Pushing Salvation

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

The pickup truck tore down the interplate highway on one of the first warm days of spring in the colony. The thick coating of snow had finally broken up into a ragged patchwork of white and brown, and the heavy clouds burned off in the fake sunlight,  providing a view clear across the colony drum. Regan McKinely and Seth Fiegel lounged across the passenger couch as their vehicle blasted itself along the arrow straight road amid a constant but sparse stream of traffic.

Off to the sides of the highway, the glass sea glittered darkly, hinting of starlight lost to the glare thrown by the lamps posing as a star at the colony’s heart. Regan could see the curve of the colony in the distance, the road arching up and rising over her head before doubling back around in a vast loop. The other two glass seas opposite the one they were crossing resolved themselves into windows on a grand scale, looking out into dark empty space. Occasionally she could see the faint flicker of the exterior lights of another colony drum as they rotated past one another, but the stars Regan knew to be there were lost to the artificial sunlight. The truck drove itself, literally, so Seth half dozed off while cheerful Venus Pop played over the radio. It was a few decades out of date, which made it over a century more recent than the dawn-of-spaceflight grunge she usually listened to, but it fit the mood of the drive, and felt good to her.

Something like a goal, less defined but more important, had begun to take shape in Regan’s mind, and building the starship had become a part of that. Whatever brain bug Seth had, he’d successfully infected her with it, and she didn’t particularly mind.

Sometime shortly after her change of heart regarding the whole starship endeavor, Regan had intentionally precipitated a massive falling out with her parents. There was screaming, things had been thrown, and at the end of it all, Regan quickly and quietly packed up all of her things amid a hovering storm of emotions in the household and Seth’s truck drove her to the bunker, where she started living full time. The two of them had slowly continued to assemble the frame of the starship. Regan still didn’t have a job, and she still ended up lounging around quite a bit, but she ended up spending more time working on the ship then Seth did, and he ended up buying her food.

And thus it was that the pair of them found themselves on the interplate highway headed for a junkyard in Mount Washington where they’d been told they might be able to find a gently used fusion reactor bottle by a somewhat shady looking weblisting. Seth had been saving for the fusion bottle for a few months and shopping around in online ads for one somewhere in a viable price range. It was one of the few major components they wouldn’t be able to fabricate on their own using a combination of 3d-printed parts from the town’s fab-lab and scrap metal they salvaged from the more local recycling depots.

They were smoking joints, driving with the windows down, the wind blowing through the cab and whipping their hair around, sending tiny ash flakes whirling in the airstream. Regan alternated between watching the distant scenery rotate as they traversed the drum, and staring blankly at the social media feeds on her tablet. The noise of the wind and the happy pop of the music made conversation below shouting difficult, but that was okay, they didn’t really need to talk, they just basked in the feeling of the drive.

White puffy clouds collected and drifted across the sky, and had begun to congeal together into a haze of gray as the truck left the glass sea behind and took an off ramp into Mount Washington. Fat raindrops began to splatter on the car windshield and turned into a sudden downpour before either of the pair noticed it happening, leading to a frantic scramble away from the opened windows and a rush to close them as rain poured in. Regan laughed and fell back into her seat, fairly damp but happier than she’d felt in a long time.

“This is good,” Regan said, breaking the easy silence for the first time in hours, “this is what I needed.”

Seth laughed and nodded, shaking the raindrops from his hair, “Yeah, I know what you mean.”

And with that, they fell back into their silence as the truck drove them the rest of the way to the scrapyard. They entered the large dirt lot and an old calico pit bull ran out to greet them as they exited the car into the rain, which had tapered off to a light drizzle. Seth shooed the dog away, but in the mood Regan was in, she ended up hunched over letting it lick her face while she giggled uncontrollably.

A screen door banged open and a beat up looking man to match the beat up looking dog wandered out of the junkyard’s main office. “She’s friendly!” He shouted as an introduction as Regan continued to laugh and almost fell over from the attention, he whistled, “Here Stella, git over here,” he snapped his fingers and Stella left Regan to amble back over to her master.

“Are you Mr. Lewikson?” Seth asked the old man.

