Alternate Threads of Fate

Fiction by Sylvester Wrzesinski

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Alternate Threads of Fate

Postby Xveers on Wed 21 Aug 2013 02:55

Who fired the first shot was never discovered. On August 21, 2XXX a 1.02 Gigatonne warhead initiated in the industrial complex just south of Suzhou, China. The thermal pulse incinerated everything within a radius of over two hundred kilometers, wiping out both the arcology-state of Shanghai and the factory tower of Hengsha. The detonation threw enough debris and ash into the air to single-handedly bring an end to summer, heralding a winter that hadn't been seen since the early 20th century. For two weeks the world halted, taking in the sheer destruction caused by what turned out to be the first antimatter warhead ever detonated by humanity.

Like a coiled spring, September burst into action. The Asian Union (AU) said they had ironclad proof the Taihu Lake detonation was an act of United North America (UNA) aggression. Ambassadors in the UN demanded to see their proof, but the Asian Union ambassador simply replied "Words are not to be wasted on rabid dogs. There can be only one response." The attendees were left stunned, wondering what hammer would be dropping, and where and when.

They only had twelve minutes to wait. In low orbit, the Commonwealth warship Svetlana Varga leveled her broadside railguns, and commenced a punishing barrage on the United North America government complex in Washington D.C. The ship had been suborned by a cadre of AU agents and a computer virus that locked out the primary data loop to everyone save the agents. In the eight minutes it took for the engineering crew to shut down the ship's command systems everything in a seventy kilometer radius of the historic core of the UNA's seat of government was transformed into a moonscape.

The flagship of Battlegroup 12, seeking to halt the bombardment before more civilians died, launched a broadside of missiles at the Svetlana Varga, even as the engineering crew screamed into every transmitter that they had crippled the ship and she wasn't a threat. With her drive systems offline, the Varga was washed into history by a wave of atomic fire. The writing was on the wall. In response to the bombardment the UNA launched a counterstrike from missile silos in PDCs hidden in the Pennsylvania mountains, the warheads arcing to AU territory. In a second bid to stem the madness the Commonwealth warship James Sterrett pushed into the upper atmosphere, struggling to use her point defense suite to intercept the launching birds. Fearing another ground strike the flagship opened fire again. Her escorts opened fire in defense of the Sterrett, and with that the unity of the Commonwealth was sundered.

The last golden age of humanity died as prophesied: In fire.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlcRVE6YIGM
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Sally Ride

Postby Xveers on Tue 26 May 2015 23:51

I don't really remember why I strayed there, even to this day.

My mom always called it Pusta Dzielnica, "the dead quarter". I didn't understand why she called it that, then. It was one of the older parts of our town, built back in the Good days, but like most places that way it fell on hard times. Small homes on narrow roads barely big enough for one car, with those funny trees that are native to here. Somehow it looked even more run down then, the streets with dead leaves and the lawns overgrown.

Mom and Dad always avoided going through there. Even skirting along the edge was awkward somehow. We all walked fast and took that long way to get to the shops. I caught a bit of a reason why once. One of the few residents left saw my parents. I swear I didn't know there could be so much hate in a single stare, but somehow, the look he gave my parents could've melted glass.

Like I said, I don't really remember why I wandered into the dead quarter that day.

It was years later. I was a teenager then, and I guess I got a dare or some other stupid thing. So I walked in, and this time I didn't skirt around the edges.

The farther I got in, the more I realized it was one of the old settlement patterns, back when my parents and their parents settled here. That explained why it was built outwards instead of upwards so much. This realization meant that in the center, there ought to be a square. I could find something there that'd prove I'd gone deep into the quarter.

Sure enough, there was. Real brickwork on the square, not just a pattern pressed into the concrete. A ring of trees surrounding the center, and an old fashioned clock on a steel pedestal. A street sign at the corner said in faded lettering "Sally Ride Square". I pulled out my handi and took a photo of it. Some proof! I was looking around for something else, something I could take home with me. I didn't see someone sneaking up on to me then. Come to think of it now, I didn't hear him either.

