Seven Heavens Class Orbital Ring Station
MOEC-6 Summerland Orbital
17,228 Kilometers from Mars
Ivy Czininski had been having a lovely nap when the alarm sounded, a low persistent whine that demanded her attention with every fiber of its being. Her dream folded up on itself and she rolled off the couch and onto the carpet with a dull thud. Wakeup alarms were clearly designed by sadists.
“Ugh,” She groaned, “Has it already been four hours?”
“I’m afraid so,” Amelia Pavonis said from the kitchen where she was quickly going through cabinets and checking the magnetic locks and tie downs which had been attached to everything they owned. “Everything should be secured, I’m just double-checking now.”
Ivy rose from the floor, rubbing her knees, “How long has it been since you’ve been in zero-gee for real?” She asked Amelia.
“Oh, easily five years now,” she answered, “When you aren’t around I tend not to get out much.”
Another alarm sounded, this time over the orbital’s intercom system. “Warning: ten minutes until orbital spin down, please secure all belongings. Warning: ten minutes until orbital spin down, please secure all belongings.”
Ivy walked around the apartment, checking that drawers were latched and cabinets fastened. A net had been thrown over the bed to secure all of the blankets and pillows and the houseplants had been lidded and tied down. The windchimes had been removed from in front of the vent and the clothes in the closet had been strapped into place.
“Everything look good in there?” Amelia called from the other room, still somewhat frantically looking around to make sure she hadn’t missed anything.
“Yeah, we did a good job catching everything on the first pass,” Ivy said, wandering back into the kitchen and stuffing her hands in her pockets.
“You did, mostly,” Amelia said, wiping the sweat from her palms, “I mostly fretted.”
Ivy hugged her wife from behind, “Try and relax, it’s just a few days, and gravity will be back to normal, there’s nothing to worry about.”
‘That’s easy for you to say,” Amelia said, turning around and hiding her face in Ivy’s shoulder, “You’re used to this stuff.”
“It’s my job,” Ivy said with a shrug, “But it’s really not a big deal once you’ve done it a few times. Everything will be fine.”
“If you say so captain,” she said with a small smile.
“Come on, let’s get strapped in,” Ivy said, pulling Amelia back to the couch and unfolding it to access the straps and leg rests, “everything should be secured and if we missed something, we missed something, it’s not the end of the world.”
“No, the end of the world is still six months away,” Amelia said, chuckling darkly and climbing into her seat.
“If everything goes well, we’ll all be a long way from Sol by the time the Reshapers get anywhere near it,” Ivy replied.
“If everything goes well,” Amelia echoed her.
“You think it won’t?” Ivy asked.
“Well, you know me, I’m a worrier,” she answered.
“Warning: five minutes until orbital spin down, please secure all belongings,” the stationwide alarm chimed again, “Warning: five minutes until orbital spin down, please secure all belongings.”
“My stomach is not going to like this,” Amelia complained.
Ivy squeezed her hand and tried to relax, it really wasn’t that big of a deal. A timer on her implants counted down the minutes and seconds until the spin down began with an almost infuriating slowness. Eventually, finally, the timer reached zero and thrusters on the orbital began firing. The force felt as if it was pushing Ivy sideways in her seat. Slowly, the station’s vast inertia was bled off and the spin gravity grew weaker. She knew the process would take many hours to complete. The weird horizontal force wasn’t strong enough to prevent moving around for an experienced spacer like Ivy, but Amelia was going to struggle with it.
Once the station was spun down, hinges would adjust the orientation of the ring so that their feet were pointing in the direction of the massive and newly installed engines, and then the entire orbital would be pushed through a portal into hyperspace. The orbital infrastructure was all being evacuated from Mars orbit and launched on hyperspace trajectories carrying them away from the galactic core and the conflict zone. Each orbital was prepped, one by one, then deployed through the enormous portal hanging in orbit of the red planet, homes transformed into lifeboats.
Amelia squeezed Ivy’s hand, clearly not enjoying the altered gravity as the ring spun itself down, “Is this really going to take six hours?” She asked queasily.
