In orbit above Impiruil Baile, Galactix takes aboard the last load of supplies for his next journey to the stars beyond the known systems. His destination: Sirius. As he takes stock of his inventory, he prepares for the crew he has on board, as well as others that may decide to delve into the unknown.
Possibly excited for a jaunt into the uknown, the tiny Limping Moth isn’t doing its usual odd flight pattern. Really, it’s just landed in a quiet alcove at the moment, with some jaunty music playing from it. Maybe the pilot’s just asleep.
Galactix’ booming voice speaks to the tiny vessel. “We shall be departing soon, my little friend. Do you have all that you require on board?”
The jaunty music from the Limping Moth cuts out so Kilroy can be heard more easily. “Think so. Got a small lab full of possible explosives, half an aspirin, a fridge full of beer and a goodly supply of foodstuffs.”
“Very good. I suspect it shall take approximately three days to travel to the Sirius star system.” Galactix says. “I am hopeful that it will not prove to be as barren as the last. The Rigel system proved to be uninhabitable. A treasure trove of minerals to be sure, but the ambient radiation in the system would make any extraction operations an extremely risky venture.”
A somewhat vague ‘mmm’ comes from the Moth’s speaker. “I’d imagine there are safer places to get good volumes of those items elsewhere. Probably without much more travel.”
“Indeed. A definite case of the reward not worth the risk.” Galactix says. “I had to work with my companion to construct probes with very heavy shielding just to explore it.”
“Hrm,” Kilroy replies. “Well, the probe design may be useful for something else down the line anyway.”
“That is at least one consolation. As soon as I finish my system diagnostics, we shall depart.” Galactix says.
With only the slightest crackle from the Moth’s speaker mid-statement “Any idea what we expect to find?”
“From my long range observations, Sirius is a binary star system. The primary star is Class A, the companion star is a white dwarf. I suspect that it will not be as wild as the Rigel system.” Galactix says. “I am hopeful that we will perhaps find a planet in the habitable zone that could support life, or perhaps one that is already inhabited.”
Some suitable yet cheesy sci-fi soudtrack starts playing from the Moth’s speaker. “That has ended badly in so many movies.”
Long-range sensor reports come back to Galactix, revealing an abundance of gas giants, scatterings of asteroid fields, and two terrestrial worlds in the biozone. One of those planets is a hostile, uninhabitable world with a chlorine atmosphere. The other, however, appears to be an inhabited Earth-like world with a relatively thin oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere and a weak magnetic field.
“Ah, I’m getting more data from my sensor probes. Hmm.. very promising. At least one planet that may be supporting life, given its proximity to the star.” Galactix says. “My diagnostics are complete. My drive is charged and ready, so let our journey begin.” There is a low rumble as Galactix’ FTL drive engages.
Some suitable space faring orchestral music starts playing from The Moth’s speaker.
Galactix switches a nearby monitor to forward view, showing the swirling of his drive’s propulsion field in front of him. “I must admit a bit of excitement on my part. A planet with promising life bearing features could hold intelligent life. A first contact situation would be most extraordinary.”
“Indeed! Maybe we’ll find something smaller than me for a change.” Sayeth the Moth’s minuscule pilot.
“All of my systems are operating perfectly so I expect a smooth trip.” Galactix says. “I am keeping my sensors locked on the system so we may get more detailed information as we get closer.”
A dramatic sting comes forth from the Moth’s speaker. “What’s the general region like on the way over?”
“Very little that is too exciting based on preliminary scans.” Galactix says. “Perhaps a few minor stars. Nothing that should affect our course, at any rate.”
Phyrrian Tasker Unit EX-5234 makes its way through the area where the Moth is speaking with Galactix. Currently in humanoid mode, the mechanoid is vaguely shaped like a human, or at least a metal skeleton shaped like a human’s. “Greetings,” it says to the Moth and to the big ship itself. Its voice is a fairly well synthesized Earther-male. It makes no attempt at body language, and does not even have a moving mouth.
“Evening!” Comes the greeting from the tiny ship’s speaker. “Come to join in on the endless quest for new forms of combustion, concussion, and all things explosive?” (edited)
“Greetings” Galactix says. “Welcome to our expedition. I am hopeful this will be a fruitful venture.”
