[OC] The Patchwork Hunter 2
I hope you enjoy part 2
A very small percentage of these species have the right combination to create technic societies. But when we deal with the tremendous numbers of planets that exist in your standard spiral galaxy, this still equates to hundreds of thousands of technic species that inevitably seek to explore the limitless void of their home galaxy. Some species evolve on oxidizing worlds and use oxygen as their primary electron acceptor, carbon chains for structure and water as the preferred organic solvent. Other’s arise on worlds with reducing atmospheres or use silicon or ammonia. Even carbon based, oxygen breathing species have differing biologies based on the chiral nature of organic chemistry. Anatomical and psychological diversity is the name of the game. But inevitably, these variable species reach a similar conundrum.
The dextro-sugar consuming and levo-protein using bipedal deuterostomes known as Terrans created an equation they referred to as the Drake equation. The Drake Equation was an attempt to encapsulate all the variables that would be relevant to estimating the number of intelligent civilizations that existed in the galaxy and which were potentially detectable at any given time. They were hardly unique in this though as most sapients experience the existential dread of wondering if they are the lone intelligence in the universe. As questions go, the answer is a simple binary but both answers are equally horrifying to an uncontacted species. Once a sophont moves beyond that initial terror though, they begin attempting to calculate the variables that will answer this question for them. We turn once again we turn to the Terrans who attempted to solve this equation. They were not alone in reaching the conclusion that mathematically, local space should be brimming with other intelligent life while being struck by their observable isolation. Some species would come to call this incongruency the “Galactic Null Set problem”, “The Great Silence” or some variant on that theme. The Terrans would term it “The Fermi Paradox” after an early scientist of theirs who famously phrased it as “Where is everybody?”…
Preface to History of Galactic Civilization 3rd edition
Farewell and adieu to you Earthen Ladies,
Farewell and adieu to you ladies of Earth,
For we've received orders for to sail to Old Neptune
And we may never see you fair ladies again
We'll rant and we'll roar like true Martian Spacers
We'll rant and we'll roar out past Lunar Seas
Until we take readings in the orbit of our home world
From Phobos to Deimos is at least two thousand leagues
We hove our ship to, going out spaceways
We hove our ship to, deep scannings to take
Twas forty five kilos with a white dusty surface
So we fired our main engine and lowered the gear
Now let every man eat up his full ration
Now let every man drink off his full glass
We'll drink and be jolly and drown melancholy
And here's to the health of each true hearted lass!
"Earthen Ladies" By a Martian veteran of the War
Babatunde Oyelowo stood rigid in front of the large window at the front of the ship. In an unusual twist, it was an actual window, not just a projected rendering of what the viewer wished to see. The ship he was on was still in warp space so the view was little more than a ring of blue-shifted light. It was a beautiful sight, but quickly became boring to an experienced traveler.
He wasn’t looking at the starbow though. He was paging through a hard copy print out of information. It was a thick packet of old fashioned cellulose paper that had been aggressively annotated with actual ink markings. In the background the sound of a violin could be heard playing softly.
“Care to review any relevant data?” said a female voice with a note of teasing.
The man turned slightly to face the statuesque figure of a short woman. She appeared to be in her forties with dark hair that showed a few signs of greying. Her lithe body was clothed in the service uniform of a member of the Imperial beauro of Investigation.
“No, I’m feeling fairly confident in the germane details. It would be easier to focus if you would cut the sound though,” he said in a snippy tone.
“Well, you know that I’m here to assist,” she said deliberately ignoring his attitude even while she lowered the violin.
He snorted loudly and refused to rise to the bait. He went to return to his intense study but was interrupted by a sudden burst of noise.
“Do you mind?” he asked
“I don’t mind if you don’t,” she replied with a grin over the violin she held.
“Violet, I feel like you’re trying to tell me something…”
The figure at his side rolled her eyes and the instrument disappeared instantly.
