They are Smol – and it’s a Smol World: Chapter 5

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series It's a Smol World

Now in the movies, when a ship warps into a new star system they’re able to instantly come in at orbit of a planet, drop shields, deploy fighters, shoot guns, activate evasive maneuvers and all sorts of wonderful things that Hollybollywood would have you believe human starships can do. The real truth of the matter is that’s all bullshit. Once you warp into a system – even a well mapped system – you’re effectively blind until the EM spectrum can come back on and let you know who’s around you, where you are, and what the heck is going on, and almost most importantly, where the fuck is the system’s star. Although this takes milliseconds at most and nanoseconds at best, it’s still a delay.

So the real M.O. of any ship warping anywhere is to do so next to a pre-established buoy or marker of some sort, let your ship systems come back online, parse the data and then vacate the premises as quickly as possible. Although collisions can and do happen they are astronomically (hah!) rare, as space is vast, there are multiple entry points into any given system, legal ships radio ahead for the system’s Space Traffic Control to coordinate warp-out spots in spacetime and no good captain worth their salt sticks around on the off chance there’s an emergency warp coming in.

However, Reach was special.

I don’t mean that in a “Humanity uncovered in a few short decades answers to thousand year old technological riddles” kind of way, but in a “oh God we’re shipping families of a species that actually fits in the galactic census margin of error” and “I’ve heard the stories of what goes on in their R&D departments and if something goes wrong it will all be our fault” kind of way. When you have such precious cargo arriving at ludicrous speed, you tend to enact certain …overzealous safety measures. Reach and her escorts enjoyed a very close warp-in to Gentle Expanse, her multiple moons between sinking behind and cresting over the planet – on the off chance there were issues, rescue and repair was just a few minutes away, and everyone could be evacuated within an hour. Reach was also escorted by the Terran Combat Ships My Hand Slipped and La Chancla, as well as almost a dozen senate battle cruisers, logistics carriers, medical ships and a handful of dreadnoughts. Reach also enjoyed the dubious accolade of being the only escorted non-combat ship in 4,000 years to warp into a populated and mapped system and have absolutely no space traffic whatsoever cluttering up their EM broadcasts.

Like I said, Reach was special.

And so Reach, special, special Reach, sat just out of reach of it’s landing zone as various senate ships meandered throughout the system, re-re-re-mapping every navigational hazard, updating Galactic nodes, verifying the moratorium of new ship traffic with traffic control, setting up a defensive perimeter (cause you never know) and ultimately spending a couple extra hours blasting a few errant comets and meteorites that may have proved to be a problem to the colony in the next 780,000 years. The colonists aboard Reach weren’t too concerned about the delay – almost all of their excitement and time were spent pouring over geographical maps, reports of local flora and fauna, possible city layouts, connecting and setting up their own Galactic Net Node and other extremely interesting things that you, the reader, probably don’t want to know anything about. It was the navigational crew, the operations teams – and the military, especially, who started to go mad at just sitting there for hours, and then days as absolutely nothing of interest happened. When they finally did get the green light to move forward, it was only a 10 minute trip to orbit… and then the beginning of a multiple months-long stay as they unloaded their cargo.

Space travel, everybody.

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[USER ACTIVITY]

[Poet of Stars][ACTIVE]

[Best_at_Tech][DORMANT]

[Stole_yo_girl_and_dumped_her][JOINED]

[dramdrunk][OFFLINE]

[MEGAMEGAMEGA][OFFLINE]

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= = =

Ngruzren-of-Arzgr idly scrolled through his list of servers, logging into some, logging out of others, and making note of who was online and where. His tooth prosthetic was out, his clothing gone, and he was draped over a spherical beanbag in a way only the young (or those who are limber) are able to do. His eyes were glazed over, his tongue idly licking the gummy gap in his mouth.

= = =

[Stole_yo_girl_and_dumped_her]: [Who’s actually here?]

[Poet of Stars]: [Hey. Not joining us in Simulation?]

[Stole_yo_girl_and_dumped_her]: [Nah. I’m not up for it.]

[Poet of Stars]: [Fair enough – just know that you still have that whole black-heart default av.]

[Stole_yo_girl_and_dumped_her]: [What?! I swore I changed it-]

[Poet of Stars]: [Maybe on some other chatroom, but not globally. I mean, I don’t care, I’m just saying-]

[Stole_yo_girl_and_dumped_her]: [Fine, fine. I’ll hop in.]

= = =

Ngruzren-of-Arzgr frowned as he kicked in a few more subroutines with his implant, the embedded room computer taking on most of the processing load as he reached above and behind him, blindly pawing at the floor for a headset. Eventually – after a few groans, rolling over to actually search, and then realizing he was laying on top of his new pair all along – he put on the earpieces, a hard-light visor projecting perfectly over his eyes, ears and muzzle. He reached his arms out as he lay splayed on the floor, the room’s optics recording his position, marking it as “neutral” and building a world completely around him.

