Whispers of the Starkin: The Curator and the Coilgun

(The following material is intended only for SolFed military personnel with Class 9-10 Clearance, or those presently working on Project Precursor. If for whatever reason you have viewed this material, whether accidentally or otherwise, without said clearance, submit yourself immediately to your nearest Data Oversight Center for immediate memory scrubbing. Failure to do so will be counted as high treason, punished by on-site summary execution, when discovered.)

[Additions Begin]
Admiral Williks,
The following appears to be a short-story from a dead blog, dated March 29th 2018; Specialist Omar dug it out of the Federal Internet Archive Project just this morning. The last post on the blog is around 2031 AD; I will provide it after finishing my analysis.

Omar swears that at the time he viewed this story, it made reference to information directly relevant to Project Precursor. Not only has that data been corrupted (I’ve marked the approximate lengths of corrupted segments where they appear), but Omar cannot remember what it was. We’ve determined that Marcus Krysczynski is a real officer on Kesper III at this point in time; you are… familiar, with Lorraine of course. I’m sorry to open old wounds, but I knew you would want to read this. We have not found any alien species matching the narrative’s “nine-legged thing,” but all other references match existing or planned ships, known locations, and miscellaneous data.

The blog’s author, one Cullen McCurdy, does not appear in any extant records. We have found data regarding a Thomas and Lynn McCurdy who lived near some of the locations his writings make reference to, but they appear to have had only a daughter, Shannon. Specialist Illowen believes this is a ripple, but I suspect otherwise. I will
—DATA CORRUPTED—
-updates as necessary.
[Additions End]

“The Curator and the Coilgun” is a science-fiction short-story I bolted together for the college-level Advanced Fiction Workshop I attended at GVSU in 2015. While it’s fairly preachy by my current standards, and rather heavy on exposition, I still like its tone, worldbuilding and characters pretty well. With some edits both to match the current canon of my universe and to obscure certain spoilery mysteries, I now unleash it upon my blog for all of you to enjoy.

 

The Curator and the Coilgun
I hope you’ll forgive all the background I’m about to dump on you; I’m a historian, and I firmly believe you have to know something’s history before you can understand it. My name is Marcus Krysczynski; I’m not Polish descended, though, my grandfather just liked saying the name so much he had it legally changed. I don’t mind telling you that; that’s history too, after all.
My present is this: every day at 5:45 AM SST, I walk out of my cramped, tidy little bedroom along on the side of Luminar station facing the planet, Transcendence. I agree those names are obscene, but I can’t promise any I stuck on them would be better. I bolt down two cups of coffee and take a third for the road, stop at the station’s mall for a donut or two, and I go to the #5 hangar. I climb into my own shuttle, this outdated Solworks III that’s really just an eraser-shaped hunk of metal with one big engine, make sure it’s sealed, and I take it in a low arc out of the station and through space to the looming bulk of the Antaresian War Memorial Museum. Sometimes when we’re at the right place in our orbit, the red star itself will be right behind the museum, like the footage from fifty years ago, and I can imagine the fleets sweeping towards each other.
The Outcolonies lost that war, and thank gods for that. If we’d won, we’d have [Sentence Corrupted]

You wouldn’t know it’s the museum to look at it. It took a year of negotations and an ungodly amount of money, but we convinced the Admiralty back on Earth to hand over SSB-1 to house everything. The alphanumeric there is simply ‘Stellar Super Battleship: first of class.’ And no, you’re not supposed to take stellar and super seriously when they’re right next to each other like that. The military just thinks you are.
The old lady’s name is Pangaea. It’s stamped in white block text pockmarked with shell dents near the bow, a name to symbolize the unity of humanity; meanwhile we dice the Milky Way up into tinier and tinier pieces along the same national and cultural lines we always have. If it causes another war, so what?
Add it to the list.
Still, in my eyes it’s a beautiful warship. My friends do this sort of twitch and blank stare when I say that, the kind of thing people always do when they think you just said something impossibly dumb. But she is- Pangaea, beautiful. That sounds hard to believe, I know: she’s all grey metal, after all. But if you look at every impact mark scarring her five miles of alloy, from laser burns to impact craters to scratches and dents with not a single hole in the armor, if you look at the perfectly laid-out batteries of turrets mounted on each succeeding level of her long oval frame, if you walk through the decks inside and see the clean, orderly consoles of her command room beneath forty meters of top-grade armor, then maybe you’ll start to understand. Pangaea is beautiful not for her aesthetics, but for the skill and forethought that went into her. Every lesson learned from past wars made her invincible in her time.