“We’re less than an hour out from Sadiq-Mulanney and you’re still obsessively reviewing your notes. I’m not sure what more you really need to know. It’s an outlying system that borders the developing worlds. Minimal Imperial presence. The only thing left to care about is if our fugitive will be there when we arrive and we have have solid information that that’s the case. He was heading to the system,” she said firmly.
“Is it such a bad thing that I want to well prepared?” he asked.
“No, but you already have the information downloaded into your implants and I have the full case information available. Yet you’re standing there anxiously reviewing your antiquated paper notes. Brooding like some stereotypical detective. I can simulate a dark and stormy night if you want to complete the look.”
“It’s how I deal with stress alright? Or how I’m trying to learn to deal with stress. You want me to go back to my old way of coping?” he said as he went to set down the notes on a nearby surface.
“Stress eating? I’m going to give that a hard pass. You trashed your last body with that,” she said.
“I didn’t trash the last body! It just had some extra weight on it. Besides, it gave me a stately bearing. You know how many times suspects let their preconceived notions about obesity get to them and they underestimated me?”
“First off, in an era of FTL information transfer, no one was underestimating you. You’re the Man in Black. Looking like a pre-Imperial American wasn’t fooling anyone. And secondly, I’m your AIgent. I live in your implants and I know exactly what your constant low grade anxious nibbling was doing to your cardiovascular system. And the waistline of your uniforms,” she fired back at him.
He looked down at the fit and toned body that he now inhabited, clad in the space black romper that was the working uniform of the Imperial Bureau of Investigation.
“I am trying to stop. I even requested a custom metabolic alteration to my genetics for this body.” He said somewhat sheepishly.
“You could do what a normal person does and have psychosurgery or have me tweak your neurotransmitter baseline to something…less high strung,” said the artificial projection of his internal AI.
“Harder pass on that. I’ll take a fix for the body but never for the mind.”
A moment of silence fell. They had had this discussion many times before and neither of them was about to budge.
“Why does the system have such weird names?” she suddenly piped up.
He turned and shot Violet a grin, “Do you really want to know or are you trying to appeal to my love of lecturing you about things you should already know? Or are you trying to not so subtly soothe my anxiety?”
She gave him an impish look, “I’m asking you because apparently I’m missing something. Who names a planet Jo’med or Jenn?”
“Apparently they were named for a family of a Valkyrie. She was the hero of the initial battle for this system. They were reportedly killed during the First Contact strike.”
He suppressed a vague shudder at the mention of the Valkyries. Warrior fanatics, bodyguards and the personal troops of the Empress. Even as a famous Investigator and loyal citizen, he was intimidated by their battle suits, custom-grown combat bodies and psychopathic loyalty to the Empire.
He didn’t say that though. What he did say was, “The Man in Black… ugh… I hate that nickname. I wish they’d stop using it.”
“How sure are you that he’s here?” Violet asked him, not replying to his griping.
He shrugged and composed his dark features back into a serious expression.
“We tracked the transmission of his personality cast to Sleeping Beauty. It used a new variant of viral intrusion coding to download into the ship’s core. Before the Beauty’s AI was corrupted it showed charting for a jump to Sadiq-Mullaney. Once the warp field forms, you know it can’t stop early or change course. We know they were bound this way, it's the best jumping point if he wants to head into our colonies or developing worlds. Beauty’s warp ring was low on strange matter according to its logs. So, there’s no way he could jump again, at least using that ship. We just don’t know how long he’s going to stay at Sadiq-Mullaney and where he’ll go from there. I’ve got an AI projection based on his profile in my notes. The AI thinks he might lay low in the developing worlds, but they don’t have the technological infrastructure to interest him for long. Knowing him, after cooling his heels he’ll be heading back to the Empire but he’ll be looking for one of the new colonies. He’s worn out his welcome at Sol. We’ve got his updated pattern uploaded across the system net and countermeasure patches are being sent out to the colonies as we speak. Say what you want about his morality but he is really driving the next generation of implant and AI security systems.”
“What about the ship’s crew though?” asked Violet.
