USS Traveller
Previous Next

Fulcrum

Posted on Thu Mar 11th, 2021 @ 5:50pm by Captain Remas McDonald & Lieutenant Commander Shadi Zatra & Lieutenant Jolani Kohnar & Lieutenant Garrett Davies & Lieutenant Dinui Locke (loch) & Innocent Bystander

Mission: S2:1: Good Will Gunboat Tour
Location: City Of Brass, Spire Of The Arch Duchess, within the gas giant Rissikis, Casstauili Star System
Timeline: MD27 1530

The table was a curled horseshoe, arising from the floor at either end of its arc, with no support in between. Conical chairs were arranged along one side, around which the Casstauili curled and rested upon. The chairs on the Starfleet side were the same, but as they approached the soft teal material began to mould and flex until ergonomically perfect seating was provided.

In the centre of the horseshoe, suspended by nothing save its own magnificent, was a brass orrery of the Casstauili star system. Much like the ringed city world, they were within, the orrery was a complicated arrangement of hair-thin rings and jewelled worlds. Interwoven between the rings, but not entangled or knotted by their turning, were silver threads along which rubies glittered and danced.

Remas studied the orrery as he sat down.

"Is that a real-time system scan?" he asked.

"It is," Vittles, the Duchesses prime minister said with a self-satisfied grin. "Whilst the use of an active scanning medium would be immediately detected by the Myriad and their Reka vassals, during the time given to us by the Benefactor in waring we were able to plant mass points within the system. These are ultra-heavy elements, materials forged by our scientists and with the aid of the Benefactor. They allow us to use the very gravity of our system as a massive web upon which space-time sings to us. It is a near-perfect passive sensing array."

"Near perfect?" Remas asked.

"Indeed. We did not detect your arrival until you appeared at the edge of the system through some sort of subspace tunnel. Similar in principle to a Myriad vessel transiting through the stellar Whisper Gate," Vittles said. "As I am sure we both agree, there is much we can learn and trade with one another. Your people have clearly made great strides in propulsion technology, whereas our people have focused stealth and alternative energy sources. Antimatter, for instances, is a potent fuel source but one that is easily detected in the quantities needed to field a fleet of starships. It's why we do not use it."

Shadi scratched her chin in thought. "So what has the Myriad been doing here all this time? If they don't know you're here, then there must be sssomething else to keep their attention. Otherwise they could leave the system to their shitbird Rekas. What makesss them stay?"

"Our systems natural resources. Our asteroid belts, cometary fields, not to mention the native art and trade of the Casstauili who live on our forlorn homeworld. Also, and you may have noticed, the system is festooned with a sensory net. The Myriad seeks the Benefactor, or artefacts left by them. Apparently," Vittles looked towards Bystander and bowed their head. "You...or your previous instantiation was a great source of fear, or hunger for them. They knew that the Benefactor had come to our system, and that they did not leave. The Myriad are long-lived, a century or six is nothing to them. Though given the Myriad in residence is a purveyor of sports and gambling for this sector of Messier 4, you might say that the Myriad have begun to lose their interest. In another five hundred years, our tactical outlook suggested a break out would be possible on our own."

That subtle resonance he'd felt on and off since being reawakened hit Bystander like a ripple of ice over silk just beneath his newly formed skin. The space-time web song. A memory that chimed, a harmonic that echoed. Once he had been able to dip and dive... He refocused sharply as Vittles mentioned the word 'Benefactor' and let his golden eyes regard those speaking, one by one, in turn. At that bow of the Casstauli's head, Bystander flinched as a realisation dawned.

"I should return to sleep," he said, soulful and yet serious. "My waking presence - my ship - we endanger you all." There was a soft, human-sounding sigh, as Bystander added with a definite weight to his words. "I can sleep another 500 years."

"No!" Jolani exclaimed all too quickly, not knowing why she did so. "No, Bystander. Stay awake. We will handle this." She reached a hand out and said, "Together."
Denooy, nodded her head as Lonlai spoke to Innocent Bystander, "Aye ye be part of our crew. Sleep be for rest. Not hiding. Ye be one of us now."

Shadi didn't see the big deal. "If the space ghost wants to rest, then let him rest. He'll haunt us sssomething fierce otherwise!"

If looks could kill, the Saurian would be severely beaten. Jolani stared at the cold blooded creature, her own blood starting to boil.

