Overture: Broken Light - #8

“No thank you,” Danya said, pressing the reject button in her interface. Being Director of Interstellar Exploration and Research for the UAS’ Interstellar Administration had a lot of baggage, but every time she could kill idiotic designs meant to give someone with a military uniform a hard-on made it all worth it. 

“Five years, Eamonn,” Dr. Danya Fund moaned from her spot in the conference room. Spent water bottles, coffee cups, and a devoured lunch tray marked her territory. Visions of graphs and engineering drawings from her recently enhanced interface filled the room around her. It was a little too immersive sometimes. “Five years and the proposals are only now starting to get better. Too many of the same old starship designs with a few Tarrare tricks injected that barely make sense. We’ve done far too little in far too much time.”

“You’re right about that,” Dr. Eamonn Condon said next to her. “I would be demoralized about the pace of all this but I forgot what having morale felt like years ago.” 

They continued browsing drawings and theoretical, unrealistic performance specs in silence for awhile,  “I just don’t know what we’re even looking for anymore,” Danya said. “We were supposed to be commissioning fleets of civilian FTL ships. Now, after all the budget cuts, all we do is provide input into military starship procurements and provide oversight on commercial space projects. Not exactly what any of us in this agency signed up for. We’ve still only done even a few token missions since Project Vanguard. We should have colonies in other systems. All the funding goes into a defense fleet that’s obsolete the moment it rolls off the line because the designs are shit. Then there’s the Alvez Act. Everyone who actually tries to propose too many Tarrare elements gets bid-protested or sued into oblivion.”

“It’s sickening,” Eamonn said. “All these proposals want to do nothing but discuss their compliance with the damned Alvez Act. They all say something to the effect of ’90% human ingenuity and design with only a hint of Tarrare elements to enhance performance’ then demand their Alvez Act Price Preference because their design is the ‘most human.’ Couple that with the vague suggestion that they would see us in court if we decided anyone else deserved it. I hear there’s some huge project the UAS and GCC are trying to work with the Tarrare that Alvez Act litigation has blown all to kingdom come. Something called Sanctuary.”

“Typical,” Danya said. “Whatever his intention, Alvez successfully made progress a competitive disadvantage. No wonder he’s about to be elected President.”

“You know how it is, Danya,” Eamonn said. “Only so much change can be absorbed at any given time. The FTL flight blew people’s minds. Most of the human race wasn’t ready for it. Then you had the Tarrare show up. They’ve flipped everything over again. It’s going to be decades before the dust settles. I sometimes wonder if the bugs did it on purpose.”

“Something’s off, that’s for sure,” Danya said. “Some of their survey ships have shown up to look at the asteroid belts outside Mars for minerals and that’s it. They leave the system after a few months of poking around. There’s something the Aliens aren’t telling us.”

“Maybe this is all some social experiment to see how the backwards primitives can handle eating from the tree of knowledge,” Eamonn asked. “Maybe it’s all some big reality program. Back home they’re watching it all and laughing their instectoid abdomens off.”

“Funny,” Danya said. “But I’m being serious. I’ve heard that the Tarrare have cautioned all the world leaders against us using FTL for further exploration, giving a bunch of platitudes about how we aren’t ready. That’s why there’s no support at the top and the funding isn’t there.”

“Or the funding isn’t there because there’s nothing impressive to invest in,” Eamonn said. “Sounds like finger-pointing mixed with conspiracy theories to me.”

“Conspiracies are the only thing I can come up with to explain the total lack of forward momentum,” Danya said. 

“There’s progress in biology,” Eamonn countered. “Anti-agens, anti-virals, and next-gen synthetic organs better than the originals are flooding the market, legal or illegal. No one cares about the litigation there. Too much money to be made. I’ve heard rumors they’ve built completely artificial animals from the ground up with the AI and nanotechnology breakthroughs. Not just designer genetics and breeding, they’re creating whole new species.”

“It’s all about the fast money and gimmicks,” Danya said. “Scientists with decades of expertise wasted on making dragon-cats, hamster-cows, or who knows what terrifying hybrid in a lab with a bunch of private biotech research money and we’re trying to scratch together real science and research from whatever meager appropriations the UAS throws at us.”

“Don’t forget the constant threats of reprogramming to the UAS DoD,” Eamonn replied.

“This morning I read someone on the feeds who was actually arguing that the Black Sphere is a Dyson sphere,” Danya said, switching to a less depressing subject. Most people had taken to calling the Tarrare ship the Black Sphere. People had become less afraid of it over the years, mostly accepting that if the Tarrare had planned to kill them or enslave them they would’ve done it by now. It hung there, like an ominous new moon in the sky. Danya used to look at it all the time back when she had an office with real windows. Before she’d worked for the government.

“Impossible,” Eamonn said. “Well, I don’t know. Maybe. Not likely, at least. There are whole sections of the tech transfer that only a few people get, and plenty of pieces no one gets. They could be that advanced. They could have a mini-star or some plasma core in there. The generators people have built from based on some of the rudimentary Tarrare plasma physics are very efficient and stable and that’s just the basic level of what they must be capable of.”

“You have to wonder why they’re not helping more,” Danya replied. “The Tarrare basically handed us the biggest textbook in the history of mankind and told us to teach ourselves the course. Why not give us more practical designs? Schematics? There are hints of that, but nothing ready to use.”

“Maybe because that would be like handing a house cat a starship,” Eamonn responded. “We need to understand what we’re doing. If they handed us the toys right away we may kill ourselves and each other because we don’t understand the magnitude, the danger.”

“I hate you,” Danya leered.

“It’s not my fault I’m so damned right all the time,” Eamonn said. “God made me this way. Or … maybe the Tarrare. They’ve just come back to check on a research project they started MILLIONS OF YEARS AGO!”

“Don’t even joke about that. You sound like one of those Starchild cultists, Eamonn,” Danya said. “I have to walk through enough of those religious fanatics on the way into work every day. I won’t tolerate it inside my workplace, too.”

“You’re repressing my freedom to exercise or some such! Oh, forget it. I don’t even have the energy to make that into a bit,” Eamonn said, rising from the table. “I’m taking a break. Here,” he made a few targeted finger movements, manipulating his own interface to send files to Danya’s. “These are the proposals I think are promising. Solid ones. Small ships, agile. Limited range. Just what the doctor ordered. Low risk, low money, low profile. The manufacturer even says it can have a few weapons mounted to it and be flown unmanned.”

“The doctor?” Danya asked.

“The one that flies around in the magic call box. Just take a look,” Eamonn started out of the room.  

“Eamonn,” Danya said. “Thanks. I’d lose my mind without you here.”

“It’s how all the ladies feel,” Eamonn said. “When I’m not being so annoying that they’re ready to cave my skull in, that is.”  

“Eamonn, one more thing,” she said. “What do you think I should do about that job on Mars? It’s a step down, but …”

“I think you should take it,” Eamonn said. “An FTL-ready spaceport and that little test fleet they have there? It’s not the most groundbreaking of projects, but it’s different. You’re clearly not happy here. You should move on. Nothing will change your perspective like going to another planet.”

“And it doesn’t hurt that you get promoted into Acting Director if I leave,” Danya needled.

“There’s that, too,” Eamonn said, giving her a slight grin.

Image Credit: 

NASA/ESA, J. Bally (University of Colorado, Boulder, CO), H. Throop (Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, CO), C.R. O’Dell (Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN) with Photo-manipulation by J. Hamlet

spacetelescope.org