“The AI shut itself down due to the malicious code corrupting it. Beauty was carrying uploaded personalities of colonists and cloning facilities for their arrival. It was bound for Epona Colony. We can’t know for sure what he would have done with the crew. If I had to guess, they would have been spaced to prevent them from trying to clean him out of the computer system,” he said quietly.
His real concern wasn’t for the crew but the stored colonists that had uploaded their consciousnesses for transport. The Patchwork man would need to amuse himself on the trip…
“I think you’re prepared. Have you decided if you want me external for this? I have the equipment prepared” said Violet, referring to the homunculus.
It was essentially a battle suit, but instead of being worn by a Legionnaire or Marine, was designed to be used by an AI as an external body.
“We’ll bring it with us if we go planetside. The ship has ground transport if we need it. We’ll bring it along but I’d rather keep you internal for now. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that the electronic security of my implants is much better than what the homunculus carries. I’d rather keep you safe unless we need the firepower.”
“Is that chivalry or your carbon-chauvinism talking?” She teased gently.
“It’s neither. I’d rather not give the Patchwork Man any higher of a body count if I can help it. It’s high enough as it is,” he said brusquely as he stared out the window in front of him. He knew that she knew he was lying but there somethings he just couldn’t say.
“Tunde, I’m a big girl… Or at least I can simulate one.” At this her projected avatar swelled in size quickly reaching Amazonian proportions.
“You’re in just as much danger of having your meat-bag organs blown open or having him overwrite your cortical storage”, she reminded him shrinking back to her normal appearance.
“Of the former, certainly. But not the latter,” he said patting the base of his skull
“Woah there Chief, I’d be the first to tell you our counter intrusion software is state of the art out of the Bureau's Eros labs but that’s never stopped him before.”
A sneaky grin stole over his face, “It looks like I can still keep some secrets from you.”
“Why? What did you do?” she asked looking surprised.
“It’s nothing new, just some military tech not usually licensed to Investigators,” he said now rubbing the base of his skull unconsciously.
“Nanotech suicide program?” She asked, referring to the system of implanted stores of nano-deconstructors that when activated would release and reduce the brain and its network of microscopic hardware into a sloppy and most likely unappetizing mass within moments.
“I told you, I don’t care about my body, but I’ll never let him take my mind. ”
His AIgent didn’t respond to this, but her avatar did blink out of sight and he resumed peering out the window into the unchanging view of space warped by traveling faster than light.
After a short while, he heard the voice of the ship’s AI inside of his mind.
“Investigator, we are about to insert into the Sadiq-Mulanney system.” He acknowledged with a quick thought click.
The ship he was traveling on was small, barely 30 meters in length. The warp ring, typically the widest part of a starship, was 15 meters in diameter. He had named the small ABCD clipper Gumshoe. The only weaponry it carried was a pair of low energy infrared lasers reserved for navigational hazards. The Bureau didn’t care to operate actual armed starships.
As he gazed out of the forward observation window, he caught the sudden flash of light as the warp field collapsed. The universe in front of the ship was no longer a compressed ring of light, instead showing only the normal star field. The toroidal ring of warped space collected stray atoms in front of it as it propelled the ship faster than light. When a ship inserted back into normal space, this packet of compressed matter burst forward at relativistic speeds along with a healthy dose of x-ray radiation. Because of this, ships always inserted into regular space at predetermined locations at a safe distance from planets and any orbiting installations. At their present distance from the planet, their destination was little more than a bright star.
“How long until we enter orbit?” he subvocalized to the ship’s AI.
“Approximately 2 standard days” the emotionless voice responded. Unlike larger vessels Gumshoe’s AI lacked sentience, but was more than capable enough to operate a starship.
“Investigator, I am receiving an ID request from Commodore Abboud on board the Guard cruiser Kinetic Impactor. Shall I transmit our credentials?” asked the ship inside of his mind.
“Yes please,” he directed the AI. After a moment of considering he asked, “Can you show me where the ship is located?”
