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2 mos ago
Current It's the feeling of freedom, of seein' the light.
2 mos ago
I want to talk about what I have learned, the hard-won wisdom I have earned~
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2 mos ago
Let me be a part of the narrative, in the story they will write someday
2 mos ago
I wrote my way to revolution, I was louder than the crack in the bell.
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2 mos ago
Outrun, outlast - hit 'em quick, get out fast.
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Bio

Hi! I'm Naril. I write, build things, and I'm incredibly busy, all the time. I'm probably older than you.

Most Recent Posts

Wow, this is rather more interest than I expected. :3

I’ll have a thread up in a bit! Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow.
Hi! ._.


The Institute


The year is 2388, and humanity has been exploring the stars for more than a century. They are part of - and, indeed, one of the founding members of - the Commonwealth, a federation of worlds spanning thousands of light years and dozens of inhabited systems. Commonwealth starships are a regular sight no matter where you might be, always pressing outward into the unknown with their crews of scientists and scholars. System by system, they go, boldly, in the name of knowledge, of first contact, of finding the stories that nobody has heard for a thousand years.

This is not a story of those ships, or those crews. Well, not really.

You see, space is huge, and beautiful, and terrifying, and ancient. Those ships and crews, their lives are anything but simple. Adventure awaits out in the void, and it might not always be what you expect. Sometimes the crew just has to remodulate the shields or rotate the spectrum of a confinement beam, but sometimes there's more to it than that. Plucky engineers create wholly new technologies, or an ancient space probe might turn out to be slowly turning the ship that discovered it into a copy of a stone temple from its homeworld. Maybe there's a device out there that lets you transport yourself one universe over - and the only way they found out about it was after someone from that universe came here.

All of that is fascinating, and of couse it needs to be studied, analyzed, and sometimes just plain kept out of the wrong hands. Or any hands. But that's not really all that important to the mission of exploration, so the plucky and intrepid crews of those starships send that information back home...where it winds up at the Ashwari Institute. Where it joins the tens of thousands of other artifacts, accidental sentient holograms, personal time-travel devices, and the brass-plated urn from Hekanis IV that turns anything dropped inside into half a kilo of lentils.

There are, of course, scholars at the Institute - but though a combination of fickle academic attitudes and the sheer volume of material forwarded by starship captains, almost all of it is intimately known to only a very small number of people - the custodians of the Institute's archives. They are the overworked, nearly totally unappreciated people that allow the Institute to function at all, they are the people whose job it is to determine what these things actually do, and to create and above all maintain the vast catalogue of cosmic detritus that, for almost everyone else in the Commonwealth, stops existing once the shuttle comes to pick it up.

This is a story of those people.

Because something's gone missing.

----------

Hi!

So, this is an idea that's been rolling around in my head for a couple of years, and I thought I might try to do something that wasn't uban fantasy for once. :3 Really, the elevator pitch here is sort of "Star Trek meets The X-Files," but with a dash of John Scalzi's "Redshirts" and "Galaxy Quest" thrown in.

Your characters will be people working for the Ashwari Institute, an enormous research facility on a far-flung Commonwealth planet - one part academia, one part Silicon Valley. You are a team whose job it is to sort though the world-changing wonders and marvels that show up on a frighteningly regular basis, figure out what it is they do (via, of course, the always-incomplete notes of some ensign or seemingly barely-literate captain), and add them to a catalogue. Occasionally some holier-than-thou professor or harried junior clerk will show up at the storage facility and be variously gracious in asking for one oddment or other, but for the most part your time is spent just barely keeping ahead of endless shipments from further and further away.

You are overworked and underappreciated, but you aren't paid - like Star Trek, this is basically a post-scarcity society, so you're doing this for a reason that isn't directly related to rent money. Maybe you believe in the Institute's goals, maybe it's better than boredom, or maybe your sister was barbecued by something that should have been sent to the Institute but wasn't.

I have a loose plot in mind, but it should be something fairly flexible and open. I don't expect you to 'bring your own story,' but I do love seeing people press on the world and incorporate what they do into the larger arc. The tone of the story is one that will generally bend more towards 'fun space opera' than 'dour examination of cosmic horrors'; I don't have any plans for people to be grabbed by the brain stem and left gibbering on the deckplate. More The Warrior's Apprentice, less Event Horizon.

But before I get too ahead of myself - this is an interest check, after all - who out there might like to join something like this? :3

The only thing I'll say is that this would probably not be first-come first-served, and I tend to have some pretty high standards. But this is the Advanced section, that shouldn't exactly be a problem.
I'm working out what I want to post. I think I finally have an idea, although I'm not completely sure I want to go with it. I've been working on the idea of 'let awesome characters be awesome,' and while I like that Morgan is shrouded in mystery, it's time to start letting some of that fall away, I think. And she is a creature with astonishing psychic capabilities...
Even before she finished speaking, information presented itself in Sarett's head; data that she hadn't reached for but that Ava had furnished on her own. The pair had practiced this, but the sensation was still one that Sarett hadn't gotten used to yet. Very little of what Ava wrote into her mind actually presented itself across the floating ambient data visualizations in her field of view; rather, the data simply appeared in her awareness, ready to be retrieved or acted on. For now, much of what Ava presented was spatial awareness, giving Sarett an intuitive understanding of the local volume without having to completely rely on the huge holotank in the center of the Bridge. She took a few moments to adjust her thoughts, then considered what Ava had given her.

The Empire's ships were, of course, networked and every ship was, to one degree or another, in continuous contact. Even the smaller ships, those without space even for limited synthetic intelligence, kept up to date with automated telemetry data and voice-update transmission. In the holotank, the other ships were nothing but points of light with finely-drawn labels, but in Sarett's mind they were each a brilliant, bristling, pulsing cloud of data.

For now, though, that information had a hole in it. The Terracotta, the flagship of the fleet, should have been a coruscating nova of communications, a hub for the rest of the fleet. Instead, the ship was dark, a blank spot in Ava's data feed.

"Ava," Sarett said, "Get the fla-"

"Captain, I'm detecting an exchange of weapons fire" Ava cut in over the ship's speaker system, "It appears a single Coalition suit fired on a member of the 12th. Damage is minimal, no casualties. The 12th is pulling back to Artemis and the Coalition is redeploying further away. One of the Coalition suits seems to be shedding debris, but I'm not reading atmosphere leakage."

Sarett resisted the urge to clench her jaw, "Retransmit orders to not engage, Ava. All frequencies, all channels. Be very clear."

"Aye, ma'am," Ava said. Sarett felt Ava's awareness shift slightly - was that just subconscious expectation?

"No response from Fleet Command," Myles said, scrolling through information on her screen, "Actually, no data of any kind from the flagship, and...what the hell? I'm reading...some kind of debris departing the Terracotta"

Sarett yanked her attention away from her inner eye, "Ava, I need local volume information, detailed, in the holotank, please."

Without a verbal confirmation, the huge holographic display in the center of the Bridge came alive, closer to what Sarett could feel in her own mind. True to Myles' words, something was drifting away from the flagship in even, regular lines.

"I believe we're seeing lifeboat launches, Captain," Ava said over the intercom, "I can see the rescue ID numbers on the ships through the hull cameras."

Sarett walked to the holotank, "Why are we not receiving information from the flagship?"

"I think I know why, Captain," Tanner said, looking up from his console, "Wide-band jamming, massive amplitude. The ship isn't dark, we just can't hear it."

"Captain, I have communications with Rear Admiral Holtzer aboard the Tàiyángshén," came Ava's voice, "They're instructing the other UEE ships to form up in a combat group with the other battleship, but are also issuing orders to hold fire. However, since we're closest to the station and Terracotta, we're to remain on station here and investigate."

Privately, to Sarett, Ava said, "I've established a connection with Tàiyángshén's AI, Zhao. I'll port his telemetry to you if it becomes relevant - what I'm giving you now looks like enough stress on your brain."

"I appreciate that," Sarett thought, and turned her attention back to the Bridge.

"Captain, we're getting a signal through the jamming," Tanner said, "At least a partial signal, audio only and badly distorted. It's coming from the station."

Sarett's voice came quick, "Helm, distance to Attica Station?"

An immediate response, "More or less exactly 25 kilometers, ma'am,"

"Broadside starboard to the station," Sarett said, "Keep our center of mass 25 kilometers from the station, get the high-gain comms on the lateral superstructure taking in every decibel they can. Cook the amplifier if we have to," Ava displayed an inventory list on Sarett's vision, "We have spares."

A chorus of 'Aye, ma'am,' and though she couldn't feel the ship rotating about its axis, her awareness of local space shifted in perspective, following the ship's movements. The same shift was represented in the holotank, spinning about to maintain its perspective relative to the other ships. To her immense surprise, Sarett saw the other Coalition ships moving with deliberate speed into a more organized group - she had expected someone to order a Jump out of overeagerness to start a fight. Good order, that's what everyone needed to be showing right now. Of her own accord, Ava displayed a view from one of her hull cameras into the holotank, zoomed in tight on the station.

"Signal's coming in clearer," Tanner said.

"Let's hear it," Sarett said.

The whoosh and crackle of static immediately pummeled Sarett's ears, but an instant later there was the unmistakable sound of a human voice, someone panicked and desperate for anyone to hear them.

"This is Attica Station," the voice said, probably a man, thin with terror, "General distress call, oh god. Oh, god. Anyone who can hear me, they're gone. They shot everyone and they're gone, and they said they were going to the hangar, but I don't know where they're going. They shot the guards and I saw them break down the doors, and I'm bleeding and..." The voice trailed off, "The negotiators, they dragged them away and nobody's answering the comms, and I can't get Station Control, please, is anyone hearing me?"

There was a loud thump, audible even over the static, then a screaming, tearing sound, "Hull breach," the voice screamed, "There's a hull breach, we're losing atmo-"

Another explosion tore through space, this time bursting from the side of Attica station, midway down the spire. Superstructure fragments showered out in an expanding debris cloud, tearing a hole in the station for tens of meters above and below. White wisps of venting atmosphere blasted into the void, shutting off after a couple of seconds, automatic air-doors sealing around the now-massive breach.

"Maintain distance from the station," Sarett said, keeping her voice steady and clear despite the fact her heart rate had just jumped into the triple digits, "Ava, tell Commander Tolliver to arrange a boarding party, that their orders are to approach and make entry to the Terracotta's interior and determine why the lifeboats launched. Cut a hole in the hull if they have to, but try the hangar bay first. Maintain continuous communication, and assume there may be hostiles aboard the flagship."

"Jamming signal is clear," Tanner said from his station, "It must have been on board the station when it blew. We're getting telemetry from the flagship, but nobody's answering hails."

"I want members of the 12th ahead of the boarding party," Sarett said, "Have them redeploy to the Terracotta and start looking at those lifeboats, see if there's anyone alive in them and if there's obvious signs of tampering or forced launch. Make sure all the lifeboats are accounted for, and that there aren't any extras. Something strange is going on."

She turned to Myles, "Lieutenant, I want all the data from the Perseus explosion and whatever just happened on the station packaged inside of five minutes, I don't care how rough or sensitive it might be, we're going to need it for a goodwill offering in a moment. Myles looked alarmed, but moved after only a moment, calling up data.

Sarett took a deep breath, blew it out. The admiral did say to investigate. Whatever was happening on the flagship might be a distraction, but at least that was something she could put orders to immediately. The Empire and the Coalition had agreed to an exclusion zone around the station, and even though her fingers itched to launch another boarding party, violating that unilaterally would be exactly the kind of thing that whoever was orchestrating this disaster would be counting on. Unilateral action, no matter the intention, would only lead to one side shooting at the other. She was not going to play into that game.

"Okay," Sarett said, "Okay. Transmit to the Coalition fleet, wide-channel, standard hail preamble." A moment later, she could feel that the ship's comm arrays were energized, even before anyone indicated the channel being open. There was something strange going on with her connection to Ava, but now was not the time to worry about it.

"Coalition Fleet," Sarret said, "This is Captain Ashley Sarett aboard the INS carrier Artemis. We've detected an explosion aboard Attica Station, and I'm sure you've seen it too. We've received an audio transmissio indicating this may have been a coordinated attack, and that both our negotiator and yours have been abducted from the station. I need to talk to someone with command authority in order to investigate, because I'm not breaching the exclusion zone without your agreement. We're both being played by someone here, and I think it's reasonable to believe that they may be responsible for the destruction of the Perseus. I'm sending our sensor data to you now as a gesture of goodwill but please, we need to start moving on this now." She paused, "Don't let them win. We have to be better than they think we are."

Sarett gestured, and the comms system shut down. Her mind raced down fractal paths, plans forking like lightning through her thoughts. If they fired, it would all be over. For that matter, she might have just ended her career, sending data to the Coalition like this. But none of that mattered. If she was a piece on a board for someone, she'd damn well be the most troublesome piece she could be. She'd find a way to kick the damn board over if she had to.

Hopefully, someone on the Coalition felt the same.


For a breathless moment, there was no sound on Artemis' bridge, only jagged and harsh shadows. The expanding bubble of debris from the Perseus raced away in every direction, pieces of the superstructure trailing burning atmosphere through space. Sarett carefully did not look too closely, lest she convince herself that she could see bodies being pulled into the void, limbs flailing and mouths gasping for a breath that would never come. Instead, she snapped her attention to the rest of the command deck.

“Report!” She barked, handing her infopad now filled with irrelevancies to an ever-hovering lieutenant.

“Multiple explosions at the the Coalition flagship’s location,” came Ensign Tanner, his eyes on the sensor readout in front of him.

“Did somebody shoot?” Sarett said.

“Negative,” came Myles’ voice, also looking at sensor data, “Ava’s saying that the explosions look like they originated inside the ship. Confirming now.”

Tanner spoke up, “Multiple pieces of debris,” he said, “Judging by the spectroscopic data, the big explosion was the ship’s reactor cooking off. If there was anyone alive on the hulk, the radiation burst probably killed them.”

Sarett’s heart dropped. Generations of war, whole worlds laid to waste, and for what; a refrain that was so common that it was almost a mantra. Everything leading up to this had been almost a miracle, the right people with the right mindset - or the right bribes - at the right time, and she knew in her heart that it almost certainly wouldn’t come again. The stakes were enormous, there was almost no way they could be higher. The fate of millions, of billions, rested on this knife-edge, and it had been her job to try keep that delicate balance from being upset.

There were almost no innocent explanations for a starship exploding of its own accord. Both sides were being manipulated here, drawn into a situation that would very likely detonate all on its own. That meant someone was counting on the idea that everyone involved would be ready to shoot given the tiniest excuse, and that made Sarett angry. There were more than enough people - millions of them, doubtless - to orchestrate the idea of perpetuating the war. Maybe for profit, maybe out of some misguided patriotism or out of plain blind zealousness. She’d seen it all her life, was surrounded by people who would kill until there was nothing left to kill every day. Without a choice in the matter, she herself had been honed into the kind of weapon those people salivated over.

But she wasn’t going to be the pebble that started the avalanche. This was too important, peace was too important, her garden where she would fail to grow tomatoes until she was old and gray was important. There might not be room for daylight, the chance for peace may have just been blown into atoms and a burst of gamma rays, but she had to try.

Sarett cleared her throat, “All right. Sound general quarters and raise shields. Scan for incoming, and coordinate with Ava to respond, but do not arm main weapons; don’t even load the railguns. We will not establish firing solutions until there are no other options, is that clear?”

She was surrounded by a sea of faces, and at the very best her orders had left her offices with dubious expressions. At least one person looked angry and was about to open her mouth. Sarett fixed her with a look that should have left her a smouldering crater on the far wall, for the first time glad for her scars and mismatched eyes. The officer gave a sour frown and turned back to her station, jabbing with unnecessary force at the controls. So long as she followed Sarett’s orders, she could hammer at the keys all she wanted.

“The 12th just finished launching,” Myles said, cutting through the thick silence, “They’re still following their patrol route.”

Sarett nodded, and walked to a communications panel. She jabbed the button that would open a circuit to Tolliver with her artificial hand, her thumb clicking on the switch. Part of her hoped that the news wouldn’t have reached the man yet, but critical situational awareness moved fast - especially when you had an AI construct whose job it was to disseminate information.

“Commander Tolliver, I need you to order the 12th to a defensive position around Artemis,” Sarett said into the comm, “They are to maintain positioning where they have easy lines of acceleration and fire to the Coalition fleet, but they are not to arm weapons or fire until I give the order to do so. If they are on the receiving end of incoming that is anything less than obvious and coordinated assault, I want them to put Artemis between themselves and that incoming. Under no circumstances are we to fire first.” She let the comm button up without waiting for a response. She was aware that Tolliver would hate that order with every fiber of his being, but she also knew he would obey it.

That would at least keep Artemis from being the ship that re-ignited the war. The action felt almost pointless; she wasn’t the commander of this expedition. That was the Admiral aboard the Terracotta.

“Ava, you’re sending our data to the flagship?” Sarett said, aloud.

“Yes ma’am,” Ava said over the ship’s speakers, “They’re collating and disseminating the information now.”

“Good,” Sarett said, and ran a hand through her hair. She looked at Tanner, “Contact Fleet Command. We need to talk.”
I just finished! 50,424 words.

I'll keep working on this story; I like it, and it's not done yet. I think with all the garbage removed, this is just about "Part One" of a three part story, with around 30k words for a final 85-90k word count. This was fun!

Every single one of my NaNo projects has been "part of a story" by the time I hit 50k. This one, even pared down from the "fluff for word's sake" would easily be 90,000 words for an actual novel. My NaNo project for 2015 would have been easy to turn into a trilogy.

I have enough outline to do that, but I decided I'd rather work on something else. That went...okay, I guess.
I pootled over 45,000 last night. Almost there!

So far, very few people have died in this story - at least, directly. The main character does have a comment about how the deaths she's responsible for are "more than I wanted; fewer than I could." I don't know if I'll keep that, but.

There is also the deliberate-on-my-part ambiguity of what exactly happens to Bad Guys once the nominal heroes have dealt with them. There isn't an Arkham Asylum in this story, and the Heroic Stronghold is devoid of a cell block or a series of well-hidden oubliettes.

That could go some dark places, but while this story is fundamentally a tragedy, I want it to be a different kind of tragedy than "oh, well, it turns out everyone's a piece of shit." I don't like reading those stories, let alone writing them. Maybe we'll find out in the sequel.

Speaking of going some dark places, I'm reading a fun superhero romp right now called All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's Fault, which is absolutely my 2017 Novel Title Of The Year and, so far, a pretty good time. The followup novel, which is coming out in a year, will apparently be called They Promised Me the Gun Wasn't Loaded.
I absolutely agree, for those reasons and a few more. The admission to conscious myth-making is by far the biggest indicator, and is the huge flashing light that makes me go Hey, this guy's not telling the truth.

I just run into an absolutely stunning number of people who read the books only at face value, and spend our first date telling me how Rothfuss is a bad writer because Kvothe is a poorly-written Mary Sue. The stories have some problems and Rothfuss isn't a perfect author (who is?) but the flaws in the story aren't "your failure to read between the lines." Grump grump.

I'm probably going to be finished with All Those Explosions... by the weekend. Next review coming soon~
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