”Mental wounds are often the hardest to mend and no one is completely immune to them. With the advancement in medical technologies and the development of nanites, almost any physical ailment can be either outright cured or fixed, or at the very least ameliorated. While most races have taken some strides in dealing with mental trauma, especially with the aid of psionics, the mental scars can often be so deep that nothing can be done about them. Time usually helps, but even then the pain is simply dulled because we’ve learned to live with it.”
- High Ambassador of the Mrrroww
“So, don’t take this the wrong way, but you don’t really seem all that Progenitor-like.” Xiaoli suddenly declared. She was assisting Selendil with repairs to one of the weapon systems on the ship. The Cybran woman was quite good with machinery and had the ability to improvise when she didn't have the necessary technical information. Just by observation she could get a pretty good idea how the systems worked and how they needed to be handled.
“Xiaoli!” Amaterasu exclaimed in shock, like a mother that just saw their child do something naughty. She had arrived to give a report on their supplies only moments before.
Selendil simply laughed at the Cybran woman’s words and didn’t look away from her work. “Not regal and dignified enough for your tastes?” She shot back.
"Well, I personally prefer you like this, but you don't really match the image most people have in their heads when thinking about the Progenitors," Xiaoli replied rather bluntly.
“Well, there were plenty of Dhar that would match your image of our people, but I would say less than you would think. We were a warrior people and most of our subordinate races often saw us when we were being serious as we were almost always embroiled in one war or another, so I would imagine they likely had a similar image of us. Things are rarely that simple though. You can’t generalize too much when it comes to an entire race, but in general we used to be a rather fun loving people when in private or in the company of our own. That’s partially the result of the fact that we were also a very social race. When you are in constant mental contact with the rest of your race, even relative hermits like us Keepers developed certain traits that tend toward being social.” Selendil explained while continuing her work with the complex mess of tubes and wires.
“Not to mention you aren’t exactly a typical example of a Keeper either, and even less a typical example of a Dhar.” Nox interjected.
“Well, there is that as well.” She tapped her chin in thought, though the others couldn’t’ be sure if she was considering her next words or the repairs in front of her. “Add to that the fact that Keepers tend to be prone to rapid mood swings. As we store the memories, knowledge, and skills of the dead, we are sometimes influenced by their emotions and thoughts at their final moments. Some people are happy when they die, but unfortunately those people are in the minority.”
"I would imagine that only grew worse towards the end," Xiaoli added in a careful voice.
Selendil noticed the other woman treading carefully around her emotions, but her most recent bout of grief had also allowed her some stability for the time being, so she wasn’t really affected. She appreciated the concern though. “Surprisingly it was almost the opposite. Sure there was a lot of anger and negative emotions when the plague spread and started claiming lives, but when the end really came, most had already accepted their fate. They simply wanted to spend their last moments happily and in peace. I might have actually been the one that was the biggest emotional wreck about the whole thing. Anyway, the Keepers receive specialized training to deal with the emotional overload. Those coping mechanisms come with certain unexpected consequences as well though, so it’s not perfect.”
“So the reason you seem so playful sometimes…?” Amaterasu realized a possibility. She thought it was a coping mechanism.
“No, that’s just her being goofy.” Nox stated adamantly.
Selendil gave another chuckle. “Thanks for the vote of confidence. But Nox is not entirely wrong and the point still stands. You shouldn’t have to tread carefully around my emotions, but the situation is what it is, and there’s only so much I can do about it. I should warn you though, that we Keepers are known for the fact that our emotion of anger can get especially out of hand. Anger was a really common final emotion we had to deal with and it was usually stronger than the others. As a result, when we get angry, we get really angry. I’m mentioning this because you might have to talk me down from doing something horrible at some point in the future.”
She also didn’t mention the fact that her situation as the last survivor of her race didn’t exactly lend itself to emotional stability. Even though she would not admit it, she was relieved to have the others on the ship. Just their presence made things a little easier for her. Even though the others could not replace the constant connection of the Unity and the joined minds of the other Dhar, just having them around was better than nothing. Due to her isolation as a Keeper, she had also developed a habit that could be called something like social voyeurism, though without any sexual component. She simply enjoyed watching others go about their business and interact in various ways.
Selendil went quiet for a moment as she had to focus on an especially complex bit of repairs before she continued. "Now that all said, I can be all regal and dignified when I so choose. Amaterasu can testify as she has seen me like that. I simply choose not to be like that most of the time. It's not really me, and it gets tiring. Usually, you'd see me be more direct and brusque just because I've noticed that to be effective."
“Yes, I can confirm that," Amaterasu stated wryly.
“So can I. Both parts that is. She can be regal and serious but simply chooses not to most of the time.” Nox also added, though with a more tired voice. It was clear the AI was less happy about that fact, though she was more resigned to the fact than truly displeased.
Suddenly Selendil slapped the panel closed. “There we go. It should work now, though I suppose we won’t really know until we try to fire the weapon.”
“So what does it do exactly?” Xiaoli asked. She had been trying to figure that part out for a while now. It was interesting to see the inner workings of such a complex system, but it was simply too complicated to really tell what all the sub-systems would accomplish when put together.
