Interlude - Are You Lost, Jellyfish?

Entry
1.010
March 21, 2021
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The savannah is no place for a jellyfish like you.

I've never seen one out here. Actually, I've never seen one before. I'd only heard about you from Shrew. I thought maybe you were just some tumbling garbage. But you're swimming, aren't you? There's no water here. But still, you swim. I have to say, it's quite peculiar.

Are you lost, Jellyfish? Nothing is chasing you, nothing is running from you. Most of those things don't live out here either. I'd point you back to where you came from if you weren't so clearly going the opposite way. Jellyfish look pretty fragile, maybe it's best I just watch from here. I hope you know where you want to go.

Oh? Off in a hurry now? I hope I didn't startle you. Look at you go! Are all you jellyfish that fast? No wonder you wanted out of your pool. Good luck, little Jellyfish. You're in a much bigger ocean now, and even an Elephant like me can't tell you what's out there. Too cold, too slippery. You'll see what I mean, soon enough.

A Skitter in the Dark

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1.011
March 23, 2021
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"We see. We see!" Sa- said, barely able to contain his excitement. "A skitter. Small, and far away" said -Karn.

Rim-Magua strode over to the comms station to see. "Small," Rim- noted. -Magua peered closer, and said: "That far out, could be sensor noise."

"No!" Sa- insisted. -Karn explained,  "Sensor noise doesn't curve like that."

Rim-Magua shared a thoughtful look. "Who's out there?" -Magua asked.

"Space dust," said Sa-. -Karn clarified, "No one on record. It's a quiet patch, near a smaller star."

Rim- sighed in exaggerated exhaustion. -Karn rolled his eyes. "No, Rim-. We have to follow protocol. Set a surveyor on it," she instructed, "it's such a small skitter and so far out it might be a waste of our time. But if it fires up again, we're duty-bound to investigate."

Sa-Karn turned back to the comms console and began programming the surveyor. "New life?" Sa- asked with a hopeful tone. "Could be, Sa-. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. But I've never heard of dumb rocks skittering in the dark. Takes some brains to do that, one way or another."

Rim-Magua flared their chest in boastful pride. "Discovery!" Rim- cheered "First Connection with a fledgling star-hopper is a sure way to earn presence in the Central Mind. Perhaps this skitter is just what we're looking for," said -Magua.

Concerning Both Earths

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1.012
March 27, 2021
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As you are aware, we see Earth in two locations.

Most 'scopes, including opticals, CMB-maps, and StarNav, all agree Earth is about 60 LY from our current position. We call this Optical Earth to distinguish it from the other, Commlink Earth. As the name suggests, Commlink Earth is the appearance of Earth according to our communications link. Based on sub-band communication principles, we can calculate the focal point of the link lock, and it clearly places Earth 20 LY away. This is the position we expected Earth to be based on our original plan for the first Pak Thruster jump.

We decided to maintain the connection to Commlink Earth. A broken link is difficult to re-establish, and we cannot be sure that Optical Earth has a beacon ready for us to link to. Our initial report to Earth was broadcast successfully, and we received a response. This strongly suggests that Commlink Earth is the accurate position of the Earth we left. It does not tell us why every other sensor apparatus we have disagrees with that conclusion.

We have begun construction on a new commlink array. It will be limited in capability, but enough to establish a link and transmit basic text. Our hope is to focus it on Optical Earth and see if there's any response. If our current Commlink is accurate, there should be nothing where Optical Earth appears to be. If our other 'scopes are accurate, we'll establish contact there through the auxiliary channel.

Some of our scientists speculate that we are seeing a mirage.

They suspect that Optical Earth is an illusionary reflection of Commlink Earth. If this is the case, we expect to be unable to connect with the auxiliary commlink. Others suspect that the commlink itself is fritzed, functioning properly while reporting outdated location information.

Finally, Commlink Earth has indicated they are preparing a new "lighthouse" beacon to aid us in navigation. The plans they've shown us involve a perpendicular, or "vertical", solar orbit in phase with Earth, broadcasting a commlink signal. Because this orbit is rarely used, the new signal will be easy to distinguish. In addition to giving us a verification for our orientation and position, this will demonstrate whether or not the two Earths we see are mirrors of each other. If they are not, then Optical Earth will not have a beacon.

We will keep the council informed as these projects develop.

