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Candle In The Dark

Chapter Text

The Inner Sphere, 3022

Excerpt from “The Sixth Worldby Sun-Tzu Liao (Capella Union University Press, Sian, 3085):

“As long as there have been travelers, there have been traveler’s tales. Often fanciful, sometimes fabricated stories of what lies over the horizon have enthralled humanity for the entirety of recorded civilization. Our distant ancestors told tales of the mythical tribes and strange beasts living beyond the mountains, or across deserts and oceans. When the frontier moved up and away from Mother Terra the stories followed. Alien civilizations became the stock and trade of storytellers; every spacer had a story about the alien ruins on some desolate rock, the nonhumans he saw walking around a few jumps off the periphery’s edge. Very few people believed in these stories, of course. No matter how often the tellers swore their particular story was the truth the sensible and rational among the peoples of the Inner Sphere rolled their eyes and dismissed them as entertaining lies.

In the spring and summer of 3022 people stopped rolling their eyes and began, just a little, believing in the impossible.

Starting, appropriately enough, on April Fool’s Day 3022 verifiable sightings of unidentified spacecraft, backed up by sensor readings and telescopic images, increased fifty-fold. These sightings happened everywhere in the Inner Sphere and Periphery over major and minor worlds alike. Initial suspicion fell, as it inevitably did, on a secret project of the Successor Lords. Some secret project or chunk of lost Star League technology recovered and put to work in the endless game for the Cameron throne. But those who believed this were swiftly disabused; the mystery spacecraft were too small, too fast and appeared in places where ordinary jumpships and dropships couldn’t go by themselves. The next rumor, again as inevitable as the galaxy’s spin, held forth that this was a reconnoiter by the long-missing Star League Defense Force. Multiple planets threatened to revolt at the first hint of SLDF forces, which put the Successor States on edge, feeding more resentment at the sorry state of affairs in the Inner Sphere and maintaining the cycle of fear and anger.

No nation in known space managed to intercept one of these UFOs, they stayed well out of orbital weapons range and vanished before any interceptor could reach them. The invasion reached its crescendo on 7 August 3022 in the New Avalon system, when one of the UFOs did something completely unexpected…”

~***~

New Avalon System
7 August 3022

The ship exploded back into real space, blasting into the New Avalon system riding a wave of electromagnetic energy as it plunged sunward, unimaginable energies pushing it forward from a relative standing start to almost one-tenth the speed of light in seconds. Riding outward from the ship, the rush of energy displaced by its arrival from hyperspace washed up against the shores of planets, moons and asteroids. Sensors fired off automatic warnings; alarms and klaxons blared through command posts and bunkers, technicians and soldiers hurried through their drills, tracking telescopes and scanners to the calculated arrival point.

They saw nothing but the same four Merchantclass whales basking in the sunlight at the zenith point. The first stunned transmissions came in moments later: It was small and fast, riding a pillar of light and moving like a bat out of Hell. Insane speeds, impossible accelerations! Too small to be a warship, it was like an aerospace fighter. An ASF with a jump drive!

The generals dismissed the first report as hysteria. Then more reports came flooding in, all tinged with the same incredulous panic. The generals dismissed these reports too. Traffic controllers demanded results, or heads would roll. Telescopes searched and every sensor in the New Avalon system tracked to this one point, determined to solve the mystery.

Ten minutes after its arrival the tiny ship was eighteen million kilometers away from where it had arrived and charging inward, riding a glorious blue column of expanding gas. One lucky scopes operator saw the comet’s tail where no comet should be, moving faster than any comet ever could. That one became many as the whole might of New Avalon’s ATC focused on the interloper. Deep in the Fox’s Den men with years of training and experience puzzled over the data coming in. Was this even possible? Maybe it was a sensor glitch, or perhaps somebody’s idea of an exercise. Should we inform the First Prince? Not until we have more information, it might still be an error of some sort.

A single voice cut through the generals’ low murmuring: “Incoming transmission on wideband!” The Den’s communication officer cried out. “My God, it’s drowning out everything!” The generals looked up as the speakers crackled, hissing like an angry snake, popping and crashing over a clash of metallic noise that might have been music.

GOOD MORNING, NEW AVALON!”The radio cried in the high, clear voice of a young girl having the time of her life. “This is Radio KAOS, and we’re here to ROCK. YOUR. WORLD!

