Canopus Station
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The Belly Of The Beast

Posted on Tue Jun 1st, 2021 @ 5:39pm by Captain Benjamin Ingram Dr & Lieutenant Commander Mara Ricci & Lieutenant Commander Meilin Jiang & Lu'kat

Mission: S2:3: Snow Drift
Location: Within the alien star ship, in orbit of Calamity & Catastrophe, Outer Carpathia Star System
Timeline: MD1: 20.00

Within moments of being grabbed by the spherical machines, or whatever they turned out to be, the atmosphere within the corkscrewing tunnel became thicker and more opaque. Even the augmented vision system of the Heavy EVA suits couldn't penetrate the fog, as tiny metallic particles suspended within it bounced back the sensors pulses in a maddening jumble of noise.

Attempts to free themselves from the coiled limbs were better than useless, but at least they weren't trying to tear them apart. They were, for the time being, passengers albeit unwilling ones.

The tunnel came to an end and the only means by which they knew this to be true so that fog dissipated as the first of machines leapt into the open air. The others followed suit, jumping from the opening into darkness. For a time they sailed through the air, tumbling a little as eddies of atmosphere buffeted them. Looming spires like the antenna of some mad radio tower loomed out of the darkness, allowing the machines to grab onto them for guidance, swinging themselves onto new courses or increasing the speed of their passage.

Eventually, they came to a large open space, a raised dais that seemed to hover above the darkness, illuminated from within by a faint iridescent sheen. The robot's untangled themselves from the four explorers, their long arms retracting into their shells. And then they rolled off the edge, clinging to the underside of the platform and rolling down the impossibly thin stalk that vanished beneath them.

"I broke my arm," Ingram grimaced as he rolled onto his backside, sitting up gingerly. Red holographic symbols were wrapped around the arm of his suit, showing where the grapple had connected and the wire put tension. "Not to say I'm not grateful for the attempt, but I find more solace in the suits medical functionality. Though I'm a little disheartened by the fact the suits medical system is operating independently of the Resolutes expert system. Anyone else have a comm link back to the ship?"

Lu'kat jumped up as soon as the robot let go of him, a pair of vibro blades in his hands in case anything decided to leap at them. Surveying the platform they were on did not reveal anything beyond the sheen of light that emanated from it, nor was there any sign of those robots any more. Determining an attack was not forthcoming within the next couple of seconds, he put away his vibro blades and turned his attention to his team mates. "There were other body parts I could have aimed at, Captain Ingram. The arm simply was the most suitable appendage to latch on to at the time." Lu'kat walked to the man and helped him up. "Your suit should be taking care of it for the time being." His comm was dead, perhaps due to the wire crushing some circuitry. He looked to the two human females to see if their comm link was working. He doubted it.

"Yes, for the time being," Ingram said icily. The suits life support was rated for days, but a broken bone could lead to all manner of complications. "We must be somewhere in the spine of the vessel. Between the two engine caps."

He raised his good arm, pointing it towards the side off of the platform. A scanning beam lashed out from it, playing out its fan of light before snapping off.

"Can't really get a good feel for the spatial geometries in here with that damn fog. The walls could be just beyond it, or far and away," he grunted, as he tried to get up. "A hand would be appreciated."

The Cardassian froze as the scanning beam moved through him. The realisation that it could just as easily have been a lethal cutting laser was not lost on him. However, the fact that they had not been hacked into a million pieces strengthened his conviction that whomever or whatever had taken them wanted them alive. For now.

He frowned at Ingram, even though the expression was hidden through the mask. Hadn't he already helped the man up? Perhaps that hypo-induced acid trip was having a stronger effect on him, or on Ingram, than he thought. He helped the Captain up (again?), while saying: "I do not reckon we will have to wait 'days', Captain Ingram. Besides, our oxygen tanks will have run out long before that.'

“That’s a cheerful thought,” put in Mara, who had been checking to make sure Meilin was okay. “As if we didn’t have enough to think about. Our coms are down, too,” she told Ingram.

"Given how far we travelled from where we started, and comm's were spotty there, I think we can safely assume we're on our own." Ingram pronounced. "Atmosphere's thicker here, twice standard sea level though still ammonia and some other nasties. Your basic melt-your-face-off gas mix-"

The platform trembled, wobbling ever so slightly...and then again. And again.