Fritzscripting

Entry
1.013
March 30, 2021
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"You sure this isn't a cheesy ploy to get me into bed, Tanya?" Suzu asked, looking at the disorganized bunk. The bed was the only clear space to sit.

"Afraid not, hot stuff" Tayna said with a touch of sarcasm. "It's just that the code doesn't work anywhere else. At least, not that I've found." She shoved blankets into a pile on the floor and gestured to Suzu to sit. Catching his peculiar gaze, she said "What? Don't tell me you don't code in bed."

She had a point. Suzu sat. "OK. Show me what's got you so worked up."

"Let's start by carving out some memory on the local brain to play with." She assembled the basic code with the same reflexive speed that someone might sign their own name with. "Now let's set up a basic pointer registry in the standard ShipOS Controller schema."

Suzu pointed out a typo. "You forgot to null-wipe your memory."

"Nah. That's the thing. What's usually in freshly partitioned memory?"

"Garbage. Whatever was left there."

"Yeah, if you were the one using it last. But not fresh off the brain."

Suzu thought for a second. "I guess, it'd be chaotic brain noise, right? Between the load balancers and the unlocked d-gates, it's going to be virtually random."

"Yeah. Random like this?" Tanya asked, tapping a command into the keyboard. A stream of uninterpreted memory data scrolled past, hex-codes without context.

"Exactly."

"Full disclosure time. I don't always wipe my memory. I'm just putting it out there, I wouldn't have found this if I were following best practices. I wasn't doing anything official, just messing around."

Suzu's mouth hung open. "You're a data auditor, Tanya! You know better."

"I know, I know. And that's why I know this isn't a usual dirty data error. Lazy code isn't the point right now. Look. This isn't just brain noise. It's coherent." Tanya started typing in a new series of commands, rearranging the data into a more readable table. "There's a clear period to it, so I just started processing it as data frames. See?"

Squinting, Suzu replied, "I see neatly organized noise."

"This register in column 3, right here" Tanya pointed, "is just oscillating between positive Tau and negative Tau. See?"

Suzu watched the number rise and fall in a steady rhythm. "I suppose, how did you even notice that?"

Tanya tapped her head, "Data auditor."  Then she started in on another set of commands. "We recognize that particular sine wave, it's all over the place. It's part of how ShipOS determines time, based on relative angles of the spinning-"

"OK, OK, I believe you. Don't make me do homework, please."

Tanya rolled her eyes. "It means this memory is the output of real ShipOS code. Not noise. And that's not all. These values," she highlighted a few with the cursor, "aren't changing. And they are sequential. It's a memory index, tracking some related set of variables."

"Alright, I guess that makes sense. If some code is leaving a trail, it would be coherent."

"No, not a trail. This data is changing. This is a stream. And not just a record, it turns out. This is live."

Suzu shook his head in confusion. "Wait. How can it be live? This is leftover memory."

"That's what I'm saying. It's not leftover."

"You just requisitioned it from the local brain. I watched you do it."

"Yeah. And that memory is still being manipulated, even after I claimed it. Spooky, right?"

Suzu's face tightened from worry into a squint Tanya recognized as his puzzle-solving face. "I wonder what the data is."

"It took me a couple of hours to figure it out. It's a dashboard panel, from the engine bay. I pattern-matched the timings of a few of the memory oscillations and found a perfect fit. Here, I built a little mockup visualization." With a few quick clicks, a chunky interface appeared with data about the engine health, the electrical supply it's generating, the fuel, and some positioning data Suzu didn't immediately understand.

"This only took you a couple of hours?" he asked.

Tanya shrugged, hiding a sly smile. "I was curious."

"This is nuts. Have you told anyone else yet?"

"No, not yet. I wanted to show someone cool like you first. Once we report this, they're going to lock this area down as a fritz zone and that'll be the end of it, at least for you and me. After hearing all the excitement about the other fritzes, I just wanted to savor the moment."

Suzu sighed. "OK. But this is enough right, showing me?"

Tanya knew not to push it. "Yeah. I just need to clean up real quick, then we can go tell Zee."

"Clean up?"

"I wasn't sure this would stick around when I went to go get you, so I left a little backdoor in case. I'm taking it out now before anyone is sniffing around." Tanya saw unease in Suzu's face. "Don't worry, it was MAC-locked to this machine, with my homebrew encryption. No one was getting to it but me. And besides, it's just a dashboard. Data display, not control. There, all done. Good as new."

