Have we talked about Siris before? I can’t remember.
Siris is one of my main Galactic Federation characters. You may have met him in the first chapter of Tsien’s story, if you’ve been reading around the site. By that point, though, he’s over 300 years old chronologically, and I’ve actually no idea how old he is in terms of years experienced, since various versions of him have been recorded, stored, brought back, blown up, and so on.
His life is, needless to say, more than a little complicated.
But it’s been complicated almost from the start. Siris was born on a remote colony world, on the “fringes” of Federation space. I say “fringes” because that’s never, strictly speaking, accurate in space terms. For illustration, here’s a picture that never ceases to amaze me:
That’s our galaxy, or a reasonable rendition thereof. (I believe it’s a public domain NASA image; if I find my credit is wrong, I’ll update it.) Individual stars aren’t visible at this scale. That tiny little cone there is the section of the galaxy that the Kepler mission is studying in its hunt for exoplanets. It has already found at least 1,039 in that tiny space alone. (And those are just the confirmed planets! There are any number of candidate objects still awaiting confirmation! Incidentally, if you want to help with the search for planets using the Kepler data, there’s a citizen science project to do just that: Planet Hunters!)
And despite those large numbers in that tiny volume, our galaxy, like all galaxies, is mostly empty space. Unless interstellar travel relies on a limited number of wormholes at fixed locations (which, in this setting, it doesn’t), a far-flung civilisation is incredibly porous. It’s just not possible to prevent ships from going anywhere they please: you have to stop them when they get there. So in that sense, every part of the Federation is equally open to danger. In practice, however, people have tended to prefer short hops over long ones (it’s also more efficient), and to stay near their other worlds, so in general, newer colonies tend to be further from the line between the species’ homeworld and Federation HQ.
So, out on the frontier, Siris – which isn’t the name he went by at the time – was a first-generation native of his homeworld. It had just one city, a couple of towns and villages, and that was it. A single spaceport on the city limits served the entire planet. A university had recently been established, and active research was underway: Siris got himself a part-time job there (sweeping leaves and the like) just to be near all the interesting spaceship design that was going on. His life’s ambition was to be at the forefront of his homeworld’s work in that field, designing new and improved ships that would one day be seen across the galaxy.
Life, however, had other ideas.
Siris’ homeworld fell victim to one of the early Rhengraa attacks, nibbling around the edges of Federation space. To the rest of the galaxy it was barely a blip on the radar; to Siris, it was a shattering event that changed everything forever.
He happened to be working near the experimental spaceship at the time. It was in the final stages of being prepared for takeoff. When the attack began, he panicked and fled to the nearest place of shelter: aboard the ship. As the strafing fighters grew closer, he frantically engaged the launch sequence, and took off before they had realised there was a lone spaceship on the opposite side of town from the starport. Under the pre-programmed autopilot, the ship flew to a patch of empty space and stopped there.
Siris was trapped. He couldn’t fly a spaceship, hadn’t the faintest idea how. Worse, he had almost no supplies that he could actually get at. The only way to survive was to take the place of the test pilot, and be given a permanent neural link to the ship. One from which he couldn’t be released without outside help… and the “help” that found him had other ideas.