His attention shifting from one to the other, Bystander refocused all his attention on Jolani and nodded as he reached out a hand. His bronzed fingers were warm as he wrapped them about the Halanan's own, and he gave her a firm squeeze. "Awake. Together," he said and overemphasized a nod to doubly confirm his understanding of her demands. Still, he wasn't entirely sure of the sanity of this plan until the Captain chimed in with words of his own.

"If Bystander's mere presence was enough to gain the interest of the Myriad, we would be already aware of it," Remas noted.

"Agreed. The phasing technology we use to put our ships and city arcologies out of sync with the nominal quantum medium is based on the Benefactor's own power source. We cannot harness power from it the way that they could, but we can at least generate a similar effect. For all intents and purposes, we're undetectable. And given recordings of how the Myriad have reacted to starfaring civilisations in the past, I think we would know if our centuries-long ruse was up," Vittles chuckled.

"It goes without saying that, knowing that you travel with the heir to the grace of the Benefactor...it is a sign," The Arch Duchess said. "We have hidden here for long enough. And now that we know our allies are of suitable mettle, well it seems more auspicious."

The orrery reconfigured, quicksilver rivulets of metal running along the interconnecting ring as the planets changed. In moments a new system arose from the device, this one featuring a pair of rocky sun-blasted inner worlds, two asteroid belts, a large gas giant and two dwarf gas planets in a co-orbital dance.

Remas was sure, like many at the table, that before the large gas giant inflated to fill the orrery and a spinning top of white marble could be seen orbiting it, that he was looking at the Carpathia System.

"Antimatter reactors and production centres, matter synthesis, not to mention the clever planetary defence network your engineers installed on the gas giant's moons. And the production of mining and manufacturing centres," a mossy green filigree of glyphs appeared next to the stylised model of Canopus Station. Vittles gestured to the display. "I apologise for the means we obtained this information, but we had need to vet you."

"Mazarian?" Remas asked.

"I had no wish to act the role of spy to your captain, you were a man of honour," Mazarian said as he slithered into the room to stand behind vittles. Like Eacles who lounged at the back of the hall, he wore now a sash of rich blue fabric that clearly marked him as a member of the Guard. "But you are not in command of the Long Jump mission. Nor do you share the ethos and ethics of the Station commander."

"I'll take that as a compliment," Remas said dryly.

"I hoped that you would," Mazarian bowed his head. "As my report stated, their Federation of Planets is facing interference by the Myriad as well. Not to the same scale as we here in Messier 4, but enough to perhaps forcing them to sue for peace with the Myriad and abandon Messier 4."

"There is no peace with the Myriad," Bystander said, having quietly listened and taken in all their important words and opinions. The act of spying concerned him not at all, and he did not truly understand the relationships between those to which they alluded. His attention focused on the wider dangers to those he had only just begun to know and he raised an eyebrow inquisitively. "Do you have a cunning plan?"

There had been a lot for Gaz to take in, listening to the complicated web of politics that seemingly flew over his head; politics had never been his reasoning for joining Starfleet but, he would have to approach this as a learning point. He chuffed slightly at the revelation they had a spy in their midst, having done a fairly good job if no one had figured it out until now. "I'm with the Bystander here, I doubt they have peace on their collective minds." He folded his arms across his chest as he waited to see what was going to unfold from this situation as he glanced around at those gathered.

"We think we have a weapon that can devastate the Myriad," Shadi boasted. "All we have to do is get close enough... and then test it..."

Gaz cleared his throat, turning to Shadi with a raised brow as if to suggest that there was a lot more that went behind the rather large brushstroke of a plan.

"As do we," Vittles said. With another gesture to the metallic display the image shifted. What appeared above the table looked like nothing more than a piece of a mammalian backbone. Organic, ridged, with solidity to it that the projection portrayed quite well. "A gift from the Benefactor's first instantiation. It's a piece of active Prior technology, what the Myriad refer to as a 'pass key'. Its what allows them access to the Whisper Gates and dominion over their clutch of stars. We've spent centuries studying it, and whilst its use as a transportation medium is...still a mystery to us. How the Myriad are able to use their own Pass Key's to program a destination into the Gate network is an ongoing project for us. We have discovered a rather unique ability."

"We were able to lock the Whisper Gate in our star system," Mazarian said. "The test was carried out during a peak in solar flare activity in the star, so that the Gate's lack of activity might be written off as a safety precaution. But with this device, we have the means to bar entry to a star system by Whisper Gate. And as the Myriad cannot travel at warp speed..."

