After writing about something from my childhood yesterday, I was determined to write something very different for today's challenge and decided that doing something with a science fiction flavour to it would be fun.
I feel like this is something that could have been a lot better with more time but, three hours or so after putting pen to paper (at least, metaphorically) I'm done with something that (at the moment, at least) I quite like.
So, without further ado, Day 2's challenge - Facing the Fear...
Facing the Fear
The Fahrenheit class frigate Navarro dropped out of Patch-Space on the trailing edge of the Ginobi Nebula, its propulsion systems spooling down amid dancing fractal clouds of virtual particles.
It hung silently in the darkness, a bulbous needle whose uniformity was only broken by the pinpricks of light that were the retro-fitted environment blisters along its grey hull. A thing of purpose rather than beauty, the Navarro was little more than a spine of exposed superstructure; braided filaments organically weaved together to contain a Polyakov Drive.
“We are here.”
Alana Dshae looked at the field screens; a panorama of stars had replaced the nothingness of Patch-Space while, seemingly below them, lay the roiling blue and orange dust clouds of the nebula. She felt her breath catch slightly in her chest. They were actually here; they had made it all the way to the bounds of The Rim.
“Which means,” continued the melodic voice of the construct, “that we do not have long before your scheduled displacement.”
“You’re sure about this?” she asked, not for the first time.
“As I believe I mentioned when you asked this question fifteen hours and thirty three minutes ago, far greater intellects than mine were gathered in order to select you for this mission. The body of their opinion was that you have a high chance of success.”
“And what if I change my mind?”
“Our projections suggest you won’t.”
“Maybe there’s a part of me that wants to change my mind, just to spite you.”
“Maybe.” The construct cocked its head slightly to one side, the barest hint of a wry smile etched across its almost human face. “But it’s something that has already been factored into our projections.”
She flung her head back and pushed her long black hair with both hands, staring up at the ceiling with her hands on her head.
“I guess,” she said finally, “I guess, I just find it hard to believe that, out of all the trillions of people in Gathered Space, someone thought I was the best person to do this.”
“If it makes you feel better about yourself,” replied the construct, “you were actually the 4,212th person, in order of preference, within Gathered Space.”
“You were 4,212th on the original list. But due to the chronological parameters of this mission, only a thin sliver of Gathered Space could be considered. This area was then further narrowed by the requirement that there needed to be a Fahrenheit class frigate both in range for transport and available to make the necessary jump. Thus, we were highly restricted in our selection.”
“Ok, I’m suddenly feeling altogether less special.”
“I could tell you that you’re very special to me.”
“Would you mean it?”
“Not really, no.”
“There,” she said with a broad smile. “That’s when you’re meant to lie to me.”
“I’ll bear it in mind for next time. But, perhaps, we should cease our vague flirting and run through the mission one last time?”
“Sure. But we’ve been through it quite a few times already; I think I’ve got it by now.”
“You really don’t realise just how important this is, do you?”
“Meet alien race, make a good first impression, say all the right things, job done and I go home with a nice story to tell.”
The construct made a noise that might have been a sigh.
“The Hordyxtl are not just an alien race. They are an ancient race, possibly one of the first civilizations to have emerged within this galaxy; the Hordyxtl are one of the Unfettered.”
“Ok, meet ancient alien race, make a good first impression, yadda yadda.”
“And there is one thing I might not have mentioned.”
“We are the third Level Eleven civilization to attempt this. As far as we are aware, at least two other Level Eleven civilizations have attempted to make contact with the Hordyxtl during the last three centuries.”
“Why am I not liking the sound of where this is going?”
“Just over two hundred and eighty standard years ago, the Barandian Empire sent a scout vessel into the nebula. When that vessel did not return, the Barandians assembled an armada of vessels and confronted the Hordyxtl.”
“Barandian Empire? Why doesn’t that name ring a bell?”
“The Hordyxtl obliterated them. The fleet was reduced to dust before it even had a chance to get within weapons range of the Ginobi nebula, several of the Barandian perimeter systems were entirely obliterated by means as yet unknown and--”
“Wait,” she said, holding her hand up to stop him.” are you telling me that the Hordyxtl destroyed whole planets?
