Chapter 11 - The (not so) Final Frontier
It was finally official, we just left the Sol system, I had recognized the box my mother gifted to Ariana and I chuckled at the memory of this, if she trusted Ariana to propose to me first I think we will be dead long before we would be married. But yeah to be honest we had other things to think about, like figuring out why twelve systems blew up. Eleanor was closely monitoring the data coming back from our probes, and we hacked some probe data networks of the Union to gather information for us. We really had to solve this little space mystery, it was probably just a cosmic coincidence, a bigger thing might was up to, and our scientific curiosity was picked.
We were chilling out in the mess, Aarin and Ariana were drawing a map of the system which exploded while Eleanor and I were supposed to find a path of safe place to hide from the Union. Unfortunately we could not just warp for 3 months and enjoy being years of travels from the Union. Firstly we had to investigate but more importantly this ship used deuterium as its primary source of fuel for the nuclear reactor, even if we could cramp up the subjectivity space ratio to store a lot of it we still need to find non-Union sources of fuel. Which was difficult since the Union was the most powerful political entity in charted space. Virtually every non-Unionized species had a peace treaty with it and used its infrastructure. So we were not only researched in The Union but in a one hundred light year radius, which made getting fuel and energy really difficult. Fortunately, Aarin still had contacts in the sector.
About the subjective space, I was right with my first guess, a force field compact the space between atoms kernel and electrons, even a few percents was enough to gain a lot of space. The cabins' space was compacted by 2 percents, the most a human -- or any biological lives for that matter -- can withstand is about five percents. The engine's room was compacted by a whopping ninety percents. It saved a lot of space with the drive installed in this vessel being a few hundreds metres wide, twenty metres long and ten metres tall, and all of this was compacted in a room with an absolute size of 10 by 10 by 5 metres.
The advantages were obvious, however it forced every refit or reparation of the ship to be performed on a station or on ground, ship opened and with specific tools to extract the drive. I heard some ships in the Union had non-compressed drive, but that forced them to be miniscule, like surveys ships or probes. Another massive downside of this technology is that in emergency cases if the compressing field fails, and the back-up fails too, the ship with literally rips itself open rendering the ship completely unsalvageable. If you're lucky it happens on ground, if you're less it happens in space, you would only have mere microseconds to transport yourself to the emergency shuttles. Without counting the development of the technology there has been a disastrous incident twenty years ago destroying a ship of our ship's class and her crew a few light years away from Union Central. The backup systems were installed after this incident to avoid it repeating.
We finally stopped in a system neighbour to one of which exploded, J24. This was one of the farthest away from Union Central, we possibly had a few weeks of investigation to us before the first Union Task Force arrived. We discussed some ideas to investigate the Union's system touched by the events, however this proved to be risked given the age of our ship, our stealth tech installed here were twenty years old, we would be in that system like a deer in the headlight, not particularly subtle for a rogue ship housing two highly researched criminals.
The ship was stationed in a high stellar orbit, we were waiting for Eleanor to finish her calculations on if and when the J24 system will be safe to explore, while we were in a hurry and eager to discover the reasons behind this phenomenum Aarin insisted on calculating a safe range, just to be sure, he stated we couldn't be more sure with a huge space explosion of a litteral star.
Ariana, my lover, was looking thoughtful, she must think of this system. The system we were currently in that is. Even in that state and thinking about a thousand, probably grim, things she looked lovely, not that she didn't before, but I can see the last effects of the super-HRT (she rejected my proposal on naming it "Alien Enhanced Hormone Replacement Therapy" stating it as a "mouthful" and "too-technical" and preferred referring at it as "super-HRT" but to be honest, I must say the effects are spectacular, maybe it deserves the name after all) well to be more precise I did a bit more than just seeing the effects, it really was leaps away from our technology and current healthcare, and I can say she enjoyed it a lot, who could blame her? I certainly did not, I enjoyed her a lot.
I looked at her, smiling, watched as she was gently repositionning herself on the couch picking her book from the coffee table, one of which she had back home it seemed, a cute kid story about two princesses in love fighting their father, and in the end their respective fathers fall in love with each others, she really loved that story, I saw her reading it at least a dozen times and each time she looks as into it, now though with the changes she really looked adorable, I wanted to cuddle to her and losing the concept of time itself, isolating ourselves from the surrounding world, just her, and me, and an infinite embrace. Unfortunately we had to explore that stellar system. The cuddles must wait!
