INDEX: Part 0 Part 0.1 Part 1 Part 2 Part 2.1 Part 3 Part 4 Part 4.1 Part 4.2 Part 4.3 Part 4.4 Part 4.5 Part 4.6 Part 4.7 Part 4.8 coming eventually Part 4.9 ~***~***~***~***~***~***~***~***~ 0: Invasion of the Saucer Men The Inner Sphere 3022 Excerpt from “The Sixth World” by Dr. Sun-Tzu Liao (Capella Royal University Press, Sian, 3085): “As long as there have been travelers, there have been traveler's tales. Often fanciful, sometimes fabricated, stories of what lies over the horizon have enthralled humanity for the entirety of recorded civilization. Stories moved along with the frontier: our distant ancestors told stories about the mythical tribes and beasts living beyond the mountains, or across deserts and oceans, and when the frontier moved up and away from Terra the stories changed. Alien civilizations became the stock and trade of storytellers through the first waves of Jumpship exploration. Every spacer had a tale to tell – usually over a drink, or six – about the non-humans he saw blasting off from some uninhabited rock in the middle of nowhere, or the gleaming towers of an alien city just a few jumps beyond the Periphery. Traveler's tales such as these have been with us for hundreds of years, and aside from the occasional intersection with the gullible, remained part of the great cosmic sideshow. In the middle of 3022 the people of the Inner Sphere stopped rolling their eyes at these tales. Over the months of May, June and July sightings of unidentified spacecraft – verifiable sightings, backed up by sensor readings and telescopic photos – increased fifty-fold. These sightings happened everywhere in the Inner Sphere and the nearer Periphery, over major and minor worlds alike. Initially, these mystery spacecraft were thought to be some top-secret project cooked up by one of the Successor Lords, but those who thought that were quickly disabused of that notion. The UFOs were too small, too fast and appeared in places where ordinary Jumpships and Dropships couldn't go by themselves. As the notion of a Successor State project started to wear thin, the next popular claim was Kerensky's Army is returning. Though we now know that to be false, the idea that the long-missing Star League Defense Force was preparing their way back to the Inner Sphere took hold throughout known space, to the point that multiple planets threatened to revolt in joy. As the sightings continued, the wild claims, arguments and recriminations reached a fever pitch. No nation in known space managed to intercept one of these UFOs; always they managed to stay out of Dropship weapons range, and vanished before interceptors could reach them. The mystery invasion finally reached its crescendo on 7 August 3022, in the New Avalon system...” ~***~ It made an entry with a bang, blasting into the system riding a wave of electromagnetic energy as it plunged sunward, pushing towards a velocity nearing one-tenth the speed of light. Minutes later, the wave of energy displaced by the craft's entry washed up on the shores of planets, moons and asteroids. Sensors fired off automatic warnings of an inbound jump, alarms and klaxons blaring through command posts and bunkers. Technicians and soldiers hurried through their calculations, tracking telescopes and scanners to the calculated arrival point. They saw nothing. Nothing but the same four Merchant class whales basking in the sunlight at the zenith point, recharging their drives as they had been a few minutes earlier. The first stunned transmissions came in moments later: It was small, it was fast, rising a pillar of light and moving like a bullet. We tracked it going at a tenth light speed! An aerospace fighter with a KF drive! The first report was dismissed as crazy. More alarms went off as the wave moved across the system at the speed of light. Thousands of tons of Jumpship couldn't just vanish into thin air. Commanders demanded results, or they demanded heads roll. Sometimes both. Telescopes searched, all sensor systems in New Avalon began tracking to this one point, determined to solve the mystery. Ten minutes after its arrival the UFO was already an eighth of an AU from the arrival point and still accelerating, riding a glorious blue column of expanding gas. Deep in the Fox's Den men were hunched over consoles, scanning and searching. Maybe it was an exercise? A sensor glitch. The generals debated informing the Prince. Not until we have more information! It might still be an error. And then, a single voice cut through: “Incoming transmission! Wideband, it's drowning everything out!” “Put it through!” The radio crackled, hissing like an angry snake. It popped and crashed, riding a cacophonous clash that might almost have sounded like music. Over the top of it, a high clear voice sounded positively gleeful. “GOOD MORNING, NEW AVALON!” A girl's voice, definitely a girl. “This is Radio KAOS, and we're here to ROCK. YOUR. WORLD!” “Triangulate! Triangulate now!” “Here's a favorite of ours, to all our friends on New Avalon. This is The Offspring, with 