A people that hear without listening, that talk without speaking, too stubborn and blind to be saved from their own dying planet. The ESS Sao Paulo has been sent to rescue the inhabitants of Eulysia, but what they find when they arrive is a darkness, one that seems to swallow their warnings in pools of silence.
SOUND OF SILENCE - CHAPTER TWO
The mood in the executive briefing room is an uncomfortable mix of disappointment and confusion. My chief engineer, Lieutenant Wu, looks like someone just sucker punched him. My security officer, Lieutenant Dairo, seems ready to kill the next thing that crosses her path, not an uncommon expression of hers. Commander Tao is stoic faced, as always, looking as if the entire ship could explode and he'd still check to make sure that the whole procedure was carried out according to protocol. Bo, my science officer, a member of the Huhu species…well, he doesn't really have a face, per se. It's kind of hard to read him.
"The Sao Paulo is a corvette," Lieutenant Wu points out. "We're a fast attack ship, not a government cruiser. We've got as much diplomatic charisma as a rhinoceros."
I snort, perhaps not aiding my case. "All of our senior staff are still Alliance officers," I fire back. "We're trained in basic diplomacy. I don't see that being our primary limiting factor."
In all honesty, I rarely paid attention to the soft sciences like diplomacy while studying at the academy. It was just a general ed requirement, known for being nothing more than a nap period. Ancient professors. Massive auditorium class sizes. Pushover exams. In fact, it was usually the cadets' favorite class for those very reasons.
"Captain," Commander Tao says, giving me a look, and I can tell by his eyebrows that I'm about to get an uncomfortable truth, "might I remind you of the time you knocked out a Goloran captain on the bridge of his own ship?"
"He threatened to steal our shuttle and throw us out the airlock," I scoff.
"Golorans are known for gross exaggerations."
"They're also known for appreciating kinetic solutions to disagreements."
"Regardless," he says, twisting his mouth in disapproval. I grin, despite myself. I've always loved that face of his, the one where he knows he's defeated, yet he remains stubbornly persistent, because let's face it, he's actually probably right. We've known each other for years—since the academy, in fact—so I've gotten used to his idiosyncrasies, his various tells and cues. And I suspect he's done the same with me. It's what makes us such a good team.
But it's not our friendship that led me to take him on as my first officer. He earned that right by insisting on challenging my assumptions, by always giving me the truth, regardless of how it might make me feel. There were three others in line for the position, but they were all yes-men. They had no place on an Alliance corvette. Certainly not aboard one that strafes the front line of combat on a daily basis.
"You might want to consider employing the help of Lieutenant Yeeb," Commander Tao presses.
"He was a foreign relations officer before cross-training to weapon system management. He's led several successful diplomatic missions in previous assignments."
I nod in agreement while rolling my eyes internally. "You're probably right. I'll drop by his quarters after this. But for now, Ensign Khealia, you have the floor."
My communications officer, a spirited yet reserved young girl, only a little more than a year out of the academy, steps to the head of the conference room and pulls up a series of charts on the wall display. A map of Eulysia's star system appears alongside a model of a Eulysian clothed in typical cold-season attire.
Eulysians look similar to other bipeds—two arms, two legs, a mouth, two eyes. Though, their eyes are considerably longer and narrower than humans, and their midsections are somewhat thinner than ours. A bit odd looking, like a teenager going through a growth spurt.
"I've been asked to give you a short brief on Eulysia, Eulysians, and their modern cultural considerations," Ensign Khealia begins, exuding the raw caution and formality of a junior officer. She moves to the side of the screen and points to the model. "Eulysia is one of the few remaining neutral planets in this region, aligned with neither the Alliance or the Tauroqs. Despite numerous offers on our end, they refuse to consider any formal ties. This is due to a number of factors but is mostly attributed to their species' severe xenophobia. Though they've had spacefaring capabilities for more than a century, they rarely engage in any space activities beyond low orbit.
"This," she says, pointing to a small metallic tab on the model's temple, "is what they call the fyitt, or the link. It's a synthetic network node, surgically applied once they reach adulthood, though adolescents commonly use temporary nodes, applied adhesively. These nodes interface with a detachable router that connects them to a global network of augmented and virtual reality. This is their primary source of communication, of socialization, of recreation, navigation—pretty much most of modern Eulysian society revolves around this network."
