Journey to Chaos

Five weeks pass onboard the Battlestation as it flies from Order toward Chaos. During this time, Aurora can explore the massive and almost entirely empty craft, or read through the data libraries, or talk with the four available AIs. The only people on board aside from her are Kieran, Sophia, Fiona, Persephone, Tytus, Avarya, Kevranech, Mezentus, Teluidhe, and Zuithnel. Meals are prepared in a galley and delivered by remote modules that are remarkably similar to the Ghostwheel. The view from the ship as it transits through worlds is perhaps disappointing, for it is like a blurred tunnel of white speckled with black. As travel progresses, this becomes black speckled with white.

The strange thing is, from the flow, the ship appears to be traveling DOWN: the tunnel vanishes above and below in both directions.

There is magical energy available from the powerful aura of the Battlestation itself, if Aurora wishes to store prepared spells or enchantments during this time.

And so she does just that. She also spends time getting Tytus the lessons she promised him on space flight from the AIs, and letting himself become familiar with the crystal crafts. She also threatens him with bodily harm should he try and sneak one out before he's TOLD he's ready.

She spends time with her daughter, trying to keep her from pining for the boy back home.

With her newly bonded servants, she gets them to talk about Chaos, and themselves - as much as that's possible. She's still not comfortable with the way they just seem to expect to be utterly used, and tries to explain that too.

At last a soft tone sounds, and one of the Battlestation AI speaks. "Alert: arrival in Chaosian worldspace occurring in 1 hour. Setting onboard condition to Amber."

Aurora excitedly leaves the library computer and heads for the bridge. "Please inform Fiona of our arrival in Chaos worldspace when it occurs."

The transit-pod elevator swiftly takes Aurora from the weird gloom of the computerized library at the core of the ship toward the bridge. Other transport pods are visible through the walls as this occurs, zooming along, but she finds that she is the first to reach the bridge. The view through the massive displays is unchanged, however, for all it shows is black with the occasional streak of white zooming up the screen. Ghostwheel is hovering to the left side of the Captain's chair.

"Hello, Ghostwheel," Aurora says as she takes the Captain's chair. "What can you tell me about our destination?"

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The voice of Ghostwheel emerges from thin air near the floating silvery sphere.

"Chaos was the first Empire to arise from the Void, so long ago that no records remain. The Lords and Ladies of Chaos mastered the Logrus and created the Ways, which were their equivalent of the shadows of Order. Our long-range scans do not reveal any sign of active enchanted crystal technology, which does not fit our records of their final days."

The elevator hisses open behind Aurora. Fiona hobbles in, using an old cane made from dark wood and silver. She is followed by Sophia and Persephone.

Aurora smiles over at the trio, but turns back to Ghost. "Could they have hidden it from the scans?"

Fiona hobbles over to one of the other stations. Sophia returns her smile.

Persephone is scowling for some reason which is not apparent.

"Affirmative." The sentient AI replies. "As instructed, we are only employing passive scans."

"Ready weapons arrays just in case," Aurora orders. "Let me know when we enter their space."

"Affirmative." Replies the Ghostwheel.

Fiona taps at the display where she sits. It lights, and displays various graphics.

She turns to arch an eyebrow at her daughter. "Problem?"

"Great-grandmama says Tom is just a boy and my magical studies are more important!" Persephone retains her scowl as she speaks these words.

"Tone, Persephone," her mother replies with a mild rebuke. "And she is correct. Boys will come and go. Your magic is with you for the extent of your very, long life."

From the obstinate expression on her porcelain features, which are starting to resemble both her mother and great-grandmother, these are not words Persephone wishes to hear. "What about you and Da?" She challenges.

Fiona is staring at the graphical displays floating in the air before her.

Sophia, an expression of calm serenity on her own lean face, carefully stays out of this entire conversation. The lift pings again, to announce the arrival of Kieran and Tytus.

Aurora gives her daughter a long look. "According to Ghostwheel, I am many thousands of years old, though I only remember the first thousand. In that time I have seen my parents die, outlived every lover, every husband, and every child I ever had. I had brothers and sisters once, but as far as I know, they were all hunted down and killed."

