Chapter 15: Battle Above Destine
We left our heroes on the outskirts of the Destine system, having just had the astronomically bad luck to collide with an alien ship on breaking out of hyperdrive. In fact, this luck is so bad, many of us take it as an omen that we are timelocked out of our proposed mission to arrive on Destine before the invasion begins.
We stand off from the alien ship and wait for it to recover, wondering if THEY are timelocked on something, too, or perhaps instead of us. While we wait, Dafnord asks Edvard for a damage report. Things aren't too bad, mostly just scrapes and dents. We send drones out to look at the hull and confirm this. In particular, our TK tractor beam is okay.
Edvard says there is a 95% chance the aliens are bringing their ship back up to power, so we try hailing them every way we can think of. Nothing. The life-support seems to be coming back up, now, though, for all we know, all the crew may be dead.
The invasion proper is now ten hours away. Maybe we can duck timelock by settling for showing up during the invasion rather than before it.
Braeta now asks why we feel we are timelocked. Well, besides the phenomenally bad luck of the collision, there were the seven out of nine heads Kate threw on coins, more than once, when we, uh, sought omens. There follows an argument about how to calculate the odds on this and whether it is significant. Kate throws again and gets six out of nine, which she thinks reflects the way our wavering resolution is weakening the timelock detection.
In the end, on Kate's advice, we decide to back off from both Destine and alien, and to hang about well above the ecliptic for a few hours, watching.
An hour later, when the advance scouts are arriving -- the ones we hopped to kidnap one of, before we ran into the alien -- we break out the Map of Here, crank up the scale as high as we can, and look for dimensional intrusions. It turns black and stays that way until we tilt it into a plane intersecting Destine...
While history plays out again on the Map, Edvard announces there is activity on the hull of the alien. We are so far away -- multiple astronomical units -- that the visual he gives us is really bad, but there is a new dark streak on the alien ship.
Tom left a clairvoyance tracer on the ship, so he and Salimar soon have a clairvoyant presence there. The dark streak is an opening wedge, as if the ship were opening up on a hinge. Suddenly, there is a series of flashes along this opening, and a chunk of something goes flying off, tumbling. Adroitly turning her astral eyeball inside out to follow it, in a move that causes consternation on the telepathy net from less flexible species, Salimar tracks the chunk. It is a chunk of whatever stuff their hull is made of, and has emerged from a multisided hole in the depths of the ship. The tumbling chunk is not headed toward us or Destine. It isn't changing shape, so it may be a rigid object. We speculate that it might be an escape pod.
After a minute, the chunk changes direction. We try hailing again, to no effect. An orange glow appears on part of the chunk, and it changes direction again. Then again. Then it resumes tumbling.
Salimar tries a telepathic hail to the putative lifeboat. It bounces off some psi barrier, such as we found inside the ship on our earlier probings. Edvard repeats hails, and Salimar tries to detect signs of life, all to no effect. These aliens, if they live, are oblivious to us, it seems, or studiously ignoring us.
Tom turns his attention to the mothership. Its general state of damage and desertion looks pretty much unchanged. (Meanwhile, the light from the launch of the mystery chunk has reached Edvard, so they can see it on video, not just clairvoyance.)
Moving his viewpoint in through the wedge that opened for the ejected chunk, Tom sees bits floating around that might be tools, and damaged architecture. Rummaging about, he finds another sad specimen of alien roadkill, in some kind of netting. Salimar does a retrocognition on it, and we finally see what these things looked like when alive:
It was a quadruped, rather bell-shaped, on thick, tapering legs. It has shoulders and arms at the top of the bell, as if a six-legged creature had evolved its middle limbs into arms. There is no distinct head, but the shoulder area has three eyes in a row, the middle one stalked. There are tendrils about the shoulders, and more in a "skirt" on the edge of the bell. There are slits of some sort near the eyes. Nostrils? Ears? The whole thing is covered in shaggy yellow fur; the occasional bare skin is green. A fourth eye on a stalk becomes visible rising "behind" the shoulders (though maybe this thing has no well-defined front end). We notice the thing is wearing a tool-belt, and then--
We reach the point in the replay when our ship hit theirs. The bell-shaped creature is flung violently about and stops looking bell-shaped -- or alive -- very quickly.
