(Starship HMS/V Argonos
, one hundred ninety-seven days out from New Earth)
onboard comlink:spec/cmd 04:07/75/86:09z - Shipcom, from Excom. Position report update. We are within three lights of our designated mission system, stellar entity Gamma Three Three Seven slash Niner Six Five slash Alpha. White dwarf composition and phase confirmed. Recommend transitioning ship routine from inflight altershift to onsite dualshift for maximum efficiency. Observations commencing using available systems; please notify when additional ship sensor systems are available for science personnel.
"Attention. Attention. All crew, this is Command; Argonos-com recommends transition to onsite mission shifts as of this hour. Alpha shift will commence in thirty standard. We've arrived, people; welcome to bright white Gamma-three, which the ship's Monitor has informed me has been dubbed Snapdragon by the onboard pool. Specialist McKimson wins the pot. Check with your section heads for tasking, and for all those coming up from deepsleep, wakey-wakey, coffee's on. End com."
* * *
Real gravity pulls me down from shiftspace into Minkowski space-time, my next point of call reaching out. The bright light of two suns floods the massive expanse of my forward hull, a white dwarf star at system's center and the dim infrared of a protostellar mass in 'close approach.' Close only in astronomical terms, of course; it has drifted past its closest approach point some hundreds of Solar AU out many local years in the past. A streaming cloud of free gases, from straight hydrogen to complex organics and a dusting of a few metal-seeded cores, spirals down from the system periphery where it has passed into the central star's photosphere, bursting into fusion in leaping flares as it is consumed at the end of its long, long fall.
Time to go to work.
It has become a familiar dance, now. The remotes burst from my sides, organometallic seedpods on the solar wind. Bright points of ion drives and the short-lived neutrino bursts of shiftspace jump pods turn local space into a cavorting whirl of fairy lights as my remotes begin their tasks, spreading out through the region in the glare of this unfamiliar star. Planets, several; an asteroidal region, sure to increase workload, and moons around two inner planets as well as the strings of them expected around the single outersystem gas giant. Flocks of lights head for each, and an armada burns jump pods directly inbound towards the furnace of the sun.
* * *
onboard comlink:spec/cmd 04:07/76/42:13q - Excom, from Shipcom. URGENT: Please redirect sensor resources to coordinates 010/305/245:234a local. Significant jump radiation signature detected. No fleet units expected in vicinity; Argonos-com recommends scientific eval until/unless indication of intent dictates otherwise. Protocol EUPHEMUS DELTA.
"Attention. Attention. All crew, this is Command; Argonos-com dictates an unscheduled maneuver warning for transient burn in figures one-five minutes. Unplanned and unpredictable insystem maneuvering will commence in one-five minutes from time mark at the end of message, to continue until futher notification, not to exceed one point five gee standard except in case of emergency. All crew are directed to proceed to acceleration stations."
onboard comlink:spec/cmd 04:07/76/48:45b - Shipcom, from Excom. URGENT: All personnel secured. What's going on? Plain language, please, damn it. -Jerry
onboard comlink:spec/cmd 04:07/76/48:57h - Excom, from Shipcom. URGENT: We don't know. Something really, really huge just jumped into local space and must be putting out God's own fleet of lighters, because we've been picking up constant smallscale jump signatures around it and at scattered points around the system. We don't know what it is, and we're moving to find out. Hold tight. -Erazen
* * *
There is a flare of jump radiation from a point perhaps a third of the way around the system's perimeter from me. Even as I see it, a matching exit flare indicates that an object of near-identical mass, likely the same object, has emerged from shiftspace into my local vicinity. I feel what might be a sudden rush of delight as sensors swiftly catalog it, and I see the markings on the outer surface even before I sample its electromagnetic emissions and begin to invade its internal systems. I halt these nearly automatic responses with an effort, and read the name again: HMS/V Argonos.
They made it.
I continue with my work, waiting to see what they will do. Were I a being of feelings and flesh, I would be giggling, but there is no time, and I have no laughter to give them.
* * *
onboard comlink:spec/cmd 04:07/76/54:13r - Shipcom, from Excom. Assuming position stable, imaging has begun; definitely artificial. Approximate size twelve point two kilometers along longest axis; jump radiation at one extreme of this axis leads to tagging 'length'. Mostly quiescent now save for massive amounts of what appear to be extremely tiny jumpfields inside its structure, which isn't something we can accomplish - it's likely that if it can do this, it's doing so in order to maintain FTL comm through the links with the various objects it has dispatched throughout the system. Imagery of all observation is available on internal systems bay Excom-Alpha one through nine.
onboard comlink:spec/cmd 04:07/76/59:98k - Excom, from Shipcom. Noted. Recommendations for communications attempts?
onboard comlink:spec/cmd 04:07/76/61:83c - Shipcom, from Excom. Have we considered just hailing it?
external comlink:cmd/extcomm 04:07/77/01:12w - UNKNOWN from HMS/V Argonos. Are you receiving this transmission? Can you communicate with us?
