Voices/Future Tense

An Orions’ Arm E-zine

Homecoming

Skitter

    A man travels the world over in search of what he needs, and returns home to find it.
    ~George Moore

The spherical chamber serving as bridge for the warship The Long Silence is seemingly filled with apparitions of soft blue light. It’s crew, composed of androgynous holographic humanoids, work diligently at their various stations. Even the stations themselves are little more than panels of light, transforming shape and function as the user sees fit or their tasks require. An outsider to this scene might describe the feeling of this place as akin to traveling through a dreamscape, a feeling that is greatly enhanced by both the lack of gravity and the eerie silence of it all. Only the Admiral appears real amid this phantasmal troupe – floating at the center of the bridge in her ovoid command chair, apparently oblivious to the flurry of activity. For the moment only the holographic panel shimmering in the air in front of her seems to hold any interest. It is with great intensity that the Admiral’s violet eyes scan the information it presents on this new star and its eleven worlds. With a touch of her finger the display shifts, rapidly magnifying the fourth planet from the star until this single world fills the screen.

“Welcome home,” the words slip from her lips so softly as to be barely audible even in the silence of this place.

Smiling, her thoughts drift back to recent events. Thoughts of how the fleet, her fleet, The Long Silence and its battle group, have simply brushed aside the defenders in each of the systems they have visited – leaving nothing but the smoldering husks of dead ships and scarred worlds as testimony to their grim power. She is pleased that this new conquest may be different from the rest. This prize that was once her home is heavily industrialized and the forward scouts have reported a sizeable fleet has moved in to reinforce the defenders. Even now this new fleet moves to intercept her own at the edge of the system. Finally, a potential challenge presents itself and if this campaign is going to continue to be fun, or even to simply maintain her interest, it is going to need to get challenging.

“Activate task designation, change panel style to cha two,” she commands.

Responding to the order immediately the tactical display expands and changes. The new arrangement shows her fleet on one side as blue icons and the known enemy assets on the other as red; the main tactical display now being delegated to a lesser position on her left. Reaching out her hand she touches the first of the blue icons with the tip of her finger causing it to begin pulsing with soft yellow light. She then selects its intended target with another touch of the appropriate enemy icon. A simple line appears on the panel now connecting the two icons. As each icon is selected its available information is outlined for review on a third display to her right allowing for the proper units to be assigned for any task. With each assignment she adds various verbal and pre-coordinated commands to ensure her exact desires are carried out. Carefully she continues, repeating the process until all the ships in her fleet are assigned. Once complete she makes one final review before deciding the results are an acceptable starting point. As a veteran of many such battles she knows this plan will likely change immediately after the first shots are fired.

At this stage there is no point in delaying the pleasantries; the enemy has already seen them and is moving to intercept. This does not bother her in the slightest. In fact it was expected, as any experienced commander knows there is no stealth in space. Her eyes refocus past the holographic display to one of the ghostly crewman beyond. This crewman, like the others, is nothing more than a representation of one of the many AI actually manning her flagship. Each is an image created to aid her mind in processing incoming information by relating it to the sensory centers of her brain.

“Comm, broadcast the following message to our new friends,” pausing briefly to ensure she has the AI’s attention. “Surrender or be destroyed.”

“Aye aye sir! Transmitting demand to surrender or be destroyed,” the communications AI eagerly replies. “Demand for surrender transmitted sir!”

Even though the signal travels at the speed of light it will still take a few seconds to reach its intended target and then they must wait for the return response. These delays can feel like forever and in the meantime they must prepare for the inevitable. With the confidence of one familiar with the weight of command the Admiral delivers a stream of orders. “Change panel style to cha one, launch autowars, prep fighter and drone swarms for launch, power up all weapons systems and bring the E.D shields online. I want a final fleet wide status report update immediately.”

As expected the response is quickly returned and its simplicity matches that of her ultimatum making the defenders’ position perfectly clear. “I really don’t care for either of those options.”

The Admiral cannot help but be amused as she recognizes the voice. It would seem her brother is cocky enough to think he can do what their parents obviously could not. Thinking about the dead fleets recently left behind, she ponders the fact that he could certainly do no worse. It is strange though that of all those that could have challenged her it would be him. A smirk, which others might describe as smug, creeps across her lips. “So much for being nice. Well booger, I hope you have been practicing,” she murmurs to herself, referencing the pet name she has always referred to him by. “Comm! All ships to engage the enemy – cinder and ash protocols!”

“Aye aye sir! All ships to engage, implementing cinder and ash protocols,” Enthusiastically the communications AI responds. “Sir! All ships confirm orders and are moving to engage the enemy.”

