compass atop a bowl of roasted coffee beans set inside gold laurels Tomasius Space

Ex dubium scientia. From doubt [comes] knowledge.

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The "good" Old Days ... and the bad and the ugly.

2020.0528.2236


Signs

A man of slight build, fit and lean with coffee-hued complexion, sits at the computer station in the cockpit of his old Interceptor – or, rather, what is left of his old interceptor. Dark, emerald green eyes gaze through the crazed canopy of the ruined cockpit upon a landscape of surreal hostility to life. A drop of what might be condensation meanders down a cheek and, somehow, finds it’s way intact, through the short dark stubble, to fall from the man’s chin onto the back of his hand. He is not aware of this as he types,

The strange landscape, the hazards and the archaeology; all of that might seem mysterious or exciting to those who do not know this world as I do. Typing this, instead of dictating, is probably all very archaic and yet, I cannot enunciate the words which describe the loss of so much. Those of us who've known loss can, I think, understand how it hits you from behind the eyes when unexpected memory brings us to look to or reach out to what is missing, only to realise the preciousness of what is now gone, forever. It is so sudden and overwhelming and, when it comes as frequently as it does in my case, all I can do is type. And so that is how I find the way to express such things; especially those things too painful to enunciate.
[HadesGate Source Documents:
//Delamar/Spectraleaks/hadesgate/advocacy/uni-surveillance/hades/unsub03/log-2679.1011.0721-cryptolinguistic_translation]


The second good thing that ever happened to me as a consequence of waking on the wrong side of time was the surprise news that the Messers had long been overthrown. This, however, is about the first good thing to happen to me as a consequence of waking up on the wrong side of time. I had a lot to catch up on and a lot to contemplate. I'm not from this part of space. I may share enough Human biology to qualify as the same species but my experiences don't all fall within the UEE star systems. Or, maybe they do. There are definitely some mysterious similarities between my homeworld and a now dead planet in a system haunted by brutal and relentless devastation. I remember the same thing happening on my own world like it was yesterday.


The Woodsman's Apprentice.

The place of my birth was lush and verdant. The village where I grew up was situated on a plaza built upon massive jade arches straddling a mighty river. The water was clean and fresh, while the fish were abundant and varied enough to guarantee we never felt hungry for something we did not have at hand. And, yes, we built everything out of interlocking masonry ground from what your language would describe as nephrite jade. On my world, nephrite was as abundant as bluestone on Earth orbiting your Stellar Solaris. Learning to work this kind of stone, on the other hand, was the next big technological leap in stonemasonry, after the discovery of the arch. My village, however, was given the techniques by a foreign power we supported in overthrowing some brutal tyrants who'd settled the arable northern plains in the guise of simple settlers. However, under oath of peace, these so called "settlers" spied out any who could resist and then murdered them all in a coordinated attack; a slaughter which was executed at a precise and prerranged time. These "settlers" would then enslave the survivers and take all property and possessions as their own. Village after village fell to these ruthless deceivers until a little boy who'd escaped one such holocaust, found his way to my village and warned us of what had been happening. This was before we'd built the arches and the plaza above the river and, before that time came, we had to flee many times into the hidden caves of the old mountain to the south while the invaders burned our village to the ground, again and again. Then, ... well, the translation is to something literally unfamiliar in your tongue but we knew the ones who came after as what translates as the Tungsten-doped Beryllium Carbide Legion. I did warn you but, alas, your language does not have a suitable word to describe the amazingly hard and light material that this legion used in their weapons and armour plate. For the sake of brevity, we'll use chemical annotation to name this nearest translation: The Tubec Legion.