"The only thing I still have, the only constant in my life, is and was the Craft."

Her eyes flick over to Kieran and she smirked. "As for your Da… I earned him. And Sophia, and you, and Tytus, and Grandmere." Persephone draws breath as though to speak, and then…

"We have an incoming message." Fiona says, even as the major LCD displays flicker into life.

The woman displayed on the screens is not known to Aurora. She does not appear fully human, for she has a light spattering of dark scales on her pale flesh, and she wears a uniform in colours of black-and-silver. She speaks in Thari. "Unidentified craft, you are in violation of quarantine. Continue your current course into Chaosian world-space and you will be destroyed. Message ends." The screen darkens.

"Alert." Ghostwheel says. "Three battlestation drives detected in activation phase. Orders?"

"I am trying to open communications but there is no answer." Fiona says.

Moments later the screen again flickers into life. Exactly the same message plays. The same expression, the same words, the same woman.

Kieran and Tytus are clothed as for practice with swords, and both show signs of recent exercise. Kieran crosses the flight-deck to the console Fiona has been teaching him to use, and sits there. Tytus loiters near the elevator.

"Tytus, Persephone, sit," Aurora orders sharply. "Strap in."

She swivels her chair to Fiona and Keiran. "It's automated. Set to go off and initiate defenses as soon as space is violated in an effort to protect those last survivors, I'd wager."

She looked up at Ghostwheel. "Power up all weapons. Give me a tactical display on screen. Scan the areas of the battle station drives. Those stations have been sitting for centuries, this is newly rebuilt. We should be able to hold them. See if our AI can contact theirs. Explain things. Convince them."

Aurora looks over at Kieran and smiles wryly. "I watched a lot of Star Trek."


Kieran has already placed his hands on the console before him. The orange dot on the screen abruptly makes a sharp right-angle turn to the left: the battlestation actually lurches slightly. "Inertial dampeners at 98% capacity." Ghostwheel says with eery calm as the three purple dots try to compensate for this change in course.

Aurora grabs onto the rail around the command area to keep her balance. She stays near Fiona for the moment though. "Is there anything I can do to assist you?"

Another sharp course change occurs: this time, it appears the battlestation is looping upwards. Again the other stations move to follow.

"Why're we running away?" Tytus asks loudly. "Let's get them!"

"Tytus!" Aurora says sharply. "Watch and learn!"

"If you know computer programming, I could quickly download the language to your mind, dear." Is the sharp but relatively lengthy response she receives.

"I do," Aurora replies and rattles off the programming languages from Earth that she knew, as well as the ones Tis had taught her. While doing so, she moved back close to Fiona. "Tell me what to do."

"Take my hand and concentrate." Fiona says, sounding a little tired, and offering one of her hands.

Sophia says something to Tytus but it is unclear what. From her expression, Persephone is unsure if she should be annoyed or fearful…

One of the purple dots is slower to follow than the others. The orange dot seems to have the speed advantage. Kieran breathes out loudly from his console.

Aurora leaves the children to Sophia's capable hands and grips Fiona's with her free hand. She shuts out everything but Fiona.

The world vanishes away. The touch of Fiona's mind is like nothing Aurora has experienced before: despite her injuries, despite the fact that Aurora can tell the older woman is not fully recovered, the strength of her spirit is greater than that of Aurora. The presence grows and steadies, then concepts begin to flow through the linkage, knowledge of how the glowing glyphs on the screen interact. They prove to be akin to circuit diagrams that control the flow of energy: the connections between glyphs build spells.

There are no words in this. It is silent and wordless. Aurora feels an ache begin inside her own head.

She ignores the mounting pain. She has had headaches before. They won't kill her. But those other ships just might. She has to squash her awe of Fiona for the time being; there will be time enough to contemplate it in coming days. She hopes.

The flow of information continues for a timeless period, then slows, and Aurora finds herself again standing on the bridge of the battlestation Fury. Her head aches but not so terribly as it did after her summoning of the Pattern. Only one or two seconds appear to have elapsed since the telepathic communication began, and there is another sharp change of course, looping about in four dimensions: the orange dot that represents the Fury on the main LCD display grows closer to the dark splotch of the Abyss, moving about twice as fast as the following purple dots.

