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So Far Gone

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1 So Far Gone on Tue Nov 24, 2015 8:19 pm

If anyone is interested in reading mine and my best friend's original short story(titled above), you can do so here. It was written for a contest on Scribophile, which had a 3k word limit which is why some things might seem illogical but I could only work with so much stuff given the way I wanted to write it, so there were some cut corners with some stuff. Before you read it, I'd like to point out a couple of things - 1. My main inspiration for the second part of the chapter was not Mass Effect(it wasn't at all, even if some things from ME might have had some influence), but rather from the backstory of the Vasari from Sins of a Solar Empire, and 2. The more relevant part of the story, as it stands, is the first half of it, no matter how much the second one overshadows it(Literally everyone who read it thought the focus was the second part, which is also right, but only 40% right). Anyway, here it is, enjoy:

So Far Gone

Korpulus Galaxy
Sharuk Star System
Orbit over planet Xel
Center Star Toss Date: 982 413 years
Old Earth Standard Date: 5 280 831 years
Time: 10:54 p.m.

“Silas, are you up for a swim?”

“No, Cidia.” replied Silas without taking his eyes off the holo-projected text. “I am really deep into this treatise about the usage of our communicators and how to avoid accidental societal missteps, and I don’t think I can spare the time. I have already made far too many blunders in my first century of life. I’d rather not do so for the second.”
Cidia chuckled. “Don't sell yourself short. You know more about such subjects than any holo-text could contain. Probably more than all of them, even.”
“Thank you, but there are always things I could have missed. I dislike making such mistakes.”

Cidia sighed. “Oh come on, Silas, I know better than anyone how much fun you actually are when you want to be. And you know being the centre of attention around someone as awesome as me is something to be accomplished and you always manage to do it.”

He couldn’t resist looking up now, seeing Cidia and her usual grin, mischievous as a cat’s from the far too old and far too offensive Earth cartoons mentioned in the oldest treatises. Her teal eyes looked straight into his, half-excited and half-soft, the way Cidia always looked at him. That was all the effort needed from her for Silas to melt. She was the only one who could break his defences like they were nonexistant and he liked it that way.

Not that he showed it for a moment.

“This treatise is rather interesting and better researched than most. However, I expect I’ll finish it in as little as an hour.” said Silas. Cidia’s grin grew a fraction wider, and the usual faint luminescence of her skin sparked up a notch. Silas often wondered how everything about her managed to fit her the right, perfect way.

“Works for me. See you at the dock.” With that, she turned and left.

Silas watched Cidia until the door on the far side of his room closed behind her, taking in her familiar form with as much awe as he did when they first met more than half a century ago. And still playing the same games with each other. Silas smiled at the memories of those little fake fights and humorous jabs at each other.

'Might as well prepare for going outside.' He closed the already read treatise with a wave of his hand across the holo-screen, opened the central media program, found his favourite playlist, one of several with the fraction of ancient songs he could find that had been recorded on Earth. Silas found them as a youth by accident, digging through data in search of music different from the fearful, sombering pieces that have been the most popular for so long. Then, he data-mined again for old code to integrate with the current programming so he could listen to them. After Silas listened to a dozen of them, he deleted almost every non-instrumental modern piece he had on his memory core.

He tried to share the discovery with others, but, even if they were enthusiastic at first, the only one who loved the songs as much he did was Cidia.

The randomizer started him with Nirvana’s Lithium. It was not exactly Silas' most preferred one, but a good enough one to begin with.

He took a shower first the way he liked it - not too strong and not too hot a one. There was enough time for him to enjoy it and imagine what they would argue about. Cidia was unpredictable about that. Sometimes, she could talk about the most uninteresting things then turn the conversation upside down to the most pressing matters. But, it was best when she went on with her philosophical rambles.

Silas could outsmart her there, at least.

When he finished, he found his one-piece suit, bright red dominating most of the front and back whilst the darkest black filled everything else, and zipped himself in. After checking on a computer-commanded mirror that he looked the usual nice way in his outfit, even if he could never tame his shaggy, full gray hair, he took his ancient-styled communicator, a dust-gold metal glove, and put it on his left hand. It sprang to life then, giving off the faint red light of the sharp-crossed imprints woven into its gold skin.

The amazing thing about the gloves was how they were still in use after so long, the skin-like metal, first made two million years ago, completely outdated. He used it for the one reason anyone wore it now - they were tokens of intimate bonds between people. Space was unforgiving, and even with how much humans adjusted to it, things like speaking could kill a person. Those communicators were the first who could transmit a person’s thoughts and faces and expressions inside the mind’s eye of another.

When he was young, Silas had described it as awesome. Even if it was an ancient piece of tech back then, there was no other word for it.

Without much to do for half an Earth hour before he had to head out to get to their usual dock on time, Silas lay down on his bed, listened to the songs and counted time by how long they were. It was easy to do that since he knew them perfectly. His voice was far too awful to sing them in front of others, unfortunately.

