2946-06-12 - Tales from the Inbox: The Sagittarius Sniper 

Given Admiral Ilic's decision to announce the Navy's new initiative to accelerate exploration and survey of the far shore of the Sagittarius Gap on our vidcast two days ago, I went looking through our audience submissions for stories from that far-flung region. I was surprised to find several; evidently, our audience contains a fairly large number of people who wear the Centaur Badge, and a few of them are only too happy to share their experiences.

Gino S., a veteran spacer and modestly successful businessman, sent this story in almost two years ago; it's a shame the pictures he sent along with his story cannot be transmitted across a text-only feed.

I know the datasphere has been reacting pretty wildly to the announcement, both positively and negatively. Perhaps you would be surprised to know that the Cosmic Background audience's response has been fairly sedate. A quick analysis of the feedback which has reached the studio indicated to us that most of it is either slightly favorable or neutral to this policy; while this is not a scientific analysis of all interstellar professionals, it's a good indicator that the controversy is brewing largely outside the spacer community. Keep that in mind as the discussions around this new initiative develop.

Cosmic Background and its personalities don't have anything else to add to the conversation at this time. If that changes, expect either an Editor's Loudspeaker item on this feed, or for the topic to come up on future vidcasts. We appreciate the admiral's decision to announce major policy changes on our vidcast program, and hope that, controversy or no, she feels welcome to come back for another interview at a later date.

Gino S. breathed a sigh of relief when the last jump resolved, and the cold blue light of Sagittarius Gate flooded through his viewpanel. The star, still an incandescent mote many light-hours away, nevertheless possessed the power to cast faint shadows in the dimly lit cockpit. 

For two months, Gino had spent completely alone in the tiny crew compartment of Ida's Venture. The autopilot had done most of the work, leaving him to perform maintenance, read, watch archived vidcasts, and do anything else to avoid paying attention to the perfect solitude through which his ship was traveling. Normally, he liked working alone, but this time, he’d come to regret the solitude. 

Though Gino had crossed the Sagittarius Gap voluntarily, visions of massive profits dancing in his head as he shoved off at Maribel, he'd decided after only two jumps into the Gap that he hated its pure emptiness with a passion that exceeded all rationality. In a way he dimly recognized was unhealthy, Gino had also concluded that the Gap hated him back and wanted him dead. Too many things had gone wrong in transit for him to blame mere chance for his troubles. 

The trouble had started only a few jumps out from Maribel. Despite having been extensively overhauled before departure, Venture’s star drive unit had broken down early in the trip. It had done so again on two later occasions, and each time Gino had suited up and clambered out onto the hull to make repairs. The atmospherics had broken down once, the navigation computer had reset and lost its course four times, and the food synthesizer had broken down twice, the second time in a way Gino couldn’t fix himself. For the last week, the lone spacer had been gulping down evil-tasting nutrient sludge without it being made into palatable substances by the machine, fighting his gag reflex with every meal. 

Still, despite the best efforts of the malicious Gap, he'd made it through, and now the star which had been a faint pinprick in his astrogation telescope from Maribel was a blazing mote dead ahead. Sagittarius Gate, a blue giant too volatile to permit planets, had been the guiding star for brave explorers crossing to the Sagittarius Arm for as long as Reach humans had dared to cross the Gap, due to its brightness and the fact that it stood alone nearly a hundred light-years out into the emptiness of the Gap. 

Gino set a leisurely course in-system toward the star, flicking on his wide-angle radio receiver and piped the result to the cockpit speakers. At Sagittarius Gate, empty and likely had been since the beginning of time, the radio bands were filled with the purest natural white noise, a soothing hiss in his ears. Though the blue giant had briefly hosted expeditions to Sagittarius, no human had ever stayed long. From Sagittarius Gate, most of those previous explorers had gone on to other stars near the Sagittarius shore, looking for life-bearing planets. 

Gino, however, had other ideas. All his life he had never wanted anything to do with planets. Where many spacers dreamed of cool, green hills and open skies, he instead preferred the smaller, sanitary spaces only artifice could create. Sagittarius Gate itself was the object of his journey alone aboard Ida’s Venture. 

