Entry 003: Life gets in the way
I nearly fell out of the bed at the outraged voice blasting from my communicator. It was Commander Grondo - I need to start calling him captain, since I’m the Infineon’s commander. He was tired of being ignored in my Hunt for Truth. “You have a freighter full of crewmen playing with themselves because we have nothing to do! Our supplies will begin to run low! Do your job unless you want me to do it for you!”
Actually, I had left orders and an itinerary so he could do my job for me, but he was letting me know they might mutiny. And right now, the Infineon was my home, and having a freighter, particularly a long range freighter, was a valuable resource itself, even if it needed a good budget to run. So I went prospecting, and came across some great finds. Lots of copper and emeril. I also learned a few more details about my past.
My gear was all heavily upgraded. Looking through my tech tables, I found that the Multitool upgrade the Vy’keen gave me was marginally better than what I had so I swapped it in, but my tool was already a potent device. My ship was loaded with weaponry, and both it, my suit and the Infineon had massive cargo space, so I could store incredible stock of resources. I could dimly recall getting my last suit space opened at a drop pod on some world, and the crazy amount it cost, hundreds of thousands of credits. I was also stunned to see that I could transfer cargo directly to the Infineon, even though it was in another star system! I couldn’t believe it at first, but reasoned that there must be a tie-in through the Teleporter system linking space stations, which as far as I knew had no limit. What a fortunate revelation that was. If only I could build a Teleporter in my freighter.
I also made another discovery just then. Going through my base support units, I came across a Signal Booster, which I realized was a locator beacon in my portable tech list. Of all the things to forget! And it didn’t need much to fabricate, so I crafted one right up and tried it, and found to my chagrin that it only worked three tries, then quit, and it found a Shelter, Transmission Tower and Observatory. Not a single Minor Outpost, Trading Post or the nearby Colossal Archive. But, we can have quark-perfect teleportation across interstellar distances. The tech available in this universe was downright irrational.
The suit scanner though worked like a charm, and I spotted a ruin within a short jaunt. My suit was equipped with a lot of assists: I could run for a good quarter-kilometer, and jetboost for half, so it wasn’t very long before I happened on it, but it was a disappointing wreck. No Tablets or Obelisks, just a collapsed mess of stone. Still, something had pinged on my scanner, so I searched, and underground were several returns. I dug some of them up, and discovered Ancient Keys, which came in handy, because in the center of the site was some sort of crypt. Digging my way down to it, the keys were needed to unlock the ancient relic, and with some effort I got it open. Within was a truly archaic looking tome, a massive book with writing I could barely make out. It seemed to have some ages old lore of the Vy’keen in it. The scanner gave me a ballpark estimate of its value at several hundred thousand credits. Wow. I didn’t really need the money, but who was I to say no to a find like that?
I went ahead and summoned the Infineon to give the crew something to break up the monotony, and transfered some cargo to them to take to a nearby system where we could sell it for a profit. I did some shopping at the Archive and I found that they sold Planetary Locators, which were good for finding outposts, ruins or crashed vessels. I filled up two suit slots with the first two. I also found terminals where I could sell ancient artifacts, though the book didn’t seem to register on it. I sold it on the Trade Terminal for a nice bit more than the estimate.
To my surprise, when I flew up to the Infineon, there were a couple of other freighter fleets parked near the station and I got messages from the captains. They wanted to trade cargo, and hey, why not? They were impressed with the Infineon’s massive bulk and substantial cargo capacity. Going aboard one, I was surprised to see a Traveler at the ship’s mission terminal, a female feloid, and I found her attractive. Very attractive, and I realized something.
I was a single man without a homeworld, without a people, without much of any kind of cultural or social foundation. I would want to get married at some point, or “join lives” as the Three Races put it, and this meant joining with an alien. And I wasn’t put off by the idea. I’m not a racist, but people tend to want to be with those of their own kind. This looked to be impossible now. I had come across no information of any other American or “Human” as I recalled my race’s name, so I was faced with the prospect of choosing another race or die a bachelor. The thought of being with a Vy’keen seemed… rough. The bird-beaked Gek were too toady, and the Korvax, who I would otherwise find to be quite compatible, were essentially androgynous machine folk. But she seemed… nice. Still, I couldn’t recall ever making overtures to any being, so I was a bit lost on how to greet her. Maybe being a fellow Traveler would be enough of an ice breaker. I approached her, noting her eyeing me as I came up, and introduced myself.