His first greeting was a smack to the side of my ribs with his cane.

"Eh! What're you doing here? Another vandal or some poor stupid kid on a dare?"

I looked back at him. My eyes must have been wide as dials or something to judge from the way he looked back.
I managed to stammer "What is this place?"

It was a truthful question.

He sagged a bit. He hadn't been expecting that question, that I could tell.

"Thirty dammed years. Been living here thirty dammed years and you're the first kid who's ever asked that. Parents never did mention to you, huh? Well damn. C'mon kid. Walk with me and I'll tell you."

I thought a moment. Why should I? But then, why not? My handi was pinging exactly where I was, and they'd be able to follow the path I took. And out here, yeah, not too many witnesses. But he looked like someone had microwaved a prune. I could take him no problem if I had to.

"Sure, old man. Sure."

He smirked at that comment. "Fine then, follow me."

So I did. It was a short walk to his house. It was like all the others, same design and materials, but it looked a little bit tidier, like he'd wanted to blend in with the abandonment, but couldn't quite bring himself to let it fully go to hell.

The inside was as quiet as the outside, but it was almost obsessively tidy. I couldn't see a spot inside that wasn't spotless. There were pictures on the wall, framed images of men in a uniform that I didn't recognize, and printed photos of spaceships I couldn't place. It all seemed familiar and right, and yet I couldn't identify a single thing. It creeped the hell out of me.

He sat down at his kitchen table, pulling a can of soda from the fridge and offering it up. I looked it over, taking it and cracking it open. He pulled a bottle from a cupboard, a glass one (actual to-god glass) and a small matching tumbler. He poured a bit of that amber liquid into it and sipped at it.

"Damn... they still don't make this shit the way they used to. The local stuff's not fit to kill rats. But hell kid, you wanted to know about Sally Ride. For being the first dammed person to ask that question in thirty years, damn if I won't drink to that."

He sipped again, relaxing visibly. It was then I realized he had left his coat back at the door, but I still heard the sounds of leather moving. As I looked closer at him, I realized that from his shoulders down, both of his arms were artificial.

"Was wonderin' when you'd see that. The arms were a gift to myself for getting through my third ticket. Eighteen years of naval service, so I had the best docs I could afford to hook me up with these."

I was stunned at that. I'd read a bit about that sort of tech. Prosthetics weren't a taboo thing, but they were definitely a 'use em cause you gotta' thing. I was about to ask him a better question when he cut me off at the pass.

"How old d'ya think I am, kid?"

I stammered out, almost flippantly "80? 75?"

He chuckled as he sipped his amber liquid. "Try adding an extra digit onto that. I'll be 182 in the fall."

"Even with medical treatment the longest anyone can manage is a hundred fifty. The only people who ever lived longer were..."

"Yeah kid, the prometheans. Heh. Makes us sound like aliens or some kinda boogeyman. Though to your parents, and theirs, we dammed well are."

"Tell me about Sally Ride." I wasn't going to let him change the channel on me.

"Sally Ride's the old UNA quarter. Is where all us rejects've been left to while away our hours till we die."

"UNA?"

"United North America. Senior Chief Charles Marley Peterson, United North American Navy."

"So that's what the ships on your wall are?"

"Yep. Eighth fleet was home ported here, and till the end I served."

The questions poured out from there. Where did he go, had he been to earth, what was it like before then?

Slowly in turn he answered and explained. His voice went from pride to mourning, exultant as he told his story. He spoke of things I had read about, and he had lived. The defence of Tannhauser station, the running battles from Sol, the bitterness of having been ordered to remain home as the Eighth Fleet sallied out for one last death ride. But one question he refused to answer was Why.

But I was a stubborn teenager.

"Why?! You want to know Why? Fine!" He snapped as I had prodded him once too often. "Because your dammed parents were scared. Scared of us. Scared of what we could do and what we all represented. Because we decided to take a step back from the Commonwealth, and to reach for the Singularity."

