The lost Russian battleship sent to investigate The Horde. Aurora and her missing admiral were back in the picture, this was serious shit. I stood up as quickly as I could and stated that I had to go. My compatriots nodded, they recognized the circumstances. Hoped that they didn’t guess why I was running out of the building though.
In a drunken haze I settled into my command chair as Big Blue rose into space. I whispered in Bob’s ear, “listen, I’m just here because I have to be. This is your barbecue, got it?” He nodded his assent as we continued our ascent.
Two other battleships were already in position. The DaVinci and Dreadnought, more were on their way. There was a fleet wide message being transmitted from the Aurora. Admiral Sikorsky was requesting to land on Ristavron Four. He said that his ship was low on oxygen, water and food and that he had vital news to tell us.
Naturally the Aurora was not allowed to land on any of the planets of the Ristavron system due to fears that it might be a Trojan Horse of The Horde. So he switched over to a secure vid-link. The lost Admiral had quite a story to tell.
Took awhile to tell the story though. His message had to be run through translators as he didn’t speak much English. His report was on the one hand unbelievable, on the other it was full of forehead slapping moments where you ask yourself,
“now why didn’t I think of that?”
Sikorsky had done something that all previous communication attempts had failed to consider. That the Horde did not communicate by either radio waves or some simulacrum of a communication stone. He had fired a probe loaded with information about humanity and Earth. (Leaving out Earths coordinates of course.) Into a mass of Horde nano-bots. A few hours later the Horde stopped consuming the planet that they happened to be snacking on and began moving towards the Aurora, capturing the ship.
At that point something completely unexpected happened. The machine intelligence attempted to communicate with the Russians, the Russians returned the effort. After a month of work communications were established between the crew of the Aurora and The Horde. Once that was done both sides began conversing very carefully. As they talked both sides were stunned by each other’s motives.
Turned out that like the Blue Furies, The Horde had assumed all humans were hostile after their initial contact with the Drankmastarian military had ended in plasma fire. The second even more important discovery was that The Horde was not just a relentless mass of machines rampaging across the galaxy. They had been created by some faraway civilization to do a very important job. They claimed that there was a star that was about to detonate and that they had been created to become a device to contain the effect of the blast. When I heard this I blurted out the words, Eta Carine. That name was buried somewhere in my subconscious. I hazily recalled a lecture by a Czech astronomer I had attended over a decade ago. Using space based telescopes he had examined the star Eta Carine and deduced that it was going to detonate in a massive gamma ray burst that might reach all the way to Earth and do damage to our civilization.
The Horde claimed that they been made to construct a giant machine to neutralize the lethal energies from that star which would sterilize every form of biological or mechanical life within range of its blast when it detonated.
The Horde had let the Aurora go after asking her crew to seek help from the rest of the Allied Fleet after they had somehow detected our deactivation of the Web-Way Root from thousands of light years away. That act had somehow convinced them that we weren’t hostile. Sikorsky had been flying back to Ristavron as fast as he could since they let him go. Now he was desperately trying to convince us to let him land so he could get as many fleet personnel as he could to sign on with his efforts to help the machines. The charismatic admiral was ebullient with enthusiasm for a plan that he was absolutely adamant would mean the end of the war. Said plan however, seemed more than a little bit insane. It entailed giving The Horde access to the basic science of the Web-Way in order to distribute the energy of the gamma ray burst across multiple planes of existence.
A few days later Aurora was allowed to land and a plan had percolated to deal with what had become known as the Eta Carine issue. I was sitting at the conference table Coal Castle while the various aspects of this plan were considered. The most obvious concern was that if the Horde was taught the secrets of the Web-Way termini then they could spread through the rest of the Galaxy, perhaps the entire universe. There were other issues, naturally, but this was the big one. It wasn’t like Web-Way tech needed a living creature at the helm of the ship. So I asked.
“We know where Eta Carine is. Is there any way that we can see that they are telling the truth?”
The president of the Neptune Corporation explained.
