Aditi Chaudhury: Countdown to Zero – Part I

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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.”

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