the screen. He seemed nervous but he tried hard to hide it. Well, not hard enough for her expert eyes not to notice.

– Yes, captain Gregor?
– Miss Rachelle, we just received an urgent message for you from a newly arrived courier.
– … go on?

Now he appeared somewhat embarrassed.

– It’s flagged as confidential and urgent. I know that you wanted no disturbance and disabled any notifications but I’d figure that, hum … you may want to read it before you go.
– I’ll have a look then.
– Do you want me to transfer it to you?
– I can handle it from here. Thank you captain Gregor.

His features seemed to relax and she saw a creak of a smile just when she closed the call.
Strange. She’s pretty sure he knows that he could have directly transfer the message to her and the system would have treated it accordingly depending on the rules and the flags. In this case, as she discovered when transferring the message by herself, the message would have triggered a warning sound. Is he trying to worm his rank up by getting her favors? He should know that diplomats don’t hold that much power over promotion, especially on military. They don’t even get an official title. Or maybe he’s onto her? Bah, she can’t be trifled with such details for now.

She immediately deleted the missive when she finished reading.
So the prototypes were successful on their first field test. Good. They didn’t expect any escort for a mining operation in the Starfold “safe” zone, which explains why one military ship managed to run away. Still, they performed well with only minor damage and no casualties to report.

But this Starfold runaway might be a problem. This news is already two weeks old, and the courier ship must have departed two days after they were gone. Who knows what the Centauran heard?

The Delta government wants to keep the Centauran out of the current conflict. The rebel Starfold scum is causing enough trouble, no need to add another adversary. And that’s precisely what she’s on this Centauran planet for: convince them that the Delta government is not a threat… for now.

Another call. The communication officer this time.
– Miss Rachelle, the Centaurans have sent the signal for the meeting. Your shuttle is ready and prepared as per your instructions.
– Alright, I’m on my way.

– So, do you believe her?
– Which lie do you refer to?

The door in this corridor to his private quarter was a few steps away, but Counselor Hamond stopped to look his assistant Diana in the eyes. He was the oldest on the council and his hair were mostly white. But he was still very spirited and had excellent insight on most matters, which is why the council offered him an extension of his period on the council… and also because they had difficulties electing a new successor for him.

– I know you don’t buy her pirate or mines scenario for the Starfold incident, Diana. They are giving us over-evaluated figures for their front troops compared to our own measures. Yet I am no fool of diplomat Rachelle’s arguments. They want us asleep, let their war with the Starfold go without our watch or intervention. It’s true that if they fight within the galactic treaty boundaries, the war is in balance and we shouldn’t interfere.

He added a pause to note her reaction before continuing:

– Something is amiss though, both in the diplomat’s speech and her Delta’s government actions. They severed all of their trade routes with us for some time now, claiming they need all available resources for their industries. And while it’s true their conflict with the Starfold needs all their attention, whatever they may say, the trade would certainly not be a strain on their economy. Our spies can certainly gather information, but not always study the military wares on site.
– With all due respect, Hamond, is that why you’re smuggling Delta goods from the Starfold?

With a smile, he certified her finding:

– So you finally discovered my little secret now? Some of the other Couselors know, but not all would agree with my methods according to the galactic treaty. Most of the Starfold smugglers still have good connection with their original homeworld and changing a signature from a small cargo ship is not that difficult. Those who offered their services provided us with good intel. We should keep it that way, if we want the Delta military wares to be still accessible in some way.

Pondering his informations, she asked:

– So we need them to think we’re only mildly interested in the Delta’s current politics, is that your point?
– No, no points. Old men like me don’t bother with making points.
– Is that why there’s no young people at the council?

As Counselor Hammond started to continue to his door, he chuckled:

– Good point. But we’re straying off the subject. When we’ll be discussing now with the Couselors, they may ask you questions. Remember to first present facts, then your opinion and advice. It’s always better perceived that way.
– I’ve never been yet to a Council before, can I ask what kind of questions will they have for me?
– The same I asked you, but in a different manner. Which is: do you believe the Delta governement to be a future threat to us?

Leaning against the cargo ship in a small hangar bay, Joshua was feeling increasingly nervous. She’s been waiting for her contact half an hour now and he’s a dozen minutes late.

