Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Project: Superluminal 017

The blare of the ships alarm pulled me out of my sleep. This was not good. I tried to force my eyes open still half paralysed by deep slumber. I pushed my will into my arms making them push my body up. Was I awake? Past the light barriers falling to sleep was dangerous, reality was formed by the mind making dreams dangerous hazards.
I felt awake. But that didn’t mean anything. I could be dreaming of having being woken up by the alarm. Or even worse I could have brought dream reality back with me.
I finally managed to drag myself upright, nearly burning my hand on the hot steel coffee maker. Stumbling towards the bridge I looked at my surroundings trying to spot signs of rogue reality. However apart from the strobing lighting and the insistent rhythmic scream of the alarm the ship looked suspiciously normal. The Void Dancer was carrying itself with the dignity of a doomed ship sailing into the abyss with head held high.
I tried to ignore the way my ship seemed to be posing, I was certain that I had taught it better, making my way into the bridge. I almost fell face first into the floor when I came into the presence of that odious cylinder that had turned its gaze upon me the moment I had stepped through the door.
I gritted my teeth doing my best to ignore its presence walking in a curve towards the navigator’s table positioning it between myself and the cylinder.
“I am a bringer of hope.” It said peering over the edge of the table.
“Shut up.” I said.
“I come in peace.” it countered.
I decided not to get involved into a discussion with the device concentrating on the instruments in front of me. I shoved away several paper maps clearing part of the table uncovering the displays and vision sensitive navigation controls. It read my face and inferring from the context of the situation brought up a map showing the trajectory of the ship. We had just entered a part of the map that was glowing orange moving steadily forward into a gradient turning into a deep ominous red.
“Shit.” I said.
“I am a bringer of hope.” the cylinder commented.
One of the risks of long range intergalactic travel especially when going faster than light were cosmological changes that turned a secure route into one smashing right into danger. What had happened was that I had chosen a course moving the Void Dancer past as many large gravity objects as possible. It made the ship faster and reduced the fuel consumption.
The downside of this was that when an object that was, relatively speaking small and dynamic, turned into a super massive black hole which had also apparently moved from the spot it was supposed to be things became very interesting all of a sudden.  I moved away from the table towards the cockpit again trying to keep my distance from the cylinder.
“Have no fear.” it called after me. Right now I had bigger problems than its abhorrent nature.
I let myself fall into the pilot seat calling the controls towards me. While I greatly disliked to do this I had to take a great deal of instinctive control of the ship. This was not the right moment for anachronistic controls no matter how nice they were to use. I felt the ship becoming a body and my mind entering it. There was a strong tug coming from upper starboard that made me go reflexively go into the other direction carefully adjusting the output of the engine to counteract the effect without pushing past escape velocity which would send me hurtling uncontrolled into space.
I felt a sharp pain as my hull was being pulled in by the black hole starboard while the port side was pushed out through the acceleration of the engine.
Now was the time for anachronistic controls. I flipped the switch activating guide lines in my field of vision showing me the far to narrow margin in which the Void Dancer could advance without causing a disaster. The pain was distracting me as I was trying to ease it as much as I could, turning the safe path in front of me narrow still. I flipped another switch turned a dial and grabbed hold of one of the control sticks. A representation of the ship appeared in upper right corner of my field of view coloured in vivid shades of red and green showing the stress on the hull. The display was rather abstract and slightly misleading but it did its job. I eased away from feeling the ship’s hull careful to keep subconscious control of the other ship systems.
Instead of guiding the Void Dancer with my mind I now used the control-stick as I could not use my mind to push the ship to its limits without feeling them. With great care I nudged the ship further out towards the outer limit of the safe path adding only the slightest bit of power.
The path grew a bit narrower. There were still billions of miles of space to either side but at this speed it felt like flying a supersonic aircraft through a subway tunnel. The representation of the ship started to lose its hues of green, the reds in the middle becoming so dark that they appeared almost black now. I could hear the creaking of the hull now. Something a space-ships hull should not do.
I felt the alarm system preparing for a cacophonous scream of warning but I stopped it before it got to push me further towards panic.
As I manoeuvred the ship into a new angle the creaking turned into a groan. I pulled a little lever that projected a straight line into the curving safe path in front of me. Turning a little dial I shifted the line slightly until it went as far as it could without touching the safe edges of my route.
I carefully aligned my ship with the line and gave the engine a kick.  I suppressed the feeling of discomfort that the ships feedback caused in my mind concentrating on my instruments focusing on the point where the ship almost grazed the inner boundary, keeping the power constant for a while longer than felt comfortable before giving counter thrust and moving back into the curved trajectory.
The margins grew wider.
Bit by bit I moved the Void Dancer back onto a stable course, my hand gripping the control-stick hard that had become slippery with sweat. In time  the security limits had grown so wide that they were out of sight only two blinking arrows with numbers below them showed their relative position.
As I started to relax I initiated hibernation controls. The Pilot seat stretched out into a horizontal position, the consoles rearranging themselves above me, while my health implant dosed me with a drug that would soon knock me into deep sleep right past the dream stage leaving my autonomic brain functions in control of the ship. Now if something happened I would react to the danger even when unconscious, the reality of the ship would not be compromised and if all failed I would be pushed back right into alertness by another shot from my implant.
The rest of the voyage went without any greater problems. After waking up again I learned that quite a few of my star-charts were out of date and that I’d better invest in new ones before going on intergalactic jaunts again. Oh and asking the Sentinel Fortress what in the names of the great explorers was wrong with its horrid communications cylinder.
The Void Dancer had settled as usual far above the stars polar region. I had sent out hailing signals toward the interplanetary space authority and to the Sentinel Fortress wondering who would be the first to answer.
A rasping voice echoing from beyond a cold rotten grave spoke first. “… 4LUMIA space control. Please identify yourself.” subconscious broadcasts turned into proper sound always sounded amazingly creepy when translated into proper sound. I loved this bit. The memory of Kira rolled her eyes pushing my hand towards the sound controls that would automatically calibrate the signal to sound like it was supposed to.
“Please send your SIS your PICs and identify yourself, your ship, your point of departure and your destination and reason for your visit.” said the voice that now sounded as bored as it was boring.
I manually sent the SIS and PICs and activated my microphone while pulling up a transcript of the message so far. It was easy to answer all the questions when using the mental interface but not that easy when doing it on foot as I liked to do it.
“Hello? Are you still there? Identify yourself immediately? If you don’t…” the voice became more excited by the second the person on the other end of the line not used to instantly feel the answers to its questions.
“Greetings. This is Captain James Steiner Gutierrez of the free exploration ship Void Dancer speaking.” There was shocked silence from the other side. I had not known for quite a while but a voice message translated into a mind broadcast thundered like voice of a cosmic god in the mind of the receiver. The message was overwhelming  in its clarity and power. I suppressed a smile, with little success.
“We come from the planet Dead End in the Saint Saviour system. Our destination is the Planet XXXXXXXXX where we are on a socio-cultural prospecting mission. You will find that all our identifiers are clear and that we are either unknown or in good standing of all port authorities and enforcement agencies in this and al adjacent sectors. Please.” I was being a little bit dramatic but I knew how my voice was going to shake the bored guard to his or her core which would make entering the system that much more easy. “Let. Us. Pass.”
The silence was followed by a mismatched chorus of voices as the guard tried to gather his (?) wits.
“Your SIS and PICs are clear, you are clear of charges, you have no entry in any watch- or black-list. Welcome prospector Steiner Gutierrez to the One Hundred and Eight Auspicious Portals system. Please enjoy your stay and the high level security provided by 4LUMIA private security.” The last bit was an embedded message that was reflexively broadcast by the guards mind. Poor slob.
The port authority AI contacted me shortly afterwards and we went into negotiations for  approach vectors to the Jade Star Lotus Station that was the least expensive of the hub stations around XXXXXXXXXXX. In contrast to Portos on Dead End this AI was a greedy little monster that added a hefty premium for my faster than light drive, even though this system was dominated by ships using hyperdrives or used the eponymous one hundred and eight auspicious gates.
I heaved my most laboured smile onto my face and took the bill. As I had not heard back from the Sentinel Fortress I at least had the luxury to wait for a more cost effective time to approach the system core and dock to the Jade Star Lotus.
Of course the Sentinel Station had twisted pretty into the other side of the star system so that it took half a day to establish a vortex-channel.
“So far no one has found us.” the Sentinel Station said over a strange howling interference sound.
“I thank my lucky stars for that. Maybe this isn’t going to end in tears as I was expecting it. By the way can you check your com-equipment I am getting some weird noise over your channel.”
“Oh that’s not interference.” The station said. “That is Pentyl. It turns out that you were right and that twisting over very long ranges is traumatic to at the very least Nebulans.”
“That’s Pentyl?” I said my eyes growing big.
“Yes. It is feeling much better now though and I do have to admit that this twist took a heavy toll on me too. But I do have the privilege of being able to turn off parts of me to reduce the mental trauma.”
“How nice of you. Have you done anything to reduce Pentyl’s mental anguish?” I asked.
“I tired talking to it but apart from that I am afraid that there is little that I can do. I have only very little knowledge about Nebulan physiology and psychology.”
“Pentyl? Can you hear me?” I said.
“I am afraid that that will not get you far. So far it has been impossible to establish rational communications with Pentyl.”
“Where is she?”
“Inside of me of course.”
“I know that.” I said sitting leaning forward towards my coms screen. “I mean in what kid of room is she, and what form has she taken?”
“Pentyl is contained in a room of 500 cubic meters and has taken a gaseous form that at this point in time fills the entire chamber.”
“Open the doors and let her expand. As much as possible. You can also vent her into open space if you run out of space. Decompressing will help her a lot with coming to her senses.”
“Done.” said the Sentinel Fortress while the wail in the background changed in pitch becoming lower and lower.
“Let’s hope for the best. I’d say that you best twist her over to where I am but the appears to be a rather unwise idea. I will have to start some rather unpleasant negotiations with the port authority to cross the system and get her.”
“That won’t be necessary.” Said the Sentinel Fortress.
“It won’t?”
“I can twist you to where I am and back.”
“That won’t work. I can’t imagine that Pentyl will want to twist further than a few kilometres for quite a while…”
“That is true.” The Sentinel Fortress said pausing to think for a moment. “How about the following idea then: I twist you to where I am, I update your maps with the patterns of surveillance of the system and you can make your way back to where you are. According to the data I have collected so far you will be able to get a very cheap docking space in about 46 hours giving you enough time to fly around the system returning to the point where you are. No twisting necessary.”
“The port authority AI told me that there would be a cheap slot open in 7 hours.”
“There will be. But it will still be over 400% more expensive than the slots opening in 46 hours. I know for a fact that there will be a coincidental departure of over 70% of the docked ships shortly before that and that there is a superstition in this system that when the merchants leave a trading hub like a flock of birds it is a very bad omen. This will lead to even further migrations reinforcing the superstition. The lotus will close and it will take some time to reopen.
To counteract this, the port authority will cut docking costs tremendously. If you can convince the port authority that you know about the closing lotus it will cut the price even further. Once enough people are attracted back onto the station the lotus will open again and the time of danger will have passed.”
“The port authority lied to me?” I said.
“It actually just withheld information. Which is actually an even more devious act.”
“What a giant dickhead.”
“While I would normally say that it is just behaving according to its programming I have come to the conclusion after listening in to its communications with other ship captains that it is actually enjoying ripping off its customers.” The Sentinel Fortress said its tone neutral but tinged with a hint of pride.
I realised something in that moment. “You listened into its communications?”
“And you know the surveillance patterns of the security of the system?”
“I do.”
“How? I thought you can’t interact with our technology.” I said thinking to myself that the question of technological feasibility was the smallest of concerns in this situation.
“Not with your technology. But a lot of communication is based on mental interfaces.” The Sentinel Fortress said.
“And you can listen into that communication.”
I felt a cold chill shivering its way through my body. Mental interfaces were deemed to be the most secure form of communication in the known universe and here was this ancient military station that was able to simply listen into them. All of them. Simultaneously.
At least it wasn’t trying to hide its capabilities from me. I was suddenly very happy that I was not on the Sentinel Fortress’s bad side. Yet.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Project: Superluminal 016

