Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #25

As soon as his eyes opened, Omar jerked his arm. It wouldn’t move. A hard substance was plastered over it, dense and rough like coral. He looked down at himself. Alarmingly, he was naked. More alarmingly, his skin had become dark green. “What the …” he said, but the voice that came out of him was not his own. It was scratchy, a rattle.

“I know,” a woman next to him said. Her voice had the same menacing hiss. Their bodies were upright, cemented on planks with the same abrasive coral substance that restrained their arms. 

Sunshine caressed them from an opening above, but Omar couldn’t see much of anything beyond a few meters in front of him. His hearing felt more sensitive than usual, detecting crunching and shuffling sounds from bulky figures crouched nearby.  From the echoes he imagined a sizable chamber.

The sunshine felt good, better than it should’ve. It warmed him, not just on the skin but down to his muscle and bone. The light refreshed him like sipping coffee or having a bowl of warm oatmeal. 

“Who are you?” Omar whispered to the woman. She was naked too, a fact Omar tried not to dwell on. Her body, skin, and hair had turned green like his. Their skin let off a barely noticeable glow in the sunlight, lightened veins moving below the surface. 

“Lt. Alicia Kent,” she said. “Army, such as it is now. You were the guy on the bridge, weren’t you?” 

“That’s right, the bridge,” Omar said. He remembered emptying his Thunderbolt into that last charging Thornseed after the snipers had gunned the others down. The particles had gone everywhere, burrowing into his skin. It’d easily been the most painful moment of his life. “Name’s Omar Bragg,” he answered. “Were you one of those snipers? If so, then I owe you a lot. If it wasn’t for you my brother and my daughter would’ve been dead.”

“Guilty as charged,” Alicia answered. “More Ehvow fell on us from those dropships of theirs right after they made it across. I opened one up and got hit with those spores they put out same as you. Glad your people made it out, though. It’s what you sign on for.”

“Yeah it is,” Omar said, suddenly feeling like shit for abandoning his post. Even if the Ambassador told him it’s what he had to do, even if it was a strategic retreat that made all the sense in the world, it hurt. If people like Alicia hadn’t guarded the rear, no one would’ve survived.  

“A surprising development,” a voice said. It wasn’t human. The voice’s intonation slipped and slid as it talked. It resembled the cries of the Thornseeds, but quieter and more controlled. 

Windows opened all around them, covering the inside of the chamber in bright sunlight. Omar squinted out of instinct, but his eyes immediately adjusted to the glare, the sudden brightness turning into rapturous satisfaction as the glowing trails under his skin grew brighter. Thornseeds were everywhere, exposed by the light. He saw what the crunching was. They were eating people. Dead people, but people nonetheless. He wanted to be sick. He probably would’ve, if not for the reassuring energy the sun gave him. Alicia retched.

The sunlight bathed a tall, lanky figure who stood in the center of the room. It approached, its skin a golden yellow with patches of red accent. When it got close, it blinked two rows of black-brown eyes at them through membranes. Trails of vine-like growths flowed from its head and back like hair. More followed from the bottom of its body where there were less an feet than a bunch of shuffling prehensile appendages. “Your language is crude, easy to master.” It added from its thin, toothless mouth. Omar thought he caught sharpened things ringing the inside. 

“Exactly what are you?” Omar asked, after allowing around ten seconds for the reality of what he was seeing sink in. 

“I am Ehvow,” it said. “I’m not like the others you’ve encountered, of course. They are our strength, our arms, our thorns. Those like me are their bloom, their leaves, their mindseed.” The slender Alien trailed back and forth as it studied them. “It appears some of your kind can survive our essence. Very unexpected. This has only once before with you younger races.”

“Before?” Alicia asked. “What do you mean you younger races?” Omar hadn’t caught it the first time, but as Alicia repeated the alien’s statement it chilled him. 

“None of your concern,” the Ehvow said. “We came here with a very specific directive, but this changes things. Perhaps some of you can be allowed to live. You clearly photosynthesize,” it said, raising one of its arms and hands. The hand was composed of ten fingers that Omar could count, stubby thumb-like pieces on the ends with with either long, needle-like fingers between. “You have some of the thorns in you, as well.. Lighter, faster, more intelligent than them. Better laborers than our roots. Maybe even hunters. You could serve many purposes.”

