Casual Play Astrogation

Iota Melones Kerman 6 (Declinati)

When you exit between-space, you come upon a star that sits alone in a system without planets, without asteroid belts or clouds of debris sprawling in the black. The star itself is old, expanding, nearing the bloody end of red, but there's no evidence it ever produced any planets, ever pulled in even the smallest rogue star or worldlet. Its loneliness is eerie, strange, plays around at the back of your mind as you cruise into the system, set yourself in a distant orbit of that flaming ball of crimson fire.

That's when it happens, when it hits you. The signal– it comes quick, so narrow and precise that you would have missed if it weren't for the power behind it, the awareness with which your ship's integrated intelligence scours local space for even the barest shift from the expected norm. The purpose of the signal isn't clear, doesn't resolve even after the third or fourth playback, even after it's broken down and analyzed. It's just series of numbers– a six second burst with 27 very precise oscillations punctuating a single sharp tone.

What is clear, however, is the source of the signal. It's coming from the star, from the very center of the star's white-hot core.

The integrated intelligence resets the sensors, takes another reading, mulls it all over in silence as if it's perplexed. Everything's working. It isn't a glitch. Something inside the star sent you a message, a brief message, one that doesn't contain any recognizable information, one that you have no idea how to respond to.

But when you do finally respond, you reply with the only thing you can think makes sense. You copy the message, send it back, wait patiently for an answer.

None comes. There's only silence, only the endless burning radiance of the sun. Eventually, your curiosity gets the better of you and you start to drift closer to the star, start to reach deeper into the layers of fire beneath you. By all appearances, the star seems to be ordinary, normal– and then you see it, like a ghost in the fire, a shade, a shadow. Something near the core, something even your sensors can barely touch. A shape– something like a building, an improbable tower rising out of the incredible heat and pressure.

For hours, you work against the heat and radiation throwing waves of static into your sensor readings, try to pick apart the little shreds of clear data you do pull out of the center of the sun. Whatever the tower is made out of, it's incredibly resilient, incredibly ancient. Not as old as the star, from what you can tell, but rather something that was intentionally inserted into the core a billion or so years ago. Who built it, who put it there– there's no way to know. Over and over again, you send signals into the star, variations on the transmission you received, but the tower remains silent, gives no indication of intelligence or life. If you could only get closer–

You drift, and for a moment, the tower seems to light up, glow brighter than the star. A sound rushes across the whole spectrum of frequencies, a sound like a roar–

And then a wave of something catches you, sweeps you up, leaves you floating in a safer orbit. A moment passes, a moment where you only stare into and through the data, the hazy picture of the tower you've assembled from rough scans. Silently, you wonder what the sound was, how the tower moved you, why. . .

An errant thought. Your ship's integrated intelligence responds in kind, spins up the phasedrive. There's a moment where you simply sit, hold the drive at the edge of release, stare into the depths of that alien star, just wondering, hoping. The arch of a solar prominence washes the tower from view, just for the barest instant, but it's enough, enough to stir you to movement. Between-space opens, reaches out, and you close your eyes as it swallows you, swallows your ship, carries you to another star, another point in the endless darkness of deep space.


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