Trying to ignore the gaze of the strange cylinder on the bridge I strapped myself into the cockpit preparing for faster than light travel. I had determined a quick route towards the One Hundred and Eight Auspicious Gates system that would require a bit of careful piloting but took advantage of several large gravity sources to help move me along which would go a long way to keep the energy consumption low. My reactor was still fresh but I had no idea how long this search of mine would take, neither how far I would have to go and right now my money was running low. For an idle poor I was still phenomenally rich, but for a working space farer I was only one or two long shore leaves away from being stranded. Once that happened it would be incredibly difficult to get back into space. One of the first lessons of staying employed was that the only way to earn decent money was to have a large amount of it in the first place.
    Now was not the time to worry, though. Now was the time to fly.
    "Pentyl, before I go, this is your last chance to change your mind." I said.
    "Go ahead. I'll rejoin you once we reach our target." she replied.
    "Long range twisting is incredibly unpleasant. Trust me." I said, I knew that this was a lost cause and maybe twisting did not get increasingly worse after a certain point but I had to try.
    "It can't be worse than breaking the laws of nature in your space relic." she answered.
    "I hope you're right. I'll see you both on the other side." I said.
    "Godspeed." said the Sentinel Fortress.
    "You are a more courageous man than I ever gave you credit for. Fly safe." said Pentyl.
    "Void Dancer over and out."
    I let the cockpit shift into its superluminal flight configuration. I put my hands onto the controls activating manually the navigation engine. I loved the feeling of actually working with the machine I was flying. The subconscious/machine machine interface was faster and more effective. But it lacked the sheer haptic pleasure of actually controlling a spaceship with my own hands and feet and eyes. While I did maintain a direct connection to my ship mentally that was there to give me a better feeling of how all the systems were doing so that I could better concentrate on actually flying the ship.
    I pushed the levers that energised the faster than light engine slowly forward feeling the ship shudder as its drive was tensing getting ready to leap forward towards the stars. The old thrusters nervously twitching sending shivers through the ship. It felt like the Void Dancer was looking forward to its next run as much as I did. This kind of connection with my ship was strangely more intimate than that of the mental interface. I could feel my vessel reacting directly to everything I did through its twitches and moves. The little movements soon turned into a smooth vibration accompanied by its characteristic deep purring sound. A sound so deep that it made my hair stand on end.
    Slowly I aligned the ship into the star-way it was going to take. I double checked the course and shifted it a little bit. A swarm of red lights came alive blinking and beeping all over the control panels, warning me strongly against the new course that would lead to close to the singularity of a super massive black hole. I fine tuned the course until most of the red lights went back to sleep and then flicking a few steel switches sent the rest back into their rooms. I pushed down the lever that uncoupled the main thrusters, pushed the engine into maximum output listening to its roar ad the creaking sounds of the hull as it tried to contain the fury of the engine. I had done this thousands of times. I knew the sweet spot where the hull was not so strained that it just did not take any lasting structural damage but where the engine had built up an enormous amount of potential boost. I pushed an unassuming deep blue button with my right ring finger activating the emergency inertial buffer while releasing the uncoupler at the same time.
    The Void Dancer had been slowly shifting in orbit around the Sentinel Fortress realigning its nose away from the space station. It remained still for a few seconds only to turn from one moment to the next into a blinding trail of fire pointing towards the depths of space.
    This time there was no one on board I who I needed to treat with care.
    This time I could push my ship to its very limits.
    We reached the light barrier in minutes, the screen in front of my white with the light we were smashing against. I unlocked the engine and pushed it into overdrive mode. Punching into the wall ahead of us.
    The ship twitched and shook.
    The light went into shades of white that only exist at this speed. Signalling the final warning, the final push against any intruders who would dare to trespass its sacred boundary.
    It flashed and everything went dark.
    I let go of the accelerator. The screaming engine slowly calming down until it was only a smug purr.
    Something was vaguely off.
    The cockpit look rather normal. Everything did look better than brand new. Polished to a ridiculous sheen. The lights were more colourful and brighter, the shadows more deep and dark. A strange effect I had not seen before. But I quite liked it. This looked like the cockpit I remembered when I was thinking of my ship always a bit better, slightly more impressive than the real thing. I activated the advanced auto-pilot routines which flared to life on their screens with a new found sense for style.
    When the cockpit retracted to let me out of my seat it did so with some extra flourishes leaving glowing trails in the air and doing swishing sounds as it did so. I arched an eyebrow at this but could not suppress a smile. I liked where this was going.
    I got up going up towards the bridge. The opalescent door now looked as if made from actual opal. One giant polished stone inside of which a strange fire flickered. I opened the door that swung open with a light hiss. It never had done that before.
    The bridge itself did not look like the usual forest path but instead looked like the bridge. Again in an idealised form. In its centre to the left side of the command chair stood the black cylinder. Now perfectly still. It radiated some strange kind of power. Nothing I could see, but I knew it was there.
    The cylinder looked at me and blinked.
    It took me a while after I had fallen down the stairs back into the cockpit to stop screaming.
    How did the cylinder even blink? It was just a black column. Maybe a meter and a half tall. Black. Nothing more. But it hat looked at me. It had looked at me and blinked.
    I signalled to the ship that it could retract its protective cushioning. I was gently lowered to the now once again hard floor.
    Sorting my limbs I slowly got up again working my way up the stairs.
    ON the bridge the cylinder shifted its invisible but intense gaze upon me once again. It blinked again.
    I pressed my lips together holding myself steady on the edge of the opalescent door leaving a sweaty hand print on it.
    Then it spoke.
    This time I almost threw myself down the stairs on purpose. Instead I forced myself into my best impression of calmness which included making a soft whimpering sound.
    "Do not be afraid." the cylinder repeated in a million flat monotone voices. "We come in peace. We are here to help."
    "Thanks?" I said with my back pressed to the wall, my body tense and ready to jump downstairs at a moments notice.
    "We are a device for communication. We are a beacon of hope." its choir of dead voices monotoned.
    "Are you the Sentinel Fortress?"
    "We are a device for communication. We are a beacon of hope." it said. "Do not fear." it added after a short pause, not helping in the slightest.
    "Are you sentient?" I asked.
    "We are a beacon of hope."
    "Do you have any basic communication protocols?"
    "We are a device for communication. Do you want to communicate?"
    "Communication is not possible right now. We are establishing a stable link. Patience. Do not fear."
    "I'll do my best." I was relaxing a little bit started to remember my training for first contact with cardinal order aliens. Creatures so different from a Terranoid that their mere existence caused fear, disgust or black despair in anyone who witnessed them. I shifted my view slightly away from it. Far enough to not have to confront it directly but not so far that I could not keep an eye on it.
    "How long will that take?"
    "Communications will be established." it said. For a moment I thought that was all it was going to say. I got quickly distracted by feeling its gaze that was somehow trying to punch right through my body. "In an unknown amount of time. Time and space are unstable. Do not panic. Do not fear. We are a beacon of hope." at least it was trying to be comforting...
    I worked my way towards the next exit. Trying not to show any signs of fear while keeping the greatest possible distance to the repugnant artefact.
    "I will leave you to your work then." I said willing the door behind me to open. "Just call me when you're done." I took a step backwards.
    "I am a beacon of hope." the cylinder said before the door closed breaking its line of sight.
    I slumped against the wall breathing hard. This little encounter had aged my body by at least five years. Not good I did not have the money for a proper private refresh cycle right now. But I still had a few good to decent years left in my body as it was right now.
    I had to move to a place to clear my thoughts.
    That place was the engine room.
    The effect I had seen in the cockpit and the bridge seemed to extend over the entire ship. Everything looked like an idealised version of the Void Dancer. Looking more vibrant, absolutely flawless, more real. The engine room was no different. The drive was pulsating in strange colours its mechanical parts moving to the beat of an invisible heart elegantly twisting and turning elegantly as they kept the ship beyond the grasp of light. As with the cockpit console every movement had added flourishes and like the doors, the engine made new sounds. Nonsensical but incredibly satisfying to hear.
    For a moment the horrid thing on the bridge was forgotten as the view in front of me woke my inner twelve year old who took over my body to look at it with the largest eyes it could make so that they could see as much of the miracle machine in front of him as was physically possible. I was so hypnotised by what I was seeing that I did not hear the hiss of the door opening and closing behind me. Or maybe I thought that the noise was just part of the spectacle.
    "Oooooooh. Sooooo pretty!" said Kira.
    My heart skipped a beat, fell over head over heels. Stopped. Spluttered to life again.
    "What have you done with it?" Kira asked, "I have never seen it that beautiful before."
    I opened my mouth. No words came out just a few some irregular breathes.
    I turned around.
    Kira had turned away from me walking towards the coffee maker.
    "You want one too?" she asked turning towards me. As our eyes met I felt a painful jolt of joy.
    "Kira." I said.
    She looked at me and smiled eyebrows raised a bit. "James?" she asked.
    "You're here."
    "Fancy that." she said. "And so are you. What an incredible coincidence. We should celebrate that with a coffee!" she turned away from me going to the coffee maker taking two metal cups from the heated cupboard under it and started to prepare two cups of strong coffee with foamed milk.
    "I didn't say I wanted one." I said grinning like an idiot.
    "You also didn't say you didn't want one." she replied continuing to prepare them. "Where are we going anyway? You never told me."
    "We are going to the One Hundred Auspicious Portals system."
    "Oooooh." she turned around her eyes gleaming, "I've never been there before! What a great idea. Are we doing something special over there or..." she said her smile taking a turn towards the seductive. "...are we going there just for pleasure?"
    "We are actually going there..." this was going to be slightly awkward, "...looking for you."
    "But I am right here." she said. She turned around again putting the finishing touches to the coffee she had made.
    "I can see that." I moved to join her. Had she been here all the time? Was that even possible. I sat down next to her on the floor legs dangling in the air as we looked at the engine.
    "But if looking for me brings us to new places I am all for it!" she said. "Who's we anyway?"
    "Pentyl and the Sentinel Fortress."
    "Pentyl? That's great haven't seen him in quite a while."
    "Her. She's going through a female phase right now." I said.
    "And the Sentinel Fortress?"
    "Yes." I said.
    "I didn't know that it was capable of interstellar travel."
    "Neither did I."
    "So you, Pentyl and the Sentinel Fortress are travelling to the One Hundred Auspicious Portals system to go looking for me?"
    "That was the plan." I said looking back at her.
    She faced me. "That sooooooo awesome!" she said balling her fists making slight 'Yay!' motions with her arms.

