Year: 1,997,977 A.D. (Gregorian), P.W. 29,749 (Shango), N.A. 2987 (Qareen)
Location: Spaceplane 217-D
The M.E.A.C. QCS Orchestral Sky/Unvector was the sort of ship that gave Seren4/235,677 an odd feeling. It was probably a daft feeling, if he was honest, and certainly an irrational one to still be having several days after boarding, but all the same, it was there: he didn’t feel comfortable riding through Qareen space on a Shango-constructed starship.
Still, he figured that said uncomfortable feelings would be easily displaced later. What mattered was not that he was on the Orchestral Sky, but the fact that it was heading towards, and, as the ship informed him, a mere hundred parsecs from, Spaceplane 217.
Indeed, as he thought about it, and left his cabin to pace through the corridors in contemplation, he realised that it was indeed all wiped away by 217.
217 – soon to be 217-D – was, as the name suggested, one of the earliest Spaceplanes in the Confederacy. It was the 217th, in fact, and it had maintained itself successfully for thousands of years, shifting its way through the galaxy over that time from the outer, brighter regions of the galaxy where rampant star formation abounded and swung upwards towards the top and centre of Qareen space. Over those thousands of years, it had handled war, terrorism and general unrest with ease. Two Confederate years ago, however, it suddenly went silent, and when the first (and pretty much only) wave of refugees landed primarily on planets, wild, bug-eyed narrations of monster attacks and stalking menaces occurred. Very little sense was actually extracted from these stories, and locally in many areas, decisions were made to put up psychiatric hospitals and units, for the first time in millenia, in order to figure out the numerous cases of apparently incurable insanity.
Whatever was really going on, Seren4 thought, it was perhaps too much for one man to deal with. And whilst he technically wasn’t sent to deal with it, he was nonetheless going to end up there, and he was meant to come face-to-face with whatever the issue was. He hadn’t taken this journey without training; plenty of combat experience in the VRooms, a few games of Fauxwar on about a dozen planets in the two intervening years, and some of this even based on the worst happenings of the Intersection Wars; that was, he had assumed, surely enough.
Now he was more uncertain. Still, he would find out soon enough.
He moved down the corridor, which had been decked out in as much luxuriousness as possible; rare metals (but almost certainly assembler-made), strange compounds, and elaborate art lined the walls and (very high) ceilings and floor. Carpets soft enough to sleep on were ubiquitous. The Mjollnir-Expanse Acquisition Coalition were always ones to treat every commission like a PR stunt, relentlessly determined to prove that they, beyond all others, could build a better ship, in whatever way that meant.
“No chandeliers,” he said to no-one in particular, and as he suspected, the ship morphed the dangling lighting into integrated strips of anonymous but equally coloured and effective lighting. He carried on through the almost-empty ship. There were three others on board, and the whole place had 16 decks and a five-hundred metre length, and those three did not necessarily share the same routine. His conversations had been sparse at best. Still, it was all in good preparation.
He found a transporting platform, stepped onto it, and shifted upwards, moving from his current deck, deck 8, up to deck 1 and the observation room. There the M.E.A.C. had found a way of rendering the ship’s material transparent; no loss of structural integrity, but perfectly clear windows all the same. No Qareen ship would ever bother with such excess.
As he reached the observation deck he found signs of other life on board; Elex7/1,899, a woman whose journey was apparently further than this, possibly, she had hinted, with a destination in Shango space.
#Seren?#, she asked.
#Yes. How’d you guess?#
#One in three chance. Plus Alag9 isn’t really likely to be around this hour, so make it fifty-fifty.#
He nodded, and made his way slowly towards the windows, where she was stood about two metres from them, watching the stars crawl across the view.
#217 will be coming up soon#, she explained, #it’s been good meeting you. Best of luck#.
#Thanks. Same to you#, he replied, then opened up to the others on board. Alag was awake; Seran wasn’t, but he had bid him goodbye beforehand anyway.
#Same to you, too, Alag#, he added, patching through the previous conversation.
#Very best of luck. You will definitely need it#.
And with that, just as it had seemingly worn off, he started to get nervous again.
From space, 217 looked like all other Spaceplanes, although it was slightly smaller than the average, given how later projects had grown ever larger.
Essentially, it resembled two huge snowglobes, thousands of kilometres in radii, stuck base-to-base. Halfway up or down both the transparent domes, circling around constructed tracks, would normally have been the artifical sun and moon spotlights, casting light and, well, less intense light on two regions either side of the transparent disc. Around the edge on both sides of the disc, an ice wall marked where there was no further territory.
