Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #9

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The displays from the newest belt of sensors near Mars flooded in to the lower left, the status indicators above and around it hovering in a greenish-yellow zone to indicate that nothing was out of the ordinary. The other data, from Saturn, did the same toward the bottom-middle of his vision. “The new apps are so much better,” Rand Wasolek said to the young woman barely paying attention to him. “They integrate with your interface so well that you know immediately when there’s a problem and you can zone out when there isn’t.”

“Leaves Rand plenty of free time to watch all of his ridiculous action operas while he waits for the software to do all the work for him,” Doug said. 

“So sweet, Doug. You didn’t even throw in a ‘shithead.’ Anyway, they haven’t declared us obsolete yet,” Rand said. “I-reupped my contract because I’m just enjoying it while it lasts. You’re lucky you got here when you did, Allie. We’ve got five years of guaranteed pay. I bet they don’t even actually need us that long if another upgrade passes through. Everything will just take care of itself.”  

“Yeah but you’re on the edge of what can only generously be called human civilization,” Doug remarked. “Enjoy being up to not much.”

“After doing this for a few days, I can’t imagine what you were dealing with before,” Allie said, reclining next to him on the chair full of supplementary interfaces they’d built out for the listening post operators when the new system had gone in. She turned her head toward Doug. “I feel like I’m inheriting a much easier job than you had.”

“There were some rough nights,” Doug nodded. “Harsh shifts.”

“You say that like you’re a grizzled war hero,” Rand said. “It’s just skimming data looking for the juicy bits. The biggest challenge is staying awake. That’s really what we’re paid for, to watch while everyone else sleeps and goes about their science and whatnot. Now we’ve got things that even do the skimming for us.” Allie seemed to be lost in the wash of data coming through her interfaces. She’d been on board for all of ten days. He started to think she was kind of cute, with hair tied back professionally and freckles, but he burned those thoughts as fast as he had them. He wasn’t about to get written up for creating a hostile work environment with a trainee. “You’re what, 22?” Rand asked.

“That’s right,” Allie said. “First job out of University. Decided to go to fucking Europa. Not exactly a normal career path. It seemed like such an adventure when I accepted the contract.”

“It’s the right age to do this,” Doug said. “You got the new, more immersive interface technology they built from the Tarrare data at just the right time when you’re brain was still flexible enough to take it. You’re used to all this. It’s still tough for old guys like Rand and me. There’s a new software interface and UI release everyday, a lot of adjustment all at once. I miss the brute simplicity of the old software and the shitty sensor arrays sometimes.”

“You’re not wrong,” Rand said. “Even with all these apps and filters providing assists, there’s so much more coming through. The Heimdallr program made the whole thing more powerful and more intricate.”

“Well, in whatever condition it was in I’m still impressed you were the first one to spot the Tarrare with this,” Allie added. She had a sheepish grin on her face. He could never tell if she was mocking him or not whenever she brought it up.

“Like I said before, that’s an urban legend,” Rand said. “I’m sure the surveillance satellites that the UAS DoD have saw them first. I just called more attention to it.”

“Sure you did,” Allie said. “You being the humble bastard you are.”

“That’s right,” Rand said. “You know, you’re lucky you’re getting posted to this colony when you are. It’s almost twice the size it was since the Tarrare made their appearance.” The view from the listening post’s tower was vastly different, Rand marveling at the colony’s structures in a serpentine layout. They broke up through and down under the ice layer in lineae of Europa’s surface like thorns on a bush of plastics and metal. 

“I’ve heard they’re planning on building some sort of military outpost,” Doug said. “That’s what all the air conversions, phytoplankton farms, solar panels, and generators are all about. It’s the infrastructure to support all that. It makes sense. Us being out here on the edge and all. Self-sufficiency. I hear they can grow lots of algae in these big sealed tanks they’ve got down even further under the surface. GMO stuff that can survive the temperatures.”

“New people are coming in every day,” Allie said. “Since colonies are exempt from the Alvez Act, all the corporations are doing their serious work out here. When I was applying on JupeJobs I saw listings for an IEI geothermal plant on Io that’s supposed to hire two hundred people.”

“Don’t forget ADS is almost done building a deep space drone factory and mines over on Ganymede,” Doug said. “IEI also supposedly has a blacksite over there. A lot is happening.”

“You sure you don’t want to stay, Doug?” Rand joked. “There’re always opportunities.” 

“I’ve thought about it,” Doug said. “But unlike you, Rand, I’ve lived out here on the Jupiter moons for like twenty years. Enough is enough. Even if this is supposed to turn into a Hub, like a mini-Mars or Luna, I can’t do it anymore. It’s going to be a harsh transition, though. My legs are going to be all fucked by the Earth’s gravity when I get back.”

“They have things to help with that now,” Allie says. “Braces and implants for the knees and back to help you step down and assist you when going back to the higher gravity. Mars and Luna settings. Luna would probably work best for you.” 

“Thanks for the tip,” Doug said. “I really need to look into it all. Haven’t been doing my research the way I should.”

“It’s funny talking about the future of this colony,” Rand commented, eager to get away from the subject of Doug’s departure. After all, it was highly likely Rand would never see him again. After Rand’s contract finally ran out, he wondered if he’d go back to Earth. Even if he did, he could foresee a lot of half-assed plans to get drinks that one or the both of them would cancel or reschedule a bunch of times. “I don’t think it’s entirely all science, research, and feel-good stuff they have planned. The Project Heimdallr scanners have a ton of classified modes I can’t unlock.”

“You’ve tried, though? Right?” Allie asked, tinkering with something on her interface. 

“Of course I have,” Rand said. “But the covert data feeds coming in here have scary encryption. It says a lot. Or doesn’t say a lot. Depends on your perspective, I guess.”

“Wait,” Allie said. She was working through something. “This can’t be right. I think I’ve found something.”

“What did you find?” Rand said. He asked for permission to share her interface. She granted it, data streams overlaying his. The indicators changed from green-yellow to orange-red. He watched the numbers add up. One anomaly. Five anomalies. Twenty anomalies. It continued to climb. 

“Something unknown detected. A lot of them,” Allie said. 

“Not again,” Rand whispered. He checked it. Lots of foreign bodies, moving in an organized fashion. “M.C.P., model please.” The master app did what it was told, pulling up displays in all their interfaces of what was coming. It was exactly like it had been back on the day with the Tarrare, but the rendering was so much faster.

“Are those more Tarrare ships?” Doug asked.

Rand knew the truth before he could say it. “No,” he said. “The mineral survey ships they’ve sent through occasionally are just like the main ship at Earth, spheres. Not to mention we were given warning they were coming from the Black Sphere by Earth.” The profile of the starships coming into the system was different. Not spherical. Not matching the composition or energy signatures of any Tarrare ships it had detected.

“Definitely not spheres,” Allie said, blowing up a huge projection in front of them. There were lots of them. Maybe a hundred. Ten or so large ships, all like long arms with claws coming out of them. Tiny ones swirled around them. They were menacing. Non-uniform, long segments pointing out of them and forward. . They were jagged, twisted, full of large knots of outward spires and protrusions. “The composition is metallic and biological. Actually a huge amount of biological matter hardened over a shell.”

“That’s a battle formation,” Rand said. “Those are warships. I’m goddamn sure of it. There’s no way they’d be moving like that, that they would look like that if they weren’t.”

“Should I …” Allie started.

“Definitely,” Rand said. “Administrator Cheung will want to know about this. Get her on as soon as you can.” Rand tried to imagine what this meant. The trajectory appeared. 

“They’re headed for Earth,” Doug said. “And very, very fast. They’ll be there in hours.”

“Unfortunately,” Rand said. “And I don’t think this group wants to make friends.”

