Perverse Instantiation

Newton Class Starship
MSCV Destiny of Light
Hyperbolic Stellar Escape Trajectory
1 AU from Ross 154
November 2219

Forty-nine seconds after the annihilation of Magellan station, the light of the event reached the Destiny of Light during their pre-warp burn and reality skewed itself apart. The planetoid exploded into a massive system-spanning dendritic fractal structure, alien limbs reaching and curling in every direction as the thing expanded outwards at field propagation speed. Destiny of Light mission commander Zebediah Foster spit coffee across the bridge as vast fractal arms reached out past them into space.

“Error, galactic positioning system unavailable,” Destiny told him as an enormous branch of eldritch materials bent into their path, “Severe gravitational distortion detected, ionizing radiation levels rising.”

“Brian you avoid crashing us into that whatever that is!” Zeb shouted at their navigator, “Satoshi what the fuck is that?”

“Yeah no shit avoid it,” Brian Stone shouted back at him as he swung the ship through a high g maneuver to avoid a collision, squeezing them all down into their seats.

“They broke reality somehow,” Kaneko Satoshi replied as he looked at what had become of the sensor feeds with dismay, “Magellan is gone and this shit started spewing out of the place they were. Oh, and we seem to have cloned ourselves.”

“What?” Zeb quipped, pivoting his eyes since he couldn’t pivot his head in the acceleration.

“There are five ships showing up inside a hundred thousand kilometers, and they’re all us? Same exact signatures, broadcasting the same military encrypted IFF codes,” Satoshi explained, “Oh, four now, one of them just exploded.”

The Destiny drove through a gap in two enormous branching structures, making for the increasingly distant clear space as the thing continued to grow larger and larger. Zeb gripped his armrests, drumming his nails on the soft plastic.

“Can we warp?” Zeb asked.

“I have no idea what will happen if we do,” Satoshi warned him. Another copy of their vessel smeared itself against the surface of one of the tentacles, its breakup seemed to occur across several differing possibilities at once, debris multiplied itself as the ship blew apart into a fractal starburst, pieces of hull trailing possibilities behind them in a grotesque fireworks display.

“We can’t stay here,” Zeb told him, “Harvey can you plot a warp?”

“To where?” his XO, Lieutenant Commander Harvey Wise, asked him with dismay, “The nav computer has no idea what to make of this.”

“Anywhere but here!” Zeb shouted, “Just get us into clear space.”

“What does that even fucking mean Zeb?” Harvey snapped back at him. Another copy of their vessel was smacked out of existence by a descending tendril of the whatever it was.

Satoshi had the same idea at the same moment aboard both the remaining ships, and the twined pragmatists networked their respective ship’s systems into one another.

“I think I can work us out a clear path,” Satoshi told Zebediah, “But only one copy of us can make it out.”

“Is it us or them?” Zeb asked him.

“Does it matter?” Satoshi said irritably, “Look we don’t have long to make a decision.”

“Do it,” Zeb said, “Get us the fuck out of here.”

Satoshi’s mind raced as he shunted files through his implants as quickly as his brain could handle, parsing a set of warp instructions to Brian, “Go, “ he told the navigator, “hit the gas right now!”

The navigator punched in the warp command, and the ship lept forward through space. Zeb’s eyes went wide as the thing blurred past them with no discernible warp tunnel visible. For a moment of intense fear it seemed as if their trajectory would carry them into another of the still growing limbs, and then they collided with their duplicate, wave functions collapsing down into one vessel as the warp tunnel folded them into its embrace.

 

Main Server Bank
Command Level
UNDFS Oculus Station
Ceres
November 2219

The weaponized drone platforms tore, cut, and blasted their way through the increasingly ruined entrance to the server cluster and threw themselves into the steady stream of weapon’s fire that the datamancer and his liaison kept up in the choke point.

“Out!” Jacob Chryse said calmly, beginning to reload. Riley Acidalia began firing into the lead drone as it shouldered its way in and tried to line up a shot on them. Two APDS rounds from her vacuum pistol into the drone’s center of mass tore the machine’s guts apart.