The planet Selma-II is one of the few remaining neutral trade hub that has not been claimed by Deltas, joined the Starfold or been under the griping Centauran influence. A small harbour were people from any faction and all around space could meet, exchange information, and sometimes trade smuggled goods. And this was the case: she was assigned to pilot stolen military Delta wares to a Centauran planet outpost.
Her Starfold company always paid well those kind of missions, even though the biggest risk was already taken care of. This time however, the contact that delivered the ware had also to accompagny her. A trusted guy, they said, she’ll recognize him when she sees him, they made sure of that.

Still, she was not taking any unnecessary risks. Small incidents were not uncommon around here and the law allowed people to have weapons inside their personal property. The gun inside her hip holster was a proof.

Facing sideways the only entry point of the hangar, she immediately spotted the green light indicating someone was entering. Drawing her gun out, just in case, she waited for the door to open. A bald and rather old looking man entered…

– Hank! They sent you!
– Joshua. I’m glad you’re my designated driver.

Putting back the gun in the holster, she came to him to shake hands.

– Never thought our company would assign the head division of Mineral Department for this.
– Well, here I am. Sorry about the delay, there was more to work on than anticipated. The cargo is ready to be loaded, we’ll talk more inside your ship.

Once the loading was done, they went to a small compartment inside the ship that served as a all-around purpose room, including kitchenette and coffee break.

– So Hank, am I even allowed to ask what’s going on?

Taking a sip of coffee offered by Joshua, he wondered:

– How much do you know of the current space politics between Centaurans and Deltas?
– To be honest, not that much. They don’t see each other eye to eye. Some say the Deltas are looking to conquer them as well, but with the hell we’re getting them into, they’re not risking yet an engagement with another adversary. They may possess the necessary military force but they probably have to keep the most “rebellious” conquests in line.
As for the Centaurans, well… they want to act as peace keepers but ultimately, they would see everyone embrace their “balance” and way of life by any means if diplomacy doesn’t work. Bloody hypocrites if you ask me.

To these assessments, Hank noted.

– The rumors you heard are very close to the truth. You see, the Centaurans are slow to act but still would like any excuse to start pounding some Deltas. They’ve been monitoring them without being really successful so they started taking a look on their military stuff. They had some so far, but not those we’re about to deliver. What can you tell me about mines?
– The “unpredictable death”? A surprise it still exists in our modern times but still efficient in specific situations. Why? You don’t mean…

As her eyes grow wider with fear, Hank reassured her.

– Don’t worry, those we got here are safe, I neutralized them myself. You see, they respond to a specific energy signature which is hard-coded inside them. Either you tell who not to blow up, which is risky if your fleet gets a new ship; or who to blow up, which can lead to some enemies being ignored, but at least your fleet is safe. The latter is the chosen option almost exclusively. But to remain at maximum radar stealth, they only rely on passive sensors and accept no radio inputs from any kind once armed. So far so good?

Slowly, Joshua approved.

– Therefore, once at war or preparing one, the catalog of signatures is given to the manufacturer. And once build, they cannot be overridden unless a manual work is done.
– I don’t get it… Those mines are certainly directed against us, right?
– Yes. And I reprogrammed them with Centauran signatures. Their spies think no one except Deltas has the skill to manually program one and that Centaurans know just enough to disable them. But there are quite a few of us engineers that managed to escape the Delta’s grip before it was too late.

Frowning with reflection, she spoke out loudly her thoughts:

-… and so when the Centaurans get the mines, they’ll think the Deltas are preparing something. And they won’t like it especially that mines are already borderline with galactic treaties.
– Indeed. The Starfold Corporate Assembly has approved this plan. Other similar operations of “smuggling” are undergoing, we’re one of the first batch. And I’m here to make sure that one of these babies gets “bumpy” once we deliver them and get far away. Accidents with mines always happen. Just to stir the hive a bit.
– Ok, I get this part… but why did you accept this?

Hank’s Irish accent grew more distant and cold.

– Why? Well… I have lost someone of my family a few months ago. I want those Deltas to pay for it, one way or another, whatever the cost.