“Eta Carine is over seven thousand light years away from this star system. I think it would be very unlikely that there is a Web-Way path that goes that far away. Even if one did the trip would take a very long time, years at the least then years to get back. Even I couldn’t ask my crews to undertake such a mission.”
Suddenly I had a thought, “hey, the Web-Way is not the only way to travel faster than light. What if we ask our Singer friends for a ride?”
With that the meeting broke up as I went running to find where the nearest Singer was. Their magnificent Photolekos had blasted off to god knows where to investigate some cosmic phenomena that caught it’s crews fancy shortly after they finished tearing up that hapless enemy battleship. But there were still plenty of their other ships messing around. One of their ships was reported to be on a moon of Ristavron six. Not too surprising. Singers like weird atmospheres and the moons of gas giant planets often have rather unique airs to them.
I flew out there in the Semblance. The Singers had left their ship so calling them on the radio was probably going to be impossible. I had to get suited up for a space walk.
Spacesuits sure had come a long way since the first time I wore one in 1907. Even that suit had been a significant improvement over the first spacesuits. Terrifying looking leather and rubber things that barely allowed you to move. Nowadays they were available in colors. Even camouflage colors. In any case my suit was the standard IEC colors, bright white with blue trim.
The Semblance landed near where the Singers were singing. Right in the edge of a boiling volcano. This was where the air was moving fastest on the moon. Fun for them, but insanely dangerous for a delicate little human like me. Still we needed to talk to them and I was the one who came up with this idea. I had to see it through. My annoying habit of making sure that things were done properly.
I climbed up the volcano in bounding leaps. The gravity on this moon was marginal. As I leapt I couldn’t help but think.
“Enjoy the view, not everyone gets to see this.”
I could see the storms that rippled across the surface of the green gas giant Ristavron Six. I could feel shards of frozen gases crunching under my feet. Off in the distance I heard the Singers singing. There was no missing them. Their extensions flared them out to four times their normal size.
Once I reached them I just sat there and enjoyed the music for a few minutes. They had been singing since before I landed. Sooner or later one of them was going to get tired and stop. After about fifteen minutes of waiting one of the smaller ones abruptly folded up its extensions and collapsed to the ground in an orgastic haze.
Via the suits loudspeaker I asked.
“Oh yes, this planets winds may not be all that fast. But the air is simply delicious. What are you doing here human? Your kind don’t like coming to places like this.”
“I have a favor to ask.”
I filled the Singer in on the details. It sat there silently for a moment, considering my request. Then I added. “Just think, the most powerful star yet known. Just imagine what strange new gases and energies there might be to play with in this system.”
It rolled over on its back and a few of its extensions came out. I swear that it looked for a moment like a person looking up at clouds drifting by as it looked up at the swirling mass of Ristavron Six. “Okay, we will take you to this star. Once we are done here. I estimate that this will take 108 of your hours. Prepare yourself some food, a voyage of that distance will take some time.”
“Very good, I will meet you outside Big Blue on Ristavron 4 then.”
As good as their word they came to pick me up outside the Montana 108 hours later. This was going to be the first recorded time that a person had traveled on a Singer ship over interstellar distances. A few people had been allowed to go on joyrides around Earth on Singer ships. But they had been reluctant to take humans any further. They told us that this was because their ships were designed for their use. Which meant that they had no oxygen recycling, no water, no bathrooms, no beds, very little that could sustain delicate, squishy little humans. There was also speculation that the acceleration of their ships could liquefy a human. Or that their star drives would have relativistic consequences. In other words that the trip might seem like a few hours to me. But by the time I got back to the Ristavron System fourteen thousand years might have gone by.
Still I was the idiot who came up with this plan. Also, The Singers trusted me more than most humans for some reason so I was going to have to be the one who saw it through.
I boarded the ship wearing a new spacesuit. This one was reinforced with Ultra-Fiber and had a much more sophisticated sensor suite than the last suit I wore. I also brought a weeks worth of food, water, a zero gravity portable toilet and a sleeping bag. As I boarded their ship the entire crew of the Montana and hundreds of fleet officers turned out to see me off. It was a much more solemn moment than I was expecting.