Aurora now understands that Fiona is trying to assemble a machine-code designed to short out command interfaces and isolate the enemy AI from their ships.

Sweat drips from her pained expression. She does not look healthy.

"Sit back, Grandmere," Aurora says quietly. "I'm on it."

"Speed at maximum sub-shadow. Inertial dampers in redline. ALERT: estimate 30 seconds to failure." Three soprano voices announce calmly from thin air.

"Divert power from all currently unnecessary functions to dampers," Aurora commands.

Kieran has placed an odd-looking helmet on his head, made from the same silvery material as hovering Ghostwheel. Sophia is hugging both of the children.

"Multiple launches of order/chaos warheads. Deploying decoys." Ghostwheel says with the same eerie calm as Tisiphone. The display shows a scattering of red dots emerging from the purple dots, accelerating at maybe five times the speed shown by the purple dots themselves. Pale orange dots smaller than the big orange dot that denotes the Fury begin scattering from the big orange dot even as it begins to slow down.

Aurora quickly sits herself down at the science station beside Fiona. Not wanting to cause Kieran a distraction, she speaks quietly to Tis as she works, pulling up Fiona's program and quickly working with the ship's mainframe to complete it.

The assembly is half-complete: her headache grows worse as Aurora works with her borrowed knowledge and Tisiphone.

The small red dots encounter the small pale orange dots on the display: small flashes occur, and dots vanish.

"98% decoy efficiency." Ghostwheel reports calmly. "ALERT: biologicals brace for impact!"

The whole battlestation lurches to the left, and Fiona cries out as one of her arms strikes the side of the console with an ominous snapping sound to it.

Aurora doesn't even think about it; she tosses a pain numbing spell at her grandmother without even looking from her screen.

Persephone screams slightly. "YEAH!" Tytus says . "Shoot back, Dad!" "Hush, dear." Sophia says.

"Damage report!" Kieran says, his deep baritone resounding through the chamber.

"Shields at 10%." A calm soprano voice answers him even as Aurora places the finishing touches to her virus. "No hull penetration. Dampers steady and redlined at 102%."

Aurora crosses her fingers. "Execute virus program. Now."

"Transmitting now." Tisiphone says. Seconds tick by, seconds of tense silence.

Kieran makes another course change, bringing the orange dot back on course for the black splotch. There is no corresponding change from the purple dots.

She stood up from the console and walked back over to the center of the bridge, watching the screen carefully.

"Tisiphone - Maintain shields. Dampers back to 100%. Readings from the pursuing ships?"

Sophia has unbuckled herself and is tending to Fiona. Kieran remains at his console.

Persephone has become quiet. "YEAH!" Tytus says.

The orange dot continues toward the black splotch.

"Enemy battlestations decelerating with 0% evidence of course guidance. No warhead launch." Tisiphone reports.

"Stand down from red alert," Aurora commands as she moves back to the command chair and drops into it. She massages her temples gingerly. "Sensors on maximum and keep an eye on those ships until we are out of range. Station status?"

"Station operating within acceptable parameters." The soprano of Tisiphone reports from thin air.

Fiona says something to Sophia, who also replies, but quietly.

The lights of the bridge darken slightly. The orange dot enters the splotch.

"30 seconds before transition to Chaosian worldspace." Ghostwheel announces in quiet alto tones.

"Continue yellow alert," Aurora says just loud enough for the system to hear her. "Inset sensor readings into a real time view when we cross over. Slow to one half when we enter Chaosian space."

Ghostwheel floats through the air to just over her shoulder as Aurora says this. The orange dot has now vanished into the black splotch. The light from the walls darkens, darkens, until finally there is barely enough light to see anything at all. On the main screen, there is only darkness, deep and black as velvety midnight. "Transition complete." Tisiphone reports calmly. "Alert: spreading waves of Chaos detected, shields holding at 85%. Containment breach detected in Logrus event horizon."

Fiona, her arm newly bandaged, goes slightly more pale than she already is. "Bright Goddess." She says. "There's no one left. No one left who can maintain the bindings."