The room erupted with a quick flash of orange light as the emergency alert came to life. An urgent synthetic voice announced:

"Warning, Pak Thrusters have begun spin-up. All crew should make immediate preparations to jump. Repeat, all crew should make immediate preparations to jump."

"A jump?!" Suzu shouted. "Tanya!"

"That wasn't me!" Tanya insisted. "I swear! There's no way." Tapping furiously on the keyboard, she pulled up fleetwide diagnostics and flitted through status readouts. "This isn't a fake, Suzu. The whole fleet is getting this. The Thrusters are already at 7%. There's not much time. You need to go strap in, now."

"I don't get it, where are we jumping?" Suzu said, struggling to process.

"Suzu, the only place you're going if you don't strap in is the infirmary. Or worse. Don't make me drag you. GO!"

The unusual tone of panic in Tanya's voice snapped Suzu out of his daze. She turned her attention to her own straps to discourage a lingering goodbye. And to keep him from seeing the starchart on her screen. She'd lied. It was trivial to see where the thrusters were pointed. She didn't know what was in that particular direction, but one thing was clear. They were about to make a very large jump, into very dark space.

A Few Long Minutes, Quickly

Entry
1.014
April 3, 2021
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As the announcement repeated with further urgency, people across the fleet panicked and raced to the nearest straps.

Fear and confusion boiled up. Why are we jumping? Who initiated this? Why weren't we warned? Questions echoed around the worried minds while they climbed into bunks and tightened buckles. Where are we going?

But not for Tobias. From his particular vantage point in the Thruster Control room, he was immediately certain of several facts:

  • No one initiated this jump.
  • No one entered a course.
  • The fleet is about to travel very, very far.

Never one to waste time with worry, Tobias calmly secured the straps built into his station, closed his eyes, and let his mind begin unfolding this new puzzle. Any fear of danger he was holding was kept safely in the background, where he preferred to store his troublesome feelings. This was no time for feelings, it was time to think. And thinking is what Tobias does best.

The thruster controls fritzed, he theorized.

A full jump command manifested somewhere in the machinery. The internal protocols are optimized for efficiency, but they still require quite a bit of specific and careful calculation to input. A random fluctuation in memory would have a vanishingly small chance of looking like a proper jump command. Like pulling a random sentence out of a dictionary and using it to navigate to the grocery store.

There's a lot of power being drawn into the thrusters, almost 20% of our current reserves. The first jump was a 2% capacity jump, intending for a 20LY jump. Distance scales quadratically to energy input in the Pak Thruster. Off the top of his head, the fleet was about to travel about 2000 LY. Of course, the first jump actually went 60LY, so who knows how much farther our they could wind up. Or in which direction.

There isn't enough time.

Tobias winced. He should have realized sooner. Theoretically, the crew was trained to get to straps in 15 minutes, and the thrusters take 17 minutes to spin up. But those results were in focused testing environments. In a real emergency, confusion will slow people down. They need at least 90 seconds for jump fluids to circulate. Some crew members won't be ready, and a jump this big could be brutal.

Tobias stubbornly refused the tide of fear tugging at the edges of his mind. I know this system, he thought, I know how to break it. His consciousness filled with the elaborate schematic of the thruster array he kept in memory. Racing through the spin-up procedures, he mentally walked through each boot process and pre-check. That's it! The pre-checks!

If he could fail one of the safety checks, he could disrupt the spin-up. Which one though? Power wouldn't work, too much is already in short storage. No safe way to dump that out without doing major damage. The engines will fire soon, one way or another. He needed a way to introduce a delay. Scheduling was already shortcut by the Fritz. Timing is deterministic. Synchronization.. bingo!

His hands whipped across the straps, freeing him before he had time to think about the impact of interrupted jumpfluid. I'll deal with it. It wasn't until he was trying to pry open the link-chain console that he noticed the stiffness in his fingers. Like syrup in his veins. Too bad, body.

Uncovering the synchronization chipset, he pushed through the clouds forming in his mind and recalled the schematics. Compared to the wizard-level tech powering navigation and thrust, the link-chain was little more than applied networking. It's critically important that the thrusters operate in unison, and they will delay their fire if they don't have an actively confirmed sync. This is how Tobias can slow down the jump.