As soon as Gino had set the autopilot onto a course that would suit his needs, he left the controls and climbed down the ladder into the depths of the ship to a control panel hastily installed in an aft-facing bulkhead. From that panel, control cabling ran into the vast unpressurized spaces that made up most of Ida's Venture, and the signals that flashed down these cables began to wake huge banks of machinery which had been dormant since the last set of tests Gino had run at Maribel. 

As he watched, the panel's indicators lit up red, then turned one by one to yellow, then to green, and finally to blue. The shipyard-grade mass fabricator and asteroid-harvesting rig Gino had procured at no small expense had survived the trip. The deck shuddered as the equipment shifted out of its stowage mode and began a series of preprogrammed self tests. 

Satisfied, Gino left the patch panel and headed back up to the cockpit, where he could start looking for asteroids with the right composition to start building his station. Soon, he would be the only source of replacement starship parts on the far side of the Gap – a supplier positioned where his own voyage had more than proved there would be regular demand. He could even fix his own food processing machinery – but that could wait until after the critical work of building the station had been completed and opened for business. 

Gino didn't get even halfway up the ladder before something went wrong. A screeching noise like tearing metal carried through the structure of the ship, accompanied by a flickering of the overhead lights. Gino hesitated, fighting panic, wondering whether he should hurry to the cockpit or back down to the console he'd just departed. 

As he hesitated, there was a second shriek of tortured metal, and this time the ship's A-grav unit failed. Since he was not crushed against a bulkhead by four gees of acceleration with the loss of the A-grav system’s artificial gravity and inertial isolation, Gino concluded that the main gravitic drive had also gone offline.  

The loss of critical starship systems told Gino which direction he needed to go. No stranger to microgravity, he grabbed the ladder-rungs and pulled himself up toward the cockpit, focusing on the bright side of his predicament – the overhead lighting had stopped flickering and had not switched to dimmer emergency-power settings, so he still had main power. The phased-matter reactor aboard Ida’s Venture had, fortunately, not been affected. 

Reaching the cockpit and strapping himself into the pilot's seat to avoid drifting away, Gino checked the readouts. Everything was still green, except the A-grav and gravitic drive unit, which were both off. The computer system offered no explanation for this except an incomprehensible error Gino had never seen before. A quick view of the cameras in the evacuated hold showed the machinery there to have halted in a partially unpacked state. 

Gino jabbed the control to restart the ship's A-grav axis, then watched the readout as it went through its startup sequence. Everything appeared normal, and soon enough, he felt the tug of amplified gravity, weak at first but increasing steadily. 

Now more confused than concerned, Gino kicked off every diagnostic sequence Ida's Venture had. Mechanical problems this far from home were bad enough; even a minor unaddressed failure could cost his life if he couldn’t fix it before he finished building his station. He was almost unsurprised when none of the diagnostics discovered any errors, except that the ship was slightly off its predicted course. 

Gino resigned himself to manually checking every system, cable feed, and relay on the ship, if that was what it took to find this new fault. He released his restraints and climbed back down the ladder to the vacsuit locker. As far as he could tell, the problem had started when he'd activated the payload, so the fault would be found there, in machinery he hadn't even looked at since he’d left Maribel. Perhaps one of the power conduits had been damaged and shorted into the ship’s structure, but even that would explain only the machinery’s halting and the flickering lights, not the loss of A-grav or the drive. 

Through the airlock, Gino jabbed at a control on his suit’s wrist to switch on the lights in the hold. His vast bank of machines, half-unfolded, looked like a titanic horror coiled into a burrow too small for its grandeur, waiting for a chance to spring out and devour whatever disturbed its slumber. Fortunately, even when it was on, the asteroid harvesting rig ate only asteroids and metal debris, and then only on his command – its conjoined twin, the shipyard fabricator, ate only raw materials the former delivered it. 

As he pushed off from the airlock doorway toward his monster, Gino could see nothing wrong; evidently, the machinery had simply failed and stopped all motion partway through a diagnostic. Only when he got closer did he see the problem. There was a hole large enough to accommodate his helmet in the machine's housing, directly over the mass fabricator's control unit. 

Cursing under his breath, the lone entrepreneur clambered up to examine the damage. The machinery was the seed of his new fortune, but it had cost a not-inconsiderable fortune to procure. If he couldn’t repair it, he would be forced to turn Ida’s Venture around and make the lonely trip back to Maribel, gulping down untreated nutrient slurry the whole way. 