Aurora spun her chair around to face her grandmother with slowly mounting horror. "Didn't you know? That there was no one left?"

"Chaos still had hope of surviving the plague when I went into my cocoon." Fiona says. The five bonded are on board: there are three women. Avarya, Teluidhe, Zuithnel.

Aurora hits the com. "Avarya to the bridge."

"Tisiphone, reverse course. Take us back across the border and full stop. Sensors on maximum for observation."

"We cannot comply, Empress. Our sub-shadow drives cannot escape the uncontained Logrus." The AI responds as black ripples on black in the main display. "We are diverting energies to our sub-shadow drive to maintain position. We are diverting energies to the shields to maintain hull integrity." There is an imperceptible pause. "Passive scanning detects sign of surviving structures. Query: expend energy on active scans?"

Despite her fine command of more then a double dozen languages and dialects-some of which she was responsible for, Aurora summed it up succinctly in two words. "Well, shit. Not at the moment. Are we stuck here, or can we move forward into space over Thelbane?"

Fiona has actually smiled for some reason.

"Affirmative, we can move forwards, Empress. We cannot move backwards under current conditions." Tisiphone replies.

She waved a hand. "Then onward it is. Maintain Yellow Alert. Slow to one quarter. Continue scans." She paused a moment. "Inset infrared view into main screen. One quarter sized."

Sophia says something to Fiona, who replies.

The lift hisses open to reveal a redhead woman: Avarya. She stares about.

One quarter of the display becomes a pattern of reds and blues and black. The rest of the display remains black. In the quarter, it appears that the large black splotch is in the middle, and around it are floating structures of some sort. They look like bubbles of higher temperature floating in a maelstrom: all of them are connected in a dodecahedron-type array, revolving about the black splotch. Fiona peers at this. "Hellfires." She says. "They built a partial Dyson sphere around the Logrus!"

Aurora had stood slowly when they image came on the screen. She stared flabbergasted at the image before them. "My god," she breathed. Aurora had accepted the existence of the station and its AI with ease. Afterall, the space agencies of Earth when she had lived there were only held back from building them by technological limitations of the time, or funding, though the station would have been possible-even if it did take years and trillions.. But a Dyson Sphere, that was centuries in their future-if it was possible at all. It had only been a theory last she heard. "Why would they need to capture the energy output of the Logrus?"

"Mayhap it is the only energy source they have?" Kieran suggests. "If there are any still living, perchance they are inside the bubbles?"

Aurora pauses to consider the implications of that possibility. "Er… no, I don't think so, love. A Dyson Sphere uses the satellites for energy collection for later use

Kieran's eyes widen. "So.. They built it to collect energy… to do what?" He asks.

The blue bubbles on the display continue floating around the black splotch, the arms of the decahedron holding each one.

Sophia returns to her seat with Persephone and Tytus. Both of whom are regarding the display.

Aurora turned to face one of the others. "Avarya? Do you know?"

"No, Mistress." Avarya says hesitantly. She and the other bond-servants remain standing uncertainly near the elevator.

Aurora waves them to observation seats. "Best sit in case we have more excitement."

The five erstwhile Chaosians seat themselves. "Have we reached our homeland yet?" Avarya asks.

Arm splinted and bandaged, Fiona returns to her console, begins tapping at glyphs of light. "It is more like a Dyson dome…" She murmurs as she does so.

The other redhead turns her command chair around to face her grandmother. "A dome?" she asks incredulously. "Is that the same as a Dyson shell? With a habitable surface?"

"A geodesic dome, yes." Fiona says. "The bubbles and net form a dome over the Logrus. It appears that the stored energy is being used to resist the pull of the Logrus, to avoid falling into the event horizon. Each bubble is approximately one thousand miles across. They could be hollow. I cannot say habitable without closer inspection."

"Holy hell," Aurora breathes. "Tis… all life support on minimal except for the bridge. Divert energy into a scan. See if you can get us readings on one of those spheres."