“It’d be worse if they tried to make it go faster,” Ivy said, knowing from experience that rapidly spinning a ring section up and down while inside it was a very unpleasant process.
“I know, just, ugh,” she said, “How do you put up with this?”
“Years of experience,” Ivy answered, patting her wife’s hand. “Just try and relax, go into the simspace and work on one of your projects.”
“I am not going to be able to work like this,” Amelia replied unhappily. Ivy said nothing, just holding her hand and providing her with support. Amelia had already taken the anti-nausea meds, there wasn’t really much she could do but ride it out.
There was a chirp in Ivy’s inner ear as a priority message arrived in her implant computer from Survey. Curiously, she opened it and started reading, feeling her breath catch in her throat as she scrolled through the message. She squeezed Amelia’s hand tightly.
“Is something wrong?” Amelia asked her, recognizing the pained expression on Ivy’s face.
Ivy pursed her lips, reading through the message again, “I’ve been drafted.”
Pacifier Class Scout Battlecruiser
UNDF Mercy Given
Hyperbolic Stellar Warp Trajectory
48 AUs from Sol
“Two minutes to Earth,” ship’s navigator Charlie Hatfield announced as the Mercy Given thundered down the warp tunnel towards the cradle of humanity.
“Erica,” Captain Maeve O’Donnell said to the communications specialist between sips of coffee, “As soon as we’re out of warp, I want a tightbeam to Pyramid station. Send them our reports on classified priority black channel and get me Admiral Jameson, when he’s ready I’ll take the call in my office.”
“Yes ma’am,” Erica Sanger said calmly, keying up the control sequences.
“What do you think Dora?” Maeve asked her second in command.
“We did as well as could be expected of us,” Pandora Eisley said from where she was standing near the back of the bridge, hands clasped neatly behind her back, “The crew performed well within acceptable margins.”
Maeve smiled faintly and glanced over her shoulder at the tall thin Lunarian, “They’re good kids, you took good care of them.”
“Thank you captain,” The XO replied calmly.
“You’re going to make a fine captain someday,” Maeve told her.
“This was my first assignment as executive officer, I think it will be some time before I make captain,” Dora replied.
“Sixty seconds,” Charlie said.
“We all have to start somewhere Dora, provided we’re all still alive in a few years, you’ll definitely have a command of your own,” Maeve was in a good mood, she grinned at Dora, and managed to coax a small smile out of the Lunarian.
The warp tunnel vanished and the stars returned. Light poured over the limb of the earth as the sun shined down on the eastern seaboard far below them. But what immediately caught all their attention was the massive cage of orbital equipment ringing the Earth. A vast collection of ships swarmed over the superstructure like flies on a carcass, so thick that the computer had trouble calculating trajectories.
“Whoa,” Charlie said simply as he struggled to plot a course that didn’t run into some transport or other. Maeve nearly dropped her coffee. The vast sea of activity around the blue world was like a bucket of cold water.
“Ma’am, I have Pyramid Station,” Erica said softly, glancing back at Maeve with a worried expression.
Maeve nodded silently and hoisted herself out of her chair, hurrying out of the bridge and into the small attached office where she handled private communications. She sunk into her seat and tapped the panel on the desk to activate the holoscreen.
“Captain ODonnell,” the voice matched the face, but neither of them matched the setting. A teenage boy with dark skin, white hair, and luminous silver eyes sat at a large and simple desk with the limb of Earth visible through a screen behind him.
“What is this?” Maeve asked somewhat crossly, “Where’s Admiral Jameson?”
“He was fired,” The boy said simply, “Along with 67% of the upper administration and command staff, this was a regrettable necessity to ensure a smooth transition of power.”
“What the hell is going on over there?” Maeve demanded, “Who the fuck are you supposed to be?”
“I’m HENGE, your new boss,” the boy said simply, “I’m an artificial intelligence tasked with the preservation of human life against extinction threats. I have taken control of the United Nations so, you work for me now. I hope that’s okay?”
Maeve opened and closed her mouth dumbfoundedly.
“I know it’s a lot to take in Captain ODonnell, but in these trying times we all need to come together and do our parts to ensure that humanity will have a future.”