I need to tap into the synchronization channel and introduce a lot of noise. Make it too difficult to find the actual signal.

There was nothing random about the nearby circuitry, Pak Thrusters are a tool of precision. If he was going to make signal noise, he'd have to do it himself.

He didn't dare look at the countdown timer as he dashed over to the tool cabinet. Pulling out a few electrodes, some wires, a fast-welder, and a few familiar components, he began building the schematic in his head. Electrodes at the temples reading beta waves, crossed with a microphone input, run that down through a digitizer, dump that directly into the sync channel. It should be enough.

Tobias was better with theory than craftwork, but he made a sufficient weld to tap his makeshift synthesizer into the circuitry. Running a spool back over to his chair, he attached the microphone to his collar and the electrodes to his temples. He strapped himself in, feeling the cold creep of the jumpfluid continue spreading up his arm.

He took a deep breath to steady himself. And then Tobias began to scream.

He opened the gates he'd locked his emotions behind, and let them come pouring in. He screamed out of fear, he screamed out of frustration, and when those began to fade, he dug deeper. He screamed out of love for this crew. He screamed out of a passion for the glorious engineering coming to life in front of him. He screamed out of raw, human determination.

Every challenge he'd faced to get here, every barrier he'd vaulted, every day he'd struggled to belong among the starchasers, it all came roaring out through his vocal cords. As they ached and sputtered, he screamed. As the jumpfluid demanded calm, he screamed in defiance. And when the counter reset, he screamed in victory.

They have time. 17 new minutes starting to tick down. Enough to save the stragglers. Enough for the jumpfluid to settle in. It's enough. And then he let go into the gentle grasp of the fluids, and rested. For 18 minutes, and 2,474 LY.

Two-Thousand Four Hundred and Seventy Four

Entry
1.015
April 15, 2021
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The human mind is not well equipped to handle large numbers.

We rely on abstractions and tools to help us keep track of scale. And while we've accomplished an incredible amount as a species, sometimes that just means we don't really appreciate the large numbers we talk about.

2,474 lightyears is one of those numbers. It's an insane amount of distance to comprehend. More than you and everyone you know will travel over land in your entire life, cumulatively, by several orders of magnitude. Even attempts to rationalize how much distance those numbers represent require other large numbers.

It's 14,544,000,000,000,000 miles. That's 14.5 quadrillions as if that makes it any more intuitive. 23 quadrillion kilometers. But we don't practically use quadrillions much, it's just a big number. It just means "more than you'll ever need to count".

Let's try it another way. When you look up to the stars on a clear night on Earth, out in the countryside where you can find real dark, you're seeing a collection of galaxies, shining nebula, and of course a few actual stars. But only the close ones. The nearest, Alpha Centauri, is a bit over 4 LY away from our sun. Any star farther than about 2,000 lightyears just isn't casting enough light for us to see it from Earth. Beyond that, we can only make out larger clusters like galaxies.

Imagine that sometime in the Classical Era of Rome, around 500 BC, a particularly lucky photon bounces off the polished headpiece of some extravagant merchant, and begins a journey out to space.

Traveling at lightspeed, it would wander through the dark for ages. Through the rise of agriculture, the foundations of most scientific practices, the entirety of the ages of castles and sails, through industrialization, through globalization, through the dawn of the computing age, and all of the time spent planning and building the Fritz Fleet, this lonely photon would drift through empty space.

2,474 Earth years later (plus or minus 60), it just might bump into humanity one more time, as it crosses our path.  That's how far from home we are. It's a good thing photons don't get embarrassed though because we made that trip in one minute. 67 seconds, as far as we can figure. That's just shy of 7 billion miles per hour. Congratulations, crew, you're among the fastest moving humans in all of history.

As you may have guessed, this means we can't see our own sun from here. If this jump is like the last one, we can't rely on simple math to tell us where we landed either. We should be able to find some familiar stars, ones that both Earth and the Fleet are within visual range of. Once we do, we can reorient and figure out where specifically we are. Until then, I recommend a trip to an observation deck, because we're seeing new stars.

Many of you know a larger number, one that was very important to all of us. 2.5 million lightyears.

The distance to Andromeda. The distance this fleet was built to travel. Compared to that, our 2,474 hop is small. In this you can take comfort, we were designed to travel this far. We knew we'd be farther from home than this. All of our critical systems are intact. Well, other than jump navigation.

