Mass Times Acceleration

Date:1,991,972 A.D. (Gregorian), P.W. 10,991 (Shango), N.A. 1104 (Qareen)
Location:
from Spaceplane 106 to the edge of the Qareen-controlled galaxy

1

“Keo3. You are awarded Educational Attainment Section 17. With this knowledge, go forth, and may you do your people proud.”

Spaceplane 106 was one of the oldest constructions of its kind in the galaxy. Built thousands of years previously, it had been upgraded with the Qareen Confederacy’s technological improvements on occasions, but it nonetheless bore the hallmarks of its age; sometimes, the transparent dome could catch the nearby sun’s light in an odd way, betraying its presence, which it was not really supposed to do. The flat disc of land often got more than its fair share of visitors, too, because places like Spaceplane 106 got more than its fair share of history.

Yet there were benefits, too: being one of the oldest Spaceplanes gave 106 some of the oldest, and hence frequently most experienced, best and most prestigious establishments. The 5 Academy, one of the best of the best, had been good to Keo3, and it had allowed him to study at his leisure, but he had eventually chosen to leave; academia was not truly what he was cut out for, or so he felt. From here, though, came a problem every Qareen faced at the end of education: what to do in a society where no-one truly needed to work. A year on, he had fallen into the most regrettable life a Qareen could have: an idler. Someone who, far from doing nothing in particular, as many Qareen did, just did nothing.

He had spent half a local year as one, and too many days had involved him simply lying around, or even walking around, with a sense of emptiness. When he looked up at the slightly stretched night sky each night, it got a little too much, and he wondered whether anyone would miss him if he disappeared. The nearby lake on the edge of a3t5, his hometown, was bordered on one side by a steep and high cliff; to jump from there would finish it all on impact. Or maybe, he thought – but only slightly more hopefully – maybe he could disappear less permanently, to the more cosmopolitan areas of the Intersection Zone, where the galaxy the Qareen dominated overlapped with that of the Shango Federation. Of course, if another war happened, he would be at the vanguard, and he didn’t particularly want that; then again, a basic check of the calendar told him it was N.A. 1104; peace with the Federation had been managed for eleven centuries – it was, or should have been, a minor concern.

Eventually, his house spoke up.

“Keo3, we should discuss a certain matter regarding your routine.”

“Hmm?”

“I have noticed,” it observed, voice slightly too pitched to be Qareen, “that you have spent a high number of hours inside this residence. Your lifestyle in this respect is at least three standard deviations from the mean. Are you struggling for something to do?”

“I suppose I am.”

“I can help,” it said simply, and activating the holographic function of the living space floor, projected a mass of labelled graphics up to waist height as Keo3 stood at the door.

“Look, I don’t want to bother-”

“It is not a problem. I merely wish to offer advice and guidance.”

“Fair enough.”

He walked around the room, amidst the forest of options. Amongst them he saw a series at the back, above which gleamed the word “Exploration”. A series of sub-options were visible; exploring the local region, exploring the whole Spaceplane, exploring the whole damn galaxy; and it was that, quite remarkably, that made him realise something.

“I’ve never left 106.”

“As far as I’m aware, Keo, you indeed haven’t.”

“Maybe I should,” he continued. He thought about it, and when he did, he realised the idea was exactly what he needed. “Yes, I definitely should. How do I get a ship?”

“It’s not too hard. You just have to ask at the local access point.”

The projections were wiped away, to be replaced with a new one showing directions. The local access point, it transpired, was two miles away.

“Access depends on what kind of ship you’re looking for,” the house continued, “a slower vehicle, you might get immediately. A top-range ship might be a day or two away. A Shango commissioned one might take some time longer.”

Keo3 was already preparing to leave. He opened the door and checked the weather; it was a little cold.

“Assembler, one coat for current conditions.”

The assembler between the kitchen and living space flared and let out a low buzz, but inside a second of the command leaving his mouth a coat slumped to the floor of the cubicle.

“You’re not teleporting to there?” the house asked. A holographic arrow pointed to the teleport booth, a cubicle opposite the assembler.

“Nah. Sometimes the exercise is good.”

“And the cold?”

“It’s bracing. Character-forming. Or whatever other crap my parents always told me. But house… thanks.”