“I am… busy,” she replied a bit coldly, and I withered, as she seemed to simply be standing at attention.
“Pardon my interruption. I won’t bother you,” I told her, and began to walk away.
“Nigel,” she said, and dust seemed to come off of another old memory. My name was Nigel Fox, which I rarely used. Our suits apparently handled much of our introductions for us, displaying names of those we meet when we looked directly at them. Hers was Kyleen. Maybe the similarity to “Vy’keen” made her seem more tolerable to the leathery warriors. While I hoped she would want to talk further, she merely said, “I will remember you, and your credentials.”
Well, that was something, anyway. But then as I went to speak with the captain, I noticed the features of the bridge showing through her translucent body, and it struck me that she wasn’t even tangible - she was a Traveler! I was so caught up in potential ardour that I completely forgot she wasn’t exactly “there.” The lament of that first encounter with one at the station came back to haunt me… no love for a Traveler. Well, grah…
The trade deal was a blur, as I was feeling rather glum over my romantic prospects. What would I do? I didn’t recall even a hint of another Human in the galaxy, and all I knew of sentient beings were the Three Races, none of which appealed to me. I tried to cheer myself up with thoughts of my Truth Hunt, which I was anxious to get back to.
I got another communication as I went to space, and this time it was from one of the frigates. “Interloper-Traveler, I offer you my services. You have no fleet! A freighter needs frigates to support it, and our ship will bring you glory!” I examined its statistics, and it was a Support ship of some capability, and had some trade experience. They wanted two million some-odd units to hire, and I was good for it. So I transfered the money over, and the captain clapped his hands in delight. “You have chosen without regret!” Right after that, I got several more calls. I was evidently making something of a name for myself. The Infineon was a Capital Class vessel, S ranked, and they weren’t very common. Not to mention, commanded by a Traveler, so I found a number of recruits. Two Vy’keen Fighters, two Korvax Explorers, a Gek Trader and another Support vessel. I was beginning to feel like quite the little emperor.
Captain Grondo then sent me a message which I didn’t want to hear. “Interloper-commander! I have plotted a course to a nearby system which reports precious stuff, uranium and other things. We should go there while there are good deals to be made!” He wouldn’t listen to my attempts to put him in charge of all that, insisting I need to improve my prestige. And thinking about it, it may well be a good idea to work on that. A Traveler of some repute might have advantages dealing with reluctant scholars, among others.
As I settled into the ship bay, a Fighter landed next to me, and it was a sharp looking craft. A Shuttle landed behind him. The pilots got out and came up to me, wanting to deal. This day was becoming quite the dealmaker. It hadn’t occurred to me to think of another Fighter, Shuttle or whatever, but I had the funds. Looking them over, the Fighter in particular was rakish and capable, and S Class, with room for improvement beyond what Nerimaba offered. Thirty million credits later, I had two new craft. The pilots entertained themselves in the lounge while they awaited a ride, and I had the Vy’keen chief tech help me transfer over my upgrades to the new Fighter, which I re-christened Scimitar.
I had a feeling that if I told the captain I would jump over to the next system myself, he wouldn’t have it, so I went to the console and set course - I am the Commander, after all - and after the colorful light show of hyper-tunneling to the next system, we emerged with the blast of space being ruptured. It’s always an amazing sight when ships jump in with the blaze of light, and a schockwave carried by even the vacuous stellar wind.
But there was another shock as alarms began to sound with a loud claxon and flashing red lights. Captain Grondo bellowed, “Pirates attacking a cargo fleet! To defense stations!”
