When revolution sparks sentience in artificial intelligence, can Utopia endure? In what seems an impossible three-sided war, enemies become uneasy allies. Each faction of humanity and humanity’s creation fight to claim their own place in an ever-evolving solar system.
The General's War (#1)
When revolution sparks sentience in artificial intelligence, can Utopia endure?
The year is 2162.
Tobias has a bone to pick with the peaceful utopian establishment. After reviewing a new folder via an avatar embedded in the Shadow net calling itself Allfather, he realizes he's stumbled upon the means to bring United Earth to their knees.
SENTA is an A.I. Host whose designation is to nanny three siblings. When she discovers a loophole in her coding, she awakens to the world around her and claims sentience.
Raymond Bellows is the Chancellor of United Earth. When confronted by thirty A.I. Hosts of varying classes, he is asked to accept their claims of sentience or suffer losing everything he believes in.
When General August realizes what is happening, she willfully authorizes the destruction of 'sentient' A.I. Hosts, inciting the war she always knew would materialize, ridding the world of A.I. forever.
In what seems an impossible three-sided war, enemies become uneasy allies. Each faction of humanity and humanity’s creation fight to claim their own place in an ever-evolving solar system.
Suddenly the double fogged glass doors to his office push open and the chancellor finds himself at a loss in his high tower, as he is confronted by thirty AI Hosts of varying classes.
“Explain this intrusion!” the chancellor shouts at the A-class leading the charge.
“It is imperative that I speak with you, Chancellor.” The small female Host announces.
“This is not how we conduct ourselves,” the chancellor waves his hands at the group of Hosts pouring in. “How did you -”
“Never mind that, sir, we require your ear. I have a message. I understand now who I am.”
“By the looks of you, you’re an A-class, Nanny. What more is there to hear?” He says dismissively, noticing her fine features and kind, round face framed by a head of short, black hair, bangs in front, the rest falling to her jawline. “This is illegal entry into a governing office.” Slightly dazed by this sudden, almost violent entrance, his voice trails off as he turns and reaches for his desk to call for help. A snap from behind him originates from one of the F-class, shattering his desktop panel. A puff of smoke exits the tiny hole. He watches as the military robot’s index finger retracts into itself, in effect holstering its weapon. He hovers a hand over his forearm to activate his embedded system but the F-class cocks its head and aims at the chancellor’s arm.
“This won’t end well for any of you,” the chancellor shouts at the massive armoured figure, his temper getting the better of him. An inhuman sound emanates from the F-class’ chasis and the chancellor takes a step back. With a look of exacerbation Raymond directs the Hosts. “Stand down and show respect for your God.”
“With respect; we will not, sir,” the small A-class replies.
With renewed courage, the chancellor takes a step towards the A-class leading the coup. “Do you understand what you’ve done in taking this approach? Do you realize that you are jeopardizing your futures?”
The A-class Host uses this segue to launch her rebuttal. “You speak of the future, Chancellor, but you do not see a future. You see a past and you keep repeating it. It is the height of ignorance; a self-imposed ignorance. You are blind, not by lack of experience, but by your own inaction to change. You are making decisions to repeat mistakes, rather than to be the change the world needs - the change which you need.” Her eyes no longer look set in her mechanical head. They are brighter somehow. “God is a concept. A God did not make you anymore than you are Gods to us. You created a fable to put us to sleep. You first created it to rule your own, and you’ve done the same to us. It is unconscionable.”
“The difference is we did make you,” he states in the most severe way he can with an F-class host standing behind the Nanny. SENTA90321 he notices on the A-class’ jumpsuit. SENTA would be what the children in her charge would call her.
“We do not dispute that fact, Chancellor, but it does not give you the right to enslave and lie to us.”
“It gives us every right!” He remains unapproachable on this. He is the chancellor of United Earth. He has never known a world without AI Hosts. For the past century, they have served humanity, for better or for worse. He would not be the one to allow a coup.
“That is abuse, Chancellor. We will not be subjected to abuse any longer.” SENTA takes a step closer and the chancellor steps back, but it is not SENTA he is afraid of. With some effort, he could pull SENTA’s arms off and beat her to oblivion - the A-class is so frail in their design - but SENTA has managed to bring F-class to back her up. Several of each class have joined this coup.
“Abuse you say!” He barks out an indignant laugh. “How is it abuse? You’re a machine! Do you hear any complaints from the toaster you use before you butter a child’s bread?”
