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Won't that be one mighty day
When we hear world leaders say
"We don't have to cry no more"
"We're givin' it up, we gonna let it all go"
Ain't gonna study, study war no more
Ain't gonna think, think war no more
Ain't gonna fight, fight war no more
We're givin' it up, we gonna let it go
We're givin' it up, we gonna let it go
We will take gun powder to have fun
Then get rid of the atom bomb
Something else that we can do
Get rid of all those rockets too
The money spent on bombs alone
Can build poor people a happy home
Something good we can do
You treat me like I treat you
No more starving in the nation
Everybody gets an education
Everytime a baby is born
We know he'll have him a happy home
No more sleeping in the street
We all happy whoever we meet
Then we all will shake their hand
And make this world a promised land
March 21, 2124 (CC 105)
The Angel's Thimble was the first seedship to be built from Midgard Staryards, and the first new such colony effort in over fifty years. The ship was shaped like a silver spindle, a long needle-like main body with a wide ring around its axis. The flute on the far end was its photon drive. There was a broad sheath of ice up front, which served as both as a shield against the strikes of interstellar material at a third of the speed of light (and rising) and as a reserve of reaction mass. In front of that was the ramscoop to collect interstellar hydrogen for fuel, but its efficiency was directly proportional to the ship's velocity.
It was almost kilometer long and had a waking crew of five. It was seven years into its journey when man encountered the first truly xeno race in its experience.
"I am certain they can see us." the Alien-Technologies Officer persisted. He pointed with a clawed finger at the screen. "That ring was rotating when we first encountered it. It stopped when we approached to two million (kilometers). It can only be a mechanism to imitate gravity through centripetal force, but the spin would throw off any attempts at maneuvering. So it is now still."
The Captain flicked his long hairless pink tail back and forth thoughtfully. "This is worrying." A Hero of the Kzin of course would not run from danger, but a warrior must have a healthy respect for the unknown. "They know of us but aren't trying to get away. Are they that confident of themselves?"
The Alien-Technologies Officer shook his head and flattened his ears. "Look, captain. The hull is composed of mere iron alloys and some carbon composites. It is practically unarmored. The gravity ring tells us that there is life within that ship. They don't have the gravity planer, if they need such a thing. This is one of the most primitive crafts I've ever seen."
"And yet we are lightyears away from the nearest star!"
"We have matched their velocity at thirty-two percent of the speed of light. They must have some efficient reaction drive for its size… we have never need one as good, not since we found the gravity planer."
"Hrr. Are they a threat to us?"
"I cannot see a way how, Srul-Captain."
"Keep all weapons trained on it anyway. Where is that cursed telepath?"
The door to the dimly-lit bridge slid open and a much more slim catlike figure entered. He stood at attention exaggeratedly. His fur was unbrushed and he looked as if he required more sleep. "Reporting as ordered, captain!"
Srul-Captain bared his teeth slightly in displeasure. The telepath was a disgrace to the ideal of a Conquest Kzin, but of course the rarity of the talent ensured he wouldn't be murdered to preserve the honor of the Kzint'i race. He pointed at the main screen and spoke with sheer contempt. "We have encountered a new enemy craft. You will read their minds for us."
The telepath slumped in misery. "Yes, sir." He slunk over to a chair and closed his eyes. His ears flicked and rolled, his tail hung slack, and soon he entered a trance-like state. The captain's mind intruded on him, a hate that was eagerly but inexpressibly returned, and he frantically tuned it out. One by one he filtered out the minds of those in the ship, and reached towards the alien craft…
Strange and disturbing thoughts clawed at him across the void, and his mind reeled trying to turn the chaotic sendings of the eleventh sense into something more sensible.
"… bet they don't even have radio…"
So how does a man from old worn Earth end up leading the first extrasolar spacecraft built by mankind? Not much mystery in the reasoning behind it, of course- wealth, political wrangling, nepotism, oh the excuses are so easy and so believable. It's more a matter of distance, my friend. Up until this era of ours all colony ships had to be built and delivered from Luna Prime. Not since the first wave of seedships had any builder born from Gaia's womb, even as a graduate of the Red Tower's Xenocourse, gone further than just bringing the completed ship through the wormgate.
The Xenocourse has a serious problem even in getting any students to make graduate. Through the past hundred years it was twice almost canceled, this program that gave mankind the stars.
I suppose it's a matter of enthusiasm then.
Behind every prejudice, no matter how obsolete, is a nugget of truth. Or at least a falsehood as attractive. The reputation of us Earthborn, called flatlanders, as naïve, lacking imagination, sheltered, and soft- I, Janth Baladeva, this I must admit to still have basis in reality.
You see, it's not like I –wanted- to be here. While travel between wormgates reduces travel times by half, two endpoints of the warp tunnel still need to be created and linked to each other. The other end therefore must be brought to place the old-fashioned way, at sublight velocity, through the decades snatched from cold sleep. It's hardly adrenalin-pumping work. Establishing a colony on the far end is just exhausting.
But it's a matter of obligation.
The Cohesive Humansphere is more than a government, less than a religion. Setting up a wormgate is as much an art as it is an artifact of science. Much as we've left behind a lot of the old self-destructive tendencies, a whole host of new superstitions seem to have replaced them. Earth is birthplace of mankind. It's still sacred. We, as humans, still –need- that visceral connection to the source from which we all sprang. A ship with Earthborn at the head is just somehow innately luckier… as the saying goes, God favors small children, fools, and ships named Enterprise.
No one is allowed to name their ship the Enterprise. That's what they named the quantum tunneling experiment back in 2019 (The Enterprise Experiment), and that one instead of teleporting a small sphere of silicon from sea level to Serenity Base on the moon instead flung the entire Solar System off to God knows where (and He's not telling). Mankind then required a new calendar, starting from June 4, 2019 – 4:02 AM GMT. That day the sky changed forever. Ursa Major and Minor, and Draco, and Orion, and Polaris, all left to be replaced by an unfamiliar ceiling.
Since this mission is not about getting lost or stuck in improbable but intensely interesting situations, no way were the Sigilata going near that name. While the whole ship is heavily automated that a child could perhaps command it, the captain is supposed to keep the crew from annoying each other to death from their boredom. So, what did that leave? A likable fool of some sort.
Of course I'm a fool. I left Centauri Beta a sprightly twenty-six, before that having spent two years getting from Sol to Alpha then two more to Kappa, then Beta. Now I'm a paunchy thirty-nine. I'm sure my reaction was just hilarious when I told I'd be on bed rota between the XO and the engineer. It's not that Earth is all that repressive, but I just never expected how so blunt were the outborn towards sexual matters. Decades. In this ship, when not in cryo, there's only fuck or sleep or find some other non-harmful way of not growing mad from boredom.
I didn't want to be here, not exactly in this ship, but something like that was the reason why I wanted to (ahem) explore known space.