EX’s head apparently contains a holographic projector. It projects a male human face onto it’s metal “skull”. The image is somewhat transparent, but it moves in sync with the Phyrrian’s speech. “I have activated anticipation protocols. I am currently looking forward to discovery. The Overmind has tasked me with a general exploration protocol. I express gratitude for allowing me to take part in this expedition.”
“A venture is only a failure when nothing can explode.” Comes the sage voice from the Moth’s speaker.
After a couple of days of travel, Galactix drops back to sublight speed on the outskirts of the Sirius system. He begins to run scans of the system thoroughly before proceeding further.
Scans show that the one habitable world appears to have a single spaceport at the outskirts of a single sprawling city that’s arrayed around a central spire that climbs about 3,000 feet into the air.
Traffic from the spaceport appears to be local star system activity – small starships, generally, nothing bigger than a large freighter. No capital ships of note. Sensors detect sublight communications traffic on non-encrypted bands, in an alien language.
The Limping Moth emits a curious noise. Somewhere between a slide whistle descending, and a kazoo. “Huh. Not exactly sprawling. An outpost of some sort?”
“Possibly an outpost. Or possibly a single star civilization.” The Phyrrian pauses for a few seconds for processing, then says: “Galactix, does the spire appear to be a electromagnetic cannon to launch ships?”
Galactix focuses his scans on the ships themselves before moving to the spire. “We shall know shortly. I am checking to see if they possess faster than light travel. If they do not, then this is likely an isolated civilization. In either case, I wish to proceed slowly so as not to cause them fear.”
The civilization does not seem to have vessels traveling faster than the speed of light. The spire, upon closer examination, appears to be some sort of arcology inhabited by tens of thousands of denizens at any given time.
As Galactix trains his sensors on the building, it happens to be at a moment when three hundred multi-limbed humanoids are placidly stepping off a platform at the building’s summit and plunging to the streets far below.
“I am not detecting any FTL traffic… but the spire appears to actually be an arcology. It has been some time since I have seen one. Perhaps tens of thousands of inhabitants at any given time. Oh my…” Galactix says, pausing as he watches the jump. “It seems that three hundred of the inhabitants just… jumped off the highest platform and plunged to the street…” He continues scans to see if perhaps they survive. “They are multi-limbed creatures, as far as I can tell at this distance. I am proceeding further in system to get better resolution.” With that, his main engines engage and he begins to proceed at a steady, but not quick pace.
A quizzical noise comes from the Moth’s speaker. An ascending slide whistle, pretty much. “Drew the short straw in the Who Gets an Arcology Home sweepstakes?”
“Is the rest of the planet habitable? Perhaps living space is limited, and therefore individuals must commit suicide for the good of the society.”
One spacecraft is on a trajectory from the planet to an orbiting structure composed of dozens of metallic shafts projecting out of a central ring hub. The pilot’s left eye stalk is on the sensor display while the central and right stalks keep watch on vectors and status gauges.
The sensor pings as Galactix enters detection range. “An outsider?” the pilot muses through webbed mouth cartilage. He considers the outpost and his obligations, but… “Life is short,” he concludes. “Wisdom is required.” He adjusts the ship’s course to intercept the alien vessel.
“As far as I can tell, the world is habitable, but they have built this structure in the middle of a city. We can only guess at its purpose at this point in time.” Galactix says, just as his own sensors detect the change in course of the alien vessel. “Perhaps we will get the answer… one of their vessels has altered course and is headed this way. I can only hope my translation circuits are up to spec.” he says, as he engages his transmitter and sends a universal greeting in all the languages that he knows. “Greetings. I am Galactix, and I come in peaceful exploration.”
A switch inside the Moth is flipped, and some quiet theremin music plays from the speaker.
EX-5234’s body remains still as it awaits further data. “I possess the strongest translation subroutines the Overmind was able to compress into a Tasker processing unit. I assume your translation experience and computing power is vastly superior to that of this unit, but I am willing to assist.”
The alien pilot considers the imperfectly translated message. To him, it says: “Greeble. Hiyam Galactix. Antikum pass fool expiration.” That, of course, makes little sense. He runs it through secondary and tertiary decoding, but the best it manages is: “Hello. I’m Galactix. Peace.” But that’s promising, right? So the pilot replies: “I am Torqol of Anzaminas. It is so auspicious to meet you on the day of my descent!”
