Author Topic: No life signs detected - a short spinoff story set in the universe of my AAR  (Read 371 times)

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Online Stormtrooper (OP)

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Hi all, this is a short sci-fi story I wrote as a "DLC" to my AAR. It's about a lone explorer surveying solar systems in search for human-friendly extraterrestial intelligence.

Hope you'll enjoy it! Here's a galaxy map for reference, picturing the region of space in which the action takes place:

 
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No life signs detected

No life signs detected.” - Announced a female robotic voice. Not that I really needed to hear it when telescope readings came in and all I could see was the local sun itself and a bunch of comets within it’s gravitational influence. Gliese 3 was a dead “system”. So dead that even random bigger chunks of rocks refused to orbit it, only a bunch of comets kept the orange dwarf their company Many stars were even more lonely than this one, though. I turned on my gravitational scanners and began checking for additional wormholes within the system. They were likely to exist there, it was part of Invaders’ network, after all. Or maybe this was the end of it, like EG 350, where no wormholes besides the one leading to it from GJ 1279 were observed.

It quickly turned out to be the former when after five hours of cruising around the star my AI assistant announced discovery of a new wormhole, roughly 2 AU from my position. I should’ve really changed the settings of my AI, female robotic voice was probably the most stereotypical AI sound module ever, but I just never got around to do it. I’d remind myself of eventually tweaking its configuration at random times, only to quickly forget about it five minutes later. I prepared to engage “small warp drive” which allowed me to reach effective speed of almost five thousands kilometers per second, meant for faster travel within one system, and continue exploring Invaders’ territory. I know, one and two thirds of percent of the speed of light wasn’t impressive for a warp drive, but the system was very lightweight and was speeding up “local” flights dramatically, without it fuel limitations wouldn’t allow me to accelerate past 100km/s or so at best and after decelerating back from such speed my tanks would be completely dried.

But a second before pushing that small red button (big red button was for engaging “big boi” Alcubierre Drive used for interstellar travel), I hesitated. Sure, World Government’s official directions were clear – explore Invader’s wormhole network, find as much info on their actions among these stars, try to determine what they’re up to and so on and so forth. But I wasn’t from an official government mission, I was one of the first to receive a personal, small exploration spacecraft to boost humanity’s knowledge of space by being granted a more liberal approach. It was still encouraged for me to check on the wormholes, but I could fly wherever I want. And the time has come to make use of my freedom. I was never going to find sentient extraterrestrial life among these stars. I was dragged into this dangerous sector by the fact that with every system explored it looked more and more as if Invaders linked many life-friendly planets (I personally discovered a methane-breathing life on Gliese 438 IV, planet in a system containing wormhole taking me to Gliese 3), but if there was any sentience there, it was either already purged or in the process of being so. Eventually having come to terms with this conclusion, I entered new coordinates and charged my main warp drive. My target was Gliese 762, some astronomers detected two planets orbiting it within the star’s ecosphere yet nobody has warped into the system yet. I held my breath and pushed the big red button.

-Error. Warp bubble unstable. Faster than light travel dangerous for the hull integrity. Disengaging now. Do you want to retry? - Damn, I should really stop using those obnoxious, stereotypical voice parameters. - Psychological evaluation completed. - my assistant went on before I could give it any command. - Strong determination detected. Retrying… Attempting warp bubble reestablishment.

I didn’t notice I was clenching my fists due to awaiting retry results in tension.

-Error. Warp bubble unstable. Gravitational waves generator overcharged. Reactor’s temperature critical. Disengaging now. Further attempts might overload ship’s power system, causing the reactor to go “supernova”. According to the latest Invader’s Network Exploration Protocol v 3.1.5, sending help to your current position is impossible. Please proceed to the end of the network and send a distress signal.

Great. I was stuck on hostile territory and couldn’t return to Earth for necessary repairs in any other way than through the network. Cruising at only a few dozens kilometers per second because warp drive was down. Among space from which Invaders might show up at any moment. I knew the risks, but I didn’t expect my warp drive to go down out of a blue, damn it. Given my position, I had to travel all the way into WISE 2359-7335 where the network ends (or rather begins) to be picked up there by either Ark or a newer Destiny class tug. Or rather to use Guidance System since my ship was just fine, I only needed FTL flight capability which one of these behemoths could provide. After all the civilian blood shed near that start during the Bootes War so far, including that memorable colony fleet massacre, I should still be glad World Government was still agreeing to intervene there in case of emergency. Couldn’t really blame them for not willing to take risk, to be honest.