“What are we about to watch here?” Doug said, lost in the moment. “I mean, what the fuck does this mean?” 

“The Tarrare are really advanced, though, right?” Allie said. “They should be able to do something?” Rand and Doug only answered her question with silence. The three of them thought the same, selfish thing. They were praying to unspecified deities and all cosmic forces that whatever this war fleet was would pass Europa by. 

Image Credit:

NASA, Holland Ford (JHU), the ACS Science Team and ESA

Spacetelescope.org

Overture: Broken Light - #8

“No thank you,” Danya said, pressing the reject button in her interface. Being Director of Interstellar Exploration and Research for the UAS’ Interstellar Administration had a lot of baggage, but every time she could kill idiotic designs meant to give someone with a military uniform a hard-on made it all worth it. 

“Five years, Eamonn,” Dr. Danya Fund moaned from her spot in the conference room. Spent water bottles, coffee cups, and a devoured lunch tray marked her territory. Visions of graphs and engineering drawings from her recently enhanced interface filled the room around her. It was a little too immersive sometimes. “Five years and the proposals are only now starting to get better. Too many of the same old starship designs with a few Tarrare tricks injected that barely make sense. We’ve done far too little in far too much time.”

“You’re right about that,” Dr. Eamonn Condon said next to her. “I would be demoralized about the pace of all this but I forgot what having morale felt like years ago.” 

They continued browsing drawings and theoretical, unrealistic performance specs in silence for awhile,  “I just don’t know what we’re even looking for anymore,” Danya said. “We were supposed to be commissioning fleets of civilian FTL ships. Now, after all the budget cuts, all we do is provide input into military starship procurements and provide oversight on commercial space projects. Not exactly what any of us in this agency signed up for. We’ve still only done even a few token missions since Project Vanguard. We should have colonies in other systems. All the funding goes into a defense fleet that’s obsolete the moment it rolls off the line because the designs are shit. Then there’s the Alvez Act. Everyone who actually tries to propose too many Tarrare elements gets bid-protested or sued into oblivion.”

“It’s sickening,” Eamonn said. “All these proposals want to do nothing but discuss their compliance with the damned Alvez Act. They all say something to the effect of ’90% human ingenuity and design with only a hint of Tarrare elements to enhance performance’ then demand their Alvez Act Price Preference because their design is the ‘most human.’ Couple that with the vague suggestion that they would see us in court if we decided anyone else deserved it. I hear there’s some huge project the UAS and GCC are trying to work with the Tarrare that Alvez Act litigation has blown all to kingdom come. Something called Sanctuary.”

“Typical,” Danya said. “Whatever his intention, Alvez successfully made progress a competitive disadvantage. No wonder he’s about to be elected President.”

“You know how it is, Danya,” Eamonn said. “Only so much change can be absorbed at any given time. The FTL flight blew people’s minds. Most of the human race wasn’t ready for it. Then you had the Tarrare show up. They’ve flipped everything over again. It’s going to be decades before the dust settles. I sometimes wonder if the bugs did it on purpose.”

“Something’s off, that’s for sure,” Danya said. “Some of their survey ships have shown up to look at the asteroid belts outside Mars for minerals and that’s it. They leave the system after a few months of poking around. There’s something the Aliens aren’t telling us.”

“Maybe this is all some social experiment to see how the backwards primitives can handle eating from the tree of knowledge,” Eamonn asked. “Maybe it’s all some big reality program. Back home they’re watching it all and laughing their instectoid abdomens off.”

“Funny,” Danya said. “But I’m being serious. I’ve heard that the Tarrare have cautioned all the world leaders against us using FTL for further exploration, giving a bunch of platitudes about how we aren’t ready. That’s why there’s no support at the top and the funding isn’t there.”

“Or the funding isn’t there because there’s nothing impressive to invest in,” Eamonn said. “Sounds like finger-pointing mixed with conspiracy theories to me.”

“Conspiracies are the only thing I can come up with to explain the total lack of forward momentum,” Danya said. 

“There’s progress in biology,” Eamonn countered. “Anti-agens, anti-virals, and next-gen synthetic organs better than the originals are flooding the market, legal or illegal. No one cares about the litigation there. Too much money to be made. I’ve heard rumors they’ve built completely artificial animals from the ground up with the AI and nanotechnology breakthroughs. Not just designer genetics and breeding, they’re creating whole new species.”

“It’s all about the fast money and gimmicks,” Danya said. “Scientists with decades of expertise wasted on making dragon-cats, hamster-cows, or who knows what terrifying hybrid in a lab with a bunch of private biotech research money and we’re trying to scratch together real science and research from whatever meager appropriations the UAS throws at us.”

“Don’t forget the constant threats of reprogramming to the UAS DoD,” Eamonn replied.

“This morning I read someone on the feeds who was actually arguing that the Black Sphere is a Dyson sphere,” Danya said, switching to a less depressing subject. Most people had taken to calling the Tarrare ship the Black Sphere. People had become less afraid of it over the years, mostly accepting that if the Tarrare had planned to kill them or enslave them they would’ve done it by now. It hung there, like an ominous new moon in the sky. Danya used to look at it all the time back when she had an office with real windows. Before she’d worked for the government.

“Impossible,” Eamonn said. “Well, I don’t know. Maybe. Not likely, at least. There are whole sections of the tech transfer that only a few people get, and plenty of pieces no one gets. They could be that advanced. They could have a mini-star or some plasma core in there. The generators people have built from based on some of the rudimentary Tarrare plasma physics are very efficient and stable and that’s just the basic level of what they must be capable of.”

“You have to wonder why they’re not helping more,” Danya replied. “The Tarrare basically handed us the biggest textbook in the history of mankind and told us to teach ourselves the course. Why not give us more practical designs? Schematics? There are hints of that, but nothing ready to use.”

“Maybe because that would be like handing a house cat a starship,” Eamonn responded. “We need to understand what we’re doing. If they handed us the toys right away we may kill ourselves and each other because we don’t understand the magnitude, the danger.”

“I hate you,” Danya leered.

“It’s not my fault I’m so damned right all the time,” Eamonn said. “God made me this way. Or … maybe the Tarrare. They’ve just come back to check on a research project they started MILLIONS OF YEARS AGO!”

“Don’t even joke about that. You sound like one of those Starchild cultists, Eamonn,” Danya said. “I have to walk through enough of those religious fanatics on the way into work every day. I won’t tolerate it inside my workplace, too.”

“You’re repressing my freedom to exercise or some such! Oh, forget it. I don’t even have the energy to make that into a bit,” Eamonn said, rising from the table. “I’m taking a break. Here,” he made a few targeted finger movements, manipulating his own interface to send files to Danya’s. “These are the proposals I think are promising. Solid ones. Small ships, agile. Limited range. Just what the doctor ordered. Low risk, low money, low profile. The manufacturer even says it can have a few weapons mounted to it and be flown unmanned.”

“The doctor?” Danya asked.

“The one that flies around in the magic call box. Just take a look,” Eamonn started out of the room.  

“Eamonn,” Danya said. “Thanks. I’d lose my mind without you here.”

“It’s how all the ladies feel,” Eamonn said. “When I’m not being so annoying that they’re ready to cave my skull in, that is.”  

“Eamonn, one more thing,” she said. “What do you think I should do about that job on Mars? It’s a step down, but …”

“I think you should take it,” Eamonn said. “An FTL-ready spaceport and that little test fleet they have there? It’s not the most groundbreaking of projects, but it’s different. You’re clearly not happy here. You should move on. Nothing will change your perspective like going to another planet.”

“And it doesn’t hurt that you get promoted into Acting Director if I leave,” Danya needled.