Inside of his mind, an image of the system appeared. A red bracket appeared near a large cloud of debris orbiting the gas giant and its large moon. A small image of Violet appeared in his internal diagram.
“Kinetic Impactor and her sister ships Eagle Eye and Mote’s Worth are monitoring the debris field left behind from the first battle of this system.”
As she spoke, the field increased its magnification to reveal battered hulks and fragments that were still recognizably Terran in origin. Smaller in number but more sinister in appearance were the remains of the enormous vessels the genocidal hunters had operated.
“I’m surprised they were never salvaged after we took the system,” he said to his AIgent.
“I believe that was the original intent, but they were left where they were as a sort of memorial to the battle. The High Guard maintains watch on it though to keep anyone from scavenging any relics of the hunters.”
“Hmmm, I see. I’m glad you decided to join me,” he said.
“Well, I’m sure you appreciate the trivia. But more importantly, we received our authorization codes from the Commodore’s AI and attached to it was a request for communication from Admiral Matter on board Leviathan.”
“Really? Did she say what she wanted?” he asked curiously.
“No, but I assume its urgent. We’re still communicating at speed of light and with that delay on our transmission she had to have sent the request as soon as she was notified. She’s requested we contact her once we sync to the FTL system net. We should have entanglement momentarily.”
“Alright. Connect us as soon as possible,” He replied.
Several minutes later, a figure came blinked into existence in the center of the cabin. It was the figure of a tall woman dressed in the skin-tight blue uniform of the Imperial Navy with the stars of an Admiral on her shoulders. Her face was hard and serious as she looked at his.
“Investigator Oyelowo?” she asked.
“Yes Admiral. Please, call me Tunde,” he invited.
“Investigator, I compliment you on your timing. About a week ago we had an incident that I think will be worth your time.”
“Admiral, I’m not sure if you have received notification from Terra yet, but I am here in pursuit of a fugitive,” he said.
“I suspected as much and it is that matter which I wish to discuss,” said the Admiral’s avatar still standing in a rigid posture.
Tunde fought the desire to let his gaze drift downwards from her face. The last thing he wanted to do was upset the stern woman in front of him, and a lazy once-over of her tightly garbed body would be a good way to do it.
“Admiral, I certainly hope so. I have a warrant from the Praesidium itself for the apprehension of the fugitive in question and I can not and will not allow any other matters to detain me.”
“One standard week ago, a colonial freighter inserted into a tactical point near the planet. Our records indicated it was registered as the Sleeping Beauty. We scrambled fighters for an immediate intercept but the freighter made no further movement after emergence,” she informed him. “With the timing of your arrival in system, I can only suspect this incident has something to do with you.”
Tactical points referred to any open enough space near a planet for a ship to insert without blasting the surface with the wave of radiation and high energy particles on emergence. It made for rapid access to a planet but carried a high risk of colliding with another ship. They were used only rarely for military assaults or by the limited number of pirate vessels still operating. And Tunde felt his pulse quicken fractionally at the news.
“What did you find Admiral?” he asked trying to keep his voice level.
“No crew was aboard. Analysis of the vessel itself and the debris around it suggests they were spaced while the ship was still in the warp bubble,” she said her tone becoming even colder.
Anything ejected from the ship itself during warp travel would have been swept along inside the supralight wrinkle in space time. However, the kinetic stress that happened when that wave collapsed and merged with the local spacetime would have atomized any object outside the ship’s hull.
“What about the ship itself?” he asked.
“The AI control system was trashed. The software was corrupted and much of the hardware severely damaged. The cloning facilities aboardt were destroyed. We did find a single missing surface excursion suit…,” she paused at this point momentarily almost losing her calm composure.
“Whoever did this is now almost certainly planetside,” she finished.
“Admiral, what about the colonists? There were thousands of uploaded colonists on… that ship” he asked. Her expression was all the answer he needed.
