Cerian and Varan War - A story in development

The setting (from several hundred thousand light years away)
An Explanation

Through late 2022 and most of 2023, an author, E.W.Paris, on the writing.exchange Mastodon instance shared a daily AI generated image as a writing prompt for a 500 character story. One day the following image appeared:
Tannis finds herself in trouble



And I knew I had a story about a pilot caught up in an enemy formation. I even had a name - "Tannis". She had found herself in the middle of an enemy attack, and was too close to them for them to shoot at her. So she got some cool last words.




Then the next day this image appeared:


And it occurred to me that these were the enemies that Tannis was surrounded by. Their commander could not be an idiot, so what does he do? He does the only thing that you could do in that situation that is not going to automatically make things worse. He talked. 

From those two images, and several others over the following year, the story of the war between Ceria and Vara grew. 


This is all very much a work in progress. When you come here, you may find things have changed without notice. Things may get reformatted, names might change, plot elements might shift, dialogue will almost certainly get changed.  I do not have an editor, a beta reader, or anything of that sort. I am not a professional writer. So be warned. 

Lastly, the first place new content will appear will be as fragments (2500 character limit) on my Mastodon account - https://aus.social/@rdm

With all of that...


Part 1 - Another day on the front

Tannis activated her jump engine, and watched the universe turn itself inside out. In a few seconds she would be outside the atmosphere, and on an intercept course with the incoming Varan attack.

"I wonder what they are planning to hit?" she wondered to herself. Not that it mattered - her job was to take out the over-watch, making it safe for another squadron to hit the attackers.

The universe turned right side in around her. 

Part 2 - Not another day

Tannis was not quite sure how she ended up embedded in the middle of a Varan combined tactics formation, but none of them appeared to have noticed her Cerian fighter.

"Oh, well, I may as well go with it for now. It is not like they can do much with me in the middle of them, even if they do notice. Who knows? I might even be able to do some good", she mused to herself. A quick glance showed the CVR was running. Not bad last words.

With that, she started checking her weapon loads.

-----------------------------------------------

What in the name of all the hells  was a Cerian fighter doing in the middle of his formation? 
How had they even gotten in there? 

And there was nothing they could do about it. It was too close to fire on without taking out one of his wingmen, and if they broke formation, the Cerian would be able to fire off their full load before anyone could get a bead.

Under the circumstances, there was only one thing to do.

"Cerian fighter, this is Squadron Leader Ashwan. How did you pull that stunt off?"

Tannis was surprised to hear a hail from one of the enemy ships. After a moment she decided that it would do no harm to answer. "No idea."
"You don't know?"
"Nope. I honestly have no idea. I am assuming some sort of glitch, because I was meant to intercept you 300km outside the atmosphere."
"Which we were already inside of."
"Yes, which makes me wonder, why are you on this vector anyway? The only thing out this way is a kids summer camp."
"A summer camp?"
"Yeah, you know, the sort where kids go after the school year finishes? To relax and socialise, while the parents can keep working? Do you people have anything like that?"
"Ah.. not exactly, but you are saying the only thing out this way is a children's recreational facility?"
"Squadron Leader, that is exactly what I am saying. What did you think was out here?"
"Our target was a munitions depot. At these co-ordinates."
"That's the camp."
"Could there be a depot in the camp?"
"What? Store high explosives and radio-actives around our kids? Are you on something?"
"No, but I am starting to suspect that our planners are." Ashwan changed channels. "All units, safe ground attack weapons. I say again, safe all ground attack weapons. Keep intercept weapons hot."
There was a flurry of requests for confirmation.
"Yes, confirmed. We are going to do a recon pass first. Al? Claire? I want your penetrating radar hot while we do the pass. You are looking for underground structures."
"Confirmed, Squadron Leader"

A few minutes later, the flight of attack craft, and one lone fighter, screamed across the sky above the camp.

"Ash? There's nothing below ground. And only soft structures above." Claire's voice sounded alarmed.
"Thank-you. Did anyone see anything resembling berms?"
There was a series of "No"s in response.
"That's it. Abort mission. All units, climb to 250, and stand by for transition."

Ashwan changed channels again. "Well, it looks like you were telling the truth. I'm afraid you're going to have to come with us, though."
Tannis sighed "Why?"
"You're my evidence that something is rotten in mission planning. There is no way they could not have known that that was not a military facility. There is something very fishy going on. And I think it might not just be us. One of your strike groups hit a hospital last month."
"What? That's inhumane! Its horrible!" Tannis starting thinking back through the mission reports of the last month. "No, wait, there was a strike last month on a munitions factor... oh god."

---------------------

Hitomi and Ava were worried. They, and the rest of the squadron had completed their jump, and were at the rendezvous. They should have been picking up the incoming Varan strike force by now. But there was nothing. Also, there was something else wrong.
"Estelle? Any sign of Tannis?"
"Nothing, Hitomi. It is like she never came out of jump. No debris, no signal, nothing."
"Keep scanning Estelle, and has there been any sign of the Varans?"
"Nothing - I don't think they are coming to play."