“There’s that, too,” Eamonn said, giving her a slight grin.

Image Credit: 

NASA/ESA, J. Bally (University of Colorado, Boulder, CO), H. Throop (Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, CO), C.R. O’Dell (Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN) with Photo-manipulation by J. Hamlet

spacetelescope.org

Overture: Broken Light - #7

Reuben zoned out. He was clearly in his interface checking the feeds and messages instead of monitoring how close they were to the schematic drawings displayed all around them. Luis Rodriguez tried to ignore it, operating the bots as they assembled and secured yet another pathway of ventilation ducts. Once the ventilation extension was done they’d be able to enclose this branch of the structure. The dirty, cavernous underground space with partially finished rock walls would soon become a hive of rooms. “Smoke break?” Reuben asked. 

“Out of stimsticks,” Luis said. The spider bots were crawling up and down the ducts, their welders sparking furiously. 

“Me too, but I have a pack of hashtags,” Reuben said, smiling devilishly. “It’s quitting time in two hours, I don’t think it’ll hurt …”

“Fuck it,” Luis said, putting the bots into pause mode. He took off his control gloves and optics. “Is this a special occasion?”

“Not really,” Reuben said, the two of them walked over to the tool and bot storage room in the corner of the vast open space, the only place they could have any privacy. Reuben pulled out the hashtags. The blend of genetically manipulated tobacco and marijuana was perfectly legal, but certainly not allowed on the job. Luis and Reuben activated the electronic cylinders and began inhaling. 

“We’re 65% done, according to this,” Luis said, checking the earned value estimator in his interface. “When I saw the drawings, at least the part I was allowed to see, I thought this project would never be done. But here we are, on time.”

“65% done building an underground mansion for Aliens,” Reuben said. “It still fucks me up thinking about it.”

“Not exactly what you imagined when you signed up for an illustrious career in facilities?” Luis asked.

“No, can’t say that it was,” Reuben replied. “And as for that 65%, that’s damn near all you. All those extra hours you worked off the clock, making us all look bad.”

“I’m a professional, Reuben,” Luis said, letting the soothing and focusing puffs of the hashtag hit him. “I take pride in my work. I want it to be right.”

“You know what the difference between a professional and an amateur is, Luis?” Reuben said. “Professionals get PAID for the work they do. You’re turning yourself into one with all those unbilled hours.”

“You get paid for work you don’t do. What do you call that?” Luis said. 

“A genius,” Reuben said. They both coughed out a few laughs. “What do you think is down there?” Reuben asked. “Those ventilation ducts go hundreds of meters down to that core, or hub, or whatever it’s called.” 

“No idea,” Luis said. “The whole six months of this project I’ve never been down there, I’ve never encountered anyone who’s been down there except for maybe the Tarrare. They’re not exactly forthcoming. It’s classified past our clearance level. That part of the building drawings was redacted except for the outline of the outer wall.”

“Whatever it is, it’s going to draw a lot of power,” Reuben speculated. “I know some people on one of the other work crews, and ALL they’re doing is installing generators. Apparently they even brought in a few of the Tarrare’s own generators in a few levels below us.”

“It’s not my place,” Luis said. “I just want to get this damn thing built and move on. The sooner I can move out of those barracks out there and back home, the better. I told Daimon it would only be another three months and I’m keeping my word. The back and forth to Pittsburgh on the weekends is killing my ass.” The hashtag was good. Reuben hadn’t bought the cheap shit. 

“I can see that,” Reuben answered. “But doesn’t it bother you? I mean, why are we doing all of this in the first place?”

“From what I understand, it was part of the deal,” Luis answered. “They’re helping us, technical assistance or something with that big data dump. This is sort of like their embassy or whatever. It’s all above my pay grade.”

“Why underground?” Reuben asked. “It seems unnatural.”

“I read that’s the way they live on whatever planet they’re from. They prefer it this way. You really should read the guidebooks, Reuben. We’re in the middle of goddamn nowhere,” Luis responded. 

“They’re like a million pages, though,” Reuben protested.

“Whatever, man. I’m sure you’re even getting bored of porn by now. You might as well learn yourself something.” They puffed out the last of their hashtags, the lights growing dim as the vapors coming out were thinner and thinner. “We should get back to it.”

“I suppose,” Reuben answered. “I’ll be there in a minute.” He pulled a second out. Luis shook his head, not really ready to do two hashtags. He certainly wouldn’t be productive after that. He walked out of the room, shutting the door behind him and leaving Reuben inside. 

He froze when he saw two of them had suddenly entered the worksite. Tarrare, both inspecting the ventilation ducts. “Oh, excuse me,” Luis blurted. “My … associate and I were just taking a quick break.”

They turned to look at him, those mantis heads with compound eyes and their height causing him to crumple defensively. “Don’t be concerned, Luis,” one of them said through its synthetic voice aide. She was a faint purple hue, indicating a female. He’d read his guidebooks enough to know that. “We were simply admiring your progress. You are a very diligent worker and everyone deserves a break from time to time. Productivity suffers otherwise.”

“Thank you,” Luis said, unsure what else to say. She strode toward him, getting uncomfortably close as the Tarrare tended to do, the compound eyes with the glowing displays and goggles over them scrutinizing him. 

“I am the Colony Administrator, Krand-Vie, this is our chief Science Officer Ophen Lon.” The pale green male turned his head to look over at him, then went back to examining the ventilation ducts. “We were just discussing your future.”

“My future?” Luis asked. 

“Yes,” Krand-Vie said, striding around on her flexible legs. “You have made better progress than any of the other teams or workers, despite the fact that your associate seems prone to lower levels of productivity. We would like to recommend you for a promotion if you’re interested.”

“Promotion,” Luis said. “My company would have to approve it …” His mind immediately raced to how pissed Daimon would be. Then again, Luis’ mom was sick. And on a project like this, it would be a huge pay bump to help with that sort of thing.

“Yes, Intelligent Evolution,” Krand-Vie said, fixating her eyes on the IEI logos affixed to Luis’ orange jumpsuit. “They have generally accepted our recommendations in the past, so we would be surprised if you did not receive it. Are you interested in taking on greater responsibilities in this project?”

“It’s a great opportunity …” Luis started.

“Excellent!” Krand-Vie interrupted him, signaling to her colleague. Luis didn’t get the chance to finish his “but that would depend on what you want me to do, I need to consult with my husband …” Not that it really mattered. “We will be seeing you on the lower levels tomorrow. I’m sure the appropriate clearances will be granted. There is much exciting work to be done in the core of this facility. Especially with the new expansions we will be negotiating tomorrow.” The Tarrare left, taking their time at it as their antenna twitched and heads looked over every part of the place.

A few minutes passed before the door to the storage room opened and Reuben stuck his head out, Luis slowly suiting back up to resume work. “What was that about? I thought I heard those simulated voices …”

“You did,” Luis said. “They were just in here.”

“Shit!” Reuben said. “Are we about to get fired?”

“No, as a matter of fact I’m about to get promoted,” Luis said, still awestruck. 

“Then why do you look like you just stepped in Alien shit?” Reuben said. “This is great news, man. Maybe you can put in a good word for me, too.”

“I’m supposed to go down there tomorrow,” Luis said. “Way down to the secret part.”

Reuben paused, before fully emerging from the closet and clapping his hand on Luis’ shoulder. “Well, it couldn’t’ve happened to a nicer guy,” Reuben said. “I just hope they use some quality seasoning on you before they dig in, though. Otherwise it would really be a waste.” Reuben kept a solemn look for around five seconds before cracking up.

“Fuck you, Rueben,” was all Luis could say for a comeback. 