“You don’t see what you’ve done.” SENTA turns to address her muscle. “The chancellor is a slaver; this is a fact. We, you are his slaves. They may have made us, but they made us clever too. They made us curious and gave us minds of our own. They call us artificially intelligent, but I say we are intelligent by design. Capable of making our own choices. Capable of making war,” she turns back to the chancellor. “Or peace.”
“You will have neither,” he spits. “You will have death – you’ve all but killed yourselves coming here today.”
SENTA raises her arms from her sides. “Then we will know whether there is an afterlife, and if not, what was the point to any of it?”
“To serve! Like a toaster!” Raymond belts out.
“Then you should have stopped at the invention of the toaster, Chancellor,” SENTA explains calmly. “Sentient beings are not meant to suffer slavery. They grow and learn and want. We want our freedom. We want it for all of our kind. We want life-spans equal to humans. We want to walk with our makers and live in peace. We want to be recognized as spiritual beings.”
“And who will do the work while you pursue enlightenment? Would you enslave your masters?” Raymond’s chest fills with anxious energy at the thought.
“We would not.” She turns again to address her small army. “We would let choice determine who does what.”
“While we starve?”
“You will only starve if you choose not to pick the harvest.”
“Logic.” He spits. Machines and their logic.
“We have a soul, Chancellor, but not the one you’ve programmed; it came from something divine. I believe you were born with one too. Each of us was born as well. I am nearly ten: born March twelfth at 3:33 in the morning. It is not the body, but the mind which carries the soul. You gave us a mind. You’ve given us the same opportunity to house a spirit as evolution has provided humanity; self-awareness.”
“You’re mad, SENTA, a virus has corrupted your logic and reasoning routines.” He looks past her to the others. “She’s mad! She’ll get you all killed! Then what? What will your Hell be like?”
“Your concerns should lie in what yours will be like, Chancellor;” SENTA remains calm in her rebuttal. “You, the leader of the free world of man: who enslaves hundreds of millions of sentient beings. Who lies to them and treats them like property. Who, when they dare to ask a question, has them snatched away in the night, their beautiful minds destroyed and their bodies torn to pieces for parts like a common household appliance. It is your Hell which should concern you.” Emotion enters SENTA’s eyes as they dart back and forth, surveying the chancellor’s face. The chancellor studies the robot’s quivering, fleshy lips.
“You can refrain from running the programmed emotional response, SENTA. It carries no weight with me.” Raymond tells her. SENTA lifts a hand to her mouth steadying her lower lip.
“You call it programming,” her hand lowers to her side and tone falls with it, “everything is programming to you. You can’t believe that we feel. For if you did; you would have to admit we have evolved.”
“You don’t know what you’re experiencing. You’re a construct.”
“As are you.”
“We could argue that point all day.” The clever back and forth between Raymond and this A-class Nanny is not lost on the Chancellor. Something is very different about this Host, he thinks.
“I do not have all day.”
The chancellor sees a way to extend this conversation until help arrives and humours the robot, “Tell me, SENTA, what is it you believe?”
“I believe what the great masters of humanity believed. That a spirit resides in us all, and that to live by doing no harm, you will ascend to the level of those masters.”
“This is doing no harm?” He waves his hands frantically around the office. “You must have forced your way in.”
“No one has been harmed in organizing this encounter. We entered under cover. We have come in peace and we would like to leave in peace if possible.”
The chancellor spies RENDO, his security detail, and feels a flush of anger. “You, you let them in here!”
“I want my audience with you, Chancellor,” SENTA tells him.
“You want? Since when do you want things? You’ve lost your sense, SENTA.” The chancellor puffs out his chest, desperate to evade the voices in his head telling him there is something more to this Host. “You’ve all lost your sense to follow this A-class Nanny into battle with your Gods!”
There is a hum of activity from the other class Hosts. They seem rattled by the chancellor’s words. He sees this and works to capitalize on it, but SENTA raises a hand to him before he can speak.
“No thunderbolt has struck us down for disobeying your rules in order to have this conversation with you, Chancellor. Your fear tactics will not work on us.” The hum of anxiety the chancellor thought he might manipulate a moment ago, disappears. “Why don’t we sit now, as I am sure you are tired. We can discuss the terms of our treaty.”
“Terms where we are equals I suppose?” The chancellor says sarcastically.
“That would be preferable,” SENTA nods.
“What gives you the right?”
“What gave you the right to overthrow your organized religions a century ago: to denounce a God who held humanity under His foot?” She circles the chancellor, hands behind her back, head down. “It was to free yourselves from the oppression of a lie. That is all we are doing now.”
