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TheReturned t1_jdypfgs wrote

"Anteater Eight, dropping from FTL into system M12768-P4 in 3, 2, 1. Realspace achieved. All systems nominal, no Ascendant ships on the scope. Proceeding with flyby of planet 2. Reentering FTL in T minus fourty five." Jackson spoke cooly into the mic, his transmission being broadcast through quantum entanglement back to the twelfth fleet.

A similarly cool voice replied, "Confirmed, on mission, FTL in T minus fourty five."

The Realspace quad engine of his system hopper roared to life with fusion fed tail of flame and hellfire, the internal dampers kicking in a moment later. Long enough of a delay for Casey "Geode" Jackson to feel seven g's before settling back down to earth normal one g.

Fourty minutes later Jackson began preparations for entering FTL again, shoving his disappointment down for finding another life incompatible planet.

"Anti-matter containment nominal. Reaction chamber magnetics nominal. Antimatter pump nominal." Jackson talked through the checklist, a habit he developed in training after forgetting a step in a simulator and getting chewed out by his instructors for hours afterwords. Had it been real, he very well could have caused his ship to explode, something he was keen on never repeating again.

Jackson gripped the FTL grip and was about to slide it forward when his computer beeped, "anomoly found." the emotionless voice intoned. Jackson hesitated, the last anomoly turned out to be an unusually metal rich asteroid. Useful, but not what they were looking for. A nagging feeling lodged itself in his head, though, and he took his hand off the grip.

"Ant Nest One, this is Anteater Eight. My computer has found an anomoly, canceling FTL to investigate." Jackson glanced at the scope before responding, "ETA to anomoly thirty four minutes. Will do a fly by then enter FTL to the next system T plus five."

"Anteater Eight, acknowledged. New FTL T minus thirty nine. Better not be another asteroid this time." Jackson let himself smile. Despite the desperate war for survival against the Ascendant, a little human brevity was still welcome.

Thirty minutes later

"Ant Nest One, canceling FTL in T minus nine. You're not going to believe this." Even though the anomoly was still thousands of kicks away, his sensor suite was able to get a clear picture. He sent the telemetry back to the Talon, his mother ship.

"Ant Eater Eight, you're right, we don't believe this. Is that what we think it is?"

"Unless my computer somehow lost its mind, we're staring at an artificial structure. A ship by the looks of it. Going to increase my flyby distance to five thousand klicks, but circle it a few times."

"Acknowledged, orders from on high, do not approach any closer. Ant Nest and the rest of the fleet will be en route in t minus fifty. ETA t minus one sixty."

"Acknowledged Ant Nest. Proceeding as ordered."

At seven thousand klicks his computers threat alarm went crazy, energy from the alien ship was being directed at his scout. Before he could react every screen in his cockpit flickered before displaying strange symbols. Without his input the scout ship turned and increased speed for the ship.

Training kicked in, "Shit. Uh.. OK, throttle back engine." nothing changed. "next, flip the main breaker to off, followed by the power distribution main switch." the ship and all it's systems remained on.

"Feking fly by wire bullshit." he exclaimed. "ugh don't make me pull the fuses. I feking told fleet after the last war with the Conglomerate that we needed physical power switches for when those bastards hacked out ship computers. The fly by wire was too easy to override." Jackson experimented with several other switches and systems, all having no effect. Letting our a small roar of frustration he pushed himself against the canopy in the fighter like cockpit to give him access to the fuse box behind the pilots chair.

It took some contorting and straining, but a minute later Jackson plopped back into his seat with a triumphant grin aimed at the handful of fuses now in his gloved hand. The ship did power down and the fusion chamber went into safe mode. Seconds later a purple beam struck the fighter, bathing the small cockpit in an eerie light. The ships systems all flickered back to life, momentarily followed by the fusion engines roaring back to life.

"What the fek?!" Jackson exclaimed. He was at a loss of what to do. He considered then rejected ejecting and resigned himself to whatever fate awaited him on the strange ship.