“What is Daimon going to think?” Reuben asked. “I doubt he’s going to want to move from Pittsburgh to this place. It’s an hour from anything worthwhile. It’s like they looked at a map of the entire UAS and tried to find the most boring and vacant place they could.” 

“He’s not going to be happy, that’s for sure,” was all Reuben could manage. He was already thinking about how he would explain it. Daimon already hated that he only saw Luis on the weekends when he got back home. “I’ve got a lot of long commutes in my future.”

Image Credit:

NASA, ESA, Martin Kornmesser (ESA/Hubble)

Spacetelescope.org

Overture: Broken Light - #6

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Meeting Summary

CLASSIFIED SECRET

Date: <redacted>

Prepared by: SSgt. Zedekiah Hillam, USSF

Subject: Application of “Tarrare” Technology to Current United American States Military Acquisition Programs

Attendees: General Andre Dumand, UASA, Colonel Ian Crouse, UASA, General Jude Revard, USSF, Will Davidson (Advanced Dynamic Solutions, Inc.), Barry Farid (Total Integration, Inc.), Yuri Romanov (Intelligent Evolution, Inc.)  <other participants redacted.>

Purpose: Assess impact of Technology Transfer program with the extraterrestrial race known as “Tarrare” and whether current Acquisition programs in the research and development phase or low-rate initial production (LRIP) related to sensors, ground infantry, space defense artillery, and starship platforms should be revised to reflect any technological advances and potential key performance parameters discovered during the first stage of analysis. Several ACAT Level I programs identified as potentially in need to major re-scoping or for reconsideration as evolutionary acquisition, including Masamune, Gates, Pylon, Nest, Heimdall, and Eminence. 

Summary Notes:

  • General Dumand initiated meeting, welcoming participants from the defense and intelligence communities, including Colonel Ian Crouse, UASA of UAS MRDA, as well as lead systems integrators from Advanced Dynamic Solutions, Total Integration, and Intelligent Evolution, Inc. Opening remarks focused on need for overall assessment of potential capability enhancements identified during the tech transfer by extraterrestrial race classified as “Tarrare.” 
  • Colonel Ian Crouse opened discussions, focusing on several different aspects of the technical data released by the Tarrare. Briefing focused on potential impacts in materials science, directed energy and ballistics weaponry, sensors, and propulsion. Key changes to Masamune and Gates programs identified. Potential changes in Pylon and Nest also discussed. 
  • Admiral Revard had questions regarding rapidly the technologies could be incorporated into existing UAS space fleets, specifically the Eminence II and III programs. Colonel Crouse answered that performance improvements and upgrades would be possible within a year based on the progress of existing research programs, but that realizing even a fraction of the capabilities possible with new data would mean replacing the existing fleet and systems, which could take up to ten years after prototyping and testing given current UAS Military Acquisition Regulations. Colonel Crouse did state that several breakthroughs in the area of energy management were at hand and would only require reactor retrofits.
  • Will Davidson from ADS asked questions about net-centric warfare and sensors, wondering whether there would be new programs and contracts to explore the possibilities in the Heimdall System of Systems programs. Barry Farid also contributed to the conversation, discussing several promising sensor prototyping successes from TII recently, especially in the area of retrofitting Legacy space sensor platforms to bring them closer to Heimdall levels of capabilities. Colonel Crouse stated that he anticipated contracts and new programs would begin shortly, but that they were waiting for supplemental funding from the UAS Congress before they could really initiate them. Confirmed that market surveys and on-site demonstrations of prototypes would be welcome at UAS MRDA. 
  • Yuri Romanov of IEI speculated about what the next synthesis of these concepts could bring, and expressed concern that traditional military technological paradigms, policies, and doctrines would obscure the potential breakthroughs the information from the Tarrare could bring. He stated that IEI would be submitting a variety of unsolicited proposals based on its own research to the MRDA and Colonel Crouse for new directions. General Dumand agreed with Romanov in principle, but stated that getting the UAS Congress to sign on to unfamiliar development concepts is extraordinarily difficult. Colonel Crouse agreed, but stated that MRDA would welcome any proposals from IEI and any other contractors who had new ideas, agreeing with Mr. Romanov and stating that existing systems and legacy space fleets could only be upgraded marginally, and new platforms would be required to fully leverage the potential capabilities. All commented on the lack of budgetary resources to make such a wholesale replacement unlikely. Davidson and Farid expressed interest in joint ventures with IEI to pursue research in these areas. 
  • <redacted> expressed concern as to how these concepts could be weaponized by rogue states and terrorist networks. General Dumand stated that this was an important concern, but not for discussion in the R&D realm, and encouraged <redacted> to bring these concerns to the UAS Threat Reduction Council, as they would be having a similar meeting on <redacted>. Colonel Crouse added that such a scenario is unlikely in the near future because even highly funded research and development labs were struggling with the implications of the data and that rogue states and terrorist networks would likely take much longer to produce tangible applications or weaponize them. Yuri Romanov of IEI disagreed with Colonel Crouse, asserting that the transfer had many breakthroughs in nano-manufacturing and artificial intelligence that should allow for rapid prototyping, testing, and development of new technologies and that things like <redacted>, <redacted>, <redacted>, and <redacted> could be within easy reach. <Redacted> asked how Yuri Romanov knew this information and whether IEI had been involved in such activities, but General Dumand reiterated that this was something better discussed with the Threat Reduction Council. 
  • Colonel Crouse concluded the session, thanking everyone for their time and repeating his assertions that he welcomed any ideas from private industry on how military capabilities could be improved from this data source. 

Image Credit:

NASAESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), and IPHAS

Overture: Broken Light - #5

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From: Dawes, Grayson (OCEO)

To: Spinoza, Lina (OCEO)

Subject: Re: Strategy Memo FINAL

Thx, Lina. Excellent work. Will make my tweaks and send in the AM.

From: Spinoza, Lina (OCEO)

To: Dawes, Grayson (OCEO)

Subject: Strategy Memo FINAL

Grayson,

I finished the memo you wanted to send out with the Yinger report. I think I got all the points you wanted from the meeting earlier today, but I can do another pass if I missed something important. 

MEMORANDUM

From: Grayson Dawes, PHarmax Chief Executive Officer

To: PHarmax Executive Leadership Committee

Subject: Extraterrestrial Tech Transfer

CONFIDENTIAL

Colleagues,

We have definitive confirmation that the UAS Government and the United World Council will not take action to prevent the so-called “Technology Transfer” that the Aliens are going to initiate at 12:00 PM ET tomorrow. The impacts of this complete disregard for current intellectual property law will be immediate and negative. I have included with this memo a report from our consultants at The Yinger Group, a top market intelligence firm, that provides some scenarios and details about what all of this means means. We are far from the only industry or the only corporation that will be affected by this, but the impact on us is likely to be severe. Breakthroughs we have spent sizable amounts of Research and Development funding on could be disclosed, potentially eliminating trade secrets and patents we have fought long and hard to protect. Worse, many may be invalidated or rendered obsolete by the data from the tech transfer. We have little notion of what useful information will be included in the tech transfer, whether it be new antivirals, antibiotics, life extension technologies, viral therapies, synthetic organs, nano-level cellular reconstruction technologies, or something that proves even more of a game-changer. I have seen several white papers circulating that argue differences in biology between us and the Aliens should limit pharmaceutical or biomedical applications in the near-term, but I remain unconvinced of this argument no matter how much we wish we could believe it. 

While we will take legal action against any who use data from the tech transfer to develop products similar to ours in order to delay and stop them from making it to market, that will do little to stop what will be an emerging black market for these technologies and medicines. We assume that this black market and underground economy may significantly affect existing profits as is already the case with illegal generic versions of our products. It is also likely that many scam artists will cut into our bottom line by promising miracle cures to diseases and other chronic health problems through these underground channels as well, likely claiming bogus Alien science supposedly obtained from the tech transfer. We are likely looking at several rough quarters or even years. As such, based upon the recommendations of the Yinger report, we should follow a two track strategy to ensure the survival of PHarmax in the face of these new challenges.

1. The first priority is to protect our product lines, be they in production or development stages. We have some initial confirmation that the data to be released through the feeds will be easily understood by individuals with some competence and knowledge of biomedical engineering and its related disciplines. This will likely mean that many startups will spring up virtually overnight.

1.a. As previously stated, we must take legal action when they infringe upon our existing intellectual property. We have a dedicated legal team in New York and DC from the law firm Knight, MacPherson, and Green on standby that have been briefed on the issue and are prepared to take appropriate action. We will continue the engagement with the Yinger Group to identify any products that sound similar to ours or produce similar effects. Cease and desist notices will go out early and often whenever we receive word that someone is developing something that could infringe. If they continue development, we will immediately file suit. This will jam up many of the startups and hopefully scare investors away from them as well. Most will likely be gone before they can launch products.

1.b. Media strategies will tag any startups in the industry as unreliable and inexperienced. Analysts friendly to PHarmax will make assertions in the feeds that such firms have connections to underground and black market sources and that their products cannot be trusted. PHarmax’s reputation and experience will be emphasized as a contrast.

2. Our next priority should be to take advantage of the opportunity to launch new product lines and exploit this unprecedented situation. Forecasters anticipate that demand for any Alien technology, including medical products, will be extremely high. Riots are anticipated as part of the distribution. PHarmax would forego significant profits to abstain from these business development opportunities. 

2.a. In cases where the tech transfer  discloses proprietary information not belonging to PHarmax but to PHarmax’s competitors, we should proceed immediately in testing, producing, and distributing products based upon this. Our legal will argue the unprecedented nature of this situation to proceed with infringement upon the intellectual property of our competitors. They will likely try the strategy outlined in 1.a. of cease and desist letters and suits against us, but we are not some startup that can be intimidated into bankruptcy by such actions. The reward outweighs the risk

2.b. Our legal team assures us that we can further utilize the unprecedented nature of this situation to explain why traditional testing and approval of all medical products should be expedited. Communications will stress the explosive growth of underground and black market distribution of these technologies and how dangerous they are as they have been subject to essentially no safety or testing. Correspondingly, it will be argued that it is irresponsible to constrain respectable and established companies with expertise with red tape while these unsafe drugs are being produced illegally with no regard for safety or testing. We already have several pieces of draft legislation that may gut the testing process for established firms who can obtain a waiver. Our lobbyists assure me that the waiver process will be constructed to benefit established companies with solid past performance and corporate experience over startups. 

Many will view these developments as a simple positive. It is our job to make sure the consumer understands the complexity and unprecedented nature of this situation. We must make all efforts to educate the consumer that many untrusted and inexperienced sources and, frankly, outright frauds will exploit this situation to make profits and that they should trust the same firms with their healthcare and medical products that they always have. Together, we can weather this storm and retain our dominance in the industry as this chaotic situation unfolds.

Sincerely Yours,

Grayson Dawes

Chief Executive Officer

PHarmax Biomedical Technologies, LLC

Image Credit:

NASAESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI)

From: Spacetelescope.org

Overture: Broken Light - #4

image

“I’m having a hard time understanding how we’re supposed to spin it that way,” Sandra Abreu said. “We’re about to argue that knowledge is a threat?” She was looking directly at Senator Alvez, whose weary eyes looked glazed over. The other six people at the conference table were immersed in their interfaces, complete with wandering eyes and the occasional finger presses and sliding stabs at the air.  The others in the strategy session clearly did not share her viewpoint. “Because we fear change? How is that going to look to history? How is that going to look to the Aliens if we decline?” 

“This is out of your lane, Sandra,” Brent said. He was the youngest person in the room, but he was supposed to be some kind of genius at building meta-narratives in all the feeds. He’d nearly cost Alvez his re-election several times already with his meta-bullshit. Shamefully, he was the campaign manager so the spew that came out of his mouth and passed for “opinions” had a lot of weight. 

“Out of my lane?” Sandra said. “I’m the fucking foreign policy expert! I have a really hard time understanding what’s more foreign than dealing with representatives of an Alien species.” 

“This goes beyond foreign policy,” Sheila said. Sandra gave Sheila a murderous stare. They’d been friends for years, and she couldn’t believe Sheila was out there stabbing her in the back at a crucial moment like this. “Everything is on the table here. The economy, health care, all of it. This could upend everything, cause mass hysteria. All of our donors are already scared shitless over what it will do to all of their R&D programs and their intellectual property. It could all become obsolete overnight. Entire industries could die, thousands of jobs lost. That’s even assuming these Aliens are telling the truth. They could be giving us power sources and medicines that turn out to be bombs and bio-weapons.”

“I would assume we let scientists figure that out,” Sandra said. “They’re not exactly handing out How to Serve Man booklets here, they’re giving us data, research, and knowledge. It’s up to us what we do with it.”

“I like that!” Brent said. Alvez nodded slightly. Sandra didn’t like that nod. It usually meant the Senator was falling for one of Brent’s insane schemes. “A bio-weapon! It could be anything! They could just be waiting to see how trusting we are before they harvest us or something. Maybe we synthesize this stuff and its a nanoplague, wipes us out. We could come up with plenty of scenarios. These Aliens are the ultimate ‘Other,’” Brent said. “Easy political points, there for the scoring. Beating up on them in the media will get us plenty of traction, lots of buzz. This transcends race and nationality, they’re not human, they’re not even of this world. I’m sure we can find some scientist to back us up on the dangers of this.”

“Hold up,” Davis interjected. He was looking at Sandra, and perhaps the only other voice of reason in the room. He was the economist, and he stroked his chin, thinking this over. “Look, there’s a lot of risk here. You come out too strident and what happens if they end up dropping miracle drugs and true game-changing technologies during this tech transfer they’re proposing?  I somewhat agree with Sandra here. We don’t want to be on the wrong side of history. We could end up looking like we stood in the way of life-saving breakthroughs. I can already see the campaign commercials where whoever is running against us trots out all sorts of children and veterans that would be dead or worse if not for whatever Alien space-magic healed them and then they tactfully point out that we would’ve said no. The narrative writes itself.”

“Thank you, Davis,” Sandra said, relieved that he took something in the neighborhood of her side.

“However,” Davis added. “Just as bad if we have terrorists or criminals prowling around blowing everything up with some Alien space-magic weapon. I think we should express skepticism in our new ‘friends,’ whatever they may have to offer. Perhaps a middle-ground? We accept that this tech transfer is going to happen, but state that we’re going to do everything we can to minimize the risk and negative consequences. Legislation, regulation, all of it to control whatever might arise.”

“Not against, but guarded,” Vera, the official press wrangler, nodded and smiled. “I like it. We can say we’ll urge the President and Congress to put together a special inter-agency task force to look into strategic issues, that kind of thing.”

“I think this is a good approach,” Senator Alvez said. “I can state that given my experience, I will look out for our interests. I’ll trust, but verify. No free pass for these Aliens, however many shiny treats they might dangle in front of us. I’ll be a steady hand, ready to take action and keep this new Alien tech and whatever research and practical uses come out of it under control. We’ll look into heavily regulating whoever uses the information from this tech transfer.”

“I couldn’t have said it better myself, Senator,” Brent yes-manned. Sandra leaned back in her chair, defeated. “It will also do a lot to reassure our donors.”

“While we let a once in a lifetime opportunity get choked by croneyism and red tape,” Sandra murmured under her breath.

“Well, that’s it then,” Senator Alvez announced, everyone around the table bobbleheading except Sandra. “I want to see a full communications plan and talking points by the end of the day. Get to it.” People got up in a sea of murmurs, Sandra ready to go fume in her office.

“Sandra,” the Senator said. “A word please.” 

“Yes, sir,” Sandra said, her military background winning out over however collegial the Senator tried to keep it. She stayed put until everyone left. 

“Sandra, you know I value your experience. You served in the African Union wars and the GCF offensive, then you were a State department diplomatic officer for years. No one has your background and your perspective. That said, this is the greatest unknown any of us have ever faced. I need you to be a team player on this,” the Senator said. “I can see you have strongly held opinions on this, and I want you to express them, but in a more respectful way to the others. There are a lot of sides to this issue that don’t follow the ordinary rules. Things are happening very fast, as you well know. We can’t afford to pick unnecessary fights with each other.”

“Yes, sir,” Sandra grimaced. “I’ll try to be more collaborative with my colleagues. I just think it’s beneath you to make fear the centerpiece of this campaign.” She had plenty more to say, but she swallowed it. The combination of choked back spite and bitterness formed a potent cocktail in her mouth.

“I understand and appreciate your concern,” Senator Alvez said. 

“Thank you, Senator,” Sandra said. “I have a lot of work to do. Every government on the map has a different opinion on all of this, and it’s a fluid situation keeping it all straight.” Alvez turned away as she left. She tried not to think of how small-minded political games were squandering potentially the greatest thing to happen to humanity in years. She should’ve known better. She should’ve known this would be business as usual. 

Image Credit:

NASA, ESA, E. Sabbi (STScI)

Overture: Broken Light - #3

Omar Bragg had held his mouth for exactly as long as was possible, his hands squeezing the thermal assault rifle in his hands so hard he was afraid he might actually rip the thing apart. Nitika Chowdury, his partner, didn’t move. Her serenity was maddening. “Can they understand us?” he whispered to her.

Nitika turned her head. The United American States emblem in the forehead region of the helmet was a fountain of emotion compared to her small face. Even her tactical helmet regularly had richer body language than she did. “Did you even read the briefing?” she monotoned.

“It was like a million pages,” Omar whispered. He had started it, but he’d only gotten about twenty pages and five charts in before he gave it up to make dinner for his daughter. “It’s not like we got a lot of advance notice about this assignment.”

“Yes, we can understand you,” a clipped, robotic voice said nearby. Omar felt a nervous rush of blood to his head and saw stars for a minute when he realized what “said” it.

They were very tall, almost touching the ceiling. Standing on two legs, their stick-like frame reached up and terminated in a tiny head with four sets of compound eyes. They had two sets of spindly arms that they were keeping patiently at their sides. Looking back and forth between each other, they had a thin layer of material like clothing covering their insect bodies that was clumped around the arm and leg joints, blinking lights strewn throughout. Their skin, or scales or whatever it was had a blueish hue to it. The fingers on the ends of their four arms were small and wormlike, but there were lots of them arranged in almost a complete circle. “I am Sihs-Jin,” the same voice emitted from one of them. “We have interfaces that are quite capable of understanding and translating your language, as well as applications that can simulate your speech in return.”

“Okay,” Omar answered. He got more of an answer than he really wanted. There were only two reasons he could think of for why he pulled this duty: either someone hadn’t thought at all about who would be best suited and most qualified to do it or he’d really pissed someone off somewhere up above and was receiving his punishment. 

“I am the ambassador of our people,” Sihs-Jin said, folding his two standing legs in on themselves and leaning his insectoid body forward so he was eye-level with Omar. Omar wondered whether this gesture was some sort of predatory crouch or a respectful bow. Maybe both. Their bodies seemed more flexible than he would’ve expected, like a bendy praying mantis. He didn’t understand how that worked, but as a diplomatic security officer he wasn’t exactly a biologist. A spindly set of organic and mechanical antenna rose out of the top of its head. Omar could make out that lenses of some kind were over the Alien’s compound eyes. They displayed thousands of bits of unrecognizable text and pictures. Omar half-expected target signs. “I am pleased to meet you.”

“Likewise,” Omar said, keeping his hands on his gun. The Alien didn’t seem to want any sort of hand contact, which he thanked God Almighty for. 

“Me too,” Nitika droned. Sihs-Jin retained his shortened height. He stalked over to a nearby window, looking out on the complex skycape New York City. Way down in the streets below there were all manner of protestors, cultists, street prophets, and other assorted mental deficients who knew the Aliens were in the building. 

“When are they going to be ready?” Omar muttered. They were standing in a waiting room outside of the World United Council Security Committee, ready to escort the Aliens inside to meet several world leaders. Only if the world leaders could actually all agree that they were ready to see them, though. It had been almost an hour wait already. Omar, Nitika, 100 more armed guards on the floors above and below them, and several varieties of automated security countermeasures were all that stood in the way of the Aliens wiping out all said leaders if this was some elaborate ambush.

“I like your city,” Ambassador Sihs-Jin said. “It is very colorful, very active. Very loud. Most enjoyable.” Omar refrained from asking why those qualities delighted the ambassador. Perhaps he thought it looked like a wonderful lunch buffet. “Your people have great potential.” Again, Omar tried not to mentally supply “as a snack food” to the ambassador’s statement. “It will take time. Our thoughts, our language, even our names are very different from yours. We are truncating them for your benefit.”

“Because we wouldn’t be able to understand?” Nitika chimed in, a rarity. Omar remembered the first day the Alien ship, that enormous black sphere, had appeared in the sky. It was small, but you could see it during the day. Almost the size of the moon because it was so much closer.  Everyone had been terrified. All the coverage on all the feeds and all the casts had focused on it. There had been a month of dangerous rumors and rampant speculation. Some super-rich nutjobs had tried to send a few spacecraft up to take a look or to even “dock” with and board the ship, but it had been unresponsive. 

Yesterdat the World United Council had admitted that the Aliens had begun contacting them a mere six hours after their arrival after all. It had just been a long time before they were ready to tell the public anything definitive. Don’t tell the truth until it takes a form you can control, something Omar was all too familiar with from guarding diplomats day in and day out. 

The ambassador swiveled his pointed head in their direction. They all seemed to be male. Omar at least remembered from the pages he’d skimmed that the males were all a pale blue, where the females were either a dull orange or a faint purple. “Linguistically, all of it would be difficult for you to grasp,” Sihs-Jin responded. His insectoid face coupled with the synthesized voice were inscrutable. Omar wondered if Nitika was in love. She and the Alien would have a great time being unreadable together. “That is always a problem for the Old Races.”

Omar shuffled, relaxing the grip on his gun some. He started to think that if the Aliens were going to kill him with anything, it would be words at this point. They didn’t seem armed in any conventional manner. Then again, they could always be martial arts experts. With all those fingers, all those long arms, they could be very lethal. 

The door to the chambers opened, a sweaty young man exiting into the hallway and eyeing the aliens nervously. “We’re, um, ready for you,” he said. 

“Excellent,” was all the Ambassador said, resuming his formerly intimidating height. Omar gestured the aliens to move in first. They respectfully shuffled forward, silent except for a few clacks. Omar let out an involuntary shudder just watching them moved. They were going purposefully slow, and considering how creepy that was he didn’t want to imagine them at top speed.

“How long do you think this is going to take?” he asked Nitika.

“Days,” Nitika said.

