a tale of the twilight continuum Θ
“They are all asleep,” Biyu said to Chuntra.
Biyu was finished strapping Master Wex down and checking for his vitals from the medical chair. He was well within the parameters for his species and was resting comfortably. His armored quills were growing in quickly replacing those lost during today’s challenges. His natural regenerative capabilities were bolstered by an amino acid drip which fed his need to replenish the proteins lost rebuilding his body. He was also the least injured of the three males on the ship. “We have five days until we reach the Trinary Expanse. I hope to be able to pick up a clue once we arrive in system.”
Chuntra stood with the support dome of her Corvan Regular armored suit open and water pooling around the neck. Her three eyes were above the water level focused intently on the three very different soldiers breathing with labored but quiet breaths. She noticed the smooth but alien shapes of the ship and realized that she was not in a human designed ship. She touched a variety of surfaces and noted exotic materials. “This ship was made by the Bel-ha, wasn’t it? How did a human end up with a ship created by an Old Galactic Race?”
Travelling Light, a starship of Bel-ha design moved through subspace by folding the distances between the destination and their previous location. The ship was fairly unique as was most Bel-ha designs in that it was customized and created to specification. The designer of the ship was Silver Death-Singer, a Sjurani Prince, ninety years ago, commissioned as a deep insertion vehicle.
The Bel-ha had commercial ship facilities where they created their standard warships and commercial starships. Travelling Light was not one of them. She was created with a particular need in mind and as such had capabilities other ships her size simply did not have. She was created as a gunship, her firepower, disproportionate to her size. She was also created to be a stealth ship, undetectable except by the most sophisticated of electronic warfare vessels. She was designed to operate deep in enemy territory, drawing energy and fuel from the stars. She had limited self-repair capacity to continue operating behind enemy lines with limited resources.
She was designed as an intelligent starship, complete with a neural network, capable of learning, adapting and even flying herself. In her own way, she was a living starship, capable of learning as well as any sentient organism. She came into the possession of Thomas Wilks over three decades ago and has worked as his primary support ship during his time as a covert operative and later as a Resurrection Soldier.
“This ship and I came into the Major’s employ nearly thirty years ago,” Biyu began. “A newly minted Resurrection Soldier, one of the last of his generation and unbeknownst to us at the time, the last to be made, was brought online thirty years ago. He was code-named “Majoris” after the starship Majoris Selkar that brought Pan-humanity to Harata II, all those years ago. He chose his call-sign in tribute to that great ship, which was later lost in the battles against the Nox during the years of the First Galactic Wars.”
Biyu came around to the Major and extended cables from her fingertips which sought out access ports on his body. As she plugged into his body, she became aware of several diagnostic displays in her visual field. The diagnostics indicated his biomechanical systems were functioning within the expected parameters but there were signs of degradation due to his recent traumas. His nano-machine count was down and would continue to degrade as long as he had no contact with his Frame. She also noted without his image, she would have to maintain certain support algorithms which kept his body functioning at peak efficiency. As long as he did not strain himself, he would be fine.
She sat down and looked over at Chuntra. “Come and sit with me, Ambassador and I will tell you how Thomas and I first met. I will have something synthesized that you will be able to enjoy while we talk away the hours. The boys won’t be getting up for quite some time.”
“Ship, if you wouldn’t mind?”
“Ambassador,” the ship began, “we have a limited menu of Corvan delicacies but I am certain we can find something you like.”
“Thank you, Ship. I will trust your judgment.”
The ship slid the medical chairs of the injured crew members back along the wall and created a depression on the floor. The floor began to glow and soon water began to float in the air between the floor and the ceiling. The water continued to fill the area until it was a ball approximately 3 meters in diameter.
“Do you have a preference for salt water or fresh water. We have seventeen different water worlds on record, if you have a particular preference, we can configure the water with the salt and chemical makeup of whatever world you choose from our database. If you know the chemical configuration of a particular world, we can provide that as well,” the ship announced.
Chuntra stopped for a moment to consider. “To be honest, I have never been to Corva Prime, the world of my people. Is that in your database?”
“Of course, this vessel has carried over sixty Corvan delegations in its time. Please stand by, it will only take a moment. I have taken the liberty of heating the water gently past your internal body temperature. There will also be food made available shortly. I will take your suit in the back and begin making modifications, so that it is more comfortable and still as useful as it can be.”
“Thank you, Ship.” Chuntra slid out of her suit and reached into the bubble of water. She pulled herself up into the bubble and enjoyed the freedom of movement. She extended her tentacles and noted the field extended as well. “I’m much more comfortable now, Biyu. I guess it storytime.”