'Fear of the Dark, Life Forever, Every Planet We Reach Is Dead, Gravity’s Rainbow, Once The Ocean, Strange Things Will Happen...'

'Dance With Somebody' started playing, but he put his computer section to sleep mode and took off straight towards the dock, the uniform grey of the floor almost blending together with his bare feet.

Silas hadn’t met anyone on the way to the dock, which was unsurprising. His living block was out of the way in the lifeship and this dock was a small one, usually used only by him and Cidia. He entered it exactly on time.

Cidia awaited him, leaning on the wall besides the small, opened space-door, looking bored. When she noticed him, her face changed back to her usual grin.

"So, are you ready for some awesome space convos?” she asked and held out the hand on which she wore her communicator-glove. It was not a precise copy of his. All imprints had to be different to more easily recognize the person wearing another communicator. In hers, the imprints were almost as sharp-looking as his around the edges, while the centre held much softer lines; they also emitted a light, teal glow.

“Of course.” he replied, taking her hand. “Shall we?” Cidia nodded then jumped into space, arms first like she would in a pool of water. Silas was prepared for it and jumped right alongside her.

Even after so many times doing this, seeing deep blue or dark yellow or bright green planets, stars that could swallow dozens of solar systems and ones with a dull white glow, looking smaller than the biggest ship of their fleet... it was fantastic, exhilarating. The two of them, almost alone, floating, swimming where it seemed the universe was around them rather than outside.

Yeah, Silas, I still get the same feeling. It’s too beautiful, too big... His mind imagined from her transmitted thoughts all the expressions her face and voice could make if talking in space wasn’t still as deadly as before the destruction of Earth.

In the same vein, Silas transmitted: And I get upset that almost no one notices it like this any longer. When I hear them talking about space like it's been stripped of mysteries... Those are the only times I wish to swear at people.

If you do, I have to be near to record it personally. Silas Kanrat, swearing for the first time in his life!

A momentous occasion, no doubt, if it ever happens. I believe I’ve already programmed your ECI to lightly buzz if it receives body language data that I’m close to doing so.

I know, I know, Sily. Ahhh. And you are right, it is a shame swims like this are not fashionable anymore. Ooooooon the other hand, we get to play in space all by ourselves. Cidia turned to Silas and took his other hand in hers. And speaking of things falling out of fashion, I’d love to dance with you here. At least any movement here is slow enough so you can’t trip over nothing.

We are technically in nothing...

Cidia laughed like the joke was spectacular. Okay, we are, and if you manage to trip over it I’m going to fire you back into the ship and confine you there indefinitely.

Fair terms. Are we going to discuss them more or... Cidia cut Silas off by moving them both. She attempted to make an improvised dance twirl with as much flair and elegance as the artificial friction of the grip her skin created allowed her to do. Silas had some pride, after all, so he took over leading the dance.

An hour passed like that, slow and enjoyable. If they could safely stay like this for more than an hour, it would have been perfect. The natural oxygen-storage system of the human body integrated within the muscles prevented it. It was too risky to stay out longer than two hours, even if the system could store enough for up to eight Earth hours.

And Silas could discern Cidia had something melancholy on her mind.

What is it? he asked. They were more hugging and rocking side-by-side than dancing now, and she hugged him tighter while looking to the beautiful, almost wholly blue planet nearest to them.

Do you think we’ll ever settle a planet again? she asked. Ah. That was the thing everyone wondered about but no one answered, and the topic of more than one of Silas’s private essays. The answer was always too  ambiguous, even if the threat hadn’t shown itself for almost a million years.

Will we? No. With all the attacks we suffer just because other peoples regard us as the heralds of destruction and strange ships which disappear the moment they are detected... The Tabai haven’t been seen for so long. but the last time they seemed to disappear, such sightings were recorded and dismissed completely. When they struck us, they almost exterminated us in one easy, complacent swoop, like so many before us. Silas looked past her, pretending like there was a horizon to pierce through. We are... too scared.

Yeah, I know, but that wasn’t what I actually wanted to ask. I wanted to know would you like to settle on one?

He looked back into her teal eyes. I... don’t know.  It would be so different, so difficult to adjust.

Cidia turned her head to Silas. But it might be worth it. Living in a house instead of a block in a lifeship, seeing all the natural, man-made and virtual wonders whenever, however you wanted, not have that tiny presence like a bug-bot in the back of your head that makes you feel like you’re hunted, or think of the fact that you are just one of so many with the same job who could never actually do it because the Tabai thankfully hadn't shown up for us yet again.

It does sound romantic, doesn’t it? And getting rid of the bug-bot would be good. Silas chuckled. Cidia smiled, shaking her head.

Never thought I’d say some romantic swill like that. You must be proud. she said.

The same way you’d be proud if I swore.

Cidia gave him a less-menacing-than-usual smile.

And would you, Cidia, want to settle on a planet?

She looked at the planet now and Silas turned to look at it too. He hadn’t noticed it before, but it resembled old, destroyed Earth from before it became space dust. They watched the planet revolving slowly in silence.

