Part One: Displacement
[A/N 1: This is a fanfiction crossover between First Contact, an ongoing novel on Reddit by Ralts_Bloodthorne and Worm, a webnovel by Wildbow. I make no claim to either property. This is merely a fun look at what happens when two worlds interact for the first time.]
[A/N 2: This chapter beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]
[A/N 3: I will follow the canon of both stories as closely as I can. If I find something that canon does not cover, I will make stuff up. If canon then refutes me, I will revise. Do not bother me with fanon; corrections require citations.]
[A/N 4: I welcome criticism of my works, but if you tell me that something is wrong, I also expect an explanation of what is wrong, and a suggestion of how to fix it. Note that I do not promise to follow any given suggestion.]
[A/N 5: Due to developments in the original story, I have rewritten the first chapter extensively.]
Introduction: First Contact
Vuxten had to admit, human-made 'easy chairs' were definitely what he would class as superior technology. As he leaned back in his, allowing it to adjust to his form, he could hear the broodcarriers singing to the podlings in the next room. The sound was soothing on a level even he could not define; broodcarriers were, as one prominent Terran commentator had said (not without a touch of awe) made of peace and love. Merely spending time in their presence helped leach away some of the underlying tension from the worst of the fighting, and allowed him to face the memories of each of his fallen comrades. And the podlings were a joy to behold, getting bigger and more mischievous every day.
The door-chime sounded, disturbing his reverie. He activated his implant, only to find that Brentili'ik had gotten there first. Framed in the door-cam was a familiar figure. He brought the easy-chair to an upright position and stood up, just as Brentili'ik entered the room, an irritated look on her face. "No," she said out loud and over the implant as well.
"It's Tran-Due-Ill," Vuxten said to her. "If he's here, it must be important." He knew why she didn't want him to open the door; she'd just gotten him healthy again. The fight against the Dweller under the mountain had taken far too much out of him, had nearly killed him. Only the enhanced armour granted him by Bellona had saved him when the explosion blew the side out of the mountain, and even that had barely been enough.
It was only due to Tran-Due-Ill, 471, General Trucker (now sporting a little more metal), Ekret and Old Iron Feathers that he'd survived at all. He now had a small piece of warsteel, scorched and cracked, granted him by Trucker after the decommissioning of Cry Little Sister. The big Terran had decided that he'd earned it; it helped, sometimes, to hold it and rub his hand-pads over the evidence of how much damage the tank had gone through to win the war. Stricken as she was, she had not fallen, had carried out her last duty to the end.
"If he's here, it's because of Gal-And-Dell," Brentili'ik said. "Something's gone wrong, and she wants you to help." She went to him and put her arms around him. "It's something dangerous, because there's no other reason she needs you."
"I can always say no," he assured her.
"But you won't." Her tone was resigned rather than angry. "Why can't the world just let us have our time together?"
He rubbed her gently on the spot on her back that she liked. "You know what the Terrans like to say about the universe." It will laugh as it takes away what you love the most.
"Yes, I know. But I don't have to like it." She didn't resist as he pulled away and went to the door.
It opened to reveal Tran-Due-Ill standing there patiently. The High Elf wore his usual woodland garb and silvery armour, with a wickedly sharp sword sheathed at his waist—Vuxten had seen similar blades slice through warsteel—and an intricate-looking bow slung over his shoulder. "Greetings, Lord Vuxten, and to your lady wife as well," Tran-Due-Ill said, executing a sweeping bow. "May we enter your home?"
"We?" asked Vuxten, then saw 471 as the foot-high green mantid scrambled up onto Tran-Due-Ill's shoulder. Okay, this was definitely serious. "Yes, come on in."
He half-expected Brentili'ik to blow up when she saw Vuxten's longtime partner, but she instead relaxed slightly. "Oh, good," she murmured. "You're here, at least." 471 had visited from time to time during Vuxten's convalescence; checking over their household appliances and Vuxten's own prosthetics, engaging in frenetic games of tag-me-out with the podlings, and occasionally falling asleep on top of one or another of the broodcarriers (much to their bemusement).
