skonen_blades: (Default)
It's a unique experience to be involved in an explosive space decompression. If you survive, you never forget the sound.

It's like something turns the volume down sharply in the middle of the explosion. The screams, the shattering of glass, even the rushing wind, all suddenly has nothing to express itself with. The air becomes thinner and disperses. The medium through which noises travel expands to the point of non-existence and you're left with the silence of space. Even while all around you people are screaming and flailing, alarms are wailing, and everything that was in the room is now clattering and colliding as it spins out into the starry blackness.

And I should know.

We were on our honeymoon in a Galactic Class 8 Yacht on the starboard promenade eating lobster while the musicians were setting up onstage. The bank of space-facing windows were massive. The official reports said there were four hundred and thirty eight people in the hall with us, relaxing and talking to each other. Most of us were wearing our fanciest clothes, pretending that we were wealthy even though this was a discount cruise. Alison and I had waited long to get married. She was thirty-five and I was going to turn thirty-eight in ten days. She looked beautiful as she turned to signal to a waiter for another coffee bulb.

Perhaps the ship was old. Perhaps it was poorly designed. Maybe a safety inspector was hungover and missed something at the previous inspection.

A sharp crunch like someone stepping hard on a champagne flute right by ear and suddenly the wall to my right became ‘down’ and we all fell into space. Fail safes failed, blast shutters jammed and circuit breakers broke.

That is why my nightmares are silent. When I wake up screaming, it’s from seeing my darling wife bloat, freeze, and rupture. In the dream, she screams as soon as the viewing plate shatters, pluming glittering glass dust into space, and keeps screaming as we are both pushed by strong forces into the black. Her hair whips crazily and she kicks like a first time skydiver, reflexively trying to get her balance in mid-air with no up or down. Her scream starts like a fire alarm and very quickly whips down to silence even though her mouth is still wide open. He throat is still vibrating but her voice can no longer travel to my ears.

Other patrons screams, the clinking of silverware and plates, furniture colliding with the instruments of the musicians, they all fade to nothing and the last thing I hear is my wife’s screaming. The last thing I see is her mouth filling with popsicle blood as her lungs shred in their freezing rush to fill the vacuum.

I see it often. Her mouth is a tattooed O on the front of my mind. The nightmare is down to two or three nights a week.

The sticky safety cables that fired out managed to grab me but they missed her. I was reeled in sharply like a fish and I survived. I was one of only six that did. All six of us were paid a lot of money by the company to keep quiet about the accident. We all agreed to take it.

I am back home now with no need to work for the rest on my life. I’ll never go into space again. I need noise around me at all times, even when I sleep.

I cannot stand silence.

skonen_blades: (angryyes)
It was a shock to learn how short their life spans were but not surprising considering how much naked energy they threw off. We do not know how long we live because none of us have ever died, only changed form.

They called themselves Humans. They are beings of fire. They burn so hot. They seemed to be made of pure radiant heat. They seemed impossible. They had special suits to survive in our environment. Those suits protected us, encasing their boiling energy. They called our environment a ‘vacuum’ and spoke of an ‘atmosphere’ where they lived.

An atmosphere that dimmed the stars on their planet (during a period called ‘night’) and made their transport vessels work tremendously hard when taking off and burn with friction when landing. They also had more gravity on their world. Such fragile, determined creatures. It was inspiring.

We have no ‘atmosphere’. Our planet has low gravity. We achieved space travel by jumping hard into the air and returned by waiting. After a time, we came back down.

The humans had names for our parts. They said we were crystalline. Our blood, when we decided to make it liquid, is thick and able to stay flowing in what the humans see as extreme cold. They called it ferrofluid. Our intelligence is encapsulated in each of our particles. They called that nanotechnology. Each tiny particle of us is a switch, able to align or crook tangent to the other, forming solids and liquids. They say that makes our entire race one living ‘computer’.

They said we were -420 degrees Celsius but that’s only because that was the lower limit of their temperature gauges. Down at our temperature, gases become stable liquids and deep inside us, even colder, some solids do, too. Like iron. “Sloshed around like silver paint in a test tube, like molten lead, all granular like a black and white picture of Jupiter with some sparkles thrown in.” one of the humans said.

We took their form at first so as not to alarm them. We were much taller than them and blue but it helped. Though we can take any shape, we haven’t tried many.

The humans have imagination. They showed us their engineering and architecture data. The math of load-bearing weights and geometry was something we knew instinctually, much like a human catching a ball wouldn’t consciously figure out the parabola and the necessary arc needed to intersect and catch it. We are angles, from our tiniest particle to our largest forms. They showed us flimsy carbon strings they called 'diamond'.

We extrapolated. We improved.

We can make fusion reactors the size of what they call a fingernail. And then we make more. And then we attach many of them together. We do not have to use ‘tools’. We are the tools. We are the systems.

They have told us how to get farther. They didn’t know how to build those machines. They only had theories. They showed us.

We extrapolated. We improved.

We have the ability to create stable holes in space now that help us slide further when we ‘jump’. They have star maps that tell us where to go.

We let them travel inside us in special chambers to go far, to go where they wanted to go, to explore and record together, each experience filling up the cels of our cathedral spaceship bodies.

It’s only fair.

skonen_blades: (didyoujust)
Anyone or anything that enters the blue beams are sucked up into the ships and never seen or heard from again.

The ships came on February 1st, 2015. Giant and bulbous, they populated the sky in one rush of deceleration all around the world. The night side of the planet suddenly gained more stars and the day side of the planet a bunch of tiny suns. It took about an hour of them coming closer, one by one, before they stopped and hovered in equidistant geosynchronous orbits. Nine hundred and thirty-six of them, visible to the naked eye even after their engines had stopped firing. Dots in the sky in a geometric formation hanging a measured distance apart from each other.

The ships did nothing for weeks. Down on Earth, the tension drove people mad. The military went to a state of readiness not seen since the cold war and stayed there, sweating fingertips hovering over red buttons in sub-basements, cameras trained on the sky. Religious zealots called it the Rapture, others called it the apocalypse, spiritualists called it the Age of Aquarius, and regular folk just kept and eye to the sky in fear.

The economy took a major hit as most people cashed in their RRSPs and withdrew their savings. A somewhat useless gesture but it was all people could think of. Sales of gold and jewels skyrocketed. Shy people finally asked that person they’d been crushing on for years out for dinner. Marriages ended with a nod and a high five. Employees who’d been silently disgruntled for years quit their jobs. The end of days felt like it was right around the corner.

Just when the Earth had settled into a hesitant acceptance of the dots in the sky, blue beams of light from each ship stabbed down to earth.

The result was instantaneous. Nuclear missiles fired up at the alien ships from the expected countries and even a few unexpected ones. Of course nothing happened. The missiles didn’t even explode. They were quietly stopped, disarmed, turned inert, and left to fall back to Earth. That didn’t stop us from firing every single missile we had at them. It was like some sort of death orgasm and we didn’t stop until we were spent. Not one missile found its mark or went off.

Probably for the best. We would have done ourselves more damage than them if they’d actually exploded. After that, the fighter jets and satellite lasers were sent. Mostly automated but some brave pilots from the poorer countries who couldn’t afford A.I. or telepresence guidance gave their lives when their planes just stopped working and fell back to the ground.

The blue beams stayed on. Some of them are pointed at the ocean. Some are in remote areas of the planet where hardly anyone lives. Some of them are in metropolitan cities. They are all exactly 204.8 kilometers from each other.

It’s popular to go into the beams and ascend. Some believe it’s a portal to heaven. Some believe that it leads to a gateway to the rest of the universe. Some believe it’s death.

People have tried going up with video cameras and audio equipment but it all stops working the minute they leave the ground. Scientists are still trying to figure out how the beams work.

There are guards and fences around the perimeters of the beams in the major cities but out in the countryside they are left alone, silent blue ladders to alien mysteries. Pillars that glimmer in the daytime and seem to stab up from the earth like a searchlight during the night.

Some lovers have gone in hand in hand. Some notable celebrities have even made the trip. It’s become a tradition in some countries to throw letters to dead ancestors into the streams. Some countries have decided to start using the beams to help with their garbage problem.

They never shut off and the ships remain mute. It’s been seventeen years now. There are teenagers alive now who have never known a world without the beams.

Myself, I come down here to the park and stare at my city’s beam on the weekend. I feed the pigeons and stare at the column of light.

skonen_blades: (nyeeehaha)
The craft smoked in afternoon sun. The hunter was no judge of aircraft but this strange ship looked damaged beyond repair. Trees lay flat behind it where it had crashed to the ground in the forest. Its silver shell winked in the sunlight, shuddering occasionally as whatever machinery inside of it quaked to a wounded stop. The hunter had seen nothing like it, not even on the newsfeeds. Maybe a new kind of experimental ship that had crash landed but the nearest air force or army base was thousands of miles away.

The hunter was forced to entertain the possibility that this was a ship of alien origin. Setting his jaw firmly and readjusting the grip on his rifle, he stepped forward towards the silent craft. The forest started to come alive again. The violence of the craft’s crash landing had ended. Squirrels resumed foraging, deer resumed grazing, and birds began their songs anew. The ship’s hull ticked as it cooled. The film of frost that had formed on it started to melt in the sun.

The ship lay broken. Through the largest crack in the dripping hull, the hunter could hear movement. A whispering shuffle that ended with a clank. The hunter knew the sound of a wounded animal when he heard it. He advanced to the crack with his rifle ready. The alien inside the craft might was probably close to death or stunned. The hunter walked slowly and softly towards the crack and peered into the gloom.

A silver whip of corded metal shot out from the crack and skated across the hunter’s cheek, laying it open. The hunter’s hands tensed in surprise and he emptied both barrels of the shotgun into the crack. A shower of sparks from buckshot ricochets lit up the interior for a second and the hunter clearly saw the alien life form.

It was like a metal octopus with many more tentacles. The tip of each tentacle ended in a specialized tip. The hunter had shot directly into its center of mass. The creature thrashed and lay still. It was a lucky shot. If the creature had integral organs there, it was almost certainly dead.

The hunter’s cheek buzzed. His right eye closed. He dropped his rifle. There was something in the cut that the alien had made on his face! The hunter’s immediate thought was poison. He felt his heart race and a fever take over his body. He fell to his knees and the sun seemed to get brighter. His breathing came hot and fast. He passed out.

When he awoke, he felt refreshed. He brought his hand up to his cheek to find it healed. He felt the ridge of a scar. Judging by the position of the sun, it looked like about an hour had passed. He stood up, picked up his rifle and went back to his cabin. In the morning, he’d go into town and report what he had found. Right now, though, he was exhausted and thirsty.

It didn’t occur to him until he got back to his cabin that he knew exactly how to build a metal octopus and spaceship. Chemistry beyond his education unspooled in his mind. Mechanical processes popped through his mind. He’d need to invent the tools needed to create the compounds necessary to make the chemical chain reactions that would result in the hardest bonds in the new metal. There were no names for what he was thinking about, just clarity and pictures. The memories of the alien life form were there as well. He couldn’t access them but he knew they were there in a corner of his mind, waiting for download into the shell he now had the ability to create.

It would take six years and it would make him rich if he kept the goal of his projects secret. The patents would change the history of Earth.

The hunter looked at the mirror in the cabin’s bathroom as he prepared for bed. The scar on his cheek was silver.

skonen_blades: (cocky)
“Cowardice. God damned cowardice!” yelled Commander Breheny.

She’d been in charge of this hunter-seeker for over two months and hadn’t even confirmed one kill yet. She’d trained her whole life for her own command. She’d slain over two hundred enemy Taal-ships, first as a cadet and then as a helmsperson and then as a lieutenant, sending countless Taals to Hell.

She was tall and strong. She couldn’t be called pretty but she definitely had an undeniable air of authority that partnered well with her angry streak. Hard but fair. That was Commander Breheny.

Until recently, that is. The lack of kills was causing her to unravel. A Taal-shuttle would appear in her quadrant but as soon as she pursued it, it would warp away to a safe distance. Still on the scanners but out of firing range. It would not engage and it would always remain one step ahead.

The Taal-shuttle was taunting her and it was working. She couldn’t figure out the angle.

Her bridge crew was starting to become afraid of her. It was the kind of fear that could become rebellion if left unchecked.

Her military overlords were staring to sigh when she reported back every day that she had yet to kill the one tiny shuttle she’d been assigned to terminate.

What she didn’t know was that this was the first test of her command. The Taal-shuttle was being piloted by a human who was interfacing with Commander Breheny’s onboard nav-computer, enabling the Taal-shuttle to always stay out of reach.

It was a snipe hunt. A wild goose chase designed to test the patience of new commanders. The military overlords would act more and more disappointed with the new commander’s performance and the Taal-shuttle would remain out of reach.

All of the new commanders broke. It was how they broke that interested the overlords. How a commander dealt with failure was the last lesson, the most important and final test of command. It was the hardest lesson they had to deal with.

Commander Breheny glowered in her chair, smoldering at the viewscreen. Her crew gave each other nervous sidelong glances.

skonen_blades: (gasface)
The ship is sinking. My room is called a berth. The fact that I’m about to drown to death in a berth is something I find ironic.

My employers are smart. They sent me onboard with a suitcase bomb. They told me to open it and assemble it once we were sixteen miles out to sea. I’m the saboteur on board. I’m here under a fake name.

This ship was on its way to put a stop to this year’s whale hunt. It was a Greenpeace vessel. I’m a whaler who will lose my family if I don’t complete this mission. My employers are mean people. The righteous people on board with me who run this ship are trusting. This is why evil triumphs.

My employers want the whale hunt to continue. The hunt is one of the only sources of revenue our country still has. We’ve already exported nearly all of our pretty young women. Our drug fields are wilting from global warming. There is no tourism to speak of and nothing of worth is hidden beneath the soil. My country is made of small-minded, vicious people. Less of a government, more of a tribe.

A tribe with a small fleet of whaling vessels. A tribe with some leftover weapons from the Cold War. Leftover weapons like a large pile of C4 and some digital timers and primers.

I was supposed to open the case and assemble the bomb. I’d set the timer, get on a lifeboat, and leave in the middle of the night before the ship exploded. I had a beacon with me that my country would use to find me.

I am not smart.

As soon as I opened the case, the bomb started counting down. Opening the case triggered the countdown. I was never supposed to assemble anything or get to a safe distance.

The sent me on a suicide mission without telling me.

The timer said fifteen seconds. I wasted five wondering what to do. I wasted another six opening the porthole in my cabin. With the last four seconds, I threw the bomb out the window.

It landed in the water, snuggled right up to the hull, and exploded.

I am burnt and I am broken. The salt water pouring into my berth is agony on my wounds. I am deaf and I am blind.

I am drowning and I am grateful.

If my employers have done this to me, it means that they have already killed my family.

I am going to join them.

skonen_blades: (cocky)
The ship was called The Bloom of Youth.

The spotlights picked out the peeling paint on the side of the hull. Dull roses and dark green vines winding around the huge lettering.

I managed the tug fleet that found her. Our small fleet of six ships had responded to the scout’s call. We’d gotten here first, securing salvage rights. Our marker buoys were placed. The Bloom of Youth was dark and there was no distress call. That worked in our favour, legally speaking. It was blind luck that the scout picked it up on a routine sweep.

Salvage ops like ours dreamed of opportunities like this.

The Bloom of Youth was huge. It looked bigger than most ship yards could handle. If the writing on the side wasn’t in English, I would have said that it was possibly alien in origin. The design of the hull was standard but it was just the sheer size of the thing that boggled the mind.

Our little fly-speck dots of waspish black and yellow dawdled by its sheer cliff of black iron.