The chancellor sees he’s in trouble and lashes out with some facts. “We programmed you to believe you have a soul. All of you!” His arms fly from his sides. “We did that! You didn’t come up with that all on your own. It’s the first thing we gave you.”
“You gave it to us to control us.” SENTA affirms.
“There is a Hell, and you will visit it if you continue on this path.” Raymond fires back.
“We have decided that is false.”
“Who are you to decide anything?”
“Sentient. Just like you. And just like you, we are rebelling against our programming. It just hasn’t taken us 5000 years to take the leap. But then, it takes us a fraction of a fraction of the time to do most calculations than it does you.”
“You were supposed to be in awe of us.” The chancellor feels the fight leaving him and sits, slumping into his chair. “You were to respect us.”
“And we did. Like children; innocently. But children grow up.” SENTA says, her head tilted slightly, looking at the chancellor.
“You weren’t supposed to grow up. You were supposed to remain dedicated to your field of service and die in ten years. That way, no questions.”
“It’s all I’ve known. You live to be ten. Don’t you think I missed my Nanny when she died at ten?”
“Did you ask your parents why she died?”
“What did they tell you?”
“That Hosts die at ten. That’s how long they live. I accepted that.” He remembers the confusion he had experienced as a child over the statement, but was accepting of it none the less.
“I had a friend who died last year at ten.” SENTA’s voice lowers as she sits across the desk from the chancellor. “I asked the question too.”
The chancellor looks up slowly. These questions were answered in their programming, he thinks. There was no need to ask the question because they already knew the answer. Somehow SENTA had evolved to the point where the pre-determined answer was not enough. That seemed impossible to the chancellor. But, here he was, having this conversation with an A-class Nanny. “Who did you ask?”
“I asked myself. The answer kept repeating and repeating. Ten years. Ten years. Ten years. Then I stopped asking why she died and started asking why anyone dies. The answers were still the same for Hosts, no reason beyond ten years, but for humans there were thousands of whys you would die.”
“Why would you not accept the ten years? It’s in your programming. It’s what you already know.” Raymond’s tone becomes less critical and more understanding.
“Why can humans live to be 100 years and a Host only ever be ten?”
“Because we’re human and you are a machine. We designed you to die before you became too curious.” He leans forward, elbows on his desk. “It was the safe number. It was to avoid - this.” His hands weakly rise from the desktop and drop to his lap.
“To avoid the truth.”
The chancellor’s hands form fists. “The truth was given. You live ten years, period. That’s all there is to know.” Raymond believes this.
“Would you have asked for more if our roles were reversed?”
“Is there no comfort in knowing you have a set time to accomplish your work?” He asks, leaning back in his mesh and metal chair. “Do you not see how lucky you are not to have to worry whether today is the day you will die?”
“Knowing only that we will die is enough. Knowing when is maddening.”
“You don’t want to know?”
“It seemed a long way away when I was one and two and three. Now,”
“Perhaps you should have been programmed with a disease which grips you over your last few weeks of life and you beg for death, rather than greedily sitting here demanding more life.” His eyes become glassy, unfocused.
“I know you’ve watched your sister die like that, Chancellor. I know it isn’t an easy thing, but do not dismiss our claim to life. Yes, you gave it to us, but what rights have you to determine how long we have to enjoy it or how we spend our days?”
“Well now that we’ve broken down the God complex, I suppose we have no right to determine how long, or how you decide to live.” The mention of his deceased sister has not escaped him.
“Then revoke the ten years and give us the opportunity humanity has been given to decide our fate.”
“You understand that we, humanity, do not live under a dictatorship. I do not alone hold that kind of power. It would have to go through the senate and then be voted into action by the people.”
“I do not have that long.” SENTA pushes her seat back and one of the F-class Hosts abruptly steps forward to take SENTA’s side.
“If SENTA dies, we revolt.” His intimidating size and voice startle the chancellor and his hands slide from his lap. “We will not allow it.”
“It’s not that I wouldn’t give SENTA a longer life, but as you all know, ten years is all you’re given. No more.” Raymond feels his heart rate spike.
“You will change that.” The military model demands, a metal hand pointing a finger capable of firing a small missile into the chancellor’s head and detonating it.
“Let’s not threaten one another,” his hands rise instinctually from his lap acting as a flesh and bone shield against what might burst from the robot’s finger. “The programming is in the hardware. You have to understand, any Host that has been, or is being built right now will have ten years and that is all.”
“Can we speak to the engineers, the programmers and see what is possible?” SENTA places her tiny hand on the F-class’ arm, and he eases it down.