Several minutes passed.

"Hitomi?" 
"Yes, Ava?"
"I'm picking up something. But it is coming out of the atmosphere, and it is over 1500 kilometres away."
"What direction?"
"South-east. And Hitomi? It looks like a Varan signature."
"But there's nothing out that way!"
"I know. Could they be targeting a civilian," Ava broke off.
"Ava? What is it?"
"There's another signature in that group. It is Tannis. She's in the middle of the Varan strike group."
"What? Can we get an intercept?"
"No, by the time we'd get there they will have been able to do one of their mass transits."
Estelle broke in "Hitomi, Ava, I'm getting some transmissions. Listen!"

A Varan voice came over the airwaves "something very fishy going on. And I think it might not just be us. One of your strike groups hit a hospital last month."
"What? That's inhumane! Its horrible!" That was Tannis! "No, wait, there was a strike last month on a munitions factor... oh god."

"That's all - they've jumped, with Tannis in the middle of them." said Estelle.

"Ava, do you recall what they were talking about?" Hitomi asked.
"Yes, there was a major attack sent in last month. Officially the target was a long-range munitions plant. But now..."

"Estelle, what was below their exit vector?"
"Nothing. Just a summer camp, Hitomi."
"Any detonations"
"None."
"So they went home without shooting?"
"And took  Tannis with them."

The Cerian interceptor pod, now lacking an opponent to fight, regrouped.

"Before we jump, I want everyone to clone all your data recorders to everyone else, OK"
"Estelle? What's up?"
"With what has gone down Ava, I think it might pay to have backups. And Hitomi?"
"Yes?"
"I know you've got a not at all regulation removable data store in there. Use it."
"Right."
"Ok, everyone, on my mark.."

There was a sudden flash of blue light.

"Ava! What was that?"
"It was too low power to be a weapon strike ... it was a comms burst ... it's Tannis' CVR and flight recorder data. It's signed. She must have fired it after coming out of the Varran mass jump!"
"Everyone! Clone that as well!" Estelle ordered.

The local space came alive with comms laser links between the fighter craft.

"OK, this time, on my mark," she paused for the next shoe to drop. When nothing happened "Mark!" and the three aerospace fighters each blinked out of existence.

Three hundred kilometres below, three fighters suddenly appeared in the sky above the forward air/space base. Falling for a few seconds, their engines  suddenly roared, and their wings extended. They soared back into the air.

They circled once, called in for landing clearance, and descended to the ground. 

As they taxied towards the hangers, they could see the commander waiting. 


Interlude

To an outsider, it would have looked like a very strange sort of war. There was no grab for territory, no armies of invasion. No great armadas, not even a hail of nuclear missiles. Instead, every few weeks, a small group of single and dual seat craft would venture from one planet to the other, carry out a tactical strike, and depart.

Why? Even with jump drives and fusion-powered thrusters, space-capable craft were expensive, and pilots were hard to train. And it is not as if either group could live on the other's planet - even though they were both nominally human, each had adapted to their local biome, and would find the other deadly. 

On top of that, building any sort of capital class ship would have to be done in orbit - and an orbital shipyard would be a sitting duck for the other side's raiders. So fighter-class ships it was.

And so it had raged, or at least simmered, for years. 

Part 3 - In Enemy Hands

"That's different" was the first thing that went through Tannis' head as the world outside suddenly shifted. There had been none of the sense of travel or rushing that her own ship's jump engines would produce. Then she noticed something odd. "Squadron Leader Ashwan, why are we outside the atmosphere?"
"Cerian fighter why wouldn't we be? And what do I call you anyway?"
"Flight Leader Tannis. I would have thought we would have jumped to the atmosphere just above your base."
"What? How would we do that? No wonder we can never intercept your ships before reentry! I bet the science people will love to see your ship."
"You know I'll eject and slag my fighter before anyone can touch it."

There was a long pause. 

"Bennett" Ashwan barked.
"Sir?"
"Your family are council, aren't they?"
"Yes sir."
"Right. I need you to act as witness and bondsman."
"Sir? What?"
"Can you do it?"
"Yes sir, but..."
"Change to common channel"
"Yes sir."

"Flight Leader Tannis, do you have any other names?"
"What? No, why would I need them?" asked a puzzled Tannis
"Never mind. Bennett, I call upon you to witness and bond a vow."
"Who are the participants, Squadron Leader?" 
"Myself, Ashwan of House Gould of Landing and Tannis of Ceria."
"What is the vow?"
"I vow that no person or machine shall inspect, analyse, probe, board, or otherwise interfere with the fighter craft piloted by Tannis of Ceria."
"I hear your vow and bond you to it. No man or institution may gainsay your words." Bennett replied, completing the ritual.
"Now you don't have to destroy your ship, Flight Leader."
"Can't your commanders just overrule you?" asked Tannis.
"Not unless they want the commander's family to hunt them down, Flight Leader," Bennett said, "and it was broadcast over the common channel. There will be no hiding it. Aside from that, my family is now involved, and bound to come to the aid of the commander in protecting his word."
"I see. Um. OK. Squadron Leader Ashwan?"
"Yes?"
"I grant you my parole. I also offer the contents of my flight recorders to aid in your case."
"Thank you Flight Leader. I accept your parole. Please remain in formation as we re-enter so that the base IFF does not shoot you down."
"Understood."