    It was then when I noticed it. Her lips where a shade too red. He hair was in a style that she had not worn in years but that I particularly loved. Her face was almost shining with an inner light. No her face was was actually glowing. She was radiant in the truest sense of the word.
    This was the perfect version of my ship.
    I could not imagine my ship being complete without her.
    Her face suddenly turned worried. "What's wrong?" she asked?
    "er... Nothing. Nothing's wrong." I lied.
    "You're the second worst liar in the universe. Just after me." she said not convinced at all.
    "No it's nothing. I'm just low on cash. When we arrive I really need to look for a decent job and get a few operations going again, just to build up some reserves. Just to be sure. That has been stressing me out a bit." kind of the truth.
    She smiled. "Don't worry. You're great at what you do. And you'll easily find a job. I'll check our contacts when we are there I am sure someone needs info on the system back in Dead End or some other hub. That alone will cover our travelling costs. I know how much you hate doing 'tourist guide' jobs but this one is going to be really fun."
    "Yeah I guess so. Still you know how it is. The thought of ending up in such a shit hole of a job like the one we met still gives me the creeps."
    "Hey you met me there!" she said in mock outrage.
    "That made that totally worth it. For you I'd do that job again could I change the past just to meet you again." I smiled.
    "Dito. Now come here." she said hugging me. "Even if you run out of money you'll not be alone. As long as I am here you don't need to worry."
    "I know."