Galactix relays the untranslated message to his passengers as he attempts to translate it himself. After running it through every layer of translation he possesses, he ends up with “I Torqol, meet thee day of descent.” Relaying his translation protocols and syntax he has applied, he relays it to his passengers again in the hope that the addition of his translation protocols may achieve a closer match. “Their language is completely alien… but given the tone of the message, they do not appear hostile and are attempting to be friendly. What does your translation matrix add to the message, EX?”
Some light finger drumming on the console comes through the Moth’s speaker. “Very odd sounding… but unless there’s something tonal that I’m not noticing about the language, there’s not much my systems can do for it.”
More stillness from the Phyrrian. Just a few seconds. Then EX replies, “More data is necessary. But if Torqol is a proper noun as you have translated, I believe, thought with only 72% certainty, that Anzanimas is also a proper noun.” It turns to the Moth, “Your suggestion about tonal shifts is what gives it away. Notice the similar emphasis given to both terms. Also, if your translation of this term” it repeats the sound “as the possessive preposition ‘of’ is correct, then it is likely that Anzaminus is the name of the world.”
After a few moments of silence, Torqol continues: “What star system do you call home?” He checks the chronometer. He doesn’t want to rush the newcomer, but the descent cannot wait.
“I concur.” Galactix says, taking this additional data and plugging it into his translation matrix. Armed with this updated matrix, he attempts to replicate their language. “My original home is many, many light years away, but the world I departed from is approximately 20 lightyears from here.” Galactix replies, sending the message on speakers so his passenger can hear it, and hopefully the reply.
After some light drumming on the console inside the Moth gets picked up by the mics, some swelling orchestral music begins to swell from the speakers.
EX waits perfectly still, a slight hum given off by internal mechanisms. It continues to parse translation data with each new sample, sending update wirelessly to Galactix.
“I have never ventured beyond the home star,” Torqol transmits. “Although the Descent takes me to a greater beyond.”
“The Descent?” Galactix inquires. “Would that perhaps be the event I registered on my scanners where the beings jumped from the arcology?”
The Moth’s running soundtrack goes quiet for the moment. Probably things are too serious for that sort of thing.
“Possible religious ritual sacrifice with belief in an afterlife?” the Phyrrian muses.
A short while later, Torqol responds: “Has it already begun? I had hoped to have just a little more time. I suppose I should return planetside. I wouldn’t want to miss my opportunity.”
“I believe you may be correct, EX.” Galactix says. “This is perhaps some religious ritual.” Trying to learn more, he again contacts Torqol. “Indeed. I am moving further into orbit now. While you transit, what transformation does the Descent present your people? I am always interested in learning about the cultures of others.”
Another flip of a switch, and the Moth starts playing music that would be very suitable to a publicly available and highly cultural educational program.
While waiting for a response, the mechanoid turns to the Moth, watches it for a few moments, then says ‘Is music your main form of communication?”
As Torqol’s ship angles around to approach the planet ahead of Galactix, the pilot responds: “We are given the promise of transition to a greater essence, leaving behind the troubles and limitations of this world. Brought to us this year by Palla-palla, the preferred sweet wafer of yinzin players!”
“I see.” Galactix responds as he settles into orbit, and focuses his scanners more closely on the arcology and the people leaping from it. “What troubles do you speak of?” he inquires, before transitioning to internal to speak to his passengers. “It would appear to be less religious and more of a sponsored event… one that I would presume people would choose to undertake rather than be forced. Though the reasons for such an event I cannot fathom. Perhaps his reply will give us answers.”
The tiny ship’s tinier pilot pokes his head through the hatch up top “Course not! But it’d be a waste to not use this ship’s sound system when the world is just crying out for musical accompaniment…. Answers would be nice.”
“Ask if the transition is permanent,” the Phyrrian suggests. “Perhaps this transition is temporary.”
“The transition,” Torqol replies, “is permanent. It is for the best, though. Everyone has the right to live until the day of their Descent. Upon that day – this day, for people like me – that right is exchanged for the privilege of death.”
“Privilege of death?” Galactix inquires. “I am not sure I understand.”