The Orchestral Sky/Unvector approached the Spaceplane and orbited at a distance of 36,000km. From there, Seren found himself beamed into a public square in 217’s capital, P34, along with what, to human eyes, would appear to be a large tracked vehicle generally resembling a hybrid of an articulated lorry and a battle tank – and indeed, it was armed, albeit not in a manner that could handle a true military onslaught. Twenty metres long by four metres wide by three metres high inside the main area; that was to be home for as long as it took. Stood next to it, he looked around at the utterly still scene in front of him. Dim red lighting provided the bare minimum of visibility to the city streets, as the moon above was turned right down until it appeared as a vague disc-shaped presence in the sky. Beyond that, the stars were visible as if there was no protective dome at all.
After about thirty seconds of such observation, he concluded two certain things: one, that said protective dome was definitely there, and that two, there was no obvious cause; at least, there wasn’t one where he stood. There were, in his mind, two obvious things to do: one was to head to anywhere easily accesible with an AI unit – most likely a hotel – and the second was to head towards the central processor for the whole Spaceplane, but that would take some driving.
He checked the nearest hotel first, which some basic research in the truck-tank revealed to be just beyond the square. Walking in through the automatic doors, taking care not to hurry too quickly – the doors may well have interpreted anyone running towards them as potential attackers – he reached the lobby. A single projected AI zapped into existence in the middle of the mosaic floor.
“First visitor in nearly two years,” it said, “where have you all been?”
“That’s what I’ve been wanting to know,” Seren4 replied, “what about your last visitors?”
The AI nodded his head. “They were behaving… oddly. Like they weren’t quite sane. I shut the doors as soon as I recognised what was going on, and once I did, dozens, maybe hundreds of them, all piled up outside the doors, heaving to get in. Naturally I got the assemblers and beamers working, and reinforced them. If I hadn’t then this place would have been gutted by now. There’s enough damage as it is.”
He pointed upstairs, and zapped out again. Seren headed up there, and instantly the impression from the clean, sparse lobby shifted; walls were splattered with various substances, damage was embedded within them, lighting flickered, floors were filled with trails of mess. Even the worst guests wouldn’t have created such chaos. The PAI zapped back in again.
“Because of the mob outside, I couldn’t get those that slipped in, out. They just ran round the place, ransacked it, as if they were looking for something, and charged around like they had no thoughts of their own.”
Seren could only raise his hand casually in acknowledgement. “So there’s not much to work on, here?”
“My speciality is in running a hotel. I just left this stuff as it is so there’d be evidence. I assumed there would be an investigation.”
“Well, this is the investigation. I guess there just isn’t much here apart from a couple of clues.”
“You’re facing some pretty feral people. But trust me, it’s people who almost certainly caused this. Be careful if you meet any non-projected.”
He headed out of the hotel again, across the public square to the truck-tank. He wondered if the power grid, having been shut down to emergency reserve, and as a result leaving the whole Spaceplane in a perpetual twilight, should be re-activated. He decided that this was second priority. First priority was the next thing on the checklist: the central processor.
He checked the truck-tank again, just to be sure. Indeed, the central processor was exactly where he suspected; in the dead centre of the Spaceplane, five hundred kilometres to the south-east and some thirty kilometres down into the disc. Choosing not to delay, he slammed the ignition button and started off.
Through the forests, a mist had settled and red light, sodium-like, lit the way in stages. The winding roads had enough moisture along their ultra-smooth surfaces to cause the front end of the tank-truck to twitch in search of grip.
Throughout, he saw no-one, but the signs of their possibly present, possibly past presence were ever-present. Burnt-out cars occasionally littered the path, and the houses and local villages Seren passed were often gutted and strewn with debris.
On many levels, it was an astonishing sight, to see such a fallen society. In a civilisation like the Qareen Confederacy, a post-scarcity society in almost all possible respects, Spaceplanes represented the last sign of inequality; like gated communities, they shut off an elite from the normal, planet-dwelling folk. Everyone there usually had to earn their place, be it through military service, technological or scientific accomplishment, artistic achievement, or some other, widely recognised achievement. For those in 217, however, such privelige had suddenly collapsed from under them.
Having driven for three hours, and reasoning that he was nearly at the processor – or at least, that his overland journey was close to complete – he decided to stop, get out and take a break. Having concluded that physical travel, rather than beaming from point to point, would allow him to survey the wider picture of what had happened, he couldn’t help but feel that denying himself the option completely was somewhat unwise. The view in front of him during that break confirmed his point; as he walked around the village, full of trashed, burnt houses and cars, he couldn’t help but feel that it was adding no real extra understanding in concrete terms. All this was, after all, was more devastation, exactly as he had seen for kilometre after kilometre, and just as with the rest of the route, there was no explanation here. He sighed, and as if that long exhalation had deflated him, he slumped onto the bonnet of a particularly blackened vehicle. Doing so made a panel from it clatter loudly to the ground, its sound echoing off the buildings.
And that is when Seren got his explanation.
The first one he just watched until it got within fifty yards of him, at which point he realised that it wasn’t going to stop. When he looked closer, he could see in detail the flailing limbs, the constantly-staring eyes and hear a stuttering growl of the being.