“You think we’re going to help you?” Alicia said. “Whatever you are and whatever you’re doing on our planet, I’ll die before I let that happen.”

“I agree with her,” Omar said, feeling a slight headache as he looked across the Ehvow’s many eyes.

“What you will let me do does not enter into it,” the Ehvow said. The Ehvow stepped aside as two of the Thornseeds not eating thundered toward them with collars made from a band of the coral substance, refined into a more smooth surface with a few indicator lights on it. Omar and Alicia both struggled as the devices snapped into place around their necks.

“We’ve had to use this design in the past on our own thorns and roots who stray. I can use them to inject you with a toxin whenever I wish,” the slender Ehvow said, approaching them again. “It will cause you immense pain and, if I command it to do so, will deliver a fatal dose. Do you understand?”

Neither said anything. Omar wanted to believe the collars were a bluff, but he had no reason to doubt the threat. “I’m not used to this body chemistry of yours yet, but I believe this will help you adjust to your new situation,” it said. The Ehvow’s needle-fingers elongated into even sharper points. It plunged both sets of them into Alicia’s torso first, her body shaking and her mouth moaning in scratchy tones. Omar watched pulsing fluids enter, visible through her skin. She quickly stopped struggling, her eyes fluttering as spittle dripped from her mouth. Whatever wounds the needle-fingers left closed in seconds.

Omar struggled more, feeling his hands almost break through the coral restraint him as the Ehvow turned its hands toward him. “We can’t have that,” it said, plunging its needle-fingers into him. 

After the initial seconds of shock, it didn’t hurt. If anything Omar surged with elation. All the rage and despair faded away. With it, so did any feeling he had toward doing harm to the Ehvow. “Accept me as your Mindseed,” he heard it say as the calmness and apathy flowed and grew, blossoming into a dull and simple happiness. “I will help you be better than you were. With me, you will become something higher than your species have ever been or will ever be. You will be Ehvow.” 

The Mindseed Ehvow withdrew his fingers from Omar. “There’s much work that needs to be done,” he said to both of them. “We’re going to need to prepare in case the surviving members of your species decide to attack us. With the Tarrare aiding them, they will be a threat even in this weakened state. There are a few others like you, but I’m sure that soon there will be many more. I want you to work as hard as you can. Work until you can no longer move. We need to know everything your bodies are capable. Do you understand?” Omar and Alicia nodded, feeling connected to the Mindseed as if it was their father, mother, and lover rolled into one. The Thornseeds removed the hardened coral-tar from their arms and bodies. The Mindseed gestured for them to leave the chamber. 

Omar and Alicia followed the Thornseeds outside, the crumbling skyline of New York greeting them. More Ehvow, like the Thornseeds but smaller and thinner, were toiling with transformed, green humans like Omar and Alicia. They were spraying and spreading the Ehvow coral all over the sides of nearby buildings from churning engines. The noisy machinery appeared to be coral generators,  grinding up the street below and reprocessing it. Hoses extended from some of the generators like vacuums to suck up more bits of concrete, metal, even scraps of human bodies. More of the smaller Ehvow were operating other machines attached to the generators to process the coral and construct more complicated objects. 

Teams of Thornseeds worked on toppling buildings by smashing into them with whirring hammers and drills. They also carved the streets up from pod-like vehicles that dug into the ground with massive mechanized limbs like metallic tree roots. Up close, Omar could see that everything the Ehvow used was made from the coral, just with different levels of refinement. 

The toppled buildings and piles of debris had more coral sprayed on them to create barricades and the beginnings of structures. A perimeter was forming, with Thornseeds stacking cannons and other artillery weapons. New York was being transformed. Omar, even with his mind dulled under the influence of the Mindseed’s hormones, knew he was looking at a Forward Operating Base. 

Image Credit:

ESA/HubbleNASA, D. Calzetti (UMass) and the LEGUS Team

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #23

“Are we far enough away?” President Yi Nuan Xun said, thinking about the days they’d spent retreating from Beijing. “Where are we on the Sanctuary?”

“We’re very close, but it’s only 40% complete,” Bu, her economic advisor, answered. “It won’t withstand an attack. They barely finished the outlines of the structure before this happened.”