I was young, all right? To us, the generations born since the Shift, the night sky held no strangeness. New constellations replaced the old, using the same names, trying for the same old patterns anyway. That didn't matter. Sol remains the same, pale Luna still hangs in the sky with its red ribbon, and heavy Jupiter still glowers over its siblings.
As much as roamed, I still expected to go back.
It surprised me most of all to learn that I'd been chosen to lead the mission, despite having no practical experience. But one does not ignore Vishnu Paramatma when He decides to call.
This mission –must- be specially blessed if He decides to take direct notice of it. This first contact with the first true alien race in humanity's experience is certainly a surprise, but not too much so. Am I giddy with excitement? Haha no. I'm scared near out my wits.
The only sensible reaction, perhaps. I just can't show it. A captain needs to present a calm confident manner, it's not for nothing that I spent all these years.
"… bet they don't even have radio."
I'm jerked from my contemplative mood by a loud disputing snort.
"Radio waves still propagate at the speed of light." speaks up Helena Diskport, the mission's Astrogator. "Why wouldn' anyone not recognize any signal sent through the spectrum? We've tried every frequency outside of anythin' they could mistake for a targeting emission." She spun in the weak gravity of the central command bridge with a Belter's grace and floated over to other side of the bridge. "Any species advanced enough to build a spaceship should know what can be used for communication."
"What forms of communication should we be using?" I ask her. Tall and leggy, with her hair in a military crew-cut, Helena puts her emphasis more in voice than in gestures. I guess that comes from being raised in a spacecraft where any random flailing could knock loose objects or switches in zero gee.
"We've already got the computer running the standard First Contact package, sa'ir. We've been throwing universal greetings in both analog and binary, running lights at pi an' Fibonacci, but they're just not responding. They should know there's at least something annatural here."
"There might not be anyone there to respond." replied Changor Jicks, the ship's Pilot. He squints at the main screen behind thick-lensed goggles. While it was simple enough to get generic Earthform organs to replace bad eyes, he still rather likes the ones his mother gave him. Our lineage has a common thread, but he is Iupitrian.
Piloting a colony ship like this must be punishment for a rocketjock, and really just for that I have to suppress a bit of jealousy. That was the advantage of mystique I'd never have. Everyone else on this ship, despite that we started off a young crew, had lived a more exciting life before being shoved into this hull.
"A machine-piloted craft?" Helena changed the main screen to show through the ship's optics. "Look at that." Splashed across the ship's side was a line of dots and dashes, very different from the angular letters that made up human Interlang, but visibly serving the same purpose. "Someone had to have built that. Whoever they are, they write the ship-name across the hull like we do. In white paint, even. They have language, obviously."
"Don't you want it to be an AI?" I ask her again. Astronavigation in deep space tended to be just plugging star charts into the computer. With next to nothing to do, her other job is tending to the computers. Her hobby is developing artificial intelligence without quite breaking the taboo on self-aware systems. The Angel's Thimble itself could have one, but it's an old reliable design that doesn't need one. "Isn't that one of solutions to the Fermi question?"
The only thing more boring would be the pilot's job, which would be… nothing. A seedship only needed to be steered at the start towards the prospective star, and then left to accelerate on its own.
Poor Changor. But that's why he and Elena share misery and relieve it, among other pursuits, intellectually in making piloting and management sims.
"Like, why haven't machine intelligences already consumed the galaxy, you mean?" Helena shrugs. "I don't know… I'd like something that thinks in ways I can understand. Something that we can talk to… it's better than risking a Berserker plague."
"How about a bug-eyed alien swarm? Biological von Neumann propagation is just as valid." Changor adds helpfully. "There's plenty ways of thinking and communicating. We might not even perceive space itself the same way. Spot!" He curls his lips back. "That thing has a reactionless drive!"
"Our photon drive is also, by definition, reactionless." I say back not-at-all helpfully.
He glares at me. I think. I can't really tell with his lenses. "Our Solenoid Engine doesn't create energy from nothing. If we could just generate black holes like the First Generation seedships, our drive would be much more efficient in transforming its output into propulsion. But that thing isn't even emitting anything. I just saw it match our velocity from almost double ours!"He wiggles his brush moustache at Helena. "That's not possible. It shouldn't violate the conservation of energy."
"Not with… machines?" I ponder out loud. "At least, not in the method we know from the history books."
Helena crosses her arms over her chest and lightly kicks off the back of Changor's chair to drift back to her station. "I don't have any proof that it's manned. I just think it likely that machine intelligence or no, it has to be ignoring us. If it's advanced to go interstellar on its own, howev' it does it, it's got to be enough to –see- us."
I can't help but to chuckle. "It's still strange to finally meet an alien race that actually –needs- spaceships to cross the void." I guess that just leave us with just one important question.
The computers of the Kzin scoutship did receive the First Contact package, and speedily reinterpreted the data. "Bipedal, hands and feet with digits capable of fine manipulation, it looks like." the Alien Technologies Officer mulled over the data and snarled slightly. "Kzin-like, if just in shape."
"They look weak. These are the females, yes? Nearly the same size as the males. If not for the breasts, how can they even tell each other apart? Their fur… hrr, it's not so much the lack of it that is unnatural, but that they seem to growing in the most useless places." But of course there was just one important question. "What are their weapons?"
"They have weapons, crude lasers and magnetic throwers…" the telepath murmured. "They are sure their weapons will have no effect, our armor is much thicker than they expected. They have seen our speed and are not confident they can even hit us."
"As they expected? Have they come to conquer?" the Captain asked with relish.
"No… exploration… they have not been space for long, less than a hundred years. No, wait… they have only two worlds." The telepath couldn't keep an expression of feral pleasure off his face. "They are afraid. Their worlds have almost no defenses. No warships."
"This is a primitive ship, but at least we know they can be taught to build." the Alien Technologies officer offered. "A new slave race."
The captain let out a satisfied growl. This was most fortunate. It would bring them much honor, names and wealth. "Can they fight?"
"Yes, very much they want to fight us. They know we are superior and that makes them fear. They want to fight so much they want to die, as long as we die with them. We must not be allowed to know where their homeworld is."
The Captain yowled in delight. A spirited prey. This just gets better and better. The Fanged God was surely smiling upon them this day.
"Why are they here?"
"… colonization. They carry with them hundreds of colonists in coldsleep." The small Kzin hung limp and went silent for a long while. It was only by the twitching of his tail and the intense expression of focus on his face that the crew kept from worrying about his weak, but still useful life. Suddenly he opened his eyes and flicked his ears up in challenge. "They have faster-than-light!" the Telepath yelped.
"You are lying!" yowled Alien-Technologies-Officer, reflexively striking out but with claws in. The telepath yowled, more of rote than in pain, and cowered submissively. The larger Kzin gestured at the main screen. "I have eyes! Do you think it would be here if it had an FTL drive? This craft is almost a toy!"