The opalescent doors of the Singer ship sealed shut and I sat down in a chair provided right behind the cockpit. As the ship lifted off the effects of gravity gradually faded away. Singers didn’t have artificial gravity on their ships. They didn’t need it. This ship usually carried five Singers, one of their smallest vessels. On this flight it only had two life forms aboard. Me and its pilot. Since we were flying into the complete unknown to “spy” on a potentially hostile power The Singers had decided to minimize their risk as much as they could.
As the last wisp of gravity faded the ship appeared to dissolve around me and I was floating in space. I panicked and started to gulp air. Was this some elaborate prank? Had they dumped me in space? No, I was still moving, and I was moving ever faster. I had to be going significantly faster than a regular antigravity driven ship could go judging by how quickly Ristavron 4 was disappearing behind me.
Then I saw it. Eta Carine, the coordinates I gave them became a magnified point in space. I was going there. Faster than a Web-Way transit. It was such a rush! I really felt like I was soaring through space all by myself. Moving at impossible speed. I looked towards the cockpit. Everything was transparent except the Singer driving the ship. It was controlling the ship via a holographic interface. One designed specifically for its many diamond like extensions and filaments. I watched it operate the controls for awhile. Christ, everything these creatures did looked beautiful, even flying a spaceship. I felt envious again, this being could drive a ship far better than I ever could. It could call on the memories of a hundred previous generations of pilots and operate fifty controls at once where I would be lucky to manage four or five.
After about an hour of watching this poetry in motion I started to get a bit bored. I reached down to the floor of the ship. Hoping it was still there, it was just transparent. I considered my circumstances. My suit sensors were reading a breathable atmosphere. So I took off my helmet, then I took off my backpack and the rest of my spacesuit. I kept a close eye on my oxygen sensor. Just because the Singers claimed that they had manufactured a suitable atmosphere for me that didn’t mean that there wasn’t still the possibility of a screwup like failing to scrub out excess carbon monoxide.
Floating around in zero gravity was much more pleasant on a Singer ship than a Russian ship. I realized that the Russians had probably gone without internal gravity at least partly to follow Singer design philosophy. As I drifted around the ship I touched it from time to time. It was still there, reassuringly solid. Just completely, flawlessly transparent. I had the strangest desire to take off the rest of my clothes.
Suddenly I heard a voice, “information query.”
“Carbon based life form, you are curious, what is your information query?”
I asked the pilot if it was talking to me. The Singer replied.
“No, you are talking to the ship itself. Our ships are living beings, not quite conscious, but alive. They have access to our knowledge, ask it a question.”
“Okay, where is the location of your home-world?”
An image appeared, the Milky Way galaxy. With a corresponding “you are here, we are from here image.” A gentle stream of information flowed into my mind. Accessing the knowledge of the Singers through one of their ships was a much more pleasant experience than a direct access to Unity Consciousness. The ship organized the information and presented it coherently and concisely as a series of images, words and conversational speech in front of me instead of just ramming an ungodly amount of information directly into my brain. All I had to do was look at a star, or at a planet and a trickle of information concerning that place would appear. The Singers hadn’t been in this area of space for very long so their information about what I was seeing was limited. Still I was able to understand all manner of useful information about various star systems and planets just by looking at them. Though at the moment the bulk of information was related to atmospheric compositions. This was the Ashkazic Records. The legendary repository of cosmic knowledge that had been sought by various new age groups since before the invasion. The depths of the Venusian Archive were but a shallow pond compared to this.
So I asked the ship to explain this ships propulsion systems. A hundred thousand shit tons of information appeared. Most of it was utterly incomprehensible. Just because I had an above average knowledge of ship construction and advanced physics that didn’t mean that I would be any more able to comprehend the operation of their FTL system than anyone else. I closed my eyes to shut out the knowledge in front of me and I realized something. In fiction there were various stories of creatures using psychic communication when verbal communication did not work for some reason. Being overwhelmed by this knowledge made me realize that just because a message is being transmitted psychically that doesn’t mean that the recipient will understand it better than if someone said it to them. After all there were plenty of things that people knew, but did not understand. This was a prime example. The Singers had tried to explain their means of FTL travel to humans before. It was simply something that we couldn’t comprehend yet. Although I did learn that their traveling faster than light entailed a deeper understanding of the deeper energies of the universe than what humanity currently understood. So I focused on something else. Why were The Singers helping us?
