Canopus Station
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First Blood

Posted on Wed Jul 10th, 2019 @ 3:35pm by The Narrator & Commander Wolfgang Ritter & Lieutenant Commander Mara Ricci & Lieutenant Commander Meilin Jiang & Lieutenant Francesca Ricci

Mission: S1E3: Moments Of Consolidation
Location: Parking Swarm, The Mire, Messier 4
Timeline: MD9 16.00PM

The air on the bridge had the feel to it of a late summer storm. The baleful white light of the neutron star in its bone spar cage almost seemed to be flowing out of the view screen, frosting the edges in its cold glow. This was an unnatural place, for more than the scientifically known reasons. A neutron star tampered and held in check as a battery to a machine of unknown purpose. A scab of machinery and meat in which a depraved business was conducted. And then the shroud of tortured space that surrounded it, the whispered voices and gilded promises...

Space was meant to be full of wonders, and grand spectacles. And yet in all truth, it was just empty darkness devoid for the most part of the light.

The turbolift door's hissed open, breaking the curse of silence cast on the current bridge watch.

"Welcome back Commander," the Tactical Officer left the ship's command said, getting out of the centre seat. "The Concordance retrieved the ferry and left through the nadir portal a minute ago. We've received another navigational package from the Bazaar, an exit course. We have it uploaded and verified for use at your command."

There might have been just a hint of eagerness in the officer's voice at the suggestion of leaving this patch of sky.

Upon hearing the doors swish open and the other officer's greeting, Mara quickly- and gratefully- vacated the Command chair. "Commander," she said with a slight nod of acknowledgment. Under normal circumstances, she would immediately return to Main Engineering, but given that she was still getting used to this prosthetic, she opted to remain on the bridge at the engineering console- an almost completely useless post usually reserved for the lowest ranking engineers, but that Mara now manned herself, relieving the officer who had previously been there to go to the engine room.

"Do we have the results of the modulated polaron scans?" Meilin asked before she was halfway to the science console. The ensign shook his head. "You may stand relieved." As the ensign left, Meilin accessed what data she could. It was all pre-rendered, but that only meant the full spectral analysis wasn't finished compiling. Most of the individual scans could be accessed, and some of them fully rendered.

Infrared frequencies were... blotchy, as to be expected, but they showed the outline of the otherworldly cage struts against the ebony black bubble of tortured space surrounding the neutron star. Switching to ultraviolet frequencies, there were flashes of lightning, gamma and cosmic rays that would scorch human eyes that beheld them. These were serpentine, dancing with the motion of life. It made Meilin think of a pit of snakes she had seen in the Intro to Archaeology training program back at the Academy.

What surprised her on further analysis, though, was that this gamma-lightning bolts were not pushing against the cage. That appearance was merely illusory. The eigenvalues of the domain frequency clearly showed the reverse -- the lightning was giving form to the irregular matrix that was the Mire's displaced space-time continuum. But how would that work? The working theory so far had been that the collapsing neutron star was held in stasis, the stellar friction of which would give place to mass ejections that were absorbed by the tortured space. These readings contradicted that entirely. Somehow... the tortured space was powering the energy cage that prevented the Mire from collapsing. But how?

The spectral analysis was nearly rendered, but another thought occurred to Meilin. If she reversed the eigenvector of the gamma lightning, then perhaps the polaron scans could reveal the source of the discharges rather than the discharges themselves. It revealed tetryonic concentrations surrounding a mass of... solanogen of all substances. That typically wasn't detected outside of subspace. Yet the eigenvalues of the frequency domain placed it as the matrix core. Meilin added it to the rendering queue.

She was unprepared for what she saw. "Dào xī yīkǒu liáng qì yǎo yá qiè chǐ!" Of all the horrors she had witnessed within the Sleepers Bazaar, nothing had prepared her for the reality of what sustained it--had sustained it for untold eons.

"Commander Ritter..." Meilin's cool tone belied the turmoil she felt within. "The spectral analysis found something. You probably do not wish to see it on the main screen."