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Project: Superluminal 015

         An hour later Pentyl had floated over to the Sentinel Fortress insisting that it could not be worse than going faster than light. I found my self alone in the bridge going over my navigational charts concentrating on them trying to ignore that the spaces that Pentyl had left open were being slowly filled by the absence of Kira. It was not the time to be overcome by those shadows. They would only drag me down leaving me unable to move. And then? How would I ever find out what had happened to Kira? So I focused on the course ahead slowly fading out the burning pain inside of me.
    I was going to go first and once I had arrived in the One Hundred and Eight Auspicious Gates system I would use a special signalling beacon the Fortress had twisted into my ship to contact it and they would twist after me. The beacon was a black strange looking cylinder that was uncomfortable to look at. Something about the way it looked was wrong but my mind was not able to put a finger on it. It was not that it was slowly expanding and contracting in a steady rhythm. It was that when ever my eyes moved a bit or I blinked somehow the form of it had shifted. It was very hard to see where the surface of it started, where it ended or how large it actually was. This was made worse by the constant drift of colour. It rippled in variations of black ranging from something that looked like glossy varnish to a matte black so dark that it appeared to simply be an opening into an endless space within the device.
    The Sentinel Fortress had told me to touch it to build a connection between us. I stepped forward one tiny step after another trying to get in range of the cylinder without running into it. I had to close my eyes after short time as moving towards it while looking at it caused a deep feeling of nausea and revulsion in me. When I opened my eyes again the device was suddenly much closer to me than expected. Its black shape for a moment reminded me of the contracting black pupil of an enormous eye that was suddenly focusing its attention on me. The hair on the back on my neck stood up my body flooding with  a feeling of mortal fear. I suppressed crying out producing a tortured squeal forcing me with all might to stretch my hand towards the artefact.

    I couldn't do it. Everything in me screamed to run away. It took all my will power to not scramble away screaming.
    The cylinder expanded.
    It touched my hand.
    It felt warm and... hungry?
    I was still inhaling to let out my most primal scream that would warn all Terranoids within hearing range of the mortal danger I had encountered when suddenly the feeling of terror ebbed away.
    The voice of the Sentinel fortress flowed into my mind. "James. Do not fear. Everything is OK. Sorry about that. My technology has that effect on most sentient species. Now that we are connected the beacon knows you and you mind knows it, there will be no fear any more."
    There was still a good amount of fear left. Run of the mill base line fear of the mind numbing other. It was far better than the spiritual level of terror that it had replaced.

    "You could have warned me." I said watching my hand touching, hovering over, vanishing inside the cylinder at the same time.
    "That would have made it worse." said the Fortress. No idea why but once a sentient knows about such an artefact they will feel its presence and will try to avoid it at all costs.
    "Do I even want to know why this effect is hard-coded into so many species?" I asked, not able to turn away my eyes from the point where my hand and the device intersected.
    "Even if you did, I haven't got the slightest clue. I do have various hypotheses but that has discussion has to wait I think." while the Fortress talked I could start to feel the fundamental reality of the cylinder seep into my arm, growing through my body entwining itself within me like a fungal growth.
    "What is happening?" I asked forcing myself to breath while at the same time fighting very hard not to hyperventilate.
    "I am establishing long range contact with you. This way I we will be able to interact with each other even when we are not in range of conventional communication."
    "And we could not have simply used the communication relay of the Void Dancer?" I asked already knowing the answer. The feeling of the foreign thing inside my body slowly subsiding.
    "If you know how to interface my technology with yours sure..." said the Fortress with a tiny hint of sarcasm in its voice. "Almost done. All you have to do now is to invite me into your ship."
    "I beg your pardon?"
    "You need to invite me into your ship for the link to become fully operational."
    "Do I look like an engineer to you? I have not the slightest idea. I do know however that I won't be able to interact with you once you move out of range if you don't and if that happens we will have to go through the procedure all over again." the Fortress said.
    I decided to go for the deeply unsettling option instead of the world-view shatteringly terrifying one. "Come on in then?" I said.
    "It has to be a bit more formal than that. You need to state your name, the name of your ship and my name." said the Fortress.
    "What is you name anyway?" I asked.
    "Sentinel Fortress will do. That's what everyone calls me these says."
    "Right." I cleared my throat. "Well then. I Captain James Steiner Gutierrez invite you Sentinel Fortress aboard my ship the Void Dancer, I welcome you as a friend and guest," after I short pause I added, "in this realm of mine." Might as well be a bit melodramatic.
    "I the Sentinel Fortress accept your invitation aboard your ship Void Dancer, captain James Steiner Gutierrez and accept your generous offer of hospitality."
    The cylinder in front of me expanded for the fraction of a second so far that it filled out the entire room, then collapsed into a point where it had become practically invisible before returning to its original size range again. Slowly expanding and contracting as if nothing had happened. I felt most of my fear fall away replaced by the feeling of the presence of a friend nearby.
    "Very good." said the Fortress with something very close to enthusiasm in its voice. "We are ready to go now I would say. You just go ahead. Pentyl and I will wait here for your signal and will then follow you to back you up."
    "Right." I said wondering about the situation I was getting myself into.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Project: Superluminal 014

"Are you sure that's going to work...?" I said after having said what the Fortress had in mind.
    "I think it should work." said Pentyl. "It twist into a place on the outer reaches of the solar system and hides among all the other crap floating around there. On the periphery no one will notice us appearing."
    "I'm still not sure." I said scratching the back of my head. "Sure it would be hard for them to detect us if they were just looking for us. But we are talking about a high security system here,they will notice the sudden change in gravity once a small planet appears out of no where."
    "Bah." said Pentyl. "In the outer solar debris cloud really?"
    "Besides," I added, "21 of the one hundred and eight open gates are out there."
    "We will be arriving in a place that is as remote as possible from the gates." said the Sentinel Fortress. "Like most star systems this one has most of its planetary mass in a disk shape. We will twist into a point above one of the stars pole far away from pretty much everything. From there I will be able to scan the system and give you at least back-up intelligence and I will be able to twist in for the rescue in the worst case scenario."
    "If you say so..." my feeling of foreboding decided to make itself at home in mind.
    "What's the worst that could happen?" asked Pentyl.
    "Is that a trick question?" I said.
    "Not really?" said Pentyl.
    "Well in that case I'd say that you will be discovered seen as a threat and the Black Aep'ar 557th Deep-Shock fleet will attack you."

    "I can take them." the Sentinel Fortress said.
    "That's not the point!" my sense of foreboding shifted a bit to make place for my sense of exasperation passing over the popcorn. "Even if you could, which by the way is a rather bold claim, you'd still be murdering a lot of innocents in cold blood."
    "It's not murder if the attack me first."
    "It is when you provoke them!" foreboding and exasperation decided that this one was going to be one of the all time greats. "Pleas tell me that you aren't being serious?"
    "I would not shoot first and try to be reasonable." the Fortress protested.
    "Besides," Pentyl chimed in. "The pilots are only organoid copies of the originals. When they die they get replaced by a new copy. Right? So that's more like losing some periphery matter right?"
    "Not you too." I groaned. "No. No it is not the same as losing some periphery matter. The 'copies' are fully alive and sentient terranoids like you and me... well like me at any rate. Best case scenario it would be more akin to that what I saw beyond the light barrier. You remember the being burned piece by piece?"
    "That's not something you should joke about." Pentyl said her face becoming sharper, clouded by anger.
    "I am not joking Pentyl. This are fully sentient beings and they are real-time connected to the originals so that they can gain their experiences. Death is not funny and I am not joking."
    "How about this then:" the Sentinel Fortress said braking the awkward silence that was slowly welling up in the room. "If we get discovered and the Black Constables get nervous I'll just twist away. They'll have a very hard time finding out where I went, should they even be capable of following me I'll be long gone by the time they arrive. No one gets hurt. Everybody wins. Right?"
    "It would still put the entire 4-LUMIA security cluster in the system on high alert though." I said.
    "Yes it would", agreed the Fortress, "and they concentrate all their efforts on space leaving the planetary base wide open for you and Pentyl to explore. See? However it goes we'll be fine. Trust me I have been around for billions of years I know my way around."
    "Fine." I said relaxing a bit. "How many infiltrations like these have you participated in anyway?" maybe the Fortress was up to something and I had never considered how much we could profit from its vast amount of knowledge and practical experience.
    "Countless." it said.
    What was countless for something that was billions of years old? "More than a million?" I ventured.
    "No. It is actually without count. So zero."
    "But I always wanted to do one." the Fortress added with almost child like enthusiasm.
    "Oh." my my feeling of foreboding and exasperation toasted each other knowing that this might be the last time they ever met again but they agreed that it had been totally worth it.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Project: Superluminal 013