“So we have a big hole in the ground, then,” she said. The flapping tent around her made her uneasy. The soldiers outside were shouting to one another, the ZTZ-199 tanks all had their engines revving. They were breaking the military camp already to move it again. They were attracting too many civilians looking for anywhere safe to hide. “I blame the Tarrare for this mess. They made all of these hints that we would need these, that we would need their damned meta-tools. It would’ve cost trillions to build the 12 Sanctuaries we recommended. They said it was important, but never this important.”

“Maybe they didn’t think we were ready,” General Zhang said. He was nominally in command of the camp and all the soldiers she had at her immediate disposal, but he hardly kept them in line. “Can you imagine the panic? I can. It would’ve been a disaster. Everyone who heard about the project assumed the Tarrare were going to lure us down into the Sanctuaries and process us for food. It would’ve been political suicide to support it.”

“The plan to extend the schedules and spread the costs out was a sound one,” Bu said. “We had no idea we were on a timetable this urgent. We did the sanctuary in Hong Kong, but the orbital strikes rendered it inaccessible until we can bring the right excavation equipment there to carve our way through the collapsed structures. I’m being assured by our people on the ground there that it’s possible.” 

“Not in any timeframe that’s going to save us,” President Xun said. 

“Last we heard, the Ehvow were landing in Hong Kong, same as New York. It’s going to take more than excavation equipment to remove them,” Zhang said. Zhang and Bu were not exactly her best people. Both were loyalty picks. Sons of rich families that supported the party. All of her good advisors had been killed off or went missing when Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai fell. Bu had become her advisor on everything non-military since he was the only one around. Zhang was the highest-ranking military officer still alive in all of the Greater China Confederation that obeyed orders. His chief attributes were having a pulse and representing a disintegrating chain of command. 

“General, President Xun,” her acting Chief of Staff said, another person who’d succeeded into his job via attrition. She didn’t even know his full name. “We’ve detected Ehvow craft inbound.” The three of them left their fruitless discussion and stuck their head out of the tent. The camp had grown during the night, more civilians gathered outside of it, trying to take refuge. The energy fields and fencing designed to hold the perimeter were overwhelmed with a ring of informal secondary camps around it. Tents were spread everywhere along with makeshift tarps and shelters. Buses and troop transports were dotted around. These people wanted protection, but they were only endangering themselves more.

“There it is,” General Zhang said, calling up his interface. pointing out the fast-moving shape on the horizon. “We’re completely exposed.” The ship was one of the rounded ones that faced forward with its dark green exhaust pouring poison out of the back, the “Doomblooms” as they were calling them in the feeds. Hundreds of strafing weapons jutted from the pulsing core of the ship like the points of a flower’s petals.

The ZTZ-199s angled their thermal cannons and missile batteries to the sky. The tanks had shot down the Ehvow ships before, but she could picture the soldiers on the inside. All the targeting software and sensors in the world couldn’t outweigh the panic in the gunner’s mind, especially when they hadn’t slept in over a week. The thermal cannons of the tanks fired, red pulsating beams and clouds of tiny missiles. President Xun allowed herself to feel relief for a moment as the Doombloom took a series of direct hits and began to fall, plumes of smoke and burning spitting out. 

The breath was stolen from her again as the damaged craft righted itself. Its turrets boomed the crushing sounds of Ehvow guns as it worked over the camp. The strafing dug trenches through the ground as people were gunned down in a ruby mist. The Ehvow ship shelled two of the ZTZ-199 Tanks into explosive shreds. Cars, trucks, troop transports and buses were similarly snapped and broken like the toys they were.

President Xun grew lightheaded when she realized she was still alive and the strafing had missed her. The Doombloom kept going, the remaining ZTZ-199 firing haphazardly at it as it disappeared.  Two more shapes appeared on the horizon. More Ehvow craft, this time to finish them off. 

She’d seen the Doomblooms, she’d seen the cone-shaped dropships that the Thornseeds dropped out of when they attacked cities in her intelligence reports. These were different. Oval pods that were long with protrusions coming out of them and green and red trails burning out of the back of them. Their underbellies were open. “Bombers,” was all General Zhang said, before they dropped dimpled, egg-like scraps on the camp. 

The round bombs rolled like miniature boulders, crushing people and crashing through tents and barriers. Xun left Bu and Zhang agape at the ruins and bodies around them, dashing through blasted out energy fields and puddles of dirt, trash, and blood.  She didn’t see the Ehvow bombs open, revealing the spinning and glowing orbs inside. Heat and a flash came from them, the radiation dropping her as it swallowed them all.