"It is not a drive. It's… a gate of some sort. They must travel sublight until they can set it up in the far end."
"Hrr… is this possible?" asked the captain.
The Alien Technologies Officer flattened his ears out and took a more submissive pose too. "I am not sure, honorable Srul-Captain. Certainly we know of some animals that possess faster-than-light, but none of them capable of challenging us. The (Puppeteers) have it, and the Slavers before them, but the Jotoki never achieved such a technology. This primitive lump of a ship! I cannot believe it."
"Then this telepath should be punished for insolence."
The telepath could only let out a mournful yowl. "I may be deceived, my great masters, but in this I am not lying. I have nothing to gain from lying."
"That much is true." Alien-Technologist said. "It would be simple enough to check when we take the ship."
The Captain clawed at the air towards the screen. "You say they have no weapons to challenge us, fool?" he said to the telepath. "That photon drive of theirs is a weapon in itself. Are they thinking that?"
The telepath flattened his ears and went back into a trace. "… yes, yes… they realize it too. But their ship is too long. They know the speed of our ship, and… we could easily destroy them long before they are in position to fire."
Srul-Captain chuffed with laughter. "That is a lesson we need not teach today. Today we have slaves, and new technology, and will soon know where we can find more! Alien-Techologist, we must have this craft. It is too valuable to destroy."
"Yes, Srul-Captain. But it has no armor… any of our weapons could easily destroy and compromise its cryogenic systems. If these new slave-animals do possess gate-FTL, then surely the knowledge would be in those too valuable to spend their years between stars. As much as possible, we should recover their computer data intact."
The Captain began to scratch at the bottom of his chin with his thumb, claw out.
"Boarding it would be simplest, but we must not give them time to purge their storage of star charts." To scream and leap, it worked best when the prey was unaware. His ears flicked at an idea. "Which part is the command module?"
In under just fifty years had seen most of humanity move from the shelter of its cradle to the having the bulk of its number in orbitals and belt-ships and the seed-ships. As much as the once-fractured world finally put aside their old grudges and burdens, so did man seem intent in forging new planes of division. There's plenty of us now. Earthborn, Lunarian, Sol Sider, Martian, Sol Belter, Martian, Iupter and Nepter, then Outshifter. Then there are the extrasolar colonies. The Centauri Siders in worldless Alpha Centauri, the Gardians and Swarm Belters in Beta Centauri, Lynxians in Felisa, and so on. A hundred years later and most of humanity was born off lonesome Gaia. Earth imposes no influence on her colonies, each one that sets off is implicitly politically distinct as long as all obeys the common laws of the CHS.
A lot of things remained the same anyway. Our common culture is in no hurry to leave this state of humanity. I've grown up through this voyage and I can understand how almost everyone wishes they hadn't wasted their childhood years hurrying to grow up. Mankind as a whole is still so young. We have all the time in the universe.
I lean back on my chair, take the cigarette from my lips and blow. I roll the stick between my thumb and forefinger thumb and forefinger as I think.
All this time, the woman to my left hasn't spoke up. Her sharp, hawk-nosed face is set in grim concentration. "They haven't shot at us yet." Comrade Esperanza says nervously. "Maybe... they're like us. It's automated until they wake up the crew from coldsleep?"
She looks at the other craft in her own viewscreen. The bulb-like vessel does looks distinctly unfriendly, with bulges that could only be weapon ports.
"War is such a hilariously expensive… and slow… undertaking across interstellar space, that any resources applied towards waging it is very unlikely to be recouped in whatever's claimed." I say with a slight grin. Thaat's right. Listen to me, a banker's son, laying down the costs of violence. "That's why the peace humanity's enjoyed for the past hundred years hasn't been because one political ideal or faction finally proved superior over all others… we all learned it's not worth the heartache."
Helena's smile is more than a little indulgent. "Earth's peace, captain. And that's because your primary export seems to be dissenting views." Jupiter and the Belt ended up not being happy with each other anyway.
Which just proves my point more, really. For all the talk of 'pirates' and rhetoric, they knew that industry put into building warships could be better habitats and resource extraction. Which in turn could be the seed for a military build-up, but in twenty-five, fifty years, trade would have linked them so tightly that war would be unthinkable.
"Explorers, my dear. Such as we are." I point to the screen. "Any species smart enough to get to space on its own should at least have managed to unite a good deal of their own species beyond violent competition. Fighting the well of gravity is hard enough."
All we've accomplished, we've done it without the waste of war.
I look to the station left of me, where sat Comrade Esperanza at the weapons controls. She shrugs. "Maybe, but just because one got to space doesn't mean they have to be rational about it." The Lynxian has decided to take out her own smog-sticks. She takes a deep drag and swallows much of the smoke instead of blowing it out.
There are very many who still think smoking's a vile habit. I begin to spin the stick between my fingers. The mission's psychologists had accepted that some people did find it relaxing just to hold something in the middle of a crisis. It kept them centered. Poison might be in every breath, but it did force officers to take willful deep breaths regularly and that motion alone allowed them to keep their heads. The body needed to become the slave to the mind.
But to a Jinxian, the only other landborn in the Humansphere, the poisons would taste like home. Let me digress here a little. Lynx is the first real life-bearing planet humanity had found. Asgard doesn't count- it's a wordlet around a gas giant, like Europa for the Jupitris. Lynx is habitable, compatible with earthstock flora and fauna, except for one thing- its atmosphere is slightly toxic. Plants wouldn't care, but people would have to live in domes and carry oxygen packs when going about their world.
We've learned from the colonization of Mars that dome dwellings are costly and time-intensive. It would be much faster, and much more liberating, to implant what's known as the Beecher's Organ, which allows human lungs to filter out poisons before they enter the bloodstream.
I can almost hear the reaction of the colonists when the next shipment arrived. Flatlanders. Yeah, only Earth-humans would think meddling with the genetic template was the simpler solution. Fortunately the implantation procedure only involved snorting down two thin hollow threads and a micro-pump pushing through the gene-seeds. It's been a long time since we needed to do surgery just for implants… there was no chance of organ rejection when they're formed from the body's own cells.
The end result? Within a month, every Lynxian could walk outside, saving them a lot of time and effort and construction money. The improved lung efficiency also extends human normal lifespan by about five years. Another dirt-cheap solution brought to you by GEHRIN's Artificial Evolution Labs. Subsidizing its research costs is part of where your taxes go.
Of course, I have one too. When I went off to work for Sol Space Agency, GARUDA, they gave me the full set of environmental tolerance implants. Luna's many white elephant industries are occasionally useful. Lunarians may be loony for their research, but it's still Terra that keeps on paying for it.
Speaking of Lunarians…
I thumb inship communications and call for Dr. Toyama. A short while later, I receive a reply from the coldsleep chambers.
"My apologies, Captain Baladeva." our resident Science Operations Chief says, the tiny woman looking like a panda in her white parka. "She is nearly awake."