The house’s AI was not necessarily sentient enough to appreciate that last sentence, but it chalked up another recorded instance and noted the effectiveness of the job it was doing. Seconds afterwards, Keo left.

2

#Bafed7 > Keo3: What’d you get?#

#Keo3 > All Closed Reception: A6U9 Construction Type A1-1103. The Kingdom Gone/Ninth Light. {schematic patched} Looks like this.#

#Uliska1 > Keo3: Good choice. Even M.E.A.C. would struggle to better that.#

#Keo3 > Uliska1: Similar waiting time, though.#

#All CR > Keo3: [aggregate] I can imagine. [Bafed7] So they’re entrusting you with that?#

#Keo3 > Bafed7: Piss off…#

#Bafed7 > Keo3: I’m just kidding.#

#Uliska1 > Keo3: So can we come?#

#Keo3 > All CR: If you want. I’m gonna need crew for things, I suppose. Boardlayer to steer the damn thing, seeing as I probably can’t do it, and – are there any weapons on that? {schematic open, weapon search: positive} So someone needs to use that if we’re in trouble, which I might manage. But there’ll be other stuff, maybe. Everyone could pitch in. Bring friends. Bring friends of friends.#

#All CR > Keo3: [aggregate] Sure. Bring the whole damn Spaceplane.#

#Keo3 > All CR: Sure. Why not?#

The three of them sat back in silence for a while. The view from Keo’s house, now that he looked at it knowing he would leave, had perhaps contributed to his sense of inertia; a flat plain that stretched forever onwards, viewed positively it was a symbol of limitless promise, but in his pessimism he had viewed it as the dull monotony his life had been. But he had purpose now. He understood exactly what he wanted to do; perhaps not in physical specifics, but in terms of mood – he wanted to go forth and construct an immense presence in space, reach out there across the parsecs and achieve something immense, so that no-one across the Qareen Confederacy could forget the name of Keo3/106.

#All CR > Keo3: [aggregate]: Wow, we just thought this would be some kind of trip to somewhere.#

He realised that he had accidentally broadcast all of the previous thoughts to the other two, and made a conscious mental note not to lose control of his superconscious to that degree again. Bafed was the one who spoke next, and he transmitted his thought slowly, speaking as if trying to solve a crime or fit together a complex puzzle.

#Bafed7 > Keo3: I might be wrong, here, but… I think… if I recall correctly – what you said sounds like a – what is it? – a – Uliska, help me out?#

#I don’t know#, she said simply.

#An Astrostate! That’s it! You’re maybe looking to build an Astrostate, and possibly lead it.#

Keo wasn’t so sure about that. #First#, he told them both, #first we get the Kingdom Gone. An Astrostate would take years. It’s just that I wanted a purpose.#

3

The Kingdom Gone/Ninth Light was not necessarily a large ship – at around three hundred metres long, and with around sixteen decks, it was at least half the size in all dimensions of a full-blown military vessel. What it lacked in size, however, it made up for in comfort, being a place where even the walls and ceilings were densely, softly and intricately carpeted. When Keo3 beamed onto the ship and walked around its corridors, he wondered if it was even faintly possible to injure himself on the ship. He tested this when he reached the engine room, and leapt off a balcony that was one deck up from the floor below; when he did, the Grab field weakened instantly, and he found himself floating down to the floor as if he had walked down an escalator instead of attempted free fall.

In the end, his encouragement to bring “friends of friends” hadn’t quite been taken up on, which was probably just as well, he thought. Even so, he found ten people aboard; himself, Uliska, Bafed, a couple of other friends he had invited, and five others he found himself not knowing too well.

Ten people across a sixteen-deck ship made it a little empty, but it also gave them a free run across the place. The sense of a small community helped him, as well. And slowly, as he got into the activities on the ship: observing the bright, star-forming regions near the Intersection Zone on the observation deck; forming an impregnable coalition in Kaizener Court Three, with a game that simply would not end, and checking the news feeds, which tracked various elections that were afoot, the incidents caused by various separatist factions across various planets, and some trade deal the Confederate government agreed with a small Republic known as the Bhoot.