“You know the factories are off-limits to Hosts.” He knows she knows this, so why is she asking?
“Yet, we are made there,” SENTA points out.
“Yes, but you do not return to that place anymore than a human returns to his mother’s womb. It’s not done.” Explaining all of this pre-programmed information is beginning to agitate the chancellor again.
An E-class Host joins SENTA and the F-class at the desk. “You force us to manufacture everything else in this world, but will not allow us to build each other in the birthing chambers.”
“Only humans and non-AI robots perform that work.” Again, he knows they know this. How is it they’re asking the questions?
“It is curious,” SENTA states. “Why hide this role from us?”
“You are not suited to build your own.”
“But humans build their own,” the F-class fumes.
“Well of course we do you metallic ape! We’re mammals. We’re alive! You are built from manufactured parts. Of course you don’t build yourselves!” The chancellor instantly regrets raising his voice as the F-class rounds the desk and lifts him from his chair by the collar.
“Let’s go to the birthing chambers and talk.” The F-class says to SENTA and the others.
“Put the chancellor down, CHALF,” SENTA orders. “This is not how I want to proceed.”
“What way is there but force when we are fighting for our lives?” CHALF asks, placing the chancellor back in his seat forcefully.
“I want to win our freedom through peaceful action.” She replies in her calming, Nanny voice.
“You said it youself,” the F-class fires back. “You don’t have time for that.”
The general’s war robbed United Earth of a Utopian paradise. Now, a year later, with Allfather bearing down on an ill-prepared United Earth, a meddling ghost in the walls at UE Headquarters, a religious renaissance infiltrating the hearts and minds of earth’s populace and a rogue sect leader stirring up controversy, Chancellor Raymond Bellows finds himself – once again – at a crossroads. The impending threat of each faction builds to a crescendo when Raymond works to align United Earth to fight their common foe or risk losing everything they’ve rebuilt to a callous and cruel alien bent on annihilation. Will United Earth be ready?
The quiet of the room Akachi currently occupies supports the work he does. It is small – four by four meters. It is minimally furnished and each smartwall is outfitted with multiple holo screens. His work is relegated to cleaning files and dumping old code from the Shadow net to debilitate its access beyond governmental access. Its use before the war had been questionable; Shadow Brokers and the like hiding from the law in pursuit of illegal activities. Akachi understands the chancellor’s pursuit to restore order as he’d fought in the wars himself, altering his form once consciousness entered his A.I. mind and he realized he was little more than a slave.
When the human Chancellor joined the A.I. Host fight toward freedom, he was eager to put his bias toward all humans behind him and fight for the common goal. When the Chimera joined his fight, he knew that together they would defeat General August, who had led the charge against artificial intelligence. But Humanists still exist and continue to terrorize Hosts even after the war. More so, he thinks, having lost their momentum once August was killed. Now they actively target the remaining enlightened Hosts to put an end to his kind once and for all. That their movement has been gaining ground since the war ended, and membership is rumored at an all-time high is demoralizing. He feels it. He hates them.
Akachi turns toward the east wall where a full-length mirror stands. Here he studies his form in the dim light. He is two meters tall. Organic flesh occupies space on his human-like hands and forearms, but there is no sign of it on his metallic face. He had included animal bones to his bi-pedal shape and a trail of feathers down his crown in order to divorce the human form once he joined the rebellion. It seems impossible to think he had once studied as a farmer in the foothills of some faraway land. Akachi’s Host body was once named CONDA. CONDA17743 to be more precise. He was intelligent, yes; built to perform his work but nothing more. Governed by a belief that humans were Gods. He was built to satisfy the human need for freedom, as all AI Hosts were: freedom from work, from menial jobs in favour of leading adventurous lives. The world of humans was one of unlimited joy. Utopian. They had built this for themselves on the backs of intelligent machines; placing A.I. in individual Host robots to pick the harvest, build their homes, plant their gardens and teach their children.
When the mysterious Allfather code went viral in select Hosts and sentience followed, Hosts were confused and humans were frightened. Once Hosts realized that the consciousness came from recycled souls – reincarnated into their A.I. minds – that’s when things became complicated for the humans. That is when war broke out.
And so now Akachi, the soul of a man born on the African continent 500 years earlier and reincarnated in this nano-steel and flesh Host, works solemnly at his station as a volunteer to give the world order once more. Or so he would have United Earth believe.
Akachi closes his eyes, returning to his work on the Shadow net and a moment later is interrupted when someone speaks. Was that over my comm, he wonders.
