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Trojan Horse pt 1

The first part of a story I've been working on for a bit. There's more of course, but I don't want to dump it all at once. I'll try and post a new segment every day or so.

I made the crossing alone, at the crawling pace of a few klicks a second, with nothing but a centimetre of vacuum armor between me and the cold. The armada's de facto flagship, the Nagari Order-Bringer Guns of Normandy, receded slowly below me, a threatening ovoidal bulk already shrunk to the size of an egg between my feet. At this distance, I could still make out the tiered rows of lights, like a geometric pattern of semi-precious stones, interspersed with the gaps of hangar bays; antennae, maneuvering thrusters, and gun turrets were a peach-like fuzz.

The Order-Bringer class were the largest ships our system had; there were only three of them, two owned by the Nagari and a third, recently constructed, by the Inskillin. Their armaments were sufficient to peel a world like fruit. The very fact that the great powers of Kormack's Lesson had seen it necessary to build them was deeply worrying. It marked a deterioration in interfaction relations that kept me awake at night. Indeed, it ranked as one of the greatest defeats of my career that I'd been unable to talk the Nagari and the Inskillin out of their ill-considered arms race. Preventing their use had, until very recently, been my primary goal and purpose, and at least I'd been, so far, successful in that: the Order-Bringers had remained less weapons, and more the chest-beating of silverbacks defending their status.

All that might change, and very soon.

I shifted my perspective, to look up, or ahead, depending if you went by the orientation of my body or the vector along which I moved. Thousands of kilometres distant, still, was the Omegist ship Aromatic Hydrocarbons of Heaven. That was, if ship was the right word ... mobile city might be a better term. Even from this distance, I could make out the over-all shape: a narrow wedge, just over six kilometeres from tip to tail, a little under a kilometre at its base. The thousands of ships that had flocked to the Aromatic Hydrocarbons of Heaven, some to establish the blockade and the rest to try to run it, surrounded it like a school of minnows englobing a whale.

It would take me almost a full hour to cross the intervening gap. I used the time to access mirrors of the system net, a luxury I'd be denied once aboard the vessel and sharing its interdict. Composing last messages to my wife, children, family, friends, supporters and patrons used up much of the time. I took a few minutes to quickly review the latest diplomatic reports, to see if any of the factions had changed their minds about our new guests: aside from a few minor sects and cooperatives (most of whom had moved to the Security or, as it was styled by its opponents, the Paranoia side) there had been no changes.

*******************

The girl that met me at the airlock looked to be no older than 14. Of course, she might well be much older than that, and I hoped she was. To send a child to meet me, the first representative official or otherwise to make face-to-face contact with their people, would be very difficult to interpret as other than a diplomatic slap in the face. She looked to be wearing light, brilliant colors flickering over an otherwise naked body, in patterns that might be either highly significant or pure fashion. The only physical vestements she appeared to have were more in the nature of ornamentation: opalescent tablets, no bigger than fingernails and indistinguishable save for holographic glyphs that looked like some distant offshoot of Jovese, were woven by the hundreds into her silvery hair.

The airlock had appeared out of nothing. My stately approach had, as I'd drawn near the vast ship, taken on an altogether more urgent tone. I could make out no detail on the Aromatic Hydrocarbons of Heaven's hull; even at maximum magnification, it had been entirely seemless. I'd begun to worry that I would simply impact on its side like so much debris, until - as the hull began to loom like a wall - I'd felt a tenuous grip coalesce out of the void, gently bleeding off my momentum. With the hull only meters away from me, a mansized oval had simply disappeared, spilling out light, and allowing me into the ship.

The child smiled. "We welcome you to the Aromatic Hydrocarbons of Heaven, Arbiter Sthon," she said, her voice a rich contralto that seemed entirely misplaced, coming from her tiny form.

I nodded, taking the words in the diplomatic spirit in which they were offered - namely, as a friendly, but empty, gesture - while my vacsuit adjusted itself to the presence of atmsophere (which is to say, it stopped worrying so much about keeping air in, and started worrying more about keeping local microfauna, and anything else the locals might try and slip into me, out.) It was a game I was well used to playing. "On behalf of the gathered communities of Kormack's Lesson, I gratefully accept your hospitality...." I left off, looking to her expectantly.