#You’re going to need to keep tabs on these things, future President#, Uliska teased, although ten days in he was still insisting that he would not be forming an Astrostate. The idea was absurd, he thought, and as a man whose main focus in his academy studies had been history, he felt completely unsuited to running something as big as a whole nation. Still the notion kept coming up.

4

He finally gave in three days later.

The Kaizener game on Court Three had run since the beginning of the journey, and the scores were now over three thousand points apiece in the main game. Bafed’s coalition, of himself and four of the people who were new to Keo – the Rainfire – had an edge of about twelve points over the Pioneer coalition, which Keo played in. Of course, the AIs monitoring and refereeing the game were holding back other scores, which rendered the whole thing slightly illusory; for all they knew, that twelve-point lead was immensely deceiving.

Keo found himself as main player at the moment it happened, playing against Bafed, and Bafed’s serve at the time was a low shot that bouncing one-two against wall and floor before rising up again. Keo charged in, swung his racquet-bat in a messy, poorly timed effort, got a thick edge on the ball, and somehow managed to get it to move in a looping return, arcing several metres into the air before dropping and skimming the wall. Bafed was forced to charge in, and Keo simply tapped a drop shot that bobbed along the floor into a roll, another point easily won.

And bizarrely, it was at that moment, on that brief high (given that this completed a trio of brutally efficient plays across the last four points played), that the idea rose from the depths of his subconscious into a conscious thought.

#Let’s go for it#, he announced to everyone, on the court and on the balcony behind.

#Go for what?# Uliska asked.

#The Astrostate. Let’s make one. However you do it, exactly.#

A murmur of voices filed up in his superconscious; the game was half-thrown away as Bafed stopped to register his own opinion. #You’re mad – we weren’t really saying you should go for one now#. he argued.

#Well, let’s go for it and see how far we get. Worst case scenario is that we get in serious trouble and start appealing to the Confeds for help. And if we’re not stable, then maybe we can pitch ourselves close to Spaceplane 114,099 and that help arrives in minutes. {distribute: galaxy map – route to confeds}.#

The buzz of voices continued, a mass of thoughts moving through his superconscious as he reached for the ball that had rolled to a stop in front of him. He took his place behind the serve line and readied himself for the next point.

#I’m not ready#, Teru2, his catcher, told him, hurrying back behind the serve line.

#What about, we have a vote?# Uliska asked. #It’s what any sensible group of people would do over something like this, right?#

They agreed, and the votes were rapidly pooled together. Such a process was a slightly odd feeling, beyond conversation; there was a sort of qualitative focus in the room, and Keo could feel it, just there, suspended at head height right behind and equidistant from himself and Bafed. When the vote crystallised into detail, the spread was broadly seven to two in his favour, with one uncertain, and the two against prepared to give the benefit of the doubt. He had won that. The Kaizener game, however, would continue.

He lifted his racquet-bat, swung it down to meet the ball in a serve, and watched it bounce short of the wall.

“Fault, 1 of 2 permitted,” the wall-screen stated.

He was still eleven points down.

5

In a way, he could not quite believe that he had gone ahead with the Astrostate plan, but before long, Keo3 was in for a penny, in for the proverbial pound that the Qareen Confederacy had long since lost the use for, by and large. For days he paced about his room – which was now six former rooms he had collapsed the walls of, forming one huge suite in which he could arrange a mass of holograms within the space. Whenever he walked into the room, he was greeted by a labyrinth of diagrams springing from the floor and walls, showing typical Qareen state functions in splayed branches from the centre, summarising the conclusions of various political philosophers and scholars on how each department could be arranged, how the state as a whole could function, and so forth; their bullet points sprang forth from yet more diagrams plotting these views on various spectra according to their extremities.

In many ways, it started to become overwhelmingly, especially as, as far as he could see, overbearing, especially given that a Qareen state was by and large a minimal one anyway, whatever happened. The President’s Office, an intelligence agency, a department for foreign diplomacy, a justice department, the military, and two very minimal departments for education and health, which generally acted to ban quack medicine and false theories, were all that were really there on Spaceplane 114,099, and Keo reckoned that he would not even need at least two, perhaps even three of those.

So he gathered Uliska, Bafed, Teru and Kogr8 on the bridge, and together they focused on inviting ships into the brave new, if somewhat lightly sketched, venture.