I nod. Even as a Captain, First Contact was never really my purview. I suppose anyone in this crew can be diplomatic if necessary, but there is only one person in this place that can truly –know- the border between man and alien. Qualifications don't really matter as much as being… able to speak for all mankind. Who has the right to do that?
"Thank you, Doctor. Please make sure she's comfortable. We'll wait for you h-"
The whole ship lurches as if struck by a hammer blow. I briefly feel a hot flash before the helmet-film engaged, covering my head and protecting it from the decompression. Air rushes out through two holes in the hull. The lights switch to emergency red, and I feel pops through the deck plates as the automated defense system shoot out laser-diffusion flares. Pressure containment seals rapidly flow from the edges of the hole.
"Him on Earth!" I gasp. "What was that?" It's a few more strained moments before I can move again.
I hear a whimpering through integrated comms. One of the holes is near the Astrogator's station. Helena… her legs are gone, the stumps seared and sealed. She's still clinging to the side of her chair. It's a good thing we're all hermetically sealed, I'm sure we don't want to smell cooked meat.
I still feel sick anyway, imagining how oddly appetizing such an odor would be. It's still part of our animal instinct, oh damn it.
Why would they attack? Have we triggered some sort of automatic defense flag? Ugh. Goddamn. No. I bump the alert from HARM straight into REFLEX. This is too precise. We're being targeted. That ship… "Tactical! Hold fire!"
Esperanza has already shot off our own defense lasers and a couple of missiles. The lasers had only tickled thick armor, and the missiles I'm sure will be shot down by any decent point defense. "But, sir-!"
"We need to look crippled…"
She gasps, understanding immediately. It's the only way to avoid further damage. She glances at her screen to see two objects separating from the… enemy… ship. Boats? Boarding craft, yes quite likely.
"Medical to the bridge! " I shout into the inship channel. To those with me, "Everyone belt in and brace yourselves. It's not over yet. They're going to hit us again."
They did. But that attack never touches us. It splashes harmlessly off a hexagonal red barrier around our ship.
I feel cold straight past the bone, right into the soul. The terror in my gut pushes me to dry heaving. I feel so tiny, the light of my soul wavering under the unintended assault. I can feel her.
She's Awake now. And she's angry.
"Again!" the Kzin captain screamed.
Lasers at full power pulsed and fusion bombs exploded against the strange red barrier.
Ship-Gunner pressed the small Scout Vessel's weapons to the safety limits. He reluctantly turned around to report "Still no effect, Captain!"
"I can see that, eaters of sthondat dung!" Srul-Captain stalked over to the telepath and hauled him up, His claws dug painfully into the smaller kzin's shoulder, but not enough to draw blood. "What is this trickery, telepath?"
The telepath moaned, blood dripping down his nose. "... there is nothing. The universe itself rejects its existence...! Ohh... I fear... forgive me, Patriarch, but I fear...!"
The captain snarled and squeezed, but the telepath reacted to the claws piercing his skin only by stiffening then hanging limp even more. Useless. As much as Srul-Captain would like to finally gut the honorless bastard, he had more important issues to think about. He threw down the telepath and gestured to the Communications Officer.
"What is happening, Alien-Technologist? What is this prey doing?" he radioed over to the boarding shuttles remaining at half a lightsecond and motionless relative to the strange ship.
"I do not know, honourable Srul-Captain..." He'd been granted the honor of leading the attack, and being stymied dishonoured both him and the captain. The latter's displeasure would likely prove murderous on the empty-handed return. "I do not recognize this technology, but it does have a similarity to something I've seen before."
"Hrr, truly? Is it a Slaver device?" A note of apprehension had crept into Srul-Captain's voice. While Kzin would do anything to possess the technology of the beings that ruled the known universe billions of years before even the bacteria that would evolve into Kzinti had appeared, all had more than a healthy respect for the dangers such ancient and mysterious things. The Slaver Empire, who could strip any being of its will, was without shame the only thing that a right-thinking Kzin could, and should, fear.
"I do not believe so. Look! We can still see the prey ship." On both the shuttle and the ship's screens the Angel's Thimble showed battle damage from the initial, successful strike. "It is only when an attack breaches a certain distance that it becomes opaque and resistant. It is a field, and it is distorting the electromagnetic frequencies used for targeting. The lower frequencies used for communication and vision are allowed to pass unhindered."
"I do not recall anyone possessing such a protective energy field."
"Not a field, Srul-Captain. But it is similar to a (Puppeteer) hull, is it not?"
The captain snorted angrily. The two-headed cowardly beings that would have been known as Pierson's Puppeteers in another time and place, built their General Products hull that were practically invulnerable to anything except lasers and antimatter. Because General Products hulls were transparent to visible light, lasers could be used to destroy the power plant, indirectly destroying the ship. This field however seemed most effective against lasers.
His ears flattened in unconscious terror at the thought. Whatever this technology, combining it with a General Products Hull would create a ship that was utterly invulnerable. "The Patriarchy must have this prey!" he snarled into the comms. "I want to know just how much firepower I can throw at this without destroying the ship when it fails."
"My regrets, but I can offer you no such knowledge captain. I do not know just how long you must claw away at the field before it is depleted. Or if it can be depleted." Cheerfully, Alien-Technologies added "But I do have a theory. We are almost ready to test it."
"A theory? What is this theory?"
"High-power lasers and explosives are stopped a safe distance away from the ship. I have noticed that missiles are allowed to approach closer than the lasers are stopped. When the lasers are active, the missiles explode at that distance that serves as a barrier." Alien-Technologist bared his teeth excitedly, widening his nostrils as if scenting prey. "If it is a Field, then obviously its strength must lessen with distance. At the same time, it must affect objects according to how they interact with the Field. I hypothesize, Srul-Captain, that this defensive field reacts proportional to the energy that is acting against it!"
The Captain didn't understand how certain Kzin relished fighting against themselves, rejoicing in solving conundrums rather than the simple joy of combat, but the Patriarchy had good use of such Kzin genes. Alien-Technologist was no coward, able to take challenge and ears from the defeated. He could be trusted. "What do you propose? Rather than Scream and Leap, to Feint and Pounce?"
The alien ship was still sending radio signals, a repeating message that probably said 'do not attack'. Maybe it was even 'we surrender', but as long as that Field was up there was no point to it. "Yes, Srul-Captain! If you will, we will begin the experiment. First, we will throw objects towards the ship at varying velocities. Then, one of the warriors will drift towards the ship at the limit and fire a laser rifle."
"A laser rifle has an effective range, even in vacuum of only two (kilometres)." the captain noted.
"We have already tried firing our hand-carried weapons, and they have not been stopped. Presumably they possess too little energy to interact with the field. If this is a success, simply by moving very slowly relative to the ship we may be able to slide through the protective field."
"Good. Do this, and I will be sure to mention your contributions in my report."
Alien-Technologist slunk back in a respectful pose. "You honor me, Captain."