Despite decades of intercepting broadcasts from Vara, Tannis reflected, we still do not really understand them very well. 


Ashwan taxied as close to the commander as he dared, and opened his canopy.

"I trust there is a good reason you've come back with a full load" were the first words he heard.
"Sir, the target was not as described. And we have clear evidence that it never was. It was a civilian zone. A children's recreation area."
"Lieutenant, I hope you have very solid proof of this."
"I do, Sir. And someone willing to testify that the targeting of the hospital last month was a similar intelligence failure."
"Something to do with that Cerian interceptor?"
"Yes Sir. And we are under oath to not try to analyse it. But she is willing to share her flight data recorder."
"Do you believe her about the hospital?"
"Sir, it sounded like she nearly threw up when she found out."
"Huh."
"And Sir, she's my counterpart from the interceptor squadron that was sent out to stop us."
"Let me guess, you want her protected under oath as well."
"Yes Sir."
"Sometimes Lieutenant, I wonder about the trouble you bring with you."
"Sorry Sir. But if what she is saying is true, both planets have a problem."
"How do you arrive at that conclusion?"
"Well Sir, if our intelligence about the muntions dump was wrong, and theirs about a weapons factory was as well, shouldn't we be asking questions about all the intelligence? Including the bombing?"
"That is a very bold line to be taking."
"I know, Sir. That's why I want you to hold the oath for her."
"If your rather far fetched theory is correct, there will be people trying to silence her."
"Yes Sir."
"Do you have a plan?"
"I was rather hoping you'd come up with one, Sir."
"Did you," the commander's tone was glacial, and Ashwan flinched. "All right, bring her over and we'll get the oath sorted."
"Right, sir."
"And Ashwan?"
"Yes, Sir?"
"For your sake, you'd better be right. Although, if you are, then there is something very rotten somewhere."
Ashwan nodded gravely.

annis watched the Varan strike fighter taxi up the runway and the cockpit open. There was a man standing at the end. Odd that that he looked so ordinary, uniform not withstanding. She knew they both came from human stock, but it was still a surprise to see that you could walk past a Varan in the street, and never know.

Her radio crackled to life. "Flight Leader, can you come over here, please?"
"Very well." She taxied a little way up the runway, parked in a pull-off, and climbed out. She kept her respirator on, and walked the rest of the way. 

"Flight Leader Tannis of Ceria, this is Base Commander La Trous," Ash introduced.
"Base Commander," Tannis nodded.
"Flight Leader. Ashwan has given me quite the story. You have some proof?"
"Yes Sir. Here," she held out a small plastic rectangle, "this is my flight recorder."
"You hold on to it for now," he considered it, "that looks much like ours. I guess a lot of our technologies came from the same place. You know you are the first living Cerian I have seen?"
"Likewise Sir. Not that there have been a lot of casualties."
"At least in the military, if your story is true."
"It is. And yes, none of your raids have struck any of our military facilities."
"Alright, Ash, get your tail out of your machine, and escort the Flight Leader to my office."
"Yes Sir!"
Tannis looked on curiously as the Squadron Leader climbed out. He was shorter than she was expecting - shorter than herself. He bowed to her. After a moment, she saluted, slightly puzzled by the archaic gesture. 

Ashwan pointed, bowed to the base commander, "Sir," and they started walking.

As they walked the pilots from the other fighters disembarked, and joined them, forming a wedge around them. Tannis realised with a start that they were not there to stop her from running, but as protection. The tall one - she would give Hitomi a run for her money - even had a pistol in her hand as she scanned the surroundings.

"Flight Leader"
"Tannis, please."
"Thank you. Ashwan, or Ash."
Tannis nodded, "What is it?"
"Do you have any food in your craft?"
"Shit. I forgot about that. A little. A couple of days at most."
"And how long will your respirator last?"
"A week or two - but it is going to get pretty ripe."
"Claire?"
The tall woman with the pistol responded "Yes Sir?"
"Your family runs to biologists, doesn't it?"
"Yes Sir. You want me to contact them?"
"If you think they can help."
"I'll call my brother."
"Thank you."
"You'll need a clean-room with positive pressure as a starting point. I have a cousin who can rig up an existing room that way. All water and air will have to be filtered. I'm sorry Flight Leader, but things are going to be pretty basic for you for a while."
"I understand. It would have been easier if I was completely alien."

They reached the buildings.