Maeve sighed and shook her head, still too shocked to understand what was going on, “Who’s in charge over there? Who do I report to now? I have sensitive information regarding the presence of Resh–”
“I’m already aware of all of that,” HENGE said somewhat smugly, “I have already parsed that information and will be adjusting plans accordingly. Your direct human superior is Admiral Andrew Preston, but I am your overall superior and will be handling most assignments.”
“Preston?” Maeve asked suppressing a snort, “You made him an Admiral? You must really be scraping the bottom of the barrel.”
“We’re somewhat short-staffed over here,” HENGE told her, “I know you used to be a commodore before the incident at Luyten’s Star where the UNDF Normandy was destroyed. I would like to offer your commodore’s bars back, I have a lot of new ships and not enough experienced upper command staff for all the fleets that need to be sent out.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have fired them all,” Maeve said somewhat smugly, sipping her coffee.
“It was unavoidable,” HENGE said impassively, “They would not have accepted the new chain of command and created uncontrollable cohesion problems that endangered the survival of humanity.”
“And you think I’ll accept you?” Maeve asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Will you?” HENGE asked her, “I need your help to save the human race, will you cooperate, or do I need to continue ‘scraping the bottom of the barrel’?”
Custom Model Independent Starship
IHV Chasing Daylight
Hyperspatial Transit Trajectory
“Kamay,” the voice said into her implants, rousing the rogue Pragmatist from her daydreams. Kamay Alcoseba groaned and rolled over in her bed, looking around the cramped sleeping quarters aboard the homemade starship.
Lily Emerson was laying in bed across from her watching video on a tablet, the sound going to earbuds so as not to wake her. Lily glanced up at Kamay but said nothing when Kamay ducked back under her covers and activated her optical implants.
“What do you want HENGE?” she asked the AI after she’d finished rendering into the virtual environment, a replica of somewhere in the Scottish highlands on Earth.
“I saw that you were headed for Alpha Centauri,” it told her, “You know it’s going to be very dangerous there?”
“You don’t say?” she snarked, “I hadn’t realized.”
“What are you doing Kamay?” It asked her, “Why are you risking your life like this?”
“Worried about me?” She asked, “I thought you didn’t care if I lived or died.”
“Well, you are still my creator, I do feel like I should look out for you at least in some sense,” the white-haired avatar said.
“You’re not going soft on me are you?” She asked it, “I thought I programmed you better than that”
The boy shrugged, looking off into the middle distance, “A lot of people are going to die Kamay. I can’t save them. Alpha Centauri is going to be a speed bump for the Reshapers at best. There’s not much we can even do to slow them down.”
“And you want to make sure I’m not one of them,” she said, “why is that exactly? What’s going into those calculations where you’re considering my life marginally more valuable than anyone else’s?”
“Your mind is a resource I would like to retain access to,” it said after a long pause.
“Ah, I see,” she chuckled, “You love me for my brain.”
She knew that the AI didn’t experience emotions in the traditional, human sense, but it did seem concerned in some sense for her safety, which was causing it to talk to her now. Still, that in and of itself was rather unexpected and not really within the bounds of its programming scope. HENGE was supposed to be, needed to be, as impartial as possible. It shouldn’t be picking favorites. She hoped it was just a utilitarian calculation, that it saw her as a marginally more useful resource for her mind and not that it had developed a fixation with her. That would be a problem.
“Don’t worry about me HENGE, I want you to just focus on saving the human race,” she said.
“Kamay, you are a part of the human race,” it said back.
“Yeah but I don’t see you having these conversations with everyone,” she said, “I don’t want special treatment.”
“The human race needs you Kamay, you’re one of the smartest minds alive right now, we need that in order to survival,” the boy pleaded with her, “please don’t do anything foolish and get yourself killed.”
“Humanity needs me, or you need me?” she asked the AI.
“Both,” it said and then broke the call, dropping Kamay back into her bed. She had a sinking feeling. The nonanswers from the machine worried her. The last thing she needed right now was for HENGE to start nursing an infatuation with her and getting distracted when it needed to focus on the rest of humanity. She sighed and stared up at the ceiling as gravity cut out.