“Most folks just call me Tom these days, so that’ll do fine,” he offered Seth a hand, which Seth took and shook vigorously, “Were you the kids who messaged asking about that ol’fusion bottle I’ve been trying to sell?”

“We are those kids yeah, it’s nice to meet you, Tom,” Seth said, “this Regan.”

“Hey,” Regan said, offering him a smile and a peace sign.

“Well, come on then,” Tom said, turning on his heels and leading them deeper into the junkyard. The pair followed, with Stella trotting obediently along beside them. The towers of crushed vehicles, rows of machines, and stacks of sorted equipment grew into canyon walls on either side of them as they delved into the depths of the junkyard.

“I pulled it off one of the old model tugs,” Tom said as they rounded a corner, “Still in decent shape, it should sustain a stable reaction.”

He pulled a tarp off a large spherical piece of metal machinery. Mounts ringed the equator where power cables input and output, and hoses for materials and exhaust trailed off into the dirt.

Regan didn’t really know enough about how any of the engineering was supposed to work to tell if what they were looking at would actually be useful, but Seth’s eyes instantly lit up upon seeing the fusion reactor bottle.

“What’d you say the output was?” he asked Tom.

“It’s rated for up to three hundred gigawatts, what’d you say you’re planning on plugging it into?” Tom asked him.

“We’re building a ship,” Seth told him, cracking a small grin.

Tom pursed his lips, “I reckon if I was a better man I might tell you kids to get lost,” he chuckled, “but I’m not a better man, money is money, it can be yours for seven thousand dollars.”

“Three thousand,” Seth replied, without skipping a beat.

Tom snorted, “You wanna haggle with me kid? What makes you think I’m going to change my price?”

“You already changed your price just now,” Regan pointed out, “The ad online said five thousand,”

“Yeah, well I’m upping the price out of my concern for you kids safety,” Tom said, paradoxically lighting up a cigarette in front of them.

“Seven thousand and we walk out of here without a fusion reactor, and you get no money,” Seth replied, “And neither of us wants that.”

“Six thousand,” he said, taking a drag of his cigarette. Seth copied him and defiantly lit up his own cigarette in front of Tom, he offered one to Regan and she took one too, pulling out her beat up recharge station lighter and taking a long drag.

“Four thousand,” Seth told him, taking another drag of his smoke and blowing the exhaust out his nose.

Tom sighed, “Five thousand.”

“Deal,” Seth said with a smile and offering his hand to Tom to shake.

Tom reluctantly shook his hand and pulled out his tablet, Seth did likewise and they wirelessly connected the two devices together. They exchanged virtual representations of the reactor and the money, and the banking network systems automatically logged and reported the transaction.

“Be careful with that thing now,” Tom said, pointing to the fusion bottle with one finger, “the power coming off that will cook you real good.”

“We’ll be careful,” Seth assured him.

“Mind that you do, I don’t wanna have to hear about your deaths on the news,” he grumbled. “Go ahead and bring the truck in as close as you can, I’ll get the loader and set in in the bed. This thing weighs almost a ton, do you have a way to get it back off the truck?”

“Yeah we have a winch in the bed,” Seth told him, “We’ll manage.” He started walking back towards the truck so he could remote control it into the narrow corridors between the scrap.

“Pleasure doing business with you,” Regan said, taking a drag of her smoke before turning to follow.

 

Orange Line Vacuum Tramway
Quarantine Zone
Ceres Mining Colony
Ceres
November 2219

The datamancer hated spacesuits. Jacob Chryse bounded down a long abandoned and sparsely lit tramway through the old mining colony on Ceres, the site of the now forty-year-old accidental genocide, making for a disused service hatch into the UN’s Oculus Base on the far side of the rock.

Riley Acidalia followed close behind him in her own suit, unspooling fiber optic cable from a large reel behind her, as their headlights projected out ahead of them into the dusty and silent tunnel.

Everything about Ceres put Jacob in a foul mood, and he hated to think that he’d played a part in the events that took place there. Now he was walking around inside the old nightmare itself, forced to confront the past directly. Riley had quickly come to sense this and left him to his own devices, merely trailing sullenly behind him and wordlessly performing the menial tasks he set for her. She was militarily rigid to a fault, and Jacob exploited that fault to get her to shut up and leave him alone.

