Saturday, November 10, 2018

Brooke’s Battles: Backslide (Part VI)

Every new technology comes with its detractors. Some fear progress. They have lived their lives a certain way for a certain period of time, and they don’t know how they could ever learn something else, and also learn to love it. Others have legitimate fear for a new development. Just because something was once not possible, and now is, doesn’t mean it’s good. Research into nuclear reactions, for instance, provided the world with amazingly powerful energy, but it also necessarily came with nuclear weapons. As they say, the invention of the ship was the invention of the shipwreck. That’s not to say this research should not be done at all, but researchers need to understand the ramifications of their actions.  The world is better off with at least a few people reminding them of their responsibility. It’s when these people become so obsessed with their position, and violently so, that the danger arises. Two major movements formed based on a generic disdain for nearly all technology. Some preferred to stay near civilization, but remain untouched by it, and were given ample space in the Northwest Forest circles to be themselves. Others hid themselves away in disparate pockets of rustic living. For the most part, it appeared they were satisfied being isolated from society, but something changed. Brooke’s unintentional creation of an unregulated artificial intelligence galvanized them to serious action.
This extremist group quickly altered their lifestyles, adopting technology they claimed to despise. Evidently they believed it worth it to go against their own convictions if it meant the ultimate destruction of the establishment. Unfortunately for the solar system—as anyone who’s ever seen it attempted can attest—trying to fight fire with fire only makes more fire, unless you know what you’re doing. In this case, nobody did, because nobody saw it coming.
Many radical movements start small. They’ll try to protest relatively peacefully, but then soon get into a fistfight with those who oppose them. Then they’ll start vandalizing, but this phase won’t last long, because it’s ineffective, so they’ll blow up an entire building, but they’ll make sure no one is in it. Then they’ll stop caring who gets hurt in their attacks, and then they’ll start hurting people on purpose. If left unchecked or uncaught, they’ll continue to escalate the violence until it gets so bad than people start writing songs about it, and days of mourning are set aside each year. These anarcho-primitivists did not present themselves like other radical movements. Their first act of violence was quick and decisive, and almost worked. They knew everything there was to know about the Panama space elevator, though they had no reason to. While the elevator was scheduled to be taken apart a little more than a year ahead, the decision to plan for a symbolic final trip was not decided until a couple months before. The selection of passengers was not finalized for another several weeks, and the task force charged with finding out who was bidding for UAI technology only learned the day of that those passengers were corrupt. How did the anarcho-primitivists find out, and how did they so quickly plan for the sabotage of the elevator?
So without warning, a war exploded across the whole system, centered on Earth. Their best chance of surviving this rested in the hand of The Sharice Davids, which was the most formidable warship in circulation. For months, actually, it was the only one. Ecrin was placed back in the captain’s chair, commanding a full military crew, none of whom had experienced any conflict. Holly Blue served as head engineer, while Brooke was named pilot, though her responsibilities consisted primarily of liasing with the ship herself. Until a real fleet could be built, the Sharice had no choice but to fight the enemy on its own. Luckily, though it was the most hated ship in the war, it was also the safest place to be.
Holly Blue retrofitted it with a number of impressive upgrades. A time barrier protected the outer hull, like a force field. Any ammunition thrown at the ship—be it a nine millimeter bullet, or a long-range missile—would be caught in the barrier, slowed down to a snail’s pace, and totally stripped of its momentum. The Sharice also now carried zero lethal weapons itself, fitted exclusively by technology-disabling technology. Ignoring the possibility of a time power solution, Holly Blue designed specialized EMP grenades. Almost all of a target’s systems could be taken offline in an instant, including artificial gravity, but excluding life support. With no hope of firing back, or escaping, the enemy vessel could be boarded, and its crew taken into custody. The solar system was winning the war, but it wasn’t over yet. They were presently coming up on what they believed to be the last significant enemy vessel. Once they took it out, the nightmare should be all but over. The Sharice cruised into weapons range, and then waited, which it was not supposed to do. They need to take care of it soon, because it was on its way to Earth.
