Episode 6 – Diplomatic Maneuvers, part 19

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Leaving the command center, Urle moved down a dark, cramped hall, using handholds to grip and pull himself along.  The Bright Flower had no artificial gravity, and not even a single spin-section to simulate it; being semi-aquatic, Sepht could live a lifetime in microgravity with no ill effects.

Pulling himself to a wall, he let a group of officers pass him, all of them pointing their head tentacles as they passed.  It was their form of salute, and he returned it in the human fashion – they would understand that.

Two of them were Vem em and one a Nolem.  So far he’d not seen any of the ghostly and blind Pelan, but they were rather uncommon in the Voidfleet.  And he’d seen almost no males, who made up only a fraction of the population of all three species –  only around five percent of Sepht were born male.

The ship would have been horribly cramped without being in microgravity, he thought.  It helped if someone could pass over your head, though the halls were so short that the Nolem often had to stoop through doorways.

This was a ship grounded in classical physics – every gram of weight mattered.  Every gram of mass they could exclude was one less bit they had to expend energy and reaction mass pushing.  Even the moisture in the air was not mostly water vapor, but a chemical compound that fit the biological needs of Sepht, yet shaved off around 2% of the potential mass.  When you were talking tons of water vapor, it added up.

He caught some curious stares, but they mostly looked under the hood he wore over his head, trying to catch a glimpse of his hair.

Sepht quite liked the look of human hair; many he saw had styled their tentacles in imitation of it, pulled back into ponytails or swept to one side – an odd habit, in his opinion, as their head tentacles were quite practical.  He’d have loved to have that, and had even considered getting some mechanical tendrils for his head in the past.

He considered pulling off the hood for the crew’s benefit, but right now it was serving to wick a lot of the humidity away from the port-interfaces in his skull.  It was easier than switching out every one with a water-proof model.  Even the basic kind were rated for underwater use, but it was something that made him paranoid; he knew a man who had a short next to his brain, and they were still trying to piece his personality back together.

Best to keep the hood on.

Entering the office where N’Keeea and Decinus had been working, he was glad to find that it was far less humid.  Despite that, Decinus wore a mask to reduce his breathed humidity.

The two were sitting at a large plastic desk, several tablets on it with information that his system was not allowed to view, their images blurred for all but approved personnel.

“Ah, Urle, I am pleased you could join us again,” Decinus said.  “Ambassador N’Keeea and I have developed a communications plan to get through the jamming around Poqut’k.  The Bright Flower detected heavy interference while they were on the borders of the system.”

“And I suspect the P’G’Maig will not stop such interference for our benefit,” N’Keeea said stiffly.

Urle’s systems were noting the Hev ambassador’s stress levels as through the roof, and he was clearly rattled by it.  Urle could sympathize, but hoped he could hold himself together through this.  They needed him to talk to his people.

“I’m more concerned about the Musk Field around the planet,” Urle told them.  “The amount of junk in orbit-“

“They were once habitat stations that held billions of my people,” N’Keeea said, his words now as sharp as his teeth.  “It is not junk.  It is a graveyard.”

“My deepest apologies,” Urle said earnestly.

“To use the word junk in this context is normal for our people, Ambassador,” Decinus said.  “Commander Urle meant no insult by it.”

N’Keeea seemed to dismiss it with a thrash of his tail.  “The debris may be a problem if it prevents our communications lasers from reaching a base.  We must be very cautious – I know of the locations of many hidden communications relays that will reach our high command, but I do not know which, if any, are still functional.”

“And if we get too close without them knowing we are friendlies, they may open fire,” Decinus continued.

“Surely they’ll recognize that we’re a Sepht ship and not a Hev,” Urle said.

N’Keeea snorted.  “They will think it a ruse.  It is not uncommon for the P’G’Maig to acquire ships from other species and press them into use.”

He got up and paced, agitated.  “But worse – by communicating with the secret relays, we may expose them to our enemies.  If only we could send a signal they could not miss, but that the P’G’Maig could not replicate or use against us.”

Urle sat down across from Decinus at the desk.  “I have a thought about that.  Do you know what Bower Radiation is?”

“I am afraid I do not,” Decinus replied.

“Light,” N’Keeea said.  “The scale of the P’G’Maig invasion made it an issue; so many of their ships would appear at once that it would light up the skies of our worlds.  We called it Deathglow.”

Urle was stunned into silence for a moment.  The strange nature of zerospace meant that emissions from it were often called pseudo-particles; every photon, every graviton that came from it rapidly decayed, sinking back into zerospace – in theory, at least.  In practice, all of it disappeared within about half an astronomical unit.

For a fleet to be so large it lit up the sky of a world implied so many ships appearing at once, and so close to the world, that it was terrifying.

“Ah, I . . . didn’t realize it was a sensitive issue,” Urle said.  “I hope I didn’t say anything offensive again.”

“You could not know,” N’Keeea said.  “What was your idea?”

“Well – the Bright Flower’s zerodrive is incredibly precise.  Moreso than almost any other ship in the dark, and so we could – I believe – make it so that when we surface we send a coded message in the flash.  Think of it like manually opening a panel on a light source to create a binary signal.  The only question is what the code will be.  If your people are watching – and I suspect they will be – then they’ll see it.  And since the pseudo-photons will decay before going that far, the P’G’Maig are unlikely to see it.”

Decinus looked skeptical; he was no neo-physicist and it likely sounded like technobabble to him.

But Urle knew the science was sound.  It was an idea he’d worked on in R&D at the Praxis Shipyards around Mars, years ago.  The application was limited, but they’d made it work.

N’Keeea seemed intrigued.  “Do you honestly believe you can do that?”

“Yes,” Urle said.  “I have experience with it.”

“I have a code you can use . . . how complex can the signal be?”

“We can encode in up to six or so kilobytes of information.  Will that be sufficient?”

N’Keeea’s eyes widened.  “Oh, yes,” he said, his tail lashing, but this time in excitement.  “That will be sufficient.”

< Ep 6 Part 18 | Ep 6 Part 20 >

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