Ritter looked over at Meilin with an arch expression. The unexpected, disconcerting challenges of the Bazaar did not leave him in a mood to indulge his senior staff. "Commander," he said, forcing his voice to be bland, because it wouldn't do to show his irritation. He still had a plan, after all. "After today, I'm sure we can manage a visual of this place. On-screen." And he settled back in the central chair to regard his terrible choice.

Meilin placed the multiple sensor readings into a single compiled rendering and put it on screen. Even though it fell short of the reality, the image was thoroughly heinous to the senses even as a rendering. "This is at the center of the Mire's cage. It is trapped near the nucleus of the neutron star."

Mara glanced over and her first reaction was revulsion, but then she realized that the thing seemed to be screaming in pain and she felt only pity. "The poor thing," she muttered.

"There's more," Meilin went on. "I am detecting a life sign from it. A big one. And not only from it. The intermittent flashes of gamma radiation along the edge of tortured space? Behind the tetryonic interference, there are even more life signs. It is my belief that those are solanogen-based cosmozoans originating from subspace -- the so-called tortured space is their attempts to breach the fabric of our universe in order to reach the imprisoned solanogen-based cosmozoan at the center of the Mire. The zero-point energy emitted by their perpetual, massive spatial breach is what seems to be powering the Cage--and the Sleepers Bazaar."

"So...slave market powered by the Double A battery of the damned," Calhoon said from the turbolift. The runabout pilot looked around the bridge. "What? You don't do anything serious and meaningful after that sort of speech. Step in the plucky comic relief who is racking up the bonus points for his eventual PTSD break down when they get back home."

Meilin quieted her disquiet. "I expect this construction was not created for the Sleepers Bazaar. Despite their gruesome cybernetics, even the Harbour Master's technology falls centuries short of this level. Thus, I maintain my position that the Sleepers Bazaar is a parasitic installation inside the Mire, its founders having merely stumbled on the remains of a much more advanced civilization. And, in that case, I do not feel it is outside the Prime Directive to collapse the Mire and let nature take its course."

Ritter sat for a moment, a muscle working at the corner of his jaw. "Right now, nature would take the Bazaar with it, though, correct? If there are more than two hundred and fifty people on board, Resolute is in no condition to do anything but condemn them, slavers or enslaved. It's never been my intention to recommend we leave slavers on our front lawn, but we have to do this right. Otherwise a weed keeps its roots, or we have a bloodbath on our hands."

"Neutron stars do not collapse instantaneously," Meilin said, shaking her head. "If we were to destabilize the core of the energy matrix, then the 'strut' of energy on which the Sleepers Bazaar is affixed will give out, but the Mire's star could take another hundred thousand years to collapse into a black hole. It is a virtual certainty that the installation was not constructed here, which means it likely has the means to disengage and depart like the rest of us. If not, then they will evacuate, and certainly not leave their... chattel... behind. In the meantime, we would have freed a cosmozoan lifeform from eternal torment and forced this... this Shēnyuān abyss out into the open, perhaps one day even allowing for its captives to be set free."

"I think you're correct," Ritter allowed, because that wasn't the end of his point. "But 'one day' isn't good enough. They evacuate with all of their slaves - then scatter. And we won't be able to free any of those people, help any of them. At worst, these creatures find somewhere else to set up a fresh market, somewhere they'll never let us near easily. No." He scratched his chin. "We'll have to come back, with a plan and the resources to free as many lives as we can."

Meilin did not veil her disagreement. "Very well," she said. "In that case, I suggest we prepare a coherent graviton pulse to distort our impulse signature and give us a chance to escape the hail of enemy fire that is indubitably awaiting us on the other side."

"If I may?" The TacOp's officer said, gesturing to the main display. On it spider web diagrams of the angular Concordance battleship, the Lament Of Sorrows appeared. Areas of the hull were highlighted, revealing high-resolution scans of hull plates and weapon emplacements. Some of the plates shone with the look of fresh work, whilst others had the brittle look of metal exposed to the vacuum of space for centuries. The weapons as well were revealed to be an eccentric array of models, all working on a similar design theme. It was like seeing an armoury with a selection of phaser pistols right next to a hand-cranked Gatling gun.