An image of The Singers home world appeared. It looked primitive, no factories, no highways, no schools, no museums, no great works of industry. Nothing that humans would associate a civilization with. They understood that there was a universe out there with things that piqued their curiosity. So they built ships, no, they grew ships. They grew everything that they needed to leave their home and explore. This took them millennia of work, work that humans could barely comprehend because it was so completely different from any kind of shipbuilding I had ever seen.
In time they found worlds with primitive life forms. One was a horrible beast with four horrendously muscular arms, metallic teeth and grotesque folding talons all over its arms. This beast and others like it fought The Singers when they landed on its planet. A Singer died when the beast broke its heart-stone. This was the first time any of them had experienced war or an unnatural death. The Singers retaliated by glassing their planet with the engines of their ships. Having learned that not every life form was friendly they began to outfit their ships with weapons and take more precautions with first contact scenarios.
An incomprehensible amount of time went by. More Singers came into existence, more of their ships were grown. As their ships grew older they grew bigger and more complex. Collecting resources to grow bigger by harvesting gases and minerals directly from space itself. They spread out across space seeking new experiences especially different gas combinations to pleasure themselves with with. Then something happened. A life form tapped into their communications system. Crudely and imperfectly when Tesla began experimenting with his madness gun. To us it would be like if a house cat suddenly began speaking like a five year old child. Still no other creature had ever even attempted something like this. I could see how the Singers glimpsed into my fathers mind, into Teslas mind. Even into the minds of the Kaisers guards that Tesla used the madness gun on.
We were something different. Our accidental tapping into their Unity Consciousness was just the beginning. They learned from these brief glimpses into human minds that we were divided, in every way imaginable. Division was an utterly foreign, unimaginable concept to them. They saw in our mindset of division that we had created a civilization that was completely different from theirs. Their curiosity went wild and they came bounding towards us. In larger numbers than they had ever gone to any one place. Across a far greater distance than they had gone before. Crossing the center of the galaxy where they ran across unimaginable phenomena that I can’t even begin to describe.
They had come such a long way to meet us because they wanted to meet us. Comprehension of the relationship between our species emerged in my mind. There were other life forms out there. Even a few species that might qualify as conscious but we were so completely different from anything that they had ever seen before or even imagined that they felt they had to make contact with us.
After contact humanity had become an endless source of entertainment for The Singers. I learned that for every Singer that landed on Earth a dozen were hanging out in our solar system. Listening to our radio broadcasts, studying us. Enjoying the winds of other planets and moons that even the Eutopians had no presence on. We were as incomprehensible to them as they were to us. We had thought they were gods, that they were omniscient. They were not omniscient there was much they didn’t know. They were very smart because one of the central missions of their lives was to satisfy their curiosity, which was as deep as the universe itself. For all they knew, there was so much more that they didn’t know, and they knew it.
To them humanity was an impossibly curious life-form. Everything about us was utterly alien. We had created things that they could hardly imagine. They loved our artworks. To us their one form of “art” their enchanting music was simply a byproduct of their use of gases. It had never occurred to them that the sounds they made might be pleasant to other forms of life.
This gentle trickle of cosmic knowledge was still too much for me to handle. How the Czar was able to drink in all this in under less controlled circumstances without going completely insane was unbelievable. I simply had to take breaks from drinking in the impossible beauty of what I was seeing. To eat, use the portable toilet. I didn’t sleep though, I simply couldn’t sleep while I was floating in a sea of impossible beauty and sublime knowledge.
After over forty hours of being presented with endless wonders Eta Carine had gone from a tiny dot in my vision. To what looked like the biggest thing in the universe. The ship was starting to decelerate. As we drew closer it became clear that there was more to this picture than just a big ball of gas. There was a smaller second star being drawn into Eta Carine. The energy being put out by these stars was absolutely insane. It was so bright that I had to put my spacesuit back on and lower the sunshade. Even weirder was the fact that the star seemed to be surrounded by a humongous tracery of machinery. The voice of the pilot suddenly sang through the ship.
