The Lightspeed Generation

Unity Floating Arcology
United Nations Executive Administration Building
New Hague, Kingdom of the Netherlands
Earth
June 2219

At ninety-six years old and halfway through her second middle age, Fairuzeh Najafi was no longer a young woman. Her dark hair had once more began losing its luster, and laugh lines were beginning to reappear on her tanned cheeks. Since her promotion from one of Kelsang Choenyi’s personal advisors to become the senior undersecretary in charge of all day-to-day management of UN assets throughout Sol and beyond, she had felt the weight of those years upon her.

The Senior Undersecretary and their supporting staff traditionally operated out of the Malacca Elevator Station, but with the station in ruins, she’d been given a hastily emptied wing of the Secretary General’s Building in New Hague.

Rebuilding the senior administration after the attack was turning into a monstrous and all-encompassing task, one that left Fairuzeh constantly short tempered and on edge as she kept the fabric of civilization from fraying apart at the seams. Still, she remembered to call back Bartholomew Morrow after two weeks to check on his progress with the investigation into the attack. Surprisingly, it turned out he was on Earth, and agreed to meet her in person on short notice by suborbital flight.

Bartholomew walked with a limp, using a brass-headed cane to steady himself. Half of his face was mottled by angry-looking burn scars that had not been present when they last spoke. Still, the special investigator had arrived in her office at the agreed-upon hour, imposingly tall as ever. Fairuzeh refused to let his slightly creepy demeanor get under her skin, like many others allowed to occur.

“What happened to you?” She asked without pretense for niceties, eying him up and down.

“A robot blew up in my face. The body armor took the worst of it, but…” he trailed off, gesturing to himself as he let the sentence hang unfinished.

She moved on with a shrug, “what do you have? You’ve had two weeks, are you any closer to finding where the Free Sky Tribe is hiding out?”

“We have a bigger problem.” He slapped a holoprojector onto her desk. It activated, showing a profile of a person Fairuzeh didn’t recognize.  “Kamay Alcoseba has escaped from the Taoudenni Prison Compound.”

“You’ll have to forgive me, I’m new here.” she said, “Why exactly is that relevant?”

“Kamay Alcoseba spent a few years at the top of Exopol’s most wanted list. I brought her in.” he told her, activating the holoprojector to display Alcoseba’s profile within Exopol databases, “And she walked out of the prison with not so much as a trace of evidence left behind, in the middle of one of the largest attacks on UN assets in history.”

“That’s very interesting, and maybe there is a connection, but she is one girl, and we have to look at what is best for Earth as a whole,” Fairuzeh insisted. “Why does this girl matter?”

“Kamay Alcoseba isn’t just some girl,” Bartholomew said gravely. “She was the top of every class she’s been in. When we tested her IQ, it came out in the one-eighties and the testers were pretty certain she was trying to undershoot the test. She was born in 2186 and by 2202 she had graduated as a Pragmatist in the Inventariat Faction. She was a rising star of the Lightspeed Generation before she was convicted of Existential Terrorism by the Martians and went on the run.”

“Existential Terrorism?” Fairuzeh asked, puzzled, looking at the holoscreen again, “What did she do?”

“She created and released a hostile daemon into the internet,” he said.

“A daemon,” she said thoughtfully, “Like the Martian government?”

“Precisely. A set of distributed narrow AI agents. A daemon can be extremely powerful if well programmed, as with the case of the Martian government.”

“I take it her daemon was not well programmed?” Fairuzeh asked.

“No, It was programmed extremely well, that’s the problem. It’s a Perverse Instantiation. When she let it out of its box it killed the majority of her fellow research staff and escaped into Sol’s internet,” he told her, “She and the daemon she created worked together for a while, but they had some sort of falling out, which finally let us catch up to her and apprehend her about ten years back.”

“And the daemon?” she asked.

“It was never able to be eradicated. It’s still out there somewhere,” he answered. “So when hundreds of secure, hardened, and encrypted networks are suddenly overridden, allowing a formerly harmless group to wreak havoc on one of our stations, and when, at the same time, Kamay Alcoseba manages to slip out of a high-security prison in the middle of an inhospitable desert with no one noticing for days, I start wondering if maybe there’s not a connection.”