And now hordes of lazy civilians like myself drag their bored kids through her belly to stare at a bunch of dusty relics. But hey, that dust proves their authenticity!

***

I was standing underneath the only functioning gauss cannon on the ship, the middle cannon of the #1 turret on the ship’s underside. Eighty-plus tourists, ranging from wide-eyed and hypnotized to snoring bored and from human to some nine-legged thing that need a respirator and a full-body plastic jacket to walk around; this was my group for the afternoon.
There were five more groups the same size winding their way up towards us, passing the shell lift in the center of the turret’s floor; every so often some kid would start slapping at a powerless control panel and his keeper would pry him off. I was running a hand over the lowermost of the gun’s magnetic coils, still a little warm and carrying static after half a century, and pointing at the cylindrical cooling jacket we’d cut open to show the gun’s guts. It never hurts your academic credibility with your listeners to seem like you want to marry the hardware, and the distance they give you is a nice bonus.

I explained how the Navy came to prefer these guns to missile weapons because a solid-body kinetic weapon is harder to shoot down than a warhead that explodes when hit. The interruption came as I turned to gaze with mostly genuine awe along the two-hundred foot barrel (I pushed hard to have a camera installed where the barrel met the turret glacis’ interior, to imitate unbroken view into space). If I got to talking about the car-sized HDKP (high-density kinetic penetrator) fired by the cannon and its ten-ton weight, I’m sure some smartass would’ve made a dick joke and we could’ve avoided what came next. Then I could’ve made them all nod and shake their heads and solemnly pretend to understand it all when I said the shell traveled at relativistic speeds and, at maximum power, yielded a fireball one hundred seventeen miles in diameter when it punched into a planet’s surface. They’d hem and haw and act like they got it when I explained that unlike a nuke, it would punch straight through to the core, maybe even crack the planet’s crust, and eruptions might finish what the shell started.
Maybe that’s why she spoke up when she did; to save me wasting my breath.

“This exhibit is a fucking travesty, and you’re a shit excuse for a human being if you’re teaching it.” But more likely she just wanted to piss me off. I snapped around, quick as I could; given I half-tripped on the cables criss-crossing the gun deck, that was slow and awkwardly. The crowd mimicked my confusion when I scanned them, even though I knew some of them had to have seen the woman. There’s a vein that pops out on my forehead the instant I feel pressured; it wriggled out now like a worm from mud soaked with acid rain. I’m overweight from a deluge of donuts and minimal exercise and my blond hair is thinning at forty-two, so my authority was shaky even before that. And I’m sure that’s why the redhead–taller than me, bony-faced and thin-lipped and decked out in a perfectly-tailored burgundy silk vest– felt bold enough to step out of the crowd and get within a foot and a half of me. Her eyes were baby-blue, and I found that funny enough that I stopped feeling threatened; that opened the way for me to turn purely sarcastic.
“I’m sorry, could you explain your reasoning?” I said. “Because I’m not sure if the exhibit is a travesty because it’s inaccurate, or because I’m teaching it, or purely because you’re uncomfortable with thinking about anything further back than your last wine-and-dine.” The worst part of that? It was one of my better insults. Her brows pulled lower down and closer together than they already had been, which made those too-soft eyes look even more out of place, which made me grin wider, which escalated things further. A feedback loop of stubbornness and chickenshit, if you will.
“You’re pretty proud of your work, then?” she said.
“Yes, in point of fact I am. I understand. To you that’s-” I saw her wind-up when I started to say ‘a foreign idea’, and I made the mistake of thinking rather than acting; something about employee courtesy and museum regulations, which was already way too late. The punch dislocated my jaw and I swore the fat on me was still rippling ten seconds later.
“Outcolony Special Forces, asshole,” she said. Things having escalated this far, we were doomed to exchange one-liners. With that in mind, I popped my jaw back in place and hit her back just as hard in the solar plexus. I said I don’t get much exercise; doesn’t mean I can’t hit hard, just that I can only do it once.
While she staggered and wheezed, making me feel less pathetic by association, I said, “Colonial Police, Kesper III.” The ‘bitch’ was implied.
“Kesper III’s a total shithole,” she said; we stood there massaging our bruises-to-be and flexing our lips and brows every few seconds to see if we could look angrier than we already did.
“That’s my point,” I said back. You probably haven’t been to Kesper III, have you? If you know history, just think the Fall of Berlin if the Russians were a bunch of crime syndicates.