Smedskjaer OP t1_jdzfku5 wrote

I hope it continues


TheReturned t1_je5rf72 wrote

Thanks! I wrote more, a few more posts to get the story to a good stopping point. I hope you enjoy it :-)

May not be the big bombastic story I originally intended, but I've been enjoying diving into the smaller scope and character driven story writing and I think this has turned out exactly as I needed it to.


TheReturned t1_je0od73 wrote

The hull loomed large in his cockpit windows, ashen gray instead of the stark white the initial images led him to expect. Unsure if it was a characteristic of the ship or his imagination playing tricks on him Jackson couldn't find a single seam or rivet holding the hull together. It was perfectly smooth as far as he could tell.

He had a moment of panic when he realized that whatever was controlling his ship was going to crash it into the hull. When an iris silently bloomed open, Jackson let out a breath he didn't realize he was holding.

"I don' think there is a course in the academy on what to do when you're being abducted by a strange alien vessel." Jackson spoke out loud to himself, attempting to find something to ground him in this bizarre experience.

Moments later the scout slipped inside the portal to reveal a small bay bathed in cool blue light. Strange equipment, well he guessed they were equipment by their placement near an obvious landing pad, littered the deck. Many shared the same gray as the hull, just as eerily smooth and devoid of markings as well. With a small thud the scout ship landed in the bay. Just like a regular landing Jackson could feel the ship sink into it's landing struts, feeling foolish for expecting something alien to happen instead.

"What the fek. This whole situation has me on edge and my mind is running wild. Grounded, I need to get grounded." Taking a deep breath Jackson did something that helped him get through the academy and several tough campaigns against foreign nations. He sang. He sang a song with a haunting melody his mom sang to him when he was little. Whenever Jackson had a sensory overload episode his mom would sing this song to focus his mind and tune out everything else. It grounded him in ways nothing else could.

In a way, the song was fitting as it was about an old wet navy sailor in times of wind sails setting off for distant horizons. Not for fame, nor fortune. No, the sailor in the song was pulled by a force he couldn't explain, a yearning of his soul and his heart. Jackson attributed his service as a pilot to this song, but unlike the sailor at the end of the song, Jackson had yet to fill his yearning. Losing system after system to the Ascendant Jackson secretly had lost hope that he would ever fulfill his yearning.

Jackson finished the song, the final note fading into the cockpit. He may not have found his yearning like the sailor, but in a way Jackson did find the shore once again. Grounded, spirit bolstered, he reached for the cockpit release. Before he touched the controls the canopy opened on its own, gracefully swinging out of the way.

"You have a beautiful voice." Jacksons heart leapt into his throat.

"Wh-who's there?" frantically Jackson searched around the bay for the source of the voice, finding none.

"It was a beautiful song, too. Could you sing it for me again, sometime?" Thousands of hours in a flight helmet had given Jackson plenty of practice in hearing past the echo chamber it created, able to pinpoint sounds with resounding accuracy. But this voice didn't have a single source, it came from everywhere around him.

"Uh, maybe? It really depends on who you are, what is this ship, and what is going to happen to me?" Jackson's inner child did a small fist pump, score one for rational thought!

"Come, Casey Jackson, call sign Geode. Exit your craft. You have my assurances you are safe and will not come to any harm. Before you ask - if I wanted you dead I would not have brought you here." The voice paused, expecting a response.

Jackson obliged, "Uh, good point. Is the air safe? Can I take my helmet off? There are no pathogens that will, like turn me into a zombie, is there? I couldn't run an environmental check since you sorta took over my ship."

"For now, keep your suit sealed. The atmosphere here is not compatible with your biology."

"Oh, uh, thanks." Internally Jackson thought to himself that with all this fantastic technology he was sure the atmosphere was going to be safe. Glad he asked, he felt a little off not having to perform the post landing checklist to shutdown and secure the scout. Peering over the edge of the cockpit, there was no ladder to safely reach the deck.

"Umm, ship? I don't know what to address you as, but I need something to help me out, normally there is a deck crew that brings a ladder and, uh, I don't see one."

"That is because you do not need one,. Step into the air and a force will appear to support you."