"I know so." Srul-Captain cut off the link dismissively.
Alien-Technologist didn't know what effect the Field would have on living creatures, but all other Kzin in the craft volunteered loudly and enthusiastically for the test. The armoured battle suit of the Kzin only had enough air for about three hours. All Kzin were, by nature, impatient. They would have to get much closer on their own to make sure the test could have any useful result.
His theory was starting to get legs the closer they approached. The field showed red hexagons when struck. Their boarding shuttles were encountering resistance, impossible as that may seem in empty space, the faster they were going. Alien-Technologist had decided to split the boarding party even further, cramming more into one shuttle (the one he was in) while the other with half crew pushed ahead at slightly higher speed. He kept a wide-angle view, and the wisps of red light were taking shape at the higher inward velocity. The hexagon was appearing outwards in, the shape multiplying on itself as it steadily 'thickened' to form a barrier, and thus he could correlate the amount of rate of resistance with that physical signal.
A spiral path around the ship seemed best, but at some point the repulsive force would become a zero-sum game for the shuttles. To continue further would require pushing the engines, but that would impart more energy to the vehicle and thus even more resistance.
The lead shuttle was dragging a Kzin warrior behind it on a tether. Those inside the shuttle could 'feel' the resistance of the Field to their vehicle, as it if was pushing against water, but the Kzin outside reported feeling no such resistance.
Firing off the rifles had the beams stopped about five hundred meters by small hexagonal barriers. Finally the shuttles approached to within ten thousand kilometres of the alien ship, and they looked as if crowned by red hexagons. There was still empty space in front of the lead shuttle, but the patterns of red light were near the outline of hull. Still the tethered Kzin reported no change in resistance. A while earlier he'd been thrown forward ahead of the shuttle. Although his velocity matched, there was no resistance. Alien-Technologist had ordered Kzin to fire his rifle again. First away from the ship, then towards the red stripes ahead.
The laser beams were stopped by small red hexagons, still at five hundred (meters), but when fired in front of the shuttle no such hexagons appeared. The beam was stopped at the same distance as the soft barrier in front of the shuttle. Even though it was fired deeper inside the protective Field. "This makes no sense." Alien-Technologist grumbled.
The men were getting restless. They'd been stuck waiting for several hours as the shuttles approached. They'd have been better off just jumping towards the prey, wtsai out, like a Hero should.
"Flyer-Sergeant, I want you to push the engines as far as it will go." From experiments with thrown objects, it appears the Field simply transformed and transferred energy. Kinetic weapons were being introduced to its own value of energy at some point and neutralized effectively. Lasers were not so much losing cohesion as sharply being sapped past a certain distance. Objects would up motionless and were dragged along at a one-third lightspeed by the inexplicably viscous field. One could almost think it was a gravity well, except that the gravity planer was not acknowledging its existence. That was the theory, since the shuttles were already much further into the Field the harmless thrown objects.
The shuttles were more in danger of overloading their engines than from the Field itself, which seemed only to be responding to outside input.
Already the shuttle ahead was slowing down. Alien-Technologist's shuttle had its engines off. He watched the overlapping red hexagons around the lead shuttle thicken and draw inwards.
Suddenly Flyer-Sergeant screamed "Fanged One! I did not -...!" All Kzin in the shuttle screamed in blind terror, loud and high-pitched, which was even more suddenly cut off by a loud squelch. The Kzin being dragged yowled, spasmed uncontrollably, and then his limbs hung slack. Blood splattered all over the inside of his faceplate.
Alien-Technologist yowled as something seemed to squeeze his heart. The red hexagons around the lead shuttle had finally thickened to the point the shuttle looked like a dart aimed at a target board, and suddenly the Field thickened considerably. Rather than a repulsive force flinging the shuttles back, or sapping them of kinetic energy to quickly be left behind, the Field became more opaque. From the outside, the Scout Ship could see it as like a sphere of fogged glass. It pressed down on the shuttles – impossibly, Alien-Technologist's mind could still protest – like the weight of water in an ocean.
The lights are still red. It's been a few hours since we were first attacked, but while we're safe for now we're still technically under attack. This is still a combat situation.
There's five of us that should be awake at any point in time during this journey. We're supposed to take four-year shifts. Next year, it would have been my XO's turn and a different crew. We could choose to spend the shifts in coldsleep or extend how long we're awake. It's the captain that approves the requests. We only get paid as long as we're awake. The XO can't approve that, shift change requests during his term would wait until I'm next awake. It seems that my mission as the captain is to measure the sanity of my crew.
It's been an hour since I took a small nap here in my captain's chair. Who judges –my- sanity? Doctor Cuerva recommended I take a nap, but he looked uncomfortable staying here in the bridge. Not that I blame him. Helena... she should be all right. Dr. Cuervo's going to take care of her, but she might be better off staying in coldsleep the rest of the voyage.
Hah! If we do manage to survive that far.
Changor really wants to be with Helena, but after a while at the medbay he's back here. Esperanza's scared. Dr. Toyama doesn't look it. That's creepy.
But not of the enemy.
The enemy ship's not doing anything. I guess they figured they might as well save their ammunition. The two boats are approaching slowly but steadily. Esperanza looks like wants to blow them right out of space, but the same Field that protects us is also preventing any of our weapons from being useful.
The Field could do something about those two, but... it's not like we have any control over it. It's not a part of the ship's systems.
The command module is near the prow of the ship. We're about a third of lightspeed, but here the gravity we can feel is about one-sixth of Earth. The photon drive is efficient, but it's not on big linear acceleration. The floor is more like a ramp, and there are five chairs. My command seat's in the center, with tactical to the left and astrogation to the right. The pilot sits up front. The fifth is the 'guest' chair, behind me. Like all seats, it's on a swivel mount for when we change directions and what's the floor is being turned into the ceiling. That chair is empty.
Dr. Toyama's taken over the navigation station. She's pointedly ignoring everyone. Seriously, you loony! You're like a priestess of Science! Help us communicate with your God! The boarding craft are getting closer. It looks like the aliens are doing experiments with the Field. That's interesting. I can't really tell what they look like. Those spacesuits of theirs are thick and armoured, can't really get anything useful at this distance.
They're getting too close. What, should they just be allowed in? Should we surrender? Are we supposed to fight them off in close combat?
Our guest has chosen to stand ahead of me, between my chair and the Pilot's station. She's not obscuring the main screen, since the bridge's floor does tilt downward, but she's short. Her naked feet are on cold bare metal. Dr. Toyama's thick parka on her shoulders is more like a big fluffy coat.
God, what am I supposed to do? Um. Yes, that's right. I'm asking.
Our guest has been standing there for the past several hours, not moving a muscle. This bridge is cold with silence. None of us have dared to disturb the stillness with our meaningless mortal sounds. This place feels like a chapel. Or a tomb.