Image Credit:

Wolfgang Brandner (JPL/IPAC), Eva K. Grebel (Univ. Washington), You-Hua Chu (Univ. Illinois Urbana-Champaign), and NASA/ESA

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #10

Digging through all the status indicators, all he saw were blues and greens. Some above and beyond the tolerance levels on the positive end. The connections to the new generators He minimized it all in his interface, stepping back from the maintenance node’s array of machines and displays around them as they fed the Tarrare “embassy.” Embassy was a misnomer to Luis. It had turned into more of a colony in terms of its size and scope. “Everything looks good with the new grid upgrades,” Luis marveled, finishing his checks. They were done, Luis checking the last work package to bring the project all the way to completion. 

Nico and Elara, the best new people in his crew, nodded their heads. They helped him staff the maintenance node and track all the various projects and operations indicators while the other crews crawled all over the rest of the tunnels, ducts, and passageways. They’d worked really hard to finish the power grid upgrade project, and it had worked out damn well. “Excellent work, everyone,” Luis said, sending an all-team communication through his interface to the other crews. “This is the first time the power levels have been above orange in awhile.” He was the on-site lead now, so he had to make sure everyone got their acknowledgement. Reuben liked the message, showing in his ever passive-aggressive way that he was still part of the crew and not so happy about his lack of recent promotions. Luis sent him a private DM to taunt him for screwing up less than usual. 

“Is all this just to power those supertools?” Nico asked. “I heard they’re increasing the size of the chambers down there. They’ve been really active lately.” 

“Metatools, Nico,” Luis corrected. Nico was a younger technician that had been brought on to the core level six months ago, but he was still mastering all the new terms. He was a hard worker, but he was scared of learning about the Tarrare. He didn’t read his briefings and manuals, all full of new definitions and words. Luis had trouble keeping up sometimes too, considering they were Alien terms that someone had invented awkward human words to describe. “They’re like our printers and assemblers but way better. They can assemble just about anything at an atomic level, given that you feed them the right raw materials. Problem is they consume a lot of energy. This upgrade is partially to cover them, but not entirely. They just wanted the extra capability, said something about potential expansions.”

“I heard the power surges today have been because they’ve been making these packages for the last few hours,” Elara added. She was quiet and Luis found her hard to read, but she was good with electronics and had a decent work ethic. For all their foibles, working with both of them was a blessing after Reuben’s baggage and bullshit. “Someone on lunch break said it was packages of other metatools for distribution. Using a factory to build factories is a strange thing in the first place, but to do it all at once? I wonder what’s up.”

Luis turned to look through one of the main observation windows into the sizable Tarrare living space below. They were moving around a lot, working at invisible displays his interface couldn’t access. Ordinarily they were quite mellow, moving very slowly and deliberately. They seemed agitated, but in their quiet and polite way. “They can move so fast,” Nico asked. “Has anyone ever clocked one of them?”

“When they use all those legs just to run it stands to reason,” Elara added. “Down close to the ground like that with all six legs they can get very agile.” Luis noticed his power levels change from the pleasant greens and blues back to yellow. An audible rumble moved the floor plates around them as the lighting dimmed and then changed color. Alien characters came up in the Tarrare language, displayed on a feed strip near the ceiling. Luis activated the translation app in his interface, trying to make sense of the messages.  

“I’ve never seen that before,” Nico commented. The tell-tale clicking sound of Tarrare legs moving down the oversized hallways came toward them, Administrator Krand-Vie entering one of the node’s side doors. She had two other males with her, both of whom had the thick layer of synthetic fibers projected over their body with ambient lights interspersed that the Tarrare sometimes had. 

“Nico, Luis, Elara,” Krand-Vie’s synthetic voice echoed. Luis could swear it had grown closer to a human woman over time, but it could be his mind adapting to talking with her so much. “Thank you for your recent success. Your timing for completion of this project is ideal. Whatever communications or guidance you may have received recently, we need all available power reserves directed to the communications arrays immediately and for the power distribution to remain at that setting for the next three hours. You are to disable all other facility sub-systems not essential to supporting the function of the communications arrays or simply movement throughout the facility, including security and life support. We anticipate no detrimental effects from this rerouting over such a narrow time horizon.”