= = =

Ngruzren-of-Arzgr appeared, suddenly, in a wide open field with no atmosphere – the stars of his home system’s sky whizzing past him at ludicrous speed. The earth yawned open below him, breaking apart into various floating islands, twisted sculptures of art and geometry, and in one case a pen of [Night-Terror]-beasts, beating themselves impotently against the glass. He fell, and continued to fall, sighing as he passed rapidly through a solid carved-stone floor, through the dungeon below, and out the other side into the void.

He was, of course, not himself, which any sensible person would realize at this point. No, at this particular junction he was still his default offline persona, a night-rage beating black heart wreathed in ice and claw.

Ngruzren-of-Arzgr cringed internally at that description. It wasn’t a phase, it was simple experimentation, but… thank goodness he got past that as quick as he did.

[Stole_yo_girl_and_dumped_her]:”[Hey! I thought you fixed NoCollision! Ik’itili?!]”

[Poet of Stars] called out from somewhere and nowhere at the same time. “[No, she’s offline! And I don’t know – log out and change avs before you log back in?]”

[Stole_yo_girl_and_dumped_her] sighed, force-quitting the simulation chatroom. The sound and feeling of air whooshing over his body immediately stopped, and the expanse-less and featureless void that sat at the bottom of the map gave way… to his bedroom ceiling again.

Mentally switching avatars, Ngruzren-of-Arzgr logged back into the private server, no longer appearing at the zenith of the skymap but instead on the ground itself. [Stole_yo_girl_and_dumped_her] rolled his shoulders and fluffed his mane once more; He was a svelte gauntling, his blood-blue fur and skin glistening like thousands of droplets of frozen rain, or captive stars seen through a pane of ice. Teeth white as fallen snow, eyes a deep and mysterious black – but unlike the haggard and well, gaunt demons of yore, he was muscled. Fit. Proportioned in all the right ways to make the ladies notice hi-

[Stole_yo_girl_and_dumped_her] stopped his mental train of thought as a tiny-chomper stood before him, smiling with his tiny chompers. 

[Stole_yo_girl_and_dumped_her]:”[Wh. Uh. WHU.]”

The tiny-chomper shook his head disapprovingly. [Poet of Stars]:”[Oh no no. That’s not good at all. The correct greeting is ‘Hello! Pleasure to meet you!’ with an alternative ‘Do you need any help?’. Zero marks, go back to-]”

[Stole_yo_girl_and_dumped_her]:”[Wait, Swipressnssren?! How did – how did you get that model?!]”

[Poet of Stars] bowed dramatically – for a tiny-chomper, that is – and digitally ‘held out’ a file archive, which [Stole_yo_girl_and_dumped_her] accepted and began to download. [Poet of Stars]:”[Well, turns out our little tech diva knows a thing or to – or knows a few people – and somehow got a copy of some hard-light tiny-chompers. Tell me, do I look… familiar?]”

[Stole_yo_girl_and_dumped_her] shook his head, studying the alien before him. ”[No, I’d remember a tiny-chomper if I saw one…]”

[Poet of Stars]:“[Really?]” he said, suddenly making the avatar twist it’s features in fear. “[But life day will be ruined-]”

[Stole_yo_girl_and_dumped_her] groaned in voice chat and in real life, Ngruzren-of-Arzgr’s limbs going limp against the floor as he felt the life drain from his body.

[Stole_yo_girl_and_dumped_her]:“[Are you Kidding me?!]”

[Poet of Stars]:”[Nope. But the continued good news is that she also somehow got the randomization customization files as well, and the control behind it. You can customize your own tiny-chomper! And there’s also a server address…]”

[Stole_yo_girl_and_dumped_her] grinned as he dismissed his avatar, returning to the default ‘ball of light’, before running the package he was just given.

[Stole_yo_girl_and_dumped_her]:”[Whelp. There goes my evening.]”

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Jonathan Protaganista was bored out of his mind.

Now, usually this would be cause for fear amongst his coworkers, his managers and, generally, everyone aboard whichever station he happened to be serving on at any given time. However, Jon was doing his best to stay out of trouble, out of the way, and most importantly, out of the spotlight. This wasn’t due to him turning over a new leaf at being selected/press-ganged into serving on Reach, which would undoubtedly put his name somewhere in the history books – probably near the bottom, in -50 typefont, if we’re being honest. No, he stayed out of the way and out of trouble and out of the spotlight for one very simple reason, which goes back to the most ancient of maritime law, and logically extended into the depths of space itself:

When the ship was away from port, the Captain’s word was law.