1 Like

(2496 words, actually)


Reunion

It had been thirty years that André Vanamonde, presently captain of the old, reliable and beloved XE-62b class long-range explorer ship Jumping Clock, had spent roaming the vast expanses of unexplored space, and yet new worlds still found new ways to marvel him. Glittering crystal fields in lieu of pole caps, planets still ringing from an ancient, Cyclopean collision, islands of strange compounds floating on oceans of mercury…
This one wasn’t. So when a priority-2 message suddenly came from the bridge, the apprehension he should have felt was replaced by the relief of leaving this list of dreary little rockballs for another time.
“Skipper, we got an unplanned probe transmission. Code B3 – looks like someone picked it.”
Now that was unusual.

While hurrying toward the bridge, his mind was already trying to make sense of it.
They were utterly far from inhabited space, about four years away with the skim-haulers of the Explorer Corps, some of the fastest ships ever. Even the Jumping Clock home outpost laid a month away on their own impressive drives, and it was the only known structure in the region.
They could have stumbled upon some other exploration initiative, but then they should have had a running transponder, and code B3 meant there had been none – the mark of outlaws. Criminals had no reason to be that far away from the societies they preyed upon, though.
It could be a failing ship, in bad enough shape to have its transponder down. It had happened before, calling for help through a probe. Some pirates had even set up ambushes that way, but the Explorer Corps was very good at hunting ships down. Survivors had learned not to provoke it.
Exiles, maybe? It had been two thousand years since they restarted civilisation from those of the improbable, run-down convoy that had somehow made it through four decades of Exodus. There had been plenty of time for people dissatisfied with the polity for trying their luck in the great dark. A few succeeded – after all, they now had experience with homeworld-fleeing convoys – and a few of the Federation States, ironically enough, had even started that way. But that was much further than any known exile had ever gone, and even the smallest, “crazy loners” ones would have been detected before reaching the sector.
Then again, it could be their original mission, and the true reason for his presence.

“Cadet Vanamonde, what are your reasons for volunteering for Geodesia Sector?

  • I have always been fascinated by Geodesian and Convoy history. And, quite frankly, I like being that far from home. A few people on a good ship, a few more at an outpost from time to time, far enough from civilisation to enjoy the peace but not just cut-off, and knowing that I will come back some day…
  • Yes, your psychological profile fits this type of mission well. But Geodesia itself is still unreachable, and the Convoy path is pretty much explored there. What exactly are your motivations?
  • Well… Sir, I think we’ve got a better chance to find about the Ark in this region. We can try to guess where it drifted, but without exact knowledge of the hypermap at the time, the exact specs of the Arc and the myriad of little things that would have affected it in flight, our hypotheses on where she drifted are pretty useless.
    “On the other hand, Geodesia is the one place we know hold significance for both them and us. If they survived and rebuilt starships, it’s the one place we can expect them to send them.
  • That’s why our experts think as well, and that’s actually one of the reasons why we pushed so hard to reach it.
  • You still think we can find them? Uh, I mean…
  • You mean that we are doing great finding new worlds and making interstellar surveys, but everyone knows that the Ark is probably dead, or we would have found them by now. You’re expected to, after all our PR is avoiding the subject of that primary mission we keep failing at for a millennium past.
    “But let me tell you, Cadet, the Explorer Corps doesn’t give up like that. Not after one millennium, not after ten if we’re still at it.
    “Now, that’s not the only reason for this push. It’s still the only type of D-type Nova we know of, we don’t know how it works, how it messes hyperspace up or even when it will go off. Or if it really is a factor in our sapience evolving, instead of an absurdly vast coincidence – assuming you ignore the likes of AM- or Earth-theory. With that alone, it would be on our list like Central Black Hole, Dorian’s Shrill or the NSP.
    “And the truth is, everyone is hoping we will find them. Not just the Government or the Admirals, people still hope. Sure, she is probably dead, drifting in outer space or crashed on a nameless world, they say. But they want to know. And secretly, they want to believe the Ark found its beautiful world and founded a peaceful, fulfilling society, that they haven’t found us because they simply focused on their new home.
    “You seems to disagree, Cadet.
  • … If it really was such Utopia, why didn’t they at least try to share it with their lost brothers? They should be searching for us as we are for them. And unlike us, they had carefully prepared terraforming, civ-restarting gear and doctrines. With such a head start, they should be there already.
    “If they survived, it means they hit major setbacks. Pre-Exodus history has many examples; facing that, people don’t build Utopia.
  • Then, why searching for them? Why making it personal?
  • Because time will only make it worse!”
    As if it had struck a long-dormant chord in the young cadet, he suddenly dropped the careful tone of a candidate to his evaluator.
    “How would their culture drift? Did they they go through dark ages? The more we wait, the more we will be set apart – and the more the reunion may turn sour. What if they became, say, full cyborgs? What if they don’t want to have anything to do with us?
    “What if they are cyborgs and want to do the same to us? What if they are stronger than us? Then again, in the last two thousand years, we fared pretty well, all things considered. As I said, if they didn’t turn isolationists, they shouldn’t have much of an advance. And we still have quite some military, if it came to that – one thing the Exile Wars did for us. But in two more millennia? Who knows what may happen? Who knows if it shouldn’t be for them to fear us at this point?
    “In fact, maybe they should already fear us. This is what made me decide, actually – what keeps me awake, some nights. I’ve studied pre-Exodus history. Even with good will, even with seemingly adequate regulations, botched first contacts between unknown civilisations turned into disasters. And now we are the only ones left. We can not allow for a botched first contact.
    “That why I want to be out there. I know that I’ll never find them. I know that even if they are found, it will be as a lifeless hulk. But however remote is the chance, I have to take it – and make sure it goes right if it ever happen.”
    Realizing he was half-standing, he promptly sat again with a reddened face.
    “I’m sorry Sir, I went overboard.
  • Don’t worry, son. For this job, you need to be passionate. And you are right – that’s why we want people like you, out there. Now go pack your things, you shall receive your official assignment before the evening.
  • … Yes Sir!”