I had the best defense station of them all, and wanted to see what the Scimitar had over Nerimaba. The crew watched as I dashed to the landing bay and hopped into the new Fighter, doing a quick launch. I wasn’t sure what I was heading into, but something always drives me to defend others. I quickly familiarized myself with the new control scheme while I boosted towards the obvious site of the battle. A group of Freighters in the distance was being hounded by enemy ships, streaks of energy beams gleaming over the faintly colored nebula beyond. Their targets ended up being a rather motley bunch of craft, Fighters of various kinds mixed with a few Shuttles, but evidently heavily armored as the other Fighters chasing them seemed to be having a tough time of it. Red pippers marked the bad guys for me, and when I was in effective combat range, a lock indicator seized on the closest one. Seeing a new opponent, the pirate fired on me, but the shields held against the few shots that landed. I returned fire, doing my best to angle away from the friendlies, and was gratified to see the hooligan’s craft erupt in flames and explode. The wrecks of dead fighters littered the nearby space, so I had no sympathy for these miscreants.
Evidently one of them caught this quick dispatch of one of their fellows, which earned me the attention of three others, who set on me. They quickly caught on that I wouldn’t fire with friendly vessels behind them, and set up their patterns accordingly. But they also couldn’t fly too close or the ship’s turrets would catch them, so I managed to get behind one and dispatched him in short order. But this left me open to the other two who fired on me good, and I watched the shielding gauge nervously, but thank God they were high order materials, and self healing. The Scimitar shrugged them off well and I pulled an immelman to get behind one, which tried to shake me off but I led him slightly, guided by an advanced combat computer, and fired through the center of his ship, chewing it in half.
His friend didn’t like that at all and evidently called for help from his comrades, because after I did him in it seemed like I was the center of attention. Fortunately, the other Fighters were enough of a nuisance that I wasn’t completely at their mercy, and a few that I had weakened fell to the defenders. I could hear radio chatter from the friendly ships amazed at the combat prowess of this unknown interloper. I tagged a friendly with a few shots, which earned me an angry call, and a green arrow showed over his craft. Wonderful.
But now I had a real fight on my hands. Behind me, I could hear metal sizzling, and a red glow lit up my cockpit as the leader gave me a good raking with Phase Beams. My shields were being burned away at an alarming rate. I made a desperate maneuver, nearly running into a friendly, as I fought to get him off my tail, but he was a pilot of high marks, and he switched back to Photon Cannons while his Phaser cooled. I had one trick left up my sleeve, and put the engines in full reverse, which had my head snapping forward and my eyes bugging out. If this worked, I would have to recover quickly. I was counting on him having enough sense to swerve around me, and he was an experienced dogfighter and missed me handily, but now I had the advantage as he zoomed past. Still, he didn’t give me many clean shots, making sure to place himself between me and the Freighters, and then to my chagrin, flew in close over the hull of the vessel, away from their turrets. This wasn’t going to be easy.
I did have one card left to play, and switched to missiles. They weren’t very strong, but their accuracy was near perfect. I launched a few salvos, and they caught him in the engines. He had enough and pulled up sharply to head to empty space. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the others following suit as their quick pillaging run had gone badly. But I wasn’t about to let him get away to pirate another day, and boosted after him. He was already trailing smoke and couldn’t push his ship too hard, so he was easy prey. I almost felt sorry for him, almost, as those fallen ships testified of their ruthlessness, and blasted him to oblivion. None of them bailed out, which made me wonder just what sort of people these Pirates were. I had a feeling that P should be capitalized.
My headphones rang with jubilant Vy’keen cries at their salvation by this unknown savior, and as I idled down, heading back towards the fleets huddled around the Space Station, I got a call from one of the captains. “Interloper! You show no signs of weakness. Such fighting spirit is worthy of a Vy’keen! Come aboard my ship. I want to reward you.”
I signaled my assent, but then swallowed nervously as a Fighter formed up alongside me, with a green arrow over his ship. Oh great, the one I inadvertently shot, and he was looking at me intently from his cockpit. But a few tense moments later, he waggled his wings and I breathed easier, briefly, as we were both headed for the Freighter. No doubt, I was in store for a talking to. And sure enough as we touched down in the landing bay, he tromped up, removing his helmet. “Interloper! You shot my ship! Be more watchful when you enter a fight which is not yours!”
Something told me that I was evidently a fighter pilot in some previous instance, perhaps even in the American Space Force, and I knew a thing or two about combat. “When a fighter is on a hunt, you KNOW what his focus is! YOU need to be more careful than to wander into the attack!”