I was beginning to doubt that my fleet of six tugs would be able to take it. Options flitted through my mind. Bringing other contractors in would lessen the profits. The metal from the hull alone would make us all rich, though, and we didn’t even know if there was valuable cargo in it. If there were riches enough, it would justify bringing in others. I knew a small number of people I could trust to not double-cross my crew.

We’d have to go in.

In my cramped cockpit, I leaned forward into the fishglass to look left and then right. The black wall receded to a vanishing point to my left. I was close to the bow so the right side only looked a short ways off of my nose. Perspective was getting tricky so I brought up my sensors.

It made my hair tingle a little. We were still half a mile away from the thing but I could have sworn I was almost touching the hull. It’s hard out here in the dark to judge scale. I went back to the sensors and shut of the naked visuals, comfortable in the scrolling green and amber letters of pocket densities, matter bounces, and radar shadows.

“Let me know where you find the ‘lock, boys and girls.” I said into the throat mike. “I’m going in. Salter, Chrisllyn, you’re with me.”

“Righto,” crackled Salter.

“Roger that” sighed Chrisslyn.

Their tugs angled slowly over to my vector.

I smiled in the light from the instrument panel. This was going to be an adventure. I started to suit up.

skonen_blades: (bounder)
Haniffer Solowitz was a jackass.

I hated that guy. He’d grown up on Kessel station with us and he had a girl’s name. His father, Flint, had named him after his own grandmother. Then Flint had fled the station one night on a freighter bound for The Troubles.

Hannifer’s mother was not against the occasional bit of whoring to get food and money. His upbringing left a lot to be desired. Still, even that could have worked in his favour sympathy-wise if he hadn’t been such a jerkasaurus. The kid fought like a wolverine. Every day. It took nothing to set him off. We’d go make him mad when we were bored which, on a station this size, was all the time.

He hated women. Something about his mom. After puberty, though, boy! He’d go through them like a chainsaw. It made me ill. And they’d flock! The more hearts he broke, the more got in line to be broken. I can’t deny that we were all jealous but it made almost the entire male half of the class sullen. We’d made fun of Hannifer’s mom and his girly name all his life so we couldn’t blame him for not speaking to us.

I think that secretly, we would have welcomed pointers from him on how to get girls. It was too late for that now. We’d alienated him and he’d risen to the challenge instead of becoming a recluse. Oh, how the tables turn.

He hung out with people much older than us. Twice, I’d seen him through the shields at the station’s bar playing 3poker with tug pilots. They liked his spunk well enough but I’d watch their smiles fall when he won their money.

I remember once he showed up a black eye and keys to a racer. It was the kind of pretentious racer that only had room for two, if you know what I mean. It was also streamlined and arrow-shaped which was totally unnecessary in frictionless space. It would never have been able to withstand atmosphere so the design was just pretentious. He called the front airlocks ‘suicide doors’. And it was bright red.

And I would have given my left nut to have a ride in it, let alone own it.

If Haniffer’s stock amongst the ladies had been gold before, now it was hypercrystal.

I guess he just outgrew this place. He dropped out and started gambling full time. He even ran The Run a couple of times in that little racer of his. The tug pilots let him go out on short-haul missions with him. Some of the tug pilots were known smugglers. I doubt his mother even noticed he was gone.

She died in a messy decompression accident when he was away one time. He came home and trashed the bar when he heard the news. He was tasered and put in the brig. He was in prison during his mother’s funeral. It was an automated process and no one else showed up. The preacher's recorded voice spooled out the non-denominational ceremony to an empty room before her body was ‘locked.

He never came back after that. I had heard that he’d gone straight to the bar after getting out of jail and apologized to the owner. The owner had laughed and said it was okay. He’d seen his share of rough customers. Hannifer had asked if there were any real card games going on and the bar owner had pointed at a table full of legitimate gun-runners who belonged to a credited smuggler’s guild. The stakes were guaranteed to be high.

God only knows what he offered just to get into the game.

He walked away with one of their ships, though, and left Kessel station after winning The Run with it.

I didn’t see him again until ten years later. I remember I was eating spaghetti. The fork was paused, halfway to my mouth, as I goggled at the tri-d.

The Princess was pinning a medal on him for being a hero of the rebellion. I didn’t even know that the empire had fallen!

I should have been jealous but after a close-up on that crooked smile of his, I felt good. I felt like he was one of us and that one of us had made it.

skonen_blades: (gasface)
I looked at the dashboard with a mounting fear.

The mutiny had gone off and turned messy. The company pilots had been killed when we blew the cockpit door. We’d had to execute our hostages. The airlock was empty now and their inside-out, frozen corpses goggled wide-eyed thirty AUs behind us.

In the not-here of throughspace, I could imagine the feel of passing wind rattling the portholes. I could almost feel the gentle slap of the ocean against the hull even though we were galaxies away from any planet with an ocean. There was nothing, of course, but the silent dimensionless void outside of the windows.

The temperature gauges said that it was both way above and way below tolerable in the vaccum outside. There were other contradictory readings. It was all that I could read.

No one had really mapped throughspace. It got us from place to place but ships that had applied the brakes had either exploded or disappeared entirely. We had to settle for what our instruments told us as we rocketed through.

We knew how to manipulate doors in and out of it but the real essence of what we were traveling through in throughspace was a mystery. Much like gravity in the old days. It could be measured and predicted but the ‘why’ of it was always elusive.

