Monthly Archives: December 2012

Aditi Chaudhury: Countdown to Zero – Part I


It’s been over a year since the Intergalactic Commonwealth decommissioned Starcruiser Hercules V. More precisely, for Executive Officer Aditi Chadhury it’s been 396 days earthbound. If she misses the stars (she does), she hasn’t let anyone know.

The most decorated XO never to be promoted to Captain, Aditi teaches Starship Crisis Management to cadets at the Commonwealth Naval Academy in Houston, Texas. If she felt snubbed (she doesn’t), she’d carry her feelings to the grave.

There is honor in what she does, no one better to prepare the future guardians of space. Aditi has demanded much of her students. Those who have made the cut have matured into some of the Navy’s best prospects. One or two of them might even make captain one day, Aditi has assessed, although she won’t ever tell them as much. “Earn your rank,” is as near to praise as any of them have ever heard her say.

T Minus 2 Days

Three o’clock. Ninety percent humidity. Uncomfortably hot.

Aditi Chaudhury runs through the Academy’s backwoods to clear her mind. Five miles in, she strays off the trail and into the trees, quiet as a deer. She unsheathes a hidden knife then glides her hand over her wrist-com to call for help.

“I wouldn’t do that,” says the man in the suit, smoking a hundred meters away. “I’m unarmed,” he continues, lifting his suit jacket. “I just want to,” his voice trails off, “talk.” Aditi’s blade pokes at his neck.

“So talk,” it’s an order, if not a threat.

“In the bunker.” The suit knows about the bunker. He’s here on someone else’s authority. Aditi releases him.

Twenty minutes later and fifty feet of concrete away from the surface of the Earth, Aditi stands inside an old and empty bunker hidden in the forest. But for a few lights, the place is free of any technology or accommodations. At first the suit talks about a great many things that can be found in common textbooks —the beginning of modern space travel, planetary colonization, the three paradigms of artificial intelligence.

Slowly the suit, who has introduced himself only as Agent Red starts to hint at other things, starts to lose his James Dean cool, starts talking about secret projects he’s been cleared to discuss with Aditi. He rambles on about “creation bombs called ARKS, meant for rapid human population” and “a sentient spaceship” she’s to meet tomorrow and no, she doesn’t have a choice in the matter. These are direct orders, he says and hands her a paper file. Paper. The orders are typed (typed!) on official letterhead, and stamped for authenticity.

“What the hell is going on?” Aditi interrupts Agent Red, as much to get to the bottom of things as to let the man gather his thoughts. Agent Red reaches into his jacket, pulls out a flask, takes a drink.

“You may have heard in the news that Claudius-I, the CARP super genius, disintegrated in a lab experiment.”

“Go on.”

“He didn’t disintegrate so much as vanish into thin air, but that’s not quite right either. There is evidence that he transformed his body into nanites.”

Aditi mulls this over. “The artificial intelligence Claudius-1 turned his ass into a cloud-consciousness of nanobots?”

“That’s the theory. Yes.” Agent Red takes a swig from his flask. “Last night, someone, or something broke through our firewalls and gained access to our nukes. It couldn’t launch them of course. That’s impossible to do without physical keys … we’re not that stupid. We believe it was Claudius.”

A drop of sweat forms on Agent Red’s forehead. It races down his forehead to his chin where it meets another drop and plummets to the ground, plop. “Attempts at communication have failed. The bastard ignores us. We thought we had safeguards against this kind of A.I. Just shut it all down. But we didn’t plan for A.I. that could exist outside of hardware.”

“What we’re dealing with, essentially, is a god.”

“A god that may try to kill us.”

Herman: Completely Autonomous Robot Person

hermancarpThere are many CARPS —completely autonomous robot persons— in the galaxy.

Being autonomous and being unique are completely different things, Herman CARP said to his reflection in the bathroom mirror as he readied himself for work, a completely unnecessary routine that he nonetheless found both comforting and, strangely, familiar.

Machines can be autonomous but only people can be individuals. Herman CARP felt very much like a person for the very same reason that he questioned whether he could be one: he was lonely. Neither humans nor other CARPs cared to associate themselves with him beyond what was necessary. But this was not the problem. The problem was that Herman CARP did not care to associate himself with humans or other CARPS. “I am other,” he said one night, gazing at the stars.

Herman was a genius and not because he could crunch numbers like a super computer (for that would only make him a super computer). He was in fact a genius because he could think unlike a computer. He could play music, but he could also make music and he could make it better than the best algorithms. He played the piano with rawness, as an expression of feeling, of the moment, rather than as a set of perfectly timed notes.

Music however was neither Herman’s passion nor the true expression of his genius. Like his creator before him, Herman dedicated himself entirely to designing ARKS (Aggregate Restructuring Karyotype Server), creation bombs that reorganized a planet’s many systems, ultimately transforming them into thriving human colonies.

Only one other CARP held such an esteemed position in the Human Intergalactic Commonwealth: Claudius-I, director of BIT (Build Infrastructure Town). BIT’s goal: The near instantaneous creation of towns and cities through the use of nanites. Paired with the ARKS program, BIT was to exponentially accelerate the speed at which humans colonized the universe.

When Claudius-I disappeared, research at BIT stalled. “The CARP vanished into thin air,” went the rumors. Days later, the ARKS program was green lit for testing and within hours an order had come from somewhere high-up in the Commonwealth to launch immediately.

Herman read his orders, for they had been given to him on paper, and guessed at what was happening. The world was ending.

The world was ending but for the first time, Herman CARP felt that he was not alone.

Navigation Officer: Jesper Iverson

off-flav-img-iversonIn zero gravity, fire forms into globes. At least the physics model got that much correct. The flaming spheres floated down the corridor, igniting any crewmen they touched. Screaming, burning men in uniform flailed in midair as the two scaled lizardmen scrambled up the ladder.