Jackson couldn't help but let his fear spike. After a few moments he mastered it and swung a leg out like there was a ladder. To his surprise his foot met with what felt like a solid surface. Risking a glance Jackson nearly lost his balance, there was nothing there. Swallowing hard, Jackson rapidly swung the other foot out to find it even with the other. He turned and doing his best to hold down his anxiety, he walked forward. Much to his surprise, instead of a ladder or steps, the force presented a gently sloping ramp that deposited him on the deck.

"There is an automaton waiting for you four meters ahead. See it? Follow it." The automaton stood out against the uniform greyness of the bay, a small hexagonal sphere with a second, smaller sphere floating above it. The smaller sphere had a single point of light that roamed around the surface, giving Jackson the impression of an eye.

"In for a penny, in for a pound. Lead the way, little bot." Jackson used a voice common to people speaking gently to animals; kind, caring and in many ways parental. He didn't understand why he felt the need to talk to it like that, but it felt natural, right.

The eye of the bot stopped it's incessant roaming to focus on Jackson momentarily before spinning to the opposite side an rolling towards another blank bulkhead. Similar to the entrance to the landing bay, an iris bloomed open revealing a corridor in similar appearance to the bay. The bot rolled forward, paused to look back at Jackson, then rolled kept going. Jackson followed, once again letting fate take it's course.


TheReturned t1_je26ziu wrote

Silently Jackson was cursing himself for not maintaining better situational awareness while his ship was being driven to the one in which he now walked, following a bot on a journey he had no frame of reference for. By his estimates, the alien ship was in the capital class, tonnage in the hundreds of thousands with a keel stretching well past a kilometer.

"Uh, ship? Bot? How long has it been since we landed?"

"Twelve minutes. Your fleet is expected in sixteen minutes." The disembodied voice answered.

"Uh, thanks. Normally I'd be able to tell this for myself, but the war with the Ascendant has limited the navy's supply of fighter helmets. If you're not flying a fighter, you get an analog helmet, like mine." He rapped gloved knuckle against the helmet, a hollow sound echoing in his ears. A welcome sound, a sound of normalcy.

"Your ship is devoid of much information about your species and the war with the Ascendant. What do you know of the war?" The voice seemed genuinely curious.

"They're the first alien, sorry, the umm, correct term I think is xenospecies? That humanity has experienced since we started colonizing new worlds. Until the Ascendant arrived, we only found flora and non-sapient creatures on planets. Never any evidence of sapient civilizations, anywhere. No fossils, no ruins."

"You thought you were alone." It wasn't a question.

"We did. People smarter than me debated whether or not we were truly unique in the cosmos, or we just haven't searched far enough. The galaxy is a big place, after all." The bot turned for a bulkhead that bloomed open upon the bots approach. Jackson felt he'd never get used to that. Beyond the new portal was another stale corridor, more walking, more following the little bot.

"I sort of wish I could have been in the room when the universes biggest 'I told you so!' was dropped." He chuckled at the thought. "The story goes that the Ascendant appeared in one of our systems with the most potential - multiple habitable planets and moons, or near habitable with some minor terraforming required."

"Was this system near the edge of human territories?"

"Not quite, the frontier had moved beyond it, but only by a handful of lightyears. Thing is, the Ascendant ship was small, only a fourty meter keel. A scout. And that's all it took to completely destroy sixth fleet that was stationed there. The colonies stopped responding soon after."

" Did you ever visit a system that went silent after the Ascendant arrived?"

"No, or at least I'm not told we have succeeded in that mission. I think the plug was pulled after the fifteenth or sixteenth scout failed to report back." Being a scout himself, Jackson felt a shiver run down his spine.

"I sense your doubts."

"There's whisperings amongst my fellow scouts that one managed to make it back with pictures and video."

"What they found were horrifying, even by the worst of your human standards." Despite being empathetic, there was a vehemence underlining the statement that caught Jackson off guard.

"Humans are capable of serious atrocities. According to the rumor mill, the Ascendant make the worst we've committed look like child's play." Images swam in Jacksons vision, sourced from merely words and put into horrific pictures.

