9Volt 18

Title: Let the Winds Send You Onwards…

rating: 0+x

Contact with humanity came once a week. Traveling to any location outside a light-year of the solar system meant traditional radio or similar communication methods were useless for up-to-date talk — an issue made even worse when you are 27,000 light-years away. Faster-than-light travel wouldn't be practical with such an obstacle.

Thus the Foundation turned to an esoteric solution. Conjuring a Way, opening to another dimension, meant you could bypass the speed of light. Send a signal into a Way, have a Foundation outpost on the other side receive it, then relay it out a second Way into the universe proper. Scaling up the Way's size meant supplies could even be ferried as well. It would be a flawless solution, if not for the sheer energy cost of tearing open a portal stable enough to not garble signals to uselessness.

For the crew of the Kessler-002, with only a single fusion reactor to service them, this meant communication came rarely. Every Way activation had to be important. Crucial. Necessary. A schedule for normal transmissions had to exist. Making it once a week felt right.

Five days after the Kessler-002's arrival in the Terzan 2 star cluster came an emergency transmission that broke the guideline.

Micha Maina relieved their hands of incessant keyboard typing, finished with a exploration report, second to be sent following the diagnostics sent on day one that confirmed they hadn't died a violent death in FTL travel. Below heaps of technical data and clinical vomit was a summary Micha felt captured the spirit of the report.

In short: Alien base exploded. Alien gave us directions to what we think are more aliens. Alien also exploded by other alien. Humans unexploded.

They paused. They added a second line.

Should we follow the directions?

There. Done.

« Is Exploratory Report 2 complete? »

"What's it look like, Chione?"

« Is it complete? Yes or no? »

Micha pushed their feet against single patch wall not covered by some form of electronics and began gliding through the spherical cavern that was the helm. They smiled at the nearest security camera.

« If you do not answer I will assume it is and will send it in its current state. »

A sigh. "Yes, yes it, send it already."

Deep within the ship countless mechanisms came to life: mechanical arms recreating praying motions, loudspeakers shouting old rites in languages not made by humans, electricity speeding from the fusion reactor to be converted into thaumic energies. Micha could see none of this but the flickering of lights told them it was working.

Low, distorted rumbles. The way was open.

« Transmission to Extradimensional Outpost-10 in progress. »

Many thoughts were in Micha's mind. Had the rumbles woken up everyone onboard abiding by the human need to sleep (and not staying awake for a day to speedwrite a report)? Did they make any errors writing?

Would they be told to follow the directions?

« Transmission complete. »

They hoped not.

« Response from Extradimensional Outpost-10 received. »

How quick. Micha grabbed the mechanical arm holding a retractable chair and pushed off it, back over to the computer terminals. They were getting better at this whole zero-g movement thing. A shortened message greeted them on the monitors.

[…]

For the purposes of better investigating the Terzan 2 Ortothan Coalition and their war with the Twelve Stars civilization, you may proceed with following the directions. Be advised that, unless it is necessary, you are not to engage in combat. Direct involvement is not your primary objective.

Secure. Contain. Protect.

Chione was the only one around who could hear Micha's curses.


"Think that's a stomach with a cybernetic implant, can't tell for certain 'cause it's burnt to hell and back…"

Hyeon 3Mun glanced between holographic projections of alien guts, suspended on the heavily reinforced glass wall separating him from the corpse. Alex stood next to him, sipping coffee like normal in the one g of gravity the habitation ring offered.

"…Chione thinks that part is a heart or heart equivalent, but I've got no clue. Never seen a heart equivalent with so much flesh grown into rune shapes…"

Every organ that had been blasted from the alien by the Twelve Stars ship was arranged in a grisly display. Organs rested on platters held by robotic limbs, the two parts of split-in-half body placed side-by-side on the central table, sterile walls a canvas for orange blood. Fragments of the head that weren't incinerated by the ship stared deep into Hyeon with lifeless camera eyes.

"…that organ may be for manipulating thaumic fields like the ones in the Sirius A orbital hives, though there's few similarities…"

Hyeon turned to Alex. He was nodding along, occasionally letting out a hmm or an mhm, clearly dazing out. He'd been talking too long. Dammit. Best to wrap it now than make this even duller.