471 flashed her a cautiously reassuring icon, then jumped over to the top of Vuxten's easy chair where he settled down, gesturing with a bladearm toward Tran-Due-Ill. Now that Vuxten looked more closely, the High Elf appeared more careworn, with scars and lines on his face that had not been there before.
"There is evil afoot in the land," Tran-Due-Ill began. Knowing this was just how they spoke, neither Vuxten nor Brentili'ik interrupted him. "The Elven Queen Gal-And-Dell exerts her influence over all the land and all the sea, except for one small part, in a small town to the south and east of here. Three of my kind who have entered this area have not returned; of all else, they entered, searched, and left empty-handed. The spying eyes of the Mad Arch-Angel Terrasol, far above, see nothing. And yet, creatures large and small creep out to wreak their mischief on those around and about."
"So send soldiers in," Brentili'ik said bluntly. "Terrasol has left them to protect us. Allow them to do their job."
"This has been done, Lady Brentili'ik," Tran-Due-Ill said with a small bow in her direction. "They entered and searched, and found nothing, not even the remains of my fellow Elves." He nodded toward Vuxten. "There stands the greatest warrior in all of Telkan. It is to him that the world speaks, and passes on its closest secrets. If the Dwellerspawn lurks within, he is the one who will draw it from its lair."
Brentili'ik's expression hardened. "And if I simply authorised a nuclear strike?"
"It might not work," Vuxten said carefully. "Toward the end of the war, they were becoming more and more resistant to our munitions, even nuclear ordnance. Without a direct penetrator, there's a good chance that whatever it is will survive."
"And if it's killed three Wood Elves, it's dissected them and learned their secrets," Brentili'ik noted. "Which makes it very dangerous indeed." She sighed. "Well, though I hate to admit it, there's one thing those monsters never learned how to counter." Stepping back into her husband's embrace, she leaned into him. "Just promise me one thing."
"What's that?" He held her close.
Her voice was low and deadly. "When you kill it, make it hurt."
The shoulder-mounted grenade launcher thumped off three rounds, but Vuxten was already on the move. Sprinting up the mound of rubble, he rolled over the top as the explosions went off, decapitating the thirty-foot-long snake-thing that had been trying to ingest him. On his shoulder, the warsteel-armoured 471 popped up and fired off a spread of micro-missiles at a dog-sized creature that was trying to sneak up on them. The missiles detonated it in mid-leap, chitin pinging off his armour.
His creation engine read out as 25% heat, 13% slush. He was good for the moment, manufacturing more grenades for the launcher. The readout on his helmet HUD showed Tran-Due-Ill moving up on his six but hanging back, as they'd arranged.
A small piece of rubble moved half an inch, and his eyes narrowed; reaching out, he wrapped his gauntleted hand around a piece of protruding rebar. The slightest quiver against the sensitive part of his palm verified his suspicions.
"Vuxten here. I've got ground vibration. Something big's coming my way."
"There's nothing on sensors." That showed up as a Major Chambers in the Terran contingent five miles away, doubt in his voice.
"Sir, I've been in the jungle with Vuxten. If he says something's coming, something's coming." He recognised the icon that popped up then. Captain Clynes was a full-conversion cyborg, and a good officer to work with.
"Very well, Vuxten. How big are we talking?" Chambers was all business now.
471 flashed up an image of a giant roach wearing huge fluffy slippers and Vuxten blinked to acknowledge it. "471 and I both think it's large, maybe as large as a tank, but it's got advanced stealth systems, including vibration damping." He paused as a wave of foreign emotion passed over him, and the last pieces of the puzzle dropped into place. "It's a brain coral, sir. A mobile brain coral and birthing chamber. That's how it keeps evading you. It never stays in one place."
"I copy, Vuxten." Chambers was quiet for a moment. "We need more data. Satellite overwatch is giving us nothing for that area. If you can get us a location, we can hit it from a distance. Can do?"
