2947-05-07 - Tales from the Inbox: Angels in Sagittarius 

Since Tales from the Inbox last appeared in your ingestion feeds, Naval Intelligence has experienced a policy change. It seems they aren’t terribly interested at the moment in restricting what we publish about Angel activity (real or otherwise) on the Frontiers.

Angel activity in the Core Worlds and especially Sol is still restricted information we need to pass through the local Naval Intelligence branch office, of course. Evidently, whatever data-collaring arrangements exist between the Confederated Navy and the Angels do not extend to the borders of explored space, and  As this subject is popular with our audience, I am combing my inbox for any other stories freed for publication by this change in policy.

Today’s entry is combed from the records of Priya Ansa, a vessel owned by Gino S. Gino is familiar to this text feed: his brush with death on the far shore of the Gap a few years ago graced this space as Tales from the Inbox: The Sagittarius Sniper. Because it is derived from the datasystem of an undamaged starship, the events described in this Tales from the Inbox are quite well documented.

Not dissuaded from the Sagittarius Frontier by his experiences, Gino developed a new business model, collected investors, and returned to Sagittarius Gate. Rather than moving into that system, however, he and his new venture set up shop in the recently surveyed system Tel Ramaz.  

Gino watched the graphs and charts hungrily from his cabin aboard Priya Ansa, paying special attention to the oddly high titanium and tantalum numbers. The business model he’d presented to his investors back at Maribel was going to work – perhaps better than he had projected.

Next to the graphs, a three-dimensional map of the Tel Ramaz glowed in a display tank, and Gino wondered about the orbital mechanics that had formed the system. Dominated by twin belts of asteroids set askew from the orbital plane, Tel Ramaz had only one planet: a moonless gas giant, orbiting inside the rubble rings. The planet was in fact close enough to its sun-like stellar parent for its superheated atmosphere to glow orange-red, as if the tortured world harbored dreams of becoming a star all its own.

Tel Ramaz would be, Gino knew, the place to make his fortune. He had been wealthy all his life, growing the modest fortune left to him by his mother until the destruction of a shipyard-scale foundry apparatus at Sagittarius Gate was only a modest setback, but none of that investment wealth had been properly earned. Gino wanted to do what his mother and grandfather had – to build something of his own worthy of the wealth which would flow from it. Tel Ramaz, with its bounty of asteroid resources, seemed like the perfect place to break ground.

“Boss, we’re coming up on the test object now.”

“I’ll be up in a minute, Connelly.” Gino ran a hand through his thinning hair and stood up from the desk in his tiny cabin. Priya Ansa was almost twenty percent smaller by mass than his wrecked foundry ship Ida’s Venture, but its much larger pressure hull gave it enough space for a proper crew. For his second journey across the Gap, Gino had been able to sit back and let hired professionals fix all the things which went wrong – this cut into his margins, but the convenience had been worth it. Ansa had reached the Sagittarius shore in good order, without its owner having to perform a single EVA.

In the short walk to the command deck, Gino had plenty of time to imagine his new operation as it would be in little more than a year, sitting astride the commercial artery to the new frontier. Even with regular traffic across the Gap, explorers and colonists in Sagittarius would need some place to obtain nanoelectronic components and large structural elements their shipboard parts fabricators couldn’t produce. Ansa didn’t contain a foundry as his previous vessel had, but it contained all the equipment to manufacture a spacious habitat from native resources. Once the station was built, it would be quite empty; supplies and tooling shipped from Maribel would begin to populate it.

The command deck doors lurched open, and Gino saw the two-person duty crew lounging amid the compartment’s half-dozen consoles. The pockmarked potato shape of Asteroid TR-2B-86 tumbled lazily on several displays.

Ellen Connelly looked up at the sound of the doors. “Ready, boss?”

Though his participation was not strictly necessary, Gino grabbed a console and pulled up the core-sample probe readouts. “Mr. Jagoda, proceed with sampling.”

Madhu Jagoda sat up in his chair and gingerly put his hands to the controls. “Mining probe launch sequence. Ellen, line up the launch rails.”

Gino sat back as the two veteran spacers lined up Ansa’s bow probe launcher with the asteroid, fired the remotely operated craft off its accelerator rail, and guided it onto the target. The operation went smoothly, the core drill bit deeply into TR-2B-86, and the probe pushed off for its short return flight. Everything worked perfectly, and soon the spectrometers in the probe bay began superheating the sample to analyze its composition.

“Contact.” Connelly frowned at her display. “Jump resolution.”

“Visitors?” Gino switched his console, visions of being run down by half-legendary Sagittarian warships already replacing those of a bustling trading post astride the new frontier’s supply artery. To his relief, the three new signatures were small, the size of large yachts. “Looks like Naval Survey.”

“Negative, boss.” The pilot switched several displays to show the system map from various angles. “Look where their jumps resolved.”

Before Gino could make sense of the data on the screen, Jagoda did it for him. “That’s almost a thousand lisec inside the grav shadow. Who the hell can do that?”