“Will do, ma’am, I’m still logged into the OMI,” Luis said, pulling up his interface to make the changes through the maintenance node. He accessed the energy management admin panel and started to reallocate power within the facility’s Operations and Maintenance Interface. “What’s going on? Is there something we should be concerned about?”

Krand-Vie paused. She clicked all the sets of fingers on her front four arms together rhythmically. Luis knew that gesture. That was Krand-Vie being very concerned about something and wondering how to communicate it in a way humans would understand. “You should definitely be concerned,” Krand-Vie said. “Once the three hour window has expired, we will need another re-route of all power systems. The facility will activate full security protocols. We will provide detailed assignments to you at that point as to how we will sustain these protocols through the future. Due to the loyal service you have provided to us, I am prepared to authorize your family members and friends, should you be able to collect them before then, to join us here. You have been allocate a small amount of the communications arrays’ bandwidth to accomplish this. I recommend you contact them immediately and tell them to make their way to this site without delay.”

“Excuse me?” Nico asked. “This doesn’t sound like a drill. Why do the communication relays need so much power?”

“Don’t question the client, Nico,” Elara whispered under her breath.

“Your planet is about to come under attack,” Krand-Vie said. There it was. Suddenly a lot of things made sense to Luis, too much sense. “The attack will come from a race hostile to us. Hostile to almost every other known race, to be more precise. I will discuss the matter with all of you in greater detail later, but we have no time for such debriefings given these circumstances. Please contact your associates and have them join us as soon as possible.”

Krand-Vie didn’t give them time to answer more questions. She walked away, back the same way she came with her two escorts. Luis now saw them as guards, the fiber suits around them as combat armor and probably bearing all kinds of concealed weapons. He saw the Tarrare moving around in their living quarters working their displays differently, too. They were sending a distress call, giving military orders, or activating contingency plans. He understood very quickly the sort of machine the colony was becoming. He was a part of it now. 

“What did she just say?” Elara asked. Luis changed his interface, moving over to all of his personal contact accounts. He began pinging Daimon. Repeatedly, through every social media account he could. As Luis was rarely the kind of person to do that, he knew he’d get his husband’s attention. Then there was his sister. His mother had passed away, and Luis felt relieved about that for the first time in ages. Guilty, but also relieved that she wasn’t about to experience whatever it was they were all about to see. “Luis, what are you doing?” Elara said, her voice vacant.

“I’m doing what she said and telling people to get their asses here,” Luis said. When he turned to them, he could tell that Elara and Nico  still pale from the news they’d received. Listless and shocked, their eyes stared into the middle distance. “Listen, you heard the lady. We’ve all been in the inner guts of this underground compound/colony for years now. I have a feeling that if she’s right, this is going to be the safest place possible. I recommend you get anyone you care about here as quickly as possible.” Seeing Elara and Nico still lurching into action, he pointed and gestured at the Tarrare scrambling below in their work areas. “If something has THEM scared, it’s serious.”

Image Credit:

ESA/Hubble & NASA

Spacetelescope.org

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #9

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The displays from the newest belt of sensors near Mars flooded in to the lower left, the status indicators above and around it hovering in a greenish-yellow zone to indicate that nothing was out of the ordinary. The other data, from Saturn, did the same toward the bottom-middle of his vision. “The new apps are so much better,” Rand Wasolek said to the young woman barely paying attention to him. “They integrate with your interface so well that you know immediately when there’s a problem and you can zone out when there isn’t.”

“Leaves Rand plenty of free time to watch all of his ridiculous action operas while he waits for the software to do all the work for him,” Doug said. 

“So sweet, Doug. You didn’t even throw in a ‘shithead.’ Anyway, they haven’t declared us obsolete yet,” Rand said. “I-reupped my contract because I’m just enjoying it while it lasts. You’re lucky you got here when you did, Allie. We’ve got five years of guaranteed pay. I bet they don’t even actually need us that long if another upgrade passes through. Everything will just take care of itself.”  

“Yeah but you’re on the edge of what can only generously be called human civilization,” Doug remarked. “Enjoy being up to not much.”