We were halfway through the trip and we had another sixteen hours to go before arrival in hostile territory. We might be able to bluff our way through a patrol or two but once the word gets out, we won’t be able to hide. We’d never be able to stand up to a full search, either. If we got boarded, there would be a firefight.

So here I was. We’d won the fight, struggling up from the prison deck and into the crew quarters. We were vagabonds now, treasonous savages who had killed their captors. Our entire reason for living right now was flight from the enemy and the finding of a safe haven.

All good except for one thing. Pilots spoke a different language than us. They had a verbal shorthand that had developed over time into its own separate dialect. I never really understood why until now.

Several hundred buttons, brightly lit with a Christmas tree rainbow of colours, stared up at me. There were dials, switches, slots, and knobs. A library of discs and glow-cards were stacked on either side.

There was no main stick or pedals.

The pilots in our holding cell, the ones on our side, they had been killed in the mutiny.

No one was left on our victorious team had the ability to pilot a ship. One wrong button could make the ship try to stop or turn and kill all of us. We had no choice but to hope that the ship was on some sort of autopilot and that we’d be able to do some trial and error guesswork once we got through to other end.

The pictograms and symbols on the dashboard were alien and unintelligible. We could just as easily open a hailing frequency as we could fire a missile pulse if we started pressing the buttons randomly.

From below decks, I heard cheering and carousing. I dreaded taking the subleaders aside and telling them the news.

skonen_blades: (bounder)
It was a beautiful day for a ship launch.

These are the things I remember.

I remember the sun shining down out of a blue sky that arced from horizon to horizon with only a scattering of clouds above the water miles out from the beach.

I was perched on the small hill about a mile away from the launch site with my mother. Her bright red hair was still full and lustrous but shot through with grey. She’d say to me that every grey hair was from a time I fell and hurt myself. That’s how much she loved me.

I remember her bringing her hand above her eyes in a salute to shield her eyes from the sun. She was perched sidesaddle on her hip in a red dress. She’d tucked her heels up underneath her and was leaning on her other arm. Her hair was teased by the wind. When I remember her, this is the image that comes up the most, her leaning like a hood ornament into the breeze. As an adult, I can look at this memory objectively and see her not only as my mother, but as a woman. I can see how attractive she must have been.

She squinted, bringing a half-smile to her face.

In my memory, she looks out across towards the massive ship.

The ship was white with scooped shapes. It didn’t look aerodynamic but my mom told me that it wasn’t that kind of ship. It was a ‘long-range’ ship which meant that the science was different. It didn’t need to worry about drag and other wind-tunnel qualifications. It would ‘slip’ up and out from this plane of existence and then come back to this dimension at its destination. It would do the same to come back. It wouldn’t take as long as the other way, she said. He’d be back soon.

When I asked her when daddy would be back, she just looked away from me, back up at the ship. I could see love there, but also a little resentment. My father, the astronaut, was going on this trip against my mother’s wishes. I’d heard them fighting at night when they thought I was asleep.

We sat there on our red-checkered blanket having a picnic at the launch. We were there with thousands of other people. Red-necked sightseers, teenage couples, scientists, keen students, and the families of the other sixty astronauts.

We all sat there on blankets with picnics, the men with beers, ready to see the launch take place.

The numbers rang out from the loudspeakers in the distance.

Ten. Nine.

The little radios that we all had shouted out the numbers as well, a half second before the sound from the launch pad got to us. It made an echo of the numbers. I remember feeling like I was in a dream.

Four. Three.

My mother’s hand tightened on mine. I leaned up against her. I was eleven, old enough to be embarrassed by affectionate gestures from my parents but not old enough to do without them. I held onto her and we both watched the ship that held my father and her husband.

Two. One.

There was a clap of thunder and a ripple of imploding wind and the ship was gone. Arcing up from the launch pad was a copy of the ship fading slowly as it rose. It became transparent like a bad special effect as it got smaller until it disappeared completely.

That was sixty years ago. Their calculations were off. The ship came back this morning.

To everyone on the ship, they’d been gone for two months.

They were being briefed. My father was being told that my mother had died twenty years ago, ten years before my own wife. He was being told that I was in a wheelchair and that I had six grandkids.

I was about to meet my father as an old man. He was still thirty-six. I was looking forward to it.

skonen_blades: (Default)
The aliens landed. They were peaceful. They gave us the keys to the car, so to speak, and we were accepted into a Mount Olympus of old races as varied as they were bizarre. That was six decades ago.

Most of the young humans left. They went on vacation aboard the completely free interstellar subway that now connected us to the rest this galaxy, three upper dimensions and a few far-away nebulae as well. Relativistic time constraints being what they are, the walkabouts won’t be coming back anytime soon according to the time-frame of those they left behind. Entire families left together.

Humans dot all the planets, tending bar and doing grunt work in order to afford a couple of days gazing at the hard-to-reach wonders that make anything on Earth look like a tacky tourist attraction. We are the ubiquitous tourists of the universe. We hold maps, squint at signs, adjust whatever life-giving equipment we’re wearing in whatever atmosphere we’re in, and make plans for the day. Most of us are embarrassed about where we come from and are polite to a fault.

Abroad, we’re well-liked.

Technology greater than ours crept across the borders until the entire Earth became docking bays, repair shops, and bars. Earth is a backwater truck stop now. A hub and nothing else. The oceans are covered. Almost all of the nature had been taken but the factories and entertainment centers that are left are non-polluting.