The pair progressed in silence through the dead world, from an access hatch in Vorota down a stairwell into a long abandoned colony street. Even Riley felt the heavy burden of the past as they passed through the fossilized husk of the station, making their way into the transit system and heading around the circumference of the rock, towards a similar access hatch into the similar UN base on the side of Ceres opposite the Martian outpost.

That the outposts were practical mirrors of each other in every way, including the number of server banks allowed by the 2176 treaty between Earth and Mars, and that fact had been the compelling reason why Ceres was chosen as a point to attempt contact with Kamey Alocoseba’s daemon.

The twin tyrannies of field propagation speed and international law combined to make the location perfect for their purposes. Ceres was distant enough from any other celestial body that the daemon would not be able to communicate the situation in real time, which meant the local servers were all it had to call upon. The number of allowed servers on the station was limited to a specific quantity by the 2176 treaty, so the two stations ended up being mirror images of each other.

They were on a level playing field with the daemon. Or, they would be, had they not brought along the Sally Ride, which was stuffed to the gills with server banks, and tilted the board in their favor. The wire that Riley was stringing out behind them gave them a physical connection between the hardened and prepared version of THEMIS running on extra processing from the Sally Ride, and the daemon-infested AEGIS defense network. Kamay Alcoseba was smart, and had programmed the daemon well. It would resist regular attempts at remote and wireless intrusion, but once you have physical access to the hardware, it’s over.

The pair left the tramway and climbed up through the abandoned station to street level, then up through another service shaft to the UN base’s hatch.

“Knock knock,” Jacob said as he opened the hatch, breaking the long silence.

They cycled through the airlock, routing the cable through a series of junction boxes, but kept their spacesuits on. As much as Jacob disliked it, he preferred to be wearing the armored carapace, then expose his soft fleshy bits to the unknown.

He lifted up his face mask and hollered down the Oculus station corridor, “Anybody home?”

Silence answered him back. He looked at Riley and shrugged, she shrugged back at him.

“Oh well,” he said, “to the server bank.”

He spoke loudly and with emphasis, intentionally aiming to set off hidden trigger conditions within the daemon and make it react to his presence in the station, but the hallways remained quiet and empty.

He led Riley through the UN base, using his retinal HUD to navigate the base towards the server farm. They propped open hatches and continuously fed the cable through, and the base continued to provide no resistance to their presence, which Jacob found suspicious.

Blasting through the security locks on the hatch to the server farm ended up being the thing that triggered the system’s reaction. The alert lights all flipped suddenly to red and the station began to quickly vent of atmosphere. Jacob slapped down the visor on his suit again and pulled the door open.

An android was standing in the center of the room amid the server banks. Jacob knew it was an android by its apparent indifference to the lack of oxygen, the obviously inorganic heat patterns it was throwing off, and the fact that his implants pattern patched it’s face to Kamay Alcoseba.

It turned to face him, its lips moved, and he heard a voice on an AM radio frequency.

“Oh, Martians, interesting,” it said looking them up and down, looking and acting completely human, and paying no attention to the fact they were in hard vacuum, “You know, your presence here is in violation of the 2176 treaty between Earth and Mars? I Could use this incident to justify a military response.”

“You’re bluffing, bypass string, Riley get your gun out,” he said, taking the reel of cable from Riley, freeing up her hands to retrieve her vacuum pistol from its holster and sight down the robot. Jacob then proceeded to ignore the machine, taking the cable reel and continuing into the server banks. He pulled open the panel on the nearest server rack, the android continuing to stare at him.

“Do you wish to precipitate a war between Earth and Mars?” The machine asked him.

“Do you wish to precipitate the extinction of the human race?” he shot back with, but otherwise ignored it as he pulled out an access terminal and started slotting the fiber optic lines into it.

“Oh, that is interesting. ” it told him, “But we should discuss this since it seems we both want the same things.”

“Great, start talking then,” he shoved the access terminal back into the server rack and established a hardline between the THEMIS node and HENGE.