Now the task of closing the gulf that separates the two fleets begins. This is a cat and mouse game of maneuver as each ship shifts and weaves as they cross the distance, attempting to never be quite where the enemy might expect. It is a dangerous game and the Admiral knows it will be necessary for the fleets to move dangerously close to one another – perhaps within distances of only a very few hundreds of thousands or even tens of thousands of kilometers. Truly it can be said that while space may be a limitless field it is lightspeed lag that sets the boundaries of the event. Every cadet knows it is meaningless that your weapons can reach the enemy, if the enemy is not there when the shot arrives.

The beam weapons expectedly draw first blood as they streak invisibly across the void. Although with the closest ships still over one hundred and fifty thousand kilometers apart their effects are minimal and damage is insignificant. This is where experience begins to come into play and the Admiral watches with absolute focus. Carefully she starts the process of marking the most powerful of the enemy’s weapons as priority targets, while at the same time holding many of hers back. She understands their value and wants them to be a surprise when they are also lethally effective. Now begins the reissuing of new orders to the fleet, accounting for damage or redirecting resources to alternate or priority targets.

The ships continue to move ever closer – barely one hundred thousand kilometers apart by this point – and the intervening space has become a maelstrom. Sensors are intermittently blinded by the blast of EM warheads and distracted by flares, various particle beams and lasers blast and carve the enemy, waves of attacking missile drones and relativistic projectiles streak to their targets to be met by waves of combat patrol fighters and point defense weapons. Many areas are blocked off with fields of conversion bomb pumped x-ray laser mines, radiation bombs and various aggressive forms of nano-goo. All manner of death is heaped upon the enemy as the two sides clash for supremacy over this small collection of worlds.

Slowly The Long Silence battle group begins to wear the defenders down. Meter by hard fought meter they force them inward into the system. Those defenders that stand their ground are destroyed, their efforts lost to the eternal void. The Admiral cannot help but be proud of her brother though. Despite the battles inevitable conclusion his efforts are worthy of recognition.

Then it stops.

Suddenly everything stops – the universe sits frozen, trapped in this singular point in time. The Admiral finds herself floating alone as reality fades away leaving only an impenetrable inky black. The disorientation this causes lasts only a moment, as it is not her first time in this non-place and knowing what to expect she simply relaxes, preparing herself for what is to come. The wait is not long, not even seconds really, before the familiar soothing voice joins her.

“We apologize for the interruption. All simulations have ended to allow our guests time to prepare themselves. Estimated time of arrival at Einstein gate, 30 standard minutes. Local time is 1537 hours. Please standby to end nanostasis. The Children of Gaia would like to extend their welcome and wish you a pleasant visit to Earth and the Sol system.”

“This simulation brought to you by Virtuoso, the leader in virtual entertainment. Virtuoso is a member of the Non-Coercive Zone. Standard agreements, fees and licensing do apply. Thank you for using this and other fine Virtuoso products.”

Slowly she begins to feel the real world pulling at her senses. The gentle touch of nano-goo as it recedes from her skin withdrawing back into the stasis pod and once again allowing movement. Thankfully the cabin is dimly lit in order to avoid discomfort to her eyes, which have remained unused for the long months of hibernation required for wormhole transit. Even with such polite care in place it takes a couple of hard blinks and a good yawn to fully focus. She catches the soft smell of cinnamon that fills the cabin and it brings to mind thoughts of fresh hot rolls covered in delicious sweet frosting. Breathing the aroma in deeply she starts looking around. Coming out of stasis is her family – her father rubs his eyes, her mother stretches and there is her brother already up and bouncing about in the zero gravity, a silly childish look of wonder on his face.

“That was intense!” he exclaims. “I wanna be a fleet admiral when I’m old enough! Boy, something smells good. When are we gonna eat? I’m hungry H-U-N-G-R-Y hungry.”

Her father simply laughs at the boy’s behavior. They all knew he would enjoy his first interstellar trip.

“You are always hungry dear,” their mother smiles and softly explains. “It was just a game, and the Archai handle the real wars so we don’t have to.”

“Why won’t they let us do it?” he asks with a tinge of disappointment and frustration in his voice. “I’ll bet lot’s of people would wanna have them if they were that much fun!”

Smiling at her sibling’s childish naivety the “Admiral” pushes out of the stasis pod, catching her brother around the neck with one arm as she intercepts him mid-flight. “Come on booger, let’s go see if we can find something to eat,” a suggestion delivered as she drags him helplessly along while mussing his hair.

The cabin wall melts away as they approach, revealing the main corridor and its slowly growing population of passengers beyond. Pushing off the bulkhead they float out of the their cabin to join them. With growing excitement she finds herself hoping that Earth will live up to all the stories. Even as her thoughts look ahead to this new adventure she is reminded of the classic line so often used by the Children of Gaia.

“When you come to Earth, you’re coming home.”

*****

More about the author, Skitter, here.

Leave a Reply