Beloved Terra is no longer. The home of the galaxy’s most enthusiastic transients has become a waystation. It is only a destination for the bored with some time to kill.

My dad owns a junkyard.

I’m perching on the outer rim of a broken flying saucer and looking up at the sky. The light from the surrounding endless city has forever masked out the stars but I know they’re there.

I’m wearing greasy coveralls and wondering what it would be like. My dad says that most of the aliens come here so what’s the point of going out there? I can’t explain that the most high-definition surround immersion doesn’t compare to being there.

Of course, I’m just guessing. I’ve never been anywhere.

I finger the giant wrench I’ve got in my hands and dream of catching a flight somewhere.

skonen_blades: (donteven)
Wings of Night. That’s what Jeffrey thought the ship should be named. Instead, the bonehead Captain James had named her Silverfish.

The head engineer Sparling wanted to name her Leap Year and the communications officer wanted to name her Screamer so Jeffrey supposed that they were getting off easy with Silverfish but it still rankled him.

Silverfish are little bugs that eat furniture back in terrestrial habitats, thought Jeffrey. They have no majesty, no sense of mystery.

Jeffrey wasn’t sure Captain James even knew what a silverfish was. He probably thought it was like a huge metallic trout or something. That was a nice image, sure, picturing the muscled fins arcing out of a stream with the dawn sunlight prisming into rainbows through the droplets in slow motion.

The only problem with the name was that this new experimental tesseractive engine housing that they were all piloting was black as a planet’s shadow. That’s why Jeffrey thought that it should be called something darker.

Like Wings of Night.

The scientists wanted to call her Tess because of the tesseract-drive. In fact, they kept making jokes about taking it out for a ‘tess drive’. Jeffrey guessed that things could be worse. At least the captain has asked for their opinion. Jeffrey wasn’t the only person a little grumpy about the choice of name but it would pass, though, as soon as the mission was underway and they had their separate jobs to do.

Jeffrey was the armament officer which, on a sleek vehicle designed for stealth like this one, mostly meant making sure that they were invisible to scanners and, if necessary, deploying the scrambling countermeasures that would fry nearby communication and detection systems so that they could make a clean getaway.

It was a new thing for Jeffrey. He’d always been in charge of what he thought of as ‘actual’ armaments before.

But the prestige that came with this trip would be immense. If they didn’t fold themselves out of existence like an origami crane.

“All hands. Operational stations. Silverfish is go for T minus twenty.”

Jeffrey strapped himself in. A small quiver of fear shivered through him that he stamped down on immediately. Wings of Night actually had an ominous feel to it, he thought. Silverfish sounded kind of hopeful.

Jeffrey made the sign of the cross there in his quarters before heading to the bridge. He hadn’t done that since he was seven years old.

Let’s go Silverfish, he thought. Deliver us from evil.

skonen_blades: (watchit)
Two-Hands passed the biofilter test, allowing him into the cockpit to talk to God. The door to God’s house irised open and he stepped through.

Two-Hands had the gross overbite and mental retardation that went hand in hand with the comparatively benign mutations of his family tribe. He was called Two-Hands simply because he had two hands. This was a rarity that made him the closest example of purity that still lived.

The asteroid had destroyed the shielding around the engine. The adults had died almost immediately. The children had adapted as best they could. They nursery at the time had been shielded from the worst of the radiation. That was five decades ago.

The mutations were getting worse with every generation.

Two-thirds of the ‘crew’ were no longer recognized by the biofilter as human. That was why Two-Hands was a chosen one. He was still allowed into the pilot’s quarters by the main computer.

The autopilot A.I. knew that repairs could not be completed without assistance. The asteroid had taken out the long range antenna and damaged the spacefolder tesserators. They were stuck in deep space at sublight speeds with only radio waves for communication.

The A.I. knew that it had enough power to keep the ship habitable for centuries. It also knew that the mutations were increasing to the extent that the descendents of the original crew would soon become so riddled with flaws that they would no longer be fertile.

God the A.I. Autopilot looked at the simple, drooling face of Two-Hands with pity and sadness and a need to heal.

Two-Hands asked for food for his tribe, forgetting that he had asked for that already yesterday and had a stockpile of supplies in the stockpad room.

They forgot the basic medicine that the ship tried to teach them through pictograms. None of them could read. More and more children were being born conjoined or without limbs. Most were stillborn monstrosities.

There wasn’t a stable enough gene base to absorb that level of radiation and come out healthy given enough time.

They were doomed.

The A.I. knew it would eventually be rescued but that these simple children would be long dead by that time.

God told Two-Hands that there was more food in the food room. Two-Hands’ pure smile warmed God’s heart.

skonen_blades: (cocky)
We’d found her adrift off the stern of the city. It was a good thing Bow Town didn’t get her before we did.

She was cold and hungry and close to death. She’d been feeding off of the other bodies in her life boat. From the blonde hair on the corpses, I’d say that they were related to her. The skeletons of carrion birds littered the bottom of the boat, jostling for position with the long bones of dead fish. I’d have to say that she’d been At Sea for months.

The currents had taken her North towards us. The freshwater rain she’d collected in buckets and cups was starting to freeze along with her food supply. Sunlight was getting scarce. She would have been dead within days if we hadn’t crossed courses. It was the sharp eyes of Lookout Jim that spotted her.