We withdraw our clairvoyance. We consider that we might want to mount a rescue expedition to these folk, perhaps going through with our current mission, then backing up to get to these folk "soon" (on their clocks). We therefore stop watching, to avoid more timelock.
Back to waiting. Hours pass.
We see the manta-shaped fighters come in through the dimensional gates, by the hundreds. The invasion has begun. We activate our cloaking technology and head on in.
By the time we arrive near Destine, the fighters number in the thousands. Two big motherships have shown up. Then four more, one directly between us and our proposed landing site. By now, we are in the midst of the invading aliens, hoping our cloaks are good enough. Speaking of which...
Edvard sounds an alarm and slams on the ship-wide psilencers. "We are being scanned, sir," he announces to Dafnord. We interrogate Edvard about our cloaks, which we bought a century in the future. They are impenetrable to "unclassified Philippian technology." We naturally wonder aloud about classified Philippian technology, but Edvard has nothing to add. Braeta catches Tom's eye and taps her head. Despite the psilence, Tom tries to contact her and is a little surprised to succeed. "There'd be no point in making the distinction," she points out, "if the answer was the same..."
Okay, so Philippians of a hundred years hence could probably penetrate our cloaks. Aloud, Tom reflects we have no idea of the tech-level of the dragonfolk, but it clearly includes tech OR magic involving these gates.
Meanwhile, we're still being scanned. Harder. We try some evasions. The level of scanning drops, which suggests (1) whatever is on us now is nondirection, but (2) whatever was on us before WAS directional, and pointed at us.
Some manta-fighters and a ship shaped kinda like a flatworm are closing in on our general vicinity. We dodge some more. Meanwhile, Destine has launched eleven ships, none of which has lived to so much as open fire.
We do fire. We tell Edvard to repeatedly shoot at the converging ships, then jump sideways at a random angle. We get one hit in, and our radiation screens are registering multiple hits.
Time to tune up the hyperdrive and bow out. But something like a blaster cannon disrupts our tuning and re-sets the hyperdrive countdown, several times. We continue firing. Our pinhole generators can't keep up with the energy demands, and we are now draining our batteries.
We blow up one manta-fighter. This gives us enough breathing room to tune the drive and jump.
A jump to hyperstate is suppose to be insensible. This one was a sort of sick twang of compressed vertigo. Tom's heard about those jumps. They mean you very nearly turned into clouds of tachyonic plasma. Edvard, it turns out, jumped rather before the hyperdrive computers had officially finished their countdown -- and their tuning. We aren't inclined to criticize. Necessities of battle and all.
Looking at the damage logs, we find that we took six hits, while we gave only four. Pinhole generator 3 is at 80%. The batteries are at 35% but charging.
Gannar and two drones step into an airlock to go out and look things over. The gargoyle decides it wants to go, too. It cannot be dissuaded, at least not by Gannar (who doesn't really try) or Robbie (who does). It just looks grumpy when we pump out the air. We open the outer hatch and it peers over the "edge" into infinity. Oh, wow...
Gargoyles, after all, groove on peering over edges, and this is the edge to end all edges...
Eventually, Gannar and the drones give up and go out some other airlock. Robbie tries to break up the gargoyle's trance by throwing his shirt over its head. This produces a lot of shaking and flapping (of stone wings in a small airlock). Robbie gets knocked about, and the gargoyle gets quite cross and begins considering Robbie in the light of a food item. A novel experience for a robot. Robbie lures it out of the airlock, to the galley, where Tom throws it a chunk of simulated meat. Peace is restored.
Gannar and the drones, meanwhile, find the burns and gouges on our hull. Nothing critical. They patch them with vacuum putty. We set course for Hellene, for repairs.
As we settle back and contemplate our failure, Dafnord suggests we should be working our time-travel experience even harder. Soon, we have the beginnings of a plan: We will try getting in and out of the battle using the transilience driver, having set up the focus for it far in advance (years? centuries?) using time travel.
(Refresher: The transilience driver is a limited sort of teleport. One of the limitations is that it only teleports to a place that has been psionically conditioned to be a suitable focus. So, before you can send something there, you have to go there and make the place into a focus.)
But how long does a transilience focus last? We must do more research.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.