"Can do, sir." Vuxten racked his magac rifle and engaged the minimal stealth systems that had been built into his suit. 471 clicked -ride or die- then flashed up an image of a small rodent wearing Telkan combat gear sneaking up to put a bell around the neck of a huge cartoon purrboi.
As Vuxten eased through a gap between two chunks of rubble, his rear-view HUD noted Tran-Due-Ill moving closer. He waved the High Elf to his side, and they moved on. Each of them knew the stakes; there were no false steps.
The next street seemed clear, if Vuxten discounted several large craters marring the road surface. No pillbugs bulked into sight. He rapidly flicked through several vision options and found nothing. Inside his helmet, his whiskers twitched. Despite the evidence of his eyes and sensors, he knew something was there.
Tran-Due-Ill touched his shoulder and pointed upward. Vuxten looked, squinting to zoom in with his cybernetic eye. Temporarily clear of the clouds of smoke and dust, the night sky above was clear. Stars twinkled here and there … but several of them shifted from side to side, smearing slightly.
Oh. Oh shit. Advanced active camouflage.
It wasn't totally over the top of them, but it was very close by. Vuxten gave the High Elf the 'withdraw' signal, just as he felt the tiny vibration through his feet that time. It was big, but it had long legs like a spider. And one of those legs had come down very close to them. Within yards, if he had to guess.
Once Tran-Due-Ill was about ten yards back and almost out of sight, Vuxten started back himself. 471, clad in his own warsteel armour, flashed up an image of a human wearing a ridiculous cloth mask over his eyes, with a bag bearing an ancient symbol for currency, sneaking past a snoring householder.
Step by careful step, he began to retreat as well.
And then he heard the almost subliminal rising hum of an organic weapons system powering up, behind him. The icon for "RUN" flashed in his HUD. From a standing start, he broke into a sprint. At the same time, 471 opened the radio channel for him.
"Danger close, danger close, fire on my position!" Vuxten called. "Tango up high, I say again, tango up high!" His shoulder guns, pointing backward and up, opened up on the monstrous creature while his launchers went to rapid fire, reloading as fast as the nanoforge could supply the ammunition. He left it to 471 to call the shots; he was moving as fast as he could through the maze of rubble left by the collapsed building, springing from one foothold to another with all the power that his armour could supply him. Flares and chaff burst out in a cloud all around him as 471 did his best to spoof the enemy's aim.
Several of the rockets splashed fire against empty air, and the others corrected aim to hit the same point, blinking the active-camouflage field off and on again. A howling storm of exotic energies descended around Vuxten as the gigantic organism returned fire. Clinging to his back, 471 alerted him to potential hits which he dived aside from, ignoring the bits of rubble that clattered against their armour.
And then the incoming fire arrived, and things got even more chaotic. They'd had time to line up everything they could throw at this thing. They didn't know what it was using for battlescreens and what would get through, so it was 'just shoot the thing' time.
In the midst of all this, Vuxten ran, dived, jumped, rolled, dodged …
… and was hit by a purple-edged beam that caused him, 471, and two tons of rubble to simply vanish.
A tenth of a second later, just as it realised it was shooting at the wrong target, the incoming fire figured out the frequency of its battlescreens, then punched through into the brain coral and the highly-unstable chemicals it was using to sustain its weapons fire. An uncontrolled reaction then took place, and things got very noisy.
When the smoke cleared, all that remained was a crater and a lot of bug guts.
Five Hours Later
"Where. Is. My. Husband?"
Like Vuxten, Brentili'ik was a Telkan. She stood a shade under four feet tall and looked not unlike an anthropomorphic fox, albeit with a wider muzzle, larger eyes, and flat, plant-eating teeth. Her pelt was a dappling of gold, black and white, and her short tail curled up behind her to show her displeasure. She also wore the uniform of a Planetary Director, which meant she outranked virtually everyone else in the solar system. Anyone she didn't outrank was staying back out of the way; this was her show.
Less than two years before, she'd been a humble cleaner, who wouldn't have dared speak out of turn to a soldier or anyone in authority. Now she was someone in authority, and she had questions to ask. If they didn't like the tone of her voice, that was their problem.
