I like this short story text:
From /u/InBabylonTheyWept in /r/HFY a year ago.
” I think we underestimated the size of the human species by eight or nine orders of magnitude.”
The war room was reeling. The human population had been estimated in the mere hundred billion range. They should barely have had enough of an economy to field two light cruisers, least of all the goddamn armada that was ravaging the inner worlds. After the alpha strike, the human flotilla should’ve been completely crippled. Instead the number of ships they were fielding kept growing.
Tan-Hauser was the first target struck by a human attack, and they reported seventeen craft before they lost comms. Attican was hit just three days after that, but their reports already showed numbers above ninety. Any doubts that the fleet was growing were eliminated when Outpost Batan reported 1,217 FTL pings two days before the loss of Kira.
The number reported was so big it was written off as a sensor malfunction. Twenty-five billion souls lost, all because nobody in the war room could face reality.
They were going to face it now. The Kirarian in front of them was the primary sensor engineer for the Batan outpost, a specialist with more expertise in analyzing space lanes than warships. He’d been up for at least the last two days, poring over the sensor data, and only now was ready to begin to share his findings.
From the pain in his multifaceted eyes, it was clear he was still reeling from the loss of his homeworld.
Seeing that he had the room’s attention, he began to speak. The translation units each member of the war council had implanted experienced a moment of lag as they struggled to convert the almost musical tonal humming of the Kirarian tongue to more common galactic speech.
“The simplest data that can be analyzed from an FTL ping is the distance that the ship traveled before dropping to sublight. The contracted space in front of the craft traps small particles, even light itself for a short period, compressing its wavelength and then releasing it when the field disengages.”
The war room nodded along. The explanation was mildly technical, but anyone that had traveled on an FTL shuttle before knew the hazards of exiting FTL directly in front of your home destination. Blasting your home station with a wave of alpha, beta, and ultraviolet rays was hardly a warm welcome.
The engineer continued.
“The… issue with this is that we’re used to the majority of the ping being in the UV spectrum. We aren’t entirely sure what the spectrum of the signals we got from the ships were because Batan station can only detect up into the low gamma range, but that’s still what the majority of the human’s FTL pings were detected in. That’s at least ten billion times the frequency that we’re used to. Since the frequency of the burst can be roughly modeled by multiplying the mean radiation per unit distance by the length of the path, that implied one of two things: That the human ships were either traveling through areas with ten billion times the standard background flux, or that they were traveling extragalactic distances.”
The engineer paused for a few seconds at that statement. The pain of loss still shone in his gemstone eyes, but something more immediate was beginning to take center stage: Fear.
“Because the craft is essentially throwing… well, normally it would be the next three or four days worth of cosmic background radiation at you. In our case it’s more like several decades. But because it’s just giving you an advance on your normal cosmic background radiation, you can track the void in the next several days’ worth of background noise to determine the ship’s approach vector. The 1,217 crafts that arrived weren’t coming from the same spot. There were actually hundreds of converging vectors, but more importantly…”
He trailed off, a small 3D model of the local space appearing in the center of the holo table. A spiked ball of vectors protruded from the galactic disk, each piercing cleanly through his former homeworld.
His voice cracked a little, the hum turning into a hiss. The translator tech paused a moment too, struggling to convey the subtle emotional cues into the message.
“They’re all coming off the galactic disk. That doesn’t just mean that we’re surrounded, that doesn’t just mean that we’re outnumbered… It means that each attack that we’ve seen up to this point is from an entirely separate group. What we’ve been mistaking for fleets, I believe, are simply the beginning trickles of their exploratory forces. Each of the sites that they’ve targeted hasn’t been of significant strategic importance, they’ve just been sites with unusually strong output signals. I think they’re just using our transmission stations as makeshift beacons for their FTL jumps. I think we underestimated the size of the human species by eight or nine orders of magnitude.”
There was a heavy silence in the war room as that last sentence was processed. The engineer was already out the door before he heard the panic begin to set in.
Part of him felt a little guilty. It would’ve probably been kinder for them to go out not knowing what was about to hit them. Still, it wasn’t often you could force people with this much power to realize that they’d just lost everything.
There was a bitter satisfaction in that.
To anyone that made it this far, thank you for your patience. It’s been a hot minute since I had the time to submit anything here, but with my senior year of engineering behind me, and a new job already lined up, this should become a much more common event.
Thank you. <3