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Stonehard

#1
This is ridiculously long, and it's not even ready yet.

Jack poked the scanner everywhere, waiting for the elusive blip of dense ore to pop up.
"Leave it, there's nothing here", said Dan from his small cargo ship.
"I'm sure there's something here. I can feel it.", Jack replied.
"Just like those forty-three other dry ones?"
"Forty-one."
"Whatever. We're not getting any fuel today, if you can't find some Nidurite soon."
"Trust me, Dan. I'll find some."
At the same moment, he heard a blip. It was a weak one, but the rock was big, so the amount could be great.
"I found something"
"Start digging then. You're the one who can have fun with a laser."
Jack aimed the laser at the signature and shot. The giant rock cracked, and tiny splinters flew of in zero gravity. Soon there was a giant hole in the asteroid. Suddenly, the laser bounced back.
"Dan, did you see that?"
"What was I supposed to see?"
"The laser bounced back."
"That would need a pretty hard mirror to do. What you found?"
Jack zoomed the scanners at the hole.
"Something black and unnaturally shiny."
"Not Nidurite, then. Try a prospecting drone on it."
Jack launched the prospecting drone. It flew through space slowly, pushing tiny rocks away. It hit the object, and tried to puncture it with its legs, and comically bounced off. Jack beamed it in, and re-loaded it.
"It didn't even scratch it."
"Could you dig around it?"
"Yes, but I have an idea."
Jack shot a scanner probe on the asteroid. Within few seconds, the insides of the asteroid light up.
"Wow."
"Show me too."
Jack send the model to Dan.
"What am I supposed to see here? Oh wait. Wow."
It was a vessel. Probably a ship according to its shape. It was egg-shaped, with a pointy end. It was the size of a bomber, with no visible weaponry. As always with First Empire ships.
"Are you thinking, what I'm thinking?"
"First Empire? Of course."
"What did you say about fuel? These things are worth a billion serus.
"Dig it up. We're going to be rich."

Jack started carefully digging around it. First Empire was a misnaming, much like supernovas. They were nothing like the Second Empire, who found the first artifacts, and named themselves to be the straight descendants of them. Further analysis proved them wrong, but the name stuck. The First Empire was a species with extremely advanced technology. Their ships were nearly indestructable, fast, and posessed the most powerful defences in the known worlds. None of the found ships had had any weapons, which has lead the arkeologists to believe, that they were pacifists. Few billion years ago they just... disappeared. It's theorised, that they now live in the "white zone"; a sector where nothing ever comes back, pure white on the map.

The ship's shape slowly cleared up, as the rock shattered and flew off.
"Get your string here."
Dan launched the carbon nanotube rope at the ship and started dragging it.
"That just doesn't work. Every pirate passing us by within ten kilometers will come chasing us."
"Unless you have a trustworthy cargo container supplier within a jump, this is the best we have."
"Would an industrial production unit suffice?"
"Yes, it would. I do have some blueprints stored just in case. Empty boxes of aluminium are not very costly in terms of data."
"I know a place that no one uses anymore. It's not far from here."
"Is it still operational?"
"War-time military outposts always are."
"Aha. And you also suggest nothing monitors it, just in case someone tried to use it?"
Jack sighed.
"Military has more important things than watching abadonned stations. Come on."
"Only if you authorise me to cut the rope and run, when they come to the conclusion, that you're a Union spy."
Jacks nodes rapidly moved for a moment.
"We're living in peace now. We have lived for decades by now. The latest war ended way before we were even born."
"Have you listened? The Empire is producing humongous amounts of battleships, and moving them towards the Union borders. They're preparing for war."
"Ah, the conspiracy theorists. You believe in them? They're crazy, as they have always been."
"Isn't that even a little bit suspicious?"
"What if we stop talking, and get moving before some pirate finds out we're dragging trillions worth of money on a leash, basically free to take?"
"Okay, then."

