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Tall Tales (Chapter Cover Art)

Story By JA Baker[]

To Reach The Unreachable Star
Author JA Baker
Series Name Tall Tales
Alternate Universe Name
Year Written September 6th, 2020
Story Era Various Eras

Spacers, and I mean the hardcore, born in vacuum and have a legitimate phobia of going planet-side, call it Perdition's Flames.

It's a binary system, far side of the Joradian Cluster. Meaning that it is quite literally off the maps, so far anti-spinward you have to wonder exactly who found it. What they were doing out there. Officially it's called some long alphanumeric code, but we're stick with Perdition's Flames, if it's all the same with you. And yeah, it's so far out, you'd have to be crazy to try and reach it.. and downright certifiable to try and reach the one habitable planet.

See, the reason for the colorful name is well, it's a graveyard of lost ships. Some kind of almost unnavigable gravitational anomaly surrounds the system, reaching a good twenty light-years out. And sure, you're probably thinking "then just jump in from outside: KF drives have a thirty light-year range, after all." Well, congratulations. You've just added another wreck to the collection. No, according to those who claim to have been there. You need to follow The Path, a safe rout hidden in the ramblings of a long-dead pathfinder who was the first to reach the system and make it back alive. Journey apparently drove him mad as Maxie Liao, because he'd spend the remainder of his life in a padded cell, writing on the walls about the things he'd seen.

The Terran Hegemony thought he'd just gone space crazy. Pathfinders tend to be a little bit on the loopy side, even by spacer standards, what with being willing to make jumps into the true unknown, on ships that tend to dance on the edge of what is and isn't possible, and to do so alone, with no crew to help if things went wrong. They don't make people like that anymore, or, if they do, nobody in their right mind would give them control of a potentially irreplaceable JumpShip. The pilot, Joachim was his name, died without ever giving a clear answer of just how he got there, and what he saw, and, well, people just love a good mystery.

So began the centuries long challenge to break Joachim's code and reach the heart of Pedetion's Flames.

And that's also how the graveyard started to form: from the twisted, broken wrecks of all those who tried to find a shortcut, or zigged when they should have zagged. Because everyone who could, sent expeditions to the system, to try and discover what secrets it held. The Terran Hegemony, the Star League, the Rim Worlds Republic, the Lyran Commonwealth, ComStar and the Word of Blake. In the six centuries since it was first mapped, no less than twenty-seven major expeditions have been sent to Pedetion's Flames, with countless smaller ones. Some of the more recent attempts have done little more than try and scavenge what they could from the previous missions, looking for valuable LosTech. But, all too often, they've done little but add to the drifting sea of wrecked starships.

Some people claim that there are... people, living on some of the wrecks. Where gravity or intent has brought multiple ships together into drifting reefs of twisted metal. They talk of patchwork jump-sails and brightly burning lights, inviting in weary travelers looking for the chance to rest as they make their attempt to reach the center of the labyrinth. None of them talk of these people ever leaving again, their ships becoming little more than the latest addition to the graveyard. There is some disagreement as to exactly what happened to those fools who rush in where angels fear to tread: some say they're eaten alive, their skin used to fashion clothes, while others say that they're used, willingly or otherwise, to add fresh blood to an otherwise shallow and stagnant gene pool.

Side tangent, but funny story. Something similar happened with this guy I knew, Dug. He worked on a recharge station on the edge of the Combine, and met this JàrnFòlk girl. She was short, cute in an elfin kind of way. The two of them spent several nights together, testing the structural integrity of Dug's bunk. Year later, her ship come back that way and she's got this newborn kid; a daughter with her mother's nose, and Dug's jet black hair. Well, ship leave, and Dug's nowhere to be seen, leaving just a note explaining that the heart wants what the heart wants.

Anyway, you wanted to know about the supposed safe route?

Well, Joachim was bug-shit crazy by the end, so everything was in code. First clue he left talked about the "The Black Goat with a Thousand Young", which is generally taken to relate to a dark nebula on the edge of the anomaly. Then he talks about a system of "Lapis & Gold", which seems to be another binary system, the one made up of an O-type giant and a far smaller G-type main sequence stars. Third jump is where most sane people stop, because you have to hit the sweet spot between two singularities, which is far easier said than done. After that, you have to plot and hit a shifting pirate point between an ice giant, Nibia, and it's moons, before jumping into the Joradian Cluster, to the edge of an area known as the Antares Maelstrom. Last, and by no means least, you have to get past the "Blinking Cyclops", a rapidly spinning Pulsar, without getting flash fried by a jet of electromagnetic radiation.

I have no ****** idea what Joachim was on, but it must have been some good shit!

So, assuming you managed to get past all that, congratulations, because you're officially into the unknown. Seriously, nobody knows for sure what you'll find. Long-range observations, and the highly corrupted remains of Joachim's flight recorder, indicate that there's a planetary system orbiting the larger of the two stars that make up Pedetions Flames, with one world in the outer reaches of the habitable zone. So, you know, pack a coat and gloves.

And now the 64,000 C-Bill question: What's waiting for the down there?

I don't know. Joachim never made planet-fall. Pathfinder ships were rarely. if ever equipped with shuttles for planetary surveys. We know that he made a fly-by, probably scanned the surface, but the data was just gone. I mean physically gone, like he removed the hard drives and threw them out of the airlock. We don't even ow for sure if it was the strain of finding the safer rout. What he found at the end or getting back was what drove him crazy. Nobody who's made it that far since then has ever come back. Most we've gotten was a garbled light-speed transmission, with someone rambling in ancient Latin.

There are, of course, theories. There always are.

You can probably tell from the description of the "safe" rout that it reads like an A-to-Z of astronomical phenomenon you want to avoid while trying to chart a safe course. The odds of so many rare and poorly understood objects being in such close proximity is, well, astronomical. So much so that some have even gone so far as to suggest that it is far from a natural occurrence. And no, not even the Star League was capable of engineering something like that. And as such it becomes a question of exactly who or what could create such a perfect storm of navigational anomalies?

Perhaps more importantly, why?

There is something inside Perdition's Flames, something that either needs to be kept hidden or locked away. Something capable of driving someone with the ability to withstand being lightyears from the nearest human being for extended periods of time, someone capable of plotting jump-points through long-range observations, completely and irrevocably mad.

So, like I said, I don't know what's waiting for you there. But I wish you the best of luck, and I'll say something nice about you at the memorial ceremony.

The End

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