Twenty seconds had passed since the probe signal. The bridge, already at full readiness, fell silent as he entered.
"Comm, prepare a burst for Outpost, code 2B3 plus probe ID and known pos. Prepare full datadump capsule, three copies. And keep an ear out. Standard messages, emergency bursts, loud misjumps, anything weird someone could use to try and get a word out.
"Astro, Drive, get us moving for that star, priority 2. Astro, how long to system for us? For anyone else?

  • Eleven days, first approx. Maybe nine, seven if we take risks. Six if we have a death wish. Closest ship is at twenty days minimum, fifteen for a death wish.
  • No unnecessary risks, better late than never. Push the drives hard, though! It’s fine to replace all engines next month if it means getting there twelve hours earlier.
  • Response from Outpost, Skip, we’re clear to go!
  • Ok, Comm, send datadump capsules when ready.
  • Drive ready in thirty seconds, prepare for 1.4g forward, twenty-five minutes."
    It was the first time they were responding to such emergency in real conditions, but all were doing their part as if it was the tenth, instantly reacting to orders, following the right procedures and displaying initiative when needed. They were a fine crew, and he was proud of being their captain.
    Whatever they may find, he wouldn’t have wanted to go there with anyone else.

Preliminary data about the unknown ship were starting to arrive.
Three times their mass. Proportionally bigger fuel tank, but smaller N-drives. Slightly bigger hangar bay. It looked like a long-range exploration ship, but with different mission parameters. Slower in normal space, but less refueling necessary, or less efficient engines.
Armament in pop-up turrets. It seemed relatively light, but it was impossible to judge at at such range, as they were all retracteds.
Parasites on external pods. Pretty rare, as it made hyperjumps harder to manage. Surprisingly, two of the parasites looked like refuelers. Were those ramscoops? So this ship could use in-situ refueling in gas giant atmospheres. If this really was a long-range explorer, it had to be exceedingly well-crafted to actually use the extended range between dockyard maintenances.
Lines were surprising as well. Instead of the straight lines, hard angles and circular curves found on most ships, this one was all in smooth curves and flow. That was the look of a hand-crafted ship, he though, if such a thing existed.
But it wasn’t the strangest part.
“Hey, that’s ceramics on their hull. Does someone know how that’s even possible?