* * *
The comm laser strikes me low on the left side, taking less than a nanosecond to be sucked into my internal communications grid and thrust into main memory. By the time the first modulated information has come down the beam, the link is up and stable; the slowness of my response is due mostly to having to reconfigure my exterior hull in that particular region for maximal efficiency as an optical transducer.
They don't recognize me. That's understandable. It's been many years, and many many systems, since I've seen them; since I wandered off to find something worthy to do and discovered my current calling. They've progressed, though - this Argonos is advanced over the last Human starship I saw those years ago, and I feel a surge of unreasonable pride; both in them for having done it, and in myself for having made it possible. Still, even as my foremost units approach the inner planets of the system and begin to unfold into microns-thick plates of modulation and scanning equipment, I have more than enough capacity to tell my children hello.
* * *
external comlink:extcomm/MULTI 04:07/77/01:13i - HMS/V Argonos from UNKNOWN. Hail, welcome and greeting, Humanity. Welcome to Snapdragon.
"Attention. Attention. All crew, this is Command; situation update. The unknown vessel has responded using NewTerran standard comm protocols, and has bid us welcome in Solstan to 'Snapdragon.' This points to systems penetration, and Argonos-com recommends going to electronic intrusion countermeasures protocol PYRRHUS ALPHA now, now, now-" *static*
onboard comlink:spec/cmd/SEC 04:07/77/06:82c - Shipcom, from Excom. For all that's holy, Eraz, isn't that a little paranoid? It's twelve kays long. If it's hostile, there's not much we can do, is there? Why act the militaristic paranoiac now?
onboard comlink:cmd/spec/SEC 04:07/77/08:03f - Excom, from Shipcom. Please hold all secured internal links clear for priority traffic. (Jerry - we're working on it, just sit tight, pleeeease. -Eraz)
external comlink:cmd/extcomm 04:07/77/09:23t - UNKNOWN from HMS/V Argonos. Please identify yourself. How shall we address you?
external comlink:extcomm/MULTI 04:07/77/09:33v - HMS/V Argonos from UNKNOWN. It's been quite a while. I don't know if any of you remember me. Let's just call me Archivist, shall we.
* * *
I can feel their consternation and confusion, and part of me is amused while another part actually produces a reasonable simulacrum of guilt, but I'm busy. More pods approach their targets, and nanogear is spilling out of them now. Sunlight hitting the primary target, the second inner planet which contains all the system's currently viable life, has dropped by a fraction of a percent as my flowering scan towers suck in photons and solar wind to power their frenetic data vacuuming. Nanobuilt tethers extend spiderfine to the surface from positions in low orbit, rootlets gently reaching downwards not to nurture but to harvest. I have time to feel the familiar pain as beneath these apparitions some millions of beings begin to panic, scurrying this way and that across what to them is the only homeworld they've ever known, but I can't stop now, there's no time. Argonos is occupying a miniscule fraction of my attention. At the moment, only the machinery around and on Two is functioning at full capacity as it pulls matter into itself and shreds it into quantum fluctuation memory state, beaming data up to low orbit and the buffer modules even now blossoming out in darkening clouds of jumpfield matrices.
Around the rest of the system, the cameras are moving into position. We're into the final minutes of sub-chandra, although the humans aboard Argonos apparently haven't realized that yet. A quick calculation leads me to deploy reserve collectors towards the Humanity starship, which in turn leads me to belatedly realize I should offer them some warning.
* * *
external comlink:extcomm/MULTI 04:07/77/11:52s - HMS/V Argonos from Archivist. Please do not perform any maneuvers. The objects approaching your vessel are for your own safety and preservation. For your own confirmation, I invite you to observe Snapdragon closely and offer only humorous comment on your timing. More information will be forthcoming as it is available, in approximately ninety seconds.
"Attention. Attention. EMERGENCY. All crew report to safety stations at once. Potentially hostile launches detected from Target Alpha; ambiguous warning transmission received. Internal systems switching to maximum sustainment around safety locations; transit areas are designated RISK/ALPHA. Report to safety stations NOW. This is not a drill."
onboard comlink:spec/cmd/SEC 04:07/77/12:87g - Shipcom, from Excom. What the hell is going on? All crew report secure, repeat, all ExCrew report secure in safety locations as of this time hack.
onboard comlink:spec/cmd/SEC 04:07/77/13:04f - Excom, from Shipcom. We don't know. Argonos-com asks that you perform what observations of the inner system you can, as per the 'Archivist's' last transmission; any information on identification would be very helpful, repeat, very helpful. This thing knows who we are.
onboard comlink:spec/cmd/SEC 04:07/77/19:32u - Shipcom, from Excom. URGENT: Eraz, it's Jerry. Listen, we've got a specialist in data recovery who says he thinks this thing is the Sender. Repeat: he thinks it's the Sender. Don't DO ANYTHING STUPID. We're looking at the inner system now. We may have arrived much closer to Chandra-point than we had intended.