Ensign Khealia glides her finger across the screen and the display shifts to a collage of videos, some set in fantastical scenes of vibrant colors with physics-defying architecture, some set in seemingly ordinary surroundings. “Eulysians have had link technology for hundreds of years. In that time, the design has matured to become almost symbiotic with their physiology. In fact, the entire species has grown so reliant on links and the global network, that they’ve actually experienced trait loss in vocal and auditory capabilities.”
“Like, as in speaking and hearing?" Lieutenant Wu clarifies.
Ensign Khealia nods. "Yes sir. They've lost those functions. All interpersonal communication, all social networking, all media is shared through the link."
"Wait, Eulysians. Aren't those the racist ones?" Bo pipes in, though his comments are channeled through a pendant around his neck. Huhus don't have mouths, and the vibrations in their chests that they use to communicate are too low pitched for humans and other species to hear, so they speak through a small amplifier when aboard Alliance vessels.
A few of the others grumble in the affirmative at his comment, though Commander Tao tilts his head in disagreement.
"While it's true that the Eulysians are staunchly xenophobic, I wouldn't quite categorize them as racist, per se," he counters. "They're just perfectly content to ignore and be ignored. They have no desire to interact with anyone that doesn't live within the boundaries of their little network bubble."
"And for good reason," Ensign Khealia adds. "About seventy years ago, a delegation from the Raail home world landed on Eulysia and was granted permission to interact with the local network using their own native technology. The instant they did, an extremely viral piece of code —albeit non-malicious and unintentional—propagated the entire planet, killing nearly a hundred million Eulysians before they managed to quarantine it. Since then, they've remained distrustful of any off-worlders."
"Killing? What do you mean killing?" Lieutenant Wu asks, his brows scrunched. "How can a digital virus kill?"
Ensign Khealia moves to the other side of the screen and highlights the link with a small loop of her finger. "That's due to the advanced degree of integration between their biology and technology. The virus targeted the Eulysian equivalent of the frontal lobe in humans, or the gakhtar appendix in pasheri. Once infected, they simply lost all independent brain functionality. Within a week, they were brain dead. Three days after that, their organs began shutting down."
A round of expletives cycle around the conference table.
Most people are understandably unaware of Eulysian history. I happened to do my fourth-year capstone on the Epsilon Quarter, which includes the Eulysia system, so I'm generally aware of the Culling, as they call it. It has served as the cornerstone of Eulysian global policy in the decades since.
"In any case, I think it's clear that we've got a rough road ahead of us," I say, hoping to keep us from getting too far down a rabbit hole. "But we have to at least try. The alternative is the destruction of an entire species. Now, we’ve got less than seven hours to plan this thing before we arrive in the Eulysian system. Which means I need everyone to focus. Get your teams together, look through the casebook Ensign Khealia has put together for us, and work on some COAs to present to me by nine common time. Understood?”
There’s a collective yes ma’am, then I stand, prompting the others to do so as well.
Vessel: ESS Sao Paulo
Records of: Lolari Dairo
Rank (if app.): LT
Being a security officer is easy enough during wartime. As long as you don’t get boarded, it’s all about maintaining cyber defenses and providing counterespionage. Most of the time, it’s making sure the marines don’t bruise each other up so badly that they can’t fight the next morning. But it's those peacekeeping missions that keep me up at night. Like the one we’re going on today.
Seven hours. I’ve got seven hours to pull together a comprehensive security strategy for the boss. She wants to go to the surface herself, of course. Because why not put the captain and the first officer in an unsecured, unsurveyed, potentially hostile environment, at the same time? But I don’t make those decisions. I’m just the gun jockey. I’m just the one that has to launch microdrones to the surface upon arrival, run reconnaissance, assemble a security team, train them in relevant conditions, plot threat maps, distribute safety memorandums to the landing party, coordinate orbital defense for the ship, and then clean and oil my pistol. In seven hours.
So, I should probably get started on that.
[END OF ENTRY]