Chapter One: Chance Encounters
K'orrza Rahn looked out to the endless sea of stars, into that infinite void of shadow and light, and sighed.
He sat in his chair, gazing out into the gaseous reds and yellows and blues of creation still swirling and rolling gently in the vast nebula ahead of him. When he set eyes on his first one, gazing out from the thick u.v. filtered fiber-steel view screen it was amazing. Life altering. Breathtaking. To see the galaxy at work, the universe in motion, to bear witness to the machinations of a living, working universe, to a thing that not many of his kind had ever experienced firsthand before, it was both profoundly humbling and deeply spiritual to experience. After looking out to....what was this one, the fortieth, fiftieth one?....that feeling of awe and wonder quietly got replaced by boredom. Oh, It was still beautiful to watch. Still wonderful to find. As opposed to spending clicks scanning and probing the vast expanses of space in between stars in the off chance you'd run into some anomaly, some unknown element worth taking another look at, but ultimately coming up empty-handed.
That was why he volunteered for this undertaking in the first place. To be the first Abborian to find some new species, some new planet worth colonizing, in the deep dark of unknown space. It was an honor to serve the High Council. But after nearly ten cycles of cataloging and analyzing various comets, pulsars, nebulas, and black holes, over and over and over again, it was becoming something less of an "honor" to expand the knowledge of his people, and simply an exercise in disappointment and boredom and lowered expectations. He leaned in his chair, resting his chin in the palm of his hand and thumb, his three fingers caressing the small stubble on his cheek. Which reminded him; he needed to renew himself sometime today in the decon pod before his sleep cycle kicked in.
A small, soft chime rang out across the cockpit, followed by the mechanical pitch perfect voice of the ship's A.C.U., the Artificial Companion Unit. "Analysis complete, Protectorate Rahn. Shall I give you the data brief?" K'orrza sighed one more time before sitting back up in his chair and gazing at the data log ready to download into the ship's main data core. "No, that won't be necessary this time ACe," (that's what he called the program, anyway. It didn't seem to mind). "Very well, sir," ACe responded. "Awaiting your authorization for data transfer." K'orrza pressed his thumb down on the console and, with as much energy as he could muster simply said, "Begin." The console flashed pale blue as it scanned his thumb's imprint, before the six hours worth of scan-data loaded itself up to one of the mainframe's still empty storage cells. "Transfer complete, sir. Shall I data shunt to the homeworld?" ACe asked in his usual gentle manner. "No," K'orrza responded in a tone a little more harsh than even he anticipated. "We'll save it later for a full cell transfer."
"As you wish, Protectorate," ACe responded. "And if I might ask, is there something wrong? You sound rather distressed." K'orrza grimaced a little, rubbing his forehead just above the rigid brow plates above his obsidian set eyes. "No. No, not distressed. Just currently extremely bored." He looked up at the cockpit's ceiling camera with a small half smile. "I didn't mean to take it out on you. It's just that-" "You expected this journey to be a little more.....exciting," ACe reasoned. "Exactly," K'orrza said as he lazily rocked the command chair back and forth with his foot, laying his head back and staring up at nothing in particular. "I knew scouting out unknown space was going to be boring and uneventful at times. I didn't expect the whole damn trip to be like...well...this."
"I understand sir, and you shouldn't worry about hurting my feelings. I've been designed to expect the boring parts. And deal with the bored. Which is why I'm more worried about you." ACe's primary camera shutter panned down a little more towards K'orrza's face. "You're not going to go all "spacer" on me and blow yourself out of the airlock are you? I admit it would be nice and quiet for a while...finally...but, well, I'd have no one to play Oria's Seven with. I really can't bluff against myself, after all."
K'orrza stopped rocking in his chair and blinked. "....W...what?!" he asked in an incredulous tone. ACe pulled back the camera and turned it back to monitoring the various control panels. "I'm joking, sir," said in that light metallic voice. "Something to lighten the moment." K'orrza couldn't help but grin and shake his head. Out of all of the various cutting edge tech this ship carried with it, ACe had to be the most sophisticated. And the most welcomed. Truth be told, if he had to simply rely on the data bursts that came in from the Abborian Exploration Committee every several clicks (and the deeper he traveled into the unknown regions of space, the further apart those events were becoming) as his only means of companionship and social interaction, he probably would have blown himself out of the ship's airlock. ACe was without a doubt the most sophisticated Artificial Companion Unit the Committee had ever created. It'd taken countless cycles to teach and show ACe everything that Abborian science had made and created and perfected over the two million cycles that his species had existed, all of that information lay buried in the circuits and silicon that gave rise to his personality.
And even with all that information floating around in that positronic empowered core of his, he'd somehow developed the ability to crack jokes.
"Alright, enough science for now, I think I'm going to decon, then get some sleep," K'orrza said as he spun the chair around and leapt up from the seat. "Understood sir," ACe said without turning his attention off the control displays. "Shall I continue to monitor the nebula or power down in hibernation mode while you rest?" K'orrza though for a moment and shook his head. "Neither," he said as he unbuttoned his uniform. "How about we slip jump to that sector you wanted to explore a few ticks back? Let me know what you find out there." ACe's camera unit turned sharply about, the shutter unit pulling forward as far as it could. "Really?" he said rather curiously. If K'orrza didn't know it better, ACe almost sounded....excited. "Yeah, why not?" K'orrza said with a small grin. "Couldn't be any more boring that this nebula." "Indeed," ACe said in a rather happy sounding tone. The camera spun back around, busily shifting left and right as ACe began the calculations for a slip space jump. "You'll let me know what you find, right ACe?" K'orrza said just before stepping into the decon pod. Without bothering to turn around, ACe simply gave a small, "mm-hm," as his only response.