It appeared as a shadow through the fog, looming over the platform. A wide cranial shield covered the head like an armoured visor patterned in light grey and blue striations. Narrow shoulders supported to long arms that planted themselves like trees into the mists below the platform. From its chest, folded against pale grey flesh like tree bark, three smaller manipulating limbs uncurled, stretching before reaching out and resting one on the edge of the platform. The hand, three fingers and a thumb under the palm, was as wide as Mara was tall.

It leaned closer, the bone shield plate flickering with bioluminescent patterns, turning from each of the away teams armoured forms.

Watching the.... whatever it was, Mara felt oddly detached, almost like she was watching from outside. This allowed her to observe the creature- robtot?- a bit more calmly than if she had been fully in the moment. The being seemed curious about them rather than malevolent, but really, who could tell? There was one way she knew of to find out. "Uh... hi," she said as it turned to her.

Lu'kat moved next to Mara as the creature took its time to observe the group of aliens that had made their way into its lair. The creature exhibited curiosity, for now at least. The Cardassian was all too aware of the fact that this could change at any moment. At the same time Lu'kat felt excitement trying to break through the barriers he had put up to control his emotions. This was his first ever First Contact with an unknown species. Their actions right here and right now would determine their relations with this species for eons to come.

Mara's 'Hi', while surely unintended, sounded extremely unappreciative of this fact. Add to that the fact that any wrong word or move could end their lives very swiftly... But now that the first words had been spoken, he had no other choice but to see and find out what the creature would reply.

The surface of the bone plate began to shiver, like oil on water, and a deep resonate bellow rumbled through the air. It was answered a few moments later by another wail, lower in pitch, as a second creature came out of the mist. Again it lowered its head, looking at them it seemed with the same rapt attention as the first. The two bellowed in unison, the reverberations rattling the teeth and bones of the away team.

The first backed up a step, the speed of its passage causing the fog to swirl and dance around it. It then looked down, letting out a shrill cry that warbled up and down the scale until it was nothing but an uncomfortable buzzing at the edge of perception. It then reached under the platoon, and pulling something from under it threw it onto the platform among the away team.

The items rolled to the edge of the platform, stopping dead before they rolled over the edge. Each was the size of a beach ball, with thick interlocking plates of armour the colour of blue steel. As one the four orbs uncurled, revealing wriggling segmented feet and the armoured compound eyes that spoke of Isopoda from the depths of many ocean worlds. Like a pill bug, Ingram thought.

One of the Isopoda raised itself up in its many legs, tilting so that its front third was almost upright revealing more armoured plating and delicate appendages.

“What is warmth?”

The voice buzzed out of the comm, a garbled mismatch of different voices stitched together to form words. The other three were now also leaning up, standing up on the legs to get a better look at the away team.

Mara just stared at them, open mouthed and confounded. What is warmth? How would one even answer that. No, forget that question. More important was why would that be the first question one would ask a new species?

Forget it. She decided to take a stab at it. “Uh... it’s... the opposite of cold,” she replied, feeling utterly ridiculous, but not really knowing what else to do.

The isopods stood still for a moment before the buzzing words began again.

"What have you become knowing of warmth?" the trio asked.

Mara took a breath, opened her mouth, closed it again, glanced at the others, then turned back to the beings. "I... suppose we can't know," she replied. "I mean, we don't know what we would have been if we hadn't known warmth, so it's hard to say what we are because we know it. Does... does that make sense?"

Lu'kat spoke up: "Knowing warmth is one thing, but understanding warmth, its processes, how it can be generated and how it can be taken away. The most primitive of creatures can know warmth, but it is when one can question it, test it, until one understands it, that one can be called a sentient being. Do you wish to understand warmth?"

For the past several moments, Meilin had been entranced. Resistance against the entangling coils was more futile than fighting the Borg, so Meilin had yielded herself to the Tao in full wu wei in hopes of leveraging the situation to maximum benefit in spite of utter helplessness. She had ignored the lumbering cybernetic giant, for it was merely a walking tool and instrument of its master. Even these talking pods were likely little more than messengers of their true hosts. But they had to begin somewhere, and communication was better than most avenues. Her eyes snapped open full of purpose.