"Ah, Director Brentili'ik, what happened to your husband is a unique situation. In fact, we've got some good news and some bad news."
Her large, mobile ears twitched as she turned toward the human scientist who'd spoken. "That's more promising than simply bad news. What's the good news?"
"We believe he's still alive," the scientist said, then hastened to cover his own tracks. "Or at least, the beam didn't kill him."
Brentili'ik gestured for him to continue. "And the bad news?"
"It sent him elsewhere, but we're not sure where exactly." The human, who was a Major in his own right, grimaced at the wrinkle that formed on the brow of the diminutive Telkan woman. "As far as we can tell, the beam was designed to suck things into jumpspace and spit them out within a couple of lightseconds of travel. But that's not what happened."
"How do you know?" she asked.
"Because he had a green mantid with him. 471's a crazy little dude, but he knows one end of a wrench from the other. That little guy could've made over Vuxten's suit into a self-contained spacecraft and we'd not only know where they were by now, but they'd be coming back under their own power. So he's not in local space. But the beam couldn't have shot him farther under normal conditions. However, there was a lot of energy flying around that could have heterodyned the beam, so it could've theoretically punched him up further into the bands than anyone's gone. What happens when you get that high, where you go to, is anyone's guess. Nobody's ever come back from that."
For a herbivore, Brentili'ik's stare was particularly predatory. "I suggest you endeavour to find out, and then bring my husband back. Our podlings need their father, and our broodcarriers call out his name in their sleep. Cost is no obstacle." Turning, she strode away, her security warborgs falling into step alongside her.
"Yes, ma'am." The scientists, galvanised into action, went back to the task of analysing from the battlefield recordings exactly what had happened to the beam, and thus the missing Lieutenant Vuxten and 471, at the instant that they'd disappeared.
Project: Find Vuxten had just taken a huge jump in priority but even with the resources of an entire planetary government at their disposal, it would not be an easy task.
In Another Iteration of Reality
"Whoa!" Along with two tons of plascrete and other debris and a foot-high armoured mantid, Vuxten burst out through a tear in space. He rolled, came to his feet, unracked his magac rifle and used graviton-spikes from his boots to anchor himself while he swivelled his helmet, seeking targets for his onboard ordnance. The tear in space neatly closed up again, leaving Vuxten with ringing ears and nothing to shoot at. He tabbed a piece of gum and chewed on it while he scanned around again. The plascrete steamed gently, as did his armour; from the looks of it, everything organic had been scoured off both of them from the passage through … wherever that had been.
"471, you seeing this?"
The mantid clicked an affirmative, keeping his own lookout atop Vuxten's helmet with a micro-missile launcher. Vuxten could see in his helmet HUD that the little greenie was mapping the local area and comparing it to where they'd just been. He could also see that there were no real points of correlation. The buildings were all intact, if dilapidated, but they looked … old. Like a colony that had been built using lowtech methods and hadn't upgraded to the latest building materials. Electrical lights glared from overhead poles.
"Where are we?"
471 didn't have an answer. He flashed up an icon of a hero steadfastly looking over the cityscape from atop a tall building, then kept mapping. A tiny drone popped out of the nanoforge on Vuxten's armour and zoomed skyward, connected to Vuxten's systems by a whisker-laser. No sense in letting everyone know they were here, until they found out where 'here' was.
"Good idea," Vuxten agreed, and headed for an alley. Leaping up to the wall, he used the graviton-spikes as anchors to jump to a higher viewpoint. Two leaps later, he was on the rooftop. It didn't help ease his confusion.
The city spread out in all directions. There were no rising clouds of dust or smoke. Radiation count was minimal; strictly background. A distant siren sounded, but there was no gunfire, no explosions. Even the gravity felt subtly different. The drone was feeding him a city map that showed him where he was. The trouble was, it didn't match any city in his databanks.
471 nudged his helmet around to the right. Bringing the rifle up, he turned and looked. A half-moon was just rising at what his armour agreed was approximately ninety degrees to magnetic north. It was a big satellite, with markings …
"471, check starmaps. I think I know where we are."