"It has many names, but the basic idea is that it creates a localized and unstable rift between phase space and normal space," Selendil explained.
“So it sends an enemy ship into phase space?” Xiaoli asked. She didn’t really think that was the purpose, but the alternative was rather unpleasant to imagine.
“Well, it sends a part of the enemy ship, yes, though the largest damage comes from the rift collapsing. It’s similar to the effects of a ship making a failed phase jump inside a planet’s gravity well. Fun times for everyone involved. It’s not the best weapon against shields, but it’s extremely effective against anything like armor or massive solid objects. Some races we fought relied on armor made of super-dense materials like neutronium instead of energy based shielding. Standard weapons have difficulties harming such materials, so we had to think outside the box for that one. Enemies like that are the reason why our ships have so many separate types of weapon systems instead of focusing on just one type” Selendil responded with a short explanation.
"That sounds…nasty," Amaterasu commented. Even though Selendil had stated that it was less effective against shields, such concepts were relative. It might have been less effective against Dhar shields, but it could still do bad things to void shields. She didn’t want to imagine what happened when a weapon based on spatial properties like this fired on a void shield based spatial distortion.
“Well, it gets the job done, and it’s not that much of an energy drain. If I can repair a few more of these then we can actually start doing some damage.” Selendil stated with a pleased tone. She always had a soft spot for these weapons even if they weren’t the most effective ones in the ship’s arsenal. “Now that I answered your question, maybe you can tell me why you don’t really seem like a secret operative most of the time.”
“What? Not stealthy and professional enough for you?” Xiaoli shot back with a grin.
The officers of the ship had once again gathered to discuss their next course of action when Selendil floated to her chair. “Enduring Symphony.” She stated without preamble.
“I’m guessing that’s meant to be the new name for the ship?” Moonshadow was the first to recover.
“Yes. I liked the idea behind your suggestion of Requiem, but I don’t want the name to be a constant reminder of what has been lost. I’d rather signal the fact that the song is not over just yet, despite the bad things that have happened. This way the name emphasizes survival and says that the song hasn’t ended just yet.” Selendil explained her decision.
“I approve.” Moonshadow said simply. She was rather pleased with the choice and Selendil’s reasoning. It was a good sign to see her looking forward.
“So do I. Then again, I’d approve almost anything reasonable just to avoid the silly names.” Amaterasu concurred.
“Can we still call the ship Nocturnal Opportunity for Xenophilia just between the crew members?” Xiaoli requested, and almost got hit by the pen Amaterasu threw at her. They all knew Amaterasu would’ve hit if she really wanted to.
Selendil ignored the byplay and moved on to the next topic. “So now that that’s settled, we need to decide our next short goal. I’m fairly sure Moonshadow has already mentioned the fact that our destination in the near future might be outside this galaxy. I can sense that this might come with some concerns for some of you.”
“Well, I would prefer that we waited until our attack on the Tetrarchy comes to some sort of conclusion. I don’t expect the whole thing to be resolved, as that would take years, but unless we can at least see the direction the battle is going, I might have to return back rather often.” Amaterasu argued. She was still the Empress, so she had her duty towards her people.
“I would also like to see some kind of resolution to the situation with the Shinzen and the Dawn Collective. At the moment the situation there is so convoluted that I have no idea what direction the things will go.” Moonshadow added. Her concerns were quite similar to Amaterasu’s though her situation might be more pressing.
“Well, the war between the Illum and Tetrarchy will likely decide our situation as well, so I guess I have the same concern that Amaterasu has.” Xiaoli pointed out and Huang also nodded at that.
“We have no issues. We are developing a good garden here, and we might even bring some more of our kind along to enjoy it." The leader of the Guardians, Cherryblossom stated.
After the others expressed that their situation was rather calm and that they only had to take care of some personal matters, it became obvious that the two wars were the big issue. Most of the crew was excited about exploring other galaxies. Opportunities like that didn’t come along very often after all, and you didn’t go into space without at least a bit of explorer’s spirit. “So. Two wars that we need to keep an eye on.” Selendil concluded with a nod. “Of course, unless these wars get resolved quickly, we will not be sticking around for the entire duration.”
“Acknowledged and understood," Amaterasu said simply, while Moonshadow nodded.
“For the time being, I’m planning on warping the ship near the center of the galaxy to visit a hopefully intact Dhar facility. As the area can be hazardous to you, I suggest that we visit Haven first so that we have as few people on board as possible. I can protect myself and the ship, but I can’t be sure I can protect everyone else. The fewer the better.” Selendil outlined.
“I will stay.” Cherryblossom declared. “If the area is risky to us, then it is risky to the new garden as well. Someone should stick around to minimize damage.” It was a little unclear if the large being was really valuing the garden so highly or if he had something else in mind. Then again, most of them weren’t even sure if the tree creature with a cutesy name was male or female, or something else entirely, so reading his intentions was beyond them.
“I don’t have anything against that idea, but you don’t have to decide the people staying now.” Selendil pointed out. They still needed to get to Haven.