The wierd duo started traveling towards the gate. Asteroids got catched in the wake, and drifted forwards, eventually dropping off. Eventually, they got to the gate, and jumped through.
The system was the polar opposite of the previous one: instead of a black asteroid field, it was a orange-tinted gas cloud. Jack lead Dan to a far edge of the system. Slowly, the station came into view. It was a functionalistic cube, the same color as the gas cloud, and nearly invisible from further away.
"How are we going to use that?", Dan asked.
"We have to board it."
"Oh great."
Both of the ships shot their boarding cannons. They pierced the hangar door.
"That always feels weird."
"You just don't do it often enough.", Jack said while looking around. He had lied a little bit: shifting from a ship to a drone always felt really odd. He looked at Dan, who was stumbling around in the mantis-like boarding drone, similar to what he was using.
"Walking is hard."
"They do it automatically. Just let go of manual control."
"Easier said than done."
"Let's find that control panel."
Jack walked and Dan stumbled around the walls of the hangar using six legs holding to the wall with gecco-like pads. Soon they found the panel. Jack plugged the drone's hand to to panel, downloaded the blueprints, and activated the machine.
"That's it."
"And I was right about to get the hang of this."
They both walked towards the hole, and got reloaded back in the ships.
The cargo container was spit from the station, and it the First Empire ship was pushed inside it.
"Now the pirate will only think we have a load worth a ten thousand serus, not a billion."
"Five orders of magnitude."
"The ones who hide, they won't die, but only the ones who fight, may survive."
"Are you criticising your own plan?"
"No, just some old poem that came into mind."
"What is it called?"
"Ragnarok"
"I didn't know you know poetry."
"Do you know, what I'd have become, if I wouldn't have met you?"
"Rich?"
Dan laughed a bit. "No. A philosopher"
"You must be ki-"
"No, I'm dead serious"
"You were really going to be imprisoned in a hivemind to answer unanswerable questions like a slavemind in a research unit. What madness."
"Yes, exactly. Now, do you have any dark secrets in your past?"
Jack's nodes rapidly spun around and darkened to bloodred and violet, slowly pulsating.
"I really don't want to talk about them."
"Okay, then."
Silence fell upon them, as they continued their travel towards the sector's core, Eruk Beta. Suddenly, Dan became alerted.
"What is it?"
"I'm being scanned."
"Goverment auto-scanners?"
"No. Old technology. Pirates."
"That's what you'll get from mining on outer sectors."
"Are they going to come for us?"
"Yes. Do you have any weapons?"
"Two beam cannons."
"Load them up. You're going to need them."
"What does yout scanner say?"
"The signature mostly matches Amber-class"
"A bomber. What weaponry do you have?"
"A pulse laser."
The ship started shooting. Jack and Dan both started shooting at it.
The pirate did a fly-by, guns blazing, and started flying around in a ring. Jack shot the pirate with his transfer unit, distrupting the field, and slowing it down enough to hit the ship with the pulse laser. The pirate's field readjusted, and it accelerated away from the trap. Jack and the pirate engaged in a dance of dodging and spinning, both firing at each other. The pirate was armed way better, but Jack's cheap mining ship had less mass, making it more agile. Dan shooted at the pirate, weakening the shields. Then, the pirate changed direction as fast as the heavy ship could, making the computer use all of its potential to escape. While the ship was fleeing, Jack charged the mining laser, and pierced the pirate's hull, making the Extractor to explode in a yellow-ish white flash.
"Why did you do that?"
"He would've told his friends about us. I really can't handle a gang."
"You just murdered a person. Shouldn't you feel bad?"
Jacks nodes turned bright violet for a moment.
"I have murdered more. Many more."
"What do you mean?"
"I once was a mercenary. A spy."
"Union?"
"Exactly. They caught me, but I couldn't tell anything. So they freed me, after changing my IDs."
"So that you couldn't ever go back?"
"Exactly. Nobody would recognise me. And you were right. The Sixth Empire is preparing for war. Or atleast according to what I recall."
"Could we get moving? You can continue on the way."
"Okay."
The H-fields produced glowing rings, as the ships accelerated to full speed, Jack slowing down to help Dan keep up with him.
"I got to a high goverment databanks using a synchronised IDCS , given to me by my contractors. Get in, get data, get out."
"What happened?"
"They catched me in action. I must had been betrayed."
"What if they just got lucky that time?"
"I was nine jumps away, in a inactive stealth ship using an old and rusty station interface, looking at the core databanks with an authorised access. No, it was not pure luck. And now, I'm M.I.A, probably marked as K.I.A."
"You made my tragic story seem like nothing."
"Nothing ever could make it seem like nothing. You were right about to make a suicide."
"How old are you?"
"About double as old as you. 600 cycles."
"Still 400 left."
There was a slight disturbance in his nodes.
"Yeah. Past halfway."
"Why can't we just live forever? The current system seems pretty cruel."
"Thousand cycles is a really long time. Some get bored after eight hundred and go to the army to be killed. And, it's impossible to change."
"Hey, look! A border checkpoint!"
Jack turned his sensors around until he found it too. It was a smooth, steel gray ellipsoid with a hole in the other end.
"I haven't seen one of those for a while."
They moved towards the checkpoint, and passed through the hole.
In space, no one will hear you scream. #262626
I've never played a space sim. Ever.
Vos estis tan limes.
Post

