tomczerniawski's portfolio

Containing a selection of published articles from various print media.

E-ON Chronicle: Bedtime Story (fiction)

leave a comment »

Janvir Parwan smiled at the familiar sound greeting him from the conning mast’s access corridor. Little Indira was becoming a fixture on the conning bridge, the pitter-patter of her bare feet heralding her arrival whenever the child could not fall asleep – on such nights, she would jog up the long span of the Jendevi city-ship’s conning mast to extort a bedtime story from uncle Janvir.

He didn’t turn around, instead keeping his eyes fixed on the star directly ahead of the city-ship. It loomed larger than the others, and Janvir remembered when many decades ago, it was hardly distinguishable from background stars.

Indira leapt upon his back with a screech and he caught the child, laughing. “Trying to give me a heart attack, little one?”

“Unca Janvir, I couldn’t sleep, the heater is broke again!” The child’s eyes were filled with mirth, but she was shivering. Maintenance was a growing issue aboard the Deva, the great hollowed-out asteroid where the remnants of the Jendevi people had made their home for these past centuries. Janvir prayed daily that the star they approached would be their promised land. The lure of encountering another civilization was what launched the ship in the first place, but now seeking out the lost cousins of the Jendevi had taken on a life-threatening urgency. Deva was an archaic sub-light generation ship, and she wouldn’t last much longer.

“So, Indira. Which tale would you like to hear tonight?” He smiled warmly at his niece.

Indira didn’t skip a beat – “Tell me about the aliens, unca!”. Tales of the lost colonies enraptured children throughout Deva’s five hundred year journey, giving rise to generations of talented cartographers, engineers and agriculturalists – all focused on the task of reunification with the rest of mankind.

So Janvir sat with his niece, pointing out the distant star and regaling her with the tale of their history. He spoke with fondness of their Terran ancestors, who emerged from Eve’s mouth and set out for the farthest reaches of uncharted space when most other settlers were content to entrench themselves closer to the gate. He sombrely shared with Indira the collective gasp of horror that shook Jendevi society when their telescopes witnessed the cataclysm ravaging the core worlds, surely obliterating any trace of humanity caught in its reach. Finally, he told his niece of the great renaissance, when their long journey away from the gate ended, and the Jendevi finally settled on a habitable moon orbiting a gas giant. It was the only world they could find which would support life in the sparse stars far outside the Eve cluster; but there, spared of the storm, Jendevi society thrived.

“Then, the most wonderful thing happened, my little one.” Janvir’s voice swelled with excitement. “Our people launched an interstellar probe toward the core worlds to see what became of our lost cousins. Imagine our surprise when we found that not only had the gravity storm abated, but that we were receiving radio signals from a number of cultures!”

“What were they like, unca?”

“Well, they aren’t aliens, but people like us. The first people we heard from were the Amarr, but we couldn’t understand their transmissions. They were weak enough to be indecipherable, but strong enough for us to know they were man-made. Centuries later, we heard from the Gallente, who sound a lot like our people from their signals, very free spirited and artisan in nature. Then we got to know the Caldari, who are an industrial society we believe to be part of the Gallente, and the Minmatar who are at war with the Amarr. You should keep in mind, little one, that such transmissions take a long time to reach us; these people might be quite different when we finally meet them. Best of all though, we’re almost there.”

The little girl was ready to doze off in his arms, but Janvir continued, reflecting on the Deva’s construction when the Jendevi discovered the rapid decay of their moon’s orbit. The generation ship was the ark of their society; an asteroid captured from their parent planet’s ring. Within its gleaming rocky exterior lay an archive of history, including detailed timelines of the human arrival in New Eden – these would prove an invaluable gift to their lost cousins, Janvir explained, since all analysis of their transmissions indicated the core colonists who survived the cataclysm had no clue regarding their origins. Thus, Deva departed for the core, filled with nearly six hundred artisans, scientists and engineers; the cream of Jendevi society. The heart-wrenching sight of their disintegrating moon through Deva’s aft view-ports imbued their journey with a grim finality.

A panel to Janvir’s side lit up, interrupting his tale. He set the sleeping Indira down on his bench and stood bolt upright, eyes racing over newly acquired telemetry. Sweat beaded upon his brow, and Janvir raced to a communications panel.

“Yehat, get to the conning bridge. You have to see this.”

Yehat Parwan, his brother and father to young Indira, was also Deva’s chief watch officer. His bare feet made a different sort of pitter-patter, noted Janvir, as the ranking officer stormed bleary-eyed into the conning bridge, still in his pyjamas.

“You woke me up in the middle of the night, Janvir! This better be good!”