“Excuse me, why are you fighting?” One of the non-human tourists asked, ignorant of the time-honored homo sapiens tradition of talking with our fists. I’d forgotten they were there; that simple confusion took my focus off my enemy for a second, and when I looked back I saw her for what she was: a very tall woman out of breath after a three-second fight against an overweight, pasty man in a tweed jacket. I realized that no one could possibly take us seriously. Now I did laugh, and I kept laughing long past the point where the stretching in my jaw blotted out the swollen wrongness of the bruise on it. In short, this is how I met Lorraine Williks.

***

One of the standard tour guides took over from me; she couldn’t help but hiss that us ‘artsy types’ should stay away from real people. I considered saying that true art was about real people, then went with the objective statement that us artsy types made three times her annual pay. With a few minutes to collect ourselves and the usual fusillade of apologies and reassuring hand-pats to the air, Lorraine and I were introduced.
We threw out excuses about being overworked and stressed with this or that project and so on; it didn’t matter if they were true or not, they were just wind to waft away the heat from our blood. Since her military service, she’d opened up a very successful -burgundy suit, remember? – antiques shop on Earth, which in theory ought to have made us fellow enthusiasts. But you’ll never hear people shred anyone into as many strips as they do people who are close in the wrong ways. That’s why everyone in Medieval Europe hated the French, including the French. We set up in the museum’s coffee shop, which directly overlooked the single active fusion reactor. The Mark II Novacores generate a rippling kind of energy bleed that streams out every color in the visible spectrum, like the Aurora Borealis coming from a chrome-plated tube; it’s great ambience. The museum coffee’s better than average this far from Earth; those six-hundred nineteen light years between us leave a lot of room for export tariffs. All in all, a good place to pretend we were sorting through things.

“At the risk of being punched again–nice hit, by the way–” I began, poking a jelly donut to make sure it wasn’t dry, “What’s your, um,” I snapped my fingers several times, uselessly. “Your interest, I guess, in the AWMM?”
“You know, I think we all just snap our fingers because we see everyone else do it,” Lorraine said, “Not ’cause it helps.” I stared at her dully. “Alright, fine, Christ, you got me. Trying to change the subject doesn’t work with you.” I kept staring. She sighed and finally got around to the answer. “My father served in the 98th Marine Drop Division. He was one of the ones that defected. I don’t have the option of pretending there’s never been a war.”

“I assumed that. You did say Outcolony Special Forces.” I cocked my head. “What branch?”

“Counter-Reconnaissance,” she said. As funny as it would be if that meant painting ducks on the enemy’s scanning gear, it really just means they find enemy scouts and shoot them repeatedly. Sorry if I crushed your hopes there.
“Give it another century, and I bet someone’ll institute a Counter-Counter something,” I said.
“Mhm. You know, my dad could’ve just moved to the Outcolonies sometime after the war. I don’t think anyone took it all that seriously, after,” Lorraine said; I took the last part to be a joke, then I replayed the dull tone over in my head. She was trying to move the conversation backwards and create some more uncertainty about herself, but I smelled history. And you can tell how I get about history.
“Is that your issue? No one takes it seriously?” I asked.
“I, uh, plead the fifth.” It was pathetic; I chuckled out of mercy.
“So you know what the U.S. Constitution was! Fun, fun.” We continued like that for a while. Anytime I wanted to dig into the reasons for our little brawl earlier, Lorraine would throw out some kind of historical humor. It was like a proxy war between my past job and my current career. Eventually I got bored with that, so then I got pushy.