"…and that's about all we've got."

"I see." Vaguely face-like shapes emerged in the perceptual anomaly and looked to Hyeon. "I do have a question, though."

"What is it?"

"So you haven't taken apart the body yet, right?"

"Yup. We could but I'm a tad worried that trying to dismantle it without knowing its construction will break more than its worth."

"And did any of the organs look like a brain?"

"Uhh, nope."

Another sip. "I mean, it could be there but is burnt beyond recognition, but do you think the brain could be built into the body?"

"I— Hmm." Hyeon gazed to the ground, idling about as he thought. "That could be—"

BANG.

Something slammed against the glass. They both jolted back.

The body's lower half pressed against the barrier. Three of its six mechanical arms slid up and down, trailing blood along in jerking motions. A barely legible message Written.

« Translating from Ortothan Extraterrestrial Language symbols. »

Holographic panels slid over and masked the gore. The body kept jerking forward, slamming again and again. On each panel came a translation.

"Help you."


The crew floated in the bridge, watching holograms of a gas giant dance in front of the wide window overlooking space. Spheres representing moons circled the giant, one surrounded by red rings denoting importance.

« Based on the details from Researcher Watts' modified holographic communicator and preliminary observations of the surrounding region of space, this is a model of area the entity wanted us to visit. Current objective is to deliver the entity's message to Ortothans presumed to be at the moon. »

Zoom out. The gas giant was reduced to spec before the might of a red supergiant star.

« Despite the size of Te2-872, Te2-872-d and its moons are sufficiently far from the star that only a slight temperature increase from habitable zone conditions is expected. Your spacesuits are capable of handling this. »

The holograms flickered out. N.J looked to the window and saw the blue deserts of Gateway's second planet (for which the crew never thought of a name) moving below as Kessler-002 orbited. The crater Twelve Stars had blown out was only a dot from this view, yet it continued to jut out from all else. The rest of the window was dominated by darkness.

"So 'bout that 'entity'…" Micha twiddled their fingers.

« This has already been discussed. »

"Do you have to bring this up again?" Alex asked.

"Look, I dunno why anyone thinks this alien can be trusted and why ya think the Foundation will be all chill with bringing it…"

N.J. turned her head away and tried her best to mentally block out the noise. Alex muttered something about why had to care about the Foundation when they were so far away.

"Hey. Micha."

"Hyeon?"

"Remember what we said last time? About Chione approving the plan and us landing crew being a-ok with it?"

"Yes?"

"Why are you still trying to debate stuff everyone is fine with?"

"Guys," Alex interjected. "Quit it."

"'Cause I don't get how any of ya are fine with dumb risks like this."

"We signed up to research and do whatever the higherups keep redacting in a warzone. Everything about being here is risky."

"Quit. It."

"And I don't want to see you and Enjay dying of a risk that's needless and stupid!"

« Researcher 3Mun and Researcher Maina. This conversation is not conductive to the mission and I demand you put an end to it. »

Silence fell. N.J. turned back to see a mass exchange of awkward glances.

« Unless new arguments against the plan are raised it will be kept. Is this clear? »

Nods.

"So, do we want to FTL jump now?" Alex looked to everyone.

"…Let's go for it," Hyeon replied.

Micha nodded. "Yup."

"Go for it," N.J. chimed in.

The mechanical arms of the retractable chairs extended from the bridge's walls, arranging into a ring pattern. Each explorer floated over and strapped themselves in.

« Activating Bifrost Engine for a 4.39 light-year jump to the Te2-872 system. Expected trajectory and apparent gravity wells in the system will either result in arrival at Te2-872 or Te2-872-d. »

"Is, uh, everyone ready for our first time experiencing the Bifrost Engine outside of cryogenics?" Hyeon expectantly looked around for responses but none came.

« Jumping sequence initiated. »

A strange sound echoed through the ship, like a whale call twisted and lowered in pitch. N.J. never heard anything like it on ships using the old Lang Distortion Drives. At least she could now rule out the possibility that the Engines were simply versions of the LDDs she revamped.