    "I said I am coming with you." the Fortress said.
    "And how do you plan to do that? Set up sails and let the celestial winds drive you through the universe?" I said.
    "I do have an engine that is very similar to what you call a vortex reactor."
    "Those are rage limited." I said.
    "I know." said the Fortress now with a tone of patient indulgence reserved only for the densest of specimens. "And by what, pray tell are they limited?"
    "The speed of light." I said.
    "Right. I have been sitting here for billions of years." the Fortress waited for me to go through the implications of what it had just said.
    "Oh." I said feeling dense enough to consider turning into a metal black hole a real risk. "But why?"
    "Why would I come? Because I have nothing better to do. Right now this is the most interesting thing happening in the entire Universe. At least from my perspective." the Fortress said.
    "And why now? You said yourself that you have been here for billions of years." I said still trying to find a handle on what was going on.
    "Why not now. This moment in time is as good as any other. Do you know what I am doing here?" the Fortress asked.
    "Not really." I answered. Everyone knew that the Fortress was the remainder of some ancient civilisation now long forgotten.
    "I am the guardian of this sector. When I was made sentient I had been assembled here as a beachhead in a grand campaign of conquest. I saw the Great Unification Effort, the supposedly noble war of those who built me. Back then I twisted from one place in this galaxy to another, following the beacons of my creators, assisting them in their cause. When this galaxy was united under one rule I remained here as an outpost to keep an open eye on the sector. First I was used to crush rebellions. Later I sopped pirates and other criminals and later still I just watched over the people living in what comes close to peaceful harmony. In those later days pilgrims and scholars and priests came to me seeking my advice. No idea why. But I learned from them and they from me.
    How ever as timed passed my mother civilisation feel into decadence and slowly vanished. It's funny but I have no idea what actually happened to them. It was as if they slowly vanished in front of my eyes leaving me behind with a deep emptiness where once something familiar used to be."
    Her the Fortress paused a moment. I shifted around uncomfortably in my seat.
    "There were others out there. Other sentinel fortresses, science hubs, automated industrial planetids and the pilgrim stars which visited us all keeping us functional providing us with resources we no longer needed. Strange times. But we didn't know anything different. Around that time new civilisations appeared, for what ever reason many of them hostile. We destroyed them, they destroyed us. Today I wonder why we did that?`I mean we who had been left behind had a command that was to stand our ground and protect our sector. Why these nascent civilisations came to us and attempted to destroy us... I have no idea. They said that we were cursed objects left by the Previous. Sure we were left. But cursed? I never felt any cursed. Do you feel cursed?" the Fortress asked.
    "Pretty much every day." Pentyl said.
    "Why?" asked the Fortress.
    "Consider my history." Pentyl said calmly.
    "Point taken. Well the attacks ended. What made things worse was when the stars inside our pilgrim stations went nova destroying them. Many of my siblings fell to disrepair and the contact to those further out in space broke down completely. And so millions of years passed. But then you came James Steiner Gutierrez with your Nebulan friend Pentyl. Bot of you have lost things that are precious to you. And here I am floating in space protecting the territory of an empire even I can't remember. I consider you a friend James."
    "Thank you." I said my organoid brain working hard to properly parse this information.
    "And Kira was a friend of mine too. I remember vividly how you were together seeing you alone I see the shadow her absence casts. We all lost people close to our harts and find ourselves here in the emptiness of space looking for that what we have lost. So, why should I not join you. It is time that I get moving again experience the universe and see if there isn't anything left for an old sentinel fortress to do."
    It was strange but there was actually something that bound us together a planet sized military out-post, a sentient gas cloud and a Terranoid. We had all experienced deep loss and we all were friends of Kira's.
    "So any idea where to go first?" I asked.
    "Not really." said the Fortress. "But I do have a list of places were 4-LUMIA has large bases of operations. Why don't you two look them over and see if there are any where you have contacts who might help you gather information."
    One of the greatest peculiarities of the Sentinel Station was that it was incompatible with most modern technology but could easily interface with sentients, so I opened a channel to the fortress acting as relay between it and my board computers, letting my cerebellum do the translation. The process was quick but as always it left me feeling with a slight tingle of ecstasy that set in when ever I did this. One of the few instances of a positive side effect of an alien sentient/machine interface.

    Pentyl and me spent the next few hours going over the lists only marginally slowed down by my constant giggling and coming up with dirty puns to everything we found. Part of the side effects. Pentyl was not sure if to be outraged or amused, settling on slightly annoyed in the end.
    "I think we got one." Pentyl said finally. While I tried to appear as professional as possible. "Both James and I have some good contacts in the One Hundred and Eight Open Gates system. Kira spent a few years there on Auspicious Pearl and on the Seven Sages station and according to your information there system is protected by Black Aep'ar Constables which are 4-LUMIA elite forces and they have a sector command HQ there."
    "Very well. Do we want to meet there or shall I take you with me or will you fly there on your own."
    "I think we should join you." Pentyl said.
    "No we shouldn't. Twisting a light year is incredibly unpleasant, I can't even imagine what it will be like to twist over a hundred light years." I said.
    "I would also like to point out that the technology I have installed is _like_ but not the same as your Vortex technology and it is for military deployment making it more versatile and faster but far less pleasant."
    "It can't be worse than going faster than light." Pentyl said.
    "No that you know what is happening it will be easier." I said.
    "I'd like to take my chances with the Fortress." Pentyl insisted.
    "Suit yourself." I said. "You can move over to the Fortress and I'll meet you there. If you don't mind Sentinel."
    "To me it makes no difference." said the Fortress. "As soon as you board we can be on our way."
    "Right. There is just one question left." I said.
    "Which?" asked Pentyl.
    "When we arrive in the One Hundred and Eight Open Gates system, how do we prevent mass hysteria caused by the arrival of the Sentinel Fortress."
    "Why should there be mass hysteria." asked the Fortress with levels of naiveté that instantly went into a fierce competition with those of Pentyl.
    "Oh dear." I sighed. "Let's take another moment and try to come up with a plan for our plan."