Kilroy nods sagely from the hatch of the Moth “Well, it’s certainly a universal truth that nothing can live forever… more or less, anyway.”
EX nods its head. “Death is inevitable for biological lifeforms. It is likely that this unit will also stop functioning, though that is not equivalent.” It watches the screen with what seems to be curiosity.
The alien’s ship begins to descend through the planet’s atmosphere. Torqol continues to explain: “Of course, it is a privilege! Without it, we would never pass from this existence to the next, and why would it ever be necessary to perform maintenance on our city infrastructure without the guarantee that it suffers major damage at least once per year? Jobs depend on this!”
“If I may ask, does this mean that in your present form, if you did not Descend, you would never die?” Galactix inquires. “I see your point about the maintenance of the structure.” he states, before transitioning into his internal speakers to confer with his passengers. “If they are in essence immortal, or have extremely long life spans, then I would assume this arrangement was devised to keep their planet from over-populating. The incentive to do so is the belief in transcendence to a higher existence, which insures that they partake. It would also appear to have an economic benefit for those that remain. I must admit this is a fascinating social development. It is similar to the Centauran ritual, but the difference in reasoning behind it is striking.”
Kilroy scratches his temple for a moment “Hardly need to deliberately wreck up the place, though. Maintenance is going to be needed regardless. Stuff just breaks.”
EX-5234 processes all this information. “This particular social construct is no more or less logical than many biological societies.”
The response arrives from Torqol as his ship settles onto the landing pad at the central spaceport: “Indeed, we have outlasted all of our natural predators and, through scientific and medical exploration, unlocked the immortality code. I am six and a half centuries old – rather on the late end for receiving an invitation to Descend, really.”
“I see. The practical implications of such an event are clear to me now. Thank you for explaining.” Galactix says. “I have encountered creatures with similar life spans. In fact I do not know even the time of my own demise. My positronic brain is over 500,000 years old now, but the number of years ahead I cannot estimate. In a biological society, however, I can see how longevity would begin to present social and economic problems, as well as logistical.”
The tiny pilot nods. “Well, I’d prefer going off to explore the galaxy myself, though I could see even that starting to get dull after a few centuries… One thing though. How do the corporate sponsors fall into this? And what’s yinzin?”
“Tasker units can easily function for many centuries,” the Phyrrian replies. “Resource allocation is strictly controlled, and units are built or recycled as needed.”
Torqol sits in the cockpit of his ship, looking toward the tower and the steady flow of plunging figures coming from the summit. “I should go,” he says wistfully. His wristband signals: “DESCENT QUEUE IMMINENT.” He frowns, looking toward the sky. “But in all this time, I never imagined life existed beyond this system. If THIS was all there was, then certainly one must look to the hereafter for a change of scenery. What you tell me, though, is that so much more exists beyond these stars. So much more I can see while I yet live.” He tilts his head, pondering. “I should tell people. This should be no secret.”
“Indeed… in fact I have encountered dozens of other species in my travels.” Galactix says. “Beings of all shapes and sizes.”
Kilroy tilts his head thoughtfully “We should see if we can get some recordings of yinzin to bring back. Might be popular somewhere.”
The Phyrrian says “We are capable of damaging your city in your place if you prefer to not descend. Infrastructure repair jobs do not need to suffer.”
“Citizens of Anzanimas,” Torqol begins to broadcast from his vessel on a general hailing frequency. “I have made first contact with inhabitants of a distant star system. We are not alone in the universe as the Scribings of Descenditure declare. For all these centuries, always have we looked inward, ignoring the awesome prospect of what awaits those who dare to explore beyond their home star. Today was to be my day of Descent. Instead, it is my day of awakening, and it is a glorious thing that I must share with all of you. I will not take my place in the queue. Instead, I will join the company of these strangers from another star and seek what knowledge I can with the years ahead of me.” He reignites the ship’s engines and launches from the pad, heading back toward orbit.
Galactix activates his internal speakers. “We seem to have inadvertently planted the seeds of a revolution.” he says. “However, I will not deny him to join us if he desires it.” He switches to his transmitter. “You are more than welcome to board and join us if you so desire.”
Kilroy quickly taps something by the hatch on his ship, and an amusingly old sounding fanfare plays.