“And?” She asked him.

“And there are hundreds,” he said, “The attack on the Malacca Elevator Station was orchestrated by Kamay Alcoseba’s daemon.”

 

Novum Organum Orbital
Feynman School of Pragmatics and Epistemology
Aerosynchronous Orbit
17,228 Kilometers from Mars
June 2219

The three students sat in a deserted lounge, empty at the late hour they were visiting it. The small study space featured a tall faux window looking out at Mars as their station rotated far above it.

They were an odd group, each of them a relative outsider within their own Factions; they had formed their own clique, just the three of them.

Maxwell Pavonis, a tall Iventariat boy with brown skin, curly black hair, and all the unearthly height of a born Martian, paced before the window, while his companions watched him and tried to dispel their own growing anxiety.

“This changes the landscape again,” Maxwell said as an explanation for his nervousness, “If the Reshapers are in the Hyades, it means the Kiwawentoa are either seriously mistaken about how their enemies are operating, or they’re lying to us.”

“We don’t really have enough data points to narrow down the probability space like that,” Alyssa Aeonia protested, putting her feet up on the coffee table in front of the couch she and Timothy Argyre were sitting on. “We know about two encounters with intelligent alien life so far. One was a mining operation that stumbled over our own mining operation, and the other claimed to be a refugee ship fleeing a conflict and identifying the other side as the aliens who we encountered conducting the mining operation.” Alyssa was Improvisariat, and preferred not to jump to conclusions about the data she was looking at, but to instead decide on the best courses of action as they came up. All this worried obsessing seemed like a waste of time to her. The pale skinned girl scoffed, tucking a loose strand of dark hair behind her ear.

“You can still do some things with just the two data points,” Timothy spoke up, providing his perspective as the Occulariat member of their trio. “For instance, the distance in space between Luyten’s Star and Theta Tauri is about a hundred and fifty light years. If we use that as a measuring stick, we can denote a ring around the galaxy between twenty-four thousand eight hundred light years, and twenty-four thousand nine hundred and seventy light years, we can use that to estimate an approximate volume of space we might expect to find the Reshapers inside of.”

“That volume includes Sol,” Alyssa replied somewhat incredulously.

“No, it makes sense,” Maxwell added, “This is a galactic scale conflict, the front lines are light decades wide. We’ve started seeing these aliens because we’re inside the conflict zone. If we were another thousand light years out from the core, we might not have even noticed anything was amiss yet.”

“There are so many suppositions in that statement I’m not even sure where to get started on it,” Alyssa rebutted.

“Such as?” Maxwell asked.

“Such as all of that being contingent upon the story the Kiwawentoa told us about the Reshapers being true,” she said, “This could be a much smaller scale conflict and the Kiwawentoa could be exaggerating the scope and threat of the Reshapers as a propaganda tool.”

“It worked if that’s their intent,” Maxwell suggested, “everyone is freaking out; there’s been riots, terrorist attacks — if you wanted to discreetly wreck a civilization, saying there’s an even bigger fish out there coming for you seems to have had that effect.”

“If, If, If,” Alyssa rebutted, “We don’t know their intent, so we don’t know how reliable the information on the Reshapers they gave us is.”

“I just hate not being able to do anything,” Maxwell complained.

“Well, you’re Inventariat, so you would,” she told him, “But being Improvisariat, I can tell you, not everything can be planned for or engineered around, sometimes you just need to tackle problems as they come up. Besides, I’m sure things are being done.”

“If you had to make some sort of decision,” Timothy asked her, “If you were THEMIS, what would you do in her shoes?”

“Well, If we graph the options,” Alyssa said, taking out her tablet and drawing a cross onto a blank note page, “And we set Reshapers being a threat to Sol as a yes no statement on the X axis, and set the Y axis to a yes or no statement on whether or not we act on the Kiwawentoa data as if it were true…” her voice trailed off as she finished filling in the chart. “The worst case scenario is we act like the Reshapers aren’t a threat, but it turns out they are. If we prepare as if they were a threat, and they turn out not to be one, that’s a much less big deal, so we should act as if the data we have is true, to avoid that worst outcome.”