"We are of Starfleet," Meilin said, "explorers from the United Federation of Planets. We have come a great distance to meet you. What are your intentions?"

"They're playing a language game. Warmth can be temperature, compassion, a sensation, or a feeling. It has nuances. They are talking to us because they want to know if we're sapient, or sentient." Ingram said.

The large lanky creatures that stood over them let out another low, basso call.

"Tell us of this United Federation of Planets. This Starfleet. Its function, its purpose," the voice buzzed as the small isopods chittered.

"If I may speak," Lu'kat spoke, "for I am not of Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets. It is, as the name implies, a Federation of different worlds who have managed to overcome their differences and who seek progress through cooperation and exploration. But, as it is with all ideas and philosophies, they are used to serve the interest of the ruling elites. They come with smiles, but also with power and might, and woe to those who anger them: behind those smiles lies a sharp set of teeth as well! My people, the Cardassian Union, and theirs, have battled each other many times in history, the last only a decade ago. My people know their bite, but they know ours as well. Yet, it is through the spirit of cooperation we both stand here before you today, an achievement which would not have been possible without our two peoples working together!"

He stepped back and gestured to the other three. "I will leave my colleagues here with the opportunity to introduce my own people, the Cardassians."

“I think you’ve just described them very nicely, actually,” replied Mara dryly, but with a small grin. The fact of the matter is that the only people she trusted less than reporters were politicians, so his description of the rulers of the Federation amused her.

With introductions out of the way, Meilin repeated her initial query. "Who are you and what are your intentions?"


A third Shovel Head like giant turned up, this one's moaning wails higher pitched and short. Like barks of a fog horn. The isopods conferred for a moment.

"We build. We become. We move on. You are not functional. You are literal. Asymmetrical. You do not match. We will build accordingly, literal flesh that is compatible," the isopods buzzing voice detailed.

Then the trio of isopods crawled off the platform, moving with the fluid grace of a crab knowing that forward was indeed an option. The three Shovel Heads watched the isopods vanish, and then as a group walked away from the platform and into the fog.

"I do not know whether these are sentient beings or synthetic constructs," Meilin said, "but I do believe we may be in danger if we linger here."

"What did they mean?" Mara asked, gazing in the direction in which they had disappeared. "Are they... are they going to... build people?"

"Perhaps like insects they have specialized organisms for certain tasks, functions," Ingram said. He looked at his suits HUD. "Atmosphere is holding steady, still mostly ammonia and sulphur dioxide. Nothing the suits can't handle. Radiation is still problematic, but I don't see a means of leaving this platform. Nor contacting the-"

Another fog horn blast echoed through the space, and one of the Shovel Headed beings returned. It carried something in its massive hands, and placed it on the platform alongside the Starfleet officers. At first glance, it looked like a jumble of soggy noodles. But as it rested on the platform, under the sightless gaze of the larger being, it began to relax and uncurl. Five trunks of noodles formed out, with one of them much shorter and stumpier than the others. A metallic sheen began to spread across the limbs, as a crust of bluish-grey began to coat them in segmented plate not dissimilar to the plates of the isopods or the leathery shield plates of the Shovel Heads.

And then it sprang up.

One moment it was on its back or front, and then it was on two of its limbs, the tips of which had flattened out to form supports. It looked like a starfish, an armoured starfish, but instead of a central mouth and sensory organ, the stump of an arm which rode atop its body was dotted with small black pits.

It waved its arms out to its side, wobbling a little.

"This is much more difficult than it looks," a buzzing voice said in the comms. "Two limbs, a high centre of mass, and the two segmented neral hub for left/right processing is not a fun combo to make work. Not to mention variable biologies even among the three of you who are seeming of the same species."

It lazily pointed an arm towards Lu'kat.

"And you, you I get. Why waste energy making heat when your planets already a natural greenhouse. Cold-blooded, not seen one of those in a loooooooong time," the figure then turned, and waved the Shovel Head away. "It's alright, I'm fine. Well a variable range of 'fine' but I'm not dead so we'll call that a win!"

They then turned back to the Starfleeters.

" got questions. And I am chatty as hell and want to talk. I was made to talk, literally. But I'm not naive, even though I was born like a minute ago." a buzzing chuckle. "Humour right? That's funny."