Oh yeah, he was excited. K'orrza simply chuckled as he closed the decon door, turned on the misting unit and began to clean himself.
.....There he was standing on the high peaks of the Steppelian Crags, looking down at the twinkling sprawl of Tandria Central, the delicate spire of the Sepulcher Tower, the seat of the Abborian High Council, nestled just at the banks of the lake, looking out in an almost loving, protective manner over the city. Aegis and Eegis, the twin moons of Abboria, stood full and proud as the sun settled over the far horizon, reflected off the lake in gold and silver hues. K'orrza looked out to this glorious sight, towards this beautiful world, and nearly wept. He could almost feel the soft H'Oarder stalks under his fingertips, the gentle and warm breeze upon his face, the final flash of light on the horizon just before the sun dipped low and that soft red glow of dayfall trumpeted the coming twilight.
That final, blessed light. It touched upon his face like a lover; golden, warm, peaceful. He closed his eyes, feeling the energy course though him, renewing his spirit like some strong tonic. At least at first. Because the once benign light seemed to pulsate and grow stronger. Even with eyes fully shut and head bowed the light managed to pierce through flesh, striking into his skull like a rusted spike. What was once a soft and gentle thing became a discomforting throbbing rhythm. Even as he turned his head, even as he lifted his hand to cover his face, it still managed to break through every defense he could muster. It brought K'orrza to his knees, he tried to cry out, to make it stop hurting, but no words could escape his lips nor words form in his throat. It wasn't until he heard that all too familiar metallic-sounding voice shouting at him that he realized that this, all of this, all of what he had seen, had simply been a dream.
"PROTECTORATE!!" ACe all but screamed at him from the cockpit, a bright pulse of the interior lights trying desperately to wake K'orrza up. K'orrza sat bolt upright from his bed, taking a moment to rub his forehead and sweep sleep from his eyes. "I'm up, I'm up!" he finally said in a dry, throaty voice. "What? What?" ACe's camera unit was all but dancing off its ceiling hinges, desperately trying to rouse his still half-asleep companion. All the while, in his excitement, the interior lights kept pulsating between bright and dim. K'orrza groaned and threw his legs over the side of the bed. taking a moment to cap a hand over his eyes. "Ahh. Please stop doing that," he begged. ACe seemed to start a little, "What? Oh. Oh, sorry." The lights dimmed finally and settled into a comfortable level. "I just thought you should see this," he said in a rather excited voice.
K'orrza exhaled deeply before rising, grabbing and putting on his uniform top. "What is it? Another rogue planetoid? By the void please don't tell me it's another neb--" "No no. No. No. Nothing of the sort," ACe seemed to giggle out. "It's a...well I think it's a probe of some kind." K'orrza blinked, moving swiftly to the cockpit viewer, his excitement breaking through the cobwebs in his sluggish mind. "In dark space? Where? Put it on screen," he said as he sank into his chair and leaned curiously towards the viewer. The fiber-steel screen quietly lit up giving ACe and K'orrza a view of the starry night ahead, the ships outer lights shining out and reflecting off a small, somewhat round looking craft. Several thin looking antenni jutted out from the circular base, itself covered over with a large white disk and central transponder unit.
ACe moved to almost shoulder level with K'orrza, his singular camera eye adjusting and readjusting in excitement. "According to initial readings," ACe seemed to calmly say, "exterior radiation dating of the hull puts it at roughly forty to fifty cycles old." K'orrza frowned, looking at the small craft. "Is it still working?" he asked quietly. "Barely," ACe was quick to point out. "I am detecting minimal power in it's core units, but judging by the power flux, it's on its last leg. I think that it's trying to communicate with its homeworld," he said. "But being this far out, I doubt very seriously the signal's powerful enough to get there before breaking down into nothing more than static."
The outer hull seemed to glitter a golden hue under the ship's landing lights, with something in particular catching K'orrza's eye. "There. Focus the lights there," he pointed to the screen, catching what looked to be some small hatch or opening. "Is there any way we can get that open?" ACe seemed to think for a moment. "Doubtful," he finally said. "The probe is too big for us to load into the cargo hold. And we don't have any instruments that we could manipulate to do what you're suggesting." K'orzza sat back and scowled a little. "There has to be some way to get that panel open," he said. ACe slowly turned to him, rolling his camera eye closer to K'orrza. "Well there is one way," he teased. K'orrza furrowed his brow plate down, still not sure what ACe was getting at. "What do you mean?" he finally asked. ACe turned away from K'orrza, gazed one more time at the small probe shimmering under the ship's lights, then back at K'orrza. "Well, sir," ACe's camera did a quick pull-in towards his face, "how extensive is your external-ship training?"
Short Story: Starlight and Song
Blog entry posted by wastelander75, Jun 25, 2012.
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