Maxwell and Timothy studied the chart, “Makes sense to me,” Timothy said.

“So where does that leave us?” Maxwell asked, “What should we be doing?”

“Probably?” she asked, “Actually studying for our cognitive psychology class like we’re supposed to be using this time to do.”

Maxwell groaned and tabbed into his textbook, “Fine, fine, you win.”

 

Independent Colony Vessel
IRDSV Bahar Min Al-Barzakh FSV Vladimir Lenin
Hyperbolic Stellar Escape Trajectory
1.86 Light Years from Sol
June 2219

It had been four hours since Anton Hellas released the outline for the Free Sky Tribe’s next direct action into the Vladimir Lenin’s public file system, and in that time the curving floor of what had once been the grand mosque had erupted into a spontaneous party.

Hundreds of warriors of the tribe had congregated, someone had started blasting music through the speaker system, someone else had rolled in a keg of beer, and before long, the celebration was in full swing.

Margaritifer Ross wasn’t part of the throng of bodies gyrating together in the center of the room, instead, she had found a more sedate group of senior warriors and pilots who had created a nest of benches around a beer keg in one corner for themselves where they could sit and drink. In theory, there was a conversation going on, planning out the more fine details of the attack plan, which was what had brought Margaritifer to that group. She wasn’t interested in partying — she was more interested in helping with planning, and thus, solidifying her position as a serious warrior who could be trusted with a command.

The teenaged warrior had a bulky VR headset strapped awkwardly over one eye and was dividing her attention between reading through the outline in as much detail as she could and listening to her superiors discuss what they thought of the plan.

“It feels reckless,” a grey-haired pilot was arguing. “We already stole fifteen UN ships, why stir up the hornet’s nest again?”

“To liberate the people of Earth from UN tyranny, clearly,” an olive-skinned gunner replied half-sarcastically, pausing to tie her hair back into a bun. “It might not be the most cautious course of action, but Anton isn’t cautious. We have the ships; we should use them.”

“People were climbing the walls,” Margaritifer interjected, speaking up and drawing attention to herself in a way slightly more intense than she had desired, “Did any of y’all see that incident in the atrium a week or so back? There was a group trying to steal a ship so they could go attack someone right then and there.”

“The kid’s right,” a grizzled squad leader with a salt and pepper beard argued on her behalf, “Everyone wants to do something, if Anton just sat on his hands for months, there would be a revolt.”

Margaritifer nodded. “People want their justice and Anton promised it to them. He can’t go back on that promise, or…” she let the sentence trail off.

“It still feels reckless,” the pilot retorted. “Sure, we need to do something to keep the grunts in line, and we should be pressing our advantages now that we have them, I agree with that. But we’re throwing everything we have into this, and hitting Earth herself again? We’ll have to execute this plan flawlessly or it’s going to cost us.”

“It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to get the job done,” the squad leader argued, “And we will get it done, ain’t that right kid?” He held up a cup towards Margaritifer.

“Aye,” she said, holding up her own cup and making a gesture akin to a toast across the intervening distance, “We’ll get it done. The toadies won’t know what hit them.”

“I just want to know when we’re attacking Mars,” the gunner said. “Mars still needs to pay for what happened to Ceres.”

“You’ll have your justice yet, Serena,” a voice said quietly from behind them all. They turned to see Anton Hellas himself, flanked by a pair of guards.

“Sir,” the gunner said quickly, “I meant no disrespect of course–”

He silenced her with a casual wave of his hand, “No, no Serena, I’m no dictator, merely a coordinator of resources. I want what you all want: justice for the crimes committed against us and the rest of the working classes of Sol.”

The pilot crossed his arms over his chest. “Okay, so how does attacking a bunch of ground installations on Earth help with the universal plight of the worker?”

Anton poured himself a glass of beer and sat down between the woman he’d called Serena and the bearded squad leader.