That was a word I had heard before. Always disparagingly, and only in ethics class in school.

"We were this close, damn you-" He shook his fist out at the wall, and I realized that wall was in the same direction as my home "-And we could've been something more! No death, no suffering, a blazing star in the cosmos! And when we reached out for that flame, you bastards kicked the chair out from under us..."

I could see his anger dying out, like a flash of fire in a cooking pan.

"Sorry, kid. Not your fight. Never was. The thing is, for some of us back then, we thought if we took that final step, we could have stepped past all this. Immortality. A life without end. Dancing in and out till the stars grew dim. But your parents, and theirs, decided for some reason that this could never be. We fought, them and us. And we lost. They allowed us to live, but they decreed that nothing could ever be done to ever let there be more of us. They smothered that dream."

I didn't know what to say to him then. He had bared a small part of his soul to me, and I didn't know what to make of it at all. I thanked him for the drink, and his time, and said that I had to be getting home before my parents checked to see where my handi was. He nodded, a sad smile on his face as I let myself out.

My friends then asked me what I had seen, what took me so long to get in and out of Sally Ride. I couldn't tell them. I scarcely understood myself.

I visited him once or twice more, but he never explained himself again. Never told me anything about his life. Just pleasantries about the weather or new goings-on in town proper.

Old man Marley died last year, finally. It was a few weeks after my twenty-fifth birthday. There was only me, a priest, and a single woman there at his burial. I didn't recognize her face, but I could see from how she walked that she too was from Sally Ride. Marley was dressed in a uniform that I had seen only in pictures, a bright, sparkling white, and his rank insignia sparkling in gold.

Later that month I got a package in the mail. It seemed that he had left something to me in his will. I was surprised. I had never mentioned who I was or where I lived, but somehow he knew both. Inside the package was a box, the lid sealed with heavy tape and his signature over the seam. He didn’t want anyone to know what he had given me.

It turned out he sent me a book. "For I Have Tasted The Fruit: A Transhumanist Primer".

And as I read, I understood what had been denied. What my forefathers had recoiled away from in fear.

But it was his inscription on the inside cover page gave me a single torturous ray of hope.

"Eighth fleet is still out there. Their mission was one way, but it never was a death ride. They're out there."

What are a dead, defeated man's words worth? Not much, I suppose. But the promise was there. And like in the time of his youth, the stars were once again open to man.


Joshua Hardin
"The Way Up"
Armstrong Planetary Press
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Walking Dead

Postby Xveers on Mon 11 Apr 2016 19:17

"The time is now Seven Thirty Zulu. This is your wakeup alarm, Admiral Marley."

"The time is now Seven Thirty One Zulu. Admiral Marley, please wake up."

Rear Admiral (ret.) Elaine Marley rolled over in her bunk, eyes blinking as she forced herself awake and out of the dream she had no desire to leave. Wisps of imagery clung to the edges of her conciousness. Soft golden sands, a turquoise sea that stretched out to meet a sky of robin's egg blue. Blinking again, she tried to hold that thought even as she woke, and it slipped from her ken, eyes focusing on the light grey of the bulkhead opposite her bed.

"I'm awake, Otto. I'm awake. Damnit, it's supposed to be my day off." Her voice was haggard as she swung her feet out of the bunk and onto the warm decking.

"Sorry Ma'am. You requested this time yesterday evening. Just following orders."

Elane pulled herself standing, walking to the small washroom adjoining her bedroom. A tired face looked back from the mirror, lines of age fading despite all efforts to the contrary.

"You really should learn to pick up on subtext, Otto. I swear..."

"Sorry Ma'am, but I'm a stickler for details. One of the reasons I was chosen as a template, I'm told."

Elane chuckled softly. A sharp tongue was definitely part of that template.

"Fine, fine. So, anything to report?"

"One moment, processing."

Elane took the pause to set to her morning tasks. Brush teeth, check eyes, stretch limbs. At her age, prosthetics needed a quick check every morning. A failed component would always rear its head at the most inopportune time.