“After doing this for a few days, I can’t imagine what you were dealing with before,” Allie said, reclining next to him on the chair full of supplementary interfaces they’d built out for the listening post operators when the new system had gone in. She turned her head toward Doug. “I feel like I’m inheriting a much easier job than you had.”

“There were some rough nights,” Doug nodded. “Harsh shifts.”

“You say that like you’re a grizzled war hero,” Rand said. “It’s just skimming data looking for the juicy bits. The biggest challenge is staying awake. That’s really what we’re paid for, to watch while everyone else sleeps and goes about their science and whatnot. Now we’ve got things that even do the skimming for us.” Allie seemed to be lost in the wash of data coming through her interfaces. She’d been on board for all of ten days. He started to think she was kind of cute, with hair tied back professionally and freckles, but he burned those thoughts as fast as he had them. He wasn’t about to get written up for creating a hostile work environment with a trainee. “You’re what, 22?” Rand asked.

“That’s right,” Allie said. “First job out of University. Decided to go to fucking Europa. Not exactly a normal career path. It seemed like such an adventure when I accepted the contract.”

“It’s the right age to do this,” Doug said. “You got the new, more immersive interface technology they built from the Tarrare data at just the right time when you’re brain was still flexible enough to take it. You’re used to all this. It’s still tough for old guys like Rand and me. There’s a new software interface and UI release everyday, a lot of adjustment all at once. I miss the brute simplicity of the old software and the shitty sensor arrays sometimes.”

“You’re not wrong,” Rand said. “Even with all these apps and filters providing assists, there’s so much more coming through. The Heimdallr program made the whole thing more powerful and more intricate.”

“Well, in whatever condition it was in I’m still impressed you were the first one to spot the Tarrare with this,” Allie added. She had a sheepish grin on her face. He could never tell if she was mocking him or not whenever she brought it up.

“Like I said before, that’s an urban legend,” Rand said. “I’m sure the surveillance satellites that the UAS DoD have saw them first. I just called more attention to it.”

“Sure you did,” Allie said. “You being the humble bastard you are.”

“That’s right,” Rand said. “You know, you’re lucky you’re getting posted to this colony when you are. It’s almost twice the size it was since the Tarrare made their appearance.” The view from the listening post’s tower was vastly different, Rand marveling at the colony’s structures in a serpentine layout. They broke up through and down under the ice layer in lineae of Europa’s surface like thorns on a bush of plastics and metal. 

“I’ve heard they’re planning on building some sort of military outpost,” Doug said. “That’s what all the air conversions, phytoplankton farms, solar panels, and generators are all about. It’s the infrastructure to support all that. It makes sense. Us being out here on the edge and all. Self-sufficiency. I hear they can grow lots of algae in these big sealed tanks they’ve got down even further under the surface. GMO stuff that can survive the temperatures.”

“New people are coming in every day,” Allie said. “Since colonies are exempt from the Alvez Act, all the corporations are doing their serious work out here. When I was applying on JupeJobs I saw listings for an IEI geothermal plant on Io that’s supposed to hire two hundred people.”

“Don’t forget ADS is almost done building a deep space drone factory and mines over on Ganymede,” Doug said. “IEI also supposedly has a blacksite over there. A lot is happening.”

“You sure you don’t want to stay, Doug?” Rand joked. “There’re always opportunities.” 

“I’ve thought about it,” Doug said. “But unlike you, Rand, I’ve lived out here on the Jupiter moons for like twenty years. Enough is enough. Even if this is supposed to turn into a Hub, like a mini-Mars or Luna, I can’t do it anymore. It’s going to be a harsh transition, though. My legs are going to be all fucked by the Earth’s gravity when I get back.”

“They have things to help with that now,” Allie says. “Braces and implants for the knees and back to help you step down and assist you when going back to the higher gravity. Mars and Luna settings. Luna would probably work best for you.” 

“Thanks for the tip,” Doug said. “I really need to look into it all. Haven’t been doing my research the way I should.”

“It’s funny talking about the future of this colony,” Rand commented, eager to get away from the subject of Doug’s departure. After all, it was highly likely Rand would never see him again. After Rand’s contract finally ran out, he wondered if he’d go back to Earth. Even if he did, he could foresee a lot of half-assed plans to get drinks that one or the both of them would cancel or reschedule a bunch of times. “I don’t think it’s entirely all science, research, and feel-good stuff they have planned. The Project Heimdallr scanners have a ton of classified modes I can’t unlock.”