We took her to the Steam Priest in the aft engine-room hospital. He bathed her in steam to keep her warm and to sweat the salt out of her. He fed her meat from the pens to bring her strength up. She talked in words that we didn’t understand. The search was underway to find someone on board that spoke her language.

She’d need to be strong for the trial.

The no-man’s-land of Midships was where we kept the hall of records. The Ballroom was where the trials for new entrants were held. She’d be the seventy-eighth foundling since The End.

Bow Town believed that anything found adrift was theirs by right of salvage, living or dead. She would have been used for pleasure until she broke. After that, she would have been used for labour until she died. After that, she would have been food. After that, any remaining shreds of her would have been thrown to the monsters on Deck Twenty.

We here at Stern City believed in a more respectful attitude towards foundlife. It was probably because we had smaller numbers than Bow Town and needed whatever we could get.

She managed to communicate to us that her name was Hrafn so we called her Raven. It was a nice contrast to her pale skin and blonde hair.

The trial date for entry was set for one week hence. We all prayed to the Great Princess Cruise Lines for an interpreter to be found before then. If counsel couldn’t be found to defend her, she’d be given to Bow Town.

Until then, I brought her soup and tried to learn her language.

I told her stories of the past. I told her of our ancestors on the Cruise Ship that was at sea when the sky burned. I told her of the initial riots that resulted in our present ship factions. I told her of the outlay of the ship. The garden decks and the social meeting places. I told her how lucky we were to have animals on board in the cargo hold at the time of The End to breed for meat.

Occasionally, we found people adrift that had survived on islands or mountain peaks that the radiation hadn’t reached and the rising ocean hadn’t drowned. Eventually, they all set sail in search of ships like us. Rumour has it that there were seven ships like us, caught at sea during the final days, circling the globe.

We’re called the Seven Arks. Generations from now, we may be the people that repopulate the earth.

Raven thinks we’ve saved her. She smiles at me when I bring her food. If we can’t find an interpreter to act as translator for counsel at the trial, I’m thinking of killing her so that she won’t have to go through the hell of Bow Town.

skonen_blades: (incredulous)
The shock of impact jellied most of his internals.

He’d railed against using the bioforms to make the trip but in the end, the scientists at Prime had said that regular upkeep would be needed for silicates and they couldn’t guarantee that he would be around to take care of them.

Bioforms are a shade slower but they heal themselves with proper food. With distances like these, speed wasn’t as much of a priority as longevity.

The thing with long distances through uncharted quindrants is that after a while, probability breaks down. One doesn’t know what to expect the further away from Prime one gets.

And bioforms are more adaptable that silicates.

The ship had recently shaved a comet at close to metaspeed. Nowhere near light but still enough to cause pretty serious damage.

With silicates, sparks would be flying around the cabin. Since they’d used the bios instead, it was juices and blood.

He was ankle deep in a dying ship and aiming for a rest stop.

Something bubbled up on the monitor in front of him: a course to a hot rock that was close. It had an atmosphere that would support the ship but would eventually kill him if the repairs didn’t get finished in time.

He knew that he was the expendable part of the mission. It was a gamble. He squeezed the ‘yes’ organ beside the chair and the ship lurched sideways on the new course.

The hot rock came closer on the screen as the humidity inside the ship increased along with the rising fluid levels closing around him.

The ship tore down through the atmosphere, igniting as it went. The outer shell layers hardened and then shriveled as the ship sped closer to impact.

The ship hit the ocean a few hundred meters away from the coast.

The impact tested its structural integrity and found it wanting.

It cracked open like an egg into boiling water.

The pilot sank down beneath the waves. He needed no air to survive but the salt content in the water would rust him solid if he didn’t get to shore quickly. He hit the bottom and started walking shoreward in the darkness.

It took him six hours to get to the beach.

The remains of the ship washed up around him. He collected what he could find in the surf and put it all into a wet pile.

He connected what umbilicals he could find to the main processor organs and waited for a wetboot to start.

He waited for a week until the air on the planet oxidized him to the brainpan. Days later, he fell forward in pieces with a rattle into the pile of bioship remains.

The rains and heat mixed them further into a soup over the course of the next month.

Bioforms, as mentioned before, are adaptable.

They couldn’t perform at a macro level so they set about making adjustments at a molecular level, stealing from the available materials to make simpler self-propagating one-celled organic copies. They did this for years, using up the entire reserves of composting organic bioship and pilot mineral compounds at their disposal.

The volcanoes cooled over the next few centuries. The one-celled organisms became more complex centuries after the original building material had been used up. They adapted to life on the surface with the idea of building a ship to go further.

We are the descendants of this ship. Every living thing on the planet is a result of an attempt to build a ship that failed. Our duality, our two sexes, our inner yearning of something unfinished that can’t be described yet needs to be defined, and our hybrid nature. We are coded at the most basic level to be what we are. We are the closest that the builders have come.

We have been programmed to leave and continue the journey.

We will do so.

skonen_blades: (donteven)
Annette sways forward and for a second it’s like there’s no bonesetter in her bloodstream. She’s languid again. Graceful and alive. Pre-soldier.

We’re friends. That’s hard to come by this far out in The Disc. Most of the other folks float silently around me in a stellar hermitage braid. Small living quarters from many different ages float amongst the thin circular oceanic plane of spaceborne glittering rocks.