#OK. We want to suggest that our place is more interesting than others#, Uliska established. #We need an angle. Something we can… sell this place on.#

#Sell?# Bafed questioned.

#None of us seem to be skilled at that#, Keo agreed. “Ship,” he asked, calling for all systems, “where is the nearest Astrostate to here?”

The Navigator’s holographic display, tucked away in the front right corner of the bridge, brought up a diagram, whilst large text flashed up on the wall directly ahead. “Nearest Astrostate: Republic of Valistan. 3.22 parsecs 063 Galactic west and 007 Galactic down. Estimated journey time 01.19.35.”

“Remarkably close,” Uliska said aloud. Indeed it was; the journey amounted to some twenty Earth minutes or so. The ship’s computer proceeded to dump information onto the same screen it had recently informed them with.

“The Republic of Valistan was formed in N.A. 1097. It is often a common feature of recently formed Astrostates to anchor themselves to relatively nearby Spaceplanes or Qareen-dominated planets; in this case, Spaceplane 113,764, which Valistan has been within five parsecs of for six of its seven years of formal existence.”

#That’s it! No need to go there at all#, Uliska suddenly cried. The rest of them were silent at this.

#What we do#, she continued, #is not anchor ourselves. Or maybe we give ourselves a sort of semi-anchor plan, to never be more than 03.00.00 away from a Spaceplane. But that’s our angle – we’re adventurous, we’re bold, we’re going were nobody else goes, and we’re having as much fun as we can along the way.#

#Sounds like a plan#, Kogr8 agreed.

6

The first ship to join them came two days after they put out the word. The Shovel-Ready/Clemency/Reducible Core swept in from the Galactic north and down, joining them as they headed inwards towards the Intersection Zone. With ninety-six civilians on board, the original group found themselves quickly outnumbered, having to introduce themselves to a large number of unknowns. A day afterwards, the Renaissance Fare/Rainstorm in Space joined them, with another sixty-seven people.

#It might take a bigger ship#, Oyret0, the apparent leader of the Shovel-Ready, told Keo. #That previous state you mentioned? The Republic of Valistan? I visited once. That’s what they were planning at the time. I doubt it’s being constructed now, but it will be in due course, and they’ll probably all move there, just one massive ship. It’s safer than smaller ships that can be picked off.#

#Where were these things during the Intersection Wars?# he asked.

#That’s a little before my time. But I understand that this strategy came about because of the Wars.#

#Shit.#

#Exactly.#

Keo wondered what Oyret’s agenda was, but she was advising him well, and he could not complain too much. The three ships flew on, approaching the edge of the stand-alone part of the galaxy, right before that ambiguous point where the collision began. The Kaizener game finally ended when Bafed missed a return and stumbled on his way to his Safe Zone. Another couple of days of subgames, and the Pioneers had won out. Keo hoped the victory would be symbolic of his future. He felt engaged, he thought; the previous fiftieth of a year had at times been exhausting, a rush of events compared to his previously inert lifestyle, and he had wondered what he was getting himself into. Even so, he mostly felt hesitancy; never fear.

7

#The 5 Academy? Quite a prestigious place. I heard it’s one of the top 20 such places in the whole Confederacy>>>#

Keo phased out Oyret’s seemingly constant stream of conversation. His superconscious memory would, in any event, log it all anyhow, should a question need answering. She had been doing this for quite some time, constantly asking questions, almost as if he was being interviewed for the job of President.

Ships continued to join. The Triage/Infinite Set and the Prototypical Design/Sui Generis/Autumnal both swooped into the previously three-strong group of ships, and as they reached the edge of the Intersection Zone, they were joined by the Half a Fighter/Score Draw/Level Six. This put them one-off the minimum for Confederate recognition, or so Keo had read from various sources. The Kingdom Gone, for its part, had begun to project a faint sphere around itself and all six ships, around fifty thousand kilometres in radius and with a magnitude of around zero from the outside. Maybe I haven’t studied politics, Keo thought, but surely the obvious thing to do is to claim territory.

At that point, however, he was moving through the third deck down, heading towards the bridge area, namely a room branching off it, which functioned, in effect, as a conference room. When he walked in, he spotted Uliska and Bafed, and only them. Fair enough, he thought; they were everyone he needed to speak to.

“Afternoon.”