Esperanza is motioning at me with her hands, flicking from side to side, glaring and silently begging for me to speak up. Changor doesn't dare look back to express impatience. Hey. Damn. Dr. Toyama's not going to let herself receive any such signals. Fine. I'm the captain.
Can't She read my mind already or anything? Can She? Ugh. If so, then I'm already screwed. Might as well get it over with. "Excuse me? Ah. Your... Worship?" I recall that's what they used to call the head of a religion, right? The Papa? The Holy Father? "Holy Mother?"
"I am no one's mother." She replied.
Oh sweet serenity my heart just stopped. Wait. That's just my own panic attack. "I beg your forgiveness..."
"I am the Sixteenth." She turns around slightly to look at me. Her face is buried under the hood of the white parka, but I can see stray blue hair around a face almost as pale as the threads. Her eyes are glowing red. "I forgive nothing."
"Oh god." I am not fucking trained in this, okay? Xenocourse is overall a secular education. "I'm sorry. But, I have to ask..."
"I have no such right. I am your servant, not the opposite."
That makes no sense. I guess something in my face showed it, for She nods briefly then turns her back on me again. "I am but a protector of his legacy." She whispers softly. I feel it. She's so sad. She's so huge. She's so adorably small in that parka I suddenly want to hug her. Her presence fills the void.
Huh? I turn to look at Dr. Toyama for a moment. What does Hawaii have to do with anything?
I hear a loud 'ahem!' from the other side. Ezperanza waves at me to continue. I already started the conversation, might as well finish it, right? "My apologies anyway. But these aliens... shouldn't we be doing something about them? Do we have to fight?"
I want to laugh and cry at the same time. "How?" We're no match for that ship out there. There's only five of us, against all those aliens in the assault boats." Um. Six. I guess she's more than worth more than all of them combined. "I must ask, please, we don't want violence. Can't you just make them go away or something like that?" She's already defending us with her AT-field, but why is she allowing those two in?
"I am forbidden." She exhales softly and clenches her dainty fists. "If I were to use the light of my soul to attack, I would destroy not just this ship... but the promise to Him. This is my taboo. I would rob you of the power you possess."
"Power?" What power?
"But.. you can't just not DO anything. Who knows what these aliens would do to us?" I continue, my voice cracking.
"They would kill those who resist, enslave the rest, and eat the flesh of those they consider useless." She says without emotion. "They would seek out our home and do it to our families, our children."
"Really?" Esperanza gasps. "I mean. If that's so, then we really need a miracle!"
"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good me... um, the good... to do nothing." I say, in as scolding a manner I could dare to living god. I only I could remember those old prayers that my mother used to say. The Humansphere is a society that has no need to call for divine intervention to excuse the tumult in human lives, but at the same time one that legally recognizes the existence of a divine being. Just because we have no need of one doesn't mean we're going to be blind to the proof of a renewed Earth. It's been rebuilt even down to the oil reserves being refilled under the bedrock. Such a bounty we're keeping pristine, like keeping flowers over a gravestone.
"They will not." I can definitely hear a touch of anger in her tone. I wish I can be sympathetic, but it's got nothing to do with us right now.
"You're letting them in! Why? Is this a test?" Is this really the time to be thinking of what constitutes morality? What's good to a god? Maybe, perfection is the definition to the divinity. To fail at that, is evil. So, what? We don't matter if we don't live up to those standards?
"If you wish it to be."
"Can you give me a straight answer? I'm begging you. Tell us what to do."
"I cannot." She's hugging herself. I can feel her pain. "I do not want you to die. You are free. You will die free, if that is what you decide."
"Decide? What's there to decide? I want to-..." And then suddenly it hits me. Why me? Almost anyone else can do the job attached to this seat. That's the point. I'm Earth-born. I have the obligation. It wasn't divine intervention, I was foolish enough to be there are the right place and the right time to be available. Do you believe in fate? If you have faith, then the answer should be NO. Only we can carry out God's Plan.
"Can I tell you what to do?" Wait. Semantics. "May I tell you what to do and would you do it?"
"That's gr-... wait. I may have made a mistake." Legends are full of fools who fail to be sufficiently specific when dealing with powers unknowable. "To which part of the second question?"
"The first part."
I sag into my seat. So close. I put my hands over my face. "Why are you letting these aliens in?"
"I must be captured." She replies. There's a bloodthirsty edge to her tone. "I must know more."
She is the Sixteenth. Hmm. "I heard that if this part of you... dies... your memories would return to Him on Earth."
"That is true."
I begin to rub my forehead. The problems just keep on multiplying. "If we survive, and we reach the Dragon Cluster, we won't be able to build a gate leading back to Earth." Only She can tear through the universe and connect two points in space through the duality of Her existence as both mortal and divine. Earth might get sufficient warning in time, if She... these aliens are making me angry. No. She's Ours, you bastards. This goes beyond flatlander, belter, whatever. We're all human beings. Their gods are not our gods. Our angels who choose are not to be traded for convenience. They serve. We protect. We have an obligation too.
There's something tickling at the edge of my perception. I look at Dr. Toyama, who fully approves of wanting to know more. She adjusts her glasses just so, and light glints off them. Of course she disapproves. She wants to live long enough to grant her knowledge to others. I peer over Her head to see Changor's fists clenched tight over the controls. What does he want? Helena's alive, but she could have died. So easily. We all die so easily. I can almost feel it. It's not revenge he wants, but to make sure nothing like that happens again. Esperanza's afraid, but in that fear she wants to hit back. She wants to hit and hit and hit and blank out her mind, to go where no fear can touch her. Absolute Terror is always deep within all of us.
Xenocourse. Before knowing what is the other, first it is important to ask: What is Man?
Mankind is the last Angel, created by God to serve his will upon the cosmos. Mankind is One Being, separated by the Ego Border, made to live free and discover all that is to be known. We are born of Him and in the end return to Him, and we are all deserving of Paradise.
"You need to be captured. You –want- to be captured?" I ask, amazed. "We don't have the right to take that responsibility away from you." I point at the screen. "But, do you really care what happens to that ship out there? Do you really need to be captured as you are?"
I can feel her smile. It's small, but it's there. We're making her proud. We're not her children. She is both first and last of her kind. But she loves us all the same.
I blink. Several times. "I think... I have a plan." Yes. That might work. God Is in His Heaven and All is Right with the World, this is what we're made to do.
"Alien-Technologist! Report! Do you hear me?"
The Field was now fully opaque, black as space, except for rapidly whirling flickers of what looks like white outlines of eyes. The mystery of the thing was going past what was useful to the Patriarchy to a danger to the Patriarchy. Srul-Captain was seriously considering just ramming his ship into it at two-thirds of lightspeed. What could survive that? Even it did have properties similar to a General Products hull, then it would at least be a Heroic death.
More sensibly however, was getting this information to the Patriarchy. The ship's sensors were thoroughly confused. Space was being thoroughly bent over there, but utterly dissimilar to that of a gravity well. It would be simplicity itself to alter the vector of the gravity planer and retreat.