There is an instant of pausing then the display bursts into light: the dome of bubbles caught in the networked lattice becomes truly visible. Each bubble is black and featureless, as though absorbing light, but the lattice that holds them is not black. All the colours of the rainbow are displayed, even as the downward force of the Logrus becomes apparent on the scan, as though everything is bleeding downwards into the black writhing maw of the Logrus. One of the bubbles enlarges to fill the display, and on the side of it, minute in comparison to the bubble, there is what seems to be a docking station. In that docking station there may be ships.. It is an eerily beautiful sight.

Aurora gaps, and her eyes light up like a kid at Christmas. "It's beautiful. Can you get readings on the inside of the sphere?"

"Negative, Empress. The sphere absorbs all the energy of the scan and returns nothing to my sensors." Tisiphone replies in her calm soprano. Persephone and Tytus also appear spell-bound by the beauty of what appears on the display before them. Sophia eyes it with obvious misgivings. "Bright Goddess." Fiona mutters. "Congealed trump forces binding the bubbles together… how did they do that?"

Kieran glances to her. "If you do not know, Aunt, then I fear they have Arts greater than ours." He says to her.

Without tearing her gaze from the display - indeed, she moves closer to it- Aurora speak to all on the bridge. "Any objections to taking a ship in for a closer look? To dock at a sphere? Tis, Ghostwheel - Advise."

"The shuttles can withstand the Logrus for brief periods, Empress." Tisiphone says.

"It appears feasible, Aurora. But there may be bioplague in there." Ghostwheel says. "We cannot be infected with bioplague but you can be."

"I would prefer to send a remote telemetry probe with audio/video capabilities first." Fiona says firmly. Kieran glances to her, then nods in agreement.

"I agree," Aurora nods. "Move us within range and make it so."

Fiona is already tapping at glyphs of light. The picture on the display changes: at first, it is like the picture where the Logrus and the dome rotating above it where displayed, then it zooms into the sphere that is closest. "No sound, no atmosphere." Fiona says as the display reveals the dock of the sphere. There are four ships of black crystal there, their design different to that of the ships Aurora has seen before. All four appear to be undamaged and whole. The remote drone sweeps the area, and in the back of the dock, it finds a set of double doors of the same unreflective black material as composes the sphere itself. There is a hole in the wall beside this: it seems a keyhole.

Aurora makes a face. "A key. We could search the ships. See if there is anything there. See if the drone can find an opening in the ships. Ghost, Tis; Estimate danger to one of the blood of Amber and Chaos with Pattern Imprint that close to the Logrus."

"The Pattern has power to resist Chaos." Tisiphone replies. "Pattern-wielders will emanate zones of stability. But the danger of a Logrus flare rises with proximity to the event horizon of the Logrus. The spheres furthest away from the event horizon hold the least danger."

The drone changes direction, moves back toward the four ships, where it becomes apparent that each one is locked with a similar but smaller keyhole. "My shape is fluid and changeable." Ghostwheel says. "I could reconfigure myself to fit these keyholes. Would that be sufficient?" Fiona considers. "Only one way to find out." She replies.

Aurora glances around the bridge then nods. "Kieran, you have the bridge. Avarya, you're with me. Ghostwheel, if you will accompany us…"

Avarya nods in acceptance. Kieran eyes Aurora sharply, perhaps inclined to argue. Then he eyes Sophia, Persephone, and Tytus. Aurora held his gaze as long as she had it. She had expected him to protest. But if something happened - and it was only her - the children would still have a mother and father. One that could protect them. Sophia watches these exchanged glances with calm.

"Tis, I need life support from here to the hanger."

"Understood." The AI replies, as always from thin air.

The four other bond-servants stay in their seats. They watch and listen.

Ghostwheel moves across the bridge to hover over Aurora's shoulder. Fiona mutters something under her breath as she taps at the glyphs of light on the console before her.

She turns to smile reassuring at the rest of her little family before she turns to Fiona. "I'll keep the feeds open, Grandmere." And then she and the small away team were leaving the bridge.

"Take care." Fiona says tersely, her sharp green eyes momentarily glancing back from the display before her. The elevator doors hiss open.

Aurora nods, her gaze lingering a moment more before she turns sharply and proceeds Avarya into the lift. "Hanger Four Antechamber."

Explorations and Adversity

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