I blasted conventional thrusters and it took me only two hours to get back to the wormhole from which I emerged near Gliese 3 and return to Gliese 483. According to ETA I should expect to reach my next stop in roughly one week. Even that 100km/s sounded fast for me at that moment, but I couldn’t even reach that, I needed fuel to accelerate and decelerate at least a few times more till reaching WISE 2359-7335. Maybe I could cut the time by pulling slingshot maneuvers should the planets have aligned properly for it to be worth the effort, but that was about it.

I knew I could just pass this week with a blink of an eye by spending it in cryostasis, but for whatever reason I decided not to do that. Instead I opened FTL comms (the only superluminal thing on my ship still working) and send a distress signal. Well, not a proper distress signal since that’d have been pointless, more like a regular message along the lines “Um, hello, I’m floating alone in deep space, my warp drive is down, is anyone out there?” If I’d be lucky some Orion vessel would pick it up and come to assist me, accelerating my journey to repair docks.
 

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I leaned backwards on my chair and gazed at the stars through my main window for a while which quickly turned into two hours. Suddenly a beeping sound announced a new incoming message. I picked it up, surprised.

-Hi! Yes, I see your message, are you there?  - I read on the display screen.

-Yes, I’m here, bored, alone and a bit scared, currently in Gliese 483, using wormholes to reach WISE 2359-7335. Who are you?

-Wow, are you an explorer? - I read next reply. - That’s so cool! That’s so unique and interesting to me! Meanwhile I’m sitting here at SETI center on Earth, bored. It must be so cool to cruise among the stars! What exactly is your mission there, if I may ask?

-I’m not exactly on a mission, so I don’t have to fully scan discovered systems. - I started typing back. - This allows me to focus on my goal: to find an extraterrestrial sentience. Not ruins of it, but their civilization thriving. Not robots, but alive, biological beings. Not some hostile assholes, either. But something different, something yet to be discovered. An alien race with which humanity could establish decent relationships. And I don’t see why do you think it’s that interesting, right now my warp drive is down and I have weeks, hell, months to stare at the same view until I arrive at WISE 2359-7335 and someone will pick me up. Rather simple things.

-Wow, thanks for such a substantial response! And I’m also here to discover alien life, I work for SETI, after all! The fact that you consider such things “simple” is even more interesting to me! I really wish I could experience this, you must be so lucky! Meanwhile I’m just a boring girl who’s never left her homeworld and works at SETI to somehow compensate for it. But it’s not the same.

-Huh, thanks. Sometimes it is cool, yeah. Like my recent discovery of methane-breathers on Gliese 483 IV, even though they weren’t intelligent. But sometimes you’re in for a loooooong time of staring into the vastness of space. Sure, stars are beautiful, but I want to explore them, not gaze at the same static sky for days to no end. And it’s cold out there, really. That asteroid I shall fly nearby tomorrow has a surface temperature of over minus one hundred degrees.

-Aww, if you were there I’d have hugged you already so you could warm up. Also, that’s a super interesting discovery! Could you describe some more details of those alien species. That’s so unique! Have you found names for them all already? Maybe I can help you with that? By the way, this must be so brave of you, to go all alone into the unknown, let alone travel among Invaders’ wormholes.

And so our little chat continued. Obviously she was rather busy at SETI, so she had only so much time to listen at that particular frequency. I split my time between routine ship maintenance tasks, processing some data from Gliese 483 system since I was already there anyways so might as well do some work, reading books and cryostasis to conserve onboard life support systems. The last thing I needed was a sudden critical failure of the latter.

Theoretically I could dive into the endless entertainment and everlasting bliss of the Matrix, but it was not for me. Saw too many matrix junkies with no life, addicted to the simulation, constantly wanting more of it. Sure, the addiction was only psychological so they were able to work and earn for their subscriptions most of the time, but some cases were more… problematic. Some modules were illegal, like that full family module banned during Core Worlds’ birthrate crisis in 2110s, caused exactly by people avoiding taking responsibility and diving into the matrix instead. Users of those really resembled the hard drug addicts from pre-matrix times. It was a sad and miserable sight to behold. Of course there were also “normal” users for whom matrix was only an entertainment like any other, kinda like VR video game, nothing more. But I personally still didn’t like the concept of it, it never appealed to me, I wasn’t sure what I might ever want from it. I preferred to methodically continue my search in real life rather than get high for establishing contact with friendly aliens, but only virtually, and then wake up from the simulation realizing it was all fake. And that girl from SETI shared very similar opinion.