"Your progenitor bought us time," the Arch Duchess said to Bystander. She then looked to the Fleeters. "And you all have brought us hope. Now it is time for us to combine these, and escape. It is time for the Cities of Casstaul to rise from the clouds and seek better shores than our own."

Shadi scratched her chin in confusion. "Wait... you've learned how to shut off the Whisper Gate, ssso you're going to leave? Where would you go?"

"We have the means to close off a single Whisper Gate, to bar entry of the Myriad to one star and one star alone," Vittles said. "Creating the effect, and duplicating the means by which is accomplished was not even a feat the Benefactor could accomplish. Its why it fled light-years through Messier 4 to deliver it to a hiding place, to custodians clever enough to use their borrowed time wisely. And now that you have arrived..."

"Carpathia," Remas said, looking to the alien serpents. "You're going to flee to Carpathia."

"Ah, Carpathia," Shadi said approvingly. "Hot sands, barren wastes, distinct lack of lava flows or mammalian lifeforms. It's a paradise for sssure."

Jolani shook her head at the Saurian. Different strokes for different species was one thing but Shadi was just an exception to every rule.

Bystander's gaze was fixed on the image circling above the table - the projection of an object that caused half-memories to resonate oddly within him. Pieces of a puzzle that could not entirely make themselves whole nevertheless attempted to soldify in his mind and the word 'Prior' when spoken gave his currently human-shaped form an icy shiver of recognition.

This had been theirs. His and his parent's before him. Both forms forever linked and yet separated by great and inaccessible distances these entities around him could barely understand. His mind reached past that to grasp the current reality about him and he rested a bronze hand on Jolani's shoulder even as he let his gaze shift to Vittles' own.

"That might work," Bystander said, a small smile taking up residence as it picked up a brightness in his golden eyes. "But what is Carpathia that makes you seek it as Home?"

Jolani felt the weight of Bystander's hand upon her. She froze in place. Nobody had touched her like that in years. Part of her wanted to squirm out from underneath it. Another part of her took comfort in it being there. Her body, however, remained rigid while her emotions and brain tried to sort themselves.

"A number of attributes. The highlights being the presence of a high technology species unencumbered by Myriad interference, including a military presence that can be bolstered by the Guard Fleet. It is also a single star system with which we have the means to secure from rapid and overpowering response from the Myriad. With their Whisper Gates we have seen armadas of Thorn Ships blot out the skies of worlds that have risen in defiance of them." Vittles stated.

Bystander's hand on Jolani's shoulder tightened just a little as Vittles spoke, but he didn't say anything, merely absorbing all the information he could at this point. Those he had been left to protect, they were clearly far more capable and prepared. That his vigil had not been wasted was gratifying, but he needed no extra words from the Casstauli in response to that.

"Not to mention your so-called 'Silver Bullets' have yet to be tested," Eacles said acidly. "And from their designs, they have as much scope to cause damage to local space-time as to harm a Myriad vessel. We on the other hand have had centuries to study and refine our warfighting technology."

"Technology," Vittles said, leaning against the table and sharing a venomous glare at Eacles in her guard uniform. "We would be willing to share with a capable allied species. Maser technology, skein drives, foam matter warheads."

None of that mattered to Shadi. What mattered was that the perpetual gulf between her and Mazarian might not be as vast as it had seemed. If his people were to relocate to the Traveller's home port, then she could conceivably rekindle their romance. Honor could be satisfied, along with the hungry desires of her quivering cloaca.

"YOU MUSSST PREPARE TO LEAVE IMMEDIATELY!" Shadi impulsively shouted. With a slightly lower pitch and volume, but still rather loudly, she added, "We will help however you need!"

"Seconded. If there is anything I can do to assist with the security or safety during your journey, I'm willin' to lend a hand." Gaz replied, dramatically clearing out his ear after the outburst from Shadi, lips pressed together in mild amusement.

The Casstauili on the other side of the table from Shadi took a long, hard, second look at the engineer.

"I agree in principle with what both of my officers are saying," Remas said as he gestured Shadi to pull back on the throttle a little. "But there is a matter of logistics. For one-"

The Orrery again changed, forming into a complicated branching tangle of dark grey strands. Sudden glares of golden light illuminated at a hundred thousand points within it, and in a moments glance a model of Messier 4 could be seen. On it equatorial surface one of the golden lights turned to an icy cold blue, whilst a royal red dot appeared closure to the lower middle of the southern hemisphere.