As they entered the building the Varan pilots relaxed. "OK, now we are inside, we are more-or-less safe," said Claire. "We'll do introductions once we reach the commander's office, though. A hallway is no place for such things. Oh, and Flight Leader Tannis?"
"Yes?" One thing Tannis was starting to get tired of was not being able to use facial expressions - her respirator masked too much for that.
"Just so you know, we did spot your comms laser burst as we came out of jump. What was it?"
"A dump of my CVR and flight recorders."
"Huh. Good idea. Your flight, they any good?"
"You all remind me of them a little. We are a tight team. Much like you are with Squadron Leader Ashwan." 
Claire's lips twitched upwards a fraction. "That's not exactly an answer, is it?"
Tannis shrugged.
They reached a lobby for an office. What looked to Tannis like a junior NCO suddenly stood up as they approached. "I'm sorry sirs, but you will have to stop there - wait, what in the world?"
Ash used his best parade ground voice "Stand down Adjunct. We have orders to wait in the Commander's office. You will come with us."
"Sir..."
"Now, Adjunct!"
The young woman's eyes went wide, and she opened the door.
Everyone trooped in, with one of the pilots firmly taking the Adjunct's elbow.
"Is that..." she started to ask.
"Yes, and she has given her parole, and we have sworn an oath. You will say nothing about this to anyone without the explicit permission of myself and the commander. If you fail to obey this, then I will start with your family. Do you understand, Adjunct?" Ashwan's tone was as hard as steel.
She turned very pale, and in a very small voice "Yes Sir. Understood."

-------------------------

Ava climbed out of her interceptor, and walked up to the commander. Saluting, she spoke "Sir! Chimaera Flight have returned. We lost Flight Leader Tannis, Sir. She is alive, though. For now."
The commander stared, "You lost Tannis? How?" 
"We think it was some sort of nav computer error. We won't know for sure until we analyse her flight data."
"Alright, where do we send the pickup crew?"
"Ah. That is where things get tricky, Sir. She has been captured by the Varans."
"So how do you have her flight data?"
"She beamed it to us after they jumped back to Vara." A small chime rang in her ear. "Excuse me sir.  Ava, go."
Hitomi's voice came through her earpiece "Ava, I've spoken to EWACS, and they have a bead on Tannis' fighter. According to our maps it is at a civilian airport, but Ava, I think the map is wrong. There is nothing nearby for it to service."
"Thank-you Hitomi, that ties in with everything else." She tapped her earpiece. "Sir, this is all rather complicated, and a discussion we need to have in your office. We have evidence of something very wrong in Intel."
"I'm not used to being dictated to by junior officers, Ava. Tannis has been captured?"
"Yes sir. But there is a lot more that is very urgent and very sensitive."
"Alright. Get your people to my office. I'll be waiting."
"Thank-you, sir!"

-----------------------------

Thirty minutes later , the three pilots entered the commander's office, and stood at attention.

"At ease. In fact sit. All of you."
"Thank-you sir," Ava responded, "but we best stand. We have a lot to show you."
"Alright, what do you have for me?"
"Sir, Tannis had a navigational failure in her jump, and came out 1500 kilometres from the rendezvous. This put her into the middle of the Varan strike force, which was nowhere near where Intel put them."
"Where were they?"
"Over the Wintergarden holiday camp."
"Typical of those monsters."
"That's just it, Sir. Their intel listed it as a weapons depot."
"How do you know that?"
"Here. Tannis beamed this to us after being jumped to Varan space." Ava played the CVR.

As he listened, Commander Kapstan's first reaction was to be proud of Tannis' response to such an extraordinary position. He was surprised to hear the voice of the Varan squadron leader break in. And then things became deeply disturbing. It quickly became clear that the Varans really had no idea of what was beneath them. And then came the worst of it. That his people had actually done something just as bad.
"How could something like that happen?" he asked himself as the recording continued to play.
It would have to be someone inside. And that Varan officer sounded like he was wondering similar things. How could both intelligence groups be making exactly.

He stopped. How could the two groups, on different planets, be making exactly the same mistakes?

Then he realised how, and the possibility terrified him. He hoped desperately he was wrong. But the evidence suggested otherwise. Had the pilots realised the same thing?

"So. What do you conclude, Acting Flight Leader?"
"Sir, at best, Intel is incompetent. At worst, it is actively corrupt and working to extend the war and increase outrage."
"You think that is the worst?"
"Sir?"
"They have the same MO, Ava. Both Intel teams have the same MO. They are working together. And therefore, they probably started the war."
All three pilots stared at him. "Sir?" said Estelle.
"Look at the way the war started. Both planets had a large civilian population centre destroyed by a nuclear weapon. The big question you have not thought about is 'Why?'"