It was ridiculous. It was impossible. But unless someone had gone so far as to rebuild their planet's satellite to a particular pattern, there could be no other place. He and Brentili'ik had watched too many old Terran movies with their broodcarriers and podlings to mistake it. She enjoyed the romantic ones, and he just enjoyed being with her. With his family.
While 471 worked, the drone turning its sensors skyward and checking the star patterns against known starmaps, he squinted to zoom in toward the darkened half of the moon. If he was right, he'd be picking up the pinpoints of the domed city lights about … now.
That was strange. There were no lights to be seen. He could see the darkened half, lit by planetshine, but there was no evidence of any settlement on the satellite. A chill worked its way down his back, and he chewed the gum a little harder.
-starmaps weird- 471 clicked out. The mantid projected a series of constellations on Vuxten's HUD. -starmaps here-. Then he switched to a subtly different one. -northern hemisphere terra-.
Vuxten frowned and flicked back and forth between them. They were almost identical, but a few of the stars changed relative position almost imperceptibly from one image to the next. "Okay. That is weird." He knew how astrogation worked, and how starmaps didn't change from one location on a planet to another.
They'd taught him a lot since he'd become an officer.
What it didn't explain was why the stars above didn't quite match his databanks for Terra. There was always the possibility that he was in a simulation, though for what reason he didn't know. Well, there was one way to find out. "Okay, you got me. Good one. End simulation."
Okay, either it's not a simulation or there's a reason they're keeping me in it. Best to assume it's real for the moment.
His armour wasn't detecting anything dangerous outside so he popped his faceplate to take a breath of the local air. It smelled … like a city. The faint tang of internal-combustion engine hydrocarbon pollution, dust, hot metal. There was an answer here, somewhere. He was alive, and 471 was with him. They'd been together during the worst of the fighting, and they'd come through against what had seemed to be impossible odds at the time. He'd figure out what was going on, and how to get back home.
-got it- clicked 471, then the mantid flashed up a series of emojis that indicated 'you are not going to believe this shit'.
"Okay, what is it?" He closed his faceplate again, and hunkered down, magac rifle still in his hands. "Where are we?"
Deep down, he thought he already knew, but getting confirmation was always good.
The two starmaps flicked back and forth a couple of times, then one shifted to fit over the other. A readout showed up in the corner of the image. As the starfield moved to fit, digits rolled over. He watched them, his mouth going dry despite the gum. When they finished, he had to blink twice to take in the readout. -13,000 Years, ±1,700.
"Double-check that," he said, keeping his voice steady. "See if you can link us into local communications. There's got to be a time clock somewhere."
-roger roger- The starmaps went away, but the number remained. Vuxten stood up again, looking around at the city with new eyes. Thirteen thousand years ago, Terra had been on the verge of making it into space. So many things hadn't happened yet. The ecological collapse. The Great Glassing. The rebuilding. All the wars.
He owed Terra everything. What he was now, what he had, was only because Terran soldiers had seen some potential in a bunch of so-called 'neo-sapient' menial workers being drafted into an ad hoc security force by uncaring Lanaktallan Overseers. It was only because of them that he and his family had survived the madness that followed. That his species had survived it.
And now he was on their birthworld, before everything happened.
They helped me. I can't leave without helping them. Warn them of the Mantid Overqueen treachery, at least. Tell them where the Lanaktallans are, and what they're doing. Give them a heads-up on the Precursor machines and the bio-war fleets. Even the Mar-gites. Anything that will save a few Terran lives.
Raising his faceplate and standing up again, he looked skyward. He didn't even know where his home star was from Terra, or if it was visible from the planet's surface. He'd have to look that up.
But right now, he had three steps to follow.
Number one: survive.
Number two: figure out a way to get home again, whether by travelling to Telkan and going into stasis until he woke up thirteen thousand years in the future, or figuring a way back through the hole in space.
Number three: work out how to offer as much support as he could without disrupting the timeline before he left.
Everything else was just detail.
End of Part One