If the Union or any sentient life outlive the current crisis, that is.
- "The system is safe for exploration, please keep your EV suits on with the personal particle and gamma rays filters, you should also use the energy shield of the shuttle" Eleanor announced, a few hours later, during which I stole a hug, or two, or dozens I really didn't count them, to Ariana, on the speaker of the lounge. A few minutes later we were strapping ourselves in the shuttle for the second time that day, hoping to find something more interesting than the few star dust we found earlier. Once again Ariana was piloting, Eleanor, still in her weird blob holographic shape was co-piloting so Aarin and I could be at our best trying to extract the last bit of data lying around in that mess that was once a system.
Ariana's POV, in the shuttle
I was installing myself in the shuttle, ever adjusting the seat to frame my newest tiniest frame, I was cute, but it was really bothersome sometimes, I guess every physical form has its downsides, even non-physical forms as Eleanor could download herself practically everywhere but was limited to interact with thing that was connected to her and her system. Which was a lot of things to be fair, but I wondered if the implementation of a real Union-wide internet was not the answer to a lot of things, communication speeds were a lot faster than FTL, even our multidimensional FTL was far outsped by the Union Faster Than Light Communication Protocol (UFTLCP) the fact that nobody in the Union thought of creating space networks of terminal implementing the UFTLCP to create a real Faster Than Light Communication Internet baffles me.
Sure there are some networks available here and there, such as the Union Central System Faster Than Light Communication Network (UCSFTLCN) spanning across the system of Union Central, or the Union's Universities Space Communication Network connecting the big universities of the Union, but they're not interconnected, and nothing in the protocol fundamentally forbid it, they just didn't think of it. Anyway my point is if such a network existed, travel by entities such as Eleanor would be so fast that regular space travel to fixed points would be instantly a thing of the past. I wondered briefly if implementing a protocol to pass a transport signal over the UFTLCP would be possible, but if such a thing was possible surely Union's scientist already thought of it right? They couldn't just miss something like that? I really should talk to Sylvia and Aarin someday, they already revolutionized science once why not doing it twice?
Wondering about making space travel obsolete done, I started the reactor to power up the engines and made a little pre-flight speech to my fellow friends (and one more-than-friend).
- "Ok we are going to penetrate a somewhat tortured region of space, one of the most powerful thing ever just happened there, and we need to be vigilant, as such, I will be piloting, you can ask me to go to a certain place or another, but my primary mission will be to keep us alive, if I sense a danger or the need to I jump us back here as soon as possible" They all nodded, even Eleanor made a blobby-movement I associated with being a nod of approval, "Good, enjoy the ride, I, Ariana will be your captain, we are assisted of yours truly Eleanor, co-pilot on this flight of Aria Spaceways, do not forget your jumper, as the temperature of our destination is a bit chilly, about 0 Kelvin, a storm just passed there I'd happily advise you to put on your seatbelts, but this shuttle does not implement this feature, welcome aboard." I said, role-playing a bit the captain persona, when the mood settled and everyone seemed ready I activated the miniscule FTL drive -- but enough to power this shuttle -- and announced "Once, again thanks for choosing Aria Spaceways, the ETA is 3 hours, 43 minutes and 21 seconds, please enjoy the ride and do not hesitate to serve yourself a drink." I winked at them.
- "Dropping out of FTL" announced Eleanor exactly 3 hours, 43 minutes, and 23 seconds later, "I'm sorry for my earlier ETA computation I had not taken a variable into account, my sincere apologize" she said, sounding, down, maybe ? I forgot she was an AI, she must think an error of one second in a 4 hours trip was a big deal, while us just rounded the 3 hours forty-something minutes to four hours, cultural differences I guess.
As we entered into the system my screen behaved weirdly, something I could only describe as a glitch was on the FTL radar, it should only detect FTL movements in the area, however we were in the only ship rated to move faster than light in that sector. That couldn't be a Union's ship, we were far too isolated from Union Central, it should take them weeks to come here, and that was if they decided exploring this system was worth it, there was touched system in the Union's direct territory after all. So the fact the radar detected an activity was... unsettling,
- "Aarin, I detect FTL activity on the radar somewhere in that system, it was brief, and like a glitch if you see what I mean? Anyway I can't detect it anymore so whatever it was left the system."