The entire Den went silent at this proclamation, unable to process what was happening. One general had just enough presence of mind to snap “Triangulate that signal!” at the shocked comms officer, and the poor man jumped like he’d been electrocuted.

Here’s a favorite of ours for all our friends on New Avalon,” the girl on the radio nattered happily. “This is The Offspring, with ‘Have You Ever.’” The slightest of pauses and the whole of New Avalon was filled with a noise far more stunning than any simple gloat or demand. The Marshal of the Armies burst out of his office just in time to hear:


Falling, I’m falling
Falling, I’m falling…

The whole world paused in confusion. It wasn’t a demand for surrender, nor a threat nor a declaration of war. It wasn’t anything sane or expected, it was simply music.


Have you ever walked through a room, but it was more like the room passed around you?
Like there was a leash around your neck that pulled you through?

It a driving beat and a catchy tune. It was ancient and fresh, unlike anything anyone had ever heard before. A radar operator found herself nodding along to the beat and quickly recovered before her supervisors noticed

Have you ever been at someplace recognizing everybody’s face, until you realized that there was no one there you knew?

First Prince Hanse Davion rocked back in his chair, the daily briefing overridden by the wailing of guitars and loud, angry voices. Without a single further word the Prince and his loyal retinue swept out of the room and down the passage towards the Den. Either somebody was playing a weird joke and heads would roll, or somebody was assaulting the heart of the Federated Suns and heads would also roll. The Prince was dead certain that heads would roll for this, one way or the other.


Well I know…
Some days my soul’s confined and out of mind.
Sleep forever.
(I know…)
Some days I’m so outshined and out of time.
Have you ever?


Falling, I’m falling…
Falling, I’m falling…

Frantic, the Den contacted the New Avalon Institute of Science on a hard line, trying to find a way to cut through the interference. The dean of the Engineering college insisted that a wideband transmission violated all the known laws of physics, then determined to figure it out anyway. In the Marshal’s mind every single neuron screamed attack. There couldn't be any other possible explanation. And yet… anyone capable of doing this could do far more – and far worse – than simply play strange music.


Have you ever buried your face in your hands ‘cause no one around you understands or has the slightest idea what it is that makes you be?
Have you ever felt like there was more like someone else was keeping score and what could make you whole was simply out of reach?
Well I know…

A listening post on an asteroid not far from zenith picked up the signal and regarded it with dubious eyes. It was heavily red-shifted, enough that whatever it came from was moving at a fair percentage of light speed.

“Got to be an equipment fault,” the post commander concluded. “Nothing can move like that.”

The radio operator nodded along. “Should I report it?” The commander shrugged as he turned away for his meal.

“Yeah, might as well,” he grunted. “Good for a laugh if nothing else.”


Someday I’ll try again and not pretend.
This time forever
(I know…)
Someday I’ll get it straight but not today.
Have you ever?


Falling, I’m falling…
Falling, I’m falling…

Similar posts from skeptical listening posts trickled into the Den as the song played on. “That’s the third one, Marshal,” the radioman reported. “All stations are reporting the target moving at, um.”

“Um?” The marshal said, brows crawling up his scalp. “What is ‘um’ in kilometers per second, Lieutenant?”

“Sorry sir,” the operator said hastily. “It’s just… this can’t be right. All stations are estimating the target is moving at one-tenth the speed of light.” Someone swore softly. There was no sense in calling it a drill or a malfunction. Whatever it was, it was indisputably there.

“Where is it?” the marshal demanded.

“Just under eight AU out. The computer will have a vector for us in a second.”


(Falling, I’m falling…)
Some days my soul’s confined and out of mind.
Sleep forever.
(Falling, I’m falling…)
Some days my darkest friend is me again.
Have you ever?
(Falling, I’m falling…)
Someday I’ll try again and not pretend.
This time forever
(Falling, I’m falling…)
Someday I’ll get it straight but not today.
Have you ever?

The First Prince pounded down the corridors like a madman. Appearances be damned if his world – his throneworld – was under attack, especially if the enemy was close enough to flood the airwaves like they were. He burst into the Den riding a draft of cold air. Everybody felt the rush of air and turned to see him enter. “Report!” The word exploded out of Hanse, snapping the assembled officers of their reverie. Around them, the music shifted down, slowing from a frenetic pace to a hard, angry beat.