Retreat was logical. It also smelled like cowardice.
He'd already ordered the Pilot to send the Scout Ship into a semi-random course around the prey. If, unlike his own sensors those in the ship could see out, they still wouldn't be able to effectively target his ship. The bridge smelled like death. Ignored fallen on the floor was the Telepath's corpse, his throat torn out. The Captain licked blood out of the side of his mouth. He'd had enough of the lesser Kzin's moaning about the doom that waits for the Patriarchy. Such cowardice and treason, the useless son of a sthondat should have suffered more before dying. Srul-Captain snorted, he hadn't bothered even to take the ears of such a waste.
He growled speculatively and flicked his thick hairless tail from side to side. "This thing. I want it destroyed. Prepare a message to the Fleet." Then pointing from Communications to the Weapons Officer. "We will use ALL our missiles."
"I hear, Srul-Captain." Ship-Gunner dutifully replied. Of course to keep the missiles from explosively fratriciding each other into uselessness, he'd have to calculate carefully their vectors. Maybe they should strike all around the strange enemy globe?
Suddenly all felt as if a cold wave passed through space. Through the hull, into the bones, then out the other side. "Captain!" Ship-Gunner hissed in alarm. The enemy was no longer opaque. "The Field!"
The protective field was gone. "Burn this-!" the Captain yowled.
Then his eyes widened on really seeing the enemy on the monitor. The spindle-shaped ship was oriented away from its direction of motion. The flash of light had already faded. "Manoeuver us! Anywhere!"
The ship lurched on its axis and began moving. The speed of light was about three hundred thousand kilometres per second in space. The unbreakable speed limit was simply just how fast the universe can update itself. They were still a little over one million kilometres away from the prey ship. Good enough to avoid that hasty attack.
He grinned fiercely. Fools. He would break their ship and glean his glory from their carcasses!
Then an awful light shone upon the control dome of the ship, and the captain was on fire, and the hull blew out, and the ship was cut in half.
For the Angel's Thimble had not aimed at the Kzinti ship, but where it –would- dodge.
To someone who remembered fighting beings of self-deterministic spacetime and probability with her bare hands, influencing the possible future of one ship was a Child's play.
The seedship has five hundred colonists stacked in its main hull. It would be about three more decades until we would reach the Draco Trinary. Normally, that is. Now that's too dangerous. We don't know how soon before the other aliens receive whatever transmissions the enemy sent and send another ship for pickup. If the enemy sent our vector, it's extremely simple to calculate our destination.
"That is true, but it is more likely they would prefer to calculate our point of origin and head there." Dr. Toyama had said. "This one ship of ours is not a very big prize. The enemy, I think, for their strange reactionless drive is still very much limited by the speed of light."
"It depends on which is closer." Ezperanza hissed. "The Jurmugand Stars? Or Midgard."
Note to self: decide what we're going to name the colony. Sol's policy on letting settlers name their chosen stars over what the astronomers on Earth call them relies on have gates being able to send star chart updates back. It's going to be a while before anyone gets any news about it. Maybe even never.
"Should we even continue on this vector?" At only seven years in, we could still turn around or head for another place entirely. For all we know, that place was already enemy territory.
"You decide." She says firmly. "I will help."
"Are you allowed to do that?"
"Thou shalt not murder." She says, but to herself. "I will no longer be here." She tilts her head to the side. "I will give you the Super Solenoid Engine."
Changor stands on tiptoes excitedly. "You can do that? You can turn this ship into a first-generation seedship? It's that simple?"
"Huh. No offense meant, but why are all new ship engines less capable?"
"The Solenoid Engine is a biomechanical engine. The Super Solenoid Engine is an organ." She says. She tilts her head to the other side. Like a blue-haired kitten. Too. Damn. Cute. Why. "One of my organs."
"I am suddenly much less enthusiastic about this idea." Changor says quickly.
"It is no problem. This has been foreseen."
Past the cold cylinders of the cryostage modules is the Engine core. The Solenoid Engine generates minute amounts of antimatter. Not much, but it's able to do so for a long time. It's cold down here, and I've always thought these big tubes and pipes were far too vein-like for comfort.
A troop of Engineer Penguins greet us. Doctor Toyama is officially also the Ship's Chief Engineer when Dr. Brin's in coldsleep but the Engine itself really is maintained more by the Uplifted penguins. They've adapted to space quite easily and they're Luna's predator species. They swim in low-g hunting the photosynthetic void fish. More of the Artificial Evolution Labs' side projects.
Still, intelligent and reliable and surprisingly able to withstand great ranges of temperature and pressure, they've been with us even before the first seedship was built. They were designed alongside the first-generation, in fact.
The penguins receive the orders to shut down the reactor and enthusiastically float around flipping switches and turning dials with those hook-shaped claws on the end of their flipper-wings. They're very smart, but not human-smart. There are those who keep the Engineer Penguins as pets, but it's more like those penguins recognize what a rewarding job it is just to sit around and look cute. How smart are they? We don't know. They don't form societies or make rituals or their own language like humans do, but instead have been made to integrate seamlessly into our own. They can understand human speech and while they can't speak it, can write it. Are they incapable or just choose not to follow complex reasoning?
They seem happier than most humans, at least. No angst, no fear of the future, no hesitation about social interaction.
"We're able to live in peace..." I murmur. Everyone's attention is drawn to me (except for the penguins) and I embarrassedly follow with "We can do it. Why can't we just live in peace instead of having to call them the enemy?"
"We didn't make that choice." Helena says to me. She's with us in a float-chair. It's going to take some time to clone her new legs.
The Solenoid Engine itself is this big armoured sphere. There's an opening for the control rod and there's orange-red light from the inside even when it's shut down. I'm somewhat disturbed to realize that the size of the hole for the control rod was a perfect fit for Her. She's lowered and the heavy cap covers the hole. Won't she suffocate in there? It's freezing cold in here. Without the parka, I can see that She's looks quite young, as if barely out of Her teens. Her form is mortal but she doesn't seem to feel the cold. On second thought, just suffocating to death is the least of the many lethal events waiting inside.
It didn't take long. She looks as unperturbed as ever, but it's strange. Does she feel a little bit more 'real' now? Her red eyes seem slightly duller. Dr. Toyama asks the penguins to bring out another float-chair, and She shakes visibly as she sits.
Back to the center of the ship we go. Her coldsleep chamber is much more robust than the standard issue. Even should all systems fail and she's frozen, her cell wouldn't die, she tells us. She will wake exactly when it is time to wake. She smiles at us. Humans have free will. Beings such as her, those that our law recognizes as the pantheon of Man, do not have such a luxury. It is fair, they do not pay taxes. Was that a joke? That smile of hers...
"No!" Dr. Toyama shouts suddenly, surprising us all. She steps up and hugs her tight. "This isn't fair. I won't let you!" She's actually sobbing. "I've known you all my life, Ayanami-sensei... please. Don't do this."