Gino gaped at the display. He knew the logistics of star drives better than the physics, but any spacer knew no human star drive could plot a precise jump that deep into a grav shadow. There were of course other cultures, other sciences, and Gino salivated at the possibility of learning the strangers’ secrets, and bringing them to the spacers of the Confederated Worlds. “Are they heading for us?”

“Don’t think so.” Connelly manipulated her console until a best-guess trajectory appeared on the displays. The ships seemed intent on the superheated gas planet deep in the system. Perhaps, perched as it was at the edge of one of the asteroid belts, with its main drive powered down for the sampling exercise, Ansa had been easy to overlook.

“Database is chewing on their signatures.” Jagoda shook his head. “Hell of a lot of drive power coming off ships that small. If they see us, they can catch us, and if they’re hostile, we’re dead.”

“Let’s hope they’re not hostile, then.” Connelly focused her display on the incandescent planet. “What do they want?”

“Fuel for fusion power?” Gino knew it was a long shot; nobody with the technological prowess to push jumps so deeply into a stellar grav shadow would power their ships with mere hydrogen fusion.

“Database found a probable match.” Jagoda took over the final screen displaying the potato-shaped asteroid to display an elongated teardrop cast in gleaming metal. All three were silent for several seconds; they all recognized the craft which had, appearing for the second time in human history, turned the tide of the Terran-Rattanai War. “It can’t be Angels this far from Sol, can it?”

“I’m not going to say anything can’t be, when it comes to Angels.” Connelly swiped the communication array controls over to Gino’s console. “Up to you if you want to say hello, Boss.”

Gino blinked at the controls. Say hello to Angels? Of all the things he’d dreamed of doing in his career as an interstellar entrepreneur, talking to the most mysterious variety of sapient life had never crossed his mind. “What do you say to them?”

“Thanks for squishing the Prides, what brings you out this far?”

Gino glared at Jagoda, then jabbed the control. “Unknown Angel vessels, this is the Confederated Private Starship Priya Ansa.” After swallowing against a suddenly dry mouth, he continued. “Welcome to the Sagittarius Frontier. Is there any assistance we can render?” With that, he released the control, and his words flitted away across the void on a tight beam.

“Transmission delay, four hours.”

“Then I think I’m going back to my cabin.”

As Gino stood up to make good on his declaration, an alarm shrieked. “Contact!” Connelly shouted, calling up the helm controls to start the main drive.

Jagoda took over the sensor readouts from the pilot. “Another Angel, boss. Right on top of us!”

“Where did he come from?” The ship bucked as Connelly burned the attitude thrusters. “He’s on intercept.”

“He jumped right on top of us. That’s not-”

“Stars around, Connelly, running won’t help!” Gino grabbed his seat, directed the comms array at the newcomer, and stabbed the “transmit” button once more. “Unknown Angel vessel, this is Confederated Private Starship Priya Ansa, powering down and preparing to receive boarders.”

“Hell, boss.” Jagoda shook his head. “There’s no telling-”

Priya Ansa, entering your ship will not be necessary.” The harsh voice from the Angel ship sounded more like the product of a grinding machine than an organic throat. This was, Gino realized, the translator device their kind famously employed to parley with humans. “We intend only to scan your vessel.”

Gino shot a triumphant look at his employee. “Proceed, and apologies if we are intruding on anything.”

The Angel ship swept so close that collision alarms again wailed, then perched just outside Ansa’s much larger hull silently for several minutes. With panic receeding, Gino’s skin crawled as he imagined the secretive alien perched in his tiny ship only meters away – the Angels, their patriarchal attitude towards humans aside, were no less of an enigma than they were when their kind first appeared.

“Scan complete.” The grinding voice’s announcement produced a sigh of relief from all three humans on the Ansa command deck. “Continue your activities.”

On the display, the Angel ship turned on its axis and zipped away, only to vanish into the gravitic eddies of a jump transition only a few thousand klicks away. That close, the jump produced a fresh cacophony of alarms, which Connelly hurriedly shut off. “Damned show-offs.” Her voice carried an even mix of annoyance and grudging respect.

Gino sat back with a sigh. “That was interesting.”

Jagoda massaged his temples with his hands. “Is that what we’re calling it?”

“The other three vanished.” Connelly pointed to the system map. “Jumped out like this one, or shut down their drives and went ballistic. No way to tell with ships that small.”

“You heard the alien, people. Continue the operation.” Gino stood. “I’ll be in my cabin.”

The skeptics in the audience will observe that technically there is no proof the intruders described were Angels. A hoax or similarly-equipped culture is equally possible, but I suspect this encounter is genuine. There seems little profit in a hoax in this instance. As for what the Angels were doing at Tel Ramaz, I can only speculate that they might be doing as our own explorers do - surveying this new territory. Though they have never exhibited colonial tendencies, perhaps the Angels do indeed have need of something which the wild expanse of a Frontier might provide.