I met the Major, two hundred years after humanity arrived in the Twenty Moons region of Toranor. I had recently decided to leave the employ of Danarius Flen Hall, callsign, Coda, a Resurrection Soldier or Revenant of some skill and renown but very questionable morals. He had been employed in a variety of insertion missions during the first Galactic War and his tactics and problem solving capabilities left much to be desired. He was well regarded in the Triune Council and Corvan Military as an effective operative. His last mission required he infiltrate a splinter colony of humans who were engaged in rogue genetic engineering experiments.
Those experiments used a variety of alien species and were attempting to reverse-engineer genetic patents used to modify certain species to live in specialized environments. These exclusive environments were bonded at the genetic level and if you lacked the proper gene structures, you could not enter, or as we found out later, leave without disastrous results. They were using these gene-patents to create a slave ring of aliens who could be forced to work in gene-engineered environments and would be unable to leave.
Coda and I infiltrated the core facility with the orders to capture and return the scientists to the Triune Council. Coda decided to destroy the facility and all the unfortunate creatures living within it. There were tens of thousands of innocents trapped within the facility. I was unaware of his true intentions and by the time I realized what he had planned, there was nothing I could do to stop it. The Imperium considered it good work, but I believed there was more to the operation than he did, but he was unwilling to follow up and the case was closed.
I decided after five years of working with Coda, I was done. He and I had two dozen or so missions together but I never felt close to him despite the nature of the psychographic manipulations required to keep him sane. I sometimes wondered if he needed more therapy than I could give him. We parted ways and I did not see him again for a number of years. When I next saw him, he was working on Harata II, as a research specialist, dealing with advance genome manipulations. I heard through the Vine he was specifically assigned to investigate, infiltrate and destroy any genetic aberrations found in the Imperium.
I had been working as a Pilot for almost forty years at that point and considered leaving the line of work. I had plenty of money and could have retired. Many Pilots died early in their careers because their Soldiers do not take their relative fragility into consideration when they are working on operations. I recommended a different training regimen to the Magistrorum, with more emphasis on combat operations and training, in addition to our technical duties. It was considered to be a burden but after two years arguing, I became a trainer at the Magistrorum and trained other Conscientia in both their technical duties and their basic military duties. That is where I met Thomas. He was assigned to the facility as a new assigned Revenant, and he would be teaching with me, helping the new Pilots to understand their strengths and limitations in the field and how they could best help the Revenant they were assigned to.
This ushered in a new training program that increased the survivability of new Pilots. We worked together in this fashion for five years before we were called on to rescue a Sjurani starship downed on a Breeder world. The first Breeder Wars were dirty and violent and the Breeders attacked many early outposts and took over those worlds in the early stages of transformation and habitation. The Sjurani were sent to investigate a Subaki colony that had been overrun with Ebuntun, an insect-like breeder which had destroyed the base colony, and were spreading to other facilities on the planet. A group of Sjurani strike cruisers had been assigned to intercept and stop the Ebuntun and save the colony. Something had gone wrong and the Sjurani were requesting a Revenant team to investigate and recover any of their lost operatives. They were also expected to complete the original mission of the Sjurani and destroy the Ebuntun and save the colonists.
Unfortunately, there were only five Revenants available, including Thomas, and it was deemed that the they, two squads of heavy regulars and two dozen light mechs would be assigned to the planet. Thomas had never been assigned a Pilot since he came directly from his Bonding to the Magistrorum, so I agreed to be his Pilot, even though I had promised myself, I would never again work in the field. I must admit to being intrigued by him, he was very much a model soldier, even though he had seen combat from a variety of fields, he still retained a very human, very well-centered carriage.
Thomas and I were assigned a small squad of light mechs, who would provide support for the five other Revenants who would be leading the primary assault. We would offer fast attack services only when necessary to help hold a line. The mechs were equipped with jump packs, I used a glider-wing and Thomas’s Frame has an anti-gravity thrust array, so we were able to arrive on the scene with minutes of being called. I am happy to say, that the early days of that campaign did not see very much combat and I got to spend time with Thomas as we drilled the mecha pilots on tactics and operations. The Ebuntun retreated, at first, from the one thousand Corvan Regulars, the two hundred Pan-human Mechanized Assault group and the five Resurrection Soldiers who were assigned to this task force. There were several Eagles, providing air support and our light mecha squadron of twenty-four heavy mechs. Their retreat was short-lived.
One evening, a month into the campaign we received a call from a Corvan Regular group that was approaching a downed Sjurani vessel. The ship was surrounded by the Ebuntun and they were using a heavy weapon unfamiliar to the Corvan Regulars. The shield arrays on the Sjurani vessel were working but it was estimated they would have only six hours before their shields failed. The Force Commander requested heavy mech support along with the Mechanized Assault tanks because the initial stealth foray using two Revenants did not go well. The Revenants did not die, but were gravely injured and temporarily removed from the battlefield.
It was decided, with a heavy barrage of tank fire as well as a lightning strike of heavy mechs, we could take down the remaining five projector towers. One tower had be destroyed by the earlier team. Each tower was in line of sight of the others, as the Sjurani ship was half buried after its crash. As we suited up we were given a special directive by the Fleet Commander, whose order superseded any other authority on the planet.
We were to rescue that flagship and see that the crew and any survivors are to be evacuated to the Fleet Command ship. We indicated that we understood and would gather all survivors. The heavy assault was a success. Between the tank fire and the heavy mechs we were able to destroy the projector towers. We did try and capture the technology intact, but it simply cost us too many men. The weapon was unlike anything we had ever seen. Once the beam struck an unshielded target, the target simply stopped moving as if frozen, ice formed on the shell and within minutes, the target crumpled to dust. It was as if, all of the energy from the target had been stolen away, down to atomic structure. We could no longer risk losing men and destroyed the weapons.
Once we turned the Ebuntun away, we surrounded the ship and got inside. The ship was already infested with the Ebuntun and they were trying to take key sections of the ship but the Sjurani had managed to hold those areas, including the engineering area where the shield management had taken place. Approximately one third of the crew was dead or injured, the rest were intact and defended their ship admirably.
Then, all at once, things went to hell.
The soldiers outside had set up picket stations, which included tanks and their support teams, pulse turrets, mortars and mecha beam platforms. The Ebuntun had returned but this time, there were thousands more than earlier. Whatever they wanted, they intended to get. We killed them by the score. We used our beam lasers until the focusing crystals shattered and overheated. We shot pulse rifles until we ran out of ammunition, dropped multiple warhead mortars and they still kept coming. We eventually were forced to go to hand to hand and everyone pitched in. The battle lasted hours.
When we found the Sjurani prince, he was talking to a group of younger Sjurani who were wearing the finest battle-armors and weapons money could buy. They were surrounded by a group of older, very scarred, very frightening looking Sjurani with a variety of ancient ceramic weapons with mono-molecular edges. They glistened with the unstable monomolecular matter used to cleave apart any matter this weapon touched.
We indicated that Thomas and I were the Prince’s escorts. His name was Silver Death-Singer and these were his clutch, they were on their first mission and eager for combat. We let him know we had an avenue set up for escape and our troopers were keeping it secure. We moved through the ship and as we exited we realized our lines were not holding. The Force Commander had initiated several planetary bombardments to push the Ebuntun back, and had begun dropping weapons and ammo onto the scene. The heavy mechs were supporting the Corvan Regulars and tanks and were barely keeping the enemy at bay. The flanks were collapsing so we needed to get the prince out of there. There was a heavy tank transport ready a thousand meters from the ship and we were meeting only minimal resistance until a heavy contingent of the Ebuntun erupted from the ground beneath us.
Thomas was confronted with a creature of immense size and speed and it grabbed him with its heavy front pincers. The rest of us were swarmed by smaller creatures about the size of a fist. The grabbed on to us and overwhelmed us with their armored weight. The older Sjurani and the heavy mech soldiers, used flamethrowers to clear the creatures but they just kept up their assault. Heavier creatures kept Thomas busy and it took every round I could fire to keep him from being overwhelmed. Within fifteen meters of the personnel tank two of the Prince’s brood were picked off and dragged away underground. Thomas followed and was gone for several minutes. We had our hands busy just covering that last bit of ground. As we got to the tank we were surrounded and the Force Commander had called for a measured withdrawal. We got the prince into the tank along with his surviving son.
We were about to leave without Thomas when he came up out of the ground carrying the younger daughter, but the oldest son was not with him. He managed to fight his way to the ship, electro-blasters, and flechette darts cutting through the remaining Ebuntun and ran alongside the tank until we could safely stop. He explained to the Prince that his son was likely still alive, they seemed to be making an effort to not injury him, he simply could not reach him through the crush of bodies. The Prince seemed unhappy with this news but was pleased to have his daughter returned to him. When we reached our base, the Prince indicated he would be staying on the planet in an effort to find his son and would be interested in working with the Heavy Division and adding his own Heavy Troopers to the squad.
We worked this campaign for three years. We eventually drove the Ebuntun off the planet and returned it to the Subaki. The Subaki had been under the leadership of a Praetor Wex, who helped us several times during that campaign. We were appropriately rewarded but were never able to find the Prince’s son. For saving the Prince’s other children, Thomas and I were given the Sjurani Prince’s personal gunship, Travelling Light, a custom designed ship purchased from the Bel-ha homeworld. The Prince hired us to work for him on a variety of missions for the next sixteen years. We travelled the length and breadth of the Imperium working missions for the Sjurani on a number of their colony worlds, sometimes covertly, other time with the Pax Sjurani, a special peacekeeping force, on missions vital to Sjurani security. The prince retired after a particularly terrible mission. If he wants to tell it, I will let him.
The Major and I continued working together and did so until two years ago, when he was sent on a mission, but I was unavailable. I was working on a paper discussing the current Image erasure protocols. At the time, I was promoting research that indicated a potential for development for the AI Complexes that work with the Resurrection Frame AI and the neural network of the Soldier. The current process erased images as soon as they developed anything that resembled independence or began to register on the sentience scale. This was to prevent the occurrence of rogue AI. I protested this due to built-in safety protocols already designed into the software. I felt true intellectual development might create a tool or support device of far greater utility than the current dependent AI Complex.
My paper was heard, and subsequently ignored. No policy changes have taken place since my last dissertation, but since I have made several major changes to the policies of AI in the Triune Government and Ministries of Conscientia Sciences, I am confident I will be able to make change over time. I will use the behavior of the Major’s last image as a potential indicator of what free willed Complexes might be capable of.
“Biyu, do you have an actual military rank?” Chuntra had listened closely and intently and was trying to decide if she would ask her next questions. While she was swimming, the Ship introduced a variety of foods into her bubble. Each was authentic tasting and quite delicious. Some were even quite swift. She decided not to ask how the food was created or made ambulatory. She noted the colors of some of the fish appeared to be as true to the foods she had eaten on Lolikai’s Command Cruiser.
Biyu had sat down near the Major and extended several other tendrils which plugged into other ports across his body. “I do not have a military rank as such. In any operations with the military, however, I am treated as having an army rank of Captain.”
“I have worked with only a few dozen Humans, and I find them to be a strange species. Don’t they resent your manufactured nature? Most Humans I have worked with have had little love for any form of mechanized life.”
“Working with the military offers me a slightly different group of Humans to work with. Most military people accept the idea that machines make it possible for Humanity to compete in a Universe with a variety of creatures, stronger, faster, and in some cases, so much smarter than the members of Pan-humanity. In most cases, they may reluctantly accept my machine nature as a tool to give them opportunities they would otherwise not have access to.” Her voice seemed a bit distant as she stared at the Major.
“I have to admit to having very little experience with uh, um, what do you prefer to be called? Mechanical sentients? Artificial intelligence?”
“The term used technically is ‘mechanized sentience’ or ‘non-human sentience.’ When housed in an android or synthezoid body, we use the term ‘Conscientia’ from the Latin, a dead human language, from which many scientific ideas are standardized, for consciousness.”
“Thank you for talking with me about this. Does working with the Resurrection Corp have any other advantages for the Conscientia?” Chuntra was starting to warm to Biyu and was feeling less self-conscious.
“Being a Captain allows me to effectively work with most military officers without too much rancor. I have created a variety of weapons, armor and other medical technology since I have been assigned to the Corps so I do have a reputation for being a supporter of military troops. Most are happy to work with me once they find out who I am. I have created my own line of non-powered light ceramic armor using a new mesh construction making them lighter and tougher than the previous Corvan designs. I also created a heavy pulse pistol design favored by many of the Resurrection troopers, called Biyu’s Best.”
Biyu was checking the burns and scale damage of Essver. Several of the burns had penetrated both layers of his outer scales. Reaching up, she grabs a regenerator and it emits a purple radiation that begins to slowly repair the cellular damage. The primary benefit of the purple radiation was its ability to speed healing and prevent infection. Once his inner tissues were repaired, the purple ray would enhance the growth of his outer scales, which normally took some time to be replaced naturally.
“You seem to have some level of celebrity amongst the Soldiers. Fascinating.”