“Look, you punched me in the face out of the blue earlier. Alright, fine,” I amended, holding up a hand before Lorraine’s eyebrows could try to fuse again, “Not really out of the blue. I was an ass. But you did start it.” I leaned forward and put both my hands on the table between us. Lorraine raised an eyebrow, tacitly saying You don’t think they taught us how to resist interrogation? I sighed and leaned back again spreading my hands out wide. If you can’t be scary, be theatrical, was the reasoning. “I want to know why. And I don’t think it was really my exhibit.”
“Marcus, we’re not discussing that.”
“Yes, we are,” I told her. “Do you know how much violence-” Then a thought struck me. I stood up. “Come with me,” I said.
“I’m not finished with my coffee.”
“Neither am I. Doesn’t matter. Let’s walk. There’s something I want to show you.” I don’t work out much, it’s true, but walking around a five-mile ship is good cardio and I was able to set a good clip; not fast enough to wind Lorraine, but fast enough she didn’t get bored. And one other thing about a five mile ship is you can fit a nightmarish amount of odds-and-ends aboard it. After hopping into a cart and driving to an elevator, I pulled the vehicle to a halt outside one of the storage rooms lining the outside of the ship’s hull. They’re windowless, massive and they have very heavy doors; they make perfect set-ups for an exhibit.

“Come on,” I motioned Lorraine. We walked through the final door and into my crowning glory. The lights sprang on, revealing a long chain of rooms linked together, with everything from holograms to video footage dating back as far as we could find it. And display cases, of course, thousands of them. It was due to open in a week.
“No gunfire sounds?” Lorraine quipped.
“That would be stupid, wouldn’t it?” I said, staring at the banner. “This might be dumb enough already. But we all worked hard on it regardless.” White letters on a black background read, The Only Truth: Two Hundred and One Millennia of Warfare and Communication Breakdowns.
“That’s a little horrifying,” Lorraine said.
“A little? That’s the entire history of the species, and we seem to be getting worse.” I walked her through some of the highlights- mass graves from the Middle Paleolithic, the wars that destroyed ancient Sumer, and the ever-increasing scale of it all.
“When the Persians gathered a million men to assault Greece, it was incomprehensible,” I said, passing a hoplite mannequin brandishing his Dory spear at a Persian Immortal. “When Hitler gathered three million to assault the Soviet Union, it was passé,” and I pointed to three figures in the Wehrmacht’s trademark Stahlhelms. “When the Sol Federation imploded, even the weakest faction had almost half a billion active-duty service members.” I came to a halt before one of the most expensive parts of the exhibit, with a uniformed mannequin and set of at least five service weapons for each of the sixty-two separatist states. I’d had a monolithic ticker installed in the dead center of it all; it was still working its way up every few seconds. In glowing blue text it read: Confirmed KIA as of November 18th, 3122, 4:09 P.M. Earth Standard Time. The number itself was in the same white text; the last digit ticked up as I reached it. 11,209,400,366.

” ‘The death of one man is a tragedy,” Lorrain said. ” ‘The death of millions-‘
” ‘-is a statistic.’ Josef Stalin,” I finished for her. “I know. I had it embossed in chrome right underneath the ticker, see?” I pointed. “Then I thought to include that.” A final line of blue text read, The confirmed deaths in the Orion Civil War are greater than the entirety of Earth’s population, and equal to the combined population of humanity’s five wealthiest colonies. This does not include those still Missing in Action, who number more than twice as many, or those Wounded In Action, who are four times more numerous than both prior groups combined. The profits Earth made on the tariffs that caused the war were eaten up in the first two months of fighting.