'Have You Ever.'” A slight pause, and the Fox's Den was filled with a noise more stunning than any simple surrender demand. Military minds locked up, unable to process what was happening. The Marshal of the Armies himself was there to hear it firsthand, full minutes after it left the source. Falling, I'm falling Falling, I'm falling For a moment, every person stood still in total confusion. It wasn't a demand for surrender. It wasn't a threat, nor a declaration of war. It wasn't anything sane and expected. It was... Have you ever walked through a room But it was more like the room passed around you Like there was a leash around your neck that pulled you through? ...music. It had a driving beat. It had a catchy tune. It was like nothing anyone had ever heard before. It was ancient. It was fresh. A radar operator found herself smiling, nodding along to the beat. A stern look from a supervisor stopped her dead. Have you ever been at some place Recognizing everybody's face Until you realized that there was no one there you knew? Well I know... It didn't take the command staff long to realize that this transmission wasn't just in their offices. It was everywhere across the planet, cutting across traffic reports and mobilization orders. Prince Hanse Davion sat stunned for a moment as it drowned out his briefing. At the Albion Military Academy, the day's order of business was drowned out by... Falling, I'm falling Have you ever buried your face in your hands Because no one around you understands Or has the slightest idea what it is that makes you be? Someone had the sense to contact the New Avalon Institute of Science, trying to find some way to cut through the interference. The engineering professor insisted such a wideband transmission was impossible within the laws of physics, then determined to figure it out anyway. In the Marshal's mind, every single neuron screamed attack. There couldn't couldn't be any other explanation. In his heart, he had doubts. Anyone capable of doing this could do far more – and far worse – than play strange music. Have you ever felt like there was more Like someone else was keeping score And what could make you whole was simply out of reach? Well I know... “It's on almost every frequency, Highness,” the pilot reported, cycling through the channels in demonstration while feeling just that little bit unnerved. “I can still get short range comms and transponders, but everything else...” “Just get me to the Den,” Hanse ordered, doing his level best to sound calm and in control. “Best possible speed.” The pilot knew his job. He pushed the throttles to the firewall, already angling the craft down towards the landing pad. This was going to be a hell of a landing. Someday I'll try again and not pretend This time forever Someday I'll get it straight but not today Have you ever Falling, I'm falling... A listening post on an asteroid not far from the zenith point picked up the signal. It was heavily red-shifted, enough that whatever it was coming from was moving at a fair percentage of light speed. “Got to be an equipment fault,” the post commander concluded. “Nothing can move that fast.” “Do I still report it?” asked the radio operator. The commander was little more than a low-ranked greenhorn fresh from the academy. “Sure, what the hell.” He shrugged, then settled down for his meal. Some days, my soul's confined and out of mind Sleep forever Some days, my darkest friend is me again Have you ever Someday I'll try again and not pretend This time forever Someday I'll get it straight but not today Have you ever... The post was far enough away that the report was picked up almost simultaneously with the song on New Avalon. The song's beat changed, giving the people in the Den a moment to breathe. When the truth walks away Everybody stays Cause the truth about the world is that crime does pay So if you walk away Who is gonna stay Cause I'd like to think the world is a better place “That's the second one, Marshal,” the radioman reported. “Both stations report the target moving at...” he paused, then double-checked his screen. “Both estimate one-tenth the speed of light.” Someone swore. There was no sense calling it a malfunction, despite the opinion of one of the posts. It was there, it was indisputably there. “Where is it?” the Marshal demanded. “Just under eight AU out. Let me wash it through the computer, I might be able to tell where it's going.” The Marshal leaned over the man, staring at the screen as if he could will the answer out of it just a few seconds faster. When the truth walks away Everybody stays Cause the truth about the world is that crime does pay So if you walk away Who is gonna stay Cause I'd like to make the world be a better place The First Prince was running. Appearances be damned if his world was under attack, especially if the enemy was close enough to flood the airwaves like they were. He burst into the Den riding a draft of cold air that forced everyone in the bunker to turn and face him. “Report!” The word exploded out of