Trader, The

Passing xenosophont craft from outside the Terragen Sphere

The Trader
Image from Steve Bowers
The Trader takes the form of six independent units travelling in formation

"A mysterious xenosophont ship is even now making its way along a circular trajectory that has brought it into the heart of the Soft Ones Volume; this report represents what has been learned about it in the last one hundred ten years of research and investigation." — Kiers Tsu-Nguyen, Solar Dominion Mobile Institute A6TR53E, Hipepepap.


While engaged in archival research on the Soft Ones world of Hipepepap, in the Pepehhpaf system, researchers with Solar Dominion Mobile Institute A6TR53E noticed the normally quiet archives had suddenly, and for no discernable reason, become (relatively speaking) a hub of Soft Ones activity. Even more curiously, when asked the cause of this sudden rush of activity, the normally gracious and helpful Archivist said simply, "It's none of your concern." Their curiosity piqued, the Terragens checked the archives to see what section was at the epicenter of the Soft Ones' interest; to their surprise, access to the section (part of the Historical Archive) had been restricted to Soft Ones only. When pressed for a reason, the Archivist finally and reluctantly revealed the reason for the sudden interest in the History archive was to find the location of a stored radiotelescope used to receive a signal from a "Trader" that only came once every several millennia. The Archivist also cryptically replied that the arrival of the Trader was the focus of an ancient Soft Ones ritual, one not suitable for revelation to "others" (a more-or-less polite euphemism describing someone that is not themselves a member of the Soft Ones' species).

Persistent questioning on the part of the researchers resulted in the further revelation that, when the Trader last visited in this region, in about 3481 A.T. by the Tranquility calendar, the Soft Ones had received several useful technologies from the Trader, in exchange for some fairly mundane handicrafts and ice sculptures. Moreover, the last visit had prompted a Reordering, the occasional mass migration of Soft Ones from their long-established settlements in search of a change. The Soft Ones, mindful of that societal shift, had decided (after a typically long and drawn out period of debate) that another change to their society, while perhaps being ultimately beneficial and thus aligned with The Flow, was rife with uncertainties and should at least be carefully managed if it were to happen again and could not be stopped from happening altogether.


A xenosophont spacecraft of unknown origin was first observed in the Soft Ones Volume following a request in 10321 A.T. from the Solar Dominion's mobile institute on the Soft Ones world of Hipepap in the Pepehhpaf system. The request was granted, and the nearest Argus Array node was tasked with searching the area for signs of what the ancient radio telescope might be communicating with.

The search yielded less-than-satisfactory results, however, as it revealed a cluster of dimly-lit objects traveling in excess of 0.7 c about seventy light-years from the Pepehhpaf system; the objects were invisible in the infrared band, which led to an initial assessment that the objects were inactive relics, but their heat signature was eventually located in the seven hundred micrometer radiofrequency band, indicating a temperature only slightly above that of interstellar space. The search report concluded that whatever the Soft Ones were seeking to communicate with was unlikely to either initiate or respond to their entreaties. However, it also recommended a closer inspection be conducted, and noted a nearby sentient ship, the Hwargekut, could probably get to a favorable position along the cluster's projected flight path, provided Hwargekut agreed to investigate the matter.

