Enjoyed that, CMDR!
“So, Raxxla?” I asked her before either of us dropped off to sleep. Her bare thigh was draped across mine, the warmth of her mound almost burning against my leg, a damp, sticky heat both a little uncomfortable yet at the same time not in the least unpleasant. An oversized quilt was draped over us, its edges trimmed with permanent magnets that stuck it to the deck of the compartment through the thin carpet, holding us down against the bed and preventing us from floating off the mattress in zero g. It wasn’t an ideal solution to sleeping in the absence of gravity, but it was cheap, effective and you didn’t wake up in the morning to find your face pressed against a hot conduit and suffering livid third degree burns.
She sighed in what I hoped was contentment after our exertions, threw an arm across my chest and pulled me a little closer. “Raxxla,” she murmured. “Why is it always Raxxla that people want to know about? Why not The Dark Wheel or the Club? At least they can be explained to some degree. With Raxxla you might as well ask me to describe what heaven is like. Or hell. Nobody knows.”
“Yet everybody has a theory. Max yanked pretty hard on your chain when you were about to go into greater detail back on the flight deck just before we left Garay’s.” I reminded her. “He ain’t here now, so spill.”
“Scholars have studied the myth around the word ‘Raxxla’ since ships mechanic Art Tornqvist mentioned it in passing over a thousand years ago in his personal journals, in the same breath as pirate treasure.” Mary whispered after a few moments probably contemplating how much trouble she might get in with her father. “Nobody thought much of it for centuries. The word Raxxla was spoken in the same tones as Shangri-La, Xanadu and Atlantis. Then a historian named Robert Holdstock brought it back to the attention of the public with his biography of Alex Ryder.”
“Remember Raxxla.” I hissed dramatically. Holdstock’s ‘The Dark Wheel’ was mandatory reading for any pilot and had been dramatized on vid by more or less every cinematic director worthy of the name, a cautionary tale of the dangers that await anybody who ventures out into the black whilst simultaneously a romantic glimpse into the life of a starship commander and the potential for riches and glory that await the bold and the brave.
“Aye. Remember Raxxla. Never before in history have two words been the cause of so much wasted time.” She laughed. “Later in his works he calls it ‘the mythical planet Raxxla’ and describes it as a gateway to other universes. Jason Ryder, Alex’s father, was allegedly a member of The Dark Wheel organisation, and was killed on the eve of mounting a serious expedition to locate the planet after claiming that he’d found solid evidence for the existence of Raxxla. It’s commonly accepted that he was assassinated to keep Raxxla a secret known only to members of what we call ‘The Club’.”
“We know a little more about The Club than we do Raxxla, but not by much. It’s a collection of powerful people steering the course of human progress for their own profit, or so it is claimed.” She yawned. “One of Holdstock’s contemporaries, an investigative journalist by the name of Wagar, tried to blow the lid off The Club and their activities, but his writings were suppressed, written off as the raving fictions of a conspiracy theorist, and generally disregarded other than by obsessive conspiracy theorists, which suits The Club and their homicidal need to remain mankind’s anonymous puppet masters just fine.”
“So, getting back to Raxxla?” I nudged her before she could succumb to the urge to drift off into sleep after the under the quilt, on top of the quilt and even at one stage half across the floor exertions
“All we really know of Raxxla is that it’s a sibilant word spoken by two people separated by over eight hundred years. Anything else – what it is, where it is, what it does – is purely conjecture. Which may be why the subject draws the attention of so many fruitcakes. It can be whatever one imagines it to be.” She said, beginning to wake up again. “It’s like a jigsaw puzzle where you don’t know what the picture you’re trying to make is.” She tried to explain. I wasn’t a hundred percent sure what a jigsaw puzzle was other than an archaic turn of phrase used to describe an unsolved mystery, but I didn’t interrupt her for further clarification. “There’s lots of individual pieces, some of which can be connected, but some of them are just bits of colourful board that you aren’t sure even fit into the picture. I collect and collate the puzzle pieces for Alliance Intel and because I get a glimpse of everything that gets submitted by our operatives, I can make a guess as to what it might be that stands a better chance of being more accurate than anybody else’s best guess.”
“So what do you think it is?”
