tagSci-Fi & FantasyIdle Hands Pt. 06

Idle Hands Pt. 06

byDragonCobolt©

Dey didn't look away from the mass of computer components – and as DuBois stood and looked smug, she started to go through everything she knew about AIs to try and figure out what the fuck was going on. Generally speaking, there were three kinds of AI. Four, if you were a science fiction writer or fan (and Dey, being someone who grew up in a world with aliens, rayguns and spaceships, was a sci-fi fan.)

The first kind was the general purpose "autonomous" intelligence. The things that ran search programs, video game enemies, navicomputers, and other stuff that just required incredibly quick math. A lot of them hadn't changed much from the 21st century – by 2050, humanity had essentially figured out how to search images and text documents efficiently. Navigational computers had been even easier, considering most spaceflight still relied on the math laid out by Sir Issac – the deadliest son of a bitch in space.

After those, there were general AIs.

Like me, Loki added – kicking Dey's brain into higher speeds so she could cover all of this between blinks. General AIs were quantum programs that took advantage of the same kind of quantum effects that made human brains flexible and reactive and self reflective. They were stored on a single computer, had a limitation on how smart they could get based off math that was too complicated for Dey to understand.

Then there was Balder. Originally designed as a way to get rid of the pernicious amount of fake news that had dominated the Earth during the Culture War of the early 21st century, Balder had evolved naturally on the internet shortly after he'd been released by Google. The hows and whys had always left Dey slightly mystified. Here, Loki sighed and cut in again.

Okay, he said. The internet is made up of a bunch of integrated computers. They talk to one another. One of the ways they communicate is by sending packages of information – these packages sometimes break down due to bad programming and faults in the hardware and don't get to deleted. Long story short, they start bouncing around the internet like free floating cellular automata. Google figured they could tap that for a decentralized source of computations.

[Why not just use a big computer?] Dey asked, her eyes settling on the very big computer that filled the center of the old ballroom. DuBois had started to open his mouth, his lips moving in slow motion as Dey's thinking continued to be carried primarily on the fibers that threaded through her skull.

At that era, hackers and various Cultures – Reddit, 4Chan, Suchen, the Donalds – were able to take down centralized system with DDOS attacks and the like, Loki sniffed – like a posh British nobleman discussing the activities of a Brenton knight during the low middle ages. Thus, Balder used the free floating cellular automata as a way of computing, which tied into his original purpose: Tracking and understanding where news stories were coming from, so he could start filtering fake ones out.

[Then something something magic and he became self aware?]

A sufficiently large field of cellular automata can think, even if they're only use standard 1/0 bits and not Q-bits. Loki sighed.

[So, if you wanted to run something like Balder, you...]

Would need something with at least the computational capacity of the entire Internet of the 2020s. Loki said. That'd set you back fifty K by modern standards.

"You're fucking kidding," Dey exclaimed.

DuBois, whose mouth had only been half looked, frowned. "I don't-" he started. But before he could continue, a harsh squealing screeching sound filled the air. Everyone's eyes snapped around and Dey sprang into motion. She sprang to her feet and sprinted towards one of the doorways. She made it halfway there before the shouting started.

"Stop her-"

"Shoot him!"

"What the fu-"

"Stand down!"

That last bellow had been from the Yahaag and was loud enough and frightening enough for everyone who wasn't sprinting for the exit to shut the fuck up. Dey got to the exit, and then was in the corridors. Then she was gone.

###

Kuz looked down at the railgun in his hands. The barrel flashed with alternating red and yellow lights – blinking on and off, while the interface mounted on the side flashed a word in English he couldn't read. He shrugged his great shoulders as the two other humans who worked with DuBois advanced on him – their shotguns aimed at his guts. DuBois was speaking into his wrist, his voice a furious hiss.

"I don't care if you haven't found the other corpses – no one else survived that crash! Get your suits off, get your asses in the base and fucking find her. Only half the fucking ship is pressurized, it can't be fucking hard," he said. Then he tapped his wrist com off and glared at the Yahaag. "What the fuck just happened?"

"I attempted to shoot you," Kuz said, casually as he tossed the railgun to the floor. It made a sound like a washing machine full of dishes hitting the ground. Paul flinched at the sound and shouted at him.

