USS Traveller
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Second Life

Posted on Sun Jul 25th, 2021 @ 6:09pm by Innocent Bystander & The Narrator

Mission: S2:2: Something Missing Something New
Location: USS Traveller
Timeline: February 2390

ON

The space within the Travellers hull was unimportant. It was a place between hull plates where there was a void, a place in which things could be moved to allow for growth. It had been further expanded forming a perfect sphere ten meters across, laced on its outer surface in veins and trellises of gold finery.

Suspended in its centre by a bisecting trunk of the same golden metal that covered the rest of the room, was a cube. A foot to each side, smooth, but with a suggestion of complicated inner workings lurking just beneath its surface. A spherical robot, its sides unhinging to reveal legs and tools, clambered up the trunk and into the ceiling to work on triming or directing the growth of matter.

He walked in with a stance that successfully melded childlike wonder and quiet respect, facial expressions and body language suggesting the former, open-mouthed head turning the latter. From time spent alone to so much social input, Innocent Bystander had yet to experience boredom on this moving platform occupied by its varied forms of life.

He stopped before the cube, canted his head to the side and followed the motion of the little bot with a curiousity emboldened by a warm smile.

"Esteemed greetings complicated one," IB said to the space around him in general.

A section of vine-like wires along one wall began to thicken, spreading out until it became a solid brass surface. It was like a portal into another world, seen within the reflective mirror. A simple chamber, sparse, monastic almost save for the trappings of a padded cot and a writing desk set a foot off the floor.

"Your mimicry does you credit," spoke the being kneeling before the desk. Humanoid to a point, Clee'san's people were technically hexapods, with their upper limbs being powerful with three articulated digits on them, and a lower set of arms that were overall weaker but far more dexterous. Kneeling at the desk, dressed in a simple robe, Clee'san's smooth head was devoid of hair save for a single braid that she kept tied tightly back.

Using her left lower arm, she closed the book she was reading and then gestured for the table to go away. It melted back into the floor, taking the book with it.

"I see physical interaction is your preferred medium. And yet you are still learning to sound like them," she said.

In absolute silence, Bystander observed the wiry motion and regarded his own image in the mirror-like surface as the landscape shifted. His hand reached out to touch the air just short of the wall, following the path of the spread until her voice broke their quiet. At this point he froze, statuesque, and looked to this stance he recognised held by a shiny new shape of an individual.

"You possess more limbs than the others," he noted, with the obviousness of a human youngster yet conviction of someone far older. Both attributes were a part of him, outside Bystander's immediate means to control as he tested his limits. "That would seem to be a useful option. Less phalanges though." Then IB stopped and drew in a breath he didn't need though his body appreciated. "I am still learning," he confirmed. "Everything was partly lost." So many questions bobbed to the surface, so he chose one at random. "What are you reading?"

Clee’san took a moment before answering, the delicate fingers of her lower limbs curling slightly at the comments.

“It is the Kassa. In it’s simplest form you might assume it is the Morningstar art of war, and yet it is far from such a simple tome. The Kassa is something every citizen of the Morningstar Ascendency must learn by heart as a child, it informs the actions of our lives, our morality. Even explaining it as such removes so much meaning from what the Kassa really is,” Clee’san said. She brushed her delicate finger tips over the tome. It shifted under her touch, turning into a smaller booklet the size of a broach that could be held in one of her small hands. “Six billion characters laser etched onto mono molecular sheeting. At least that was the copy I was carrying before my taking of this form.”

Her fingers closed around it.

“I have read that the Federation have texts that they hold sacred, and yet none hold the same power as the Kassa. These are not rules with which opinion can sway them, or interpretation bend them. The Morngingstar Ascendency is the Kassa, and the Kassa is the Morningstar Ascendency.”

He paid close attention to those words of her answer, referencing briefly and swiftly as needed while Clee'san spoke when something required secondary explanation. Art of War. Ah, yes, integral cultural informational support. The reference point for such things as the educated guess and a worthy readiness for adversity.

"It is your essence personified in written form?" IB suggested as he worked his way through his own personal intepretation. "Your citizens need to memorise these words in order to exist?" He asked, needing clarification there. Each answer, it seemed, presented him with a myriad more questions reaching forever outwards from him like branches from a swift-grown arboreal entity.

Golden eyes shifted from curious to melancholy for a moment at the thought of a book holding such power over a people. They widened a little as Clee'san adjusted the tome's size and spoke of 'sacred' words. "Captain Remas McDonald's people find deities inside letters and words?" IB queried, then his mind distracted himself from such things, catching up on something else she had said.

"Your form was previously different to that which we now see?" IB continued to ask, unburdened by emotions or concerns for his search for knowledge. "Could the writings help you return to your original state?"