He started to run.
He looked over his shoulder and found there were now three of them. He couldn’t remember where the truck-tank was, only that he was in the right direction.
He continued to run.
There must have been a dozen of them as he reached the main road. The juddering, stuttering noises of their inarticulate throats were blending into a single, continuous groan like a jammed and primitive industrial machine.
The truck-tank was in sight.
Automatically it opened for him, but scanning both him and the chasing pack, it found only Qareen, and hence friendly bodies. He flung himself into the main cab.
“Close the door!”
It did so. As he picked himself up, got behind the wheel, and checked the systems, a series of thuds hit the vehicle. All around the cab, through the various windows and transparent panels, he could see them up close; their eyes intensely bloodshot, their faces coated in blood and grime, their fists slammed in pure aggression.
“Computer, target all weapon systems at-”
“Targets identified as-”
“Do it, do it, do it-”
The weapons opened fire, lasering each of the targets between or in the eyes.
They all dropped to the floor, and Seren suspected the cowardly bastard had probably only targeted them for stun strength or light maiming. The threat, though, was for now gone. The truck-tank autopiloted into reverse, taking care not to crush the bodies that Seren would have gladly splattered just to be rid of whatever they were. Steering around them, it built up speed gradually, and
Seren had a thought.
“Remind us not to stop at any villages, or settlements of any kind, until we reach the processor. Unless it’s necessary, of course.”
He sat back and attempted to relax. I preferred this place when nothing stirred, he thought to himself.
Ziggurat Fractal Encryption (local version 2987.656 update) in progress.
To: Central Confederate Office for Widescale Emergency
From: Seren4/235,177; Investigating Agent
Subject: Post-Incident Assessment Report for 217-D, Part Four
To all invested,
After three days of investigation I have ultimately located the source and perhaps part of the nature of the incident which has created the disaster that occurred at 217-D. I will hence expound on such issues below.
After several hours of driving to the central processor, and enduring several attacks (see below) from local citizens, I discovered the ultimate cause of the issue to be biological. The processor’s log, in fact, noted in detail the exact cause before shutdown, which occurred a few hours later. It would appear that the central source of the crisis was an old weapons facility in R88, some two hundred kilometres to the south-east of, and obverse of, P34. Some kind of explosion at the plant appeared to release an experimental biological weapon, a virus designed for anti-terrorist purposes (and hence the native population were not immune) known as PGEN754. Notes from the plant note that the virus is airborn, but survives for only a short time without a host. It is, however, transmissble in relatively close contact (say, within one metre), and it requires some time for the worst symptoms to become obvious to outside observers.
Whilst it would appear that the lack of new hosts in nearly two years has allowed the virus to die out, there are nonetheless still some among the native population who have not died of the disease, which does ultimately appear to be eventually fatal.
The virus is unlike those generated in other, similar facilities throughout the Confederacy, and indeed without precedent in Qareen history; from there, the confusing narratives generated by eyewitnesses are nonetheless logical. The virus would appear to generate intense amounts of aggression (and, oddly, increased levels of stamina) from the victim, and similarly, it would appear to heavily reduce the victim’s capacity for sentience and concious reason. This includes the capacity for communication; my attempts were often met with relatively feral responses, although some language was used. The victims are often willing to enact such mindless aggression on those suspected of being uninfected, detected seemingly by the victim’s subconcious observation of behaviour and body language.
Whilst there are no precedents to enlighten us from this galaxy regarding the nature of the virus, there is, by an odd coincidence, something to be found in the human database acquired during first contact, as made around three thousand years ago in the agreed Confederate Calendar. In several human cultures, there would appear to be some common folklore that shares some similarity with the incident that has occurred. Whilst we can discard many of the more supernatural aspects of the folklore, and the details are significantly different from many versions of the human stories, we can nonetheless draw much from this legend of what would appear to be termed “the walking dead” in preparation for any further outbreak.
Suggested Course of Action
There would appear to be little to suggest for most other Spaceplanes, as it was 217’s ancient design that predominantly allowed such a facility to be present on it. Almost all such facilities are now properly isolated throughout the Confederacy.
A review on regulating non-Qareen-immune biological weaponry, or at least untargeted weaponry, may well be wise.
My surveying of 217 itself, utilising scans from the central processor, remote surveyance drones and my own observation, would suggest that there are very few survivors, if any, on the Spaceplane at present. Any survivors still present are highly likely to be exposed to the virus, or else in the early stages of contraction. In the long term, it is highly unlikely that there is much in the way of Qareen citizens or material assets that can be extracted from the Spaceplane. Given that the virus has already cost several billion lives, I recommend that it would be unwise to attempt any kind of recovery of the system, and that CCOWE consider the possibility of classifying 217-D as beyond reprieve. [Receiver’s note: CCOWE agreed with this judgement and 217-D was subsequently eliminated, 2987.994].