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Project: Superluminal 012

"Are you sure she dissolved?" the Sentinel Fortress asked, its voice resounding through the Void Dancer.
    "As sure as I could get." I said slumping on the edge of the seat of the navigation console on the bridge. My ship had moved from the day to the night side of the Sentinel Fortress while I retold my story. The Fortress mostly listened, I was only occasionally interrupted by Pentyl who was adding some details I had forgotten to mention or to tell things from her own perspective. "It didn't help that I was half a sleep when I saw her vanish." I added.
    "hmmm..." said the Fortress which was fond of using Terranoid speaking patterns when talking to me it also loved to use my ship as its personal loudspeaker so that for a moment the whole Void Dancer was purring in a deep resonant tone. "Describe again how it looked."
    "She just sort of faded away." I said shrugging.
    "How quickly?" the Fortress asked. "Was it a sudden? Like with twisting?"
    "No. Not like twisting. Slower and there was no distortion to the image."
    "How about the light? Any changes there? Did she become brighter or darker perhaps?" it asked.
    "No. Just fading becoming more and more translucent. There was also neither expansion or dispersion like with the ancient teleporting devices." I said shuddering thinking about the ancient decompiler/compiler machines of old that killed the individuals it was meant to 'transport' to then push them together making a mostly identical copy at the destination.
    "Most fascinating." the Fortress said.
    "So do you know what caused this?" Pentyl asked her voice laced with slight impatience.
    "I've no clue." the Fortress replied.
    Pentyl condensed into her female travel form only to make some dramatic gestures. "Well great! That little trip through the clouds of madness was certainly worth it." she gesticulated a bit more. Her enthusiasm for body-language slightly overpowering her annoyance.
    "I think it was." said the Sentinel Fortress which was low-level 'hmmmming' as it thought about something. "Me never having heard of something is actually something that doesn't happen all that often. So this helps us with narrowing down our possibilities." the hmmmming became a bit more pronounced.
    "Our possibilities?" I said wondering when this had suddenly become a problem that personally included the Sentinel Fortress.
    "Yes there are now two most probable causes for Kira's disappearance. The first one is that you James have gone crazy..."
    "Case closed then." Pentyl said.
    The Fortress chuckled shaking the ship to its molecular foundations. "It also appears to be the most likely explanation. However my scans show that James is not insane. Or at least not more insane than all the other times he's been here. By the way James, you'll need to go into rejuvenation within a decade you are starting to show signs of attrition. But back to the point. Kira has gone which has been verified by you Pentyl. I know Kira and I know that she is prone to sudden departures but she always does that in plain sight. She never sneaks of, she just leaves. It also covering all her tracks? Does this sound like Kira to you?"
    "No." I said.
    "Faaaar to much work." said Pentyl. "Even if she tried she'd get bored half way through and just go leaving things half finished."
    "So. We can agree that what ever happened to her may not have been completely up to her."
    I felt a cold fear gripping my whole body. I had dismissed the crime angle a long time ago, but now the possibility seemed to be among the more plausible again. "But who would do that to her?" I said standing up gesticulating. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Pentyl quietly repeat my motion trying to add it to her repertoire. I closed my eyes to block her out for a moment as I felt anger creeping in to keep my fear a bit of company.
    "I don't think anyone did that to her." said the Fortress voice now calm again. "This is not a crime pattern. What I meant was that there may be something that we are missing that might have lead to her dissolving that was not completely under her control. Like your depressingly under-evolved cells James, you don't want them to suddenly go to shit and slowly ruin your body until it fails even its most basic functions. But it happens anyway. Maybe something roughly similar happened to Kira."
    "How would that even be possible?" I asked trying not to be offended by what the Fortress had just said about my cells. "Kirra is a Terranoid just like me and we don't usually suddenly fade into nothing."
    "Really? How closely related are you to each other?" the Fortress asked.
    "Not at all?" I said being slightly caught of guard by the sudden incest question.
    "Oh James..." Pentyl sighed behind me hiding her face in the palm of her hand.
    "Of course you are." said the Sentinel Fortress. "You belong to roughly the same species after all."
    "Roughly?" I said wondering if I was still in the broken reality of faster than light travel.
    "If I remember correctly you and her are roughly 98.8% genetically identical. You are from the same species but actually removed by for your kind very large amount of generations." Pentyl snorted in the background. The very idea of genetics was to her ridiculous, deeply amusing and slightly offensive. "Also, as I stated before, I have never heard of a phenomenon like the one you just described ever happening to an organoid. Additionally, although I may very well be incorrect, I can also not see any way in which you could use your genes to produce such an effect. At least I have nothing about that in my data banks."
    "So?" I asked feeling more and more lost in this conversation although I found some solace in the Sentinel Fortress's efforts to help me out.
    "Wait." Pentyl said suddenly serious again. "You have never heard this happening to an organoid?"
    "So you know of instances like these happening to other forms of life?" Pentyl asked.
    "I seem to remember that there are a few cases of this kind of desubstantiation among crystalline life." The Fortress said.
    "Crystals can do that?" Pentyl asked.
    "Something that appears similar." the Fortress said.
    "Any idea why and how they do that?" I asked.
    "I never had the inclination to ask them about it." the Fortress said.
    "Why not?" Pentyl asked.
    "There was no reason to, every once and a while certain Crystals would to that and please don't let this get your hopes up to much but they also usually reappeared. It looked like some form of travel or something. They do know how to travel faster than light and many have the innate ability to do something very close to twisting. It was just one of the many strange things that the Crystals do and I was not curious enough to bring about the patience to ask them." the Fortress said. This last statement was a monument to the problems of communicating with the Crystal sentience of the Universe. The Sentinel Fortress was billions of years old, having watched over its tiny bit if open space longer than many of the stars of most contemporary high civilisations had even existed and even for this artificial intelligence talking to the Crystals was a test of its patience.

    "So what are the chances of Kira suddenly turning into a Crystal and vanishing." I said feeling slightly irritated.
    "Close to none." the Fortress said. "But it means that there are at least sentients that show the kind of behaviour that you are talking about."
    "If we have to talk to Crystals," Pentyl said, "to understand what happened here Kira may as well be dead."
    "Kira is not dead." I shouted turning around to face Pentyl. "She. Is. Not. Dead."
    Pentyl wavered for a moment. "No one said that. We just need to look for a way to find out what happened to her without having to attempt to talk to a Crystal. There are institutions specialising in this kind of work. Maybe there is someone out there that knows something about that."
    "hmmmmmm..." went the Fortress shaking the ship with its thoughtful bass. The rumbling went on turning into an awkward background noise. I had never known the Sentinel Fortress to go into its deep thinking mode for so long.
    "Is it broken?" Pentyl asked after while.
    "I doubt that. Although considering the recent past that would not surprise me all that much." I said.
    "Oh quit your moping. We are..."
    "Quit my moping?" I shouted. "Fuck you! My girlfriend vanished before my eyes and you tell me to stop moping? Really? She was everything to me. She enhanced my life. She made everything that happened more. More interesting. More exiting. More real. Since she's gone a part of me has been ripped out out. The thought of never seeing her again is killing me. Wherever I look I see her. I see her influence. I can sense her curiosity. You know what keeps happening to me? When I look at things, when I hear about things I instinctively want to tell her about it. Because I know how much she would love it and because I wonder what she would make of it. For these moments I forget that she is gone only to remember that there is no one there any more. Actually. All things considered I've been a fucking mythical hero. I am pulling myself together not giving in to the emptiness I feel inside, instead concentrating on all the possibilities that are out there that might lead me back to her. So please excuse me if I mope a bit." I glared at Pentyl's slowly shrinking form.
    "I'm sorry. I didn’t mean it that way. What I wanted to say is that we are not standing still, we are moving forward towards a solution. Even if it doesn't look like there is any lead right now, we are gathering information and it will make sense sooner or later. It will."
    I kept glaring at Pentyl but without much conviction. Another side effect that Kira's vanishing had on me was that there was hardly anything left of me to burn in anger.
    "hmmmm...?" the Fortress changed in pitch slightly upwards. "I think I have a lead." the Sentinel Fortress's words took a moment to take root in my mind.
    "You have?" said Pentyl being slightly faster than me in expressing her confusion.
    "Yes. It is good that you have come with James Pentyl else I would not have considered this path. There is a place in this universe that has been very active in the research of energy-matter conversion, especially when it comes to sentient matter." the Fortress said.
    "No." Pentyl said flaring up going so hot that she practically became invisible blasting me with a wave of heat that activated the Void Dancers emergency fire response protocols directing its fire control beams at Pentyl removing energy from her. "No." she repeated apparently not fussed about the ship starting to drain her life from her body.
    I established a conscious link to the ship's system as fast as I could forcing it to stop its standard fire fighting action. This was complicated by the ship's system suspecting that I was going insane overriding my override. It took me some precious seconds of careful negotiations with the fire-control system to reach a compromise that would keep both Pentyl alive and me in control of the ship.
    "You cant be serious." Pentyl seethed still seemingly oblivious to the rays counteracting her heat radiation.
    "I do understand that this is something that you are not comfortable with Pentyl. I assume that you were alive during the war."
    "I was." she said. "I fought and was almost killed during the war."

    "So you are familiar with 4L-Universal Multi Industrial Alliance consortium." It wasn't a question.
    "I was prisoner on a Zohkin Mining extraction camp." Pentyl said voice held flat by rage.
    "The 4-LUMIA consortium is the leading force in matter/energy conversion. While I have mostly educated guesses and borderline rumours, if anyone would know about what happened to Kira it would be them."
    "You can't be serious." Pentyl said.
    "How can they help us they hardly made Kira disappear." I said.
    "They most probably didn't but they are a multi-galactic concern who have been deeply involved in technologies which would allow for a phenomenon such as the one you witnessed James."
    "And you suggest hat we just walk up to them" Pentyl said sarcasm billowing through her, "and ask them for their help which they will the graciously grant us? Them? They have not even apologized for what they did during the war."