"We took the liberty of beginning preliminary planning. The Carpathia star system is roughly 35 light-years from here. Judging by your ship's propulsion technology you performed jump through the quantum vacuum, a most impressive feat I am told," Vittles explained with a nod of admiration. "Whilst we do not have such a skill ourselves, our skein drives allow us to travel at superluminal speeds. It is estimated 7 days of transit will take us from here to there."

"A warp factor of nine sustained for several days," Remas nodded, looking at Jolani, Shadi and Addy. "Could the Traveller accompany them at that speed for that long? I'm not sure Canopus Station's deck thumpers would be pleased to see us again so soon after installing the new nacelles."

"The manuals say that we should not fly Traveller for that long but we're flung through faster speeds just getting here. I think it would be reasonable to assume we could do it but it would put a strain upon the engines," Jolani replied reasoning the situation out. "Engineering would be better suited to telling us what sort of reserves we would need."

Shadi nodded vigorously. "She'sss correct. Ship systems could suffer failure after too long at max warp." She began scratching the scales on her chin in thought. "But there are ssstories from the old days of Starfleet ships being tractored along by advanced alien ships at warp speeds in exxxcess of factor 10 and even 20, and we're not talking anywhere near that. If our warp nacelles are in any way compatible with this skein drive technology, we could get tractored in their wake without overclocking the engines."

"As we understand warp theory, they would not be compatible. Skein drives use the underlying quantum foam to alter the plank constant on a local scale. Enough that being able to achieve faster than light speeds does not require the mass altering effects of a warp field," Vittles explained. "Though a skein drive works on the whole of an object, not just the drive itself. If you were tractored to us the shearing force of our wake would rip your ship to shreds at an atomic level. If your vessel was to remain docked with us as it is now, you would be under no undue strain."

"Seven days to better get acquainted." Remas mused.

The hissing from Shadi was sheer expectant delight.

"I can think of no better use of our time," Vittles looked to Mazarian. "We have learned much from our agent, but I am sure you are well aware that a report is one thing and the reality the other. For instance, your chief engineer is a remarkably close relative evolutionary speaking. We have from long study of Myriad companions determined that reptilian sentience is a rarity in Messier 4, as it appears in the Milky Way."

Shadi's head bobbled on her neck ever so slightly. "Not everyone can descend from divine dragons."

Listening to them all speak of their various transit technologies was interesting enough to keep Bystander pensively quiet, his own thoughts simultaneously wandering to those he had once possessed and since lost. Those were irrelevant at this juncture, an option he could no longer utilise himself, never mind offer to others and neither did he wish to draw any undue attention to them. The Casstauli logic was sound, he agreed, and time allocated to the company of all these sentient species would, as Vittles contemplated, be good use of that temporal resource of which Bystander had plenty. "Interaction welcomed," he said, with a happy nod. "Stationary protection no longer primary purpose due to sentient's tactical evolution. Exploration remains within acceptable risk. Understanding of new circumstances remains advantageous to both mission parameters." A short pause accompanied with a brightness in his eyes as he regarded Shadi was followed by. "Even with dragon-descendant."

Then he looked to the Casstauli. "Request updated information on Myriad companions."

"Of course. I imagine there is a great deal with which you must get reacquainted with," Vittles said. "I suggest we take some time to absorb what we are undertaking. The current form of the Benefactor can get up to speed by accessing our main data archives, and any who wish to can be given a tour of the city if they desire whilst we begin preparations. Is that agreeable?"

"I believe so," Remas said and looked around the table at the others.

"Will Mazarian accompany us on the tour?" Shadi piped in. "He can be just the bessst guide."

"He has much to tell us before he can be free to accompany you," Vittles said. "Though I am sure-"

The doors to the chamber opened with a clash of metal, and a guard slithered in at tremendous speed. They came to a halt beside the duchesses coiled recumbent form and made a minimal sign of bowing. A sibilant hissing sound issued from both of them in a rapid succession, which only seemed to increase the sound as other's around the table took up the conversation in their native language.

"Blue Fire..." Mazarian breathed, stunned as his hood drooped in shock. "How sure are we? Majesty?!"

The duchess was uncoiling, as more guards flowed into the chamber clearly agitated. Eacles was among them, looking as in command as she had any right to be.

"We are sure," the Duchess said. "The City Of Glass is in the right place to witness it, may the Benefactor protect them. Casstaul, our ancient homeworld moon...is ablaze. The Myriad have unleashed their sun spitter."

"They know..." Mazarian said breathlessly.

