They are Smol: Invasion of Earth – Chapter 2
What the Karnakians learned long ago is that there’s no better teacher than experience.
Oh, sure, there was absolutely a time and a place for universities and other institutions of higher learning – especially in the theoretical or theological divisions – but when it came down to brass tacks, it was always better to have someone who’s spent 5 years failing and learning under supervision take the lead than someone who’s only read about it do so.
“|…and if we account for the drij of the planet we’re orbiting?|”
This was true for the simple things, like managing and repairing drones, interior decorating or cooking to the more complex, such as navigating a ship the size of a large metropolitan area around the gravity wells of planets and asteroids without altering their trajectory and causing unknown cascade effects that end up with an errant nickel-iron meteorite slamming into your colony 700 years later.
N-not that the Karnakians were speaking from experience or anything…
“|Um…|” Junior navigator Ch’irci tapped her talons against her workstation, eying the telemetry data in front of her. Everything here was an exact copy of everything a couple dozen floors up; the apprentice bridge functioned both as a great testing-area and a backup to the main bridge. The workstation she sat at – which they wouldn’t even turn on until she spent a month memorizing what all the buttons and dials did – was an exact copy of what she’d sit at once she finally earned her flight crests.
“|I’ll give you a hint.|” Second Navigator Tw’Rria said, pointing at the telemetry data. “|For this system we’re about to jump into, we want our gravity wakes to dissipate without causing navigational hazards. You’re a Ni’tikian?|”
Ch’irci nodded, looking at her senior curiously. Discussing religion wasn’t a workplace faux-pas, but it was an odd non-sequitur.
“|Didn’t one of the Arches say ‘if you throw a pebble in with a bould-’|”
“|-a boulder their wake is all the same. UGH we need to skip in within middle or low orbit-|” Ch’irci groaned, her feathered head-crest splaying flat against her scalp with a soft whump.
“|Hey! I knew you’d get it, rookie!|” Tw’Rria said, his face breaking out into a soft smile. A few of the other master/apprentice pairs spared a few seconds to look up at the duo before going back to their own teaching. “|So if we’re coming in close and we don’t want to ripple, we need to pick a large gravity well. Why the second-largest?|”
“|Now you’re just humoring me.|” Ch’irci moped, entering in navigational routes to the ship’s AI. “|The largest gravity well will always be the star or a black hole – neither of which you want to get into close orbit to. Second largest – as long as there’s a massive deviation between it and the first – will most likely be a gas giant, and therefore inert.|”
“|Top marks. You even dodged that little sandtrap I left for you.|”
“|Still. That was a first year question and I forgot. Against the dead, I passed that question in last week’s test!|”
“|Mmm. We all make mistakes from time to time – that’s why there are two navigators working at any time, after all. Besides, did I tell you the time about my first real flight?|”
Ch’irci continued to enter in her theoretical navigation data – flawlessly, she might add – as she inclined her head to listen with a frown.
“|So there I was, fresh from my apprenticeship on the Black Sun – and no, not that Black Sun, that was two thousand years before I was born, thankyouverymuch-|”
Ch’irci smiled softly as her senior continued to talk, the AI beeping back confirmations as she worked.
“|-and I sit down at my desk in full dress, because I wanted to impress everyone – never you mind that everyone else was in casuals, and I get my first order: “Confirm with Gri’’ti your preliminaries.” And get this:|” Tw’Rria said, leaning in close to whisper. “|I had been introduced to the whole bridge crew not 20 minutes ago, and in that moment I forgot everyone’s name.|”
“|No. NO!|” Ch’irci said, mouth open in shock as she turned to fully look at her senior, the older navigator reclining back out of her personal space. “|Yes indeed! So the entire bridge was looking at me, in my shiny dress-up, and I just sat there panicking. The Matron repeated her order, and I just started to look around for someone to say something. And guess what?|”
Ch’irci turned to face him, her work now forgotten. “|What?|”
Tw’Rria tapped the console that he was resting on, which sat not 5 feet away. “|Gri’’ti was right here the whole time-|”
Ch’irci couldn’t help it and burst out into a trilling laughter, her earlier shame long since forgotten. It took a few seconds for her to die down, and by that time everyone on the deck had given her their full, undivided attention – but it didn’t matter.