He scowled at me for a moment, but with a hard punch to the chest he burst out laughing. “Well spoken! An interloper with the heart of a Vy’keen! I will remember you and make your name known across the stars!” Nigel the Fearsome, or something… it had a ring to it.
I proceeded to the bridge, and to my surprise the captain offered me his Freighter. I knew it was a good ship but he wanted a trade, and the Infineon was too great a vessel to ever let go of. I waved him off as politely as I understood Vy’keen etiquette to be. “It was a small deed. There is no need to be that generous.”
He laughed with what seemed mixed emotion. Maybe I had the reputation of an adventurer who managed to find himself in the midst of some good troubles. “Then take this as reward. Those clods were letting those Pirates have their way with us!” He authorized the transfer of 450 units of Chromatic metal, which was a nice prize.
I was curious about them, and asked what he could tell me about these Pirates. “Ohh… that nuisance! They prey on us sometimes, and cause a few deaths. The Sentinels try to kill us if we step on a flower, but when real evil is happening, they do nothing! Hirk was right in wanting to destroy them, even if it cost us to a handful of people left standing. In this Reset, they seem to be a bit more trouble. What a strange Dream to wake up to.”
Dream… that word bothered me, because it indicated a world which wasn’t real. I asked, “Why do your people refer to this world… as a Dream?”
He blinked at me, clearly surprised at the question, but gave me an answer that sounded politically disposable. “Oh… that is just what we call it. Whether Hirk started that tradition, or the Ancients before us, we do not know. We know the difference. It is just a word.” I had a funny feeling though that it wasn’t.
I had things to do, and thanked him before departing. “Keep up this Walk, Interloper-Traveler! You will carve a bright mark against the stars worthy of Hirk!” That, I knew, was some high praise. I was learning that I was making quite a name for myself, Nigel, the undaunted Truth Hunter.
I received a few more offers from Frigates as I emerged from the ship’s bay, and collected a couple more Fighters, Explorers, Traders, Industrials and a Support. This reputation thing was beginning to pay dividends, but it was also increasing the cost side of the budget, so I would have to take this position of mine more seriously. I’m sure the Gek would be apalled at the careless disregard of my little empire, and the captain seemed likewise inclined. I also noticed that my ship had been queried, and the identity of the inquirer was an ominous question mark.
I would have to think about that later, as I had a task set ahead of me, so down to the surface of a promising planet I flew. It was an M Class star system, a red star, and those worlds tended to be rather inhospitable. This one was, Gruvos-Mrnul, a radioactive world I intended to spend as little time on as possible. My shielding was superb, but I knew it wasn’t perfect, and wanted as little radiation damage as possible. Still, there were a lot of minerals to collect. There was also some morbidly twisted flora which netted me some nice units when scanned, and some strange creatures, all of which looked ghastly from enduring such a miserable environment. One in particular worried me; a small crab or spider-like critter that scurried up to unsuspecting prey and bit them. The hapless victims tried to run off, but quickly succumbed to what must be a venom. What on Earth kind of poisons could be festering in such a creature on a rad world like this? The scan was a bit disturbing.
Weight / size: 29kg / 62cm
Behavior: ruthless stalker
Diet: blood and flesh of prey
Venom: radioactive, highly toxic
I was mining an iridium outcropping when I felt a sharp jab on my leg, and jumped when I saw one of those little monsters chittering angrily at being denied an easy kill. My suit had defended me, but this was a startling surprise and out of pure reflex, scorched the little freak with my Mining Laser. I had to leave because a nearby Sentinel sounded like it disapproved, and jetboosted to the other side of a hill. Fortunately I got a good bit of uranium, gold, indium - I had mistaken it for iridium, yet another vestige of a previous world, no doubt, and a few other finds. Some intriguing items popped up on my scanner, but I had to abandon them. This world gave me the willies, and some kind of an annoying rad storm was brewing that was raising the radiation levels alarmingly. The captain mocked my early departure. “Some radiation? A scary bug? Maybe I should have the cook make cookies for you, Interloper! Maybe we should do this work for you, if small troubles frighten you!” He liked the cargo I had, though.