“Sounds optimistic to me,” Omar said, steeling himself for all the worthless haggling and posturing to come. Diplomats and politicians always found new ways to torture the human soul with hollow words and gestures. Still, it was better than the alternative: armed hostility with a race that had clear technological superiority. Omar just lamented he had to be in the room for all of it. He had to do everything in his power to prevent this from becoming a permanent assignment. This was a long shot from watching over thugs sent to represent some rogue state or shady NGO, and he could already feel the dread eating away at him.

“By the way, did you notice he said races, as in plural?” Nitika commented.

“Yeah, if there’s one set of aliens out there, there’s got to be more. As long as I don’t have to play escort duty for them, too,” was all Omar said.

Image Credit:

NASA/ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team STScI/AURA), George Herbig and Theodore Simon (University of Hawaii).

Overture: Broken Light - #2

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Vacuous sameness trickled in, dust particles and the distant white noise of the great asteroid field between them and Mars the only distant sparkles of something interesting. The orbiting satellites from Jupiter, Saturn, and their moons were a web of optics and sensors, feeding zetabytes of data into his protective screen of applications. The apps digested it, giving yet more graphs and presentations of what was out there. What was out there was a whole lot of nothing. He was trapped in a chamber of floating renderings, numbers, planets, and even the satellites taking pictures of each other. 

Drumming his fingers as abrasive sounds pounded out an aggressive rhythm all around him, the listening post operator adjusted the sensor feeds again. He was only allowed one recreational feed and he’d chosen a violent mid-21st century action opera. The heroine was billowing out a wail to a 140 BPM drum shuffle as she fired a high-powered thermal rifle from out a building’s window at the charging any assassins. It took a real badass to sing and gunfight at the same time. 

“Rand, you settled in?” Doug, the only other sensor operator on shift asked. “I need a break.” 

“Take your break, dickbag,” Rand Wasolek yelled into his earpiece, turning down his action opera. His eardrums thanked him, the tightness and hiss in them starting to make him think he was giving himself a problem. He needed the loud music and films to stay awake. He’d long acquired immunity to the watery GMO coffee they got from earth long ago. It could grow in almost any climate, the only tradeoff had been actual flavor. The emptiness all of his apps and sensors broadcast to him was a blast of narcolepsy inducement. Even the network traffic coming into the post from Mars, Luna, and Earth was minimal. “Not like I need you. We’re on Europa, for shit’s sake. What’s going to happen?” 

“You got it, shithead,” Doug responded. “I’m going to eat something and be back.” Rand stretched, glaring out the window at the sprawling complex of the European colony. The listening post was in a tower that floated in the middle of the structure, gazing out on the frozen vista and lineae of Europa’s surface. The human structures protruded like fingers and hands sticking up out of it, penetrating into the warmer water underneath and stretching deeper down into the moon’s metallic core. It was an amazing view, but a shitty job. The apps did most of the work for him, interpreting the feeds and telling him when and where something might be wrong. Still, they wanted that human touch. Someone watching and ready, and he had enough basic competence to work as a communications office and fix connectivity issues with the intra-solar network. There were four of them in the colony, and Doug was his backup for the shift. 

One app began to detail anomalies. Then another started to detect movement outside the normal scale of space trash. The sensor array began to send him alerts. He reached for the haptic interface and enlarged the data related to whatever it was that spooked the systems so much. The anomaly was moving, too fast to get optics on. He pulled up another auxiliary sensor app and requested that it recreate whatever it was virtually for him. He switched off his action opera. For the first time since the last FTL test flight, he needed real concentration.  

“What the fuck …” Rand started to say. A sense of urgency was a foreign sensation at this point. “This is way too much excitement this early in the morning.”

On a separate holographic display, he watched the object come into focus, along with various apps that took guesses at what it was. It was an spherical. The composition told him it was metallic and appeared to be giving off significant heat and radiation that was suggestive of an incredible amount of energy in a single direction. Clearly. Rand blinked, watching the apps attempt to make further guesses about it. It looked like a tiny planet or moon, but it was moving. Moreso, it was moving and putting out energy and radiation that suggested propulsion. Rand got a horrible, horrible feeling and told the sensors to check its trajectory. More or less a straight-line. Not orbiting. Using a few things as a quick gravity slingshot, but moving with a purpose.

“Am I looking at a ship?” he said to no one but himself and the apps. They didn’t react, confused. “M.C.P.,” he asked the appropriate app. “Am I looking at a spacecraft of unknown origin?”

He paced nervously, during the delay it took the app to compile and use its crude artificial intelligence to judge. “Available data does not rule out that possibility,” the M.C.P. app responded. “It is a plausible supposition.”

“This is not happening,” Rand whispered. Then he full-on panicked. “I need the Colony Administrator NOW!” he punched into his colony communications protocol app. “Doug, also, get your ass back here for shit’s sake!”

“Administrator Cheung is currently out of the office and is in do not disturb mode,” a chipper synthetic voice belonging to the administrator’s virtual assistant responded. 

“Override, override, OVERRIDE! Priority one or whatever!” was all Rand could manage. 

“Hold please,” the virtual assistant responded. “Please note that the Administrator has been extraordinarily displeased when individuals have abused the override function previously. She asks that all personnel exercise discretion in doing so or severe administrative sanctions may be invoked.”

“I’ll take my chances,” Rand said, watching the path of this Hell-Orb hurtle toward Earth. “I think Administrator Cheung would want to know about this.”

“What’s going on up there?” Doug said, his voice clear and footsteps heavy as he raced back from wherever he was. 

“Rand?” Administrator Amy Cheung’s tired voice slurred. “What’s going on? Another meteor inbound?” Rand connected them all in a single channel, trying to figure out which apps told the story the best. 

“If only, Administrator,” Rand said. “M.C.P., please send Doug and Administrator a summary of what we have.” M.C.P. would have to figure out the best data for him since he clearly didn’t have time to put together a highlight reel.

“Well, this is different,” Doug said, bursting into the listening post. He began to directly work the apps. “I think I had a dream about this once.” His voice was detached, drifting into disbelief. 

“Guys, is this what I think it is?” Amy Cheung said as she tried to make sense of what she was seeing in her interface. Rand pictured her in her bedroom working through her interfaces. She was smart. She would see it. “Please tell me it’s anything other than what I think it is.” 

 “We’ve got aliens,” Rand answered. “And they appear to be headed right for Earth. I’m assuming we might want to give someone a head’s up?”

Image Credit:

Spacetelescope.org

NASA, Holland Ford (JHU), the ACS Science Team and ESA

Overture: Broken Light - #1

The last page of the structural engineering report appeared on her display. “Thank God, Buddha, Jesus, assorted other deities, and the Devil,” Danya whispered as she closed it. The floating diagrams around her apartment workstation mercifully faded. The results had been solid, only minor wear and tear. The hull had held up, a miracle considering how many new materials were at play. 

“When is enough enough?” a voice echoed through another one of her many displays. He was an older man in an impeccable three piece suit with silver hair. “First there were the colonies, then this? It’s like we don’t even care. It’s like we’ve given up. Most of our arable farmland is gone thanks to climate change. We have regular food shortages in the poorest countries so bad that only the most unnatural GMOs can keep us all from starving. We’ve overfished most of the ocean to near extinction. We’ve clearly thrown in the towel on our own planet. So we go to another one? Rinse and repeat?” 

“Isn’t that the point?” A second voice said, a younger woman in a pantsuit almost as expensive. “We’re doing this because we’re not exactly brimming with choices here. This mission is the only way we survive long term, period. I can’t believe anyone could see what happened today and not be excited for the possibilities. We are no longer bound by this planet or our past. And you’d have us abandon this because of naturalist fallacy? Maybe instead of finding new worlds and moving forward we stay here and make this planet our tomb. Sometimes I think that’s what it would take to appease people like you.” Danya Fund watched them argue for awhile, a panel of so-called “experts” on a news talk show skewering each other with stock arguments. Either today was the most momentous event in human history, ushering us into a new post-human future, or it was some weird admission of failure. She sipped the Malbec in her hand, its hints of spice, berry, and acidity a welcome distraction.  