The Tubec legion served a civilisation which had progressed far beyond meagre democracy to a "summocracy" by adding universal suffrage to the the vote - which meant everyone of capacity had a vote with no exceptions whatsoever. Whatever rights the invaders may have perceived, the Tubec Legion stopped the sackings and allowed us to build something defensible and permanent using what we had learned from Legion artisans. The new village was named Grunstrom and became a hub for artisan guilds. In fact, the great house to which I originally belonged, House Tomasius, was a woodcraft guild serving the progress of the woodsman's and scout's craft. We learned smithing at an early age, along with reading and writing because many of the more obscure methods were recorded in great tomes of leather-bound velum that were chained in the House libraries to prevent misplacement. In the years just before coming of age, I apprenticed as a Woodsman, earning my trade by manufacturing all of my gear. Once I was of age, I took a path unexpected in the eyes of others and, yet, it made sense to me because of the terrible things I saw, on occasion, as a woodsman. I apprenticed under a former Tubec Legion sergeant as a scout and, after I graduated, I took quite a bit of work for the Legion. I had no fondness for the doers of terrible things and wanted to have a hand in ending them. As a scout, I found the brigands, identified their numbers, armaments, organisation, fortifications and key leaders. All this information I would later record and lodge with the commander of the local stronghold; a magnificent jade bastide, of deep forest greens streaked with the rich glinting gold of Tubec, built atop the old mountain to the south whose hidden caves gave my ancestors refuge before the arrival of the Legion. The name of this stronghold would translate as Tubec Hall and, within its walls, it housed a keep and the surrounding town - including market gardens and two plazas. Trade between Tubec Hall and Grunstrom greatly enriched the lives of people in both places and I enjoyed the best of both worlds. That was until we all learned of something that reduced our current problems to insignificant trivialities.


Worlds at War.

The landscape was cloaked in the deepest shadow from the thick clouds of a moonless Winter night while thunder, both distant and nearby, conspired with heavy torrential rain to muffle all of the sounds upon which we depend when we cannot see a hand in front of us. This sensory deprivation set me ill at ease and the rain which chilled me to the bone while incessantly tickling my nose and ears was my only companion as I peered northward, from Grunstrom, searching for the trouble I was convinced such a night would shepherd to our gates. I was both frustrated and afraid, very afraid, for I could see or hear nothing useful. I stepped out onto one of the northern arms of the arches upon which Grunstrom was built, hoping to find an antinode in the maelstrom from whence some small sense could be made. But as the river roared steadily louder and louder into the night, the rain did not let up and, near the end, all I could glimpse was a sudden, subtle deepening of the shadow which shrouded the entire village.

Broad daylight flashed into being, illuminating the swollen river and the waterlogged plains to the north. My misgivings were, alas, an overreaction to my own insecurities or so I thought until it dawned upon me that day had blazed forth in the blink of an eye; a day without a sun. The thunder had become continuous and the wind swung north to descend off the old mountain. And the wind became warm and then hot as the force of it built to the point where I was swept off the arch and fell into the icy waters of the river. As the river carried me rapidly westward, towards the sea, I gazed southward to see the source of light: a great glowing cloud rose above Tubec Hall in the visage of a mishapen toadstool. And something rose in the deep floodwaters and crushed my ankle; perhaps a pair of boulders washed down from the east. I could gaze no more on the mysterious sight as I fought the pain and floodwaters alike just to stay alive.

A levee broke as the river swept me around the outside of a bend and dumped me out on the plains along with fallen trees, boulders logs and bodies. The bodies were far too big and, much as I thought they may be bloated, the shape was all wrong for corpse bloat. These were muscular, masculine bodies; at least two metres in height and, from what little I could make out in the gradually intensifying dawn, they were dressed in the remnents of oddly styled clothing and their facial features were just wrong. Even in the waning shadows I coud see enough to know that whatever these beasts were, they were unknown to both my people and the Tubec Legion - a significant conclusion given that the Tubec Legion was now more than 1000 years old and spanned the entire continent.

I fashioned a splint from one of their strangely stylised knives, strapping my smashed ankle to it with the peculiarly elastic fabric of their clothing. The corpses were not anything of this world. In addition to knives, they carried a srtange device which I initially compared with the stock and body of a crossbow - but without the bow or bowstring itself. An educated guess set the stock into my shoulder and my finger upon the trigger exactly as a Legion crossbow would be handled. I did not like crossbows and favoured a compound bow. Crossbows were, in my estimation, simply too slow and too prone to accidents. But when I took aim and pulled the trigger, the mechanism fired and recocked effortlessly and the trajectory of the bolt of light was flatter than anything I'd ever seen. The weapon was too cumbersome for efficient use but it was vastly superior to my bow - now lost somewhere on the floodplain or in a river channel. It was also not hard to identify the ammunition cartridge for the weapon. Some variants of the crossbow also used a cartridge to house the bolts. I collected as many of the small cartridges as I could carry and just as well; because I met a survivor.