    The Sentinel Fortress waited for a moment to see if there was more of Pentyl's anger coming. When she remained silent it continued. "No. I am not suggesting asking them for their help. What I am suggesting is that they never stopped working on sentients."
    Pentyl and I were at a loss for words.
    "What I am suggesting is that we go seek out 4-LUMIA and find out what they have been doing in the last few centuries. That way we may be able to find Kira and you Pentyl might even get revenge for what was done to you and yours."
    The Sentinel Fortress let that sink in. I was having trouble coming to terms with the enormity of the Sentinel Fortress's idea while Pentyl was losing her form cooling down slowly, obviously as confused as I was.
    "Did you just say that 'we' are going after 4-LUMIA?" I asked.
    "Yes." the Fortress said. "I am coming with you."
    "You're what?!"


Friday, 28 November 2014

Project: Superluminal 011

    I opened the door leading to the bridge. In front of me a forest path stretched into infinity. I took a step outside stretching out my hand. This part was easy. I had gone inter faster than light often enough that this place had solidified. It was always this path in the forest. To my left was always the soft polished surface of the wooden ledge of the bridges wall. The forest cleared, the trees retreating making space for the stations of the the bridge. The only thing that remained of the forest was the light illuminating the room that had the characteristic shadow and light pattern of the summer sun shining through a forest canopy.
    "Pentyl?" I said. As I let go of the ledge moving into the room my hand brushed against Kira's. A wave of emotion crashed over me as I turned around to face her. As I turned the room burst into a fine mist of particles and me with it.
    This was new. I have jumped past the light barrier hundreds of times. The one thing that always stays the same, at least for me, is my body. Now however my body was gone. I was just some strange presence in an even stranger space. I was still alive. Probably. At least I very much hoped so. I had no idea how death would be affected by being in superluminal space. I had to take a moment. I tried taking a deep breath, but there I had no lungs with which to breath with. Again I felt a feeling of panic rising. No. The panic wasn't rising. It was starting to crush me, there was pressure everywhere. I felt slowly heating up, like blushing but with my entire being. Blushing that was turning rapidly into painful heat.
    "James?" The panicked voice of Pentyl.
    I said 'yes'. But without a voice.
    "Thank the stars you're still alive!" Pentyl said. "I thought I had lost you when you ship suddenly exploded."
    I was suddenly not so sure about being alive any more. 'When did my ship explode?' I asked with no voice.
    "When you tried to push your ship past the light barrier. It was all so fast. First you were there in the cockpit asking me if I had ever travelled in a ship that actually went faster than light and then everything exploded and I was out here in space."
    That wasn't right. 'We didn't exploded, we actually went past the light barrier. Besides if we did explode during acceleration were is the debris of the ship and much more important where is Saint Saviour.' I asked trying to point towards the darkness surrounding us. Instead of pointing, I had no arms I... expanded?
    "But we aren't on your ship any more." said Pentyl.
    I contracted. I shifted. I had lost track of my body because I had turned gaseous. 'Pentyl.' I communicated. 'Everything is fine. We past the light barrier, reality broke and you were caught off-guard by that. We are both fine.'
    "Oh really? Why are we floating in space then?" she said.
    'We are not floating in space. Also look around you. Can you see my body anywhere?' How did I speak anyway? I wasn't making any sounds.
    "Now that you mention it... No. But I can hear you and you are present right here in... oh." Pentyl paused. "Ooooooh..." After another pause. "You do make a fine Nebulan, I have to say."
    'Many thanks, but this is almost all you. Right now you are filling out the holes in reality caused by us going faster than light. I... got distracted when I went looking for you and I lost grip on my version of reality so I was dragged into yours. I feel weird.'
    "That is the feeling of freedom." Pentyl said. "No need for the confines of those ridiculous bodies of yours. You finally get to stretch your molecules James. Dosen't it feel great?"
    'It certainly feels unlike anything I have ever experienced.' I conceded. 'Before today I did not know that you could be pushed into being an alien species like this. But as fascinating as this is, we have to return to the ship as fast possible. While it isn't very pressing we need to get back to the ship, staying here is dangerous.'
    "If we are still on the ship," said Pentyl who I felt shifting turning her attention to her surroundings. "how are we in danger."
    'Well first of all there is the little problem that it is very hard to pilot a ship that has shifted from your perception. What is worse though is that this reality here,' I made an expansive movement pointing out the space around us, 'has not appeared but flows out of your mind. So the things that you are carrying with you, the good and the bad, will find a way into this reality.'
    "I think I understand. Are there particular thoughts that are especially likely to break through?" Pentyl said sounding a little bit too nonchalant.
    'Hard to say. It's the things that are dominating you unconscious mind, which are not always the things you think they are and sometimes you are confronted with the signifiers your mind uses to represent them. When I am stressed for to long I tend to dream of spiders which are everywhere in my home blocking my way and being generally repugnant. I once had a trip that might have been my last and may have ended with me joining the idle poor. That one pulled the spiders right out of my nightmares and put them all over the ship. That was one fucking horror trip I can tell you that.'
    "I'm relaxed. So that shouldn't be much of a problem. How do we get out of here then?" Pentyl asked.
    'Well if you are calm it is actually easy, even if it might take you a few attempts. First of all the ship is still there and despite reality being a bit cracked, we are still inside the Void Dancer. So what you do first is concentrate on your surroundings and then try to find a place somewhere in the corner of your eye... we on the edge of your senses that you can connect with the ship. The move slowly towards it and try to find the real bits. Once you do they will pretty much crystallise into being. After that it gets progressively easy until you are back in reality with only small flavourings of what your mind has brought into existence.'
    "But there is nothing here. This is just open space."
    'Not really. When you pulled me out of my version of things I was on the bridge. I have hardly moved, so I would say that at least the part of you who is talking to me is on the bridge with me.'
    "I see the logic in what you say but I fail to feel it." Pentyl said her frustration colouring the air.
    'Right. First of all have look around. What ever we are seeing is something that comes from your mind. Look if you can find some points that look familiar to you."
    I waited for a while. I felt Pentyl shifting around. Slowly expanding. It was at that point that I realised that I was intermingling with her. Was this how Nebulans hung out together?
    "This does seem familiar. This is not place I know but I do fell like I've been here before...."
    'That's normal. Usually what you see carries the flavour of a place you know but it shows it in a strange new form."
    "I don't dream." Pentyl said.
    'Oh, right. Well now you have an idea how dreaming feels like.' I said.
    "It's strange and kind of interesting. This feels a lot like home."
    'Home?' I asked. Everyone has a home, it just seemed a bit strange when thinking about a Nebulan's home as they just floated in open space.
    "Yes the constellations feel familiar so does the the background radiation. It all looks wrong but it does feel right." Pentyl said.
    'Perfectly normal. Concentrate on that feeling. That familiarity will help you find yourself in this space. Once you've done that you just have to concentrate on everything that is wrong about it. That will help you break the reality of the situation.'
    "OK. I can do that. The stars are all wrong. And the radiation is far to warm. This is like a blend of all the best parts of my home."
    'So this can't be your home, right?'
    'OK now remember you are aboard the Void Dancer.' I said. I still wondered how I was doing that without vocal cords or lungs.
    "Never forgot about that."
    'Yes but now really concentrate on that. You are not in open space but inside a space-ship. It is hermetically sealed. You can't simply float into outer space just like that. You are surrounded by alloy walls. Try to feel them.'
    Pentyl shivered and started to compress. In the open space around us ships jumped out of hyper-space materialising around us.
    'Pentyl? What's happening.'
    "They found us! We have to flee James!"
    'What? Who found us?'
    "The Zohkin Mining ships. They found us James. We need to get out of her before its to late!" there was a hot streak of panic filling Pentyl's voice. Without warning the scenery changed. I felt crushing pressure. I was a in a dark space that crushed me from all sides. The pain was unbearable. There was one small spot where I could decompress, escape the pain... "No." Pentyl shouted. But it was to late a part of me was already rushing towards freedom. Suddenly the part of me that was escaping ignited. I screamed.
    "James. Try to hold together." Pentyl screamed, I felt her flowing around me finding the spaces where she could still flow through me, I felt her gripping me trying to keep me in place. but all it did was slow my descent into the fire down.
    'What's happening Pentyl? What the fuck is this place?'
    "We are in a gas mining station James. You need to stay as compressed as you can. It's your only chance to survive!"
    'Pentyl.' I said trying to force my self to appear as calm as possible. "We are not on a mining station." I pressed through clenched teeth. Teeth. My body! "We are aboard the Void dancer. I can actually hear your voice." I could hear my own voice again. "What ever this colony is supposed to represent is not real. Do you hear me."
    "It's real." Pentyl said. "'Stay with me. I can protect you."
    "Pentyl. This isn't real. Remember how we went pas the light barrier. Even if we did explode there are no gas mining stations around for millions of miles around Saint Saviour."
    "No mining." she said.
    "No mining. The walls you feel are those of my ship. Also I can hear you so must be in the same room as me. You have compressed yourself through your containment unit. We are on the bridge." my body slowly faded into my consciousness again. I took a few step forwards until I reached resistance. A console probably communications.
    "I am on the bridge talking to you only with my voice. Listen to it. It will lead you back."
    "Yes. I can hear you. Those are your strange organoid noises you make to communicate." Pentyl said.
    "Right and those are the usually charming words you use to describe us organoids. Also even if there was a gas mine nearby they would never try to refine you Pentyl. The war is long over."
    "The war." Pentyl said with a voice dripping with grief.
    "Long gone. It's been over a thousand years. It had been over long before I was born." I felt around and found a chair. I sat down. That helped. Now I had two anchor points to re-establish reality. My own body and an outside object. Slowly the bridge started to fade into view again, replacing the scalding dark reality of where ever we had been before.
    I interfaced with the ship's systems and accessed the light controls. Slowing turning up the light into a blinding flame blue.
    "Look how the light changes. That's me doing it. It's not dark in here. It is actually really bright. Can you see the light Pentyl?2 I asked.
    "Yes." Pentyl's voice started to sound more relaxed. "Yes I can see it. I can feel the floor... and the walls."
    I let the chair turn slowly. No sudden movement that might shatter reality again. Pentyl was behind me. She was completely deformed resembling a burning stick figure, he limbs only an inch or so wide while her gaseous body was radiating light and heat.
    "Pentyl you are over-compressing. There is enough space in here for you. Expand. You are safe here." I said.
    Slowly Pentyl's body began to take its normal flow again the glow subsiding.
    "I can see you. I can see the bridge." she said.
    "I'm glad to hear that. From now on you need to concentrate on what's real every once in a while. There will be things that will distract you or things that may frighten you but you need to remain calm. Nothing in this ship has changed since we took off from the spoke. Things may appear strange but they aren’t really. OK?"
    Once I was sure that Pentyl had calmed down I went over to the navigation console to check out current course. Our little excursion had taken a day we had just cleared Hadalag and where no blasting towards the next greater galaxy cluster. If I could keep Pentyl calm that would give me a couple of days to train her on the fine art of not going insane during faster than light travel.
    Pentyl remained calm, she got herself under control very quickly making me slightly envious as it had taken me months to get used to true faster than light travel. Her training still took most of the time of our voyage which made the time fly. Pentyl was reaching the stage where she could very gently push reality towards a shape that she wanted it to take, one of the most advanced techniques when we reached our destination.
    The last day before arrival we both spent with calculations for the breaking process. While it was relatively easy to stop near ones target I intended to get to stop right next to it. Inexperienced faster than light travellers would be happy to stop next to the solar system they were gunning for. I was a professional with a reputation to consider. I was going to slow down and go into a wide orbit around my intended target. While this took a lot of preparation that did ensure that it would look effortless and easy. There are some spectators that you want to impress.