“|Th-thank you! Oh by the Spirit, that’s…oh my goodness I would molt on the spot-|”
“|Honestly, I almost did. And by the way, that data looks great. You accounted for the drij of our planet and the theoretical drij and ngri of the gas giant in the other system. If you don’t mind, I’d like to actually kick that data upstairs.|”
“|Mmhmm. It’s not perfect, mind you, but it’s 80% of the way there. And hey, it might shine a light on you, ay?|”
“|I uh – th-thank you, Taskmaster!|” Ch’irci said, bobbing her head quickly. “|I-I di-|”
“|And before you get any ideas, apprentice, you still need to finish telemetry for the seed probes. I’ll leave you to it?|” Tw’Rria said as he stood up, letting out a little grunt for the effort.
“|Alrighty. Finish up your work and send the packet for your Taskmasters to review, and then you’re free until launch. The Matron wants all the apprentices to see how a bridge should work – and please, please make sure your friend doesn’t interrupt her again?|”
The Bridge for The Three Stones, a Sacred Exploration Vessel, was both a working area and a bit of a theater, and that was by design. Exploration Vessels rarely dealt with anything too dangerous; being piloted by seasoned crew out-of-map cut out a majority of navigation errors, any pirates or illegal settlements discovered were immediately flagged by the ship as soon as they were discovered – and the ship immediately withdrew from the system – and if someone were so dumb as to think the long-range vessel were easy prey, well. There was always the security team filled with seasoned veterans and absolutely-bored-out-of-their-minds rookies.
Although some of the Security team were D’re’iasin all their public prayer confessions were always for the ‘safety and security of all the souls onboard’, Matriarch Tr’Nkwi personally believed their secret prayers were more along the lines of ‘please, First Soul, send us a small band of idiot pirates to break the monotony of this assignment’.
Anyway. The bridge was arranged in a “pit” of sorts, with screens all along the walls and a large panel of screens taking up an entire wall to the far “north”. Arranged in a semi-circle around the pit were seats; On the way out the rookies would sit and take notes and learn, and on the way back their Taskmasters would do the same as the rookies piloted over the already-discovered routes back to civilization.
“|Can you be-oww~!|” Tk’il’a said and immediately regretted as his tail was jabbed by a talon’d foot.
“|If you get us in trouble I will never speak to you again.|” murmured Ch’irci, making a point to not turn her head away from the recessed pit in front of her.
The Matriarch turned her head slightly – whether it was because she heard their little tiff or for another reason, Ch’irci didn’t know –
“|Spool Engines.|” she said, as she had said a dozen times before.
– Ch’irci let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding.
“|Engines Spooling – First breakers clear.|” A Green-clad engineer said from behind the Matriarch, his counterpart working with him in sync.
“|Cargo and Personnel.|”
“|All Cargo in stasis; All living cargo in stasis. All fields blue, all batteries blue.|” Called out a Grey-clad quartermaster from somewhere directly under Ch’irci. She was joined by another unseen voice. “|Personnel assignments set; all personnel accounted for. Emergency systems blue, but deck 12 has that glitch again.|”
“|Negative ma’am – no personnel stationed near the error.|”
“|Telemetry data set, checked by AI and within acceptable deviations.|” a Red clad Navigator said, his counterpart Tw’Rria making a note to pause his work to give a soft nod in Ch’irci’s direction.
Ch’irci’s crest rose unbidden in secret joy. It was her data!
“|All thrusters go, all pumps go, all shields go.|”
“|Acceptable dip in engine spooling; shield-debt paid in 15 seconds.|”
“|Gravity wake go, tensors locking-|” the black-clad pilot said to nobody in particular, his and his two counterparts’ eyes focused solely on their consoles. Throughout the entire ship a series of heavy thunks reverberated throughout the hull as locking mechanisms secured, bulkheads shut and the entire ship seemed to tense. It was a condition unique to exploratory vessels; by making the ship far more rigid and un-yielding there was a greater chance of surviving a direct hit from whatever small untraceable debris you could possibly collide with while jumping into an un-mapped system.
Well. Surviving is such a strong term. It was more “the ship should remain mostly intact and hey, your emergency unit pods are down the hall and to the right so stop complaining”.
“|Shield debt repaid; Capacitors charging. 2 minutes.|” Engineering called out again.
“|-spine locked, gimbals are go. Clearing is go-|”
“|Packing atmosphere; void warnings are on.|” The quartermaster interrupted, as the isolated stations within the bridge began to work as one.
“|Acceptable dip in engine spooling; clearing debt in 5 seconds.|”
“|-navigation telemetry is fed into system. Looks good, Rr’it’sqk. Gravity well dampener is go-|”
“|Acceptable dip in engine spooling; debt cleared. Capacitors at 40%, debt Jubilee is allowed.|” Engineering said, and was immediately interrupted by multiple voices. Almost every station began to spool up their own systems and subsystems – all of them necessary, but all of them drawing from the capacitor banks as opposed to the spooling engine. After a few moments all voices died down, and there was only the humming of monitors, the shallow anticipatory breathing of the crew, and the Matriarch on her throne.