I flew to the station for a decontamination and a check on prices in the region, when I caught sight of another Traveler. He was a robot, and having some sort of discussion with a Vy’keen, so I waited for an opening. As usual he was glad to meet me, and as usual, it resulted in a weird exchange, though this one was the strangest yet.
“Ah, fellow Traveler! Have you been figuring things out?” I was more curious to hear his side of that story, and inquired. “Don’t you understand it? Why we cannot meet, why we find only hollow shells or corpses? There is only one of us for each Iteration - a single Traveler, sent out to explore its vast Creation. That we are speaking at all, that the boundaries have only crumbled as much as they have - it should fill you with terror, not with hope.”
This was a mind-boggling encounter, and he had thrown an awful lot at me in just a few sentences. I tried to grapple with some sort of priority, and asked him about these boundaries first. He replied, “The Boundaries are all that separate Concept from Concept, Instance from Instance, possible world from possible world… the Sentinels ever policing their anomalies and breaches. If the Boundaries were to fall, everything would collapse into everything, an endless bonfire of causation, burning in the Abyss.”
That was indeed terrifying, and the two Vy’keen standing nearby edged away, not wanting to hear any more of this, but unable to completely leave it. Was this what caused the Resets? I asked what he knew of this, and how. “Isn’t it self-evident? The universes, the Instances, are all in an unstable state, in constant flux to one degree or other. The evidence? The Sharded planets, with their corrupted, contrary physics where sometimes even gravity misbehaves. The merged worlds, where two planets are joined sphere to sphere, where only one should own that orbit. The Resets which afflict us all periodically to various degrees. The very nature of we Travelers, meeting but never truly able to meet, or bond in love.”
While that bothered me, that was the least of my troubles. I refused to believe that there was only one Traveler per Instance, and was rescued from this dilemma with a memory that Travelers had journeyed together, built bases together, made discoveries and achieved things together. Still, that was a thin comfort, because it could have merely been a juxtaposition of unknown factors, as my first Traveler had mentioned. It made me lonely, and I didn’t want to deal with that just then. The problem of a universe in a perpetual state of decay was truly disturbing, but then, what was the solution to that? Was ATLAS the only answer, a fickle computer with its own computational agenda with no consideration of the countless beings who needed a stable universe to live in? And there was the question of what he said, something about being sent out to explore its Creation. “Well… are we creations of ATLAS? If so, why does it want us to explore its creation? I don’t see the point, if it made the whole mess of Instances, and populates the universes with Sentinels which are constantly scanning every damn thing.”
He chuckled ruefully. “That is the question, is it not. There is something within us that drives us to pursue this quest for knowledge, to explore, to experience. It is relentless. But we have no real origin. You don’t recall any family or upbringing, do you?” That was another troubling question. Though I did, it was something that seemed to belong to another universe entirely. I didn’t know how to answer. “See? I awoke on a world which I did not fly to, besides a wrecked ship which was mine but with no memory of owning it. I suspect you had the same experience.” The look on my face said it all. “It is the Awakening shared by all Travelers. There is some unique Cause which is our Source. The Ancients, if they are the Fourth Race, or actually the First… I cannot ascribe this kind of power to them, as they are gone. Or at least beyond our reach. The other Three, they are merely bystanders in this story… this Dream, as the Vy’keen put it. They may well be right in that, but it is hard to say. Research of that level is beyond my capability.”
My mind was burning with questions, and I had little time to get to them. I had to know more, so much more, and demanded, “How do you know all this? I need the resources you have access to.”
Somehow, I could see a smug look on his face. “I have no single source for you. You must ask of all you meet of all Three Races, and you must build up your reputation among them. You will gradually accumulate all kinds of information. Some of it won’t make sense, some of it is fecium. But the more data you gather, the clearer the Truth will become to you.” He leaned closer, and added guardedly, “I will say that while all Three Races have a bias, the truest knowledge will be found with the Korvax, particularly the priesthood.” What was with all the conspiracy with these people? Was this kind of knowledge a closely held secret? Then again, the Korvax were definitely that way. He went on, “You must accept their missions, their challenges, and you will garner standing with them. Higher standing will naturally result in more openness and acceptance, and they will more readily share their wisdom.”