“Approximately seventy minutes ago an unknown ship jumped in at the zenith point,” the marshal said briskly, trying to maintain military composure despite the insanity of the situation. “It began broadcasting almost immediately after arrival, and based on our analysis of the signal the ship is moving at one-tenth lightspeed.” He paused. “More to the point, if reports are correct it’s been moving at that speed since almost the moment after the jump.”

Hanse blinked. “That’s impossible,” he said.

“I’m only reporting what our sensors are telling us,” the marshal replied stolidly.

“Do we know what it is?”

“My Prince, we… no,” the marshal admitted. “The warbook is calling it ‘Unknown – Possibly Nonhuman.’ Obviously that’s wrong but-”

“Yes, of course,” Hanse said. “And where is it going?” As if he had to ask. The Prince and the Marshal of the Armies turned to face the radar control station, whose operator suddenly found himself in the hottest seat on the planet.

“Your Highness,” the operator gulped nervously. “It’s on a direct course for New Avalon.”


When the truth walks away, everybody stays.
Cause the truth about the world is that crime does pay.
So if you walk away, who is gonna stay?
Cause I’d like to think the world is a better place.
When the truth walks away, everybody stays.
Cause the truth about the world is that crime does pay.
So if you walk away, who is gonna stay?
Cause I’d like to make the world be a better place.

“Eleven and a half hours until it reaches orbit,” the marshal said quietly. “If its speed holds.”

Davion nodded. “Bring the AFFS to full alert,” he said. “I want options for dealing with this thing before it gets here.”

The marshal nodded. “Yes sir. However,” he ventured carefully, “I’m not entirely sure this is an attack.”

Hanse gave his highest-ranked general an odd look. “An unknown spacecraft is racing towards the planet, jamming planetary communications as it goes,” he said dryly, “and you don’tthink it’s an attack. Explain.”


When the truth walks away, everybody stays.
Cause the truth about the world is that crime does pay.
So if you walk away, who is gonna stay?
Cause I’d like to think the world is a better place.
I’d like to leave the world as a better place.
I’d like to think the world…

The song rolled down to its final notes, energy finally spent as the marshal considered his reply. “Well, they’re not being very subtle about being there, are they? Whoever they are, they want our attention. The broadcast is jamming some of our communications yes, but it’s just music. No demands, no declarations, just music. If they’re moving as fast as our sensors say they are then they’ve got transit drives far beyond the Star League, and they want us to know that too. Right now there’s nothing here that says attack – all they’ve done is be annoying.”

“I’ll take it under advisement,” Hanse replied skeptically. “I would rather be prudent in the meantime, Marshal.”

“As would I.”

Now for one of my personal favorites,” the girl’s voice came back as the song faded out. It was hard not to imagine some grinning teenager playing an elaborate prank on them all. “Next up is Iron Maiden with ‘Different Worlds.’ You’re listening to Mel’s Metal Hour on Radio KAOS!” A crash of guitars marked the beginning of the new song, and Hanse and his generals shared a long-suffering glance. Eleven hours of this? It was going to be a long day…


You lead me on the path.
Keep showing me the way.
I feel a little lost.
A little strange today…

~***~

Excerpt from “The Sixth Worldby Sun-Tzu Liao (Capella Union University Press, Sian, 3085):

“The raid over New Avalon was the last significant UFO sighting of 3022. As quickly as they began verified sightings vanished like mist. Unverified sightings would continue well after the truth of the matter was finally made clear to the galaxy at large. This moment of revelation was still years in the future however; at the end of 3022 the puzzled inhabitants of known space were left wondering what, exactly, the hell all that fuss had been about.

No one in those early years of the thirty-first century truly believed that our worlds had been scrutinized and studied by intelligences stranger than man’s yet mortal as his own. In a thousand years of space travel humanity had never met their equals nor their superiors, and so they busied themselves with the mundanities of daily life, with the endless squabbles of the nobility and the schemes of the bourgeoisie, secure in their innate superiority over all life in the galaxy. Yet across the gulfs of space, intellects vast and warm and sympathetic regarded the empires we built with compassionate eyes, and slowly and surely they drew their plans against us. And so would come the great disillusionment.”

Dr. Sun-Tzu Liao is Seldon Professor of Psychohistory at the Capella Union University. A member of the former ruling family, Dr. Liao served in the Union Armed Forces with distinction during the War of Two Terras. At night, he’s Batman.