No, I wouldn’t. Cidia replied after a while. I mean, I did wax romantic for the idea, but I can’t deny that it might be too difficult. I can’t imagine myself like that. And space swims like this would become such a chore.

I can’t imagine myself-

Spaceships appeared all across visible space, sleek, black, ranging from small sword-shaped to big cube or other geometrical shapes. All were huge, even some which looked human-designed, not fitting into the rest of the fleet as uniformly.

Silas looked at Cidia and saw his own horror etched in her face. His reaction was automatic from training. The protocols to activate all the stealth and infiltration tech he had designed into her suit were already being written on the communicator while his mind felt like it was being slugged across space. He barely registered what Cidia was saying. They are here. The Tabai... Her voice felt drowned, almost as if it coming deep from a well of despair.

Their Designator's gruff, angry voice coming from the chip inside his ear shook them wholly awake:

Silas, Cidia, can you hear me, by Earth? Good. First off, don't address me as a friends now. The calmness of the voice of Designator Mayut sounded forced as if pushed through a grinder. Well, the screen says you are in your suits, which makes my job easier for once, and I hope are ready for this... If anyone can be.

Silas pretended he hadn't heard the last bit. Yes, Designator, I am already activating all of Cidia’s stealth and infiltration suit mechanisms. It’ll take a bit before they are a hundred percent on but I am working on it.

Good. Are you ready, Cidia? the Designator asked on their shared network.

Designator, I am as ready to go in as I am ready to lose my breath. Silas laughed at her sarcastic tone in his mind before he saw her face looked like chiseled ice, devoid of any feeling.

Making jokes now? I thought I've forbidden that during missions. It was scary, how Mayut sounded inexperienced for the eighty years he had. Disregarding that, I’ve got good news for once - the CTC calculated the numbers of all the ships in Tabai fleets attacking ours. We outnumber them!

WHAT? That’s impossible. said Silas.

Silas, you personally updated the detection systems of our fleets not a week ago to better detect those disappearing ships. But it will mean nothing if we can’t take down all their monster ships, and no-one counts on us out-teching them normally. We need to get someone inside and steal as much of their tech as possible.

And apply it to our fleets as quick as possible. We know, Designator. I’m the one stealing and Silas’s the one reverse engineering it, after all. said Cidia.

If you manage to get inside one of those ridiculously overpowered ships, which no one managed before. And, you’re not the only infiltration unit, but don’t get killed. I’d regret it. replied Mayut.

Thank you. I’m still gonna try to get in. Silas, is everything ready? asked Cidia.

Silas checked the diagnostics one more time. Yes. You have to-

Cidia kissed him, biting his lip almost hard enough to draw blood, then released him. I know, Silas. Wait to hear from me. She typed in a command and disappeared from sight. Silas still tried to see her go.

Mayut shouted in his ear: You heard her, Silas. Get back to your block to give her operational support when she gets on board on one of their monstrosities! I don't have time to babysit you through the process. I've wasted more than enough of it already!

The tone snapped Silas back to attention. He swam back to the ship, oblivious to the starting battle, closed the space door and ran. When he got back inside his block, he turned all his military systems online and the music. After a run of diagnostics, everything looked like it worked.

Silas had nothing to do but listen to the songs and watch the battle from the windows of his block. He wasn’t worried about the lifeship yet, since it was protected by the rest of the fleet currently engaged in the battle. He could wait and watch, comfortable as those at the reputed-impenetrable Presiders Conclave ship.

The battle looked as beautiful and horrifying as the stories said they would look - The smaller human ships in squadrons trying to take down the hulking battleships of the Tabai one by one whilst evading the lasers as big as their ships from evaporating them. They were like packs white-red wolves with rail guns that could create electrical storms on the enemy ships fighting mammoths who had lasers for tusks and could shoot out robotic bombs. If Silas was in Mayut's place or somewhere which received the starship communication, the chatter would be overwhelming with the shouts of commands, evasive maneuvers and the destroyed. Thankfully, he was here, only seeing how this useless war they didn't want destroy so much without a reason. The Tabai never stated them when they attacked - they just appeared, destroyed, then hunted. Like here, where Silas could barely see from the debris already floating in space, as if he watched a priceless painting being scratched milimeter by milimeter to be unrecognizable.

But it looked like the dark, gargantuan fleet of the Tabai was advancing

Silas wondered after each song if he was going to hear from Cidia. Getting around the battle and into one of the Tabai’s most protected ships was 'problematic', as the Conclave would say. And one of those ships might destroy everything before she could infiltrate it.

'Dahlos* Conclave.'

Silas watched, waited, and listened.

7 Nation Army, Impartial, I’m Alright, Beautiful War, Hallowed Be Thy Name, Port of Call, Hi Life...

I’m in.

*Dahlos - combination of words dah(Croatian word for breath) and loss, in this context it means something like - 'Let them suffocate'.

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