“It is strange that a species is scientifically advanced enough to overcome natural death, and yet has no concept of life outside of their system.” The unit gives a mechanized shrug. “Would it be prudent to damage their city in place of Torqol’s descent to stimulate their economy? Perhaps then they will not be angry about you starting a revolution.”
In the observation deck of the central tower in the city, Descent Minder Designate Folras eyes the departing vessel on the monitor after hearing Torqol’s speech. He snarls into his subcutaneous cheek microphone node: “Destroy that ship. Quietly. And secure the rooftop platform and lock the exits from the lobby. If anyone tries to leave, shoot them.”
Anti-aircraft cannons on neighboring buildings swivel to take aim at Torqol’s ship. They open fire. He weaves to avoid one of the blasts, gasping over comms: “Oh, my.”
“It appears that this Descent is not as voluntary as it appears…” Galactix says. “I can not stand by while his life is taken for the simple desire of exploration and discovery.” His main cannons begin to charge up, but while they charge, he makes an effort to end the violence peacefully, but he does lock his cannons on the observation deck. “I am hereby granting the being known as Torqol asylum. Cease your attack, or I will have no choice but to open fire. Be warned; my cannons are capable of merely shaving the top off your tower, or destroying your entire arcology. Do not force me to have to use them.”
Kilroy dives back into the Moth, from which can be hard some hurried assorted clinking and ticking noises. A few bleeps, too.
EX watches the data streaming in. “This situation has escalated rapidly.”
Folras frowns at the threat coming over the channel and at the alert signal informing him of a weapons lock. Furthermore, other vessels are launching from the arcology landing pad to put themselves between the guns and Torqol’s ship – one Descent, it seems, isn’t so different from another. Several are blown from the sky before Folras orders the cannons to cease fire.
“Fine,” he mutters. Then, the order: “Let. Him. Go.”
“Torqol.. I am opening my hangar doors. You have clearance to land.” Galactix sends. “I suggest expedience… vacating this area may be a wise course of action.”
Kilroy pops his head back out “Oh good, more company on the way!”
“Is this normal exploration procedure?” the Phyrrian querries. “More formal first contact protocols may be useful in future situations to avoid these situations.”
Torqol breathes a sigh of relief as the anti-aircraft batteries cease fire and his ship breaks through the planet’s atmosphere once more and approaches the waiting Galactix. “Thank you for the assistance,” he says.
Meanwhile, citizens overrun guards in the lobby of the planetside arcology, seizing their weapons before subduing them.
On the observation deck, Folras transmits a message to government headquarters: “Societal Descent is imminent due to external interference. Recommend total lockdown, full curfew, and martial law. Hostages may be necessary to ensure cooperation.” He then contacts the orbital station and says: “I want full scans and imagery of the intruder vessel. Tracking and telemetry data, as well. Someone must answer for this.”
Galactix, it seems, isn’t quite done yet as he engages a broadcast. “This is Galactix, the cruiser which now orbits your world. The actions of your leaders have proven to me that your Descent is not of your own free will. Therefore I am opening my hangars to any who wish to join Torqol in asylum and see what is beyond your star.” He switches to internal speakers. “Given this societies demonstrated subterfuge and hostility, I doubt any formal procedures would have prevented this. Our mere presence was the catalyst.”
Kilroy nods from his tiny ship’s hatch “Yeah, it’s not easy to craft effective red tape against violent xenophobes.”
The Phyrrian says “Their society was functioning until our arrival was detected. Lack of detection would have prevented this situation.” The unit watches Torqol approach, then says “I do not possess the equivalent of your morality system. Tasker units value well functioning, efficient society. The introduction of your alternate morality on this society is an interesting experiment that I will continue to observe.”
“Thank you for this wonderful opportunity,” Torqol replies over comms to Galactix after landing aboard the sentient starship. He watches through the viewport as several other vessels from his homeworld ease into the docking bay. A thin smile traces across his lips as he unbuckles from his harness and then steps into the aft cabin, where he soon faces a hatch leading into a cramped storage compartment. He taps a passcode sequence into the keypad. The hatch thunks open. He pulls it open, then peers into the shadows at three figures, bound at wrists and ankles, their mouths gagged with dark cloths and eyes shrouded under blue plastic sacks. “You’ll survive a little longer, it seems. And soon, perhaps, have company.”