“You’ve tried, though? Right?” Allie asked, tinkering with something on her interface. 

“Of course I have,” Rand said. “But the covert data feeds coming in here have scary encryption. It says a lot. Or doesn’t say a lot. Depends on your perspective, I guess.”

“Wait,” Allie said. She was working through something. “This can’t be right. I think I’ve found something.”

“What did you find?” Rand said. He asked for permission to share her interface. She granted it, data streams overlaying his. The indicators changed from green-yellow to orange-red. He watched the numbers add up. One anomaly. Five anomalies. Twenty anomalies. It continued to climb. 

“Something unknown detected. A lot of them,” Allie said. 

“Not again,” Rand whispered. He checked it. Lots of foreign bodies, moving in an organized fashion. “M.C.P., model please.” The master app did what it was told, pulling up displays in all their interfaces of what was coming. It was exactly like it had been back on the day with the Tarrare, but the rendering was so much faster.

“Are those more Tarrare ships?” Doug asked.

Rand knew the truth before he could say it. “No,” he said. “The mineral survey ships they’ve sent through occasionally are just like the main ship at Earth, spheres. Not to mention we were given warning they were coming from the Black Sphere by Earth.” The profile of the starships coming into the system was different. Not spherical. Not matching the composition or energy signatures of any Tarrare ships it had detected.

“Definitely not spheres,” Allie said, blowing up a huge projection in front of them. There were lots of them. Maybe a hundred. Ten or so large ships, all like long arms with claws coming out of them. Tiny ones swirled around them. They were menacing. Non-uniform, long segments pointing out of them and forward. . They were jagged, twisted, full of large knots of outward spires and protrusions. “The composition is metallic and biological. Actually a huge amount of biological matter hardened over a shell.”

“That’s a battle formation,” Rand said. “Those are warships. I’m goddamn sure of it. There’s no way they’d be moving like that, that they would look like that if they weren’t.”

“Should I …” Allie started.

“Definitely,” Rand said. “Administrator Cheung will want to know about this. Get her on as soon as you can.” Rand tried to imagine what this meant. The trajectory appeared. 

“They’re headed for Earth,” Doug said. “And very, very fast. They’ll be there in hours.”

“Unfortunately,” Rand said. “And I don’t think this group wants to make friends.”

“What are we about to watch here?” Doug said, lost in the moment. “I mean, what the fuck does this mean?” 

“The Tarrare are really advanced, though, right?” Allie said. “They should be able to do something?” Rand and Doug only answered her question with silence. The three of them thought the same, selfish thing. They were praying to unspecified deities and all cosmic forces that whatever this war fleet was would pass Europa by. 

Image Credit:

NASA, Holland Ford (JHU), the ACS Science Team and ESA

Spacetelescope.org

Overture: Broken Light - #2

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Vacuous sameness trickled in, dust particles and the distant white noise of the great asteroid field between them and Mars the only distant sparkles of something interesting. The orbiting satellites from Jupiter, Saturn, and their moons were a web of optics and sensors, feeding zetabytes of data into his protective screen of applications. The apps digested it, giving yet more graphs and presentations of what was out there. What was out there was a whole lot of nothing. He was trapped in a chamber of floating renderings, numbers, planets, and even the satellites taking pictures of each other. 

Drumming his fingers as abrasive sounds pounded out an aggressive rhythm all around him, the listening post operator adjusted the sensor feeds again. He was only allowed one recreational feed and he’d chosen a violent mid-21st century action opera. The heroine was billowing out a wail to a 140 BPM drum shuffle as she fired a high-powered thermal rifle from out a building’s window at the charging any assassins. It took a real badass to sing and gunfight at the same time. 

“Rand, you settled in?” Doug, the only other sensor operator on shift asked. “I need a break.” 

“Take your break, dickbag,” Rand Wasolek yelled into his earpiece, turning down his action opera. His eardrums thanked him, the tightness and hiss in them starting to make him think he was giving himself a problem. He needed the loud music and films to stay awake. He’d long acquired immunity to the watery GMO coffee they got from earth long ago. It could grow in almost any climate, the only tradeoff had been actual flavor. The emptiness all of his apps and sensors broadcast to him was a blast of narcolepsy inducement. Even the network traffic coming into the post from Mars, Luna, and Earth was minimal. “Not like I need you. We’re on Europa, for shit’s sake. What’s going to happen?” 