Mara stared at it for the longest time with a "what the actual ever-living fuck" look on her face. "That's not funny," she countered. "Funny would be, 'I wasn't born yesterday. In fact, I was born today!' Seriously, where did you learn jokes?"

"'T'vok's Letters To Sardek, a collection of essays on Vulcan cultural adaptation to human psychological adaptability'. It was one of the thousands of primers you've been beaming at us since we arrived. You know most people would think that was oversharing, but gave us a great grounding in figuring out the best way to talk to you. So you've let the functional flesh, allow me to introduce myself: I am the literal flesh. My name is...roughly something like Eight Hundredth And Ninety Eight Thousandth Instationation Of Cognitive Sapience. But you can call me Chatty." the armoured star fish flecked a little, wiggling its head from side to side as though trying to get as many of its eye pits focusing on them as it could.

"You keep using the term functional and literal flesh. Functional flesh would be sub sapient? Not conscious of itself?" Ingram asked.

"That, right there, is a smart question and a great guess. Yup. Sentience is an expensive trait, you develop it to the point evolution decides you don't need to get smarter. So we don't make sentient flesh until we arrive somewhere, waste of time otherwise. Not to mention resources. That and you don't really need to get bored if all you're doing is refuelling for the next leg of the journey." Chatty wobbled a little bit.

"And who is 'we'?" Meilin asked. "We have artificial constructs to aid in communication, but they are not 'us'. Who is the origin behind your construction?"

As the creature morphed into being Lu'kat was reminded of one of those human horror films that he had once observed during a social gathering called 'movie night'. While he had enjoyed the evening as a sort of anthropological exercise the concept of 'film entertainment' had eluded him completely. First of all, it was known beforehand that everything in the film was staged, yet many people showed clear signs of distress during the evening. Secondly, for a social event there was little social interaction, and what interaction there was, was quickly shushed. In conclusion, Lu'kat surmised, the whole endeavour was a paradox as in that it was a non-social stress-inducing activity which humans marketed as a social relaxing one. No wonder so many of them were suffering from anxiety...

Right here, though, Lu'kat watched in fascination. It wasn't every day a new life form was created before one's very eyes.

"That depends if you're talking about the biological 'us' or the hegemony of 'us'. Biologically speaking I think you'd liken us to decapods, we evolved in a cold high-pressure atmosphere. Made us very good problem solvers, if a little slow on the arts. We only figured out radiation was a thing when our first starjammer's entire biological cargo expired when it ran up to just below light speed. As for the other 'us', let's go with the Builders. Because that's what we do, we go places, we build, and then we go other places. In fact, the reason we're here is that this star was chosen as the meetup point," Chatty said. "Every starjammer that goes out is going towards a common goal, but taking different paths to get there. We three are just the first to arrive. The others will be here shortly. Something of a moot."

It held up its arms, or arm-like appendages, and waved them slowly across the air.

"Builder Con."

What the Cardassian had dreaded was now spoken out loud at last. Here was a species with a claim on the land, and an agenda to significantly alter the entire system to their needs. Lu'kat doubted very much the region would be habitable afterwards.
But there were so many unkowns... "we build, and then we go other places" Build what? Go where? So far he had only seen destruction, were they parasites? "the others will be here shortly" What was their definition of short? One hour? A year? A dozen millennia? So far, only one of those ships had been enough to irreparably damage one of the planets. An unimaginable quantity of resources already gone within less than a day...

"On what do you base your claims to this system, and what generally happens to the life forms in the places you have decided to build in?", Lu'kat asked.

"Oh....OH! Oh right yeah, no totally see where you're sitting how this all looks. We're not coming to stay. We're just passing through you know? Two cold ice giants, all the amonia you could ask for, it's a treat. Use these puppies to refuel and regas, and the moons will help in building a few more starjammers. But other than that, maybe a few mirrors for heat. And we're not claiming it, just these two gas giants," Chatty said. "I're not using them are you? Because we didn't detect anything, and you only came out in a teeny tiny starship to see us rather than the massive floating mass of them you have so..."

