2948-05-26 – Tales from the Service: The Gossamer Patron

It has been some time since the story Tales from the Inbox: A Gossamer Guardian appeared on Tales from the Inbox. That story’s strange encounter with a xenosapient on Håkøya was drawn from a single first-hand account and no official records, and I was inclined to be skeptical.

This week, I was surprised to find a very similar creature (probably not the same one, given that this one was encountered three thousand kilometers away from the first encounter) referred to in official dispatches. This “Gossamer Håkøyan” is described by witnesses in the same manner as the first, and it was encountered by a FDA garrison at Hamlinson bay, far from the well-settled areas of the planet. This time also, there is more than eyewitness testimony; low-resolution imagery of the specimen and an official censure of the garrison personnel involved were included in the commander’s report.

After seeing the report, I reached out to the civilian investigator whose name was referenced in the report. She was happy to provide a recording of her interview with the base commander - evidently, none of this information is deemed militarily sensitive. This may still be an elaborate hoax - stories of this kind have circulated among Håkøyan colonists for decades, and it's doubtlessly set the local datasphere on fire - but if so, I can't find any obvious faults with it.

Amber Holiday reported to the garrison C.O.’s office and stood at attention outside the soundproof door until it opened to emit a pair of chastened lieutenants wearing expressions usually only seen on the faces of puppies. Whatever their crime, Amber knew it was less serious than Colonel Bennington had let on; after all, the smart-cloth rank insignias on their shoulders remained intact.

Seeing Amber in the waiting-room, the colonel waved her inside as soon as the lieutenants had gone. “I hope you have good news for me, Holiday.”

Amber shook her head sadly. Colonel Bennington’s office was spacious and spartan, its main ornament being the wide window behind his desk which looked out over Hamlinson Bay’s sparkling waves, as if to remind all visitors what Bennington was tasked with protecting. Though half a world away from Håkøya’s main population centers, the bay and the rocky island at its mouth were one of the strongest natural defensive positions on the planet. With no nearby location for large orbital vessels to land, any invading force would have to stretch its logistics train across the entire planet to threaten Hamlinson Bay’s self-sufficient garrison.

“Holiday, last week you said you were close. If you can’t do the job-”

“Colonel, it’s not like that. I nailed your little cabal’s meeting last night. Positive IDs on more than half of the members.” Amber held up a slate computer holding a copy of her results. She preferred not to acknowledge the colonel’s implication that she was incapable of getting results; he had paid her well to come all the way to Hamlinson under a false name because she was, at least on short notice, the best available. He would have to hire someone all the way from Maribel or the Inner Reach if he wanted better.

“How in all hells is that not good news? Give me the list and I’ll have them out of here tomorrow morning.”

Amber didn’t relinquish the slate. “I’ll give you the list after I tell you the bad news.”

Colonel Bennington stood, his palms flat on the top of his desk. “If that list isn’t on my desk in twenty seconds-”

“You have a bigger problem than a dozen skulkers in your command, Colonel.”

The FDA officer glared for a few seconds in silence, then sat back down. He didn’t like a civilian investigator telling him what was or wasn’t a problem with his garrison, but he was too aware of his duties and the consequences for failing in them to ignore a warning like that. “Make it quick.”

“At first, I thought this cabal was just a case of some idiots finding an outlet for their bad morale.” Amber gestured out the window. “Benefits of the scenery aside, this damned outpost seems to be where the FDA sends its most motivated officers and its most worthless waste-of-air enlisted men. Odds are that’s what you thought, too.”

Bennington nodded cautiously. “If it’s not that, what is it? Ladeonists?”

Amber shook her head. She had jumped to that worst-case too, but what she had seen the previous night had ruled it out. “Close to the mark, but not quite. They’re definitely wrapped up in cultic ideation, but it isn’t Ladeonist in nature. It’s not anything off the Sunfire Assembly idea chain, either.”

“Cultic practices, but not Sunfire or Ladeonists.” The colonel shook his head. “Someone must have brought a folk cult from their home settlement. That’s bad, but I can-”

Amber tossed a portable holo-player onto the officer’s desk. When it landed, it automatically righted itself. Above its lens cluster, the air glowed and a silent image of a small circle of hooded figures appeared around a stunted, twisted local tree-analogue barely seven feet tall. The miniature figures swayed in tandem to music not captured in the recording, but stamped into Amber Holiday’s memory. “This isn’t the usual sort of homespun Frontier voodoo, Colonel.”

“How do you know?”

“Just watch.”

Intrigued, Bennington stared at the image as the figures’ ritualistic movements became more and more cohesive, and more and more elaborate. Some of them also began to move jerkily, as if being rapidly shouted directions to a dance they didn’t know – but Amber knew too well that no such instructions had been shouted. Other than the haunting, thrumming music played by an unseen performer or device, the cabal’s gathering had been silent; none of them had spoken.

As the dancers reached a crescendo of elaborate limb-flailing, the image wavered and blurred, then vanished altogether. The devices recording the gathering had been momentarily blinded by a bizarre mix of electromagnetic emissions lasting a few seconds. Amber, watching with her own eyes, had seen the flash, but it had done little to dazzle her eyes – she had seen what the cameras had not; the way the gnarled old tree had bent over upon itself, its limbs curling inward and twisting inward around something that had not been there a moment before.

The image in the recorder returned, but not in time to capture the alien tree righting itself. The figure standing beside its bole, however, showed up clearly. Pale, feminine, and dressed only in a tangle of gossamer veils, the humanoid figure held out its hands, and the cabal’s hooded dancers fell utterly still, then dropped to their knees a moment later.

As the gossamer figure – humanoid, but quite obviously not human – went around the circle laying a hand on each hooded figure’s head, Bennington looked up. “What is it?”

Amber shrugged. “I would say you are looking at the bigger problem, Colonel.”