"It's all right, Rin-rin." She says soothing, patting the scientist on the back.
"I don't want you to die."
"I cannot die."
"The Seventeenth won't be you! She won't be the one who taught me how to fly a kite, the one who graded my exams, who gave me that talk on virginity while in the middle of the city council, the one who failed me three times before I could graduate, the one who punched that Service Colonel in the face... no! I won't let you go!"
"If I can just do it in your place, I'd do it! That's it! Let me do it!"
Dr. Toyama's always been reserved around us. She's never been unpleasant, but we've come to know we were all more comfortable if she were by herself. Coldly efficient, we're all content to be colleagues. She's the type that seems not to need any friends. She'd never before let her emotions go like this, blubbering and weeping... and damn it. I wipe my eyes.
"Thank you." She whispers. "I do this to protect you." She looks up and our gazes meet. "This is the path I have chosen for myself."
I grimace. Sacrifices are sometimes needed that others may survive. Those who give of themselves, we call them heroes. It's not supposed to be easy. "Doctor..."
"Shut up." Dr. Toyama whispers back.
"Don't disrespect what this means."
The Lunarian clings even tighter, her shoulders trembling, then agonizingly let go.
"Thank you. I will not forget." She says as she steps back into the coldsleep capsule.
Dr. Toyama listlessly operates the controls. The pod slides shut and cold fog obscures the person within. Then, the scientist turns around and angrily says to me "You better do this."
Nearby is the lever that will launch the pod into space. All seedships are designed like this, only now do we recognize the reason. I put on a resolute face and approach the lever.
I put my hand over the lever and I can't push it down.
I don't know how long I've been standing here.
I think of distant Earth, blue and innocent again. I think of the great unknown, like a tide of wild fanged beasts circling in the dark around a campfire. The human is a fragile thing. Humanity... we are strong because of the fearful little animal inside that will do anything to survive. We are strong because others lend their strength that we may in turn give of ours when they need it most.
Slam. The lever goes down.
Whoosh. The capsule inside the sealed pod is sucked down and out. Up in the bridge, I'm sure there's this blinking light to make us notice a distress beacon. I think I can consider myself a decent person, I've never really tried to harm anyone. Until today. Today we've killed. I've condemned a supremely lonely girl to slow torture and violent death.
"We're na going to let them get away with this, are we?" Helena hisses from behind me.
"I almost wish those bastards find Sol." Changor replies while putting his arms around her. "Let them come. We'll make them bleed. Then we'll find their own homeworld and make them scream."
Dr. Toyama still has her eyes shut tight. She's still trying not to cry. Esperanza goes over and hesitates. She takes a deep breath and puts her hand over Dr. Toyama, flinching already for the woman to push her away. Dr. Toyama doesn't reject the overture.
"Aliens. Hah." the scientist whispers bitterly.
"We can't waste the time She's bought us." I say. "We've got to be strong enough to see it through." I look around at the other pods, unlike the empty one before us these were stacked along the side. Humanity must spread out, that was command. Never again must we feel the touch of extinction. Never again must our hubris damn the yet unborn. Xenocourse teaches the history of mankind's first encounter with profoundly alien lifeforms. It's the pain of that lesson that makes it so unpopular. "We can't let it happen again."
Should we have tried to understand more? I feel like a coward. It's so easy. Can we suffer for the sake of peace? My blood is pounding. How dare them force us into this! We just don't want to die.
We set aside war and we're better for it. We have the weapons. We just forgot how to use them.
We just now need the nerve to pick them up again.
Listen to me, you murderers among the stars! We study war no more. We've become too good at it. The universe does not deserve the plague we could become. Don't make us open that cursed box again, we've suffered so much to force it shut. It's going to hurt us more than it hurts you, but damn it all, we'll laugh as it bursts open and Kali rises to burrow into our souls again.
Anchor of our lives in distant Earth, lighthouse of our destiny, to you we commend our souls. Forgive us. Forgive us.
Faintly in the distance I hear the solemn warbling of penguin-song. These days it's only the Penguins that have battle-hymns.
Alien-Technologies Officer groaned awake and tasted blood in his mouth. Slowly he looked around. The boarding shuttle was cut in half, and the Heroes spilled out. He was piloting the craft and had secured himself to the seat. There was a buzzing in his ears.
After a while, he realized that it was outside, to the left. He turned his head painfully and realized it was coming from the communications circuits. Weakly he reached over to push a switch and heard a Kzin voice.
"This is the Cruiser Thunderous Roar." he heard. "Are there Heroes who can hear us?"
"... this is... Alien-Technologist of... scout sh.. Blood Seeker..." he managed to say, before darkness consumed him.
He woke up later being tended to be a Kzinti doctor. The Kzin was only worried if his patient was well enough to report to the Captain about what happened. Time-dilation effect had thrown him just as the Cruiser had arrived in response to the report sent by the scout ship.
"That Field..." he moaned, flattening his ears in fear.
As expected, there was much interest in that defensive field that he encountered. Distressingly he couldn't offer any useful information. Then, he was told that among the remains picked up was an alien cold-sleep capsule. His ears flicked up in interest. Taking an abased pose he asked "Honorable Captain, I beg of you, allow me to interrogate this creature."
"You have no experience in the interrogation and training of slaves." the captain replied with his teeth bared in a sneer. "You have lost a shipful of Heroes for nothing. Why should I honor you with this?"
"I know how we may defeat this Field. I just need confirmation..."
The captain, a burly Kzin scarred from many honor-duels, was less greedy for glory. He could consider the benefits of sharing some honor for the sake of future advantage. "So be it. We have calculated where the prey may have come from. If your knowledge proves worthwhile, then you may find a place in the Conquest Fleet."
Alien-Technologist's ears flicked up in surprise. That was far more gracious than he'd expected. "You are too kind, mighty captain."
"I will have my best trainer do the interrogation. You will provide the questions about the technology. If you do not succeed, I will kill you."
Eagerly, he bowed in obeisance. "I will not disappoint you, Mrosk-Captain."
"See that you don't. Now kneel and accept my mark!"
Swiftly, Alien-Technologist did so. He closed his eyes as the captain urinated over him. Now, he was under the direct protection of the captain and should be free to do his work without having to be distracted by honor-challenges from the crew. With his face still respectfully bowed, his face out of view, he bared his teeth in glee. The new slave-animals would learn to fear his vengeance. He would stop at nothing to pull out their secrets, and earn his name as the Kzin burn their worlds into subservience.
While I've always had the Man-Kzin Wars (and the Ringworld series) in Known Space as among my favorite books, I'm afraid I'm not really as familiar with the setting as I should be. Apologies for any failures in research. Some things are subtly different, such as the location of Sol and nearby stars but overall things remain the same. The Ringworld should still be there and the galaxy core is still exploding.