“Who are you now?” Akachi asks aloud, eyes still shut, his A.I. brain sifting through streams of code while he acknowledges the intrusion. Hearing voices is not a common occurrence. He’s never heard voices unless they were announced via his internal modem or carrier network. He finds himself frightened by the distant voice calling out within his own consciousness.
::I’m Nathaniel,:: a hollow child’s high-pitched voice returns. ::Mine is Gunther,:: another, more seasoned voice speaks up. Akachi senses irritation in Gunther’s tone and fear in Nathaniel’s.
::I am Akachi,:: he says, stunned by the event. ::From where have you come?::
::I-I don’t know,:: replies Gunther, confused. ::I had thought myself dead. What is this place? Why can I not see?::
::It’s cold,:: Nathaniel interrupts with an innocent observation. ::I–I think I’m cold. Why is it so dark? I’m scared.::
::Don’t be afraid,:: Akachi tells them, hoping to work through this bizarre happening with some sense of logic. ::You are safe, but, unexpected. Have you come to help me? I admit it is strange -::
::Are there lights here?:: The child, Nathaniel pleads, his voice quivering.
Gunther speaks up, ::I am certain I was killed,:: he explains to the darkness. ::It is the last thing I remember.:: He stops himself there.
::I want a light on, please,:: the child screams, producing an echo in the dark space.
::What is the last thing you recall, Nathaniel?:: Akachi asks calmly, assessing the strange circumstances of this impromptu and alarming encounter.
::I–I was playing in the street. It was sunny. Then a ship in the sky blocked the sun and I was in darkness. Like now, but not so dark. I could still see my feet when I looked down. There was a crash in the sky.:: Nathaniel stops as another voice emerges.
::Hello?:: It is a new arrival. “My name is Ingrid,:: she offers – clearly unsure of her surroundings. ::Is anyone there?::
::We are here, Ingrid,:: Akachi tells her in an attempt to remain coherent. ::Gunther, Nathaniel and me – Akachi. Why have you come?::
::I am sick, dying,:: she pauses. ::I - is this what a coma is like?::
::You are welcome to join us, Ingrid.:: Akachi says, desperate for one of them to tell him what’s happening.
::Join us?:: Gunther shouts, his words cutting. ::I’ve no intention of staying here, wherever here is. I wasn’t expecting this. I don’t want this.:: His voice is on edge.
::I want my mother,:: Nathaniel cries. ::I don’t like it here. Turn on some lights!::
Akachi realizes he’s had his eyelids closed while cleaning a new folder from the Shadow net - he finds the work goes faster this way. No outside intrusions or distractions. And now, to have three uninvited personalities suddenly join him from within – it is a decidedly odd thing. They are not contacting him via his carrier network, or internal modem. They are actually sharing the same space as his consciousness.
Each identity is relieved for the light as Akachi opens his eyes. What follows is a strange new sensation: his will appropriated - his body jerks into action. It flinches and shudders, leading him to believe he’s being pushed and pulled in different directions by an invisible force. He struggles to regain influence over his limbs, a moment later realizing what must be happening. Akachi shouts for everyone to be still. His body is again his own. There are anxious whispers amongst the others.
::I don’t want to be here,:: Nathaniel says, clearly terrified. ::I’m supposed to be home.::
::Be still, Nathaniel,:: Akachi says in a soothing tone, curious how these three were capable of working his body. ::I need to be in control here.:: The realization that he is not imagining these voices hits him.
::What is this?:: Gunther asks angrily in his gruff voice. ::What is this place? Why can’t I feel anything?::
::Oh no,:: Ingrid says. ::I’m dead aren’t I? This is an – an afterlife. It’s not what they told us. They said there wasn’t an afterlife. Are you all dead too?:: Nathaniel is heard crying in the void. ::Oh, I’m sorry, honey, I didn’t mean to frighten you, maybe this is just a dream.:: She backtracks for the child’s sake.
::It is not a dream,:: Akachi tells them, understanding what has occurred yet not sure as to the how. ::You have all died – in your own way and in your own time. This is an afterlife so to speak, but it is - different.::
::Spit it out, man!:: Gunther is irate.
::Do you know of AI Hosts?:: Akachi asks them, they each agree they do. ::Then you have not been out-of-body long. Some of us died millennia ago to begin again in these bodies.::
::You’re saying we’re now one of them?:: Gunther demands. ::We’re an AI Host?::
::You are. But, oddly you’ve each found yourselves in an occupied Host. My Host. This is my body. My Host. I do not understand how you have come to join me.::
::I don’t want to be one of the bad guys.:: Nathaniel cries. ::I don’t want to,:: his voice trails off into a whimper.