And although Jon could bullshit his way around his coworkers and his managers and generally everyone else who had no idea what he did but nodded sagely and made the appropriate knowing mouthsounds at bigly-sounding words, he could not bullshit a ship’s Captain who wanted to make history, his crew who were on a mission and a security team who could – and would! – throw him in the brig for weeks or months at a time.

The brig has no Wi-Fi, man. That’s inhumane.

So he sat in his room, day in, day out, only taking in what food his tamed herd of roombas would deliver to his door. His position was also basically outsourced; Jon was a master slacker above all things, and it wasn’t difficult to build a program and rewire a few robots to do his job in his stead. In regards to entertainment, Quantum communication was a thing, and the delay in getting the new media, news and art from home was measured in seconds as opposed to years. This was great for watching ‘the big game’, but absolutely terrible for gaming. Jon lives in a society, and that society put the millisecond latency he was used to in twitch shooters such as Cookie Clicker at the bottom of the “needs” bin.

And so Jonathan Protaganista was bored out of his mind. Although most games had a VR/AR switch, with his modest crew quarters and lack of a holodeck on the ship, he was forced to game by screen. Like an animal. When contextual clues that felt natural were reduced to indicator markers on the edge of that screen – it didn’t matter if it was wrap-around visor and in 32K, it still felt off. Stilted. So Jon did the next best thing a bored man can do alone in his room with a connection to the Internet.

No, not that. Stop that. Get your mind out of the gutter.

I am, of course, talking about shitposting. A few second delay is untenable for PVP or even PVE MMO games, but message boards? Text servers? That’s absolutely fine, man… If only he wasn’t banned from most of them. Turns out you can’t shitpost too hard when you’ve got a forced, fixed IIP ID.

“Server list… let’s see. Omnigender breathairians – banned. Karnakian Truthers – banned. Hollow moon theorists – banned. Flat-galaxy – banned. Mandatory Nanomachine Injections for US Senators – Ugh. There’s nothing fucking good left.” Jon murmured, his old haunts shunning him from his lack of VPN and proxy spoofs to hide behind. “Is there anything local I can do? Not like I’m fucking staying.”

His eyes tracked to various menu icons, his gloved hands gripping controllers to input and select text and icon choices. Eventually he connected to the ‘local’ GalNet node, his translation matrix working overtime to download a couple petabytes of data. Slowly, before his very eyes, unintelligible script formed words, then sentences, then inflection, meaning slowly sifting through byte by byte. After the translations loaded he completely ignored the welcome screen, the about section, and various other helpful and noble sites on his way to degeneracy.

Jonathan Protaganista was a master slacker, and he had various tricks up his sleeve to get to the “good” stuff. It wasn’t but a few weeks after a Galactic Node was established around Earth’s orbit decades ago that his spiritual lieges and slacker shaman ancestors put forth a titanic effort to crack, dismantle, hack, abuse, and shitpost furiously through all of the firewalls, botnet protections, and various other physical and digital protections put in place by his species’ benefactors.

Truth be told, they didn’t make it. They didn’t crack the GalNet node, but they pried it open just a little. Enough for some wiggle room. What tricks weren’t classified beyond ‘CIA blacksite visit’ were shared amongst slackers such as himself, and he was pleased to find that most nodes – or at least, the only other node he’s ever touched – seemed similar enough for him to root around in.

So he did.

“Porn, porn, vintage movies that I don’t care about, porn, games I can’t play, porn, financials of companies I don’t care about, porn, ah. FINALLY.”

Jon stumbled around the alien navigation, the same intuition that came to three races sharing millenia together completely lost on him. It took him a good 45 minutes just to find a server list, and even then all the options were either encoded or gibberish.

All but the one he joined.

== CHAT ENABLED ==

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[USER ACTIVITY][Page 1 of 57]

[LOOK_AT_MY_LIMBS][ACTIVE]

[HATEHATE][ACTIVE]

[MY TEETH HURT][ACTIVE]

[LIMBSY FACEMAN][ACTIVE]

[AAAAAAAAA][ACTIVE]

[BEP BEP BEP][ACTIVE]

[cuddle-me-now][DORMANT]

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[BURNING_MAN][DORMANT]

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= = =

Jon smiled. The text that spilled past him – pouring past him in a speed almost too fast to see, was nothing but pure shitposting. Around him, a cacophony of noise; there was Roleplaying, conspiracy theories, random noises, people challenging others to duels, a few people with avatars running around completely naked-

These were his people.

He ported in his default avatar – a simple scan of his own body, he didn’t care – and walked right up to the nearest human being.

[JOHN MADDEN]:”AEIOU.”

The human, [Stole_yo_girl_and_dumped_her], turned and grinned, flailing his arms in ways that obviously broke every bone in ‘his’ body. “[BRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBR]”

And over the next four hours, a friendship was born.

Series Navigation<< They are Smol – and it’s a Smol World: Chapter 4

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