“It appears that the Horde was telling the truth. This is the largest machine we have ever seen. It must have taken millennia of work and raw materials taken from hundreds of star systems to build this.”
“Will it be able to contain the energy from stellar detonation?”
“Perhaps, cannot be sure though. This is completely unprecedented. Even our species has never attempted to neutralize a gamma ray burst. Whenever one has threatened us we simply leave the area. This is beyond us.”
I whispered to myself, “now you know how it feels to be completely out of your depth.”
So, the machines and admiral Sikorsky were being honest. More than that they had been working towards our own best interests the whole time. The energy from this star was potentially strong enough to sterilize Earth if the force of its blast was directed that way. Regardless if it was aimed at Earth or not the blast would cause an awful lot of trouble. As I was trying to calculate the potential damage the ship was turning around, I asked.
“Why are we leaving?”
The pilot asked.
“Did you not learn what you need to know?”
“Yes, but don’t you want to stay and explore?”
“I don’t know how, but it appears that those stars are either generating. Or somehow absorbing toxic energies. Worse than the malfunctioning Web-Way Root. We cannot stay, these machines have already harvested all of the planets and asteroids in this area. There is nothing here for us.”
The flight back was pretty much the same as the flight there. Bathing in cosmic wisdom. Although I finished off my food on the way back and I was getting kinda hungry when we got back to the Ristavron system. Falling back into the air over the main allied fleet base it looked like I hadn’t been gone for too long. I imagined that if I had been gone for 14,000 years then civilization on the planet would have either gone extinct or advanced to a point that it would have been incomprehensible to me.
Nope, no time displacement. There was Big Blue sitting right where I left her. Undergoing some routine maintenance. The Singer ship came down right where we had left from. The ship became opalescent again and the doors opened up.
I was in a state of grace as I came down the ramp. Despite my having gone without sleep for over four days I felt like I was levitating through the air like a yogi. This was the polar opposite of how I felt after my first tour of duty, or my brief time floating around a Russian ship. I was giggling like I was on some wild drug cocktail. Various crew members came running up to me to ask what was going on. But I couldn’t function. I was still giggling in the afterglow of a dip in the deepest pool of wisdom the Galaxy could share. So some crew members carried me off to my stateroom where I went to sleep as soon as I hit the bed.
I woke up eighteen hours later. The bliss of drinking in the knowledge of the universe evidently did not last nearly as long as the toxicity of the Web-Way. I was back to my usual self. I found a stash of snacks I kept in my desk devoured them and wondered what for just a moment what to do next.
I went over to my pack, I vaguely remembered taking copious notes about what I had seen. I had filled up three paper notebooks with scribblings. I had run out of paper and had to make notes on a slate computer. I really didn’t like doing that, much preferred to write with pen on paper.
Wether it was written on paper or recorded with electrons I was looking at gibberish. Reams and reams of confusion. Mathematical equations beyond my ability to understand. Symbols for which I had no frame of reference. I couldn’t believe that I had written all this. Yet there it was in my handwriting. Even the footnotes didn’t make any sense. Most of them dealt with seemingly unrelated sciences to what I was writing about. Cosmic knowledge, delivered in stream of consciousness fashion. If there was anything valuable here my scientists would probably be working on this for the next three years to try to find anything they could use.
I changed into a clean uniform and went down to the CIC where I was warmly welcomed. It seemed that the Singer pilot had reported for me since I had been in no state to talk. Its report came with photos from my camera and spacesuit. I didn’t understand at all how the camera was able to take pictures through the hull of the Singer ship. Somehow they had made the ship truly transparent. It wasn’t just an optical illusion. Before I began my report I noticed one of the IECs finest engineers. Robert Goddard, one of Earths preeminent experts in antigravity drive operation and ship construction. I handed him one of my notebooks and jokingly told him.
“Here kid, see what you can do with this.”
The joke being that we were about the same age.