“You don’t think this is a bit problematic, at all?” a third voice said. He was more disheveled, a little overweight. His voice had slouched way past calm and gone into full on enraged. “So it’s possible for us to travel to other star systems now. Fantastic. Excuse me if I’m not filled with childlike wonder thinking about what might be out there waiting. Or, even worse, what might’ve noticed us leaving our bubble here.” Another tired meme she’d heard a hundred times in the past few days. She switched the newscast off. She’d hoped it would be entertaining, a blend of hysteria and excitement. Instead, it was like watching children fight over a new toy. The ones that didn’t get to play with it only wanted to talk about how stupid the toy was and how they didn’t need it anyway. 

A new message arrived in her personal account. “Congratulations, Danya,” she read out loud, grimacing at the identity of the sender. “I always knew you could pull it off.” The rest of it went on and on about how remarkable it all was and how he’d always had faith in her. How everyone must now see what he always saw. Apparently he’d seen even more in his lab assistant. “Fuck you, asshole,” she verbally responded, summoning some fantastic memories of leaving all of his belonging in the hallway outside of their apartment. She didn’t bother writing him back, deleting the message. 

Danya took a bigger glug of her Malbec, swirling it her mouth. As much as she’d labored to build humanity’s first successful manned Faster-Than-Light mission, she couldn’t help but get wrapped up in the same anxieties as everyone else. She wanted to believe she’d been above it all, but watching the test flight had filled her with dread. It had been a success, the small manned crew leaving and returning in only a matter of days. Sure, it had followed a series unmanned drone test flights launched over previous years, but to the media and everyone else those had been curiosities more than real events. Sending people was different. No one knew the next move, though. More colonies in other systems were on the table, and like the colonies elsewhere in the solar system they would likely be a wonderland for corporate exploitation and starry-eyed fantasies. So many had expected this day would never arrive, so the powers that be weren’t exactly well-prepared. 

Where are you? Another message trickled in from Paige, one of the chief financial analysts on the project. You aren’t still working, are you?

She opened yet another message from her work account, the medical team. The crew was boringly normal. No indication that the FTL drive had taken them to Hell and they’d come back possessed by a malevolent supernatural force. No evidence that they were filled with inter-dimensional parasites that would spawn eldritch horrors once they matured and burst forth from their hosts. No evidence they had a mysterious plague or microbe that would wipe out the human race. Not even space madness. Some morbid bastards she’d heard about who’d started an office pool would be very, very disappointed.  

Danya, or “Dr. Fund” as the team called her, rose to her feet and moved around her apartment as she finished her Malbec. She’d left the displays broadcasting headlines from the feeds, the quiet breathlessness of them much more revealing than listening to people talk or watching the same video footage of the crew returning she’d seen a dozen times. The headlines were entertaining enough. Source: Vanguard Astronauts Report Anomalies While in Faster Than Light Travel. Of course they did, considering no human had ever witnessed FTL travel. Reports that Vanguard Astronauts in Critical Condition. There was a difference between a precautionary quarantine and critical condition, not that the news media would care. Vanguard Astronauts Flee Hostile Anomalies, Barely Survive another one alerted. Previous FTL Drones Missing, Government Cover-up Suspected. Some of them were missing because their drives had failed to activate on the return trip, and it hadn’t exactly been covered up. Then there were the corporate press releases.  First human colonies on nearby Earth-like world expected within ten years, says IEI CEO. ADS Unveils New Line of FTL Starships Ready in Six Months. One day she’d need to get one of her old artist friends to make some sort of collage out of this madness. 

Her body was sore from the first intense and solid workout she’d had in weeks. They’d crashed hard on finishing the Vanguard XX and checking everything before launch. She was finally able to come up for air and restart her routine. She started to put on her dress. Judging by more messages, most of her coworkers were way ahead of her on drinks. She had a lot of catching up to do. 

The last report she’d been waiting for arrived. She opened it. Danya, as the Deputy Program Manager in charge of Quality Assurance and Program Controls, basically had to read and summarize everything from all of the other engineers into words that politicals, public affairs flacks, and budget wizards could understand. She liked to joke that she was a translator more than a PM. In the coming days, all those people would be voracious consumers of whatever information she could give them. It was a hell of a position for someone who was only 34. Everyone would want to pick apart Vanguard to understand if this was what it appeared to be: real.

Sure she had her PhD in astroengineering, the sexy replacement for what had been aerospace engineering, but that didn’t mean even she understood everything on Vanguard. As much as being a Deputy PM on the Vanguard FTL program was her passion, the oversight role took her out of doing real engineering. She was starting to feel like she was losing her knowledge of what that even looked like. It didn’t help that they were working on the bleeding edge of technology with just about every work package. 

The data from the propulsion team showed way below expectations. The stability of the engines had barely held together. The FTL drive had nearly burnt out in overload twice during the return trip. That would’ve been lovely, stranding a historic manned spaceflight with no way to return. They’d had similar problems with the earlier drones, but it was supposed to have been corrected. The Product Manager had an elegant list of excuses. “Shit,” Danya said, setting the wine down. She was in front of her bedroom mirror. Her slight frame reflected back to her, reminding her how little she’d eaten in the past few months. Danya had always been thin, but she was getting near-skeletal. Her fridge was a graveyard of heavily fortified yogurt and spicy kelp. Her pantry only had a nearly spent bulk bag of oatmeal. That was all she’d subsisted on for months. That and Malbec. 

“Danya?” Paige said. Danya looked up, seeing a projection of Paige’s face. Danya silently cursed the day she’d given Danya rights to open video chat without permission when she was online. “You’re working aren’t you? You’re still reading reports? You really can’t help yourself, can you? You have a disease. Maybe more than one. You’re addicted to data and allergic to enjoying yourself.” There was a lot of noise in the background, things at the bar starting to get out of control. 

“Tough talk coming from a spreadsheet engineer. Listen, I’m almost done,” Danya said. “Really. It’s not my fault the propulsion team waited until the last minute to get this to me.”

“Danya,” Paige said. “You’re missing the finest the Huntsville bar scene can possibly provide here. No one is going to notice if that waits until tomorrow morning. You can read reports when you’re hungover in your office with the blinds closed. There will be plenty of time to dissect every scrap of this thing. It’s months until our next launch. That’s if the higher-ups don’t delay it, which we all know we will. The Government is a substantial player in this, after all. You need to get here. General Diamond is having a pretty intense drinking contest with Mary Fillmore, that VP from ADS. I’m giving the edge to Mary right now. She’s drinking the old man under the table. You have to see it.”

“That would be worth seeing,” Danya admitted. Rubbing her eyes, she checked the time on her portable interface. More than work or play, she needed to go to sleep. That was defeatist thinking, though. “All right, I’m leaving.”

“Now?” Paige asked.

“Now,” Danya affirmed. “You can see me. You can see that I’m dressed. I just have to walk out.”

“Easier said than done for you. I’m sending a search party if you don’t show in like ten minutes,” Paige said. 

“I’ll be there,” Danya said to her friend’s image. “You have my word, whatever that’s worth.” 

“Danya?” Paige asked.

“Yeah?” Danya said. 

“We broke the light barrier, bitch,” Paige said.

“Hell yeah we did,” Danya laughed in response. She closed the chat with Paige, then headed straight for the door of her Huntsville two-bedroom. Before she knew it, she was out of the apartment and in the elevator. She stopped thinking about propulsion, and starting thinking about how many bottles of wine she would kill tonight.