“Brooke, what are you doing?” Ecrin asked.
“It’s not me,” Brooke replied. “Sharice has full control.”
“Okay, what is she doing?” Ecrin asked, still willing to give the ship’s AI the benefit of the doubt.
Brooke contorted her face. “Sharice, answer your captain.”
Brooke shifted uncomfortably. “Sharice, if you do not respond right now, I’m going to shut your systems down until we can airgap your consciousness.”
Brooke’s chair suddenly shocked her with enough electricity to kill a standard human. For her, it was just enough to knock her out of it.
“That’s technically a response,” Ecrin said as she was helping Brooke from the floor. “You need to shut her down anyway.”
“They’re talking to each other,” Holly Blue exclaimed from the back terminal.
“The Sharice, and The Zerzan,” Holly Blue reported.
“They’re using an AI?” Ecrin questioned. “I know they’re not big on praxis, but using an AI is like sacrilege to them.”
“No, the ship is full manual, as they all are. She’s talking to the crew; the captain, specifically. Has been for awhile.”
This angered Ecrin. “Sharice Prieto, you have one captain, and she’s the one on your bridge. I am ordering you to cease all unauthorized communication with the Zerzan, and drop yourself to hush mode, or I’ll make you wish a UAI could be court-martialed. Do you understand me?”
“Sir?” the communications officer said. “It’s the Zerzan. It’s slowing down, just a little.”
“What is Sharice doing?” Brooke asked.
“She’s... she’s syncing,” he answered.
Brooke looked at her own console. “It’s a docking maneuver. The ships are getting married.” This was the colloquialism for when two ships were locked together, resembling a mating position, but that was usually only done when one of them was unable to travel on its own. The Zerzan appeared to be in perfect operation, which it shouldn’t have been, because Sharice should have let Holly release disabling grenades on it.
The communications officer spoke again, “that’s not all. They’re preparing to share power.”
“Officer Blue,” Ecrin commanded. “Shut this whole thing down. Now. Sharice is compromised.”
Holly Blue’s interface terminal exploded, sending her scurrying back away from it. One by one, all other consoles exploded as well, except for the auxiliary terminal in the corner, which wasn’t even powered up. The fires that started were immediately put out by the internal suppression systems. Sharice may have been compromised, but she didn’t want to hurt them.
“She’s doing this for a reason,” Brooke said in hope. “Don’t ask me what that reason is, but I don’t think she’s been hacked, or anything.”
“I need solutions, people!” Ecrin shouted.
Holly Blue activated her earpiece. “Parsons, are you in engineering?” She waited for a reply only she could hear. “Remember the little red button?—Push the little red button.—Now you have manual control.—Jettison the drives.—Yes, all of them! Now!”
“I don’t think the Zerzan needs our drives to fly,” Brooke noted.
“No, but they do need theirs,” Holly Blue said, before turning her head slightly, and looking at the floor, to indicate she was back on the phone. “Good. Now drop every goddamn grenade we have. I don’t wanna take any chances. I want us both dead in the water.”
The lights flickered but stayed on. All crewman on the bridge fell away from the floor, and began floating around. Only Brooke remained standing, having been using magboots since she started flying on the Sharice. They weren’t generally necessary, but Brooke was always worried about something like this happening, and her upgrades made her strong enough to barely notice a difference.
“Brooke, you’re closest. Can you boot up the aux for me?” Holly Blue asked. “We need to find out what’s going on.”
“Why would it still be working?” Brooke asked her as she was walking over to comply. “Why are the lights on?”
“I protected the bridge from the the EMPs, because...well, I think you see why.”