Clee'san thought for a moment, remaining still.

"The Kassa informs and directs the nature of who we are. It is through its tenants and creeds that the Morningstar Ascendency exists. It is a philosophy, not a technical journal," she said with quiet patience. "The Captain is a spiritualist, believing in things that do not exist and have no practical application apart from sophistry. As for my form, its state has changed but I have not. There has only ever been one of me at any given time. The fact I was chosen to carry on my service after my demise is a great blessing bestowed on very few."

Her head turned up to look at IB.

"A question for you: do you recall your own past, or your progenitors past?" she asked.

Bystander nodded, a gesture learned from others aboard the Traveller. "Philosophical direction is a valuable asset to provide in communal form," he agreed quietly. He wished he had access to more information from his own kind, but that knowledge base was severely depleted now. He had the definite sense that had not always been so, but no means to recover lost data.

"Captain Remas McDonald is particularly talented at fallacious argument I agree," IB continued, a bright smile colouring his features for a second. "I have noticed that most of the crew seek comfort in believing that intangible and unlikely objects and entities exist. Comfort is a useful byproduct of internal truth manipulation," he added. Then there was a long moment of silence as he considered Clee'san's personal question.

"I recall events that I was partially present for," IB eventually answered. "I have no current concept or true understanding of time in this regard and the recall is incomplete and occasionally randomly presented."

"Without knowing your past, how can you be sure of your future? It is a poor stance to fight off indecision," Clee'san said. "I remember everything from the moment of my childhood, to my ascension through the ranks, to the first wardings granted to me. I even recall my first death, an action against a small Clockmaker Swarm."

"I do not wish to be certain of my future," Bystander stated, with enough of a hint of uncertainty in his tone to tell his audience that the humans were beginning to influence his mannerisms directly. "I do yearn for more knowledge of my past however. And fighting is not something I have achieved successfully since being in this place. Indecision will not be a problem!" He added, confidently enough though. There was a brief pause as emotional input was filtered through his mind and processed swiftly.

"Your first death is a precise memory?" IB asked then, clearly extremely curious on this point. "Tell me more about Clockmakers?" He pleaded, enthusiasm mixed with trepidation. "I remember them though these thoughts are fragmented..."

"It is a pivotal moment in anyone life, and I would hope a death would be just as memorable," Clee'san said. "The Clockmakers are a plague. The Morningstar Empire was old and well established by the time their first spores landed in our home galaxy. At first, their attempts were clumsy, hamfisted. But they learned quickly, adapting to our ways of war. They are not biological, nor are their wholely sentient, so psychological warfare is pointless. Please, sit."

She gestured to the floor before her, on IB's side of the screen.

"Their single goal is to encapsulate stars. They do this by ripping apart every ounce of matter in a solar system. Every comet, every people, moon, planet or person: we're equally edible. Then they use that matter to form a sphere around the star, hundreds of millions of kilometres from one side to the other. We don't know why they do it, we spent centuries and millions of lives trying to find out what was inside a Clockmaker Sphere. Antimatter weapons, subspace, even formation harnessing technologies had no effect on them. We fought them, for over fifteen thousand years from the moment of their arrival to the moment we departed our home. My people choose to detonate our home star, vaporise the last ounce of our civilisation, as a final act of spite against the darkness of the Clockmakers. They are the enemy to all life. Even life like us."

IB dutifully sat, cross-legged on the floor like a child attending a simple storyteller's reading of a new book. Gold eyes looked up at her with a pure inquisitiveness born from a desire to know the answer to all the questions. All the reasons. Everyone. Everywhere.

He listened. Intently and without interruption of any kind. His eyes grew wider at some words and darkened towards others, but IB's stance remained stationary and contained. He enjoyed this form, this visible entity with all its warmth and noises, the movement, small internal signs of temporary life. It felt... new. Interesting. Different to before. He could feel the physical space filling up with knowledge, yet a vast expanse of his storage space still remained beyond those simple folds of matter.

So many questions. He chose two.

"They refuse to answer reasonable queries asked by others?" IB asked. This was not a Good Thing. Rude in fact. But not uncommon. Some forms of life did not wish to have their methods questioned, he had learned that the hard way. "They undo everyone and everything only to imprison each star within those it created?" This was confusing, but meticulous and fastidious toil with an incredibly brutal body count. Clee'San's information brought tears to Bystander's eyes and his body to an emotive, upright stance once more. "I do not understand," he admitted. "Why they are called Clockmakers when they turn back the time everyone else strove to create."