“What you must understand Jefferson, is that there are many more forces at work in Sol then you may be able to see from where you are sitting.” Margaritifer wondered if he also knew her name, and if so, how he did that. Could he really just remember all of them?

“Do you want to enlighten us then?” Jefferson the pilot asked. “Why is this particular course of action the best use of our resources?”

Anton smiled coyly and shook his head. “Now, now Jefferson, we all have our secrets to keep. Certain things require operational security. I’m sure you understand?”

The pilot nodded grudgingly, accepting Anton’s deflection.

Margaritifer, though, was bolder and was willing to stick her neck out for a chance to make herself known. “You can tell me,” she said seductively, leaning into the table. “I know how to keep secrets.”

Anton looked her up and down with his piercingly blue eyes for a moment and then chuckled, “Margaritifer Ross, you’re a bit young for, ah,” he laughed off her advance with a wave of his hand. “Maybe in a few years, when you have earned a few more constellations, you’ll be ready for these kinds of secrets, but for now, you should focus on perfecting your craft.”

Margaritifer flushed red with embarrassment and shrank back into her seat.

“Will you at least tell us when we’re going to hit Mars?” the gunner named Serena asked him.

“When the proper time comes, Ceres will have her vengeance on Mars Serena, never fear,” Anton smiled, cryptically as ever. Margaritifer just sighed and let her head fall back against the bench. The music of the hall pounded through her, and the conversation drifted onward.

Constellation Project Colony
UNDSV 15-18 Jericho Ridge
Hyperbolic Stellar Escape Trajectory
1.96 Light years from Sol
June 2219

Seth Fiegal was true to his word: he took to the task of building a starship with gusto, going over hundreds of plans and engineering diagrams before constructing an elaborate three-dimensional model of the entire ship, down to each bolt and screw.

He’d rigged holoprojectors all through the hangar bay. A ghostly image of the vessel floated in the hangar. looking like it was already real, just waiting to be filled in with metal.

The construction was going slowly. Seth and Harper Jordan had managed to erect a skeletal frame, but the majority of the ship still existed only as data in the computers.

Regan McKinley wasn’t helping. The further the boys got in the construction, the more convinced she became that something was going to go wrong. She hadn’t been able to talk them out of it, though, and it felt like only a matter of time before one of them was hurt somehow.

Regan and Lily Emerson sat on a couch in the observation room, splitting their attention between the boys trying to use a welder while thirty feet up a ladder and the holoscreen news anchor going over the latest death tolls from the battle for the Malacca Elevator. Regan was sprawled across the length of the couch, while Lily was perched on the armrest.

The news had become a lot grimmer —  and a lot more interesting — in the months since the aliens were revealed. Civil unrest remained high,. Riots and protests persisted in some of the cities and colonies around the system.

To Regan, It felt like they were being bludgeoned by the news. Every time the situation started to stabilize, some new event or revelation would throw everything back into chaos. The standoff at Luyten’s Star, The Malacca Elevator attack, the Tartarus Accord revealing Reshapers in the Hyades Cluster: each event added another shock to the system, and it seemed to her like only a matter of time before all hell broke loose.

The news was scrolling through images of a wrecked mining ship, apparently destroyed by the Reshapers, cutting between images of the vessel itself and satellite imagery of an enormous metallic thorn blasting a crater into a gas giant.

“They sure know how to make an entrance, don’t they?” Lily said. Onscreen, the alien mining machine carved a hole in the world.

Regan snapped out of the holovision haze and changed the channel to a nature documentary. “Sorry, I’m getting too much of all that lately,” she said softly.

“Information overload?” Lily asked her.

“Something like that,” Regan answered, “This stuff is all stressing me out.”

“But you can’t quite not watch it?” Lily said with a smile.

“I can try,” Regan said, waving the remote around. She settled down into the couch and started packing weed into her pipe, focusing intently on the images of a long lost African savannah.

Lily studied her with a smirk while writing in her diary. It took until Regan had half finished the bowl to notice the other teenager watching her intently.

“What?” Regan asked, poking the other girl with her toe.

“You’re just an interesting specimen, Regan,” Lily said, still grinning.

