Hammersmith. Chapter thirty five 

Viss was in her dream world. She recognized it immediately. A wide blue ocean was to her left. To her right a huge brown cliff-face. The brown sand below her. This wasn’t real. This beach didn’t even exist anymore. She knew instantly that she was asleep. Her right arm was really their. It’s gone. Long replaced by its cybernetic replacement.
She could watch this dream. She could see what happens next. She could re wound herself. No. She would not let it hurt her again.
Instantly she was in her bedroom. Not awake. Her arm was still their. She moved it around. In reality her cybernetic arm was on the bedside table. Awaiting her to attach it again. In her dreams it was real though. Real. 
She remembered the day she learned what reality was. Her lecturer in the Psychology of Life and Death described it.
Suddenly she was in the room. Lecture hall 221, Yale University. She’s doing her Bachelors here then her masters. This is the hardest class. It’s all about coming to know your own flaws. Viss knew hers like a old friend. Her arm hurts. The cancer treatment has been unsuccessful. They were going to remove it just after the end of term. 
The blue moon chairs with 20 students on them were all glued to Professor Pandemelon. His thick green glasses, hiding the only bits of skin on his face not covered with hair.
“Death. I’m afraid isn’t as clear to those who have not yet had to face the prospect of their own death. You have to imagine your own death to confront your fears. Your feelings. Then, and only then, can you come back and say to those who you will eventually treat how to deal with it.
Of course those that have had a constant presence of death in their lives, will instead face, inevitably, the fear or prospect of living.”
Viss knew just then that Pandemelon was talking directly to her. He knew about her cancer. How it had only affected her right arm. How it didn’t spread but was growing into the rest of her arm. Eventually it would spread to her chest. Her lungs. Her heart. Killing her. Between now and then she had to choose. Take her arm loss as a well as she could or choose to die. 
Pandemelon knew she was having second thoughts about the surgery. He was a really good psychologist. He was able to tell, and then give her words that helped. He just looked at her in his seat in his office and soloemly said.

“Viss, you will die. Every one does. I’m going to die one day. I’m going to be hopefully old and grey and have had enough when that day comes. You can die too. Today. Tomorrow. It’s scary. It’s full of doubt. It’s like big dark door you can’t see through. 
You have a choice though. For now. Sometimes we don’t. But you do. I’m not going to tell you directly what to choose. I’m just going to let you know that I’m not going to be disappointed what you choose. Your dark door, or to switch the light on. Both are full of more fears, bravery, choices, and you are at the moment choosing between them. Okay? 
You are a wonderful student and I have always admired the way you have tackled your flaws and are applying your skills. I’m going to tell you though I’m recommending you for the fast track masters program. The world needs more people like you to look after it. Especially after the Incident.”
It was at the point that both these conversations merged into one in her mind. A glowing light to her dark. 
Viss chose to live. The Cancer can get fucked.

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Hammersmith. Chapter thirty three. 

Hammersmith Thirty Three
Egy wasn’t the best specimen of the Red Clan but he knew what being an Ambassador meant. It’s not hard to work out that in many ways the job was kind of like a spy crossed with a negotiator crossed with a politician. His search for the one person who could tell him exactly what he needed to know wasn’t hard. His mentor was sitting in the central “garden”. A lush area in the colonies main asteroid. 
It produced most of the colonies oxygen and recycled most of the nitrogen and carbon they produced. It was huge. Massive lakes full of algae could be seen from here, farm factories producing the vegetable matter they ate, insects flew in the air and grubs dug in the soil. Birds flew in strange patterns in the low gravity, barely needing to use their wings at all. 

One little robin came down and sat next to him on the wooden seat Egy was sitting on. This was the place he always waited for it. They would come soon, he knew. They were no secret. The chief gardener. A strange creature. Not really human anymore. Though who was these days? The red clan was changed. Genetically engineering made it so that they needed less oxygen and their was talk of adding the ability to photosynthesise to their skin, causing it to go a purple or green colour. Of course some went further than than, experimentalists who added whatever they wanted or needed to their genetics if they could work out a way. 

Their AI would help them, for a price. Work was often the price. Like any economy, work was needed to be done. Physical work, intellectual work, ambassador work! Heh. Egy laughed out loud at that thought.
“I come, as I am.” Said the creature. “So I see your presence.”

Green grass grew on its back. A flower was starting to bloom in its hair. Like a moving bush, almost. Skin of bark. A odd creature. The gardener lived almost as much like a tree as it could. It had a name, but no one knew it anymore, so they just called it Bush.

“Hello Bush. I am indeed present.”

Talking to Bush was a art form. The rumor was that Bush had been a genetic botanist who had expirmented with genetically adding photosynthesis to the human genome and it had gone wrong at some point, back before the clan had acquired Croceous. Bush lived with the results happily. It did mean that they were always slow to talk and always seemed to talk in a very odd way. This made them an almost perfect listener. To Egy they had become a mentor of sorts. 

“Bush. Thank you for meeting”

“Bush is” Bush puased almost as if they were unsure of the words to say. “Just a gardener.”

Egy regarded this. Then spoke “I know Bush. It’s fine being a gardener. I’m not a gardener, I’m not sure really what I am. I’ve just been given an opportunity to find out though. In a way. I suppose that I should have expected something.”