Hanse, snapping them out of their momentary reverie. The music was still playing, the song winding down. “Approximately seventy minutes ago an unknown ship jumped in at Zenith,” the Marshal said, doing his damnedest to maintain military composure. “It began broadcasting on wideband almost immediately. Based on the analysis of the signal by our listening posts, the ship is traveling at one-tenth light speed.” The Prince gaped. “Surely not,” he said. “That is what our sensors are telling us,” the Marshal confirmed. “What do the sensors tell us about what it is?” “Sir, my Prince,” the Marshal paused. “The warbook is calling it 'Unknown – Possibly Nonhuman.' Obviously that's wrong, but.” “Yes, yes of course. And where is it going?” As if he had to ask. Everyone turned to the radar control station, whose operator found himself in the uncomfortable position of sitting in the hottest seat in the planet. “You Highness,” the operator said nervously, “it's on a direct course for New Avalon.” When the truth walks away Everybody stays Cause the truth about the world is that crime does pay So if you walk away Who is gonna stay Cause I'd like to think the world is a better place I'd like to leave the world as a better place I'd like to think the world... The song rolled down to the final notes, the music's energy finally spent. “Eleven and a half hours until it reaches orbit,” the Marshal said. “If its speed holds.” Hanse nodded. “Bring the AFFS to full alert. I want options for dealing with this thing before it gets here.” The Marshal nodded. “Yes, sir. However,” he ventured carefully, “I'm not certain this is an attack.” Hanse gave his highest-ranked general an odd look. “An unknown spacecraft is jamming planetary communications, and you don't think it's an attack,” he said. “Explain.” “Well, they're not being subtle about being there, are they? Whoever they are, they want to grab our attention. The broadcast may be jamming some of out communications, but it's just music. No demands, no declarations, just... music. And if they're really moving as fast as our sensors say they are, they have transit drives far beyond the Star League, and they want us to know that too. Right now, they could be far more dangerous than they actually are, so far all they've done is be annoying.” The Prince nodded. “I'll take it under advisement,” he said. “Still, I'd rather be prudent.” “As would I.” “Now for one of my personal favorites,” the girl's voice returned. It was hard not to imagine some grinning adolescent playing a prank on them all. “Next up is Iron Maiden with 'Different Worlds.' You're listening to Mel's Metal Hour on Radio KAOS!” A crash of guitars marked the beginning of the new song. Hanse and the Marshal shared a glance. Eleven hours of this? It was going to be a long day. You lead me on the Path Keep showing me the way I feel a little lost A little strange today... ~***~ Excerpt from “The Sixth World” by Dr. Sun-Tzu Liao (Capella Royal University Press, Sian, 3085): “The 'raid' over New Avalon was the last great UFO sighting of the year 3022. As quickly as they began, verified sightings dwindled away to nothing. Unverified sightings would continue for months and years to come, even well after the truth of the matter was finally made clear to the Inner Sphere. But the moment of revelation was still several years in the future; at the end of 3022 the puzzled inhabitants of known space were left wondering what, exactly, the hell had all that fuss been about. No one in those early years of the thirty-first century truly believed that our worlds had been scrutinized and studied by intelligences stranger than man's yet mortal as his own. Having never met our equals nor our superiors in a thousand years of space travel, we busied ourselves with the mundanities of day to day life, with petty wars and conquests, secure in our knowledge that we were the pinnacle of life in our galaxy. Yet across the gulfs of space, intellects vast and warm and sympathetic regarded the empires we built with compassionate eyes, and slowly and surely they drew their plans against us. And so would come the great disillusionment.” Dr. Sun-Tzu Liao is Seldon Professor of Psychohistory at the Capella Royal University. A member of the Capellan Union's former ruling family, Dr. Liao served in the Union Armed Forces with distinction during the War of Two Terras. At night, he's Batman. ------------------------------------------------------------------------- Fun Tyrant's Note: Well, this certainly is a thing, isn't it?. Inspired by (and will eventually steal liberally from) the unwieldy mass of "An Entry With A Bang", "Candle in the Dark" has roughly the same start conditions, but things are going to get weirder from here on out. Also like "Entry," this is a collaborative project between myself and a bunch of other people. We all hope that you enjoy the products of our fevered minds. Who got ISOTed? That would be telling. We'll find out in the update after next. Suffice to say it's not the world of Tom Clancy though.