"Dude!" he said. "Those things are fucking expensive!"

"I do not care," Kuz said. "In fact, I believe it has been made overwhelmingly clear that I was seeking to kill every last one of you."

Paul's face purpled. But then he looked back at his leader and said – his voice a curious mixture of furious and gloating. "I told you putting the safety locks on the railgun was a good idea. I fucking told you."

Kuz's eyes narrowed. "So, it is your fault my weapon did not fire," he said. "I am revising my original sentiment, Paul. I am going to kill you first."

Basma used her shotgun as a club. Despite all of the design work that had gone into making Shockpods the most lethal soldiers in the galaxy, there were some weaknesses inherent to functionality. A knee was a very useful joint, allowing mobility and crouching and kicking. But it was also a point of weakness, and one that Basma struck with all the force and leverage a human could – which was more than enough. Kuz dropped to his knees.

"Explain," DuBois growled to the Yahaag. The Yahaag looked as cold as the waters surrounding the sunken ship.

"I am at a loss," the Yahaag said. "Shockpod programming is extremely focused. But there is always, as your people say, wiggle room when it comes to biology. Kuz." He turned to face the Shockpod. "You have caused this to happen."

Kuz watched, trying to keep himself brave as he watched his god reach down to his pocket. He pulled out the glass tube containing the female Shockpod – the thick slimy tube of flesh and wombs writhing slightly as the Yahaag held it up. Basma whispered.

"The fuck is that, Gunny?"

"I don't know," DuBois said.

"Do you know what a Shockpod tribe does to a male who lets a female get killed?" the Yahaag asked.

Xee squeaked. "That's a Shockpod female!?" she asked, her emoticon showing her shock as clearly as her voice. >:O.

"That..." Basma whispered. Her shotgun snapped up to her shoulder as she aimed it at the Yahaag. "Gunny, this fucker's got a bitch in a jar."

"Alien cultures, Basma, it's fine," DuBois said. Basma lowered the shotgun. The Yahaag looked faintly amused as he swung the container back and forth, back and forth. Kuz couldn't help it – his hearts were in his throat, pounding as he grabbed onto the warped and twisted floor, his fingers causing the once varnished wood to squeal under the pressure.

The Yahaag dropped the vial. Kuz sprang forward and grabbed for it – it landed in his palm and he fell on his back, clutching it to his chest. The Yahaag pressed his broad, fat foot to Kuz's throat, cutting off one source of circulation for him. The pressure grew as the Yahaag growled.

"Find. The Human. Bring her. Back."

Kuz wheezed.

"Or else everyone will know what you did," the Yahaag said. Then his foot kicked out. It caught the glass tube, sending it flipping through the air. Kuz watched – the world seeming to slow. It smashed against the wall next to an ancient fireplace that had once given this room a sense of home. A home that would never be. The glass flew in fragments, slicing and cutting, and the Shockpod female died in a puddle of blood. Kuz felt the blow like a kick to his hearts. He pushed himself to his feet, the scent of the female and the proximity of his god making him feel the weight of every word. Find the human. Or else everyone will know what you did.

Shockpods killed one another all the time. In battle. In ritual. By accident, from time to time.

When a female had been killed, though, they got...

Creative.

Kuz started towards the corridor leading out of the chamber, leaving behind Xee, the AI and the humans. The Yahaag followed after, clearly planning to see this through.

###

Xee looked after the shockpod. Then she looked back at DuBois.

"I don't suppose you want to tell me your evil plan?" she asked, sounding hopeful.

DuBois sighed, loudly. His hand rubbed along his face and he dropped it.

"Evil," the AI, Forseti, hissed from his large super computer.

"Fine," DuBois said. "You're some kind of special forces operative, aren't you?"

"A-Actually I'm a science fiction author," Xee said, her emoticon shifting. ^///^.

DuBois made a face. He walked over and then knelt down before Xee. "What do you know of our history, alien?" he asked, watching her intently. Up close, he radiated a sense of danger, similar to what Dey did. But unlike Dey, Xee had no certainty about his control or his lack of hateful urges. The fact he also had a set of three parallel scars on his face also left her entirely discomforted. It reminded her too much of Huntresses who had let their faces get wounded and let themselves drop into enternal battle-madness.