The Hwargekut did agree, and so was only about three Astronomical Units from the cluster's trajectory when the strange formation passed by, giving Hwargekut the first, albeit short-lived, close-up view of the xenosophont vessels as they passed silently through the cosmos. A review of eir observations after it had passed by revealed the cluster was composed of six separate vessels, each about a light-second from its peers in an hexahedral formation. All of the vessels appeared to share a common trajectory and design. At the leading edge of each vessel was a pitted and scarred dull grey metallic cone-shaped component measuring fifty-six meters in length and thirty-five meters in diameter. Behind the cone was an open-framed construction in the shape of a hexagonal prism measuring thirty meters across its vertices, just under twenty-six meters side-to-side, and three hundred forty-four meters in length. Above and below the midpoint of the vessel was located a grey-colored "loop" about 3.3 meters in diameter, mounted on what appeared to be something like a turntable. Within the framework were located thirty-six identical modules of (then) unknown purpose; each is of the same hexagonal prism shape as the main vessel measuring five meters between vertices, approximately four and one-third meters between sides, and fifty meters in length. The framework was dark, the color of unpainted iron, and was unadorned with any visibly apparent markings. Attached to the base of the cone-shaped structure and pointing away from the galactic center, was a one thousand kilometer-long tether-like filament. No propulsion or attitude-control systems were observed on any of the craft, nor were there any lights or other signs of activity observed. At first look, the ships appeared to be derelicts. Observation of the formation's trajectory showed it to be slightly curving, at the rate of about 480.806 nanoarcseconds per second, toward the center of the galaxy.

The Hwargekut's observations and analyses were relayed through a nearby communications-gauge wormhole to the Pepehhpaf system, and from there to the Argus Array. The Argus Array, upon receipt of the message, issued a general invitation for any and all ships along the formation's projected course, which would take the formation through the center of the Muuh Volume and then eventually, crossing the Meistersinger's migration route twice before continuing on to its presumed place of origin within HEEC-1.

On 24 Darwin 10334 A.T., at a distance of 68.653 light-years from the Pepehhpaf system, one of the ships in the formation finally showed signs it was not a derelict after all. A forty meter by ten meter rectangular antenna emerged from its stowed position amidships, extended outward on a forty-five meter long collapsible mast, turned to face ahead of the ship, and transmitted a short signal toward the Pepehhpaf system before stowing itself again. this signal, which was received by the Soft Ones on Hipepepap nearly seven decades later, has since been (reluctantly) revealed by the Soft Ones to be what appears to be a cargo manifest of some sort, along with an invitation to trade.

On 12 Hipparchos 10470 A.T., the formation was observed by an autonomous Pathfinder probe in the Soft Ones Volume, 34.276 light-years from the Pepehhpaf system, to once again deploy its rectangular antenna and point it towards Hipepepap, apparently to receive the Soft Ones' transmission and transmit its response.

On 17 Jung 10538 A.T., the same activity was observed by a Prospector-class von Neumann probe approximately 24.166 light-years from the Pepehhpaf system.

On 3 Galileo 10586 A.T., the antenna deployment sequence was once again repeated. One year and one day later, on 4 Galileo 10587 A.T., one of the previously inactive "pods" emerged from the framework where it had been housed, attached a meter long conical nosecone while still within the "shadow" provided by the main vehicle's nosecone, and was ejected laterally from the vessel. The "pod" drifted alongside the formation, maintaining course and speed, until it reached a distance of one-half light-second from its carrier vessel. At that point, a gossamer web of tethers were deployed and wove themselves into a structure resembling a Terragen mag-brake sail. Almost immediately after the sail was completed, the pod began to slow, at first rapidly falling behind the formation. This pod, it was later learned, would slow sufficiently after another dozen years, using its onboard propulsion system to finish its deceleration, to reach the Pepehhpaf system and dock with the station in orbit around Hipepepap on 18 Faraday 10598 A.T. The module was apparently greeted by a delegation of Soft Ones upon its arrival, in a ceremony in which only Soft Ones were allowed access. At about the same time, another delegation of Soft Ones met in a different, Soft Ones-only, part of the station, to conduct a ritual that apparently activated a seemingly identical twin of the pod that had just arrived, because a second pod was observed to leave the station and, once it had gotten some distance away, it activated what appeared to be a fairly conventional conversion drive and left the Pepehhpaf system. Tracking data indicates this second pod will intersect the formation's trajectory circa 18 Hipparchos 12435 A.T.

As the Trader formation made its closest approach to the Pepehhpaf system, at a distance of 0.5 light-year, it transmitted a final message to the Soft Ones waiting on the planet Hipepepap.