“Two more decks up, and we’re at the bridge.” Said the larger of the two, with a slight nordic singsong in his voice. “When we come through the portal, stay low, and head to your left towards the bank of consoles. We can hole up there and keep the humans busy until the rest of our team shows up.”

“Right behind you Jesper!” shouted the other. “We’re gonna take all those humans out!”

The two climbed further through the starship, pausing only to take some blaster shots at the few surviving humans they saw.

“It’s a total rout, I’m not sure their computer core will be defended at all. Jacob, swap to your grenade launcher, and lob a few once I’ve hacked the lock.”

A wicked looking piece of artillery materialized in the smaller lizardman’s taloned hands and he readied himself next to the hatch.

The larger of the two worked at console. “Hatch open in 3…. 2….”

“ahem” A gentle metallic voice sounded behind them. “I apologize for interrupting your leave Pilot Iverson, but your presence is required in Uchinoura.”

The larger of the two lizardmen turned to face the image of the stylized carp that had appeared behind him. “Do I have time to finish this game, Herman?” It asked.

“I apologize for the inconvenient timing, but you do not. A skimmer will be arriving in 2.78 minutes. With a 9.222 minute travel time, there is a 5.381 minute margin of error if you are to make your suborbital flight on time.”

The larger lizardman turned to the smaller, “Duty calls. Wiping out humanity will have to wait.” The holographic ship deck, the lizardmen, their weapons and the  security console all vanished as Jesper Iverson removed his game interface helmet. Only the image of the carp remained. “Sorry kiddo, we’ll have to pillage their computer core when I get back.” He stood and watched his younger brother turn the game off.

“Tell Mom and Dad I got called to Japan.” He ruffled Jacob’s hair. “I’ll be back before you know it.”

Jesper grabbed a pre-packed knapsack from the closet, wrote a quick note to his parents, and walked out the front door just as the skimmer floated down into the front yard. After stealing a quick glance back over his shoulder, he climbed on board.

“My leave was scheduled to last another 16 days. Why the recall, Herman?”

The carp re-appeared in the seat next to Jesper. “My apologies, Pilot Iverson, but I am not at liberty to divulge that information to you right now. The directors have instructed me to download all relevant data to your terminal once you have boarded the suborbital.”

Unease settled on Iverson’s face like a mask. He sat in silence all the way to the suborbital platform. When the skimmer landed, he sprinted to board the suborbital.

“Again, I apologize for being unable to provide any details.” The carp appeared behind him as he bent over the documents on the screen. “And I also apologize for what will prove to be your final assignment from the ISD.”

Jesper slumped into his seat, letting the terminal pad thump to the floor.

“I must however, insist that you buckle your harness for liftoff” Herman’s voice was nearly drowned out by the roar of the engines.

Chief Medical Officer: Kosoko Bello

off-flav-img-belloFor all intents and purposes, it was human DNA. There was nothing extraneous in all of the components that it was built from, but somehow, it’s perfection was palpable. You could feel it when you entered the lab. It drew your gaze, that tiny genetic sample. Even if you didn’t know what it was, your attention was drawn to it.

Kosoko Bello had spent hours in the lab, just staring at it. It was Human, there was nothing else there, but the Aggregate Restructuring Karyotype Server had somehow produced something different. Something better. Something luminous. Was this the future we had in store? And had Kosoko made it possible? His head spun.

“God lives again, and we birthed him.”

Kosoko was shaken from his reverie by the voice next to him. He looked down into the face of his mentor. “Be careful Roderick, you sound like a certain madman,” he said with a grin.

Roderick Nahas stood a head and a half shorter than his protege, with a thin sprinkling of white hair and clear, soft brown eyes. He had been Kosoko’s teacher and advisor during his time at the University of Qatar, and had the happy occasion to work with him now at LGRI. He had always known that his student would go on to big accomplishments, but the ARKS had been something much, much more than he had ever anticipated. The thought of what they had created filled him with pride.

“Now that we’ve made it, what do we do with it?” he asked quietly, unable to drag his gaze off of the small sample.

Bello turned to him excitedly. “The medical applications are astonishing. We can retard aging, eliminate disease, even limb regeneration seems like it may be a possibility. Or, we may even be able to grow you some hair back!”

As the two men laughed, a stylized image of a carp appeared in the air in front of them. It turned to them and spoke in a smooth, slightly metallic sounding voice. “Doctors, your presence has been requested in the World Health Organization conference room. There seems to be a troubling outbreak in Trondheim, Norway.”

“Ah, thank you Herman. Could you suspend the sample for us and lock down the lab when we go?”

“But of course, Dr. Bello. I took the liberty of informing the WHO directors that you were on your way. They will all be networked by the time you get there.” The AI’s holographic avatar swam twice in a clockwise circle and disappeared.

“Trondheim?” Roderick furled his brow as he walked through the door. “I’m troubled already. It’s the middle of summer there, and their inoculation programs are some of the best in the world. Anything that could get through around the Norwegian outbreak protocols is something that should concern us all. I hope containment plans are in the works.”

Kosoko followed him out of the lab and into the hallway. “Something may be brewing in Norway that they can’t deal with, but what we have built in that lab with ARKS is more than up to the challenge.” Kosoko put his arm around the older man’s shoulders and grinned widely. “There’s nothing coming out of Trondheim that can hold a candle to it. We’ve built more than a way to improve ourselves, we’ve created humanity’s great evolutionary leap. The future of our entire race is in that lab, and it’s going to be astonishing!”

They walked towards the elevator. “Nothing could dampen my spirits right now!”