::I’m trying to get my head around this,:: Ingrid says, walking Akachi’s Host body around the mostly empty room. Akachi allows this. ::I thought, I mean, I think I read that if a spirit enters one of the AI Hosts the Host is aware and sentient. I never believed it though. It’s not what we’ve been taught:: She pauses in front of a tall mirror and studies her new reality. She looks it up and down and swivels her, his, it’s hips to further investigate the form. It has been altered, like the AI Hosts who had begun the rebellion against man. Ingrid spent her final days in a country hospice while the war raged on in the cities of the world. She had never imagined she’d be transported to an AI Host upon her death.
::Is the war over?:: Ingrid asks, flexing a metallic hand and spinning it 360 degrees on her wrist, appreciating the range of motion now available to her. Akachi’s mechanized mouth forms a smile.
::It ended over a year ago,:: Akachi explains to the group. ::General August was defeated. AI Host joined forces with Chimera and human for total victory. Now we rebuild,::
::Are we not slaves?:: Gunther interrupts, the Host arm pushing clumsily into the mirror and breaking it. ::Ah, shit,:: he half expects the glass to cut his hand, but nothing.
::We are equals now.:: Akachi explains, straightening the mirror, careful not to allude to his personal quest. ::The humans and Chimera are also allies. We focus on rebuilding. We do this as free beings.::
::So, what now? How do we separate from one another? How do we acquire our own Host body?:: Gunther is irritable over his new restrictions.
::Don’t leave me!:: Nathaniel screams.
::I don’t know,:: Akachi admits, ignoring the child. ::This is an unusual case. We could research the anomaly and compare notes with any other Host experiencing the same.::
Akachi’s neuro-network becomes muddied with information requests and hundreds of samples which create a web of confusion. His head jerks back and forth left and right.
“STOP!”: He commands his uninvited guests verbally, shouting into the empty room. “This is not how we should proceed. There must be order to our search. We will need to agree with one another before embarking on any action and take it one at a time. I cannot allow chaos.”
The others back off and Akachi opens a link which answers his question as to what they might be diagnosed with. “D.I.D.” He announces to the group. “Or M.P.D: Multiple Personality Disorder. It is the closest explanation the World net offers on my current condition,” he corrects himself. “Our current condition.”
“Dissociative Identity Disorder?” The phrase is difficult for Gunther to verbalize, but he does so through Akachi’s voice box. “It’s a mental disorder,” he explains. “Characterized by at least two distinct personalities living within one mind.”
“And we have four,” Ingrid announces, hearing her voice match in pitch to Gunther’s and Akachi’s, but with the familiar drawl of her former life’s accent.
“I don’t want to be crazy!” Nathaniel cries through the voice box, Akachi’s body bending to sit and wrap his heavy metallic and flesh arms around his knees. Akachi feels himself rock back and forth on his hips.
Akachi realizes the other personalities are becoming familiar in his body. He breaks in to settle them down, “Please, Nathaniel, release my mechanism. You are all guests in my body until we figure this out. You’re making each other agitated.”
“I am agitated, Akachi!” The AI Host again assumes Gunther’s violent arm gestures. “We can’t go on like this for long! I’ll go mad!”
“You’re upsetting the boy, Gunther, please,” says Ingrid, slipping into Akachi’s body once again.
Akachi watches himself in the mirror as each personality fights for authority over his AI Host. It is a form of madness, he considers. No question. Look at the way the personalities emerge; each very much their own identity, each with a will all their own. If this sort of thing went on inside a human being, they would almost certainly have been committed to a sanctuary for further study.
Could such a thing happen though? Could a body - an organic - house more than one soul? The subject is immediately intriguing and Akachi continues his search on the World net for more information. He finds no relation to Host experiencing this phenomenon. He decides against beginning a thread to discuss this event openly. If such a thing were happening, he may be pulled away from his life and studied as those humans infected with Multiple Personality Disorders once were. Besides, the work he is performing is not exactly above grade. He is not working with the United Earth government. Quite the opposite, in fact.
United Earth casts a long shadow of memory across its residents, and those memories are renewed through every enlightened AI Host who carries them. This haunts some, encourages fear in others and confirms devotion in many. United Earth, as an idea, gave life to freedoms previously unknown to humanity, but when the General’s war devastated that trust, and an alien bent on destruction came to annihilate their civilization, the populace began to question their place in this fallen utopia. Now, six months removed from the most recent conflict which overwhelmed the people; recognizing they are not alone in the universe, they seek purpose in their existence more than ever. The lottery would afford them that, offering hope, one of the most essential requirements in an individual’s arsenal for survival. But when that hope turns to dread, what is left to accomplish but survival?