“Still just statistics, Marcus,” Lorraine said. “The deep thinkers will be miserable, but they’re not the ones who need to be.”

I nodded. “I think you’re probably right. But I hope this time I can reach the others. By the way, it’s good to hear you say something contradictory, I was afraid you’d given up on me entirely. Being so quiet, that is.”

Lorraine quirked her lips at me. “I’ve been trusting you to make a good point. Now why did you bring me here?”
“You were in the Special Forces within the last fifteen years?” I asked.
“Yes,” Lorraine said.

“Were you, by any chance [End of Sentence Corrupted] She clammed up instantly. Then she looked at me, understood silence and sound were equally damning, and said “Yes.”

I brought her to the very last exhibit in line. I don’t think she was very surprised.
“This is blunt,” Lorraine said.
“Yes, that’s the point.” I gave her a raised brow for that quirked lip. “You did say the deep thinkers aren’t the ones I need to reach.”

On March 9th, 3951, SolFed Expeditionary Forces [End of this and first half of next sentence were corrupted.] and continued humankind’s policy of xeno-Imperialism by attempting to subjugate the locals. It was only after [End of this and all of next sentence were corrupted.] The Expeditionary Forces suffered 100% casualties in the first hour, [Sentence Corrupted]

The exhibit had a bunch of recovered items; combat armor from our marines [Equivalent of TWO FULL PARAGRAPHS Corrupted!]
There were rifles our troops carried and fired on full auto for so long that their heat sinks blew out and the gun barrels fused with the firing chamber and any rounds they had left. And still, they’d barely hit anything. Last of all was the most expensive case. I didn’t buy it with money, though. I gave something far costlier. [THREE PARAGRAPHS Corrupted!]

I think it was seeing [Word Corrupted] and all those [Word Corrupted} Marine-pattern breastplates that got Lorraine. She lost a lot of friends to those [Corrupted]. You think that sounds ridiculous when she and those Marines had guns? You should; I still can’t believe it, and I’ve [End of this sentence and all of next CORRUPTED]

            “This is exactly what I meant,” Lorraine said. I braced myself to be punched in the jaw again, which was especially likely as a smug grin slowly peeled my lips up and away. It’s always hard to break a cycle once it gets going. “You and everyone like you uses war as a talking point. It’s a political tool for you-”
“You don’t want us to talk about it all!” I shouted back. “You just want to bitch passive-aggressively and act like because the bullshit fuckup you participated in was the most recent, you’ve got some special knowledge!” I snapped. Lorraine shut up, startled, so I kept going. “Every time some pattern repeats, from deregulation of industry leading to wealthy elitism and oppression of the poor to lack of concessions leading to a war, the people squeal endlessly- ‘How could this ever have happened?’ ‘What the fuck did we do to deserve this?!’ and then the survivors turn around and say that history’s not their problem, but it’s everyone’s fucking problem, because all that we are is built on the bones and held together by the dried blood of our past!”
My face was flushed red, that vein would probably break the skin any second now, and I was sweating like a flu victim in 2053; I kept going because someone had to get worked up about this. But I’d thought about it so much it could never be anything but rehearsed; I knew even then I wasn’t actually yelling at Lorraine, because friend or foe, she already understood these things. Good reasons or not for using it, we both knew our history. But she was the only one listening, so of course I gave her all the shit I’d saved up.
“Everyone wants to be comfy and cozy and never have to address the past because it’s the past, but that’s now how time works, is it? Things that happened before paved the way for what comes now, and what we do today affects what happens tomorrow! Everyone accepts that part, so the only way to excuse themselves from taking action is to live in ignorance!” This was not a sound academic statement. I don’t know everyone; everyone’s probably great once you get to know them.

“And what do you want me to do about it?” Lorraine asked, with the false cool of a thin sheet of rock over a lava flow. Or maybe she really was that calm; maybe she knew I was only partly yelling at her.

“Be better,” I said, because it was so simple.

“That doesn’t help,” she said.
“If I had the answers to what’s happening now, I wouldn’t be a historian,” I said.

Say something, darn it!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.