“Why push it until later when we can do it now. I’m staying by the way.” Amaterasu countered.
“The opportunity to discover another Dhar facility? Count me in as well.” The science officer Nochehuatl also voiced his opinion. These sorts of things were the purpose of science officers so his reaction was natural.
“I will also stay. We already discussed the fact that the Shinzen might be present at the facility, which makes it my concern as well.” Moonshadow added. It soon became clear that no one was planning on missing this, so the need for the stop at Haven was eliminated.
“You could still visit.” The voice of the Ai of Haven sounded from around them. Nox was allowing the station’s AI in the ship’s systems, just so it wouldn’t feel lonely and left out. Nox also knew that Haven just wanted to feel useful, and could sympathize. As it happened, where Nox had assumed a more feminine voice, Haven used a more masculine one.
“We will return to the station after this trip. I will have to spend some time on several projects and the rest of you need access to information channels, so consider that time something like a shore leave.” Selendil assuaged the AI while also informing the others.
The warp to the beacon near the center of the galaxy was decidedly more uncomfortable than any the other people aside from Selendil had experienced before. The intense gravitic forces present made the experience rather unpleasant, as they were all affected before the defenses of the ship pushed those forces away. "Ouch. That was not very fun." Lilly moaned, only barely able to keep from vomiting. It seemed likely that some of the crew had not been so lucky.
“I did warn you.” Selendil shot back with some self-satisfaction. “That said, that was even worse than I thought. Nox, can you give us a report on the surroundings?”
“An initial one. The gravitic anomalies and intense radiation are interfering with most of the sensors.” Nox replied. It was like they were both close to a black hole and a star during solar flares as some of the most extreme natural forces in the universe flared up around them. “I’m attempting to compensate but it’s a work in progress. The first thing to note is that we are a safe distance away from the supermassive black hole that is the center of the galaxy, but we are uncomfortably close to a smaller one that seems to be moving through the accretion disk around the big one. We are surrounded by debris, though it seems to all be naturally forming elements.”
“Surrounded? Are we in danger of getting hit?” Lilly asked with a worried tone.
The science officer Nochehuatl released a chittering gale of laughter while reading through the information his console displayed. “You really are someone who spends most of their time on a station. Although Nox says we’re surrounded, the distances between objects are still large enough to fit entire planets between them.”
“Well, to be exact, there’s a lot of really small debris in the surroundings due to something large shattering under extreme pressure in the last century or so. Small ice shards and pebbles and the like, so technically we can be hit. It just won’t harm us.” Nox made a small correction. “The beacon is slowly being drawn in by the nearby black hole, and it will be destroyed in approximately 200 000 years.”
“That seems like a mistake in positioning the beacon. I assume something affected that positioning enough that the beacon was not able to compensate?” Selendil guessed. The beacons were capable of moving on their own, though only enough to make small corrections, and could usually avoid being pulled in by gravitic forces and the like.
“So it seems. If I had to guess, either the black hole is a relatively new one, or the beacon was affected and thrown off its trajectory by a supernova. It seems the beacon is damaged and can’t really move on its own anymore. I’m surprised it’s still operational at all. I’d need a closer look to see what damaged it.” Nox speculated.
“Bring the beacon on board. That sounds like a fun little project for you and our science officer. Any sign of the facility?” Selendil brought them back to the reason they were here.
“No. There’s no debris from the facility either. If the facility fell victim to natural forces, then there should at least be some signs. It seems unlikely, though not impossible, that it was destroyed by the same force that damaged the beacon. I can’t see any sign of outside tampering either, though the disturbance to our sensors might be masking any signs that there might be. The beacon’s records might be able to shed a light on the issue.” Nox suggested. The beacons were not really designed to store information, but they still kept some records of their surroundings. So while the records might not be able to tell exactly what happened, they might give hints.
“That seems worth checking out as well. Alternative ideas anyone?” Selendil threw the problem to her bridge crew to work on. This was a nice test of their abilities.
“Well, we should definitely study the area more thoroughly. With the difficulties with our sensors, we might learn more just by moving around. The more we learn the better.” Amaterasu suggested.
“Are there any star systems around that are not too badly affected by the surrounding forces. I don’t mean it has to be able to sustain life, but maybe something like a permanent base? If someone did plan on moving the facility, then a system like that would be a logical place to start. Even if they moved it again later on, they should’ve at least studied the facility nearby.” Moonshadow added. She was of course thinking of the Shinzen, though they were not the only possibility.
“There are two that I would consider viable possibilities, though a third one could have been an option a few millennia ago, so we should not dismiss the possibility," Nochehuatl replied. He had also considered the possibility and was already performing calculations.
“Would the facility be of use if it was moved?” Lilly asked.
“Not for the original purpose. The facility needs the resources and forces present near the original location to perform its job. Though it could’ve worked for a while with the already harvested and stored materials.” Haven replied. The station Ai was the most familiar with such things. “That said, it’s a facility the Dhar built. Much like you did with the Haven, someone could learn a lot from studying it even if the original purpose was lost.”