"Because they are like clockwork, ceaseless, complex, and working in harmony towards a single goal. They had many names during the Morningstar Empire's, but Clockmaker always seemed to rise back to the surface," Clee'san said thoughtfully. "And it is not that they refuse. There have been many communications between the Morningstar and the Clockmakers. They create a semi-sentient interface, the Awareness. It will answer any question, except those directed to its purpose and builders. It attempts to bargain, seeking to divide those it finds by promising to leave their stars till last if it can be left to its work. It is not like us, or even the Myriad: it is a machine intelligence mimicking us."

IB nodded emphatically. "I understand the nomenclature now," he agreed, no smile accompanying the statement this time. "The Awareness?" He both asked as a question and pondered the depths of while speaking it aloud. "Akin to the Computer the Starfleeters use to share knowledge and catalogue information?" There was a longer silence as IB took all of this in and wondered how, should he receive the chance, he might twist his own queries to discover unknown details from these destroyers of worlds. "You are wise," he told Clee'San. "You are ancient and cunning. Is this intelligence a device employed and deployed by another, or perhaps a fledgling machine AI? Or both? Would biological ingenuity one day be capable of circumventing their base code, of..." IB sought the right word. "Of hacking them?"

"If I am cunning and wise, by your own estimation, then consider this: I am a soldier. Nothing more. Nothing less. I use the weapons provided to me by artificers and formation specialists, and only their most rudimentary secrets are revealed to me. My people's existence was always in the shadow of the Clockmakers, falling back from one star to another, ceding entire arms of our galaxy to buy time," Clee'san closed her eyes slowly. "We attempted many times to destroy the Clockmakers through such means, but they are inscrutable machines. Simple in form, but maddening. Whatever created them was unlike anything that has ever been, or ever shall be. Perhaps it was one of Captain Remas's phantom spirits, something cruel and malicious."

He processed this statement. I am a soldier. This was important wordage, it mattered to the entity before him, it deserved consideration of the highest order, even if it made little sense to IB. She was more. Everyone was more. The energy about her, gifted by dimensions beyond understanding of mere mortals came from further and deeper realms than simple structures could convey. And yet, individual identity had been continually forced upon him since he had first arrived in this universe, it both excited and bound them all, these souls, these constructs and minds.

"You are a weapon sent by others to fulfil a simple, but infinitely impossible duty," he suggested rather than asked, finding his way through the thought processes to arrive at this answer. "I am learning. There are indeed many cruel and malicious things at this level of consciousness and existence," IB confirmed. "But this is not the case at every level. At some level - beyond us - this all makes sense. There is purpose. Reason. Conflicting with life. Causing death and destruction to us. I do not truly understand the differences right now, but I do not like them. I do not wish them upon you and Captain Remas McDonald."

He exhaled. "How do we protect?"

Clee'san thought for a long moment of time before answering.

"The fact that the stars here remain shining, is already a sign in our favour. Clockmakers are ravenous, taking mere decades to consume entire star systems. A Cluster like this should have been consumed aeons ago, and yet only one star remains. If, of course, that star is home to Clockmakers. As for defences...huum. You lack active wills and formation technology. That is how I fought, that is how I know to fight. This ship..." Clee'san said, gesturing to the world beyond her brassy pane. "...is one of the most advanced of their Starfleet. It would not last against a single cohort of neophyte warriors under my command. Against a Clockmaker spore I dare not ponder."

IB considered these facts - and noted that to his company they absolutely were such - for a minute or two. The silence was never complete here, too many systems and noises in the background as well as his own mind talking at him in multiple directions. It didn't, though, take him long to wrangle the mess of sound and come to the inevitable conclusion.

"Then you must teach me this 'active wills and formation technology' with urgency," IB stated, and added, golden eyes wide. "Please?" Another moment of silence before more words were forthcoming. "My ship is not built for combat," he admitted. "But I know how to hide and endure. Can we also utilise these skills to our advantage?"

"Teaching you our technology will not be possible. Not only do I lack the refined understanding, but it is forbidden for me to do so. It is not the way," Clee'san informed. "But...I can impart my wisdom to aid you. I remember your ship, it was difficult to see from within the system. From without was the only means by which this ship even registered your presence. With my insight you would be most formidable."

His bronze-skinned face made an decent approximation of sad, puppy dog eyes for a moment, the behaviour learned recently and treasured briefly. IB did not like the word 'forbidden', particularly when it came to untapped knowledge and desired education. Said visage was abandoned just as swiftly, however, for a hopeful, child-like smile.

"I will accept wisdom-sharing with gratitude unbound," IB responded. An enthusiastic nodding bounced that raggedy long twisty hair as he kept his attention focused on Clee'San herself. "I very much wish to understand how it feels to be formidable. Challenge accepted!" There was an echo of memory for a millisecond. A brief nagging of something beyond his current realm of self. "One moment in a future time," IB promised earnestly. "I will repay the favour."

"Then we are agreed." Clee'san said.

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