Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Microstory 838: Man of War

The galaxy is a big place, but we have mapped every single star, and conquered nearly all of them. Along the way, we discovered a few alien races, but life is so much rarer than even the most skeptical of scientists predicted. Most of our neighbors were technologically inferior to us, so when we declare a star system to be ours, there is little use for them to fight us on it. There are enough habitable planets here to satisfy the needs of every family, and though people tend to cluster together, it remains an option. Still, we set aside certain worlds for specific purposes, treating each one like our ancestors used blocks in a city. There’s one for giant immersive theme parks, and another for escape scenarios and scavenger hunts. I was on my way to a water world known for the best surfing in the quadrant when our ship suffered a cataclysmic failure, and I was forced to jettison myself in an emergency pod. I waited amongst the debris for two days, waiting to either be rescued, or at least make contact with other survivors, but I was running out of rations, and had to find the nearest system. Pods can’t last forever on the power they store—really just enough to make it a few light years, so I place myself in hibernation—and set course.

As my pod approaches, the computer wakes me up, and alerts me that the only planet with a satisfactory atmosphere is marked classified, and that I’m not allowed to land. That won’t be a problem, because I just need to hang out in orbit around the sun for a few hours, then I can make my way to the next system over. It’s tedious, and I may not find civilization for years, but it’s better than dying. The planet seems to have other plans for me, however. A message comes through, with the voice of an angry military man, scolding me for deserting the war. Obviously I’ve done no such thing, but some computer down there is programmed to react to a vessel in a certain way, and I’ve somehow triggered that action. I try to get out of its way, but it won’t leave me be. I try to explain myself, but it wasn’t programmed to recognize my responses. After some digging, I discover this to be an abandoned military training planet, built after the Bot Wars of the 22nd century, in preparation for a second uprising that never came. The messages continue, with the General telling me that my unit is counting on me, along with hundreds of thousands of other soldiers. Despite my best efforts, the training computer has designated me a soldier with an obligation, so it takes control of my pod, and drags me down to the surface. It lands me in the middle of a bunch of debris, proving that others have crashed before me. Once I’ve learned that there’s no way to fix my pod from inside of it, the exercise begins automatically, sending millions of robots to attack me, unaware that I am literally the only human even here, except for a bunch of corpses scattered around. From what I remember, I realize this must be a reenactment of the Battle of Kanapthes, which no human survived. I don’t know why they’re using real weapons, but I do know I have to get the hell out of here. I quickly learn that none of the other ships will work either, though, so my only hope is to reach the core processor of this training program, and shut this whole thing down. It’s only a few kilometers away, so I can make it if I’m smart about it. I peek over a ridge to inspect my surroundings, and a robot shoots me in the head. I roll down the hill, and die next to the other poor schmucks who probably had the same idea.

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