"Our names are many, but first among them is Zephys," she replied, introducing herself. "We have been chosen to be your liason for the duration of your stay."

Our names. I tried not to let that trouble me.

Very little was known about the visitors. The decision had been made, at the very top, to restrict communications with them, for who knew what havoc they might wreak if allowed unfettered access to our networks? But some facts had been gleaned about their culture and language, prior to the blanket ban on communications, one of which being that they seemed to have no equivalent to the pronoun I. Why, exactly, this should be so was one of many subjects of speculation amongst the anthropologists. The dominant opinion was that they existed as elements of a gestalt mind of some sort.

She tossed her hair (it had a metallic sheen, and the way it clumped together as it rotated in the micrograv, seemingly of its own volition, made me doubt that it was in fact hair. I immediately began a millimeter wave radar scan) and said, "Apologies, Arbiter. It seems our mediators have yet to internalize certain linguistic protocols. My name is Zephys, and I am glad to welcome you to the Aromatic Hydrocarbons of Heaven."

I frowned. "Does that mean that not everyone on the ship is happy to see me?". The millimeter radar scan came back with its analysis: what appeared, superficially, to be hair, was in fact some combination of high-bandwidth datacable, antennae, power storage, and waste heat radiator. What surprised me - though it shouldn't have - was the readings coming off of the 'jewellry' in her hair. The mm-wave scan hadn't been able to resolve any detail - all the salient features being well below that scale - but from the looks of things, they consisted almost entirely of extremely high-density data storage. Some of them were giving off heat-signatures, which meant there might be information processing taking place in them.

Her face was impassive as she answered, "Given the less-than-warm welcome we've received here, it is to be expected that some of our - my - people are less than thrilled to see you aboard. They recognize the logic of allowing you here, but are not hopeful."
"And you are?

"Of course."

"Do you know the nature of my mission?"

"We are not blind to the weaponry that has been deployed around our ships. Your purpose is to determine if we should be destroyed out of hand."

I nodded. "The prospect leaves you remarkably calm."

She smiled, her diplomatic reserve breaking to showcase genuine warmth. Or at least it appeared genuine. "Reason and goodwill shall triumph in the end, Arbiter. They always do." With this she turned, rotating her body and then accelerating smoothly into a corridor that abruptly appeared where a wall had been. The same force that had grabbed me outside the ship clasped me again, and propelled me along in her wake. "Oh, and Arbiter," she said over her shoulder, "You are entirely free to scan us. But we consider it polite to ask."

I really liked this. You

I really liked this. You have a meeting of cultures where it's not necessarily clear who might have the upper hand (after all, the Omegist ship might not be as convinced that the Nagari can blow them out of the sky as Zephys suggests they are).

There's a lot of exposition up front, and maybe that could be trimmed down a little (though what you have there is interesting and seems to set up the story well).

But I thought you did a very good job integrating the descriptions of Zephys' tech into the little dance of diplomacy that was her greeting of Sthon. There the exposition really served the immediate needs of the story.

Glad there's more to come.

Richard: Glad you're

Richard: Glad you're enjoying it so far. I hope the next two installments are to your liking. The rest of the story exists primarily in my head at the moment, so it might take a couple weeks for it all to come out. Hopefully the plot moves in an unexpected direction.

A tendency towards dropping in big chunks of exposition is probably one of my biggest weaknesses. Definitely something to work on.

Not bad; a story with

Not bad; a story with characters and conflict.

The language could be tightened more than a bit. Take the first like for example: "I made the crossing alone, at the crawling pace of a few klicks a second, with nothing but a centimetre of vacuum armor between me and the cold."

I can easily rewrite it to "I crossed alone, crawling a few klicks a second; nothing but a centimetre of vacuum armor between me and the cold." Note how I switched from passive to active voice by simply changing a single verb and cutting unneeded words.

Also some of the transitions are arupt. For example, the first mention of 'the child' comes right after the narrator penetrates the hull.

Thanks for the feedback.

Thanks for the feedback. That's really good advice on not using the passive tense so much ... too much time spent reading scientific papers I guess.