Meilin was unsure of what to make of this Chatty. Clearly they were designed to be a feint, but for what ulterior purpose? It could just be these... people... wished to be left alone, or they may have an as yet unrevealed plan. "Who are your leaders?" Meilin asked. "Do you speak for the entirety of your group or is there a hierarchy with a top tier?"

"You're talking to the very tippy top of the pile," Chatty said with a note of pride. "We don't have leaders as such, more a desire to move and the will to do it. Call it a biological impreative. We go to a new place, make a bit more of ourselves, and then go onto the next place. Why make it more complicated than that by putting down a Dunk'n'Hasphrat every other light year? We just like to travel."

"Understandable," Meilin said. "Cultures which can achieve true and peaceful anarchist coexistence are rare jewels. How many starjammers shall we expect, when should we expect them, and how long until you move on?"

"A smidge difficult to judge. Some can be early, like us, others late, some very punctual. It depends what they find on their travels, what problems they faced, other things like that. I'd say...and you'll have to forgive my approximation here, your units of time take a little converting to useful measurements for us. Say... the last one should show up around 2489? 2500 by the most." Chatty said. "As for starjammers, maybe upwards of ten thousand? Probably not more than twenty thousand."

"That's...not an insignificant amount," Ingram said slowly.

Everybody else seemed suspicious, but Mara liked these builders. They seemed friendly, after all. “As long as they don’t use up the whole gas giants, I don’t think we’ll have any problems,” she put in. “You won’t use them up, will you?”

"No promises. And we tend to make sure we don't use them up to the point where their ecological niche would become redundant. No point having a gas giant sweeping the outer system clear of rocks if it's no longer there," Chatty said, gesturing with one of its 'arms'. In the direction they pointed, one of the large Shovel Heads had returned, carrying a deep bottomed tray. "This one will take you back out to the hull, and then I think you can make your way back to your ship. There's also a fragment of hull cladding there, you might find it interesting and it will also act as a comm's relay through the magnetic beacon we're using."

Meilin wasn't convinced yet, but she was absolutely intrigued. "Will each starjammer have its own counterpart to your good self, or are you the official mouthpiece for your people?"

Lu'kat listened intently to all that the creature had to say and came to the conclusion that they were in fact conversing with nothing more than a talking parasite intending to consume the planets in this system for over the next 100 to 150 years or so, before moving on. Not to mention the thousands of space vessels passing through the area. This was a calamity for the Long Jump Project. But perhaps there were ways to turn this calamity into an opportunity.

"You do understand that your presence and actions here will have a significant impact upon Starfleet and Cardassian objectives. How have you dealt with such matters in the past? What happens to the civilisations within the systems you.... travel through?"

"We don't seek conflict. But we only use what's not being utilised," Chatty said. "After all, these two ice giants don't have fusion grade fuel isotopes, and ammonia really is an acquired taste. If the make-up of the waste gases your suits are giving off is any indication, then ammonia to you is a burning death. Not fun, not good. But we do know the value of trade. And I think you'll find us all equally Chatty."

The figure laughed again.

"Ahh human humour, it's fun. But like I said, we're at a good place to end our first meeting. Next time, how about we do it in place where you don't have to wear tiny armoured suits? You know, have nibbles and drinks. Make a thing of it?" Chatty waved a pudgy arm. "I think with some time we can make something a little more friendly-looking."

"Count me in," replied Mara with a grin. "Unless I'm hallucinating this, I'd say it sounds like a good time."

"Sounds like a plan," Chatty said. "Now, let's get you back to where you need to be and we can get on with becoming good neighbours."

Lu'kat, a suspicious being by nature (and nurture), was not assured by the creature Chatty. A 'good neighbour' would have at least knocked on your front door before deciding unilaterally to transform your backyard into an intergalactic industrial processing centre.... On the other hand, if they moved their kotra pieces strategically (Cardassian equivalent of 'playing your cards right'), there might be something to gain, allies against the Myriad for one...

"If your words are genuine and it is your intention to remain here in foreseeable future, might I propose setting up an Embassy upon Canopus station, to facilitate communications, trade and engage in diplomatic matters?"

"That sounds like fun. Look at you, all diplomatic whilst also focusing on the socioeconomic rationale for you being here in this star cluster." Chatty said with a note of pride in its voice. "I look forward to seeing what else we can learn from each other."


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