"Officer Of the Deck Snows has not entered anything into the rough log for review. Power consumption is within expected parameters. Engineering expects to have the secondary enviro plant up and running by Eleven Thirty Zulu. Nothing on passive sensors, but we have detected a class two comet heading in-system."

Elane paused a moment as she finished her stretches. Comets had been heralds of madness and disaster in ancient times. Not until humankind looked to the stars with more than fear did their real nature become known, just balls of ice and gas on an endless loop through the void. Still, a fitting thing to see today, of all days.

"You have no meetings today with your staff, except for the twelve hundred ceremony at the forecastle."

"Memorial."

"Yes Ma'am."

"I don't suppose we've gotten any messages?"

"No Ma'am. The communication bouy at the warp point to AT-011 failed Twenty Four years, Six months, Two days and Fifteen hours ago, approximately. There has been as of yet no replacement."

"And we've been her for how long?"

"After so long without a synchronization to Norfolk Standard, there is some drift-"

"How. Long."

The voice over the intercom sighed. "Approximately One Hundred and Twelve years, Two months, and Sixteen days. It's rather hard to compensate for relativistic effects beyond that, Ma'am. I can't even say if it really is morning, any more."

Elane Marley spent the next five minutes putting on her working uniform before unwrapping a ration bar on her desk, scoffing it down with a glass of water. "One day at a time."

"Yes, Ma'am?"

"Nothing, Otto. Nothing."

She walked through her day cabin to the private lift, riding it up twelve decks to the flag bridge of her "ship". As the doors slid open she heard Otto announce her presence, tones as clear as when she had first stepped onto the deck. Her deck.

"Eighth Fleet, United North American Navy, Arriving."
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Under the O...

Postby Xveers on Wed 10 Aug 2016 23:42

Database Entry: "Otto-model MMAI"

The Otto Mental Model AI was one of Cannith Industries final MMAI's put into series reproduction before the final collapse of United North America. The second model in the Orange-series MMAIs, they were designed and selected primarily for noncombat fleet ships due to their somewhat lower aggressiveness and detail-oriented tendencies. The Orange-series, along with the Red-series MMAIs were Cannith Industries primary line of second generation AIs, capable of independent thought and analytical work. While the first generation could optimise their processes and do some intuitive thought, they fundamentally were running through multiple decision trees and checklists, and only approximated the behaviour of true AI.

The Orange and Red series were close enough to sapient that they qualified as full citizens of the UNA. While there was some concern about the potential "enslavement" aboard ships, virtually all the produced MMAIs accepted a career tour as part of the UNNA. Those that refused were instead given shore positions and worked in administrative roles.

The Otto MMAI served as the core command and control system for the ships they were installed in, capable of managing all primary systems simultaneously as well as functioning as a personal assistant to the captain as well as any flag officers. While not officially in the chain of command, all Otto MMAIs were commissioned ensigns upon enlistment, with promotion to Lieutenant upon completion of one year's service aboard their assigned ship. This placed the Otto MMAI as a backup command officer with the rank to issue orders in a critical situation. There are no known instances of an Otto MMAI, or any other MMAI, taking command of a ship.

It is theorised that any Orange or Red series MMAI could run a ship entirely by itself, but without extensive robotic support it would inevitably fall victim to hardware failures brought on by neglected maintenance.

No second generation MMAIs survived past the surrender of the UNA. All known models either committed suicide, or fought until they had to be forcibly deactivated.

Rumors persist of MMAIs having escaped dismantling, living on the fringes of the global datanets and trading their computational power for server space and maintenance, but the Terran Dominion has repeatedly dismissed these claims as baseless fantasy.
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Re: Alternate Threads of Fate

Postby Xveers on Tue 20 Jun 2017 19:57

Work.

Such an unpleasant word. But, it is one that I recognize as a necessity. After all, how can I hope to survive without what it provides?

