(Editor’s note: For some time, OA participant-authors have written “Travelers’ Notes” — an assortment of noteworthy moments, a sample of the memories of the untold billions of sophonts who travel among the polities of the Orion’s Arm universe. As authors give permission, we will offer some of these moments here.)
A somber day today. We came in from Chezakiim just above the system ecliptic, the Pitch Drive slowing us down to a crawl of only 1% of c. Nobody complained however; all of us on this voyage knew that this was coming when we came aboard. Presumably anyone who didn’t want to make the detour made other travel arrangements to get to Certe.
At the appropriate hour, a quiet tone passed through the com-net and those of us so inclined linked into the ships sensor web to view our destination. Irdis, once a quiet, backwater world, now a memorial to the sacrifice of millions for the sake of billions more.
The Version War was so far over as to already be the stuff of history books and romance novels when the rogue autowar entered the Irdis system. The autowar was ancient, its weapons nearly exhausted, its fuel all but spent, and its AI, it is believed, thoroughly insane. It had never heard, or had ignored, the broadcasts announcing the end of hostilities. In its mind, the war was still ongoing, battles still to be fought and victory to be won from the enemy and eir worlds. In this case, the worlds orbiting the open binary stars of Katrop-Chezakiim. Katrop with its single unremarkable planet of Irdis and, a mere light-month beyond, the rich, unsuspecting, and far more populous worlds of Chezakiim.
The autowar could have simply flown right past Irdis, leaving its 15 million inhabitants suspecting nothing until the light of Chezakiim’s destruction filled their sky. Certainly, that would have made more sense tactically. But for whatever reason, the a-war chose to eliminate Irdis first. As such, when its stealthed approach had brought it within range, it fired a single implosion swarm at the planet below.
There are some who speculate that there was method to the autowar’s madness. That it intended to use the flare of Irdis’ destruction as a distraction to cover the opening moves of its attack on the Chezakiim habs and that the implosion swarm was mis-programmed or malfunctioning when it went critical only two days after the autowar had launched it.
Whether this view is correct may never be known. What is known is that when the implosion swarm activated, crushing the planet down to ultradense matter and then exploding much of it out into space, the resulting energy flare, traveling at the speed of light, far outraced the approaching autowar and lit up every detector in Chezakiim space. So forewarned, the sensors and telescopes of the Chezakiim Domestic Defense Forces were able to first detect and then isolate the autowar, vainly trying to arrive in time to carry out its mission. Several heavy cruisers, parked in mothball orbits, were hurriedly reactivated and proceeded to blow the approaching intruder out of the sky. The lives of 30 billion sophonts were saved. At the cost of 15 million who probably never knew what hit them.
At first look the memorial was a simple thing. The remains of Irdis’ core, cooled and dead after all this time, and an orbiting ring of debris. The ring is semi-artificial. It would have formed eventually, given time, but legions of bots deployed into the system intercepted and redirected and coaxed the debris of the planet into a single, well-ordered disk long before natural processes could have managed it.
It was what could not be seen that made the memorial what it was. 15 million micro spheres scattered throughout the ring, each formed out of diamond. Each one etched with the name of one of Irdis’ inhabitants from that fateful day. Even at high magnification we couldn’t see them, but we knew they were there. Eternal memories of those now gone.
For a full Irdisian day we coasted past the memorial’s location, our sensors trained upon it. For a full Irdisian day we maintained comm. silence, thinking about what had been lost here. Thinking about how much more could have been lost if this tragedy had not occurred.
At the end of the time of silence, the ship reactivated its drive and we resumed our journey to Certe, 10 years flight away. We’re pulling 50Gs right now, not that any of us notice. That’s the advantage of traveling as an upload, mind in the computer, body just a template to be remade when needed. You don’t notice the little things.
I’m going to wrap this up now. There’s a gathering tonight in one of the ships common virtch nodes. A party in the traditional style, with music and dancing and drinking. But before I go, I’m going to do one last thing, I think. I’m going to invoke one of my personal virtch templates, a particularly fine glass of a particularly fine vintage of a particularly fine wine I picked up in the Inner Sphere some centuries back. I save it for special occasions and have only used it a few times. I’m going to drink a toast to the people of Irdis, and all they lost, even unknowingly, to save the lives of others. And then I’m going to erase the template so it can never be used again. A small sacrifice, to honor those who lost so much more.
More about the author, Todd Drasher, here.