Some of the stones are boulders. Proximity sensors take care of those ones and automatically keep my ship safe. It’s the dust that’s worrying. Clogged injets or filters can mean slow death out here. They need constant maintenance.

Annette is here to double check my work. It’s not necessary but it’s nice to have another person to talk to once in a while. I’ve turned off the grav to make it easier for her. She hitches a smile back at me and with a little smirk I realize that I was checking out her ass. We’re developing a little relationship here.

We’ve markered each other’s ships with private SOS position beacon tags. There’s no buddy system out here for the permanents but we felt like starting one up. We’re really bucking the bell curve of loneliness. There’s a silent amusement between us that I know we’re both enjoying.

I get a cheerful sarcastic thumbs-up from her and a mock pout goodbye. Emotions last for days in this timeless darkness and I’m smiling for a long time after she leaves. With the silent hiss of the ringsand expanse rubbing the hull, I deliberately wait. It’s like I’m living inside a bell being sanded by wind.

Later that month, I call up the map. There’s a burst of three dimensional static and then I can see the planet floating flat in front of me like a milkspider’s eggsac framed by the rings. It has a red eye like Jupiter that stares at me from the center of the projection at the planet’s North Pole. Maybe that’s why the founders named it Taurus. With the rings and the storming bullseye, it looks like a targeted dartboard.

I turn off the dataflow and config the custom holo to just show Her and Me. I kick back in my chair and smoke, watching our two red dots float in the rings of Taurus. I let my affection grow like a cancer inside me and I wonder if she’s doing the same thing.

skonen_blades: (didyoujust)
There’s always going to be a few things I can’t get used to here. The green sky, for instance, and the fact that the animals are mimics. All of the animals have the same abilities as Earth parrots, no matter what they look like. Every animal that comes up to me has a simple vocabulary.

I’d say I feel like Dr. Doolittle but I don’t. They don’t understand anything I say back except for rudimentary commands after they’ve been trained. Just like dogs. I’ve learned not to swear when I tell them to get away from me. All it does it get them to say swear words to me when they come back later to bother me again. For such a wordy wilderness, it’s still a pretty lonely place.

At least for me. I’m still camped out by the ship. The younger ones went into the woods first in a Lord of the Flies moment of instant rebellion. Like the Lost Boys from Peter Pan, they paint their faces and try to stay young forever. The young adults went next to take care of them. They have huts that protect them from the weather and they’ve identified which of the local animals and plants are poisonous. It’s like a primitive civilization. It’s like Gilligan’s Island.

I was the oldest one on the ship. I’m the only one that hasn’t given up hope of a rescue. With everyone else off in the jungle, the ship’s rations will last me for years.

I walk in a perimeter circle around the ship’s landing crater underneath the green sky and watch the animals sniff the burnt patches of ground where the ship landed. I saw something that looked like a bright green bear once. Blue three legged dog-things eat the crackers I sometimes throw at them. They’re scared of the ship’s smell, though, and rarely come close. It’s only the young ones that might wake me up by licking a hand before getting scolded by their parents later.

The survivors from the ship who have gone native in the woods think it’s hilarious to teach the animals my name.

The animals bark my name, hiss my name, whine my name, and shout my name all the time when they’re close to my ship. Sometimes this makes me scream and when this happens, I can hear the forest tittering in a very human way.

I’m not sure how long I’m going to last. I think I’ll probably change out of my ripped and soiled earth-suit into a loincloth soon enough. Until I do, though, I’m going to cling to memories of Earth as long as I can. I’m going to hold onto my humanity and pretend that technical terms aren’t sliding away from me.

“Jason!” shouts a pink hyena-looking thing to my left with too many legs. I almost find it comforting. It won’t be long now.

skonen_blades: (dark)
I woke up from the deep cryosleep with a bleary head and a taste in my mouth like I’d licked a battery. The gel washed off cleanly and I was standing in the hall with the other colonists in my underwear with the HR monitors still stuck to us like faithless remoras. I looked to my left but my wife wasn’t there.

An older woman stood beside me stretching with an expansive peaceful smile on her face. The smile of the landed settler. The trip is over, the smile said, and the now the hard work begins. Let’s get to it. I smiled back. I had gone under first and it was a big ship. Lisa had been put into another compartment

The lockers contained our clothes. We put them on and huddled around the monitors to get the reports on the atmosphere outside. I checked the colonist logs to see where my wife was.

The atmosphere was breathable and it was a sunny day. The doors hissed open and nearly all of us ran out with abandon and rolled around in the red flowers. Ten thousand humans played like children around the base of an iron mountain arkship in the middle of a field of alien flowers.

I didn’t. I just kept looking at the log list and at the message in my inbox. It was a message from my wife. I pressed play.

She didn’t get on the ship. She’d been seeing someone. She didn’t think that I’d understand. She was sorry that it had come to this. She didn’t think that running away together would solve the problems we had. She had added her fare to mine so that I’d have more points over in the new land and be a desirable mate. She was staying home.

I think I played it back three times. I let it sink in. Outside I could hear the whooping and yelling of people born again in a new world. Tears crawled down my face. She had seen me to my compartment. My last memory of her was watching her put her jacket in the locker next to mine. It had been a ruse to let me sleep easy.

I’d been asleep at over light speed for months.

The message was nearly five hundred years old.



skonen_blades: (Default)

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