The Morning Star
Echo-1: Part 20
We glided away from the coast, heading back into the sunrise as we approached the mountain city. Its diamond spires shimmered in the distance. The golden ship slowed, providing a grand view. The city reached up into the sky, massive minarets aimed toward the heavens. Their tops were pointed and constructed out of huge diamonds brought down from the asteroid belt. Being made out of such a strong material, they would stand forever.
About ten floors down from the peak of each spire was a large golden ship like the one were in, docked perfectly in a rectangular space. Solid gold hearts for diamond high-rises, the decadence of such structures was almost unfathomable. We headed toward one tower that had no ship in it. The hollow rectangle waited for its counterpart. We slowed to a snail’s pace and slid into the docking space like a specially designed peg.
The hangar doors opened and we were led down a hall to a conference room with a great diamond table and curved chairs along each side. One wall of the room was all windows and the rising sun flooded the crystalline chamber with warm light. The vast arctic tundra spread out below the city in an unending expanse of snow and ice. It was breathtaking. X, Sunshine, and I all stood blinking out the window for a few moments and took in this fantastic frozen world.
The gold wearing Varan leaders and Mox were all slumped in chairs and we filled in the remaining spaces. Charlie was standing on the table next to several rusty objects. On closer examination, they were neural transmitters made of the organic rust metal that coated the Brick. There were four humanoid sized units and one of a larger whale size. It was immediately clear that we were not brought along to just say goodbye to the Inuit. As Sunshine hesitantly took her seat last, Mox began to speak.
“Jonas gave me the backstory on how you were pulled out of his Earth simulation. I have studied the recorded life of every being that came out of the Echo-1 simulation.”
In my mind only, communicating via transmitter, Mox added that the Varan were particularly impressed with my story. He shot his tongue out in my direction and continued to speak aloud.
“We view you as complete life forms. It is an intriguing idea to cultivate intelligent entities in a free evolving simulation and implant them in such advanced bodies, granting them a life in the real world. It would seem you have fates and in the case of one like you, Hands, your destiny is not manifest. You are the life that springs from technology. I have seen the complexity of programs written by Jonas before, but this one is truly his masterpiece. And you, a happy accident, a new species brought into the universe. I have discussed the implications of your will, your ability, and your personal individuality with Jonas and with the Varan command. In our society, you will have all the rights and privileges of any individual. Your bodies, though not unique, become host to your personalities which shine through your casings. We want you to know that the Varan consider your species a friend. We are very pleased to have the Inuit join us. In return we, well… I, am going to join you on what is probably one of Jonas’ crazier ideas.”
His tongue shot out in a triple hiss and he sent a piercing stare in X’s direction.
“Lieutenant, I have discussed your project with my superiors and though it is exceedingly dangerous they endorse the mission. May I discuss the details openly?”
He clearly knew Sunshine and myself were in the dark about this whole next mission thing. X gave him a nod and he continued.
“The Morning Star is passing by our system. It has been 600 years since they passed by last and their legend precedes them. The Morning Star is a rogue interstellar comet of considerable size. Its orbit takes in six systems, yet sits just outside the gravitational pull of each. The comet will be in a reasonable range for about two months or sixty of our days before it leaves our system. Currently, we are about midway through its passing. It will pass a good distance away from the Banga as the shipping lanes to the wormhole were deliberately placed outside the comet’s orbit. There should be no relative risk to the Banga.”
The Varan leader leaned forward in his chair, breaking the Varan habit of immense slouching.
“I am Dreyllyn, head of the Varan galactic fleet. I feel you need to understand that the foe you intend on confronting does not bargain and almost nothing is known of their strength or numbers. The Varan have sent multiple probes to the comet over the past seven millennia and none have returned. We have sent manned ships to it when it was orbiting other systems, all those ships were lost as well. We know that a vessel follows the comet. It is a ship of legend. A ghost ship, a black ship, a ship that calls many to join it. There is a kind of galactic cult around it. They are known as the Vedma. They are said to have magical powers that can control anything. Many followers will fly out to meet the comet. None ever return. We know that they have an ability to take control of our probes and ships. They get into the control systems and overtake ships very rapidly. Rendering any kind of defense worthless. Eventually, a primitive kind of hand to hand combat is the last resort of those who were boarded by the Vedma.”