He looked thoughtful a minute then had a "Eureka!"-like face and just told me it should be bit flips from the particle, that made sense, our computers were hardened of course but with the power and energy of some of these particle one might have been able to enter the system and mess around with the computer, causing a glitch in the RADAR screen, this made sense, but something wasn't quite right for me the shield should stop most of the particle, even if to be fair we never used FTL in such a system before, I wouldn't risk it if we could avoid it.
This debate settled for now, I gently took the command and pushed the button to disable the FTL shield, while it protected us from being vaporized by a particle of space dust lying around it also stopped us from seeing around, and we were all eager to admire the aftermaths of such an event.
And saying the view was breathtaking was a huge understatement.
Colours where everywhere we were only a few light seconds away from it, and could see almost the entire thing. It was wonderful, beautiful, magnificent. Long, rainbow coloured, paths of various gases and elements, generated by the cataclysmic yet beautiful event, were everywhere, in pattern only randomness could generate because of the sheer impossibility of the human mind to come up with such an intricate and complex design. These paths let place to sparks of light here and there, casually blinking in all their glory, in thousands if not millions of different shades, shades no one ever heard of, new one popping in the background where some just vanished, stopping from the last time it would ever blink. All of this just before our eyes, we were watching this work of art with our eyes, in person, nobody ever did that.
What could only be described as cosmic rain by my poor human brain was falling on the system, I shut the computer down to avoid the automatic detection to be triggered as even our computer-sentient AI was staring, admiring the show we would be the only one to see in our generation, being dozens of light years away from Union Central. It was like a living thing, clouds of purple dust collapsing into another made of pink particle, creating a new, gracefully moving, cloud of purple mixed with pink, ever mixing, collapsing, forming, twisting, moving, separating and so on and so forth. This was mesmerizing, fascinating,
Then the computer beeped loudly, too loudly, and the automatic pilot moved the shuttle performing an evading maneuver at the last second before the shuttle would have been obligated to attend a blind date with an asteroid, right, I disabled the shield, this seemed to have woken the crew up as they were slowly walking to their assigned stations, not without a glance or two at the coloured living-like structure a few light-second away from us. We were lucky the "glass" (they were actually made of an advanced metal alloy rendering it transparent to the visual spectrum but as strong as the hull and protecting the crew of radiation, gamma rays x-rays, and other nasty things the Universe like to throw at us to remember who's the boss out there, the only reason it was only in certain places was because psychologically some Union species did not support the fact of living in a transparent ship) was protecting our eyes because we -- with the notable exception of Eleanor obviously -- would be blind by now. Or already fried by the radioactivity.
The exploration was going on slowly, some part of this system were difficult to access or down-right impossible if we wanted to come back alive to the ship. Like I said I piloted, the system was far calmer than what we expected, allowing Eleanor to be free to research for eventual interesting thing we could analyse here or back on the ship. This was during one of those checks that Sylvia asked me to approach an innocent-looking cloud of particle not far away, I dutifully complied, they thanked me with a little kiss before joining their station to analyze it, what that useless cloud have done to be more interesting than their girlfriend !
It turned out that cloud was interesting, Aarin even shot a "Fascinating!" when he saw the result on Sylvia's screen, ignoring the fact I wanted to laugh at the irony of the Alien on the ship saying "Fascinating" I carefully approached them and decided to check what was making them so grossed in.
It looked like a spectrometric analysis of the said cloud, everything seemed in the regular parameters for a cloud of matter ejected by an exploding stars, a slightly elevated heavy element concentration demonstrating the former star was a third generation star, even if the concentration was a bit high for that it could easily been attributed to nucleogenesis from the supernova. Nothing was looking out of the ordinary really, I was about to ask my lover what was bothering them when I saw it. Right there. Like black ink on white paper. The analysis was positive for trace amounts of a tetrionic alloy of neutron star metal, that would have been normal for any alloy.
However this alloy in particular, known as the Heavy Neutron-Tetrion Black Metal Alloy Three, was purely artificial, a Union's invention.
Chapter 11 - The (not so) Final Frontier, end.