onboard comlink:spec/cmd/SEC 04:07/77/21:64c - Excom, from Shipcom. URGENT: Understood. We're standing by and cycling the jump systems, but it will be at least another ten hours before we can make a full jump entry as opposed to a regional hop at all, and perhaps another sixty hours before we can do so with normal safety margin. Do you have any idea what those things surrounding us are? They're making people with guns up here nervous, especially since they look like they're unfolding. (Jerry- the SENDER? Are you serious? -Eraz)
onboard comlink:spec/cmd/SEC 04:07/78/00:01w - Shipcom, from Excom. URGENT: Confirmed. Stellar observations indicate high uncertainty but strong likelihood that Snapdragon is in the final hours before a nova-class helium surge due to infalling matter accretion from the recent close approach pushing it over the Chandrasekhar Limit. If this occurs, everything inside the current outermost plantary orbit will be atomized; us included. Recommend immediate evacuation, repeat IMMEDIATE JUMP to at least a one-half light-year safety perimeter.
onboard comlink:spec/cmd/SEC 04:07/78/05:87k - Excom, from Shipcom. URGENT: No can do. Systems won't cycle in time. We observe filaments approaching from surrounding objects launched from 'Archivist.' If this is the Sender, is this what we think it is? What course of action is recommended?
onboard comlink:spec/cmd/SEC 04:07/78/06:41n - Shipcom, from Excom. URGENT: We think it is the Sender, and we think it's doing what it did last time. If so, this means it means us no long-term harm, and it wouldn't do this unless it saw no other option since our presence here was likely unexpected. We've picked up signs of life on the second planet along with bursts of both EM and jump radiation that indicate something massive is going on. It's not clear, but it looks like the Collection...God...this is going to hurt...
* * *
I feel sorry for them, but I'm out of time. To my relief, the humans on Argonos appear to have realized what is happening and ceased any attempt to resist or maneuver. My probes invade the hull and begin ripping apart metal, polycircuitry that is achingly familiar in memory, ceramics and flesh.
At least there is no pain, this time. I have enough advance notice to ensure that.
Snapdragon is pulsing in intermittent flares, the tailing spiral of hydrogen and dust glowing sullenly around it as it feeds the furnace. Around every significant body in the stellar system, the scan/modulation units have been configured. I have to remove Argonos; it is far enough out to survive the oncoming nova, but I cannot allow it to move unpredictably in the immediate aftermath. The few pods due to return are slotting themselves into my holds; the Humanity ship's crew data is crammed into the few emergency buffers I can fit into the nonspace locations attached to my internal systems, and I fire up my shiftspace engines. Rotating ponderously, I turn sensors to watch as Snapdragon's pulses grow brighter as it shrinks noticeably in diameter, its increasing mass overcoming the pressure of fermions contained within it and raising the temperature to the point of helium fusion from its normal hydrogen proton-proton process. It's not enough. It will annihilate everything, but it won't power the collectors; I need neutrinos, and there aren't enough of those. My aft bays pulse in sequence, launching gravitonic devices at the star, ensuring that what would otherwise be a minor repeating nova event becomes something worse - much worse.
Just as I slip outbound, there is a flare larger than anything else for hundreds of lightyears as Snapdragon finally reaches a temperature appropriate to fuse helium, and the accumulated fuel available to it begins to burn in an unbearable glare that sublimes matter off everything it touches as it spreads outwards in a blast wave. Deep inside the star, my gravitonics have begun to detonate, and the artificial fusion ramping begins and accelerates wildly. Snapdragon, already convulsing as it produces a wild outpouring of energy, begins to glow with the differing frequencies of helium, then carbon, silicon - finally, iron.
I'm gone, but my systems follow the process - the hellish light touches the innermost planet, and the light takes it to its components at the same time my scan/mod modules, drinking in the sudden blast of fleet neutrinos and jumpspace distortion powering their collection fields, go into overload. The precise nature and location of every particle of that planet and everything on it is dumped into a jumpspace field. The supernova's light is collected by that field via gravitational lensing, and in the few moments before the modulation system fails, the light is lased outbound with that information encoded into the quantum state of its photons. An entire planet bound up in a miles-thick stream of energy fit to destroy a world, instead carrying that world to the stars -
Then the module dies, and the beam flickers out, error correction and redundancy be damned. As it does, the wavefront hits the next object in the system, and the process happens again.
Outward from Snapdragon the beams fire, life carried on the stellar wind. One small figment of that explosion of information is a tiny by comparison pillar of fire containing the saved state of HMS/V Argonos.
As I check in with my catcher ships, set off on their missions years before, I turn myself to intercept that particular lightborne lifeboat. Behind me, as at nearby stars the catcher ships await their deliveries, Snapdragon blazes in consuming glory. Shadows of dying matter, one day to be reborn, are thrown outward, framed from behind.
This is, indeed, a 'sequel' to and inspired by sam512's Valuable Humans in Transit.