He paused, cleared his throat with a croak and went on.
“There is one mammal humanoid species that does trade with them. Or rather works for them. The planet Mega Therion, supposedly given its name by the high priestess of the Vedma, is close to the orbit of the Morning Star comet. The history of the planet tells of a conquering force from the Vedma coming to their world and at first enslaving them, but then transforming them and giving them the power of space flight.
“Mega Therion was a forest world that went through a volcanic shift and most of the planet was rendered uninhabitable. The furry creatures that survived there were primitive animals at best. Canidae, dog-like animals, something like the wolf from Earth, but larger. On the forest planet, they had become the dominant species. We sent a survey team to the planet and it reported back a sub-intelligent world on a path towards evolutionary intelligence with a decimated population. We assumed they would die out on the now half molten planet. It would have taken them millions of years to achieve spaceflight, but suddenly the race of hairy creatures appeared to be advancing technologically at a rapid rate. It was as though they suddenly stood up, walked, and then started building space vehicles and weapons.
“The Mega Therions are generally considered space pirates. Their technology is subpar, but they can be troublesome. We know that they regularly go to and from the comet when it passes their system. They’re not a species we have been able to make trade agreements with. They have an attack first and talk later attitude. They’re a small force and it is generally considered easier to ignore them. They stay to their sector of space. Their planet is one completely dominated by the Vedma cult. They worship them as gods.”
He paused again and looked at his claw for a moment before continuing.
“You must understand that we Varan are spread out across the galaxy, it is true, but we are explorers and traders, not an army. We don’t have the numbers to get involved in wars or other galactic entanglements. Mox is going on this mission as a smuggler, but more accurately as a spy. He is not an official representative of the Varan government. However, we see your species as intelligent enough to understand galactic complexities. The Vedma have attacked many systems in the past and only once left the orbit of the comet near Varan.
“Maybe they had no interest in our diamond city or they viewed our home world as just a primitive planet. However, they must have seen our space station and moon outposts. This was several thousand years ago and they have passed our system silently ever since. We want to know more about them. We will also be testing out this new metal with the Vedma in a hope of making additional contact with them. We know they fly in a sizable craft that attaches itself magnetically to the comet and follows it around the galaxy.
“We assume they have a technology that can take control of standard alloy based equipment. The alchemist Slag forged objects out of his planet’s rust metal and it seems to be something the Vedma cannot control. This is why we have designed these neural transmitters. We think they would go unnoticed and give anyone boarding the Vedma ship an advantage. Our experience is diamond cased ships also have some resistance but have fallen to them in the past.”
Small little Charlie coughed twice, produced a tiny handkerchief from his pocket, blew his nose forcefully and interjected.
“These devices will need to be altered, adapted, and tested before they could be implanted inside the mind of a synthetic host. The whale module could be put into place, but based on the composition of the material, it would need to be inside some kind of resin coating to seal it and make it watertight. Saltwater would further corrode it and the intricate transmitter systems would be damaged. Though it is clearly a great material for armor and ship plating, it doesn’t lend itself well to complex technological uses. I think that we could work with these prototypes along with a thin epoxy coating that could meet our specific needs. Hands, we’d like to try implanting one in your brain when we return to the Banga.”
I had no idea how to react to this. I picked up the transmitter. Which seemed brittle, yet functional.
“I’ll need a tetanus shot first.” X and Sunshine laughed at this and to my surprise so did Charlie.
“Hands, you do know I designed your mechanical features?” His tiny smile was so warm it could melt a frozen world. “We’d take every precaution. They should function normally and could be the difference between making this mission happen or not.”
Dreyllyn dragged his clawed finger across the table until we were all silent again.
“We have some recent reconnaissance. A deep space freighter crew, transporting illegal weapons had a run in with a group of Mega Therion pirates. They were attacked and boarded. They initiated all the battle droids on board and released them on the Mega Therions. They were effectively fighting them off. Then, according to the last transmission sent from the ship, all the droids turned on them and they were losing control of their systems. The entire freighter and all the battlements were lost.
“During the battle, a Mega Therion was cornered in an escape pod and launched into space. The pod was fired on by Therion ships and showed no life signs. It was left for destroyed. However, it was intercepted by our people. The creature who never gave a name was revived temporarily and questioned. This is what he spoke of…”