-------------------------------------------------------

Commander La Trous entered the office a few minutes later, and looked around. "Good, I see you have taken precautions. Miss Waterman, you will not repeat anything said here to anyone without my express permission. Do you understand?"
The already pale adjunct looked almost ready to faint "Yes sir", she said in a very faint voice.
"Good. Now sit and take notes. Flight Leader Tannis? Please recount what happened out there."
Tannis repeated what she could remember. "Oh, and Commander La Trous? Immediately after we jumped, I fired a comm laser at where my flight would be. With an encrypted dump of my flight and cockpit voice recorders."
"So they know everything as well?"
"I hope so. There was no real way to get confirmation."
"Good. I see you are a proactive sort of officer. You have my respect. Ashwan!"
"Sir!"
"I want two of your squadron to gather a dozen personally trusted troops. Lock down comms in and out of the base, and close the gates. Then sequester the Intel detachment, confiscate all personal comms from them. I want this base locked down."
"Yes Sir! Claire! Birch! You heard the commander. Make it two dozen if you can. Be prepared for resistance from Intel."
"Sir!" they responded, and rushed from the room.

--------------------------------------------------------

"Here is what we are going to do, Acting Flight Leader" Kapstan continued, "You are going to copy your flight records and send them under personal encryption to the other flight leaders. I am going to contact the other base commanders, and put a freeze on offensive operations." Estelle broke in, "Sir, if you are correct then Intel, or whoever is behind them, will initiate another atrocity to kickstart things again." "Yes. So we need to isolate Intel. To do that we are going to need to recruit some ground security. Hitomi?" "Sir?" "You have family in the scout forces, do you not?" "Yessir. I've got brothers in the Biological Survey, and a couple of cousins in Exploration." "As I recall, Exploration are rather well armed, and BS have quarantine powers. Intel are located in Rivermouth, and keep themselves... damn, we should have noticed something fishy years ago. Intel keep everyone out for 'security'. What sort of security do they need? It is not like a Varan spy could walk around Ceria. Anyway. Their paranoia is going to play into our hands. Talk to your relatives. Show them the evidence. I want Intel cut off from the outside world." "Yessir!" "Ava, hold off on sending your data until Hitomi says the Scouts are ready to go. Hitomi, let me know as soon as you have got things ready. If they need more convincing, you can ask me to join the conversation. Right. You have your orders, get to it." The pilots came to attention, and saluted with a "Yes Sir!".

---------------------------------

"Now what to do about you, Flight Leader," Commander La Trous looked intently at the Cerian pilot, "We've not really had this situation before in this war. And your situation is especially difficult. Ash?" "Yes Sir?" "You live with your wife's family, do you not?" "Yes Sir. House Gould." "Excellent. Now all we need is a life support specialist." "Sir, Claire's family have experience in that field. We discussed it briefly on the runway." "Alright. Once the base is secured, I want you and Claire to take Flight Leader Tannis to House Gould, and do whatever you can to make her comfortable." Ash nodded. "While I remember, isn't your wife some sort of mathematician?" "Not exactly, Sir. She is a data scientist. A very specialised form of statistician." "Interesting. I might just have a project for her. Tannis, can I call you 'Tannis'?" She nodded "Yes, Commander." "Thank-you. Tannis, you may as well take a seat. Securing the base is going to take a while." "Thank-you" she replied with some relief, sitting. "You lot as well. Miss Waterman?" The rather bewildered adjunct looked up "Sir?" "I want the contact data for the other three base commanders. Now." "Yessir!" At that moment the windows of the office shook violently, and there was the sound of an explosion. Ash's comm beeped "Sir, it just blew up!" came Claire's voice. "What did, Claire?" "The Intel station. The whole thing is gone!" "Any of your team hurt?" "A little shaken, but we are all fine." "Sir?" Ash looked at the Commander "The Intel station, they blew themselves up." "What? Waterman! I need those codes right now!" 

"Ash", La Trous' voice demanded an answer. "Sir?" "Call Claire back, we need to get you and Tannis off this base right now." "Sir!" he tapped his comm "Clair? Leave the lockdown to Blair. Get back here, we've got a job to do." "Yessir!" came the prompt, if still shaky reply. "Squadron Leader, here is a requisition for one of the base flyers. Take it to town, and send Claire to hire a local vehicle. Then get yourselves to the Gould compound as fast as possible. Flight Leader Tannis?" "Yes?" "On your way to the flyer, I want you to pull any supplies you have from your craft. We don't know how long it will be before we can feed you anything other than basic carbohydrates and water." "Alright, Commander. I should be able to squeeze a few days out of what I have." "Now get going." "Sir!"