Levering himself up the side of the machinery, Gino realized immediately that there was no repairing what had been done to his equipment. The hole, its edges not burnt, nor bent, nor cracked, bored cleanly through the heart of the gigantic machine and out the other side. He switched on his helmet light and saw through this tunnel a similar hole in the hold’s thin hull beyond the machinery. The vast, sinister fabricator which he had yoked to build his dreams was truly dead, and its conjoined twin, weighed down by the fabricator’s sudden dead weight, lay paralyzed under its bulk. 

Turning away from the hole, Gino saw the entry wound – a perfectly circular hole in the hull behind him, directly in line with the damage to his machinery. Through this hole, he saw only the vast emptiness of space, and he was glad that the blue-giant star’s piercing radiation was not in line to blind him through this unplanned viewport. 

“Hells." Gino muttered to himself, the dreams of fortune which had brought him to Sagittarius Gate boiling away into the void. “If I didn’t know any better, I would say someone was shooting at me."

2946-06-09 - Special Announcement: Interview with Admiral Ilic

Tomorrow's vidcast episode features a special interview with Vice-Admiral Adriana Ilic, the newly appointed commander of the Naval Survey Auxiliary. Topics covered during this interview will include the scandal which ousted her predecessor, the state of the Auxiliary after recent budgetary cutbacks, plans for expansion of the Maribel starport and service yard, and the growing public demand for the Survey to increase the speed with which it declares worlds fit for colonization.

The interview is expected to fill the entire time of the episode, and as such Feedback Loop with Sovanna Rostami has been moved to the episode which will be made available today.

2946-06-09 - Tales from the Inbox: KR-122

"Quetzalli to unidentified ship, transmit identity and state your business." Nirav tried to sound as authoritative as possible. With Quetzalli's transmission laser locked onto the oncoming vessel and boosted to full power, he had no doubt the transmission had gotten someone’s attention. 

As soon as he released the transmit control, a timer began to count down the seconds until his transmission had reached its target. With no information on the ship except the size and range of a blip on his display, Nirav could do little but wait for a reply. 

On the other side of the plot, a cluster of much larger markers represented the rest of the convoy and its hired escorts – little Quetzalli was the last ship in line. Nirav, the only member of Quetzalli's compliment on duty in the middle of the third shift, didn’t want to wake the others – after all, he knew they were all sleeping. 

"On duty” was a rather generous name for what Nirav was doing, and he knew it. He had no idea how to fly the ship; he was on the command deck solely to answer the comms and wake the others in an emergency. With the ship’s helm slaved to the convoy control network through all its star-drive hops and local-space maneuvers, Nirav spent most of his duty hours playing games on the console. 

Newer ships’ computers could field comms inquiries automatically and even detect emergencies, but Quetzalli had been purchased in a hurry and on a tight budget. Its crew module, only one hundred square meters of deck space divided into seven cramped compartments, had been designed with a small family in mind, and it was an uncomfortably small home for five adults, none of them habitual spacers. The novelty of interstellar travel had worn off in the first week, and by the second, restless tempers had flared, and by the third, they’d cooled again into a collective lukewarm apathy. For Nirav, everything had settled into a dull routine of bland meals and sleep, duty shifts and empty hours in the lounge. 

Of course, now there was a new ship on the nav plot, creeping up to the convoy in interstellar space. With no stars within fifteen ly, the stranger could not be a chance meeting. Nirav suspected it was a straggler, another small ship like Quetzalli which had suffered a misjump or fallen behind, but he also remembered stories he’d read back on Earth about the spacer outlaws who supposedly infested the Coreward Frontier. Might a single small pirate ship try its luck against the convoy’s superannuated Navy escorts? 

The timer on the console ticked over to zero, then turned yellow and began counting back up, indicating that Nirav’s transmission had reached its target. After the same amount of time elapsed, the timer turned green. Most spacers probably didn’t need the computer to remind them of the limitations of light-speed on radio waves, but Nirav was glad of the help. 

Two seconds after the numbers turned green, a response came in. “This is KR-122, Lagounov speaking.” The voice was a woman’s, nasal and bearing an accent Nirav didn’t recognize. “Returning to formation.” 