“No,” replied the construct, dispassionately. “They destroyed stars.”
“And you don’t know how?”
“We have a number of theories.”
“But you don’t know.”
“You said there were two attempts.”
“Yes. The Moorovians made the most recent attempt, seventy three standard years ago.”
“Moorovians? Small, blue, furry? Smell a bit like burnt toast?”
“And they’re still around. I mean, I’ve met a Moorovian” she pointed her index finger at the construct. “That’s a good sign, right?”
“The Moorovians, unlike the Barandians, are not a species geared towards warlike confrontations. They acquired data on the nebula, and the Hordyxtl, from records on an old Barandian orbital and sent a trade mission.”
“But? I sense that there’s a but coming up here.”
“The Moorovian vessel returned with its full complement of crew but they had all, without exception, gone mad.”
“Insane. Crazy. Deranged. Psychotic--“
“I get it. It wasn’t a question.”
“You phrased it as one.”
She ignored it. “And do we know why?”
“We have several theories.”
“The primary theory, with an estimate of 93.2% probability, is that the Hordyxtl naturally excrete a series of chemicals through their skin which, when absorbed into the system of other species serves to stimulate the amygdala region of their brain, or the counterpart of the amygdala in other carbon-based lifeforms.”
“And in plain English.”
“Those who are in the presence of the Hordyxtl experience overwhelming fear.”
“And you’re telling me this only now?”
“Our projections suggested that this was the ideal time to inform you. Sooner than this and there was the chance that you would worry and be distracted, later than this and there was a chance you would not have time to adjust to the new parameters of your mission.”
“So, let me get this straight, you want me to go meet an alien race that has destroyed one civilization and driven the members of another one mad?”
“You are a bunch of fuckers, you know that?”
The construct stayed silent. She pinched the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger, deep in thought.
“So why now?”
“The Hordyxtl relayed a message to us that they were prepared to engage in a dialogue with us, provided we send a representative to them at precisely this time. If we had missed this window of opportunity, we were uncertain as to the timescale of another.”
“So why not send a construct? Something not affected by the Hordyxtl?”
“That was not, unfortunately, an option.” replied the construct, somewhat ruefully. “The Hordyxtl appear to have a somewhat negative view of machine intelligence. They were very clear in their message that no constructs – either humanoid or ship-bound – were to come within a 6 AUs from the nebula.”
“Can’t I just nano-bond something to override the effect?”
“Nano-bonding requires a semi-sentient system to be positioned within your brain. We determined that there was a chance that the Hordyxtl would interpret this as an attempt to send a construct by proxy.”
“So I just have to face it?”
“Exactly,” the construct created a field screen and expanded it to fill the width of the room. “If you like, I can show you the simulations that we have run on your likely performance?”
“No,” said Alana, with distaste. “Just tell me what to expect.”
“It is difficult to predict with any real accuracy. Your brain will be flooded with alien chemicals and you’ll likely experience both long-term memory recollection and an intense fight or flight instinct. You may relive fearful experiences from your past or hallucinate and experience new ones.”
“You are just filling me with confidence, here.”
“Your flippancy at this point is reassuring.”
“I can still say no, can’t I?”
“But you know that I won’t. You know I’m not the sort of person who can welch on a deal.”
The construct shrugged. “Our probability modelling suggested that would be the case.”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
“And if something goes wrong when I’m in there?”
“You revert to the back-up you made before we departed.”
“A back-up who won’t know any of this and wouldn’t remember what a bunch of fuckers you are…”
“You realise if I was a different kind of person, I’d be kicking your metal ass about now?”
“If you were a different kind of person, you wouldn’t be here Alana.”
She turned away from the construct and stared again at the field display that showed the nebula, swirling gases and dust that seemed frozen from this distance. There was a knot of tension in her midriff but she knew there was no way she would turn back.
“Ok, let’s do this.”
“Then I’ll initiate the displacement.”
She took one last look at the environment blister which had been her home for the past nine days. There was a good chance she would never see it again.
“I’m ready to face the fear.”
The world faded to white.