Words cannot describe the way I saw what I saw in that moment. Maybe it wasn't so much what I saw as I felt the agony of fire erupt in my left deltoid. I screamed not only in pain but for fear of being crippled because this part of the body was so crucial to being able to draw and hold a bowshot. The only reason I turned was because that fire was accompanied by an impact which spun me violently before I fell on my back in the mud. A giant, of angular visage, shouldered the same kind of weapon I'd recovered from one of the bodies and it drew a stylised knife as it stalked towards me. I carried the weapon, in question, at the ready, as per my trade. My right hand still held it in reach of the trigger while the forestock, as you call it, rested upon my knee. I bent that leg, lifting the stock and, as the sights briefly aligned with the chest of the approaching giant, the gentle squeezing of the trigger crossed that threshold I'd learned when first firing the weapon. The shot erupted in the centre of the giant's chest and he fell backwards into the mud. That is when I first realised that we were all in some very serious trouble.

My journey took me back to Grunstrom. The arches crisscrossing above the river still stood, as did the ruins of the village upon it. The once green jade masonry was bleached and powdery, like chalk. The stench of decomposition already poisoned the air. I searched the town; at first for family, friends and anyone I loved or cared about and then, anyone I knew but finally I was simply searching for anyone or anything still left alive. I don't remember much of this bar the shattered visual flashes of carnage and the desecration of the dead that only an untended battlefield can truly bring forth. I must have wandered south and up into the eastern saddle of the old mountain. The outer village was gone. Smouldering rubble seemingly still hot from whatever had erupted above the mountain and Tubec Hall. I looked up to see the Tubec drawbridge warped but still present. It was raised and for the first time in living memory.

However, I knew a secret path through the caves and into the old mine workings which fed into the subterranian town of Mooshohle which now serviced new mine workings beneath Tubec Hall and traded directly with the Legion whose people came down through the basement spaces beneath Tubec Hall. The drawbridges on the other side of Moosehohle were up. I found the Legion house and made myself known so they could put me up until command took another look into the village. After I'd reported my observations, the outer bridges into Mooshohle were raised. For now, this was as safe as things could get.

When my report reached command, a messenger was sent with orders for me to scout the area with a contubernium of vanators to collect as many weapons and as much ammunition as possible. Although runners were few and far between, presumably not surviving long in what has become of the world, there were enough for us to know that the Tubec Legion was enacting this strategy across the continent. They were preparing for something big and, while many expected a Tubec counter-offensive, that something big, instead, came to us.

We first encountered them on our eighth sortie. They were like jellyfish except for the fact that their bright blue bodies were filled with a very light gas and they floated with hundreds of sticky stinging tentacles trailing for dozens of metres below and behind them. We wound up calling them what would translate as balloon-fish. These things caught up everything in their path and their sting was agonising. One of them brushed my right arm and I don't remember much. I'm not sure I do want to remember something like this. My screaming only stopped when the legion healers cut my arm off below the shoulder. If they hadn't, I would have slipped into shock and died like so many others. The balloon-fish soon invaded the caves and then the old mine workings. We were trapped. Even with the drawbridges up, they simply floated across but we had the weapons of the enemy and ammunition to spare. Many of the balloon-fish that were shot left a carbonised mark on the bleached wall behind them - usually of something bulbous and tentacled. Whenever they took one of us, the body was gradually digested and the common elements dumped out as razor sharp splinters of something similar to glass but so much harder. Even Tubec would be scratched, scuffed and marred by this grit. And the more died, the more of this grit began to blow around on the wind which became progressively drier.

Under the circumstances, even a cripple, like myself, was recalled to the service of the Tubec Legion. We were getting desperate and I was being escorted up to Tubec Hall on the coat-tails of some very exciting news. Great floating castles which had been observed elsewhere on the continent had begun to leave, although some had drifted off course and crashed into the ground. The giants, such as they were, were falling to some strange illness and their withdrawal was panicked. The Legion's best people had just spent a few months studying one of the fallen floating castles and, much as I figured out their smallarms, those people figured out the strange glowing texts and the language in which those texts were written. Some of those texts seemed to write themselves as they expanded with new information but, later, it was discovered that this was due to a technology you refer to as radio telecommunications - and our people were suddenly privy to news of what was happening on the enemy world; a planet in our own star system. There had, indeed, been a plague which is why they sent the sterilisers; their way of referring to the balloon-fish which they set loose to wipe out all life on our world and harvest the most valuable elements and compounds without risk to those who'd initiated the offensive. But in the panic to escape sickness, their soldiers had boken quarantine and one of them even made it home. The floating castles went into lockdown and as the plague devastated their homeworld, the floating castles gathered to concentrate fire on their homeworld and eradicate the diseased. They split the planet in half; by which time they'd run dangerously low on munitions and munitions resources. At this point, they fled into the darkness of deep space; perhaps to raid other, safer star systems.