We exchanged some more messages, she appeared to be nice and fun to talk to. She had some similar interests (well, aliens, for example) and even if she wasn’t into something, she stated that if I want to do this, she’d like to try it out with me some day. And it felt good, I was expecting to quickly survey a couple more planetary systems and go back home, visit friends and stuff, but warp drive failure set me up for a long and boring voyage. It was nice to be able to have some company during it.
« Last Edit: January 28, 2021, 01:43:40 PM by Stormtrooper »
 

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The week has finally passed and I arrived at my wormhole. A sense of dread quickly overtook my mind. It was the one leading to NN 3009. There was no option, Gliese 483 had only two wormholes, one I arrived through a week ago and the second one linking it with NN 3009. The system where it all started. The system where Void Wormhole appeared for the first time and started growing, spitting out more Invaders as years passed by. Within next few years government hoped to have first squadrons of plasma interceptors ready and positioned at the wormholes to effectively contain the threat, but for now it was unguarded. I could count only on myself and keep my fingers crossing while flying to through it. I took a deep breath and pulled my ship towards the rift in space leading me to the most dangerous part of my journey.

-Please write me at least a short message once you’re in NN 3815. - Spoke her last message I received before going through the wormhole. - You’re too important for me.

The space whirled rapidly in many directions as I went superluminal without an FTL drive.

It was there. A huge, frightening object floating in the vastness of space, spanning across hundreds of millions of kilometers. It was scary yet majestic in some weird sense. It looked like a black hole. Same bending of space at the edge. Same blackness in the middle of it. Except it was not a black hole, wormholes looked like black holes would look if instead of darkness they’d “display” another stellar sky on the other side. Except in this case the other side was Bootes Void, all pitch black. And so it looked like a supermassive black hole without being one, without sucking celestial bodies of NN 3009 into it. I constantly watched over it as half of my field of vision was covered by it. It sat there, looming over me, casting its shadow upon my soul. I feared it. Nothing but death came out of it. And my feelings weren’t unusual. Even the bravest souls among humanity feared it. Fortunately, planets aligned just right. A couple of slingshots cut the time I had to spend within the system to only one day.

Suddenly my sensors picked something. A red dot flashed to my right, where Void Wormhole was located. My heart stopped for a while. And then started beating twice as fast when two more appeared. I directed all my telescopes and scanners at the targets, armed anti-missile flak guns my ship was equipped (just to feel better, really, so far not a single Invader carried missiles into battle) and raised shields. Sure, that’d increase my EM signature, but I had no doubt they’ve spotted me before I spotted them. Or maybe only the moment I spotted them, given they’ve most probably just arrived at NN 3009.

There was no chance, there were too many. Two more, bringing the total number to five. Then seven. Ten. Twenty. Twenty Eight. Largest Invader fleet observed so far. A major battle was underway, at least from humanity’s perspective. For them it was probably still just a scout phase. Or maybe not, I thought, after number of tracked contacts suddenly spiked up to one hundred thirty two. Dozens of more appeared every second. Soon my whole radar display became a sea of red. Single ships were no longer distinguishable. That was it. The end for me, maybe even the end of humanity… No, no, there has to be a way, humanity always prevails! I screamed in my mind as my survival instinct kicked in. I accelerated a bit more. Not that it mattered, I just wanted to not give up, to do everything I could. I wanted to survive, to live, to see my friends, to continue my mission. And to see her. And I wanted whole humanity to survive and push forward as well, that was important. No, Invaders couldn’t stop us. Not human race, with its civilization built on the premise of “survive, adapt, overcome”.

Suddenly my radar went silent. Was it their newest jamming technology? Why would they bother with using it if all they had to face was a lone starship cruising at 57km/s? I waited and waited, but my telescopes couldn’t pick anything. Nor any of my sensors. No laser beams connected with my shield.