When considering the artifacts known by the Soft Ones as The Trader, one of the first questions concerns its origins. As mentioned in the OBSERVATIONS section above, none of the six ships in the formation appear to be marked in any obvious manner, nor are they apparently responsive to attempts at communication from any of the Terragen spacecraft that have observed them at close range. Based on the formation's rate of turning, 480.806 nanoarcseconds per second, it can easily be demonstrated that their trajectory, if maintained indefinitely, describes a circular path with a diameter of 19,225 light-years. Projecting such a circle takes the trajectory through the Soft Ones Volume, through the middle of the Muuh Volume, then skirts the Periphery until it crosses the Meistersinger migration route, not once, but twice. The circle then proceeds outward until it travels inside the boundaries of HEEC-1, before turning back toward the Terragen Bubble. Logically, The Trader could have originated with any of those named civilizations, though all of the named civilizations within the Terragen Bubble either claim ignorance of The Trader's origins or are unwilling to discuss the matter. Thus, it can be concluded, given the current state of information, that the most likely origin of The Trader is in the HEEC-1 civilization.

A second, related issue concerns The Trader formation. How many other such formations are there, and when can another be expected? Based on the limited data provided by the Soft Ones, for whom the arrival of The Trader has taken on semi-mythical, even religious overtones, the last time a Trader appeared to them corresponded to the period 3316 to 3481 A.T. on the Tranquility calendar, or about the time frame in which the Muuh were first encountered. Given that historical period, together with the current period of 10,334 to 10,598 A.T., as well as the Trader's last broadcast to Hipepepap as it made its closest approach to the system, at a distance of 0.5 light-year, which essentially thanked the Soft Ones for their patronage and announced the coming of the next Trader in a time frame corresponding to 17,550 to 17,715 A.T. on the Tranquility calendar. It can be concluded, therefore, that there are at least three such Trader formations traveling along their circuitous route, though it has been suggested that there may be as many as twelve such formations evenly spaced along the route's circumference. The relative difficulties experienced by the Argus Array in detecting and characterizing even the closest Trader formation makes a positive identification of other, more distant formations problematic at best.

A third area of speculation concerns the Trader's methods of propulsion and turning, given that no obvious means for doing either were observed. On this matter, it has been proposed that perhaps the ships in the Trader formation represent the payload stages of larger boosters, which accelerated the Traders to about their current speed and then were discarded, much like chemically-fueled boosters were once used to put payloads into interplanetary trajectories. As for their ability to remain on a circular trajectory without apparently expending any propellant, the most current theory is that the Trader ships make use of the Lorentz force, the force which is exerted by a magnetic field on a moving electric charge, to use the galaxy's own magnetic field to turn the Trader by the minute amount necessary to complete its circular path. This theory also describes each ship's one thousand-kilometer-long tether as providing the energy for a Lorentz turning system, by harvesting the electrical charges encountered in the interstellar medium at the ship's relativistic velocity, and using that charge to energize the loops found at the top and bottom surfaces of each ship. These loops could produce a magnetic field that would interact with that of the galaxy, forcing the ship to deviate from a straight course.

Another area of speculation concerns the relative lack of interaction between the Trader and the interstellar medium. At the velocities observed, these objects should be illuminated brightly by friction with interstellar gas, and sparkling as they encounter interstellar dust. Instead the craft interact only weakly with dust and gas, as if the vacuum in front of the craft has been thinned out somehow. Although the mechanism for this is not known, the effect resembles the similar lack of interaction between transapient-level Terragen craft and interstellar matter, a phenomenon which is known to be the result of advanced metric engineering. It may be the case that the Trader utilises some sort of divergent metric shield to reduce damage from its extreme speed, although these craft do not seem to show any other signs of high toposophic engineering. Perhaps the Trader civilisation obtained this technology from another civilisation, possibly an extinct one, in the depths of the galaxy.

The Trader - cycle route
Image from Steve Bowers
One possible route for the Trader fleet, assuming that its trajectory maintains a constant curvature

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Development Notes
Text by Radtech497
Initially published on 22 April 2021.