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?!"