Nirav decided he’d been right about the ship being a straggler. Though dominated by three huge liners, the convoy had dozens of smaller, older ships like Quetzalli, and any of them might suffer a misjump due to a calibration error or equipment fault, landing far outside the intended arrival area.  

After several seconds, though, Nirav realized that the incoming ship still had no information tag on his display. This meant KR-122 had no functioning identification transponder. The inspector from the Navy escort squadron had buried his rhetorical boot in the posterior of Quetzalli’s little crew back at Centauri for failing to keep their transponder in good order for just this reason. If a ship did happen to mis-jump, the slaved autopilot would automatically try to return to formation at high speed, but only with a working transponder would the Navy know not to fire on the straggler. KR-122 would be in danger of being fired upon – or of a severe tongue-lashing from a frigate’s skipper – if the escorts detected it. 

KR-122, you’d better get back on convoy control and fix your transponder before someone else notices.” Nirav hoped Lagounov would get the message in time to address the issue. Their ship was probably no larger or better crewed than his own and would need all the time they could get to find out what was wrong with their transponder. 

Such a failure might have gone unnoticed for hours in the first week of the convoy, when the escorts spent all their time charging after self-styled hotshot free-spirits who resented the Navy’s firm convoying regulations and calmly explaining to inexperienced new spacers how to undo the results of ignorant button-pushing. In the third week, however, everything had settled down, and the Navy was only too happy to make examples of anyone who made trouble – Lagounov and her ship risked being run down by one of the escorts’ gunships and towed to an unfriendly rendezvous with the convoy commander. 

On the display, KR-122 inched closer to the formation. Ample time had elapsed for his opposite number to receive his warning, yet the ship did not change its course or activate its transponder. Any moment, the powerful sensor systems on larger ships farther up the formation would pick up Lagounov’s ship. Nirav sighed, instructing the ship’s lone comms laser to point at the nearest Navy ship. He pitied Lagounov, who was probably just as out of her depth at the controls as he was himself, but rules were rules, and Nirav didn’t want to give the Navy any reason to blame Quetzalli for protecting KR-122. 

Lagounov finally sent a reply, just as the console announced that it had a solution to transmit to the convoy commander’s frigate. “Quetzalli, how do I do that?” The woman’s voice, though calm, carried a hint of uncertainty. 

Nirav sighed, then instructed the laser to spin all the way back around to send to the straggler again. “Can’t help you with repairs, KR-122.” He sent. I have no idea what you’re flying.” He barely had any idea what he was flying, but he wouldn’t admit that on an open channel. 

“Who am I talking to?” This time, the signal delay was noticeably smaller; KR-122 was getting closer. 

Nirav glanced over to verify that his ship’s transponder was still working, and that, as the ostensible commander for the rest of the shift, his name was being broadcast in addition to the ship’s name and identification codes. Could Lagounov not see the identification signal? Once again, he set his transmitter to seek out the Navy escort. They would deal with Lagounov and her confusion. 

Nirav’s console flickered wildly, then its display surface darkened. As he pounded his fist on its side, the command compartment’s lights died as well. The hum of the atmospherics cut out seconds later, and Nirav felt himself drifting away from the crash-padding of the pilot’s seat. He froze in panic, imagining himself and his compatriots drifting silently in interstellar space until the air ran out. 

Just as he recovered and started trying to remember where the manual alarm control was, Nirav heard the atmospherics whir to life once more. A moment later, the lights came on and he fell ten centimeters into the chair as the gravitic systems reasserted themselves. 

“What the hell was that, Nirav!” McCreary, the only person on Quetzalli with prior experience in interstellar travel, suddenly filled the doorway behind the pilot’s station. He hadn’t even bothered to throw on a shirt after jumping out of bed, and evidently microgravity didn’t cause him any problems. 

“Uh. I don’t really-”  

The older man pushed past Nirav to jab at the restarted displays. Nirav tried to stay out of McCreary’s way, but he didn’t think what had happened was his fault. Quetzalli had experienced a few electrical problems when they’d first bought it, but they had fixed most of them. Evidently, one had slipped through. 

The nav plot came back on, one of the last consoles to reassert itself. Nirav glanced at it and immediately noticed something missing. “She’s gone.” 

“Who’s gone?” McCreary glanced at the plot only briefly while he scanned through the ship’s system statistics too fast for Nirav to read. 