"Multiple-point defence turrets, though for the most part, the majority are kintetic slugthrowers. There is evidence of a few energy projectors varients, but overall their close in protection is weak. They rely heavily on ablative and active reaction armour, you can see the scale plate effect and thruster exhaust scars where plates have been ejected to avoid soaking damage. Similar their sensors were mostly radiological and microwave, with a laser scanning system that suggests they've not gotten into gravitetic's yet," the tactical officer said. "That suggests if we're moving fast enough, we might not be able to be hit by them if they are relying on FTL sensors. Though given they have no shields...I'm not sure what the results of a fight would be, but I'm confident the Resolute would prevail."

The TacOp's officer looked to Theylan for pointers or applause.

Ritter nodded in approval of the assessment. "If the Concordance want to start a fight with us once we're out, I'm quite prepared to finish it," he confirmed. "Let's prepare this graviton pulse. But we'll also keep Manticore Flight on standby for launch, and I want our torpedo launchers loaded. I'm content to try to blind them and be on our way, but if it doesn't work and they so much as sniff aggressively in our direction, we hit them with a heavy salvo and launch fighters."

"Tipping over the soup pot and throwing sand in the bullies eyes," Calhoon smirked. "Gotta like it there's not a hundred years of history staying the hand of the righteous man."

Meilin suppressed a knowing smirk and charged the emitter array. "Standing by for graviton pulse."

"Good." Ritter turned the central chair to face the front viewscreen. "Helm; take us out. Adhere to the flight plan from the Bazaar; I don't fancy the last thing I ever see to be whatever's rattling at the bars of this prison cell." He leaned back as the deck hummed under him with the blazing to life of the impulse engines, inertial dampeners absorbing all but the faintest hint of accelleration, and looked at the sensor feed on his armrest. It gave him little he wanted to see. Yet. "And stand by," he added wryly, "to return the warmest of greetings once we're out the other side."

The Resolute puttered away at impulse velocities from the moorings of the Sleepers Bazaar along the same trajectory which it followed upon arrival. An arrival that seemed like ages ago, before the horrors they'd witnessed, compromises they'd made, and mysteries they'd stumbled across. Even though they had rescued their abducted crew members, Meilin could not find it in herself to be satisfied. Lieutenant Madrid had mentioned others who had helped them survive their imprisonment. Sensors showed a lifeform held in bondage in the worst of cosmic prisons. Her half-dazed ramblings upon passing through the narrow aperture of tortured space was that they had come to the threshold of Diyu. And now, in the ultimate distortion of the Tao, this Harbour Master and his forces profited from the eternal suffering of the solanogen-based cosmozoan and its ilk attempting to breach normal space to retrieve it from the heart of the Mire.

This would not abide any longer.

"Firing graviton pulse," she announced to the bridge, then in a whisper, added, "This one who is beneath you sets you free."

At first the effect was nominal. The graviton pulse shot into the heart of the Mire, into the blinding core where the cosmic cage was centered, and was absorbed by the cosmic energies of tetryonic radiation smashed within the iron fist of gravimetric oscillation. And then there was a surge. It was more than energy. To say it was gravimetric was insufficient as well. The fabric of space-time splashed outward like a rock in a pond. Waves buffeted against the bone spar struts of the dead star, straining their integrity to the breaking points.

Meilin gasped at the sensors. "Tortured space... It's--"

And then one of the colossal struts snapped.

The blinding light at the center of the Mire abruptly flickered, then turned dark for a moment, draping the Resolute, the Sleepers Bazaar, and the rest of the docked ships in pitch midnight black. When the illumination returned, it was with a vengeance that burned against the deflector shields in a consuming cosmic fire. The Resolute rocked and buffeted against the perfect storm, but then, as quickly as the wave had rolled over them, it receded back into the core.

"Okay...I'm mostly sure that's not going to come back to bite us in the ass one day," Calhoon said under his breath. On the viewscreen, the other ships in the parking swarm were beginning to make their way to exit portals. Even the large Myriad vessel was beginning to move out, the branch-like drive spines along its spine and after glowing furiously.

 

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