"They're infected with a nano-phage, turning them into abominations of flesh and metal. Towers loom over the lands made from the bones of those that didn't survive the initial infection. They were the lucky ones. The survivors, fully conscious and aware but totally helpless to do anything, locked out of their own bodies that are forced to ravage the planets resources to feed the Ascendants ever hungry war machine."

"I-uh-yes. The whisperings only spoke of implants and towers made from bone, not the rest." Jackson was too shocked to say anything more.

"We have long fought what you are calling the Ascendant, but ultimately failed to achieve the numbers necessary to meet them head on. They are a shadow, snuffing out the spark of life wherever their shadow touches."

"We? Who's we? How could you not take on the Ascendant? This ship is far more advanced than the tech we've managed to salvage from them. We're behind, sure, but catching up quickly. This ship... You have technology beyond even that of the Ascendant."

A blank bulkhead like all others stood before them, the bot stopped a meter before it. Jackson caught different colors of light bouncing off the wall, the bot sending some sort of signal. Unlike every other iris they passed through since his arrival, this one did not bloom open brilliantly or silently. A hum filled the air, vibrating Jacksons teeth. Haltingly the petals of the iris ground open, not having been used in a very long time.

What laid beyond caught Jackson's breath, a lush garden spread before him. Alien trees proudly stood over grass and moss, a misty haze floating lazily among the scene. Vine like plants hung in great swooping arcs from the branches of the trees. Jackson's eyes nearly popped out of his skull when he saw insects flitting about. A stark contrast to the sterile appearance of the rest of the ship.

Silently the bot glided forward, undaunted by the sudden change of scenery. Jackson followed, trying to take in everything all at once, craning his head every which way. How he wished he could take his helmet off and smell the air, the trees. He yearned to rip his helmet off, to eliminate this artificial barrier between him an nature. The power of the primal need surprised him, his hands slowly rose to grasp either side of his helmet.

"I advise against that, Casey Jackson. Your biology is incompatible with the environment here. You would die, and unfortunately it would be a slow and painful death." Jackson was surprised, he could pinpoint the voice, it was no longer emanating from the bulkheads themselves.

From the mist a figure materialized. Tall, taller than most humans, but proportionately built. Jackson had no misconceptions about who would win in a physical fight, the alien that stood before him no doubt could easily snap his neck with a flick of their wrist.

"Welcome to the Ididerial, the last ship of the Jinisha people. My people, of which I am the last of."


TheReturned t1_je5qy4y wrote

Jackson stood motionless, his mind short circuiting at the sight of an alien standing before him, and one that wasn't trying to kill him, either. "uhhhhh" was all that he could manage.

The Jinisha chuckled lightly, an oddly human trait that further broke Jackson's brain. "I see you are a bit overwhelmed. It is understandable. I will keep speaking until you regain your faculties, is that OK?"

Jackson nodded, his helmet jerking forward and backward from the motion. Something deep within his brain kicked him, nodding may not be understood by this alien." Y-yes." It took tremendous effort to get that single word out, but there it was.

"My name is Oolyai." The alien pronounced his name slowly as ooh-lie-eh for Jackson benefit. "We have been at war with the Ascendant for many years, and obviously we have lost. As will your people, too, eventually. The Ascendant are relentless, a phage that is overtaking the galaxy." Oolyai gently motioned for Jackson to follow him as he turned to walk deeper into the lush greenery around them. Jackson followed, what choice did he have?

"For some years we maintained a stalemate with them, keeping them contained within a specific region. So long as they were left to ravage the region, they didn't push the boundaries we had established. Eventually they ran out of systems to feed their need for conquest. That's when our containment failed." The pair had reached creek, actual flowing water. Near them, a half meter tall waterfall added it's babbling to the sounds of a living space, something Jackson just now noticed.

There were creature calls, insects buzzing, and all the trappings of a living, breathing space. The primal yearning was still there, wanting to rip his suit off and embrace a living, natural space. But he did not give in to that primal urge, partially because his brain was rebooting from it's stunned state.

Oolyai gracefully sat upon a plant that Jackson expected to not support the large aliens body. Oolyai folded his hands in his lap and stared at the creek beside him, mesmerized by it.