“There was a ship here.” Nirav poked his finger into the ghostly constellation of lights hovering over the nav panel to the place the missing ship had been. “A straggler called KR-122.” Had the ship suffered a power failure too? What could cause two nearby ships to have such problems at the same moment? 

“Not our problem right now.” McCreary pointed toward the hatch. “This one’s not your fault, Nirav. Run down to the patch panel by your quarters and check those power feeds. I’ll monitor from here.” 

Nirav started to protest – he thought someone should raise the alarm so the Navy could go find KR-122 – but then he looked closer at the nav plot and saw that even the radar blip he’d first noticed had disappeared. Wondering if he'd fallen asleep on duty and dreamed the whole episode, he nodded and left to follow McCreary’s instructions. 

Today's story was submitted by Nirav R. Nirav is a relatively new member of the Cosmic Backgrounds community, and the community of spacers generally – in fact, he asserted in his message that he'd lived on Earth his whole life until this past October, when his employer went bankrupt. Rather than chance the job market on Earth in today's economy, Nirav banded together with four of his old coworkers to buy a battered but still jump-capable starship, the Quetzalli, which they pointed toward Maribel and the Coreward Frontier.

I can find no record that a ship designated KR-122 was present in this convoy when it left Herakles. Was the intruder a brazen pirate? A ship which couldn't afford to pay the convoying fee? A dying vessel trying desperately to keep up? Was she a ghost ship, or some form of convoluted espionage from the Hegemony? Audio recordings of the transmissions were provided with Nirav's submission, so it seems unlikely that he made it up.

We here at Cosmic Background wish Nirav and his four compatriots all the best in their travels, and hope they find what they are looking for at the Frontier. Perhaps, if they encounter this vessel again, they will allow us to publish the rest of this story. Similarly, if someone knows KR-122 and would be able to supply Lagounov's side of this story, I would be happy to publish it.

2946-06-08 - Tales from the Inbox: The Tatianus Ranch Sighting

It should surprise nobody that, within hours of my cautioning the consumers of this text feed not to get their hopes up about stories about the Angels, a cache of old material on that very subject has been given to me by an anonymous source. Following the usual, procedure, I took the content down to our local Naval Intelligence representative, who gave me enthusiastic approval to publish it for the Cosmic Background audience. I don't think our attache ingests this feed, but if she does: Lieutenant Simona Durand, thanks again for handling this quickly!

Our mysterious source sent me what he or she claims is all the publishable content from this source; given that I was authorized to publish it all after our local representative spent only half a day examining it, he or she must have some experience with the Bureau of Naval Intelligence's protocols. Perhaps our source comes from inside the bureau itself, but this is mere speculation on my part.

Evidently, this material was collected by an eccentric hobbyist in the 2720s or 2730s, and languished in hard storage on powered off devices for a long time. Many of the files are stored using encoding that none of my devices recognize, but about half are still readable (and Cosmic Background staff will work to get the rest translated soon). Note the date on this file; I shudder to think of the state of computing hardware in the mid 25th century. It's a wonder anything as old as these files is still readable on modern devices, but our tech team assures me that the means of storing text hasn't changed in a long time.

While I can find no other source for this material, I have discovered independently that the organization it is ascribed to was an active sensationalist reporting outfit in operation here on Planet at the time. A few other inquiries have convinced me that it is likely that this article really was published on the indicated date - as for the truth value of the reporting, the audience is encouraged to decide for itself.

Today's installment of Tales from the Inbox will publish the first piece of this material. Because of the extreme age of this source, I do not consider it time-sensitive, and plan to make several Tales from the Inbox posts sourced from this cache in the coming weeks and months. For those of you who will inevitably bombard my inbox with demands for the whole source to be made immediately available, remember that not everyone who ingests this text feed is a tireless seeker of data pertaining to the Angels, so I plan to intersperse these items with other kinds of stories. Also remember that if there really were anything new in my source, Naval Intelligence would have denied permission to publish it to the public datasphere anyway.


TYPE = newsfeed_archived_3.2c 


type: text, 

publication_name: "The Centauri Enigma", 

publication_type: local_news_gossip, 

provider: "Centauran Media Group, Inc." 