“It’s good, brother. I think we may have concluded our journey early”, exclaimed Janvir, pointing frantically at the LIDAR panel. Yehat approached it, and went pale in the face.

Centuries ago, the star Deva set course to had been identified as the closest major source of transmissions. It was decided that the red star offered the highest chance of encountering another civilization, but arrival in the solar system was still weeks away – the obstacle in Deva’s path was a far more pressing matter.

“If we reverse sub-light drives now, we’ll stop just in time to avoid ploughing into it. Looks like an asteroid belt, but look at these! The signature’s metallic and angular, and there’s dozens of them! Could it be a settlement?”

+ + +

“You seein’ what I’m seein’ on the scanner, Hirakii?”

“Well I’ll be damned… must be a drifter. Can you approximate its position?”

“It just drifted into… sixth belt, eighth planet.”

+ + +

The bridge was now packed with a crush of people, roused from slumber and wide-eyed with anticipation. After so many generations, Deva carried well over three thousand Jendevi. Nestled in the throng were Janvir and Yehat, operating the scope and LIDAR panels with frantic urgency.

“We’re in range to get that settlement on scopes now!”, cried Janvir, carefully bringing the scene into focus. Before them a large screen flickered on, and a gasp rose from the assembled mass – it was the first man-made object they had glimpsed in the better half of a millennium.

“Markings. In old tongue!” The screen struggled to resolve the white block lettering on the object’s side.

“It reads… ‘Cargo Container’ – not exactly the warm ‘welcome home, brothers’ we were hoping for, but it’ll do. Congratulations, everyone. We’re about to make first contact!”

“Look there. On the LIDAR! Are those… are those starships?”

Indeed, two great vessels had appeared on Deva’s short-range scanners, slashing into existence about thirty kilometres off her bow. Unmistakably human in design, they lit their drives and lurched toward the city-ship.

“Faster-than-light starships! Remarkable!”

“Blessed be the gods. Open radio! They must be Caldari, use the lingua-code we extracted from Caldari broadcasts! Tell them we come in peace!”

+ + +

Captain Hirakii Olokaisen of the mining barge Omber Zombie couldn’t believe his luck. This star system had been, by all accounts, stripped dry of anything remotely worthwhile, and yet here it was – the largest boulder of dark ochre he had ever laid eyes on.

The Olokaisen Corporation mining fleet’s scanner officer probed the find with his survey scanner. “A good million cubics, easy. There’s somethin’ else though, I’m readin’ a bit of titanium and a weak radio signal.”

“Who gives a rat’s ass,” barked the grizzled Olokaisen. “I’m not responsible for the last miner to spot this nugget and get so horny he crashed his barge into it. Probably just an old wreck, nothing uses radio anymore. Let’s dig in!”

+ + +

“Why are they attacking?!”

The city-ship rocked and heaved, artificial gravity plating failing beneath the terrified Jendevi colonists’ feet. Indira cried shrilly, holding tight to her father while Janvir struggled to hold on to his LIDAR console. Soon as the mysterious ships spotted them, they opened fire with bizarre absorbing rays that threatened to unmake Deva’s inner hull and expose it to space. More ships were joining them, some identical to the monstrous aggressors ravaging their home with a trio of ravening orange beams, others resembling little more than interstellar cargo trucks.

“I don’t think they’re attacking!” cried Yehat. “I think we’re being… mined! Those rays are devouring us!”

+ + +

Captain Olokaisen examined the chromatographic readout from his mining barge’s strip-mining beams. Something was off about this pebble. “Pekki, you getting anything funny from your miners? I do seem to be harvesting a lot more titanium and carbon than I should be.”

“Only thing I’m readin’ now is my wallet getting fatter, Cap’n! Probably just some gunk in the matter stream.”

“You’re right; let’s finish processing this rock before anyone else gets wise to it being here.”

With the mining fleet concentrating more and more of their hungry beams upon Deva, slowly but surely whittling the defenceless city-ship down to a pebble, the legacy of the Jendevi ended up largely pulped and reduced to rubble in the Omber Zombie’s cargo bay. They had reached the gateway to their promised land, only to stumble on its steps – and they took the secret of mankind’s origin with them to their graves.

Later that day, Hirakii Olokaisen took the liberty of watching his precious ore make its way down the conveyors of a station refinery. He eyed the gleaming boulders greedily as they tumbled into the blast furnace – until his eyes came to rest on something decidedly out of place in an ore cracking station; something that by all rights should not have survived a trip through a strip-miner’s matter buffer. It was a small child’s doll, almost comically straddling a chunk of dark ochre before it plunged into the furnace maw.

This article originally appeared in E-ON Magazine.

Back to Main

Advertisements

Written by tomczerniawski

March 14, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: