tagSci-Fi & FantasyLet He Who is Without Sin

Let He Who is Without Sin

byDragonCobolt©

Author's Note: Let He Who Is Without Sin is a direct sequel to the story Lonely Autopilot! But you don't need to have read that to grok what's going on. It might help, though...

###

Vinos smiled as he stepped back from the vineyard. The grapes were coming in well this year -- the crop would be rich and flavorful. He brushed his hands along his hair as the low whirr of an electric car engine cut into his sense of timeless joy. Stepping away from the trestles and into the warm light of mid-afternoon on Atlantis, he shadowed his eyes to get a better view of the car zipping towards him. The device had the smooth, almost organic look of most technology on L'Terre. After thousands of years of refinement rather than advancement, everything clicked together like something evolved and then gently bred towards perfection. There were no hard angles, no missed steps, no annoying eccentricities.

Vinos loved such cars and hated them with the same passion of most people who lived on L'Terre. He loved the fact they were easy to use -- something that working with archeotech on a semi-regular basis reminded him daily. But he also hated the lack of...well, character. An ancient electric car was riddled with illogical bells and whistles. For centuries, humanity had associated power with the roar of a gasoline burner kicking into full gear. So, for decades after the last gas burner had been recycled and the carbon sequestration projects had been putting atmospheric carbon back underground where humanity preferred it, electric cars had been made to sound like gas burning cars.

Who cared if it was illogical and more than a little annoying.

People liked what they liked.

The electric car came to the side of his vineyard while Vinos was woolgathering. The woman behind the wheel grinned as she leaned her head out. "Vinos!" she said. "Did you hear the news?"

"What news is there? This is L'Terre! Nothing has happened for five thousand years," Vinos said, chuckling as he spread his arms. "Everyone has enough to eat, everyone has a hobby, and everyone is just nauseatingly happy."

"Everyone save for poor Vinos," Gwen said, shaking her head. "But no -- the asteroid scopes, they picked up something in orbit."

"L'Terre has had a space program longer than most civilizations existed," Vinos said, shaking his head as he walked along the small stone wall that demarcated the edge of his land from the road. "Of course there..." he stopped. Something cold slipped along his back -- a glacier, not an ice cube. His whole skin felt as if it had become pricked with needles and tugged on. His eyes widened and he breathed slowly in. "A Concord ship? But they-"

"Yes -- well, no, but...yes!" Gwen said, sliding from the car. "That's just it. It's a Concord ship but they just detected it."

"Stealth-" Vinos started.

"Remember the first law of Concord visits?" Gwen clucked her tongue. "There is no stealth in space."

Vinos pursed his lips. "Forgive me, Gwen. I am a mere humble farmer-"

Gwen scoffed.

"-and I believe the Concord has technologies that have been banned on L'Terre. Technologies that would easily fool our telescopes." He frowned. "Unless the Demarchy Council has combined artificial intelligences with their telescopes."

Gwen coughed into her hand. "That's why they sent me."

Vinos sighed.

He had known, from the instant he had seen Gwen's face. This was not a social call. There was something absurd about being the sworn protector of a planet -- a planet on the far end of an uninteresting galaxy, in a universe where the cold rules of lightspeed and reaction mass forced every interstellar war to be essentially fought via telegrams and proxies. In the grand totality of humanity's multi-millenial lifespan as a space faring species, there had been one intrasolar war -- fought in the heyday of their first tentative steps beyond Mars and the Belt.

There had never been a war fought between solar systems. It was just absurd.

But the Demarchy planned for absurdities from time to time. It gave them something to do, for one thing.

"They want you to come to Geneva," Gwen said, her voice soft. "The ships appeared in orbit suddenly, with a massive burst of Cerenkov radiation."

Vinos pursed his lips. His knees ached. He decided to sit down on the stone wall surrounding his land, and looked up at Gwen. He watched her face as she worked her jaw, then sighed. She laid it out, brutal and to the point.

"In other words, we believe it used faster than light travel."

"Ah," Vinos said. "A failed dream. Well, I-"

And then Vinos, quite suddenly, was not sitting on the side of his vineyard in the comfortable warmth of what had once been northern France on a planet that had been called many things but would always be Homeworld. Instead, he was sitting on the edge of a bench carved from bone and muscle, looking at a woman without eyes, as she spoke in the most heavily accented English that he had ever heard, hands planted on hips that came to sharp edged points.

"I still don't think it'll work," she said, scowling at something right above Vinos' head. Vinos took a few moments to reflect on the situation -- the woman was beautiful if one had an exceptionally alien perspective on the universe. Her eyes were covered with bone-carapace caps, while her hair grew into narrow spine-points. Her ears were elongated and the same slightly-glistening gray of her skin, while her neck was surrounded by a ridged, ribbed black collar that flowed smoothly into a black body-hugging suit that seemed more grown than woven or built. The suit hugged her body so tightly that Vinos could see the cleft of her ass, the tips of her nipples, the way that some of her bones seemed to have become a few sizes too large and strained against her skin. And yet, it all looked natural on her.

"Well, if it doesn't work," an amused, male voice came from the walls. "Why is he right there?"

"Well fuck my donkey," the woman said, looking down at Vinos. She cocked her head. "Hello! Uh, this might seem to be a bit of a shock. My name is Sin and-"

Vinos saw something behind Sin. He saw it...and he screamed.

He screamed and screamed and screamed until he passed out.

Sin -- with her hands on her hips -- looked up at the ceiling. She sighed, quietly.

"I told you this would happen," the voice from the walls said.

"Nimbus, no one likes a smarmy A.I."

"Oh, sorry. I was trying for wry-"

"Nimbus, no one likes an apologetic A.I."

"Sorry, I-"

"Nimbus, just...just...whip up a simspace, okay? I'll need to prep the other one before...well..."

"All right."

There was a short pause, and then Sin sighed. "Sorry for snapping Sin. I'm just a bit nervous."

She looked down at the unconscious Vinos, reached up and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Remember back when life was simple and we didn't have to put all of our hopes on a sixty year old guy with a pot belly?"

###

They had moved from a localized threat to an existential one -- from a threat to a Threat. A mutation, unexpected. A new vector, spreading. Projections along the inner edge of the brane made it very clear -- the Threat would emerge into the Harbinger's space by the end of the fifth manifold. The life span of a single G class star. But the Threat was a curious one. It lacked a localized superstructure. This made it...

Alien.

Unintelligible.

Fragile.

Target the center of their nexus, yes.

It was as easy as shifting some gravitational constants...

Child's play.

###

"Hey, wake up..."

Vinos sat up, gasping. He was laying in a field of poppy flowers -- the red blooms looking like blood. The grass between the flowers rustled as breezes blew past him. Vinos looked down at himself and breathed out a slow sigh of relief. At least he had his legs and his feet and his hands. He had too many awful thoughts about what someone could do to him in a VR space to torture him -- just being armless was being gentle. He scrambled to his feet and spun around. On the second spun around -- looking in every direction, the woman appeared. She was there like a badly animated video game: One moment, there was empty air. The next, the woman was there.

She was beautiful -- her skin was coal black, her eyes looked like stars, and her hair flowed around her like a nebula cloud that had been combed into a barely controlled mane. Her nipples were pale white and looked like they were hard as diamonds. She floated above the poppies, her beauty ethereal and yet so intensely human that it almost took his breath away. He reached out without thinking and his palm touched her breast.

She looked at him. "Whoa! Hey!"

Vinos jerked his hand back. "S-Sorry, please, forgive me." He bowed to her, his cheeks bright red.

When he stood up again, the woman stood on the ground. She was dressed in a simple white T-shirt and blue jeans, while her skin had become a pale Eurasian hue, her hair turning to a luminous purple mane. She grinned at him and despite being some kind of simulation, Vinos noticed that she had an artfully adorable gap between her front teeth. She nodded to him. "Hello, Mr. Picard. Welcome to the C.S.S Xenophile, humanity's first fully functional faster than light starship."

"Please," Vinos said, quietly. "Don't call me Mr. Picard."

"Why not?" The girl looked bemused. "Do you want me to call you your first name? It's Vinos. It one word away from the French word for wine. And you run a make-wine-place."

"Vineyard," a quiet voice spoke from the air around them.

"That's what I said, make-wine-place!" The woman shrugged one shoulder. "Don't tell me you're thinking of a five thousand year old sci-fi show, Vinos. That'd just be embarrassing."

Vinos pursed his lips. "We take culture very seriously on L'Terre -- on Earth."

"Well, yeah, you haven't had a culture for for thousand years," the girl said, shaking her head. "I mean, I'm checking these stats." She lifted one palm and a glowing interface appeared in the air. "Stable population of one point one billion for the past four thousand years. The most recent technological invention was when a Floridian created a new kind of mosquito." She shook her head. "Five centuries ago. What the hell do you people even do with your lives?"

Vinos shrugged. "Live. What do you Concord people do with your lives?" He smiled, slightly. "How many technologies have you invented -- in your little world-bubbles?"

"True-che," the woman said. She shook her head. "Gah. I'm...falling into the old sniping traps. Shit, I mean, the Concord is just as rutted as you are. Humanity is dying. And I just saved it. And maybe also kinda sorta doomed it."

Vinos crossed his arms over his chest. "I was told my entire life that it is rather hard to doom a race that lives on a significant percentage of the habitable planets in the galaxy."

"You'd THINK that," the woman said, tapping her fingers together. She coughed. "But, first, introductions. I am Sin. The A.I you occasionally hear interjecting is Nimbus." She paused. "He's...an alien."

Vinos cocked his head. "Aren't all..." he stopped. "Wait. You mean he's an alien artificial intelligence?"

"Yes," Nimbus' voice came from the air around Vinos. He didn't sound alien. He sounded like every other artificial intelligence humanity had generated -- always polite, slightly distant, and faintly creepy. At least, to Vinos. But if he was an alien intelligence...then...

"The Concord didn't build the faster than light ship," Vinos said. "This ship. You-" He stopped himself, shaking his head. "Why don't you start at the beginning, Sin?"

"About that," Sin said, rubbing the back of her neck.

###

The change was subtle. Ever so subtle. The Threat, when they had been more industrious but less dangerous, had carefully sorted their nexus. Debris had been swept into stable patterns, and those patterns had been tended too. Earlier iterations of the Threat would have said that kind of housekeeping was impossible -- or at the very least implausible. Why? The cost was so great, for a return so small. But things change when someone grows up. Their view shifts -- becoming longer and longer.

And, well, growing up makes some things cheaper.

And so, the Threat had created smaller entities which could spread and grow. Those entities had bread in a geometric pattern -- launching one another with solar sails and magnetic grapples and tiny boring devices. Each one had carried with it engines that produced infinitesimally small thrust by shooting microwaves down a cone of copper and taking advantage of fuzzy quantum principles to produce thrust without reaction mass. And so, the children of the Threat had dusted their nexus clean and there hadn't been so much as a wobble in a full manifold of time.

Well...that was easy enough to fix.

Just alter this point in the brane so that mass existed without corresponding physical matter, then adjust this constant and...voila.

A weapon.

###

Sin stepped out of the simspace with Vinos and then gestured around herself. "So, this is the Xenophile's main bridge," she said. "And only room that isn't my life support chamber."

Vinos nodded -- looking around himself with wide eyes. He was cute when he looked like a poleaxed and stunned by the world around him. Sin gulped a bit as he looked at her and gaped a bit more. His gaped at her eyes -- the cap coverings were one of the ways Nimbus used to keep her brain interfaced with the ship. She, honestly, had kinda started to get used to them. But she could see that the Terran was trying hard to wrap his head around them without acting like a tool. She commended him for the effort...but they were getting to the part where everything remained dicey. Because Vinos saw what lay behind her.

He saw himself -- older and craggy faced and fat. He saw himself, laying on the bench, eyes closed, body slack in unconsciousness. He tensed, hard, and stood there. Which was an improvement over the last time Sin had tried to get the two of them to look at one another.

"I...believe..." Vinos put his hands over his face, sighing. "Sin. Wh...I...remember...screaming."

"Yeah," Sin said, slowly. "Nimbus, can you tell him what you told me? You had the best analogy."

"What?" Nimbus asked. "Oh! Yes. Uh, I'll need to make it fast. The, um, anomaly is accelerating. We have less than two hours before, well..." he trailed off. "R-Right. Vinos, imagine space time as a sheet of rubber. Heavy weights -- gravitational fields -- depress the sheet. If you throw a big enough weight there, it creates a hole so deep that even light cannot escape. A black hole. Yes? You follow me?"