TIMESTAMP = "2456-01-30@12:48:17Z", 

TITLE = “Small Town Visited By Aliens: Visit by Angels Suspected” 

AUTHOR = “Roberta M. Roderick” 


HARCORT, SPD, PLANET, CENTAURI: The small mountain prospecting community of Harcort is, for perhaps the first time in its many decades of history, a center of frenzied activity today after an alleged visitation by intelligent extraterrestrials in the early hours this morning.   

The tiny community of only 147 residents was the source of over fifty calls to local emergency response between local times of 3:10 and 4:25 AM, each reporting being overflown by unauthorized aircraft, strange booming noises, or the nearby landing of an unauthorized aircraft. As the remote region of Spine of Planet was once a haven for outlaws and brigands from more civilized regions of Planet, local authorities scrambled a suborbital to deliver a response team, but when they arrived in Harcort at about 4:45 local time, they found no sign of the expected local outlaws. 

According to Kress Voltolini, a local prospector and witness to the night’s goings-on who spoke to this reporter, the landings at Harcort were not aircraft, but landing craft from a spacecraft in orbit over Planet, though Centauran Control detected no unidentified craft in local space at the time. 

‘Three of them flew over my place at about three oh five,’ Voltolini said. ‘They woke me up and scared the hell out of me.’ When asked what the engine noise sounded like, Voltolini insisted that there wasn’t any. ‘Was the damn sonic shockwaves that woke me up.’ He said, ‘They were going really fast when they passed over the first time, then they looped back around slower, and went down over the rise. When they passed the second time, they were totally silent.’ He described the appearance of the craft as ‘a dead ringer for the grainy stills of the Angels they took during the Grinner war,’ but confesses that he did not have a good sense of the scale of the craft.  

The rise in question, just north of Harcort proper, is home to three goat ranches. The night’s activity, alien or otherwise, seems to have been centered around the Tatianus ranch, farthest from town. While this reporter could not collect statements from anyone from that ranch, she did manage to secure a statement from Lev Jurek, a handyman who was working at a neighboring ranch last night. At his telling, the alien formation flew right over his head while he worked on a failed segment of sonic fence and two of the ranchers stood in the gap to keep the animals inside the pen. Jurek also mentioned specifically the lack of engine noise. ‘I think they were gliding in.’ He said. ‘But they didn’t have wings, so I’m not sure what made them glide.’ 

Jurek went on to say how the three small craft landed silently on the grounds of the neighboring ranch. Using binoculars from his toolbox, the handyman says he watched from afar as two surprised people staggered out of the Tatianus ranch house to meet a trio of monstrous aliens, one coming out of each ship. ‘I think ol’ man Tatianus knew ‘em.’ He said. ‘Pretty sure that’s who went and met those things, but it was hard to see for sure.’ Jurek describes the aliens as ten to twelve feet in height, towering over the figures of the human ranchers, bipedal and with three equally sized and spaced fingers on each hand. He says that they were wearing some sort of full-body suits and suggested that he didn’t think they could breathe Planet’s earth-like atmosphere. 

Jurek’s story appears to be mostly corroborated by those who were in the Tatianus ranch up to this point, though this reporter only has thirdhand retellings of the stories of two employees of the Tatianus family who staggered into town at about 4:15, shouting that aliens had landed at the ranch. What Mr. Jurek said next cannot be corroborated and is nothing short of sensational. 

‘They talked to Old Man Tatianus for a few minutes.’ Jurek explained. ‘And eventually he pointed up toward the Spire, and they left. Flew up over the mountain, where a fourth, a bigger one, joined them, and they disappeared near the peak.’ The Spire seems to be a local name for Mount Valdimar, the third-highest mountain on Planet, whose plateau shoulder is only about forty kilometers from Harcort by air. 

This reporter was able to determine from local records that in his youth, Braden Tatianus was a climber, who made three ascents to Valdimar’s summit with fellow climbers Felix Bennett and Cornelio Ingomar - on a fourth attempt, Bennett perished in a fall and the ascent was scrapped.  

Did Braden Tatianus discover an artifact of the Angels on the mountain with his friends? Did this artifact claim Bennett’s life, or did he perish in a fall as was reported at the time? Was last night’s visitation the return of the makers of some artifact, and if so, why did they make contact with Tatianus rather than going directly to the mountain and potentially avoiding detection? The local authorities aren’t saying what they think, obviously. One can only hope the truth of this strange event will come to light in coming months…