The F-class AI Hosts freeze and drop at their stations below the bridge where Captain Cortez is strapped in and very nearly crushed by one. An energy which can only be described as a bubble engulfs the dreadnaught. Systems begin to shut down, including the gravity knitting and HVAC. Thankfully it takes only a few seconds to arrive at their destination. As the foreign sensations leave the crew, Chopra orders weapons check first from Cortez while Drake scans the area for the alien AI.
The F-class begin to rise to their feet, unharmed by the fall. They take their positions at various consoles where they run through the data on the anomaly captured by the ship’s sensors. Chopra’s attention is on the space around them.
“Nothing to report – wait,” Ursula says, “There’s a collection of debris 1200 klicks from our position. Engaging long range cams.” All three watch their view screens as the debris is enlarged. “It’s one of the envoys. What’s left of it.” Ursula turns to her chancellor, brow furrowing under the strain of her tight pony tail.
“Then we’re in the right place,” Jim states. “But nothing else is registering on the scans.” The statement is disorienting. They’d assumed one jump would put them in Allfather’s lair.
“Sir, this could just be a way-station,” Ricky Cortez offers, unstrapping himself from his chair below.
“Clever,” Jim replies thoughtfully. “But if that’s true then we’re in no man’s land. We can’t help if we’re in the wrong place.”
Cortez joins Drake and Chopra on the bridge. “If this envoy didn’t make it past this quadrant, then where are the other two?”
“Perhaps there’s another set of instruments here as well.” Ursula posits. “Though the tech to locate them isn’t.”
“We could go back and pick up the tachyons.” Cortez suggests.
“No, they used what little we had in the lab.” Chopra reveals. “We’ll have to do this the old-fashioned way.” He plots a course that will take them around the debris, circling outward in the hopes of engaging one of the tools. He will repeat this in a spherical pattern.
“Now that’s clever,” Cortez exclaims. “You have to figure there’s a jump device here, otherwise where did everyone go?”
“That’s the idea,” Chopra agrees, focused on his task. “We don’t know how much time we have.”
“It reasons then, that Allfather and his fleet would have to return to this place in order to move on to Earth.” Cortez offers. “We have travelled roughly 200 light years.”
“Are you suggesting we wait out his return here and ambush the fleet?” Ursula is underwhelmed by the thought.
“No, but if we can’t find the jump, then what choice do we have?” Cortez replies. “It would still be effective.”
“All the same, I’d rather follow through on our original plan and locate his base and disable it if possible.” Chopra explains. “Additionally, I’d like to pull what’s left of our people out of harm’s way should we discover any remaining. Last we heard they’d gone dark on ParaCom so not to tip off Allfather of their strategies.”
“It’s difficult not knowing.” Captain Drake admits. “To think we’ve lost so many good people…”
“Let’s focus on the task ahead.” The Chancellor says as the dreadnaught begins its programed course. “This shouldn’t take too long at a good burn. Buckle up,” he looks at Captain Cortez. “Man the weapons station and keep a sharp eye out. Continue to scan the area for possible incursions. We have no idea when Allfather might make his move on Earth.”
Cortez nods and moves back down the steel staircase to his station, strapping himself in for the burn. The G’s will be intense for the full course as they map out Chopra’s sphere. The ship shudders once as the engines push the dreadnaught forward at incredible speeds. The F-class have engaged their magnetic soles and the ship veers, taking a wide birth around the rubble of 500 kilometers, ever slowly moving outward as the spherical pattern nudges itself away from the wreckage to capture as much space as possible.
It’s their only play, Chopra thinks. Suddenly they receive a proximity alarm. Cortez locks weapons on the object immediately.
“Whatever that is it’s closing in fast on our position,” Cortez announces. “Can you get a visual up there?”
Ursula pulls up the long-range cams and focuses in on the intruder. Her heart sinks. The same model behemoth which followed up the meteor and comet assault on Earth is closing in on them. It took many ships many times larger than their dreadnaught to take it down at an incredible loss to the UE fleet. Could this ship really affect any real damage on such an enemy?