Re: Stonehard

#2
Part 2
The small, dark blue and gray colored, armed mining vessel known as Last Night and a slightly bigger freighter painted gray with an intricate pattern of red, green and blue lines crossing each other, often associated with messengers and transporters, mostly covering up the gray background, named in the Empire databases as Iron Wind traveled into the border checkpoint. Inside of the station looked almost the opposite to the smooth outside; dozens of robotic arms with scanners covered it almost entirely. Robotic interface popped up.
"SHIP ID AND CORE IDCS."
"4536-7810, sending IDCS now.", Jack replied.
"REASON OF TRAVEL ?"
"I'm just escorting him through here."
"ALL SYSTEMS USABLE AS WEAPONS ARE NOW DISABLED. DRACO KEEPS THE RIGHT TO TAKE CONTROL OVER YOUR SHIP, AS LONG AS YOU ARE IN THE SYSTEM, IF YOU ARE SUSPECTED FOR TRYING TO DAMAGE THE CUBES. YOU ARE FREE TO PASS."
"Thank you."
Jack passed through the gate, and Dan moved to the crossfire of scanner pulses. He gave his ID and IDCS, and passed through the gate.
"That's actually quite scary.", Dan said after re-establishing the connection.
"It's just here to stop any terrorists from destroying the simulations. The cubes are fragile, you know."
"Now that we're here, could we take a look at them? I've heard they're beautiful."
"Of course."
They traveled towards the cubes. The cubes were giant photon computers, holding up worlds, where everyone living there was a god. They were completely self-contained, and had not touched the outer world in millenia. On the black outsides of the capital-sized cubes, there was a colourful pattern produced by discarded photons.
"What might it look like being inside?"
"Chaos. Entropy. Anarchy."
"Why?"
"Thermodynamics."
"I thought it was a paradise. A utopia."
"We can't know. It's completely unknown, what has happened since the simulation started. It could just be locked down in a loop."
"And we can't even open the box and check it out. How horrifying."
"Think about the bright side: it'll be beautiful until the whole place goes supernova."
"Yeah."
Both of them just stared at the chaotic patterns for a while, and then moved on.

After passing the border checkpoint few jumps later, they found themselves in a system with a dozen stations.
"My scanners are picking up something"
"Probably just one of the stations. This place is empty."
"If it's a station, then it's quite big, has holes and is coming towards us... and has shields."
Jack pointed his scanner at the location Dan had sent him.
"High energy photons. That's a fleet. Military IDs. We're doomed."
"What did I say about using military outposts? Run!"
Dan had noticed a few seeker missiles, and started shooting at them with the beam lasers. The military ships accelerated too. Jack captured Dan in the wake, and synchronised the H-drives. The ships moved as one, going slightly faster than either of them could have gone by itself.
"The army will catch us. Is there any
marked natural wormholes?"
"No, but there is always unmarked ones."
Jack launched a drone.
"Ha! Found it. It's... straight towards them. We passed it."
The ships turned around, and reached for the hole.
Dan shot the hole with his beam lasers, as missiles and pulses flew around them. The hole resonated and opened, and they flew through it.
"Did you cut the rope?"
"No, I didn't." As a proof, the cargo container flew through the hole, and quickly slowed down to almost a stop, still slowly continuing to move.
"Are they going to get here?", Dan continued.
"Nope. They're too big. Damage?"
"Just scratches. You might want to get a new paintjob."
Jack looked around in the system. The nebulae was blue, and the system was empty exept for a few rocky planets.
"Where are we?"
"Theta-Omicron-23. 94 jumps away from the last sector. And that's through the White Zone. Around it it's minimum of 137."
"Nearest civilised system?"
"54."
"That jump was quite long. The hole should be dead for a centicycle."
"Any plans?"
"We could either wait or start moving."
"Better start moving. Waiting is boring."
"How much fuel do you have left?"
"For nine centicycles. Less for top speed. You?"
"Six. We're down to Extractors too soon."
Dan remembered something.
"There's an old slingshot nearby."
"How many kilocycles?"
"Six. It's almost unused though."
"Hah. We're lucky if we get within a lightcycle from the nearest system."
"I'm going to try, Mr. Pessimist."
"Okay then. Atleast I'll die quickly."
Slingshots were enormous computers set up by the Ancestors in the Night war, right after the Pause. They were able to move the ship linked to it towards one direction with superluminal speeds. It was a way to jump between sectors. They still worked, atleast the ones, that were not destroyed by asteroids or dust during the passing kilocycles.
Jack and Dan jumped through a few holes, and arrived at the slingshot. It was a torus, with the usual dark green and red plates associated with the precursors. In the inner and outer rings there were bright white lights, that still shone into the void. Jack and Dan clumped together, and accessed the slingshot.
"Are you sure? There's no going back after this."
Dan sighed.
"Just press the button."
"Here we go! I really hope I was wrong."
The slingshot roared to the void, and giant waves of heat pulsated in the torus. The activation sequence finished, and the synchronised ships blasted towards the dark interstellar space separating the stars of the galaxy.
A centicycle passed in the space when the particles making up the ships appeared in a different position, having moved only when nothing wanted to know about their position, directed by the quantum mechanical differences to true space caused by the Heisengberg field.
The superluminal speeds caused communication by electromagnetic radiation to be impossible. Both Dan and Jack were completely isolated from the outer world.