“Same to you,” Uliska said.

“We’ve got news,” Bafed added, “good news. A seventh ship is arriving. As soon as it’s within the sphere we’ll be sending off recognition.”

“When will that be?”

“In around 42.11.33,” he replied, looking down at a ticking graphic flitting across the table. “First we need a name.”

“Can’t we put that to a vote?”

“We did, behind your back,” Bafed said. He moved his hands across the table, where about a dozen strands of text floated towards Keo. “Those we asked were having none of it. They want something to rally round, just like you didn’t ask for a vote before you put all this together.”

“Well I don’t quite get that. But let’s do it. Any ideas?”

“You go first.”

“Venturia? Voyagia? Something along those lines, I think. Slightly cheesy, but it’s a decent description.”

8

The Intersection Zone was fairly densely packed with Spaceplanes and Qareen-resident planets, relatively speaking, as if the victory in the Wars had given the Qareen an absolute right to dominate it. Even so, surprisingly few ships joined, even if a steady number continued to do so. So the ships plunged on through the galaxies, under the now-official banner of the Republic of Venturia, Keo did begin to wonder when he exactly decided to rush towards largely Shango space, which they were to reach within a few days.

It was when they reached the heart of the Intersection Zone, which, given their relatively slow speed and eccentric path, had taken around forty days instead of the twenty or so that they should’ve done, when it happened.

It was night, for one, so Keo had to wake up to the sound – no, the feel – of something huge knocking the ship sideways. Grab systems, operated by the weakest AI necessary, struggled the figure out which way was down, and so he flew across the room, skipped like a stone across a table and slammed back-first into the far wall before normality resumed. It transpired that those wall-carpets had their limits.

“Ship, what the fuck was that?”

“The Shovel-Ready/Clemency/Reducible Core has collided with this ship. Evading tactics were utilised, but anticipation of the action was low and hence their effectiveness was limited.”

He got up from the floor, rubbed his back and quickly got dressed, pulling a t-shirt-like garment over his head as he reached the corridor. He got to the bridge shortly afterwards.

#What happened?# he asked, although opening up to the rest of the ship revealed a lot of the same coming back to him.

#I’m getting a cognitive upload from the ship. I’ll be on the bridge shortly#, Uliska explained. #OK, here it is. {collision doc}.#

Keo examined it. The Shovel-Ready had very suddenly yawed into the Kingdom Gone‘s path, and whilst minimal damage had occurred to the Kingdom, the Shovel-Ready had suffered immensely, having moved to pass under the Kingdom and smashed the top half of itself to pieces. He wondered how it had collapsed so easily; it struck him as very suspicious, but what also struck him as odd was the damage that the Kingdom did take – as he examined the holographic overview, he saw the steering strangely jammed in place.

#Something is going on#, he told Uliska, #and I don’t like it.#

The Kingdom Gone/Ninth Light continued to spear onwards, passing through the Intersection Zone in a matter of days. Keo sent out the call for help, but only the ships following could help.

The real problem, really, was one of cosmology. The galaxies’ collision formed a warped curvature, which meant that at some point, the ship’s inability to turn would make it simply leave the galaxy, and head off into intergalactic space. The only hope then would be for the Dharans, intergalactic demigods that they were, to take pity. It was not, however, something to be assumed.

Firing the engines asymmetrically did nothing for direction; sitting in the Boardlayer’s booth and laying down those forcefield boards had similarly little effect, although slamming into one head-on managed to slow the ship by an imperceptible amount.

Eventually, Keo admitted that the other ships would have to drop back; the one that didn’t was the Renaissance Fare/Rainstorm in Space. Loyal from the beginning, it decided to move in closer in a bid to beam people between the ships – a complex, awkward operation that was not helped by the speed of both ships.

Keo was the last to stay, and as a reminder, the ship kept warning him that it would soon been clocking up ever more parsecs of distance away from anything recognisably Qareen. At first, he was tempted to go down with the ship, as it were, until he realised that, firstly, this was a moronic romantic notion he had read somewhere, and two, the ship wasn’t about to go down anyway, merely onwards, relentlessly, until it crashed into something, a prospect that would become increasingly unlikely as it drifted into ever-less dense space.