“You got it, shithead,” Doug responded. “I’m going to eat something and be back.” Rand stretched, glaring out the window at the sprawling complex of the European colony. The listening post was in a tower that floated in the middle of the structure, gazing out on the frozen vista and lineae of Europa’s surface. The human structures protruded like fingers and hands sticking up out of it, penetrating into the warmer water underneath and stretching deeper down into the moon’s metallic core. It was an amazing view, but a shitty job. The apps did most of the work for him, interpreting the feeds and telling him when and where something might be wrong. Still, they wanted that human touch. Someone watching and ready, and he had enough basic competence to work as a communications office and fix connectivity issues with the intra-solar network. There were four of them in the colony, and Doug was his backup for the shift. 

One app began to detail anomalies. Then another started to detect movement outside the normal scale of space trash. The sensor array began to send him alerts. He reached for the haptic interface and enlarged the data related to whatever it was that spooked the systems so much. The anomaly was moving, too fast to get optics on. He pulled up another auxiliary sensor app and requested that it recreate whatever it was virtually for him. He switched off his action opera. For the first time since the last FTL test flight, he needed real concentration.  

“What the fuck …” Rand started to say. A sense of urgency was a foreign sensation at this point. “This is way too much excitement this early in the morning.”

On a separate holographic display, he watched the object come into focus, along with various apps that took guesses at what it was. It was an spherical. The composition told him it was metallic and appeared to be giving off significant heat and radiation that was suggestive of an incredible amount of energy in a single direction. Clearly. Rand blinked, watching the apps attempt to make further guesses about it. It looked like a tiny planet or moon, but it was moving. Moreso, it was moving and putting out energy and radiation that suggested propulsion. Rand got a horrible, horrible feeling and told the sensors to check its trajectory. More or less a straight-line. Not orbiting. Using a few things as a quick gravity slingshot, but moving with a purpose.

“Am I looking at a ship?” he said to no one but himself and the apps. They didn’t react, confused. “M.C.P.,” he asked the appropriate app. “Am I looking at a spacecraft of unknown origin?”

He paced nervously, during the delay it took the app to compile and use its crude artificial intelligence to judge. “Available data does not rule out that possibility,” the M.C.P. app responded. “It is a plausible supposition.”

“This is not happening,” Rand whispered. Then he full-on panicked. “I need the Colony Administrator NOW!” he punched into his colony communications protocol app. “Doug, also, get your ass back here for shit’s sake!”

“Administrator Cheung is currently out of the office and is in do not disturb mode,” a chipper synthetic voice belonging to the administrator’s virtual assistant responded. 

“Override, override, OVERRIDE! Priority one or whatever!” was all Rand could manage. 

“Hold please,” the virtual assistant responded. “Please note that the Administrator has been extraordinarily displeased when individuals have abused the override function previously. She asks that all personnel exercise discretion in doing so or severe administrative sanctions may be invoked.”

“I’ll take my chances,” Rand said, watching the path of this Hell-Orb hurtle toward Earth. “I think Administrator Cheung would want to know about this.”

“What’s going on up there?” Doug said, his voice clear and footsteps heavy as he raced back from wherever he was. 

“Rand?” Administrator Amy Cheung’s tired voice slurred. “What’s going on? Another meteor inbound?” Rand connected them all in a single channel, trying to figure out which apps told the story the best. 

“If only, Administrator,” Rand said. “M.C.P., please send Doug and Administrator a summary of what we have.” M.C.P. would have to figure out the best data for him since he clearly didn’t have time to put together a highlight reel.

“Well, this is different,” Doug said, bursting into the listening post. He began to directly work the apps. “I think I had a dream about this once.” His voice was detached, drifting into disbelief. 

“Guys, is this what I think it is?” Amy Cheung said as she tried to make sense of what she was seeing in her interface. Rand pictured her in her bedroom working through her interfaces. She was smart. She would see it. “Please tell me it’s anything other than what I think it is.” 

 “We’ve got aliens,” Rand answered. “And they appear to be headed right for Earth. I’m assuming we might want to give someone a head’s up?”

Image Credit:

Spacetelescope.org

NASA, Holland Ford (JHU), the ACS Science Team and ESA