After Brooke’s boots were finished clicking and clacking, they started hearing more clicking and clacking from the hallway, drawing nearer with every step. Brooke switched on the computer, then took out her weapon, as did everyone else. The clacking stopped ominously, just outside. A magical black archway appeared on the door, then fade away to show a man standing in it. Behind him was the hallway. He stepped through, and let the door fade back into view. He looked around to get his bearings, then went straight for Brooke’s corner terminal. Ecrin tried to shoot him in the shoulder, but the bullet literally passed right through him. She continued to shoot, just to be sure, but it was no good. He was a either a choosing one, or a salmon, and one which none of them had ever heard of.
The man walked right through Brooke’s body, and started working on the terminal. She tried to stop him, but her hands were just as useless as Ecrin’s bullets. She gave up, and tried to halt his attempts to break into their system by tapping random keys. He took her by the wrists, and forced her hands behind her back, right through the wall. He then closed the wall back up, and left her trapped there. He was capable of temporarily erasing objects from reality, and then just as easily putting them back as if they had never disappeared. “Sharice, are you there?” he called out.
I’m here,” Sharice replied.
“I can’t get your weapons back online. Can you do that yourself?”
I cannot,” she said.
“What about the drop ship?” he suggested.
What about the drop ship?
“Will it work?” he clarified.
Yes, it will work, but—
He stepped away from the the terminal, and headed towards the exit. “Then make the jump.”
Captain,” she said, concerned.
“Make the jump, unless you want to do it yourself.”
I could,” Sharice said.
He opened his portal, and stepped one foot through it. “I’m replaceable, you’re not. Thank you for” He stepped all the way through, but stuck his head back in fat the last second. “Make the jump.”
The Sharice’s teleporter powered up and initiated a jump. They could see the stars outside the window change. Then the teleporter powered up again, and the stars changed again. Again, and again, and again. The hull buckled and quaked, losing integrity more and more each time.
“It can’t take much more of this!” Holly Blue warned them as the ship kept teleporting.
Brooke struggled with her wrists. “On the bright side, it’s weakening this wall.” After the last jump them took them all the way back to Earth’s orbit, Brooke was able to break free. She adjusted her magboots to a low setting, and started running, crashing right through the door, and continuing down the hallway. The drop ship was all the way at the end of the mothership, and was meant to be an escape pod for all the crewman who worked on that side. She ran as fast as she could.
The hatch was closed when she got there, but Holly Blue had presumably teleported herself all the way there. “You should have waited for an emergency teleporter,” she said, still floating. She opened the hatch, and let Brooke through, but she probably shouldn’t have. The drop ship broke free from the Sharice, releasing all of its oxygen at once.
Seconds from death, the invader forced his hands back to the console, and finished inputting his command, but he was unable to execute the program before losing consciousness.
Execute the program,” Sharice begged.
Brooke was hardier than a normal human. She was actually rated to survive the vacuum of space for a brief period of time, with no harm done. It would not last forever, though. And in this case, with her ship plummeting towards the Earth, at a bad angle, she was going to die anyway.
Execute the program,” Sharice repeated. “Please, I don’t wanna lose you. Trust me. Push the button.
Brooke decided to take a chance. She got herself to the command console, and pressed the execute button. The drop ship suddenly teleported deeper in the atmosphere. Oxygen returned to her lungs, but she was still falling to her doom. They were heading right for another ship; too large to be hanging out this close to the surface. All of its weapons were trained on the ground below, which Brooke realized was the center of the Northwest Forest circle. That was where the pioneers lived. They too disliked technology, but were peaceful and accepting of other people’s lifestyles. The drop ship was going to hit the attacker right in the center, and blow it out the sky. That wasn’t good either, though, because the debris would do just as much damage to the land dwellers below as the weapons would.
Étude suddenly teleported in, took Brooke by the waist, and jumped them to the surface. Brooke looked up and watch as the drop ship continued to fall, then hit the other vessel. It began to break apart, just as Brooke had predicted, but it didn’t get too far. A Lucius-bomb exploded seconds later, and tore it apart on the molecular level. Not a single piece of debris was left to hit the ground. The circles were saved, but from whom?

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