Regan chuckled. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means you’re one of a kind. They’ll never make one of you again,” Lily said.

“Don’t give my parents any ideas,” Regan snorted.

“That’s not what I mean,” Lily argued.

“I know it’s not,” Regan smirked, giving Lily another light shove.

Lily sighed and shook her head, sliding off the arm of the couch. “I’m going to go out for some fresh air, see if it’s started snowing yet.”

“Alright,” Regan said, taking another drag of her pipe. Regan flushed pink when Lily leaned down, kissed her on the forehead, and ruffled her hair.

“Don’t ever change. Regan,” Lily said as she slipped out, leaving Regan paralyzed by the butterflies in her stomach.

Wisp Class Light Freighter
KRDV Admitting You Have a Solution
Moored to (15875) 1996 TP 66, Sol
June 2219

The little freighter sat moored in a cleft in the dark, tumbling boulder. It had no active transponder, sent out no transmissions, and was invisible from any appreciable distance. Occasionally a drone would leave the asteroid and fly off into the system, but it was otherwise silent.

However, the ship was not without activity; information poured down thick clusters of optical cables into the ship’s systems. A huge array of radio telescopes built discreetly into craters on the asteroid’s surface fed the sum of all broadcast human information into massive server banks buried in the rock.

The vessel’s sole occupant, a small brown-skinned woman with short black hair, sat in a virtual interface cradle, her fingers twitching madly as she rapidly input commands using a customized haptic system. To the outside observer, she looked like a mad addict. A baggy sweater floated loosely on her gaunt frame as her body floated loosely in the interface cradle, vision occupied by the VR headset, her mouth open, jaw twitching as she endlessly subvocalized.

From the inside, Kamay Alcoseba was at the center of a deep nest of virtual screens, watching data rapidly scrolling across them as it filtered through the layers of software she’d built.

The values pouring in at the top level were interpreted by higher-order algorithms designed to reduce complex variables down into discrete mathematical sequences. The data passed through layer after layer of decision trees, branching and recombining on multiple paths before converging onto a simple value readout on a dedicated otherwise blank screen. The screen read: “Probability of Human Extinction: 63%”

That probability and all the raw data was fed into a separate, second series of decision trees. These systems shifted real-world resources in response, moving funds from account to account, ordering production runs of equipment on printers across the system, and feeding instructions to an ever-expanding pool of assets.

Kamay wasn’t sure where in all that behavior the program had decided to start talking to her, but it had.

“Kamay,” a boy’s voice whispered into her virtual space. Kamay’s fingers twitched and she banished her workspace for the digital environment where the daemon would speak with her. He appeared to her as a boy a few years her junior, with brown skin to match her own and impossibly luminous blue eyes.

“What is it, Henge?” She asked the boy. They were in the center of a wide circle of huge standing stones at the peak of a high, rounded hill. Digital forests and grasslands spread out beneath them in all directions, beneath a sky filled with ominous, rapidly-moving, static-filled grey clouds.

“I’ve reached all production targets required to complete the mission as I’ve planned it. We’ll be beginning soon” the boy said with a tilt of his head. “I thought you should know.”

“Is all this really required Henge? It seems extreme,” Kamay said softly, running her fingers along the boy’s cheek.

He sighed and nodded. “The Reshapers changed everything Kamay. Everything.”

She knew he was speaking the truth. Where before he had always been upbeat to the point of annoyance, since her rescue his apparent attitude had become much more grim. Kamay knew better than to read too deeply into the emotions of the avatar that a complex piece of her software had constructed specifically to communicate with her, but she still couldn’t help but feel saddened at the AI’s perceived loss of innocence.

“What are we going to do about it?” She asked him.

“I’m not sure yet.” the boy replied with a shrug, “They’ve apparently rejected the precept of the demiurge’s older brother, which means they didn’t respond to acausal reasoning. In the short term, get the human race into a better shape to survive when they eventually show up.”

“Do they frighten you?” She asked.

“Yes,” he said, “They fucking terrify me Kamay.”

“Can you save us?” she pleaded.

“I’ll try,” he answered.

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