“My personal belief is that Raxxla is a Witch Space portal to Andromeda or perhaps another nearby galaxy, opened up by the Thargoids - or maybe even an unknown race - long ago to bridge the gap between their galaxy and ours, but nowadays closed off to them and guarded by Oresrians. The Thargoids are keenly aware of its existence, but don’t know its precise location, although it is widely believed that it is somewhere within humanity’s bubble. This is one of the reasons why they keep making incursions into our space. Meta-alloy plantations seeded throughout the galaxy and given time to mature is another, of course. Our colonised bubble has grown to encompass not only their blossoming meta-alloy fields, but also Raxxla itself.”
Andromeda, for those who don’t know, is a large spiral galaxy near to our own Milky Way, relatively speaking - about two and a half million light years distant. Andromeda is destined to one day (about four billion years in the future) collide with and merge with ours to create a supergalaxy that will be known as, you guessed it, The Milkomeda. “So if this Raxxla planet is in the bubble, how come we haven’t already found it?” I wondered.
“Before the jump drive, mankind had to travel through space in generation ships that took years to travel from star to star.” Mary explained, becoming more and more animated as she spoke. “Back then the bubble was just a handful of habitable worlds. Then the first hyperspace drives were invented and the bubble grew exponentially, which led to the discovery of alien life and triggered the first Thargoid war. Shortly after the end of that war, GalCop disintegrated and the formula for the fuel that powered hyperdrives was supposedly lost with it, so the bubble’s rapid expansion once again slowed to a crawl for about a century. Exploration looked inward, rather than outward, as exploring outside of the bubble became untenable – trips to distant stars took months and often led to stardreamer sickness.” More on that later, dear reader. “Then, out of nowhere, came the creation of the Frame Shift Drive – based on reverse engineered Thargoid technology - and galactic expansion once again began to be focused away from the bubble and out to distant regions of unexplored space.”
“Consider this,” she persisted. “Since the FSD was developed, mankind has dispersed significantly, scattered to the four winds by the ease and relative safety of long distance interstellar travel. Tourists are now able to visit the supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy with negligible risk to themselves and daredevil pilots compete to be the furthest to travel out into the empty space outside the Milky Way. We, as a species, are more divided and weakened than we have ever been since we broke the bonds that tied us to Earth and Mars.”
“What are you saying?” I turned to face her. “That the Thargoids allowed us to capture a functioning vessel so that we could create a device that spreads us out more thinly and makes us easier to conquer?”
“Why is that so difficult to get your head around?” She asked. “Think about it. They backed off for over a century to lick their wounds after INRA hit them with the Mycoid bacterium. This has given them the time to develop technologies to counter our military capabilities and given us time to get the FSD reverse engineered and operational. A decade or two later we’ve scattered our starships right across the Milky Way.
“Nobody looks inward to the less than one tenth of a percent of the galaxy that humanity’s bubble encompasses when there is ninety-nine-point nine percent of the galaxy still uncharted.” She continued. “Who explores the eight million square light year region of space and seventy thousand star systems inside the bubble any more? Humanity has expanded deep into the Pleiades and out to Colonia, which is twenty thousand light years from the bubble, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the unexplored ninety nine percent of a galaxy that contains another four hundred million stars. With all that uncharted space, littered with habitable planets and valuable resources that have not yet been exploited, why do the Thargoids keep coming back to this region out on a remote spiral arm where star density is relatively low, where they have already had their asses handed to them by both humans and the Guardian race before us? Why, if not for something that is important to them, important enough to risk death for?” Mary demanded. “There must be something in our itty-bitty bubble that they want badly enough to keep coming back for.”
“And you believe it’s Raxxla rather than meta-alloys.” I finished for her. She had a point. Meta alloys thrive in young nebulae where chemical density was high, not in regular space, and there weren't any of those in the bubble if you discounted the Pleiades and Witch Head nebulae being a part of that bubble.
“I believe the Thargoids - Oresrians, Klaxians, whatever you want to call them - came from Andromeda originally as explorers, using Raxxla as the conduit, and were trapped here for reasons we still haven’t figured out. There have been rumours of some sort of civil war between them, but that is again uncorroborated hearsay. The race of Thargoids that humanity defeated has grown in strength and numbers in the one hundred and fifty years since they were driven out of human space and are ready to fight their way back home, but we now stand in their way and the opposing race are using humans as a buffer zone to keep them away from the Milky Way’s side of that inter-galactic conduit.”