Dan checked out the course, and once he realised what system the slingshot was throwing them, he got paralysed in fear. It had set their course to the white zone, from which there is no information, because nothing can cross its border, exept for starlight, either disengrating on impact going through and being destroyed . Only thing he could do was to continue, because the nearest system from their course was still a fourth of a lightcycle away from their path. The system it was linking to was probably Chadul Mu, the only known system to be swallowed by the white zone field. The hopelessness of the situation reached his mind. As a last resort, he slowed himself down, and accelerated the cargo container in front of him.

Jack in the other hand had no idea on their course, and he had designated the time for planning. They would sell the ship to the highest bidder, and then probably return to the fringe's fields to mine. He had always dreamed of a corvette, and probably could afford one after they sold the ship, but then what? He didn't know, but chose to carry on with the plan, even though it was incomplete. He'd know what to do by then. Suddenly, Jack sensed slowing down slightly. He started feeling nervous, as the speed returned back to the previous level, as he was nearly completely blind in the void, with causality seemingly acting weird due to the lightspeed lag.

They passed the white zone's border, and the H-drives stopped working immediately. Same happened with the extractors. Communication became useful again.
"We're not moving" , Dan said.
"The drive doesn't work."
"We're trapped here forever."
Jack's mind tried to produce a plan using the assets he had available. He scanned around, running on only fusion power.
"There's no noise here. No field."
No field
Pre-pause
No drag
Newtonian movement
Reaction engines
Missiles
Jack got an idea.
"This idea may sound ridiculous, but it should work."
"Any idea would suffice."
"We both have missiles, don't we?"
"Yes."
"With reaction thrusters?"
"Yes. I still don't understand."
Jack ejected the missiles, and lauched the boarding drone.
"Do the same."
Dan did the same.
Jack went to the missiles with the drone's jetpack, and grabbed them. He then flew back to the ship, and started welding the missiles to his ship.
"You are not serious."
"Your choice. Do this or stay here until your reactor runs out of fuel."
Dan started doing it too. After the missiles were welded to the ships' surfaces, both of them returned to their ships.
"Override missile control."
"OK."
"It's just a one 600 millionth of a lightcycle."
"And you're not remembering we're locked to tiny sub-luminal velocities."
"Activate, straight forward."
The missiles' thrusters activated, and quickly accelerated to way greater velocities, than what they would ever had outside the zone. Eventually the engines ran out of fuel.
"Great. Now we're trapped here."
"Look at the star."
Dan looked.
"We're still moving?"
"Do you know what it was like pre-pause?"
"No, I don't"
"Once you accelerated, you were not going to slow down."
"That's ridiculous!"
"No it isn't. It's just so far back. Way over a billion cycles. Million lifetimes."
"Why is that the case here?"
"It's just a theory, but I think it's because of the First Empire."
"Night war."
"The field somehow negates the Pause's effect."
"Then it should be a H-field."
"The Ancestors' ships didn't have reaction engines, essentially making the barrier inpenetrable. The First Empire, however, was specialised in 0 G warfare and movement in dynamic systems."
"Wow. This place actually makes sense."
"How didn't you know about pre-Pause?"
"Hey, I was a philosopher, not a historian. Wait."
"What?"
"The container's sensors pick up something ridiculously strong."
"I'm not picking up anything."
"Neither am I."
Jack aimed his sensors at the container.
"It's coming from inside the container. Open it up. Now!"
The crate opened, and the ship came from inside it. Instead of the black, immobile shipwreck, the ship was full of small, colourful lights, and it quickly accelerated towards the system's central star, rapid white flares from subsequent antimatter explosions blinding the sensors.
"It was alive the whole time?"
"I'm as shocked as you. Maybe all of the ships are just hibernating, like this one was.", Jack replied
"There goes our billion serus"
"Don't worry. The edge is just behind the corner."
They fell to silence.
In space, no one will hear you scream. #262626
I've never played a space sim. Ever.
Vos estis tan limes.

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