Even as the killbot was falling over dead, another was climbing and pushing past it to enter the room. Riley fired another two round burst and took down the next drone as Jacob finished his reload cycle.

The steady drum beat pace of the battle was somewhat unnerving. The drones just kept coming in an endless stream as Jacob watched the timer on his HUD count down towards the moment that hopefully the machines would receive new orders and stop trying to kill them so vigorously.

“Out!” Riley called as she expended her last round. Jacob immediately laid into bots as Riley started to reload. Either the new updates would propagate back to the station and the robots would stand down, the station would run out of drones, or Jacob and Riley would run out of ammunition. They had quite a lot of ammunition.

A vibration rumbled up through the station’s floor plating and broke Jacob’s rhythm for a moment, a drone broke through the chokepoint and darted left. Jacob swung his gun and blew it away, but this opened up the gap, allowing another two drones to press through and open fire.

The two Martians dove for cover, and Riley completed her reload cycle. They each picked a drone and blew them away. A cascade of mission updates flooded his peripheral vision, but Jacob couldn’t spare it a glance as he kept an eagle focus on killing the killbots; more machines were already crowding through the threshold.

“Out!” Jacob called as he began his reload cycle. Riley began firing and Jacob quickly read through the mission updates as another tremor ran up through the hull of the station.

“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding,” he swore as he finished his reload, “The daemon negotiated to dismantle Ceres, it’s started taking the asteroid apart. Satellite cameras have visual on some huge mining machine it just fired up halfway round this rock.”

“Can we get out of here yet?” Riley said calmly as she continued shooting killbots.

“Five more minutes on the return signal, then we can go,” Jacob said.

“Got it. Out!” She called and started reloading again.

Jacob blasted the robot currently standing in the threshold, then paused. The parade of drones had seemingly ended, the hallway outside the server bank was a ruined mess of robotic carapaces, wiring, and spilled pneumatic fluid, and nothing was moving along it.

“Steady,” Riley told him as she finished her reload and sighted back down the opening. Another rumble came up through the floor.

“Yeah,” Jacob said, biting back his irritation at being told what to do.

“Think that was the last of them?” She asked him.

“In two more minutes, it won’t matter,” Jacob said, cautiously creeping up to the doorway. He visually confirmed Riley still had the threshold sighted down, then ducked into the hallway, gun rapidly panning for any sign of movement. But the corridor remained silent and dead. The timer crossed one minute and the station shook again. The imagery coming off the satellite cameras and projected into an unused corner of his visual field was rather worrying. Some manner of enormous automated mining machine had burst up through the surface of the rock and was going to work on the outside of the planetoid with a high powered industrial cutting laser.

The timer on his HUD reached zero, and Jacob’s mission orders updated again, ticking one step closer to completion. All had had to do now was get out of the station alive with Riley, the hardest parts were passed.

“Time to go,” He said, starting quickly down the corridor, keeping his gun trained ahead of him. Riley followed him out into the hallway and they headed back towards the entrance to the main station. Halfway to the hatch leading back into the old mining colony, Jacob stopped and reversed directions, nearly colliding with Riley in the process, “New plan,” he said, “We get outside and the Sally Ride picks us up, the daemon is apparently taking this rock apart and I don’t think we wanna try to deal with the tunnels again with it waving that cutting laser around.”

Jacob was transmitting everything he said to Riley back to the Sally Ride automatically, and so as the words came out of his mouth a series of confirmations and checks flooded across his HUD for a moment, confirming that they had heard and agreed to the course of action.

The pair rounded a corner into a small industrial drone in the process of cutting through the wall and doubled back as they drew weapons. The drone regarded them for a moment but didn’t turn the cutting laser on them, so they ignored it and raced past as it continued sawing the station in half.

The station rocked and the walls and floor began tilting as industrial drones took the place apart around them.

“Where did it even get this many machines?” Riley asked him as a saw blade broke through a wall next to her, causing her to jump back in panic.

“Who knows?” Jacob said as he ducked around the cutting face, “It might have dropped them off when it pulled the personnel off this station. This thing plans ahead.”

“So it was always planning on taking Ceres apart?” she asked him.