« T minus four. T minus three… »

Every computer monitor shut off. The lights hummed and dimmed. The metal slab of a shutter swiftly blocked out the crew's last sights of Gateway. The twisted sound thrummed through every inch of the Kessler-002's frame, shaking N.J.'s body in sync with its every beat.

« T minus two. T minus one. Zero. »

All noise stopped. She could only feel the shudders of metal, straining against the gravitational force enclosing them. Spacetime outside was twisted in a protective bubble, accelerating faster than any normal object could, leaving a wake of gravitational waves behind them like the shockwaves of a broken sound barrier. Shapes grasped at the edges of N.J.'s sight moments before she went blind. Red text flashed in the dark.

High amounts of cognitohazardous phenomena detected. Optic nerves have been temporarily disabled.

A minute passed and light abruptly stabbed into her retina. She rubbed her eyes, feeling her body drop back into reality with a thud against her mind. The shutter retracted and a purple gas giant stared out from behind it.


"INTRUDERS INTO HOLY MINING TERRITORY."

The sole sapient inhabitant of Te2-872-d's second moon went by no name pronounceable by humans. Even the rest of Terzan 2's Ortothans struggled to name them. So, on order of the Half-Holy, the inhabitant had a new name forced upon them: a modified symbol for "Miner."

"BODY IS EQUIPPED WITH TWO CANNONS OF INVERTED LIGHT AND ONE HUNDRED AND TEN THAUMOCTHONIC LANCES."

Miner knew the the moon inside and out — a state they'd much prefer it was in, if only for how easy their job would become — and they knew very well that only other creatures as obsessed with digging had any right being here.

"IF YOU ARE NOT OF THE TWELVE STARS THEN SPEAK BEFORE YOU ARE BROKEN BY INVERTED LIGHT."

Nobody else belonged. The lander, dropping from the clouds to Miner's landing pads, certainly didn't.

Miner swept long arms through their cavernous guts of twisting metal, shoveling spirit crystals through slits into the even larger reactor. Thaumic energies flared along the reactor's interior, giving the crystals their cue to take to the air and combine into a churning ball, continually compressing until it reached its breaking point. It exploded, a fireball of energy more intense than that of many stars. The arms returned to harvest and funnel it into the two cannons.

In a few moments there would be no sign the lander ever existed.

"SPEAK OR YOU WILL BE BROKEN."

« …the universe continues to be preserved. Bleed into the holy body of Rakmou-leusan. Bleed for the universe. »

A radio transmission. A response. No, more than a response. The speech of the Messengers themselves. Twelve Stars wouldn't dare touch such speech, but it was not a reason for Miner to let their guard down. More had to be uncovered.

They transmitted a reply. "YOU ARE ORTOTHAN. WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE."

« Delivering a message. »

The Ortothan was far rougher than that of the Messengers, but it swiftly shifted into symbols written by something far more fluent.

"Weapons construction factory and orbital weapons supplying station destroyed in attack. New weapon used. Must speak privately if Twelve Stars is intercepting communications."

Special identifying symbols, solely given to those selected by the Ortothan civilizations to work in the cause for defense, followed. There was zero chance the lander wasn't Ortothan.

"THE CANNONS ARE DEACTIVATED. YOU MAY LAND."


It was a metal behemoth. A Portuguese man-of-war of alien seas. As the lander descended, N.J could see sprawling mechanical tendrils extending from the underside into the impossibly translucent oceans covering the moon, vanishing into darkness where she imagined the ocean floor was. From the left and right sides of its body stretched fins, platforms supporting the mile-long barrels of the "inverted light" cannons (she did not know what would happen if they were fired but she already wanted nothing to do with it). Attached in trails from the main body were expansive circular platforms. Some open for landing, some stuffed with what looked like missile silos, some launching rocket after rocket into orbit for reasons she did not know.

N.J counted the number of platforms. Six platforms, one central body. Seven main parts altogether. Of course it was seven.

EVERYTHING BELOW THIS POINT IS INCOMPLETE

[descriptions of what Miner looks like, N.J and Hyeon encounter a robot that begins to guide them]

Hyeon and N.J marched ahead, wheeling the biohazard container behind them.

* * *

[giant bloodletting ritual chamber, meeting with Miner, decision to transport stuff, foreshadowing for something]


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