Finally, some of you might be wondering about our commlink to Earth. I was too, so I spoke with Salina from Communications. What she shared was no less surprising to hear the second time, Earth appears to be 20 LY behind us, according to the still active commlink. I will refrain from drawing conclusions about what this means until our scientists spend some time with it.

So there you have it. We just took a dive into the deep dark, with our eyes closed and only half a map, and now we swim among strange stars. A few relative hours ago, I was gripped with panic as we all rushed to strap in for an unexpected jump. But standing here now, 2,474 lightyears away with no reported injuries, no damaged hulls, and a curious universe spread out in front of us, I can't think of any place in the universe I'd rather be.

Forge the Fritz!

-Ivett Biskup,

Navigation Officer, Granite Charm

Popping the Bubble

Entry
1.016
May 4, 2021
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"We can't just disconnect the thrusters.

I mean, yes, we can probably stop power to them, if we figure out where to store the drive core output. But it's not just a matter of power. In their non-thrusting state, the Pak Array maintains the transport bubble. We don't want to pop the bubble without thinking it through."

"OK. I'll be honest, engineering wasn't my best class in school. Explain the bubble to me."

"So you have the thruster array at the head of the fleet, right? Big round spindly thing, fun to look at. That's where all the energy, jump navigation, and thrusters are housed. It's the tugboat for the whole fleet. When we spin it up, it starts generating the Pak field."

"Jeez, Pak really named everything after himself, didn't he?"

"Sort of. Believe it or not, there were two Paks working together on these discoveries. Jeung Pak named the thruster array after his partner, Namgung Pak. While Jeung worked on scaling up the array, Nemgung focused on the energy field it produced. In her first paper, she named it the Pak field, after her partner Jeung. From there, it kind of snowballed into a big inside joke for engineering nerds."

"Wow. I had no idea."

"Anyways, the Pak field is sort of like a membrane of energy. It inflates out from the thruster array, kind of like blowing a soap bubble from a wand. We call this the transport bubble. You probably remember seeing the "northern lights" when we first spun it up."

"Yeah, that was the first moment I really felt like this whole trip was real."

"It is really pretty to watch. As it expands, it makes contact with the ships in the fleet. Each one carries a Pak anchor, usually somewhere back in the engine bay. It's just some fancy matter that makes a disturbance in the Pak field, so it's easy to detect. The thruster than focuses essentially a tractor beam to each anchor. Some fancy signal interference expands that focal point to encompass the whole ship."

"That makes the jellyfish shape I always see, right?"

"Yeah, the thruster array is the head, and the Pak tethers are like the tentacles. The transport bubble grows in a shape like a grape, and with all the tethers and ships inside. Once every ship is covered and all the tethers are secure, we can freeze the field. That was the part they had to close the observation decks for, it's too bright to look at. We dump so much energy into the Pak field it essentially crystallizes. At that point, everything is locked in position relative to the Array. So when the thrusters thrust, we get carried along."

"So the bubble keeps us all together?"

"Yeah, and it also has some strange interactions with gravity and momentum. The crystallization I mentioned is a feat of metamaterials wizardry. Honestly, I barely understand it myself, but external forces are mostly ignored within the bubble. So when we go billions of miles per hour, we don't turn into paste."

"But we still have to use jumpfluid because of the acceleration."

"Well, yeah. The bubble isn't totally opaque to external force, it's really a lot more complicated. Someone explained it once like some kind of lens distortion like everything is stretched out of scale, but the math got too confusing pretty quickly. We experience just a fraction of the forces we'd encounter if we were using conventional thrust. Those ratios are part of why we planned dozens of jumps along the way to Andromeda. Even with the bubble, we can't go too far in one jump or the forces that make it through the bubble will still break us."

"Alright. So we use the bubble while we're jumping to stay safe and stay together. But what's wrong with turning it off now, or popping it as you say."

"It's not that we can't do it, it's that once we do, it's slow to set back up. Forming the bubble and the tethers takes a while, a few hours at least, but gathering up the energy to crystalize it is another story. Back home, the first time we did this, we had the benefit of a nearby sun. It was pretty easy to harvest a bunch of solar to supplement the reactor output. Out here, we have to build it up ourselves. That's a process that will take about a week."

"Oh. So a week to build up the energy, then a few hours to establish all the tethers and crystalize the field. But, I mean, we're in deep space, what's the rush?"