    The Void Dancer turned around her aft pointing into the direction we were heading when I activated the engines again pushing them to their very limit and activating both the ships afterburners and repulsion fields. The Void Dancer's deceleration was so massive that the inertial dampers could not completely counteract it. I was pushed deep into my command chair, the only reason I did not black out was because of the high grade medical equipment I had laced into my atomic structure over the years. Poor Pentyl was crushed against the aft walls of the ship while she was pushing her containment field to its limits cursing in several languages not all of them acoustic.
    The manoeuvre worked as we were both crushed to the side as the Void Dancer swung into orbit according to plan.
    "Captain James Steiner Gutierrez. It's been a while." said the Sentinel fortress the red giant sun dawning on its angular horizon. "It's been to long. It's good to see you again."
    "It's good to see you again too Sentinel." I said adjusting our course. The Void Dancer was now in a stable orbit against around the Sentinel Fortress, not quite an easy task as the fortress was the size of a small planet but had the shape of two pyramids joined at their bases giving it a somewhat exotic field of gravity.
    "Where's Kira?" the Sentinel asked.
    "She... she's gone. I need your help." I said.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Project: Superluminal 010

    Of all physical forces light is the biggest knobhead. Photons effortlessly jump from their point of origin to light-speed, just like that. Not happy to be the fastest particle in the Universe they jealously guard their privilege against everyone else setting a hard boundary against anyone trying to get past it. One may approach its fabled speed if enough effort is shown. Equalling the speed of light let alone surpassing it is a natural taboo though that must not be broken.
    "Ye shall have no speed faster than mine." Light said.
    All the species that ever reached beyond their star of origin and went on to prosper in outer space challenged that law. Every single one of them found ways around the hard limit. Usually by cheating. That way the crafty species got to expand into the universe while light maintained its dignity.
    However there seems to be almost always someone who doesn't take no for an answer. Most species will have individuals among them who will rebel against the light and try not to side-step this one fundamental law but will go out of their way to break it. Every once in a while they succeed. If advanced technology is paired with a strong will prepared to repeatedly bash against the wall of light it can be broken.
    True faster than light travel is the fastest, the most flexible form of travel there is and yet the vast majority of ships uses other forms of faster than light travel, preferring to avoid the confrontation with light, carefully avoiding any eye contact. For light is a vengeful force. If one takes its birthright, it will break reality in return.
    That leaves a void that is filled by those who pushed past the barrier. True faster than light travel always creates a surge in new religions among those who first surpass it. "As you leave the light behind, you become the light yourself." they would say. Temple ships would be build, monastic orders of cosmonauts founded. In the end the technology would fade away, replaced by other methods that allowed to travel beyond the stars without having to confront the strange phenomena that bled out of the passengers minds. The technology would survive in obscure niches, favoured by those who travel alone or in small close knit groups, but would remain obscure. And light would remain the sovereign king of the physical world. And remain a being a bit of a dick.
    I should have asked Pentyl if she had broken the barrier before.
    I was stupid.
    I had assumed that she had. I told her we would be going faster than light. I had stressed that part because I was so proud of it.
    It was perfectly reasonable to expect her telling me that this was her first time.
    I was an idiot but it was to late to complain all I could do was hope for the best.
    I concentrated focusing on my surroundings. Everything was white I was suspended in mid-nothing. I took a deep breath. I smelt burnt caramel. Pentyl. I felt my body, its position. I forced myself to feel my command chair. The controls held in my hands. The whiteness receded slowly uncovering my cockpit. I had spent a lot of time working on its design adding personal touches and I had spent years within it. The cockpit was practically a part of me. Returning to it was easy. I went through my post-acceleration rituals checking all the instruments. Bringing them into focus making sure that I anchored them properly in the shifting reality around me. I ignored that behind me was a wide open field leading away to a strange horizon, that wasn't important right now. In front of me was space. That was good. The parts of the cockpit that kept the atmosphere in and the nothing of space out materialised like a mirage on a hot summer day. The sun above was shining in a perfect blue sky. Perfect weather for a picnic, that had to wait.
    I could now see the navigation line in front of me. The ship was still on course. I could see the Hadalag system slowly moving closer towards us. I corrected our course adding a navigational assistance program to the ships auto-copilot. After double checking our course I carefully increased our cruising speed. ONce past the light barrier it was easy enough to gain more speed. But even so reaching our next obstacle would take days.
    Enough time to save Pentyl