“I have been to over twenty campaigns and as many insertion operations. My military experience rivals most experienced military officers.” She paused for a second and made some adjustments to the Major’s sleep monitoring systems. “I am more often called Doctor, since I have three medical degrees and two scientific doctorates as well. My preferred title is Pilot, since that is the work, I value the most, because it gives me time with the man I value the most.”
“Biyu,” Chuntra had begun to turn darker colors, a Corvan indicator of embarrassment. “I understand you have more than some basic affection for the Major. He is a human and you are not. Does that factor into your relationship at all?”
She smiles, “To be honest, sometimes. He is very human sometimes and despite my appearance and full physical functionality, to him, our relationship is still something less than desirable. And to complicate matters, the AI within the Frame is also female in nature, and somewhat possessive. The poor man is surrounded by numerous women, but none of them are human, all are sentient, and all love him deeply. I think he resents it because despite our sentience, he feels less capable than any or all of us. He is dependent on machines to live, and dependent on all of us in one form or another. Ship to move him, house him, protect him from his enemies, dependent on me to fly the ship, maintain his health, his sanity and sometimes remind him of his humanity, and the Frame has the most difficult job of all, keeping him alive or returning him to life if he is killed. It is no wonder he wants very little to do with us sometimes. We control his entire existence.
“There was a woman on the planet.”
“We know. There were chemical traces on him when he returned to the ship. We don’t think about it much because he also seems to understand that being with Human women is always temporary with him. He travels too much and his life is far too dangerous for anyone who cannot protect themselves from this life.”
“What if he has feelings for this female?”
‘What of it? He is a human nearly a century in age. And if we do our jobs right, he could live as long as we could. Ship has a expected lifespan of six hundred years or more. The Frame is based on a technology with a lifespan in excess of one thousand years, and I will function baring being blown to bits or destroyed in a crash, at least four hundred years.”
Biyu turned toward the Corvan and looked at her. Chuntra noted her peculiarly colored irises, remembering she had never seen a human with purple eyes before now. “We worry about his humanity and what he will be like after two or three centuries. We do not worry about human females, because they keep him connected to his humanity in ways we, even with psychographic manipulations, virtual realities, and hard light holograms, cannot. We love him, but we do not own him. He has always returned to us.”
“Biyu? You keep saying us? Who is talking?”
“Sorry, sometimes the ship and I will share a consciousness when we are together. If it would be easier, she can manifest a hard light hologram instead.”
“Uh, no. I think I am okay with it this way. Is there anything else I should know about you?”
“Child, I am nearly a hundred years old as well. There is plenty for us to talk about during the next five days. And we will have at least a week or two before the Ship can be completely repaired. We have plenty of time to get to know each other. I understand you are young by Corvan norms. Your records indicate you are only about 35 standard years. Very young to be a diplomat.”
Chuntra began, “I came into the diplomatic Corps because my fathers were diplomats and I could not see myself, staying at home as a scientist on Shai, where I was born. Shai was near the other edge of the Empire and had numerous interactions with unaffiliated aliens. I was fascinated by them when my fathers would bring them home and discuss politics. I knew there was no other life for me and I studied hard from that point onward.”
Chuntra had begun to settle into the organic coral construction that was slowly being built in the corner of her floating habitat. The field was slowly being extended allowing more water to be added to the area, essentially filling the entire movable area of the command bay. The expanded water field was slowly being manipulated to include other organic matter constructed by nano-particles also suspended within the water.
“We can maintain this environment for you behind a hard light force wall on the bridge. I can also extrude a control interface within to allow you privacy and access to ships services. In case of emergency, the HL field will be maintained with the structural integrity fields. I can also make sure your suit is within the field, just in case.” The Ship’s voice resonated inside the water field but was perfectly modulated so that it barely tickled her cochlear chamber.
“Thank you, Ship, I appreciate all that you have done for me. Will I be able to stay near Master Wex?”
“The control globe being dropped will allow you to manipulate the field to be where you want it.” A slivered globe with control studs in a Corvan configuration, usable with the Corvan gripping arms floated into the watery bubble.
Chuntra played with the sphere for a moment and recognized the interface as a water environment manipulator, standard on Corvan battleships. She moved the field closer to Master Wex and floated over him. His face was contorted, as if in pain.
She reached out of the water sphere and touched him, smoothing water onto his facial quills. His face lost some of the tension and he seemed to ease into a more restful sleep. A few minutes later, she too fell into a silent repose.
Biyu smiled, recognized that touch and turned away to finish her diagnostics. “Goodnight, Chuntra. Sleep well.”
Insurrection: Biyu’s Story © Thaddeus Howze 2011. All Rights Reserved