"Right now? No rush. But we don't know what's out here in the Fritz. If something scary shows up, do you want to wait a week to be able to move?"

"No, I suppose not. But we aren't really expecting to encounter aliens, are we? I mean, we all got those long lectures about the Fermi Paradox and not getting our hopes up."

"Sure. It seems unlikely there's alien civilization hanging out this close to Earth. But it's also unlikely that our thrusters would start up all on their own. Or that missing cat with all the clones. Or the green engines. We clearly don't know what it's actually like out here. So our assumptions about the Fermi Paradox need to be re-examined. I'm not saying there are certainly evil mean aliens here that want to hurt us. I'm just saying if we see some aliens, I'd like to know we could jump before we find out if they are mean."

"I see. I guess that makes sense. But the alternative is to leave the thrusters primed, right?"

"Yep. Whatever caused them to jump before could cause them to jump again."

"Arbitrary distances, in unexpected directions. We'll be fully lost with only a few more jumps like that. If we don't wind up in the right patches of sky, we're literally off the charts."

"Yeah, but that's where explorers are supposed to go, right? Off the map, beyond the charts. Seems to me that getting a bit lost along the way is just part of the territory."

"But what good is getting lost if you don't find your way back home?"

"Let's be real. We were never going home. You know that, right? The 'Return Clause' is basically toothless, even more so now that we aren't going to Andromeda. The only thing headed back to Earth is whatever we upload through the commlink."

"Speaking of which, what's your engineer opinion on Commlink Earth?"

"I can tell you all about a planet's orbit based on Newtonian physics, no sweat. But once planets get out of alignment, that might as well be the territory of astrologists."

"Not even a guess?"

"Honestly, it creeps me out, and I don't like thinking about it. I mean, say somehow that's really Earth. It got sucked up and flung across the galaxy with us. What about the rest? The other planets. The sun? A planet chasing us on a leash isn't a healthy planet, it's a dying one at best. Fatally cold and losing temperature quickly. Let's hope that's not the case."

"We got the letter from them."

"Yeah, about a week after the first jump. More than enough time to freeze to death, and they didn't. So what does that leave us with? What scenario can be so convincing to our commlink to fake a back-and-forth data connection to a whole planet? Or what insane reality breaking are we doing by maintaining the commlink. Have we built a communication wormhole? Or is it just a bug that our best scientists can't crack? None of these outcomes fills me with hope."

"You're right. That isn't fun to think about."

"What if the bubble is maintaining the connection, somehow? Every other force that passes through gets distorted. Maybe the Fleet bubble is working as a giant megaphone for interstellar communication?"

"Do you think that's true?"

"I don't know. But it's another good reason to keep the bubble in place, at least while we figure things out."

"Hmm.. Alright. I'm convinced. The bubble should stay up. I'll do my best to explain why to the operations council. I still think it'd work better coming from you though."

"You know how I get. Too many people looking at me, I just shut down. I can't present in front of a council, let alone Operations. I'm itchy just imagining it."

"That's fair. I guess I'll have to do my best. Do you think they'll listen?"

"Oh, almost certainly not."

Once a Fluke, Twice a Pattern

Entry
1.017
May 6, 2021
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"Another Skitter!" Sa- announced.

-Karn continued, "It's that same one from before, out in the Jingg Sectors. This time it went a lot farther. And this direction."

"Discovery!" Rim shouted. -Magua hesitated, "Let's not jump to conclusions. It is hard to deny that a two step jump like that looks like intentional navigation."

"New Mission?" Jen- asked. -Raka follwed, "Are we going to investigate?"

"YES!" Rim- declared. -Magua agreed, "Protocol is pretty clear. Especially if there's a chance it's headed this way. Sa-Karn, prepare the report. Jen-Raka, give us an approach. Three hops, so we can track them if they move again."

The crew got to work while the captain configured their comms channel for a full-ship announcement. "This is Captain Rim-Magua. Our signals have detected activity in a previously dark sector. Per the Explorer's Pledge, we are both duty-bound and honored to investigate this mystery. It is time to brush up on First Encounter Protocol, and make preparations for a three-hop jump. As always, the safety of the crew and this vessel we share remains my top priority. Please remember, communication about first contact scenarios should be limited to approved channels until the official report is released. Keep your top lips tight, but this could be our way to earning Presence. Jump in 2 days. Captain out."