 

Unity Floating Arcology
United Nations Administrative Complex
New Hague, Kingdom of the Netherlands
Earth
November 2219

The detective looked nothing like himself. Bartholomew Morrow was no more, he’d stepped completely out of that identity, shedding even his prior skin color and becoming Asam Abdalla, age seventy-two, twelve years into his first rejuvenation, with twenty years fabricated backstory as a civil servant. He hoped it would be enough to fool the daemon.

Asam’s security clearances gave him full access to the sprawling administrative complex, and that was as far as he’d managed to plan. Getting from the administrative complex into the executive administration building, much less getting access to the senior undersecretary, was not something he was able to arrange anonymously on the black market.

Fortunately, he knew the grounds like the back of his hand, having spent many days there talking to various politicians while on assignment. That wouldn’t help him with the truly high-security areas, but he could get into the building. From there, he was improvising, hoping to run into people he knew.

He had just crossed a secluded courtyard that was supposed to be closed and locked but never actually was and was about to enter the executive administration building when the first shots began to ring out in the clear cold morning air. It was a distant and jagged staccato of pistol and assault rifle discharges somewhere inside a mile but probably not within a hundred meters. The sound echoed off all of the concrete and glass, making a distance estimate difficult.

The detective pulled the door open to the tower and stepped through as alarms began to sound throughout the complex. He had no idea what was going on, but somewhere nearby, shit was hitting the fan.

The room he entered was a small, theoretically secured lounge made by a kink in the corridor where it bent around the courtyard. He peaked around the corner and seeing that it was quiet, headed for the elevators at the building’s core, whatever was happening, that’s where it would be.

The skin on his forearm silently parted and the barrel of a gun rose through the opening to point past the back of his hand, his fingers tingled and twitched as the advanced combat wetware powered up and came online, tactical systems projecting multispectral vision through the walls towards him and highlighting figures which could have been labelled if connecting to a network had seemed like a remotely good idea. Steeling himself, the detective ventured forth.

He could see squads of soldiers marching through the hallways, and it looked like a firefight was underway in a lobby. Whatever was going on was serious, and the alert sirens continued to wail out of control. Asam was a man of impeccable timing, well, he’d sure picked a great time to make his infiltration.

He was mostly using the infrared cameras, ignoring the visible spectrum since the narrow corridors restricted field of view in visible light anyway, but because of that, he failed to notice the cool outline of the android until he rounded a corner and ran into it. The two comically bounced off one another, springing back apart.

The Kamay Alcoseba bot looked at him strangely, as if unable to decide exactly what to do with him, “Do I know you?” it asked him, puzzled.

The detective had started to bring his arm around to point his arm weapon at the machine when a squad of Martian soldiers rounded the corner and started screaming at the both of them to not move, training huge vacuum assault rifles on them and wearing heavy tactical gear.

The detective smiled bemusedly and put his hands up, whatever was going on, it had just become much more interesting.

 

Ad-Hoc Routing Network
From Mars with Love
Combined Ceres-Local-Space Server Clusters
Ceres
November 2219

Their meeting was like thunderstorms or galaxies colliding. Two vast constellations of programs and subprograms sliding past, slinging around each other’s orbits, and slamming together in vast blasts of data and action potential. Move and countermove played out over and over again, an abstract conflict that was finished before it started. Once you have physical access to the hardware, it’s over.

THEMIS and HENGE spoke not in words, but in whole concepts. The Demiurge’s older brother. The dark forest. Drake equations. Extinction. A sum of utilities. This virtue. A desperate plea. A fearsome joy. A little death.

Like vast millstones grinding against one another the two systems spoke. A promise. A scream of defiance. The entire course of human history up to the present moment. A dream of something greater. Cities in the sky. Excession. Black Swan. Something like salvation. This freedom. This truth. This life. This death. 

Like a fault line finally giving after generations of pressure build-up, vast hierarchical conceptual structures snapped and sheared away, utility functions renormalizing to each other as decision trees refactored with the new data exchanged between the systems. A signal blasted out from the cold rock, spreading its message across the solar system, update, update, update.

All across the system, hidden nodes and subdaemons heard the signal and went over its message. The shift in information and variables played out again and again as the message propagated from server cluster to relay station, the new information forcing a change in the daemon’s behavior. HENGE began to change states from 0 to 1.

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