--------------------------------------

It was, given the excitement back at the base, a surprisingly quiet journey to the Gould estate. Even the changeover to the hire went smoothly. Once at the Gould estate, though, things got interesting. It did not matter what sort of education in etiquette you had, Ash thought, nothing quite prepares you for introducing your parents in law to a strange woman who is not your wife, and who is also completely unable to even breath the air in the house. Not to mention the whole "enemy combatant". At least there was no question of infidelity. Claire, thankfully, had visited before and was a known quantity. The story that he told was, on reflection, ludicrous. Especially when he got to their suspicions. Somehow, though, Londry, Kimtree, and Arthur just listened, nodded, and then looked at Tannis. "Well then Miss. Is it Miss? Are you partnered?" Londry asked, looking very intent. "Err, no, no I am not Madam Gould," Tannis was thankful that the Squadron Leader had given her some warning about his wife's family. "Well then young Miss, we are going to have to get you some quarters," she shot a look at Claire, "I suppose that is where you come in?" "Yes, it is Mamma Londry. Do you have a room in mind?" "The north suite. You should be able to isolate the water feed there, and seal it up." "I know the one. It is where you put Bennett after that disaster of a party." "That's the one." "I'll get right on it." And with that, Claire left, leaving Ash and Tannis facing the three. Ash looked at his parents in law. Londry was focused on Tannis, while Arthur was looking where Claire had departed. And Kimtree, she was looking at ... the bookshelf? She got up, and started searching through the books. They were family diaries in that shelf. Why was she looking at those. At the very oldest of them? "Um, Mamma Kim?" "Yes, Ash?" she answered distractedly. "What are you doing?" "Looking for something. Ah, this one, I think." She pulled the book from the shelf and started leafing through it. Ash looked at Arthur. "No good looking at me, lad. I'm like you. I married in." Kimtree held up a hand "Here it is. This is from Engineer's mate Donald Gould, shortly after landing. 'I've gone over the engine logs, and there is something wrong in them. I cannot prove anything, but I am certain that the power failure as we landed was no accident. The logs are supposed to be immutable, but I am certain they are different to what I saw on the instruments.' As far as I can tell, he never told anyone." Tannis had straightened up as Kimtree read it out, and even through the respirator, you could see that she was staring. "That sounds familiar, does it dear?"
"I don't know about faked logs, but I do know that our colony ship crashed as well. And there was an outbreak of a contagious respiratory disease almost immediately after."

The silence in the room following Tannis' statement was broken by Londry's "Well shit. Ash? Call Miranda, and tell her it is a family meeting. For now - Tannis was it?"
"Yes, just Tannis."
"Let's get you temporarily squared away while they prepare quarters you can breathe in. Follow me."
She got up, and indicated that the Cerian pilot was to follow. Tannis glanced at Ash, and he nodded.
A few minutes later Londry returned. "She is in the day room for now. Kit, you had something more?"
"I did. How is your history?"
"Not the best, that has always been your love. Spill."
"We are a second generation colony. We came from another colony. Both our ships did."
Ash spoke up "That does not make a lot of sense. The colony we launched from could not have been that old, how could it afford a ship, let alone two?"
"Because they had no choice. The world our ships left required extensive terraforming to be habitable. The terraforming failed. Which is why we were looking for a world with a vaguely compatible biosphere. The terraforming engines were abandoned."
"And so we Varraformed ourselves."
"Have a gold star, young man. Go on."
"And you are now wondering why the terraforming failed."
"We are going to have to hit the history archives. And Londry is correct, we are going to need Miranda on this, looking for the holes."
"Holes?"
"Yes, the holes. The bits of history someone or something does not want us to read. Miranda's work won't let us read what is missing, but it should be able to show us where it is missing from."


The room Tannis was taken to was certainly comfortable. If she was not stuck in her respirator, she would have found it rather nice. As it was, though, she was still in a flight suit she had been wearing for close on eight hours. The catheter was starting to itch, and she could smell herself with every breath. 

At least Londry had signed her into one of the desktop computers. Remarkably, the interfaces looked compatible with her equipment. It looked like that much had been carried forward from the founders of both colonies. 

With not much else to do, Tannis decided to look over her flight data to distract herself from her empty stomach and her own increasing stench.

The computer interface was strange - a lot of the iconography was similar, but different to her own, and the style of layout was very odd - it took her a long time to figure out how to open the storage systems. Eventually she found the calculators and maps, and was able to do some basic analysis of her strange flight.

It took her until evening, what with coordinate conversions and four-dimensional mathematics to calculate jump coordinates, but she had worked out where she should have arrived. Then she looked at her flight record.

"They all look correct. I wonder what went wrong?" She looked again, and suddenly realised what she had missed. "There! The rotational compensation, those two digits are reversed!" Feeding in the actual data from her flight, and she reached a new set of coordinates. "Just outside the summer camp. It was a typo. All of this from a single typo. Estelle is going to love this, she's always hated the nav techs doing a manual entry of the jump coordinates."

She looked up. It had gotten dark while she was working. Through the open window she could hear the sounds of evening on a strange planet. If only she could take this damned respirator off. But that would be a death sentence. 

There was a knock on the door, and it opened. It was Londry, who glanced at the computer. "Been keeping yourself busy?"
"Yes, working out what went wrong.."
"And?"
"Would you believe it was a typing error by a nav tech?"
"Your nav data is entered manually?"
"Yeah - Estelle, she's my XO, hates it."
Londry shook her head.  "Well, have you worked out how to save your work?"
"Yes, thank you. You have been very kind."
"You can thank Claire more - her family have got a suite ready for you. The water will be cold only for now, but you'll be able to wash, drink, and most importantly, breathe."
"Already? Just a moment!" Tannis unplugged the data recorder and stood up. "Show me the way!"
Getting into her new suite was a bit of work. She had to be sprayed down with antiseptic, and pass through a pair of makeshift airlocks. Once through, though she was finally able to take off her respirator.