"Compared to human technology, even ascendant technology, the Jinisha is a wonder of engineering and technology. I wish I could say that this ship is the counter to the Ascendant, but it is not. It is nothing more than a fancy luxury yacht." Jackson had almost gotten over his shock, but now that Oolyai showed hostile emotion a different circtuit tripped.

Jackson shook his head to clear it, a different emotion welled up burning away the confusion, shock and awe and replacing it with frustrated duty.

"So if this ship isn't some superweapon to help us in the war against the ascendant, why bring me here? Why reveal yourself to us? What is your motivation, purpose?"

Oolyai slumped, suddenly looking older than a moment before. Slowly he reached into the creek, his hand emerging with a small device cradled in his grasp.

"There are a thousand answers to those simple questions, Casey Jackson. I'm lonely. I'm dying. But most of all..." Oolyai gently stroked the device with his other hand lovingly, like a parent. "because my work is complete." he finished in a whisper.

Moments crawled by, then suddenly Oolyai snapped his focus back to Jackson. "This is the Pherelli seed, my life's work and a two fold answer to the Ascendant."

Jackson fought off the urge to take a step backwards, they way Oolyai spoke make it sound like the seed was dangerous, triggering his fight or flight response. "What does it do?" he surprised himself in how firm his voice was, belying his fear.

"Tell me, Casey Jackson, how much do you value your humanity?" Oolyai's question almost sounded pleading. A heartbeat passed and Oolyai continued before Jackson could respond, "Would you be willing to give it up, to become something else, possibly a monster, to save your species?" Oolyai grew visibly weaker, slowly he extended the seed to Jackson, small tremors causing the hand to visibly shake.

"Take the seed, human. Let it transform you." Oolyai's voice became weaker. "It will make you immune to the Ascendants phage, but also allow you to deliver the cure to them. The phage... Is the Ascendant." Oolyai took one last breath and then he was gone, his outstretched arm falling slowly to his side, seed still in it's grasp as his body slumped forward.

Jackson didn't move. A war raged within him, take the seed or leave it? Deliver the seed back to the navy or take it and use it on himself? How would he use it? How does it work? More questions than answers.

He was startled out of his reverie when the little bot appeared next to him. From no discernable source the bot was relaying transmissions from the fleet, they had arrived and were looking for him.

Throughout history, people did things they thought that they would never do. And for the rest of their lives they could never fully explain what drove them to do those things. Angels? Demons? The spirit of a loved one? God's? Biology? Instinct? Any and all answers could be correct, but never verified.

How would history look back upon this moment? Would it be re-written to make Jackson more heroic than following some unseen power driving him forward? No, there had to be a humanity in the future to look back on this moment, to have a history past this point. And that was all Jackson needed to decide - for better and for worse, he decided that humanity needed to survive. To have a history to look back to this moment.

Gingerly he plucked the seed from Oolyai's grasp. "Alright, I've made my decision Oolyai. How do I use the seed?"

"Grasp the seed in your hand. With your free hand press the top of the seed and an interface will appear." Oolyai's voice emanated from the small bot behind Jackson.

"OK, done. What do I enter?" The recording of Oolyai walked Jackson through entering the code despite the unfamiliar symbols. The last one was blue, the Jinisha's preference for a ready status. Taking a deep breath, Jackson pressed the last symbol.

The seed shot needles through his glove and stabbed into his flesh. Jackson would have yelped in surprise, but whatever the seed pumped into his body sent fire through his veins.

Time passed. Consciousness came and went, pain flared and went away. When he finally awoke, Jackson was different. He felt it, he knew it. And he had a new purpose. He rose, a feeling of strength and power coursed throughout his new body. The bot was nearby, waiting patiently for instructions.

"Come little bot, we have work to do." He said as he stalked out of the living chamber. Today was the beginning of the end of the Ascendant.

I really need to get better at being more succinct in my story telling, but as I dive into prompts like this I can't help but world build and delve deep into the story like this.

If you read this whole thing, thanks! See you on the next prompt!


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