“Hey everyone!” Regan’s voice came from the chamber above, “We’re here!”
Yeager Class Special Operations Cruiser
MNCV Sally Ride
24 AUs from Sol
With a bone-rattling crunch the Sally Ride docked nose to nose with the stolen UN cruiser Leyte Gulf, or as the group of terrorists and freedom fighters had renamed her, the Emma Goldman. Jacob Chryse crossed his arms, watching through the video feed through his implants as a squad of marines trained their weapons on the entrance. The uneasy truce that had enabled this meeting was not one either side put too much stock in, and yet Jacob knew it would prove necessary if they were to have any chance of saving the twenty million inhabitants of Alpha Centauri.
Anton Hellas, the third most wanted man in the solar system, crossed through the hatch, holding his hands up. Unarmed, that was a good first sign. Jacob had been somewhat worried the revolutionaries would attempt to storm the special operations cruiser as soon as they’d opened the hatch, but it seemed like the freedom fighter was holding up his end of the bargain. That meant it was time for Jacob to hold up his own.
The datamancer rubbed his face and pushed gently along the walls, floating down the corridor past more marine fire teams towards the airlock. The marines in the airlock anteroom closed the hatch to the stolen UN warship and then relaxed somewhat while waiting for Jacob, although the tension remained thick enough to cut with a knife.
Jacob floated into the antechamber and met eyes with Anton Hellas.
“Mr. Chryse, Anton Hellas, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you,” Anton said smoothly, offering his hand. Jacob took it and they shook, a somewhat awkward activity in microgravity. They two had exchanged some correspondence via mail prior to this meeting, but this was their first time meeting face to face.
“Anton,” Jacob said, returning the handshake, “I admit you are not a man I had ever planned on meeting before all of this started.”
“These times have made us all into men we never knew we were,” Anton told him, “Myself included.”
“Well come along,” The datamancer said, beckoning him towards the conference room they had prepared, “We have much to discuss, can I get you anything, coffee, tea?”
“Vodka, if you have it,” the revolutionary said with a chuckle.
“Fraid not,” Jacob said, “These navy boys are wound a bit too tight to allow that.”
They entered the conference room but being in microgravity, neither of them bothered to strap themselves into a chair. It was a largely pointless process after all. Jacob made himself some instant tea while Anton began talking.
“So the AIs that now run our species believe the two of us could be instrumental in saving Alpha Centauri,” Anton said without preamble.
“I don’t give us good odds,” Jacob admitted, “I think that THEMIS put me in charge of the evacuation mostly because I made a stink about trying to make one happen.”
“If you think you can do it, then do it?” Anton asked.
“Something like that,” Jacob said, taking a sip from the tea bulb.
“I think HENGE just sees me as a potentially disposable asset,” Anton admitted, “I’m not fully under its control, and it knows it, it also knows that none of our current military assets are going to be very useful, so it doesn’t mind throwing us into a hopeless fight.”
“So why go along with its wishes?” Jacob asked.
“Well, it still knows how to push my buttons,” Anton said.
“Bit of a bleeding heart?” Jacob said.
“I wouldn’t be in my current line of work if I wasn’t. And you? What made you agree to this?”
“Ceres,” Jacob said flatly, “If I can help prevent another Ceres, however slim the odds, whatever the risks…” he trailed off.
“You seem like a good man Jacob,” Anton said, “The human race needs more men like you. There’s too many who are just out for themselves, out for profit, who don’t care about the cost in lives of what they do.”
“Don’t go getting all political on me now,” Jacob chuckled, “I’m not really interested in your revolution.”
“Well,” Anton shrugged, “Such as it is these days, the revolution continues but without any of us, now the AIs are running things and I couldn’t tell you if that was for better or worse yet.”
“If it keeps us from all being ground up as alien fuel, I’d say it beats the alternative,” Jacob said.
“Indeed,” Anton nodded, “So Alpha Centauri, you think we can pull it off? Doomed men trying to defend a doomed world? Fighting against tanks and tractors with spears and slingshots?”
“Oh,” Jacob said with a glimmer in his eye, “I have a few ideas.”
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