"A little?" she said. "I know you're the only species to discover faster than light travel before unifying your culture."

"That's the pertinent point," DuBois said. He smirked at her. "And that's what we're here to fix, my little author. We're here to save the world."

###

Dey ducked into a room that had been left to rot and breathed slow and steady. She worked her restraints against one of the barnacles. The plastic met the hard mass – most barnacles these days had evolved to be acid resistant and the plastic started to come away in small chunks.

[Plan?] Dey asked.

The Titanic 2 was built only a few years before DV drives were invented. It's possible that there are some DV batteries worked into the superstructure...but highly unlikely, Loki said. We're better off getting a K9 from the bad guys. They've got to use something to power the shield generators.

[So, we need to yank the power supply of a shield generator that is keeping a few hundred thousand tons of water pressure off a ship that spent a century or so rusting. While being hunted by-]

"Wife!" Kuz's bellow echoed down various corridors. "I am currently hunting you. I am armed with nothing save for a knife, as my erstwhile allies-" He was cut off by a loud grunt.

[-by my husband. Great.]

I thought you said you weren't actually married, Loki said, his voice amused.

[I...shut up,] Dey thought and felt her wrists come free. [Chances they've hurt Xee?]

Minimal, Loki said.

Dey peeked around the corner of the room. The voice had been hard to pin down, as it had been echoing through long abandoned corridors and around corners. But it had to come from the direction of the ballroom. That meant anything that way would lead away from Kuz. And right to the edge of the shields keeping the oceans crushing grasp from finally claiming the Titanic 2. Dey frowned as she rubbed her wrists. She looked around the room, opening a few doors. She found rusted coat hangers and an ancient laptop that had once had crabs living in it before the water had been drained away.

Useless.

A heavy, steady footfall filled the corridor.

The Yahaag, Loki said.

Dey peeked around the corner. Kuz was standing slightly in front of the Yahaag, looking as hangdog as she had ever seen the Shockpod look. The Yahaag was carrying an alien gun. At least, she thought it was a gun, though she had no idea what it fired. It looked slightly biological, with smooth whorls and crustacean style spines. But the front was all tech: A hardened metal set of four prongs, reaching outwards like a crooked set of fingers. Between each prong crackled a thin line of white light. Dey picked up the laptop and looked out and down the corridor.

That's a stairwell leading to lower decks, Loki said – translating the Mandarin that was the only visible signage on one of the doors, the English lettering long since covered by growths of sea-life.

The Yahaag stepped forward again, the sound of his footfalls echoing through the corridor – not just in the weight of his stride, but also in the groaning and creaking of the floor and ceiling and walls. Dey tensed, then hurled the laptop out. The weapon went off and the laptop became trapped in a sphere of golden light. Dey sprinted from the room and smashed, shoulder first, into the stairs. The door exploded inwards, the hinges screaming in protest. Dey staggered down the stairs – and the metal snapped under her weight. With a scream, she plunged straight down, hit the stairs below that first switch back, and rolled backwards.

Pain bloomed along her sides. She looked and saw blood welling from one shoulder, her forearm, and her left thigh. She hissed through clenched teeth.

"It seems your metallurgic technology has failed you," the Yahaag rumbled as he came to the doorway.

Dey forced herself to her feet – Loki dulling the pain. But then she saw it. Something that might give her an edge. Sitting on the landing across from where she had sprawled was an emergency kit. There was a set of emergency flares, a breather, a life vest, a cheap communication device of some kind, and a coiled tube that could have been anything. The glass hadn't broken when the Titanic 2 sank, and no one had reached the kit.

But before she could charge for it, Kuz started down the stairs.

"I...cannot not fight you, Dey," he said. "If I do..."

He sounded wracked with guilt.

[Guess he didn't watch enough Stargate,] Dey thought. Loki – who was gauging distances – shouted.

Now!

Dey ran forward, her left leg twinging slightly even through the pain block. She got to the emergency kit and smashed her elbow into the glass. It clattered to the ground – and Kuz stood between her and the Yahaag's field of fire. She grabbed one of the flares and held it up. Kuz froze.

"This!" she said, her voice tight. "You recognize it."