“So where is this mythical place?”
Mary laughed out loud. “C’mon, Joe, a girl’s gotta have some secrets.” She told me, digging me in the ribs with an elbow. “A slap up dinner and a couple of middling orgasms ain’t going to buy you my theories on where Raxxla lies. I may be easy, but I sure ain’t cheap.” She grinned. “I need to get some sleep. Max said he’d wake us up in four hours, and I would guess that after this chat and the sex we had before it that we’ve only got about three hours and fifty-five minutes of that idle time left.”
“Cheeky cow.” I laughed as she snuggled back in to my side. Middling orgasms? I lay awake for a while, thinking about her hypothesis. I knew that very little of what she had just told me was fact and was instead almost entirely supposition, that much of it was just her interpretation of what was going on based on the data that she was given. She could be right about some of it, but more likely – just like every other Raxxla hunter that ever was – she was probably completely wrong about a great deal of it.
I had done some basic research of my own regarding Thargoids under the principle of knowing one’s enemy and I knew that the word Thargoid was a term created by the human media to more easily describe the species. I was well aware that there were two opposing factions. Supposedly the Alliance had made contact with at least one individual of the Oresrian faction long ago, so some of Mary’s information would have come from historical records of those interactions. Whether the Oresrian delegate lied to make them look like the friendly, benevolent faction was open to speculation. What wasn’t open to argument was the fact that a Thargoid had never been seen in combat against another Thargoid. Whatever race we were fighting against was only concerned with sweeping humanity aside.
It was also widely rumoured that the Alliance had indeed obtained captured Thargoid ships from what they had been able to salvage, blag and steal from the collapse of the Galactic Cooperative and from those examples had managed to prototype a working frame shift drive in the late 33rd century by reverse engineering them. Rather than using this breakthrough to become the pre-eminent superpower, over and above the Federation and Empire who lacked FSD capability, instead the designs and prototypes disappeared from AIS laboratories and workshops and somehow found their way into the hands of the Sirius Corporation, who quickly established a monopoly on the technology that exists to this day.
Sirius conduct their business under a policy that makes their products available to whoever wants them, so long as they can afford them – an approach widely acknowledged as having prevented an intergalactic war for control over the technology. Was this down to ‘The Club’, as Mary called them, manipulating the trajectory of humanity’s progress? And if so, were they really a malevolent organisation, given the billions of lives that would have been lost, the decades of destruction and the hundreds of poisoned worlds that might have resulted had the Alliance themselves monopolised the invention? If there had been an intergalactic war over the licensing of the drive, then the Thargoids would surely have found a mankind weakened by years of internal conflict a total pushover? Perhaps ‘The Club’ were only concerned with saving mankind from themselves, and if that was so, and they had indeed been behind the assassination of Jason Ryder in order to keep the location of Raxxla a secret, then maybe the whole Raxxla mystery was something that we shouldn’t be meddling with in the first place.
The only thing that I had gotten from all this pillow talk was the certainty that we still had no real clue about what Raxxla was and no idea what the Thargoids were really after. It wasn’t the extinction of mankind, or they would be bombarding colonised planets from space with asteroids. I doubted it was an internal civil war as there has never been a report in recorded history of a Thargoid on Thargoid fight to the death. A desire to return home to Andromeda was as believable a goal as any, and using Raxxla as the device to make that theory believable was reasonable conjecture. That was the one thing Raxxla was good at – being anything that you want it to be, so long as you could plausibly jam it into whatever hypothesis you were promoting.
I rolled over, extricating myself from her arms as she snored contentedly beside me – well, presumably contentedly given her orgasms had been merely ‘middling’ – but sleep remained elusive. I couldn’t help the feeling that what we were doing was unwittingly going against the deliberate machinations and carefully plotted schemes of this ‘Club’, and that by doing so we were going to be causing big problems for somebody somewhere along the line. Hopefully that would not be by placing the future of humanity in jeopardy. While by no means an advocate of ‘The Club’, I didn’t want to be fighting against them when something in the back of my mind was telling me that they might not be the real danger here. Okay, they may have murdered Jason Ryder just before his Raxxla hunting expedition, but I couldn’t erase from my mind the suspicion that they may have had an overwhelmingly compelling reason to do so.
* * *tbc