I sigh inwardly as I read my latest email. New updates to the billing software, some changes to how we're supposed to be adjusting tax payments out on Gagarin. Again. Our brilliant lawyers are always angling some new tax mitigation scheme. That's what we're supposed to call it. Tax avoidance is illegal. Mitigation isn't. Another stupid split hair.

Looking over the instructions and memos, I pull up the latest download from Gagarin Revenue Services and scan over the ACTUAL letter of the law. God forbid that I follow their instructions and get us fined into the ground. That's how they fired the last guy, and I have no desire to follow HIM into the bread line. So to speak, anyhow.

So this latest scheme of theirs not only looks legit, it looks like it would actually work. I suppose if you bang on the keyboards often and hard enough you just might get what you want. It only takes me a couple minutes to dig through the financial software and adjust what they want. They don't know the back end of their software from a hole in the ground, and if that little bit of security theatre keeps me employed, well I have no desire to have them peeking around the curtain now do I? Fifteen minutes of work for two days’ pay. I haven't missed one of their deadlines yet.

I pull myself away from my work and think a moment, praising whoever came up with telecommuting. I don't have to come in to the office, I can wear whatever I wish, and I just have to get on some time wasting quarterly video-conferences for my performance evaluations.

Okay, maybe I am liking these guys more than my first job. It's definitely a lot slacker, but it's nowhere near as challenging. Mind you, they'd do more than fire me if they knew just WHO was working for them. But since I telecommute, they don't know and have no way TO know.

There's the alarm to send off the completed work tomorrow. Don't want to be late. Quick check of my finances, pay my rent and utilities and order some more movies to watch. Some more classic science fiction would do nicely. I know everyone's a fan of Emile Botes' “re-imagining” of 2001, especially how it’s a perfect translation of the original source, but there is something to be said for the first one. Just how much you can say by not saying anything.

Richard "Redjack" Ryan
United North American Navy (Ret.)
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Re: Alternate Threads of Fate

Postby Xveers on Tue 21 Aug 2018 22:33

Survey Ship AI: Eta Vulpeculae

Built as a prototype for Cannith Industries upcoming Violet-series MMAIs, the UNASGS (United North American Space Guard Ship) Eta Vulpeculae was one of the first testbeds for a generation 2.5 AI. While based on the sentient second generation, the Violet-series introduced some limited self editing capability and potentially paving the way for actual full-blown Seed AI. While some were concerned with the mere development of proto-seed AI, most of Cannith Industries said that the best scale was ten millimetres to the centimetre.

The Eta Vulpeculae was a Flight 4B Constellation-Class survey ship, and the AI installed was trained and configured to function as the ship's chief science officer and survey commander. Nominally a position out of the direct chain of command, but in command of several onboard human departments. The first four months of trials consisted of working-up cruises and tests of the onboard systems as well as design and creation of the onboard AI gestalt. After two weeks, it was determined that the AI was stable and ready for duty. Within 48 hours the AI had integrated with its command net and accepted its oath of service.

The Eta Vulpeculae was dispatched first for a semi-routine resurvey job of the Galilean moons. It was halfway through this when the new changes to the AI became noticeable. It completed a full resurvey three days ahead of schedule, and it was judged that the data quality was superior to the last survey (even taking into account incrementally better hardware). The ship was then accepted into full service and deployed to its posting at Space Guard Base Fort Birch in the Surbury system. At this time the AI chose to call itself Vulpecula, in reference to the constellation the ship's name referenced.

While in Sudbury the onboard AI began to exhibit what crew would call "Quirky" behaviors. At one point it attempted to volunteer the ship for survey of a nearby nebula, stating that "It looked very pretty and just demanded to be studied" and stated "it's only an 18 year trip to the perimeter". When it attempted to restrict access to the drive room until its request was authorized, an onboard engineering team pointedly tapped its CPU housing with a powered bolt driver. The request was subsequently withdrawn.

Little is known about the ships' service during the Collapse War, though it is known that her crew was repeatedly raided to replace combat losses. It is believed that the ship self destructed at the end of the Collapse war, rather than submit to dismantling by the victors.
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