Same Hulls, Same Halls

Entry
1.018
May 10, 2021
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1.018
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Dejana walked the hall from her bunk to the starboard lounge.

Officially, there wasn't a day and night cycle aboard the fleet. For convenience, the 24 hour day cycle was maintained, kept in sync by a quantum clock aboard the Thruster Array hub. Social scientists expect the crew to shift their sleep schedules around over time so that a roughly steady number of crew members are awake at any given time.

But for now, most of the crew still slept in the familiar hours, settling in around 21:00. Here at 02:00, Dejana couldn't hear footsteps in either direction. She closed her eyes, and let her mind maintain the scene. She paced through it confidently, turned the corner with almost no hesitation. She'd walked this path at least a couple of times every day since launch, she knew it well. She stopped, eyes still closed, and pointed. If she was on target, she'd be pointing right at the synth-fuchsia on the small table, the sparse bit of décor that hinted to passerby's that the lounge was nearby.

Keeping her eyes shut, she remembered what she'd read about blind folk using sound to navigate. She snapped with her spare hand and tried to imagine the sound echoing around the room. Snap... snap... snap. With a slow breath, she admitted to herself the snaps weren't really helping. Only one thing left to do.

She opened her eyes, and her finger was pointed right at the flower. But instead of the usual rush of success, she'd grown familiar with, this time she was left disappointed. Her memory and accuracy were as sharp as ever, but recently she'd been hoping for... well, something new. Something different.

Here she was, aboard one of the most sophisticated ships humanity has ever built, thousands of light-years away from home, and Dejana managed to be bored.

But who could blame her? Things didn't change on board a spaceship. They reached a nice boring equilibrium and just stay that way.

Inside the long, Dejana brought up the menu for the food console. Call her old-fashioned, but announcing her meal selection to the room to make use of the voice recognition always seemed unnecessary. Paging through with the touchscreen to find something she hadn't tried before, she grew dismayed at how deep into the library she had to dig.

Past the paella, scrolling by som tam, after the arepas and chiles and curries galore, something surprising caught her eye. "Raxxian Cabbagesteak". Raxxian? Dejana couldn't remember what kind of cuisine was called Raxxian. And come to think of it, she wasn't really even sure what a cabbagesteak was.

She tried to imagine how to grill a cabbage like a steak, then imagined how to slice a steak like cabbage slices. Either way, she figured, it sounded interesting enough to try. And more importantly, it was new. She stopped for a second to savor the feeling. It was bittersweet, while she was thrilled imagining what might come out of the food console, she worried there weren't too many more surprises left like this to find.

She punched in the order and tried to temper her expectations. Just because it was new, doesn't mean it'll be good, she reminded herself. Memories of a school trip to Norway and a dare involving lutefisk came to mind. For just a moment, she was back there, proudly holding the can, sure that the stores wouldn't sell it if it wasn't tasty. She shakes away the daydream before it can reach its gut-churning climax. Poutine was great though, remember?

The food consoles were usually pretty quick. The computers were quite good at synthesizing solutions for heating and cooling processes that would usually take hours. But in this case, Dejana couldn't help but notice the dish was barely beginning to materialize, a couple of minutes after she expected it to be done. What did this cabbagesteak require that slowed the machine down so much. Whatever it was, not knowing left her salivating.

With a characteristic chirp, the machine finished its hard work. Opening the door, Dejana was greeted with a peculiar sweet aroma undercut by something she couldn't say was far off from a tire fire. The "steak" didn't look like beef, or pork, or lamb, or any other meat she could identify, but it wasn't quite plant-like either. Puzzled, but ever optimistic, she carried it to a nearby table and began the task of making a brand new memory.

Raxxian Cabbagesteak

Entry
1.019
May 12, 2021
Audio reading available.
1.019
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Dinner's ready!

A dish of strange food, looking somewhere between pancakes, mashed potatoes, and a garnished steak.

I asked andirkz what Raxxian Cabbagesteak might look like, and he whipped up this tasty dish. Is it meat? Is it mush? Are those leaves? Despite all the unknowns, it kinda looks tasty.

Go check out andirkz profile, enjoy his art, and consider him when you need some great art quick!

Do you know a cool artist or creator I should approach for Fritz Fleet commissions? Let me know!