Vinos nodded, sliding his fingers down enough that he could see his unconscious older form.

"So, to travel faster than the speed of light, one must create a gravitational field that spins rapidly. Essentially, it functions like a drill in this analogy. It curves the depression you make so that you emerge at a different point on the sheet. Effectively, this is a form of time travel -- you arrive before the information of your departure propagates to the place you are heading too."

"How does this result in there being two of me?" Vinos asked, slowly.

"Well," Nimbus said. "Essentially, as we needed you on the ship as quickly as possible, I attempted to use the FTL field generation system to skip the landing, dealing with the Demarchy, picking you up and moving into orbit. It seemed to be the best way to spend our time."

"And, well," Sin said, cutting in, her hands behind her back. "Since we've never actually used it before, we grabbed two of you from different ends of the timeline wherein you interact with us. Which means, in the good news, you interact with us a lot! Which is nice, right?" She grinned, weakly. "Right?"

Vinos sighed. "So. You have copied a Picard using a transporter accident."

"I swear, that was not intentional!" Sin exclaimed.

Older Vinos groaned quietly.

"Why have you brought me here?" Vinos asked.

Sin sighed, softly. "Vinos -- something is trying to kill humanity. For the past year, we've been doing our best to protect them...but it is getting harder. And we need help. We need someone who actually knows how to fight a war..." She bit her lip. "We need you."

###

The Threat was better at dodging than expected.

At first, it was thought that their children had remained dutiful. But no, not after the fifth miss. The brane had been breached and a Vertex had been sent. It had examined the Nexus and brought back images. False-color and context clues had been embedded, providing metadata that made the images actually sensible to those involved with Threat containment. But the coloration was clear: The Threat had their hands on one of their bones. Archeological runoff. Ancient, forgotten tools. Flint knapped and crude.

But obsidian, sharpened, can cut better than a steel scalpel.

The Threat was going to require more hands on intervention to be contained and destroyed.

###

"Need me?" Vinos tore his eyes from his older self -- older Vinos was still out cold, but he seemed like he would be coming out of it sooner or later. Vinos had to admit, he would have preferred not seeing the future that was in store for him. Vinos looked worn and beaten down -- his face was a craggy mess of weathered flesh, his belly protruded out over the line of his shorts, and his hair had receded to a paradoxically long fringe that hung around his shoulders. Vinos wondered if he dedicated himself to living right, if he might see his body shift and change before his eyes. Was that how this worked? Or was that not how a fourth dimensional transposition event functioned?

Since, for the longest time, he had been told that Time Travel was one of the many failed dreams that simply never worked, no matter how good human genetic engineering or artificial intelligences got. It was a bit like suddenly being shown a new way to use the color purple.

"Yes," Sin said, quietly. "The enemy has been tossing rocks, mostly -- they use gravitational anomalies to sling one of the many asteroids still out there-"

"Wait, what about the Keepers?" Vinos asked. "We -- that is, humans made robots that sorted the entire asteroid belt out into something more orderly."

"Well, it is using gravitational forces created by manipulating the fabric of reality," Sin said, her voice cross. "I think they can overcome drones with electromagnetic drives. But the rocks aren't the real problem -- we've detected a gravitational anomaly that's generating the same faster than light tube that the Xenophile makes -- but without the engine. We think that once it is complete, it's going to dump something nasty here."

"Right, duh," Vinos said, looking back down at his older self. "W-Well, why don't we wake him up and ask him what I did?"

"That was our first idea, but he keeps passing out," Nimbus said, cutting in.

Vinos pinched the bridge of his nose. He had been picked, out of all the people on the Earth, to be the leader of any hypothetical defense. And why? Simple: He had passed the aptitude tests. Mental flexibility, quick approximations of spatial dimensions, a head for logistics, and an essential 'creativity quotient' that the Demarchy had settled on as being the primary winner of wars. Fantastic. Of course, the other primary winner of wars from the distant days of the Dawn Age to the dreary present was the technological level of the opposing armies. An army from 1914 beats an army from 1880 without losing a soldier. An army from 1940 beats an army from 1914 without losing a soldier. An army from 1990 beats an army from 1940 without even breaking a sweat. AN army from 2060 beats an army from 1990 without expending ammunition.

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