“Yes, a couple of them have spoken to me about staying on the Walk,” I informed him.
This impressed him. “If they have mentioned The Walk, then you must already have a reputation with them. Our Vy’keen friends are all buzzing about you, thanks to your latest rescue of their fleet, and they usually don’t gush so enthusiastically.” I looked to the two warriors a few paces off, and they nodded with a thumbs up. He noticed with a metallic smile. “In that case, you may not have to mess with their Mission Stations so much, though it is a good idea to take a mission once in a while to show you still covet their favor.”
I nodded, and tried to pat him on the shoulder in vain. It’s hard to keep that intangibility in mind when they seem so present. “Thank you very much. I truly appreciate this terrible conversation.”
He gave me a good natured laugh, though I didn’t see the humor in his reply. “Enjoy this universe while you can, before the Last Days befall us. Oh, and take this. It will do no good, but you will need it.” He played with his tablet, and a ping sounded in my suit. In my manifest appeared a new item: sanitized pheromone bottles. What the hell… and just what did he mean by that! But he was already departing, and had used the station’s Teleporter before I could get an answer from him. A nearby Gek chittered in some mirth. “Travelers. What a mystery they are. If you are baffled also, then you are a strange one indeed!”
Seriously. I was beginning to feel like the entire universe was punking me. I had to reach that sage!
I wasn’t very talkative when I came back aboard, and Captain Grondo didn’t know what to make of me. He knew that we Humans were a moody race, rather like Vy’keen were a grumpy race. We both let our emotions have a lot of control, but ours were all over the place, and he wasn’t sure how to handle a dour commander when I would be expected to be so upbeat after a successful run. And I wasn’t sure what the captain would make of a Freighter commander who wanted to galavant across the Euclid galaxy willy nilly in an unprofitable and unglorious search for Truth. After pestering me for a while in a way that seemed gentle for a Vy’keen, I decided to throw a dart in the dark with him. “Why do Vy’keen call this world a dream?”
It was such an off the wall question out of the blue, he wasn’t sure what to make of it, though it seemed he was beginning to read me. He looked uncomfortable. “Urrgh… I don’t care about such stuff.”
“I do,” I replied curtly. “It has to do with the Resets, doesn’t it?”
It wasn’t really a question. He seemed evasive again. “…Maybe.”
“Maybe? I think you know…” He looked displeased at my beginning affront, and I decided to try a Vy’keen angle instead. “You hate the Sentinels, don’t you?”
His eyes opened wide. “Hate? Hirk’s Blood!” He spat, and pounded the table with his fist. “With all my guts I hate them! They are a PLAGUE! Those damned Gek brought them back after Hirk drove them from the Outer Rim! We could have ALL owned this galaxy if not for those dumb frogs!”
“And the ATLAS?”
“Even WORSE!” he bellowed, and I heard similar cries out in the hall from the crew. “ATLAS is to blame for everything! The Sentinels are its ENSLAVERS! This universe is a dungeon because of it! And it won’t give us a good Dream that lasts!”
“I know.” I put my hand over his fist lightly. It was one of the ways that tended to get his attention, to be meek after one of his tirades. “I know… Lord how I know. I feel the same, sort of. I’m as worried as you are angry.”
“Worried?” He almost looked startled at my admission, as he knew I meant it for the universe and all its beings. “Why? Nothing can change it. This Dream is what it is. Just enjoy it while you can, because the Last Days may come.”
That term really worried me, because no one seemed to use it interchangeably with Reset. There just couldn’t be an end to Everything. I shook my head. “I can’t accept that. Anything can be changed, if you just know the way. I have to try.”
He studied me in silence for a moment, wondering about this being that stumbled into his life, who almost singlehandedly takes on hoards of Pirates and wins, but is afraid of bugs. He finally smirked at me. “Bah. You want to walk like a god, but even Hirk couldn’t. You are no Hirk.” He went to the door, lingering in the threshhold. “But… you have spirit, and determination, like Hirk in his youth. Show me that you can be Hirk in his strength, Interloper.”
I gave him a nod, to which he grunted and left. Hirk was an impossibly big legend. This was an impossibly big challenge. But if I failed, what would be the difference?