"We ssshould return to our ssship!" Shadi shrieked. "We have quantum torpedoes to convert into high-bandwidth silver bullets to nuke those cyber-demons back to starvation!"

Gaz couldn't agree more; once they were back on their ship, more familiar the territory and easier to know what needed protecting. "Sounds like we've got our work cut out for us. Cap'n?"

As the Casstauli spoke amongst themselves, Bystander quietly sucked up as much information from both the sentient and technological data sources with regards this newly disturbing information. As they traded news so he took all of this silently into himself and considered their options. As the humans had a habit of saying - these weren't great.

"A violent response is desirable," he stated, finally and with a deadpan calm at first. "However, retaliation by any means may only incur more virilent wrath from your attackers."

Emotion then wrapped about Bystander's tone as he continued, his human-shaped hands now clenched into blanched knuckle fists. "They destroy with a purpose. Drawing you out into the open allows them to perpetuate their destruction and remove you in your entirety. Perhaps they do not know, but suspect. Perhaps they are merely guessing."

Shoulders back, head held high, gaze towards the ceiling he let out a short keen filled with frustration and pain. "My ship and I," Bystander offered. "We could quell the fire? Or provide a distraction?"

Dinui shook her head softly, she had made some notes as she listened to everyone speaking and making suggestions. "There be time to plan and come up with ideas." She didn't want Innocent Bystander to do anything rash without at least having heard more plans and possible out comes.

"They do not know we are here." Shadi thrust a talon through the air in a violent pantomime of her plan. "So we ssswoop in, shove the tip of our spear into their bellies, and then jump out before they knew were there!" Feeling like something was lacking, she added, "And then, right? Do it again and again until they die!"

"Your disregard for life and your simplicity of action is disquieting," Jolani told the Saurian.

"Space demons like the Myriad aren't even alive," Shadi retorted. "Even a milk-drinker ought to know that."

"They might not be alive, but I'd need not remind you I made a promise to keep the crew and her captain alive." Gaz interjected before things began to kick off again. He looked over at Bystander. "I'll go ahead and run simulations regarding all possible outcomes from your offer, Bystander. I don't want you needlessly risking your life for our sakes."

"Cognisance implies animate, dynamic existance," Bystander told Shadi with a certainty that resonated from his very being. "And," he added, with a practised smirk that spoke of studying the humans present. "You are short-sighted and ludicrous to assume they have bellies that would be affected by spears." He dismissed the lizard with a sharp turn of his head that focused his gaze from Dinui to Jolani and then settled on Gaz. "I acknowledge you with gratitude," Bystander said with a short bow of his head. "I believe I would like to keep my life, but sentients need protection."

"Why can you not do both?" Jolani asked, her eyes getting wider. Not again. No! Not again!

"Diminished ability does not forgoe extant responsibility," Bystander answered, stepping closer to Jolani and reaching out his hand, bronze palm upwards. "But this does introduce higher risk to life, and reduce chances of mission success." He shrugged and raised his own question. "This is no reason not to attempt effort?"

Jolani took the outreached hand and put her own hands on his sandwiching it. "You should not have to sacrifice your life for everyone. I want you to live. We hardly know you."

Golden eyes locked with Jolani's own and Bystander beamed a broad, openmouthed grin. "There is time to know me," he promised. "Afterwards. I can help sentients now. This is my primary function, my mission." Her warm hands against his own was a welcome sensation, one he had not experienced before and he lingered in that moment a little longer. "My end of life event is not now," he promised. Then he turned his attention to the Arch Duchess and bobbed his head. "They will not see... us... my ship and I," Bystander stated. "Use me as you will."

Something occurred that nobody had seen Jolani do before on the Traveller. She smiled at Bystander. It was a tentative thing but nonetheless, her lips curled up and some pearly white teeth showed. "I expect promises to be kept," she firmly told Bystander.

Gaze still occupied by the Casstauli Duchess, Bystander tapped a clenched fist against his chest where a human heart would reside and then aimed that same hand in Jolani's direction in a silent confirmation of his previous oath.

"By-Stander, let me make this clear to you: we don't trade lives. Not while we have our wiles and slyness to get us by," Remas looked to the crew. "If the Myriad are on to us, this is going to be one of hell of a test of us. But we've passed it once, we'll do it again. These people deserve their freedom."

Remas tapped his commbadge, which chirped with a connection.

"Remas to Traveller, beam us back."

 

Previous Next

labels_subscribe