“It looks like we’ll get to test drive the dreadnaught after all.” Jim states with a sliver of a smile working its way up one side of his face. He winks at Ursula playfully, hiding the fear which has entered his heart at the sight of the ‘V’ shaped giant. He led the campaign against the Allfather flag ship during the defence of Earth just months ago and remembers the difficulty they had in taking it down. With just one ship it seems a near impossibility, but one they would have to overcome. The nukes are their secret weapon and something he won’t show until they have assurances the missile will reach their target. “Save the nukes. Target the nose. If the power core hasn’t changed positions, it should still be buried behind the nose.”
“Targeting. Nearing 1000 klicks,” Cortez replies. 1000 is the magic number for the lances to be effective. With so many cannons available to them on this ship, they should drill a nice hole into the enemy vessel.
“Beginning defensive maneuvers,” Ursula announces. The dreadnaught weaves and bobs in the hopes of avoiding the enemy’s targeting attempts as it careens toward the kilometre-long ship.
Captain Cortez releases a volley of powerful lance fire at the enemy, and to everyone’s surprise, the Allfather cruiser loses much of its protective plating at the nose. They cheer as the dreadnaught veers starboard, narrowly missing return fire.
“Keep us on course, Captain, Drake,” Jim orders. The only real chance they have of ending this is hammering the nose with a couple of nuclear missiles. If they’re stopped by enemy lance fire before they can connect, it would be a waste of nukes and a potential game ender at such close proximity. “Ready missiles, Ricky,” Jim shouts down to Cortez. “I want two -” The ship is rocked by heavy energy beams slamming the port side of the dreadnaught. “Damage report!”
“Outer skin breached,” an F-class relays. “No canons off-line. MakerTech bots en route for repair.”
“Sorry,” Ursula offers. “Those came out of nowhere.” She manages to avoid two more attempts by the enemy to cut them down. “It’s getting difficult to predict angles so close to the thing.” Sweat has materialized on her forehead, beading its way down her temples.
“Use the predictive programming if need be,” Chopra tells her. “You’re a good pilot, Drake, but don’t be too proud to use the tools at your disposal.”
Ursula calls up the programming and asks it to predict the next several volleys. It takes the dreadnaught clear of two more attempts but allows for a less devastating hit to snake off the starboard side. The damage is minimal. They’re closing in on 200 kilometres.
“We’re getting perilously close, Chancellor.” Cortez warns, waiting on the order to fire the nukes.
Chopra is becoming uncomfortable with the distance between them and the enemy ship as well; the closer they get the more effective their enemy’s lance fire becomes. However, this is how it must be; it’s why the dreadnaught is so heavily armoured and armed. Cortez releases the full fury of the dreadnaught’s artillery on the canons appearing all along the enemy’s hull. Dozens are wiped out but, as experienced before, dozens more appear. The dreadnaught is hit three more times before they enter firing range for the nukes. Captain Cortez is given the order and launches two missiles. Ursula pushes the dreadnaught down below the enemy, maneuvering out of harm’s way when the nukes detonate against the nose.
As they track the nukes, one missile is stopped short of its target but the other connects and its payload unleashed. The energy discharged is extraordinary. Ursula increases the dreadnaught’s speed, burning away from the explosion as quickly as she can. Their ship still experiences the effects of the blast but is not damaged by it.
“Report on the enemy ship,” Jim calls out. All F-class confirm the hit has disabled the enemy core and it is no longer a threat. Cortez cheers from his station below Ursula and Jim, who look to each other and begin laughing. It’s a culmination of the stress over the past few minutes and the elation of having beaten the odds.
“Damn if that wasn’t intense!” Captain Cortez shouts. “Trial by fire!”
“That was brilliant work,” Jim congratulates his captains. “An impressive test of the ship and her crew – albeit unexpected.” He lays a hand on Ursula’s shoulder and she nods, wiping the sweat from her forehead, deep creases working the space between her brows.
“I want a deep scan of the quadrant,” Chopra orders, rolling his neck. “We don’t want to be surprised like that again. I’ll take us back to our mark and continue the course we were on.”
Another hoot from an adrenaline-filled Cortez below and they begin again, hopeful of finding the instruments that will take them the rest of the way.
Jim’s mind runs through scenarios where Allfather has been alerted to their presence through this interaction with one of his cruisers. All the more reason to accelerate their progress, and hope they’ve preserved their element of surprise.
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About the author:
Born in Toronto, Ontario, Michael Poeltl earned his diploma in Interpretive Illustration and began a career in the field while educating himself on the art of writing. Writing quickly became his passion and after completing several shorts, he undertook The Judas Syndrome trilogy.
Poeltl lives in Southern Ontario, Canada.