“What’s left of their minds is in electronic quarantine. Our resident psychosurgeon is attempting to make sense of what was done to them. But only through the most complex firewall our AI can rig up. It isn’t clear if any of them can be salvaged. Furthermore, when five of the Marines in my boarding party attempted to link into the ship’s system they were infected with some sort of data shrapnel that attacked their implants.”
Tunde interrupted loudly, “Admiral, please tell me you have the men are in custody and and have been segregated them from your electronic systems! They are a grave threat to you and your crew.”
“Investigator, they are in fact dead. Whatever infected their implants, overwrote their implant software with a new personality. They attempted to commandeer the boarding craft but were killed in a firefight with the rest of my boarding party. They killed three more of my marines in the attempt. Now, Investigator, I have answered your questions. I see from your face you know what is going on and I need to know exactly what happened to that ship, what happened to my Marines and what it is that made it to the planet!” she demanded.
“Admiral, the fugitive I am hunting is the Patchwork man. We tracked him to this system after the IBI tracked him to Sleeping Beauty.”
The Admirals eyes went wide in shock. “The Patchwork man? He’s here?” she asked incredulously. “I can’t believe that. You’re telling me a common serial killer was able to breach the implant software of an Imperial Marine and hijack their minds without being stopped by their AIgents?”
“Admiral, I’ve been after him for a very long time now. Trust me when I say that he is by no means common and if he wasn’t as technically proficient as he was, he would have been brought to heel years before,” he assured her while trying to come to terms with her information.
“You’re the Man in Black aren’t you?” she asked him.
“Please, Ma’am, just call me Investigator or Tunde. I don’t even know why the media started calling me that. Everyone in the IBI wears black.”
“Investigator, I have a colonial transport filled with tormented souls and a corrupted computer system that’s like a smallpox blanket triggered to infect anyone who comes into contact with it. I don’t particularly care if you don’t like your moniker. What I care about is if you’re capable of bringing in the man who did this,” she demanded of him.
“I’ve dedicated my professional life to it Ma’am. I need you to dispatch a messenger drone to IBI headquarters on Eros. They will immediately dispatch a team with experience in the Patchwork man’s software.” He extended his palm toward the simulated figure of the Admiral.
“Use my authentication code. In the meantime, I will divert course from the planet. If you would give me coordinates to where you have impounded the ship, I may begin my investigation from there,” he said.
Violet broke in at that, her figuring appearing next to the Admiral’s saying, “ I’m sorry to interrupt Admiral. Tunde, you have a transmission from the embassy on the planet.”
“Does everyone know I’m here,” he grumbled before saying, “Can’t this wait?”
“Sir, I don’t think so. Apparently there has been an incident on the planet. A Terran there apparently shot up a local inter-species bar. At least five different ambassadors from the developing worlds are demanding action. Not only that, but one of the victims was apparently a Bureau informant. Our ambassador is demanding your presence as soon as possible.”
“Well Investigator, it sounds like your fugitive is indeed on the planet. I will quarantine the vessel for now and contact the IBI. You should proceed to the planet at best possible speed. After what he has done, you cannot allow him to escape. I want him for what he did to that ship and to my men,” said the Admiral.
“Ma’am, I think you’re going to have to get in line if you want a peice of him. But I agree with you. On that note, I don’t suppose I could trouble the Admiral for some assistance?”
She looked at him quizzically before nodding briskly.
“If you would authorize an in-system warp jump I could be on-planet in a few hours rather than a few days.”
Her eyes lit up. In-system jumps were extremely dangerous and required explicit authorization.
“I’ll transmit the authorization to your ship AI immediately. God speed Investigator,” she said with the smallest of smiles before her image blinked out.
Within a few moments, Tunde heard the voice of the ship in his mind informing him that it had received the Admiral’s authorization and had already plotted the jump.
Tunde turned back to the observation window and for a moment said nothing, just staring at the star field.
Finally he said out loud as he pointed at the distant speck of light that was their destination, “Engage.”
Credit to u/jsgunn for "Earthen Ladies"