The Empire stretches across a thousand suns, the height of human civilization. The Empress holds the systems in an iron grip with all base code keyed to her full geneset. The Executors, chosen to bear a small portion of the royal Geneline from parent to child, are entrusted with the well-being and functioning of the trade that drives the engine of the Empire. They gather once a century to set the schedule of folds, pulling space together long enough to jump from one system to another. The stability of the Empire is paramount, the penalty for acting against the Empress’ interests high.
Greetings all! This is an excerpt from my current novel project, the first in a trilogy called The Reckoning Cycle. This opening scene is first on the slate for re-write once I finish the draft, but I’d love to hear what you think in the comments!
The star was wholly unremarkable. A main series red dwarf, it was typical of most of the stars in the galaxy. Its low, slow-burn fusion meant that it was useless as a foundry; no iron lived in the heart of this star. But as a battery, it served. Great loops hung around it, their orbit cleared of debris long ago and keeping station against the magnetic field. Two near-constant streams of particles raced around the star, harvested from the star’s corona and accelerated by the magnetic loops until the beams peeled apart and smashed together. Antimatter harvest was a long and slow process, but critical to fuel even stranger works. The reactor wasn’t the most important thing about the star, despite the feat of engineering.
The most important thing about this star was its location. Over the eons stars drifted relatively rapidly, and with a long enough time horizon in mind it might seem futile to think of fixed stellar geography as anything but fleeting. Over mere centuries, however, the bridges of the stars were solid enough to tread reliably. The Empire stretched across many hundreds of light-years, but it was the ability to fold those light years together, albeit at a cost, that truly gave stellar geography meaning. This star happened to fall on the shortest transfer between the territories of two great Genelines of the Empire. The wholly unremarkable star had become and exemplary waystation.
Out beyond the magnetosphere, tens of billions of miles from the tiny star, the quantum suppressor array floated. Non-Euclidean in nature, spacetime is described not by the simplicity of length, width, and depth but a constantly moving and evolving thing. Timelike and spacelike vectors interact in a dizzying milieu of mathematical probability, each branching timeline growing and dividing in un-seeable dimensions. But out away from the gravity well, on the periphery of this dull ember of a star, spacetime was calmer, and flatter, and the timelike and spacelike curves of the fierce depths of the gravity well were tamer and gentler. Here, it was within the realm of the possible to match a timelike vector before entering the folded space, to avoid the backwards loops and navigate purely along the spacelike lines to the other side. The suppressor was designed to exploit this strange nature of the universe. When called to, the great circle would slowly spool up, its antimatter reactor providing the needed power to tamp out the foaming, frothing stew of particles and anti-particles that appeared and disappeared in the vacuum. The suppressor continued its work, reducing more and more energy from the vacuum, until it reached true nothing… and it kept going. With a complete lack of quantum particle activity in the field, energy measurements dipped to a wholly unnatural area. The negative energy state only created the target for the fold, a beacon in the causal and anti-causal world of the tiniest parts of the universe.
The entangled fold generator at the other end of the bridge of stars targeted the region of negative energy at the appointed time and pulled, its own night-dark circle suddenly lit by the eerie blue glow of the edges of the stabilized folded space. The generator had a heavy cost; more than just wealth and power, but the energy output of its parent star was harvested and stored to be fed into the fold to keep it stable for more than a microsecond. The long winter of charging had left the inhabitants of the system mired in ice and snow for a generation. Now that the bridge existed, time was of the essence.
The harbormaster checked the reports from his station on the receiving platform. Satisfying himself that his board was green, he nodded to the hologram that had appeared as soon as the connection came to life. “All looks good for stable passage. Are you ready for inspection?”
The woman in the hologram nodded, her Ollson blue and slate grey uniform in sharp contrast to the harbormaster’s gilded Obershire administrator’s robes. They each reached out to tap commands into a console, the hologram’s wrist ending as her hand moved outside of the pickup range. Out in space, the two flotillas that had been waiting gleamed dully in the minimal port lighting. Their common design and coloring was oddly counterpoint to the difference in dress of the two Genelines, the simple cigar-shaped ships bearing not a golden crescent or a stylized wolf but the simple sun of the Empire. The inspection teams flitted across the emptiness between the two flotillas, careful to stay in the center of the glowing blue ring. They swarmed over the ships, quickly inspecting cargo and manifests while their sub-mind suit AIs queried logs and seals on each piece of cargo. This was, after all, when wealth passed hands from Geneline to Geneline, not an internal move. Both sides took less than 10 minutes to cover all 40 vessels, their simplistic design and simpler systems allowing rapid inventory. Both harbormasters received the all-clear from their inspection foremen at nearly the same time, and the suited crews began heading back across the gulf to their relevant sides. As they passed, the harbormaster counted the glowing flecks of light idly. One, two, three… A standard crew was eight inspectors, averaging five ships a minute. No more, no less; while there had never been an invasion, human paranoia ran deep. But there were only six glints in the glaring light of the harbor.