We were as good as dead. They had left behind what seemed, at first, to be a gastric influenza which was a minor seasonal irritant for them but which had an astonishing fatality rate for us. And there was no lasting immunity. I later learned that this disease did not act alone but killed with a lot of assistance from the widespread radiation sickness which spread on wind-borne contaminants sourced to anti-matter bombs detonated over every major city and settlement on the planet. Between the anvil of this disease, which mutated every year, and the hammer of the balloon-fish which kept multiplying and attacking in greater and greater numbers, our days were numbered. We had the subterranean basements of our strongholds and cities linked by special gates which, of special materials in a crafted construction for effect without actual understanding, could nevertheless connect remote spaces across a single threshold. Even so, the hammer and anvil bashed and battered, bruised and broke us, deeper and deeper...

I had been summoned to the capital. Even as I set out into the chambre in which the gate was set, there waited for me an balloon-fish. My reaction, born of painful experience was instantaneous. I had a weapon modified with a no stock and a shorter barrel, at the expense of accuracy, and I drew that weapon and fired - blasting the shadow of the horror into the gate itself. When I stepped though the gate, however, I was briefly baffled by what I saw and felt.


Broken...

The world went black as the breath was ripped, briefly, from my lungs; and, then I was waking up on a strange bed in place made from lacquered metals and materials I'd never seen before. Apparently there'd been an accident. I'd been reconstructed from one of the few remaining, intact fragments of my body’s DNA which had been found drifting in amongst the wreckage of an interplanetary transport that these people referred to as a “mothership”. Given that my memories were intact, I guess that cloning my body was not all they did. I came to learn that post-mortem memory retention, in clones, was one of the odd effects of the pocket universe and the thick anti-matter nebula which occupied it. The nebula, itself, was thought to buffer memories exclusively to the individual whose DNA matched the entity from which those memories originated.

It was like something out of a dream. I had my right arm back as if I'd never lost it. Scars I'd once carried were gone. All I had left of my former life were my memories. Even as I was ushered forward into a subterranean base of foreign architecture manned by people with an utterly baffling tongue, I gradually learned the language and they then ushered me, ever so courteously, out into the crystal caves to learn how to use a pistol - a much more elegant and better fitted weapon than my old sawn-off. Although, in this place, recoil on these weapons was strong and poorly centred so that it took a long time to master a weapon sufficently to move up to something more powerful. I made my way very sparingly on the icy highlands of Thule before boarding a CDF Sleipnir down to the Eudorian mainland on Calypso.

Making ones way, here, was very difficult and often painful. Everytime something killed you, the revive system simply cloned you, drawing your memory from the nebula. I died a thousand deaths, or more, in this place. I earned my name by making my way through Hades and Hell itself as I scouted the closed pocket universe for a way out or even just a viable way of life. A society called the Lethal Brotherhood took me under their wing and, eventually, I settled in with a band of roughnecks and befriended some people who were looking for someone with my particular skillset.

It began with a secret organisation called the PFC or People's Front of Calypso. They wanted to get roughnecks and other specialists familiar with another kind of rough and tumble; specifically, that of hunting. However, there was a need for someone who knew the lay of the land or who could find out very efficiently, in order to lead hunting teams for which they supplied the necessary ordinance. It was a good system and a great oportunity for me. In time, I took on an apprentice and we expanded into Arkadia, another planet like Calypso. The PFC became the PFEU and, at our peak, we ran hunts and races on three separate worlds with contingency planning and budget proposals for a fourth world once PFEU requirements had been met. That's when our patron disappeared and our funding dried up. A new patron was found for Arkadia and the torch has burned bright there, ever since. But, this isn't such a big pocket universe into which one can disappear entirely - so I began to search for our former patron.

On a hunch, I returned to the place, from which my DNA had been recovered, to search for my missing friend and benefactor. Piloting one of the Nebula's standard Interceptors (a dual seater), I flew a plotted trajectory which followed the Blowtorch Trail as precisely as possible from the most dispersed part of the charged region to the most concentrated. Inside the 'torch, a void, invisible to the outside observer, almost shimmered as it simultaneously charged and repelled a continuously flowing stream of anti-matter nebula fluid which, consequently, flowed out and dissipated somewhat closer to the centre of the nebula. The void itself was barely twice the width of my interceptor and I found my vessel being pulled inexorably towards it. I decided to see where this led and drifted into the void.