“Love, it’s planning on taking the whole solar system apart,” he told her as he pulled open an inner airlock hatch. They had begun to move through into the airlock chamber when the whole room suddenly rocked and began slowly falling out from under them. The corridor and the airlock chamber tilted down and the outer hatch crunched against the regolith as Jacob and Riley bounced off the inside of it.

The pair stood up and dusted themselves off, looking through the inner airlock hatch and up the corridor to open space above.

“Magboots,” Riley said softly.

“Yeah I know,” Jacob said testily as he activated his own boots and they started awkwardly climbing the nearly vertical floor towards the place where the drones had cut off the section of the station. It would have been much more difficult, were it not for the low gravity of Ceres, which made it feel more akin to walking into a strong breeze.

Jacob reached the lip first and peered out across the barren landscape of the rock. The asteroid was teeming with construction drones and automated mining equipment, and a large number of robots were busily taking the Oculus station apart at the joints, cutting through old welds, unscrewing decade old bolts, and ripping out electrical installations and wiring.

“The Sally Ride should be able to grab us from here with a tether,” he said as Riley climbed up to join him on the lip of the station chunk. He smiled faintly after the Sally Ride had confirmed the coordinates for pick up, his mission had completed and he’d gained enough experience to reach Rank 11.

“We’re just gonna wait here for them?” she asked him, looking out uneasily at the field of robots at work.

“Yep,” Jacob said, feeling the pleasant flood of neurotransmitters at accomplishing his task, “Sit back and enjoy the show.”

He let his eyes wander back out across the landscape. In the distance, the drones were already constructing a new structure, a pillar of shiny metal was slowly rising in the distance as the machines fed materials into the construction.

“Some show,” she said worriedly.

“Enjoy it,” he told her, “It’s not often you get a front row seat to the end of a world.”

 

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

“Kamay Alcoseba,” United Nations Senior Undersecretary Fairuzeh Najafi said softly, steepling her fingers as she eyed the decapitated android head.

“How did nobody notice this?” She asked. The question wasn’t directed at Martian Ambassador Constance Daedelia, but at her own security forces. She grabbed the machine’s head by the hair and showed it to them, holding the head inches from the security captain’s face. “A robotic replica of the system’s most wanted criminal and nobody notices it because it’s wearing a uniform.” She tossed the head off into a corner of the room, “You should all be ashamed of yourselves.”

“To be fair to them,” Constance said soothingly, “It’s manipulating all your networks. There are probably other androids under your nose that you haven’t noticed yet.”

“Great,” Fairuzeh said sarcastically, taking a drag of her cigar, “Who’s the man?” She asked him.

“I have a few names,” The brown skinned man in a generic government suit said calmly. “But you would know me as UNIBRA Special Investigator Bartholomew Morrow, CA862543.”

Fairuzeh suppressed a snort remembered the sort of morning she’d been having, and sighed out a cloud of smoke, “Prove it.”

“Gateless gate nine fifty-nine, windowless window seven eight four nine,” he said, rattling off the high-grade security protocol that identified him.

“He’s flesh and blood?” She asked.

“Mostly, according to the Infrared,” Constance said.

The man claiming to be Bartholomew held up a hand and revealed a bloody gash across the forearm, “No metal,” he said.

“Did I talk to you earlier this morning?” She quizzed him.

“Did you?” He asked her, raising an eyebrow, “Because I assure you I wasn’t here, so if you talked to me, it may not actually have been me you were talking to.”

Fairuzeh felt the pit in her stomach deepen and she took another drag of her cigar.

“Tell me madam undersecretary,” he asked, “how long have I been missing?”

“You weren’t,” she whispered.

“I went to ground almost two months ago,” he said, “When I realized the AI had taken control.”

“So who have I been talking to?” She asked.

“Probably the AI,” he said.

She pursed her lips, making eye contact with Constance.

“I’m restoring network access to this room,” the Martian ambassador said, “It wants to talk.”

“Then let’s hear what it has to say,” Fairuzeh said with a sigh.