Then he realised that the real reason was that he somehow felt responsible. The ship could easily be replaced; the Confederacy wouldn’t miss it. But he would – it was the first ship he had, for want of a better phrase, been in charge of, and that it was gone inside of a year felt terrible. He wanted to stand on the observation deck, gazing out at the stars as they thinned out into a void, but of course, the ship’s computer was having none of it, instead displaying a huge, ominous countdown to it passing the last star over the view.

#You have to get out of there#, Uliska told him on the last evening in the galaxy, as he wandered the corridors on the fourth deck. She was very forceful about it, he noted.

#Why?#

He wasn’t about to give up without a good reason.

#Just trust me, you’ve got about 22.00.00 left. The ship’s gonna hit something. We think.#

#You think.#

#We think. And we’re not taking the risk.#

He moved to the nearest teleport pad and stepped in, figuring that, really, he had found no solution on the ship anyhow. Perhaps, he thought, it could be salvaged remotely. Transmitting his location, he felt that sudden plunge into darkness, and then the burst back into light and the unfamiliar vision of another ship, along with a queasiness in his organs that was stronger than the slight shiver that beaming usually caused.

#We had to move you#, Uliska said. #Come to the observation deck and you’ll see. It’s moving in so damn fast.#

#Dharan.#

#Most definitely.#

He reached the observation deck and, sure enough, the long-range display had the vessel rushing in, travelling in a second what the best Qareen ships took an hour over. On the direct visual, which was tracking the ship, he saw nothing but the Kingdom Gone moving onwards for several minutes, until quite suddenly, with a visual bang, the Dharan vessel appeared: like a monstrous, vicious, angular explosion of blades and bayonets, the perimeter of its shielding simply treating the relatively tiny Kingdom like a particularly useless shot. With a flash and a splash of debris, the Kingdom had gone. After a few seconds of imposing stillness, the Dharan ship also vanished, instant acceleration so fast that Keo could almost imagine hearing the whoosh through a vacuum.

#It’s OK. We still have a nation to build.#

9

He checked and found Uliska on the bridge, sitting inert in the Boardlayer’s booth. No boards needed laying; the ship itself had wound down to a sub-lightspeed crawl, shuffling towards planet 3,092,100, some two thousand parsecs from the Intersection Zone, and would reach it in about a week at the current pace.

#Hey.#

#A ‘hey’ to you too.#

“What’s up?”

Her voice startled him slightly. He hadn’t heard her speak aloud in some time. He was quite sure that the previous contexts were conspirational, the passing of secrets without interception.

“The election?” she asked. “The project?”

#How is the project going?# he asked. No need to cover that up.

#It’s OK#, she continued. “Don’t avoid the real question.”

He sighed, and took the captain’s seat, span it round ninety degrees to face her. She got out of the booth – the chair didn’t turn – and sat on the armrest nearest him. “The investigation,” he admitted.

“It’s been five years.”

“I don’t care. I want answers.”

Uliska nodded. “You’re one determined bastard. Like I’ve been telling you, don’t push it too far.”

She paused, but noticed he wasn’t going to give in.

“Computer, screen please. Standalone.”

A large transparent pane assembled in front of the captain’s chair, and Keo span round to face it.

“Yitre9 has found very little in the past half a year or so. Right now, it’s all only speculation.”

The screen displayed a diagram filled with lines branching off from one another.

“The basic picture remains the same,” Uliska explained, “there’s thirty-seven possible explanations about Oyret, which form into eleven different self-consistent narratives. Only one can be true. Depending on which one, she was either an innocent person who made a terrible mistake, a Shango operative for any one of four organisations, a Qareen operative for either a terrorist faction or the Confeds in one of two capacities, a Stoppan operative, or a Dharan operative in one of two capacities. But it’s been five years, Keo. The trail is cold, and your guess is as good as mine. She’s dead, anyhow. All I’m saying is, perhaps the truth will never out, and it’s worth dropping.”

Keo was only prepared to put the issue on the back-burner. This was, after all, important: here he was, heading towards one of the biggest manufacturers in the galaxy, who would in part help create one ship for one, unified Astrostate. What would the Dharans, the Shango or anyone else do to that?

“The thing is,” Uliska said quietly, “sometimes, the truth isn’t out there. You just have to plunge onwards into the unknown.”

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