One idea I’ve had for a story I’d write in the future is to make one about the “bloody wars” that were fought over the warp gates about a thousand years into the future before the law of dueling was put in place, a bit of worldbuilding I included in “Warp Dawn”. In recent days I’ve hit on the idea of making it into a ghost story! Perhaps an uncharacteristic move from me, a fairly hard science fiction writer, but I like it.
The underlying story concept is a romantic tragedy where everyone (and the population a whole planetary system!) dies at the end, triggered by the keeper of a warp gate going back on his word to his users and using that transportation choke point to enforce tyrannical dictates, would underscore the horror of the warp gate era in a way nothing else could.
It’s also by far the closest analogue to lockdown that’s plausible in my universe, though honestly border control and passport mandates would be the closest analogue. Having lived in crypto-anarchy for centuries and having the ability to just take their whole technology base with them in their spaceships precludes even the existence of a state, let alone lockdown policies at all but the most voluntary or local levels. The hydraulic despotism of controlling the only wormhole to other star systems, however, reintroduces a vector for coercion and regimentation, even if a gatekeeper is not a state in the proper sense.
I’ve been thinking of a protagonist with a Robespierre-like disposition, with a beloved girl who’s not unlike Lady MacBeth; fanatical and bloodthirsty, but morally incorruptible. Think, as TVTropes puts it, the Well-Intentioned Extremist. Indeed, the gatekeeper antagonist will also be a Well-Intentioned Extremist type on the other side of the liberty-tyranny political divide, so that might make a fascinating premise.
Underscoring the tragedy, all the space habitats in the system were beautiful, paradisaical places before the antimatter missiles fly and they turned into a cloud of vapor, leaving as the only survivor the oracle living on the nearby stormy ocean planet.
This all takes place in a couple months leading up to Yule, the beginning of their new year and (like today) the most important holiday, with Yule itself being that solar system’s doomsday.
Foretelling in Slumber
Before it all even happens, the ghosts of the two tragic lovers, who I might name Rethesthane and Tisiphone (the names get more and more exotic with each passing story, don’t they? 😉 ) appear in a dream to a girl in a nearby solar system, specifically telling her to come to them in their solar system with her man, her husband-to-be, on a ship that can make the interstellar journey completely independently, and to avoid the warp gates.
Both of the lovers (I’m thinking they might be named Wulfric and Holiday) feel a calling from the gods and spirits to go there, and they hold off their wedding until after their voyage. They travel on a ship, presumably some kind of antimatter rocketship, that can accelerate at a constant 100g, up to a maximum speed of over 99.99% the speed of light in order to make the journey of 4 light-years or so. For the travelers the trip will take six weeks, but for everyone else the trip will take over 4 years.
Space Travel before mass Wormhole Flight: 100g in The-Abyss-style Liquid!
100g is far more acceleration than a human being can ordinarily survive, but a thousand years in the future immersion in breathable liquid is an option. I’m thinking they’ll be put asleep for the trip; having to adapt to and deal with a liquid environment for six weeks at a stretch is less pleasant than just falling asleep and waking up again in your destination like it was just a long night.
With how fast they’re going at the peak I wondered if it might be worth it to wake them up in the middle of the trip to see the cosmic microwave background be blueshifted into naked-eye visibility, but their peak Lorentz factor is 207, which is well short of the 550 needed for that. So they’ll be under for all six weeks.
Keeping people under for six weeks isn’t good for them, but I imagine that far in the future ways exist to keep the body in (at least somewhat) good condition while unconscious; I imagine drugs exist that can rapidly revive the body and mind to full strength upon awakening.
Visitors after the Apocalypse
When they are revived they find the thriving civilization that once spanned the system has been destroyed, only clouds of vapor and the odd piece of debris or two left standing. They detect a strong signal being broadcast from the planet upon their arrival; taking their shuttle down to investigate, they find the oracle in her temple atop an airborne coral reef, floating between the stormy skies above and the dark wavy sea below, the reef itself dominated by dead (or perhaps dormant?) woods.
She tells them of how they are the first visitors since doomsday struck, and how it was the day before Yule, the anniversary (first anniversary?) of the end of her world, how she knew the spectres of the Wild Hunt would come tonight. They indeed do come, heralded by a great storm coming off the ocean and ball lightning, so much ball lightning as to seem unnatural.
Spectre has come for Me
On the night of Yule, they behold the Hunt in all its ghostly glory as it forms an apparition, as they all perform some kind of ritual, ecstatic for the oracle, contemplative for the lovers, calling the ghosts of doomsday to them. At last the ghosts of Rethesthane and Tisiphone appear to them right in front of them on the reef, and they are all introduced to each other by the oracle.
During the ghost’s apparitions they conjure visions surrounding the couple of what they went through in their story, so they could see, hear, and sense what they did in life, telling their story so posterity may remember and learn from their experience.
After the ghosts tell their story, the boy and girl are wed right there on the planet with the ghosts being the officiants. They tell the new couple to tell their story, their whole story, and to continue their noble cause, feeling at last released from the obligation to ever appear again at the place that was once their home. They rejoin the Wild Hunt and set out for stars unknown.
Making love as husband and wife for the first time right there on the reef, they share the night, and the next day set off on their journey home, taking the oracle with them, settling in for the six weeks’ slumber, the lovers determined to realize their destinies as the ghosts’ successors, giving the final creepy touch in a long line of such flourishes to the story.
Windows of Interpretation
Yule of course is one and the same with our Christmas, and this tale would arguably fall into the long line of Christmas ghost stories, a genre which formerly was prolific but has since all but died out, Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” being the only well-known remnant that survives into mainstream modern culture.
All these ghosts and spirits, not to mention psychic powers such as precognition, is a marked departure from the tone of my stories so far, but I think it fits this particular tale like a glove, so I’ll deviate this time into a more fantastic realm. Besides, these stories are just that: stories, told by particular people from a particular point of view. What “really” happened in-universe is to a large extent a matter of interpretation.
I won’t be sitting down to actually write this tale anytime soon, but my fingers might just start to fly onto my keyboard when the holiday season dawns and the atmosphere becomes more right for it. We’ll see.