The harbormaster turned to the Ollson hologram. “Better get the rest of your crew across unless they want to live here, when the last ship is through I’m cutting the generators. The less energy we use the better.”
The woman’s brow furrowed. “I’ve issued the recall, all of our people should be en route. What are you seeing?” Her hands moved across the empty air before her, the flesh and bone no doubt dancing across a control panel to guide the cameras to her returning crew. “Just a moment, it looks like we are light a few. I’ll ask the foreman.”
The Obershire man sighed exasperatedly, dramatically rolling his wrist to check the golden watch that hulked there like an ornate and overgrown crab. “Well they had better hurry; the fleets are beginning to move.” The great dark bulks of the transport ships had started their slide across the invisible line of demarcation, a sedate and controlled movement somehow still managing to evoke a sense of urgency. The main drives stayed silent but the stuttering of attitude thrusters added a strangeness to the view, great whales being driven by tiny remora.
The Ollson harbormaster pursed her lips. “We are showing suit failures on 4 of our party. Two are being helped back across but the others are reporting dead suit thrusters. We have to work on a recovery, I need more time.” Careful to keep his expression neutral to slightly disdainful, the Obershire man turned to look out the window as his hand almost carelessly rested on the control console before him.
“I’ve told you, they better hurry. The time is the time.” His eyes scanned the region of space he had last seen the Ollson team working, ocular implants increasing contrast, brightening the dark starfield.
Without warning his vision blurred out white, and he threw a hand up across his eyes. “Agh, what the hell was that? Report!” Warning klaxons sounded, blaring painfully across the small space of the control room. As his implants ramped the gain back down, suddenly he saw the source of the light. Two tiny new suns had bloomed, not far out among the ships but closer, much closer, the halo around each one belying the nature of the light.
The harbormaster turned in horror to the Ollson hologram. “Are you insane? You realize what this means?” His hands began dancing across the console, reaching for the comm array only to find it dead and lifeless. He sucked in a breath and turned back to the Ollson image. “What the fuck is wrong with you people? We’ll all die for this!”
His eyes bulged in panic even as the braking burn of the two incoming suited forms cut off, casting the control room back into darkness. The Ollson woman smiled, then gestured across herself, pulling aside the curtain of deception. She changed, the avatar of the hologram falling away to reveal the true form beneath. Her head was a little too long, eyes canted up and out alarmingly. Serrated teeth parted slightly behind her now smiling face, intricate tattoos giving her skin a deep purple hue. Her body was impossible thin, long-limbed, and the flowing mane of dark hair on her head billowed up in zero g. She might have stepped from some nightmare tale of the fae folk.
“You are a fool,” she spat, the words as sharp and angular as she, “and I will be glad to see you burn. Just like the rest of the Imperial scum. We have waiting and watched you, growing fat and sedate, secure in your gilded castles.” She leaned forward, her face filling the hologram pickup and growing larger. The harbormaster shrank back against her fierce gaze. “But no longer.”
As she finished speaking the Obershire harbormaster began frantically fastening his suit, the glittering braid and brocade of his vestments now flailing about wildly. His eyes were those of a caged animal, desperate. The hologram winked out and Other woman disappeared abruptly. He fumbled about, finally fastening the seals on his suite. He began to cast about for his helmet, cursing steadily and without much imagination. Finally, as he ran around the control console he saw it, lying on the ground, knocked there during his fight to get his suit on. He stooped to pick it up, then stood and froze.
On the window of the control room, two forms were crouched in the vacuum. He shook his head once, sure his implants were malfunctioning, but the image persisted. Two great mechanical spiders, arms and legs like those of a man, their faceless heads staring back at him. Then one reared a set of arms back, head tipped slightly away from the glass as its other limbs held tight. The harbormaster started to scream as he realized the thing’s intent, but by then the two great fists had begun their rapid drop back down. The window shattered, blowing the armored glass out into space. The other spiderlike figure reached in and grabbed the harbormaster by his chest plate, hand spanning across, and flipped him out into vacuum, the scream freezing on his lips as his agonized face captured his last moments.
The harbormaster’s body would orbit the star, silent evidence of the violence of war out in the cold black. His implants slowly began to spin down, the tiny computers faithfully enhancing and recording images for a brain that was no longer there in any meaningful sense. His lonely orbit around the little red dwarf slowly diverged from the harbor array, but as he slowly spun in the frozen dark his implants recorded the glints and figures of the rest of the harbor crew.
Lonely no more, he was joined by his fellows in a slow dance through the vacuum.