  • I’ve heard about small prototypes a few centuries ago. The theory was sound, but they never found a way to make it as good as metals. Looks like someone actually perfected them.
  • But what kind of industrial base would you need for that? If someone was working on something that big, we would have heard of it…”
    The unspoken question was suddenly on everyone’s mind as surely as if someone had spelled it out. He often kept silence to let his people work. Now was not the time anymore.
    “Everyone keep your calm, you’ve been trained for this. We make sure it’s not a hoax.”
    Engineering a false first contact required incredible skills, resources and organisation, but it had been attempted several times in the past – and never as something innocuous as a prank.
    “We run them on our entire database for identification.”
    The explorer ships carried massive databases containing any information that may be useful, and vastly powerful algorithms to process them. Some ships had been identified by little more than the isotope mix of their hangar doors.
    “Then we see what this really is.”

It was the genuine thing. For all their minutia, their suspicion, their cleverness, it could only be one thing. An exploration ship from the Ark people.
He had spent more than thirty years, getting ready for this moment. It didn’t feel enough.
He had done his best to prepare himself, to prepare his crew. They had never really believed in it, he knew it. Neither did he, in a sense, but they had trusted him and had made sure they were up to the challenge. He knew they would perform admirably. They would follow his lead, whatever may happen.
Later, many would describe how his iron calm, how his unwavering decisiveness had impressed them and helped them keep the same calm. In truth, he felt paralysed by terror. Any wrong move now could have catastrophic consequences. Any mistake could throw them both back toward isolation or spark a war between the last two peoples of mankind. Or it could leave them open and vulnerable to a danger they couldn’t even imagine.
How did the Ark people prepare themselves for it? What were their intentions? What cultural bias may they have that could distort communication? Among all those pitfalls and no one knew other unknown ones, he would have to navigate blind.
He had thought himself ready. For the single most important even in History.
That made him smile.
“Standard Geodesian interplanetary protocol, hail them to open a comlink.”
All ships in the Explorer Corps had kept those ancient, pre-Exodus protocols in function. Hopefully, the Ark people had done the same.

The message, carried at light-speed, was forty minutes old.
On the screen, three people in beautiful white uniform, with the strange appearance of those older than they look, were formally standing.
“Salutations, people of the Convoy, I am Captain Janna Onodiss of the Way Seeker XVII from the Centauran Oligarchy. It has been an immense joy for us to know that you prevailed and flourished. In the name of the Centauran, we wish to meet and share about our respective histories and paths since the Exodus, as there is so much to learn from each-other.”
They had a slight accent, but were easy to understand. In two thousand years, the Deltan main language hadn’t evolved from the Geodesian one thanks to the continuous prevalence of audiovisual media. As she seemed to be a native speaker, it had most probably been the same for them. At least, they didn’t suffer through a true dark age.
Analysis arrived one after another. The image hadn’t been tampered, nor had been pre-recorded. They had emitted it in real-time – no second take.
The other two on each side were probably her first and second officer. Despite composed demeanour, the three of them were under strong, positive emotions. And they were absolutely sincere.
Now was time to respond.
“Comm, prepare to emit.”
He had carefully prepared many options for many cases, and tried to train himself for improvisation. It dawned on him that he had never actually practised his text.
“Salutations, people of the Ark, I am Captain André Vanamonde of the DFN Jumping Clock, from the Deltan Federation, and empowered to act as first contact ambassador. We are sharing your joy, and wish to exchange as you do.”
Then, forgetting an instant his carefully chosen words, he let his, his crew’s and his people’s emotion overwhelm him.
“We never lost hope, you know. We never stopped searching.”

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Great stuff! :slight_smile: Centaurus is still my favorite of the obsolete factions.

Let’s see if we get one or two more stories today before we close the competition and start the voting.

Don’t count me out yet! I now have 400 words! :triumph:

Hooray writer’s block!

/me panics

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Remember that you don’t HAVE to reach 2000-2500. Just stay under them. :wink:

/panics anyway :anguished:

Easy Terran. You do have your general story idea, right? write that down (even if it is ‘just’ a single sentence), then add stuff between the lines, and incrtease the detail with each pass until you reach ~2k words .

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