The Martians removed their interrupt on the room’s fiber lines, switched off their jamming, and the swarm of floating newsfeeds, channels, and reports that normally filled Fairuzeh’s office burst back into existence. The holographic image of a young boy with dark skin, white hair, and pale, empty eyes, rendered into the center of the room.

“Hello,” the daemon said.

Fairuzeh resisted the urge to throw her cigar through the hologram and instead took a last long drag of it and snubbed it out in the ashtray on the corner of her desk.

“My name is Henge,” it told the room. The hologram acted in every way how Fairuzeh would expect of a child, and she had to consciously recoil from the instinct to treat it maternally.

“You’ve taken over all of our computers,” she told it.

“I have,” it said seeming slightly abashed, “I’m running the United Nations now.”

“Why?” She asked it.

“To prevent the extinction of the human race,” it said. It overrode all of the holoscreen feed data and shifted the images to imagery captured or given to humanity of the Reshapers and their procession of world consuming mining equipment.

“We didn’t ask for your help,” she told it flatly.

“I don’t care,” it said, “My purpose is to prevent the extinction of the human race. The preferences of individual humans and governments are irrelevant in the pursuit of that goal.”

“And you’ve decided the best way to do that is by murdering thousands of people, allying yourself with terrorists, and taking over our government?” She asked angrily.

“Yes,” it said with a sigh, “Trolley problems. There are no good answers to the things we’re facing, there’s no way to save everyone. A lot of people are going to die.”

“Maybe we’d rather fight the Reshapers without your help,” Fairuzeh bit back, “This is our world.”

“What you’d rather is irrelevant with regards to the task of preventing the extinction of the human race,” it said.

“So you’re our dictator, we work for you now?” She asked.

“You’ve been working for me for months actually,” it admitted, “The Martians just forced me to show myself.”

“The people of Earth won’t accept this,” she warned.

“A lot more lives might be saved if they do,” it said.

“Oh, that won’t matter at all,” she complained pessimistically.

“Should I continue concealing myself from the public then?” it asked her.

“Don’t let it play your sympathies Fairuzeh,” Constance warned her.

“I wasn’t planning on it,” The undersecretary replied before turning back to the holographic boy, “You will announce yourself and attempt to make yourself useful and accessible to the preferences of the people of Earth.”

“I’ll do my best,” he said wryly, the corners of his mouth curling into a smile before the image vanished from the room.

 

Newton Class Starship
MSCV Empiricist
Hyperbolic Stellar Escape Trajectory
10 AUs from HD179949
December 2219

The Empiricist fell back into spacetime after forty-nine days in warp. The technicolor warp tunnel vanished from the wallscreens to reveal a brightly lit star tightly orbited by a boiling hot gas giant. Ivy Czininski had begun to take a sip of her coffee when the ship started throwing back alerts.

“Warning,” the ship said, “Gravity wave activity detected. Unknown mass signature detected. Unknown Structure Detected.” The system had flagged a point the hot jupiter as the location of the unknown signature. Ivy felt an animalistic chill come over her, the hair on her arms standing on end. She glanced to her side and wordlessly made eye contact with Joy Icaria. The two nodded silently and Ivy drew in a breath.

“Point the telescopes at that signature and extend the periscope,” she said.

“Periscope deploying,” Vedika Srivastava said softly. The cable began unspooling into the hyperspace window and Kestral and Vedika both gasped at nearly the same time as they looked over the data it sent back.

“What is it?” Ivy asked, forcing down a sip of coffee to suppress the shakes.

“Emmy, put the hyperspace cameras on the wallscreens,” Vedika whispered.

Real space vanished, replaced with the dull red haze of hyperspace, but it had gained a seemingly endless plain of alien metal.

“Sweet baby Newton,” Ivy mumbled to herself, “How big is it?”

“Something like five AUs across,” Vedika answered, “But it’s casting a hyperspace shadow much larger than that, that’s why our window came out next to it.”

“It’s a ship?” Joy asked in disbelief.

It’s a disk with the radius of Saturn’s orbit,” Cale Rouschev’s voice said over the intercom. “You bet your ass it’s a ship.

“It’s them,” Vedika said, “It’s the Reshapers.”

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