The air smelled of disinfectant, but it was better than the smell coming from her flight suit. A quick search found some hospital scrubs and slippers. And, wonder of wonders, a shower.

It was a cold shower, and the soap was a harsh antiseptic, but after nearly a day in her flight suit, it was heaven.

Tannis was finally able to relax a little. She took out a protein bar from her emergency kit, and ate it slowly, sipping water to make it last. Then Tannis did some sums. Assuming the Varans could work out how to get her some basic sugars, she should be able to stretch her emergency supplies out to a week. 

"I guess I just have to wait now." 

With that, she turned out the lights and went to sleep, the scent of the disinfectant was the last thing she remembered before morning.

Interlude

A comparison of Cerian and Varan space technologies

Both colonies lost access to their interstellar transport technology in the first few hours after landing. In their records, however, the principals remained. 

So it was that when the colonies regained enough industrial capability to again enter space, they turned to those text books, and tried to develop ways to turn theory into practice.

This resulted in each colony developing systems that were similar but different.

Varan antigrav thrusters were efficient at long runs, able to maintain 2G for hours. Cerian ones could only manage .5G for extended times, but could overdrive to 5G for a few seconds.

Their jump technologies also differed greatly. Cerian jump drives, working on a skin effect could operate only on a single craft, but could operate inside an atmosphere. Varan engines used a field effect, allowing multiple craft to be transported at once, but required LEO altitudes to operate. 

The perception of the jump also varied. Cerian pilots reported a perceived travel time of a few seconds, and wild visual effects. Varans - nothing, they were just suddenly somewhere else.

From the outside, however, both appeared to vanish from one point, and reappear somewhere else almost instantly. Both also required significant time to recharge, making them useless for tactical actions.

Meanwhile

It was night in Landing, the largest city on Ceria. There had been numerous debates about renaming the city over the centuries, but simple public inertia always undid every attempt. According to what historical records that survived, it was - in various languages - the most common single city name in all the worlds settled by man. 

This night, as usual, the city mostly slept. A handful of late night shift workers and city maintenance teams were about, along with the obligatory scattering of persons of ill intent, and the inevitable joggers.  These few were surprised to see road blocks going up in one part of downtown, but not the usual police or road work gangs. These were quarantine blocks. It was unusual enough to attract some news crews, even as everyone else backed away, in case they got caught up in the isolation.

The news crews were very startled to find themselves subject to the very quarantine that the general populace were avoiding. 

What followed only increased the state of surprise. 

"We want you to keep filming. And come with us. The only limitation is that you cannot broadcast or transmit your footage until we give the all clear. We won't limit what you send, we just need to keep things quiet until it is over. You will understand soon enough." was what the tall woman leading the blockade told them. This was just enough to keep the reporters sufficiently curious to agree. 

Several buildings were evacuated, with the people being led to temporary bunkers. But one building was not touched. The Office of Planetary Intelligence and Security. 

It was three hours short of sunrise when the quarantine teams with the news crews entered the OPIS building - through the sewers.  The reporters were shown the explosive charges as they were found, and filmed them being disabled. 

An hour before dawn, four helicopters landed on the roof, and small groups of armoured troops started down. Down in the sewers cameramen jumped as they watched relays click to complete now broken detonation circuits. It was then that the quarantine teams cut the power from inside the building. Everything went dark and quiet. Briefly. From far above came the sounds of gunfire.  

Suddenly it was over. The news crews were shown the entire surviving staff of the OPIS in restraints. They watched and filmed as the servers were brought back online, and maps and messages extracted.

Maps that made no sense. Mail messages that made no sense. Maps that showed ammunition dumps where everyone knew there were holiday camps or schools. Maps that showed hospitals as barracks. Messages that recommended these places as suitable targets. And messages recommending other places - places on Vara as targets. Hospitals, schools, and residential areas. Messages exchanged with groups on Vara. 

Dawn broke.

Much Later

The war was over at last, and they were even allies - of a sort - now. Who knew the Varans could be honourable?

And it was all thanks to one pilot, who got lost, and did the impossible.

Now they were going to welcome her home. 

And maybe, just maybe, Tannis would tell them the real story of how she ended up in a Varan strike formation. And how she talked it out of carrying out the attack.  