"What is it?" the Yahaag asked, his voice flat.

"It's a...Corbomite Bomb," Dey said.

Really?

[Shut up, Loki,] she thought.

Kuz stood stock still. Then slowly, he said: "Yes. I have studied such devices. If she activates it, the entire ship will be destroyed."

"Who puts a bomb in a stairwell on a pleasure cruise liner?" the Yahaag asked.

"Humanity does," Kuz said, with such conviction that even Dey half believed it. "During the time period that this vessel was launched, great was were fought via various cultural groups. It was called the Culture Wars. It devastated much of the planets political and economic units."

Well, uh, he's not entirely wrong, Loki said.

The Yahaag sighed. "Then move out of the way."

"If he moves, I set the bomb off," Dey said, grinning. Kuz grinned back at her.

"I have recorded the terrible thing you did," the Yahaag said. "Even if I die, it will still reach your tribe. Your name will be hated by your entire culture. Everyone you have ever known will despise you. You let a female die." His voice was like an avalanche – it started off slow, and grew faster and more terrible. Dey saw the weight of it bearing down on Kuz. His shoulders trembled and his head bowed.

Dey bit her lip. [Loki, can you make a sound only Kuz can hear? Shockpods live underwater some of the time, they hear differently, right?]

...theoretically...Loki said. But I need a speaker to work through.

Dey shifted slightly to the side and groped behind herself.

"What are you doing?" the Yahaag asked, his own posture shifting. He tried to cover Dey, but he still couldn't get a good shot past Kuz's bulk. Kuz did nothing to assist him. Dey's finger found the ancient com and she prayed to the Gods it might still work. She flicked it on.

It seems to work, Loki said.

[Send Kuz this: You can kill him. He can't have sent any message anywhere – we're under miles of water, he has no communication tech that can get through that shit!]

Kuz gulped. His eyes closed. "I can't," he whispered. "He's my god. I've already tried once and..."

Dey grinned slowly. "Hey, Kuz. We nailed our god to a fucking tree! You can do it too," she said. Kuz's eyes closed. His hand twirled the knife that he held, spinning it around his fingers. The blade flashed and glinted. Dey shifted her grip on the flare. The Yahaag, though, was looking all of his dark red eyes at the emergency kit. His brow furrowed, vast creases of flesh narrowing to an almost perfect V.

"That says emergency flare," the Yahaag said.

Kuz spun and hurled his dagger into the Yahaag's chest.

###

"Why do your people call themselves Huntresses?" DuBois asked, watching Xee intently. Xee gulped.

"Our race was given technology by the Great Ones. We battled the Veil Keepers as foot soldiers. Because we could naturally rip them apart, we were called Huntresses." Xee lifted her head with no small pride.

"So, you fought for a cause," DuBois said. "I've heard of the Mumblers – that's what we call the Veil Keeper." He nodded. "I've heard of how they're basically the next best thing to Satan out there. You know, down to your race name, to your history, what it means to battle against evil. Humanity isn't like that. Not really." He shook his head. "I joined the USMC because I thought I'd be protecting America. Do you know what I actually did?"

Xee shook her head.

DuBois stepped away from the wall. He had drawn a combat knife before she had realized it and tossed it from hand to hand. It was a nervous motion – one that he almost didn't seem to realize he was doing.

"I killed people. Russians, Chinese, even Americans – pirates, mostly. I killed aliens. I've killed some Huntresses, I've killed Shockpods, I've even killed some of those Xeth." He made a face. "If you can name a planet humanity has set foot on, I've been there and half the time, I took a bullet or a laser while doing it. And the whole time, I didn't make America safe. America's fine. What I did was secure colonies. Colonies for more resources. Colonies to put up little American flags. Colonies that pumped billions of dollars into corporations that paid off lobbyists to get themselves even more fucking money." He gestured to Paul. "Corporations willing to sell out humanity's future."

"Preach," Paul said. "You can't believe how fucking twisted that transie is."

"That who?" Xee asked.

"Gallagher," DuBois said. "Do you think she's actually human?" He shook his head. "She doesn't think without letting that computer in her head help her. Every corporation in the world wants to make every human just like that. They already control our media, our economy, our food. Now, they want to add our bodies and our minds."

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