“|Engineering is clear for skip.|”
“|Personnel is clear for skip.|”
“|Navigation is clear for skip.|”
“|Piloting is clear for skip.|”
“|Cargo is clear for skip.|”
There was a pause. It only lasted for a moment, but it was just long enough for silence to settle like newfallen snow. The Matriarch looked slowly to the right, then to the left, and shifted a bit in her seat.
“|Lead pilot, at your leave, let us draw a new map.|” Matriarch Tr’Nkwi said, a rare broad smile gracing her features.
“|Aye Ma’am!|” The lead pilot said, and his arm moved over his console.
Then, everything moved.
The feeling of initiating a skip jump was one of extreme, mind-bending speed. All at once you felt – or felt that you felt – the force of a thousand gravities for just a microsecond, and then…nothing.
Nothing at all.
The only indicator of their current speed and trajectory was the blindingly-fast passage of stars on the monitor wall. Everyone sat there for a few moments before the Matriarch hummed her approval.
“|Well done, everyone. I hope our apprentices were taking notes?|” Matriarch Tr’Nkwi said, her face all smiles – and immediately cast her gaze in Ch’irci’s position.
For her part, Ch’irci never nodded so fast in her life.
The drop out of “hyperspace”, if you will, was a lot more anticlimatic.
Imagine, if you will, that you have laid out fabric on a table. You take your finger, press down at one end and drag it along the surface. As you build up the ripples on the front of your finger, eventually you have to stop – as you’re dragging too much fabric – and you pull it smooth with your free hand.
That’s the basic premise of dealing with built-up gravitational ripples. All you simply did was kill your thrusters, stop feeding the engine power and your bubble of realspace quickly melded back into the rest of the fabric of the universe. That fabric – depending on how long you had been dragging your “finger”, I.e. the ship, would then snap back and ‘smooth out’ in your wake. You would, of course, keep your ‘realspace’ momentum, so adjustments had to be made once you snapped back into reality.
What greeted the Karnakians after a few days of travel was a large, vast and angry giant, with tormented winds and planet-wide storms. A king – nay, a God, floated before them, indifferent to their cause.
“|Magnificent. To think, we’re the first living beings to see this; the first to appreciate this gem of the One’s artistry.|”
“|I didn’t know you were one to be poetic, Tk’il’a.|”
“|Mmm. I am when the fancy suits me.|” He said, watching the giant take up more and more of the screen wall. “|I don’t want to call this one a foolish name. It needs something grand, you know?|”
“|Settle down over there.|” Droned Taskmaster Ri’li’’, tapping the hard-light screen with his indicator. “|We still have work to do – we came in on the end of this gas giant’s orbit, so we’re piloting to it’s dark side to begin our first round of scans due to overshooting. Navigation and Piloting will need to be paying attention-|”
A few side-conversations quickly died down, and Taskmaster Ri’li’’ continued. “|- and our cargo and personnel will need to make sure our fabrication capabilities are at speed. We’ll begin active scans once we complete our orbit and park; you have 5 hours before we need to work, which should be more than enough time.|
“|Maybe…|” murmured Ch’irci, before tapping her friend on his arm and pointing to the screen. “|Oh! OH, what is that?|” Ch’irci asked as a large and angry red swirl became illuminated by this giant’s lone, faraway star.
– – – – –
“No, I mean, What the fuck is that?” Allen Trazinsky said, tapping his finger so hard into the LCD screen that the crystals distorted.
“Meteor? Hell, we didn’t see Shoemaker-Levy 9 until it was already on a collison course…”
“No. No no no no no. This thing is fuckhuge. Look at it, Brian-”
“I… yeah, yeah. We sure that’s not an error? What the absolute fuck-”
“I know, right?! This has to be another exo-solar object-”
“Or else we’re missing a fuckton of world-ending meteors out there. Shit, it’s big enough to be a planetoid! No, no…” Brian Jheske said, swatting away his coworkers’ finger and looking at the data. At any given point of the day or night there were at least 10 institutional telescopes pointed at Jupiter, and that wasn’t counting the hundreds, if not thousands of professional-grade hobby telescopes hard at work staring at the skies.
“Do you think the boys over in SALT or GTC picked this up last night? It’s… what, 15 miles across? 20? Do we have any more data?”
“I don’t know, but we better make some fucking calls.”