-Critical radar failure has been successfully fixed. Psychological evaluation shows extreme stress. Do you wish me to suggest a method of relaxation? - My emotions were so high I forgot to notice the still not changed voice module.

The rest of the day I spent staring aimlessly around my ship, as if I wanted to make sure the hull’s alright and really no laser has been fired at me. I fell asleep easily as the wormhole carried me to NN 3815. One more to go before I could call for help. Before my eyes closed, I overcame tiredness for a brief moment and messaged the SETI girl back, telling her what happened to me that day and that I’m alive and still willing to talk with her.
 

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In one of the messages I wrote that I feel like alien since she was working for SETI program, scanning outer space for signals coming from sentient beings and yet it happened that she picked up mine and established contact with me. She replied that she’s happy she finally established contact with a representative of an alien race.

In NN 3815 luck left me, though. What was expected to initially take me two weeks turned into several months at least, because one of engines overheated and I couldn’t gain enough thrust after leaving wormhole. I was in for a really long journey. But I knew this girl would keep me company until I arrive on Earth. I couldn’t wait to see her, damned interstellar distance.

One week later I received news about the exploration of Kappa Tucanae system. It was quickly named “paradise”, “utopia”, or ”Sol++”, and for a good reason. No sentience discovered, as with every other Invaders-explored system so far, but three planets hosting life. Not one, not two, but three. Out of which Kappa Tucanae-A II was so similar to Earth that it didn’t even require terraforming, it was the first world discovered that was like that. On top of that massive amount of other planets and asteroids, ripe for mining and exploiting. This system was a paradise indeed. It quickly caught special attention from the government. They wanted to give it a priority at colonization, as soon as NN 3009 would be secured by squadrons of Anarchists, Devastators and Dragons, three classes of light interceptors catching invaders pouring out from NN 3009 in heavy plasma crossfire.

And then it happened. She messaged me that she was going to be among the first ones sent there. Both her parents had psionic implants (would explain why she was so exceptionally smart), a mark of class-A citizens. They were selected for the initial colonization program. Meanwhile I could only dream about ever settling down there. Should live long enough till they’ll open the system for everyone interested, but even with the highest priority treatment and rapid inhabiting it’d have taken decades for me to be able to move there. Together with her parents and many other future colonists she was relocated to Alpha Centauri-A II (which marked her first both space and interstellar trip) to undergo extensive training required for every pioneer colonist tasked with conquering a world previously untouched by human hands. She no longer had the time to keep me company through my voyage across NN 3815.

In her last messages she wished me well on my mission and happiness in life in general, thanking me for getting to know someone like me. I wished her good luck, too. She also said that she felt I wasn’t looking for aliens all that time I spent during my space exploration missions.

I returned to Earth safe and sound, making warp travel from WISE 2359-7335 to the Solar System with help of a Guidance System. As soon as I landed, that odd feeling of touching the stable ground of a planet washed over me once again. Not the first time, not the last time. I visited family, friends, hanged out, took a well-deserved break until my ship was repaired and until I’ve rested enough to be able to fly out there once again, I needed it a lot after those months spent in NN 3815.

Eventually I blasted off the surface once again when the night sky called me to explore all its wonders spanning across many light years. The hype of being the first one to see the beauty of alien suns and whatever orbited them took over me at last, just like it always did. First stop of my next cruise I planned at Gliese 762 system, a star I was about to explore before my warp drive went down last time, hoping to get some good results out of those two planets in the ecosphere of the local sun. Enough for Invaders’ wormholes for quite some time for me. After spending days surrounded by warp bubble and staring in awe at the strange curves and bends of space that physicists could explain why they look the way they look, but I couldn’t understand their explanations, I finally arrived at my destination. Brief look at the readings coming in showed that the astronomers detecting those two planets were mistaken – a total of seven comets were all that I found surrounding the star. I noted it in my mind to correct this mistake as soon as I’m back.

I didn’t have to wait for the AI to finish initial survey and engaged warp drive, plotting next interstellar course.

SETI girl was right. It was not the alien sentience I was searching for through all those space exploration missions.

-No life signs detected. - Announced a female robotic voice.
 

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P.S. Hope you liked my attempt at something different than the tone and vibes of my regular AAR.

This short story was heavily inspired by this song. Check it out, it's great: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vjewxPHq9I
 

 

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