I emerged from the void into a somewhat more familiar night sky. I even thought I recognised a constellation. It was the stellar density which characterised what I found so very familiar. The comms were ablaze in yet another unknown language and I could see I'd stumbled into a group of ships. Some were fighters or, perhaps, interceptors like mine, and there were a couple of shuttles which seemed to be exchanging something in a box, about the size and shape of a large coffin.

The fighters closed on my interceptor and, instinctively, I fired the engines to put some distance between myself and whatever was going on. Nothing happened. The engines redlined but, otherwise, nothing happened. My ship did not begin to move until the fighters opened fire and impacting projectiles began to impart their momentum. The fusillade smashed the wings off my interceptor and then I saw something large inbound; a rocket. I did not doubt that it had a payload unnecessarily large for the complete destruction of my interceptor and realised two things. I needed rocket propulsion to move out here and the escape pod just happened to use rocket propulsion to get the occupants far enough from the ship in the event of a catastrophic failure. So, I hit the eject button. For a breath-taking moment, the percussive ‘whump’ of cutting explosives pounded deep inside my body and the entire cockpit disengaged and the rocket propulsion system flared. I angled away, instinctively into a distant area of shadow out behind where this group of ships had been operating. That's when the incoming rocket struck and its payload detonated.

The expanding gases from the blast, along with wreckage and shrapnel propelled into my escape pod, destabilised the pod’s heading and left the pod tumbling through space along its current trajectory. I killed the rocket thruster and the power to all systems and let the world tumble. I was in the hands of the laws of motion, abstract as that may have seemed. The last thing I remember was a faint shimmering and another flash, like the one I experienced when I flew into the void, along the Blowtorch Trail. Recognising what had just happened, I powered up the systems and countered the rotation of, well, what little was left of my interceptor.

Unlike the previous star system which was devoid of anything but the star and what ships I could see, sensors picked up planets - one of which had evidently been split in half long ago - and another whose gravity well had my escape pod firmly in its grip. Like it or not, I was going in for the long haul on this planet. As it turned out, fate played one of his dirtier tricks on me.

A desert of sharp gritty ash blew and shifted underfoot as I gazed on seemingly familiar terrain features in the shape of a mountain and some artificial structure upon its crown. Down the main road, I could see bleached arches still criss-crossing what was now a river of ash. Gazing up, a gap opened in the swirling grey dust and closed almost as quickly but, in that brief moment I saw the familar warped shape of the raised drawbridge. Had I come home to what remained of my world or was I hallucinating? I didn't have time to contemplate the answer as a box-chassis fighter swept down over my escape pod and landed by the tracks I'd left in the ash. I'd guessed that the pilot, who'd just destroyed my ship, had followed my escape pod all the way here and I'd further theorised that he'd come to finish the job. I needed a way out of this graveyard, no matter how many loved ones and friends lay buried here. After all, I could always come back with more appropriate equipment. So as the pilot followed my trail, I circled back to his fighter and mounted the cockpit. Flight control was, on one hand complicated by a lot more options thanks to a lack of antimatter fluid of a certain nebula but, thanks to the inclusion of a flight computer, relatively simple to get going. And the pilot had left the engines running and the controls unlocked; perhaps expecting a quick kill and return to space. Instead, I had the ship in the air before the canopy had fully sealed and broke atmo without so much as call from the aerospace taxation agency to demand their "fee". I'd already mastered one foreign language and this one was not so foreign. It was almost a dialect of my mother tongue. In fact, the most familiar of all the dialects was to be found in Kiel and that's where I stopped, learned the dialect and got myself a scouting contract and, soon enough, a hangar. It's not as if those I now worked for had any idea that I was someone they tried to kill - and I reserved the best intelligence for myself. In a few short years, I upgraded to a light freighter run out of a hangar in Levski but registered somewhere light on taxes but draconian in regulation; thankfully, far far away. And for all their talk of pacifism, the Levskites sure did have some rowdy friends over in the next system. In no time, they'd connected me with someone at Covalex, someone in Bremen, someone in Vega as well as a few key suppliers. By the time my scouting contracts were up, I had a better paying outfit idling and ready to roll. I simply ... disappeared.

Still can't fall asleep? Click for part one. It'll bore you more than a squadron of Vanduul Drillers; better than counting sheep.
I promise!

 
 
compass atop a bowl of roasted coffee beans set inside gold laurels
Thursday, ISO: 2020-May-28, 22:36 hours, UTC.