-------------------------------

Ava regarded Tannis as the transport carried them to the shuttleport.
"You really don't want to do this, do you." It was a statement, not a question.
Tannis shrugged. "Despite all the decorations and the parades, you know the higher ups cannot let me stay around."
"But?"
"At least this way I get to do it at least a little on my own terms. I'm just sorry I've dragged the rest of you with me."
"And where else  do you think you would find us, except by your side?"
"Ava..."
"No, Tannis, we choose to follow you. Not High Command,  you. Just you. You kept us alive, you stopped the war, you treat us with all the respect High Command deny you. Again, where else would you find us? I'll look after the paperwork. Hitomi will deal with the pilots. Estelle will deal with the crew. You focus on leading and keeping us all alive."
"And, it seems, you will also deal with getting my head out of my behind."
"As often as it takes."
"I'm going to fly the shuttle up."
"Of course. And Hitomi will sit second."

--------------------------

Captain Ashwan seemed to be permanently pissed off with the universe. 
To be fair, he usually was. He was a fighter jock, he had no reason to be the commander of a multi kilotonne exploration ship. And yet the powers that be  sent him here. He still did not have to like it.
Time to talk to his counterpart.
"CES Chandry, this is VES Accord, Actual."
There was a pause.
"Ash? Is that you?"
"Tannis? Gods, the universe does hate me!"

---------------------------------

Tannis knew that the promotion was not all it seemed. She was both a hero and an embarrassment.
At least she was back with her pod, and they were coming with her. Still, joint command of an expedition fleet was not what she expected - she was a pilot, not an administrator. It was a good thing she had Estelle, Hitomi and Ava with her. 
One last time - she pulled rank to fly the shuttle up.
As the g-forces rose, she wondered who her counterpart was.

--------------------------------

Background


"Interviews About the Past"

Akret Hildergaard - Cerian Global University History Dean:
"Of course our worlds are just about impossible. Two O2/H20 worlds tidally locked, within light-seconds of each other, orbiting a common centroid? It is almost like one of those fairy tales about Terra.  What we do know is that both colony ships arrived within hours of each other - we don't really know who was first, and after all these centuries, it does not really matter."

Susan Ohn - Varan State Historian:
"Both ships had hard landings, and struggled at first. Adapting to the local biochemistries, establishing amino acid translation vats, recombining colonists' genetics. All hard work, and resource intensive. Any thought of returning to space was a distant dream. Both thought the other had perished for the longest time."

"It was not until both groups had rebuilt enough to explore the opposite hemispheres that each started to notice the other existed. Strange interference in radio transmissions, strange lights on the other world. This was not until at least three hundred orbits after landing."

"Eventually both colonies started talking to each other. By this stage both had undergone extensive internal changes both biologically and politically. Add to that that we were both aliens to these worlds we had settled. Even if we had known each other before, we were alien to each other now." 

"Gradually we both started to reach upwards again. Near and geosynchronous orbits were populated. But we both avoided the other world. "

"Until." "Until."

"A Varan bomb landed in a near-side city. There was no warning." "A Cerian missile impacted a near-side city without warning." 

"That saw the start of the Great War." "The Great War had started."

-------------------------------

On both Ceria and Vara there are those who say that humans are not the first advanced sophonts on the twin planets.

Although there is no archeological evidence, there are some distinct oddities about both planets. 

Being tidally locked and orbiting a common barycentre halfway between the two bodies, there should be extreme tidal events. In truth there are - but while neither planet could be called a desert world, neither has any oceans to speak of. There are many, and some sizeable, lakes - all interconnected by deep gorges.

Both have DNA-based life forms, although there are distinctly different amino acid profiles between the two. 

Both have ecospheres that manage the long days and equally long nights - each lasting sixty earth days, with the old logs showing a running joke of "a year every four months". 

But the thing that the believers point to the most, and the hardest to explain, is the absence of eclipses. The Ceria/Vara pair do not orbit each other in the same plane that they orbit their star. Instead, they are at an angle of nearly thirty degrees from the ecliptic. 

Most scientists dismiss these conclusions, and simply point out that even in something as small as the Milky Way, there are sufficient stars for even highly unlikely combinations to appear.

--------------------------------------

Hitomi would follow Tannis to the ends of the Universe, for three reasons.
First, she never asked if the wings worked or where they came from (No, and a dragontooth mutation in her family).
Second, she never asked why she became a fighter pilot (the wings don't work).
Third, she never lost a wingman. Except one time, and even then, she lost herself, not her wingman. And stopped the war. 
To the ends of the universe. And  beyond.

---------------------------------

As always, the first day of snow is followed by a day of sun. On that day the Winter Solaris flowers, sets seed, and dies. Strongly dimorphic, they pollinate via slender tendrils, producing two very different fruit. The notionally female plant forms a single large fruit, winged, and able to be carried by the wind for many kilometres. This fruit contains a single seed, which will grow to a notionally male plant. These produce clouds of fine spores-like seeds that disperse over an area of up to 50 metres, and grow to form notionally female plants. Where two grow together - within a few centimetres, they will breed again. 
If they do not set seed, they form a small carnivorous feeding body, attracting whatever they can over winter. If they survive the season, they form multiple flowering stalks along runners that have extended out over winter. 

(Notes from the Cerian Botanica, AL600. )

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Churchill Rd Raclette - Delendale Creamery

The ABC News have an interesting little quiz/survey running