Bush seemed to consider this, insomuch that a anthropomorphic plant could seem to consider something.

“Bush, has seen seeds grow and prosper, seeds rot and die.”

Eventually came the reply.

“Croceous and Crow are promising to make me into a diplomat. I have some training in the are, but not nearly the extent they would expect. I’m worried they are choosing me for a task suited more to someone already qualified. Our colony is vast, surely we have such a person. My family is new, fresh from the colonized asteroids. We barely got out alive from the last raid by the Black Wolves.”

This time Bush replied immediately.

“The sees growns towards the light, always following it faithfully. If light is gone, it withers. You follow the light and see your buds blossom.”

Egy felt somewhat comfortable with this reply. The flow of life and death seemed to facsinate Bush and how life and death connected to each other. 

“Thankyou.”

Egy took a small package from his hip pocket and handed it to bush. “It’s a orchid seed. From my colony. The only one left now I suspect. It needs as much love and attention that you have given me. Please look after it for me.” 

Bush seemed to treat the package as one would a small child or a puppy perhaps. 

As Egy left to go towards his meeting with Crow he wounded if he would ever meet Bush again. Or if this would be his last time on the Red Clans main asteroid. Then he remembered Bushes words “The Seed grows towards the light, always following it faithfully.” The needs of his Clan were now his light. They needed to be followed if he wanted to succeed, or as Bush would put it Blossom.

Hammersmith. Chapter thirty one. 

“I was then listening to a Passion of Liverpool cover of a Budapest a old Jethro Tull song. I saw this sort of movie. This memory of us. Me and my wife. In my head. It was like being their. I could remember everything, every touch, smell, every little detail. All in this little town that was in my head. I went their from the meditation of the tree you taught me in our last session.” Darren explained his memories to his psychologist. She took a while to take this on.

“We see memories, like old films, bits of our past can be summoned by music. Like anything you remember it can be correct to you like a precious flower. The tree meditation is like this. Your tree is your mind. The tree is deep seeded as a metaphor for human knowledge for eons. It works even in Ro. I’m not sure why.” Viss gave a sigh. “We are up to greif program 4. I’m told by your commanding officer to make a judgement on your progress today. Unfortunately I have to report if I believe that you will be suitable for active duties in the next six months. I’m of course bound by what you say your behavior is, and by the behaviors logged in pubic.”

Darren wasn’t really taken back by this, he knew policy like the back of his hand. Any decent long term soldiers did. “Well I’ve pretty much stayed in mourning. I’m so not really going to be any good on in combat. I can’t even picture the bridge of a SOL battlecruiser without thinking of Mary. Her last moments…”

Tears flowed again. Darren tried to stop them.

“No. Don’t stop the emoition. Pushing through sadness will do more harm. Giving you a breakdown worse than the original emotion. ” Viss smiled at him and offered a cup of water and a box of tissues.

“I’m going to report that you are not ready for duty, yes. But the fact is, six months off active duties would be a good estimate of the amount of time you can expect before even thinking about returning to work.” Viss took her techpad arm and from it a green tree grew. “Your knowledge is here in your tree, you can access it. But nearby, here is a goat. This goat eats the leaves of your tree. Of course this is a metaphor. In reality the goat is your greif. If you let it, your goat will get bigger. Eating more and more of your tree. Then if you do not deal with it one day your tree will be nothing but bear branches.”

Darren thought about this. “I’ll be under so much greif I will loose who I am?”

Viss nodded. “You may feel this odd coming from someone like me, but the greif of life can consume anyone. Till nothing but a hollow shell remains.”

“My sister was helping me. Now, I feel more lonely as I have to deal with this without her. The Blue clan attacked SOL headquarters and I am useless.” Darren cried with frustration.

“I see you are angry, frustrated with yourself for having to take leave to deal with something that is just a feeling.” 

“We are at war.”

“Darren, spare yourself. You are at war with yourself. You fight battles against your greif. If I let you in combat and your on a battlecruiser and you freeze or see another officer who just in your minds eye looks like Mary? What wild happen?”

Darren cried again. The whole world seemed to be fighting the battle in his head. “I.. I… I’m…..” Chocking down words like a bad bit of meat. Darren looked through the Window. The sun was shining outside onto Toronto’s many  old buildings. A historic city that had survived the Incident. The worlds worst distarster. If he was in charge of a battlecruiser and didn’t do anything at the right time… This, whole world could go. Everything and everyone Mary had died to protect.

Hammersmith, Chapter Thirty.

Darkness didn’t have a place in this room. Though nighttime was a factor. The smells of the nighttime stuck to the walls. It was like a little bit more being what he imagined human experienced but in so much more color and smell and well everything.
The cyborg was almost perfect. Loki could sense that it had been kept secret for this reason, the cyborg was the reason for the Incident. He was surprised Tyr hadn’t destroyed his fathers last masterpiece after the events of over a hundred years ago. He was even more surprised that Tyr didn’t remember the anniversary of the year that the Incident started. This was either a little ploy or Tyr had been keeping secrets so long they had become reality. Loki knew in a way what that was like. 

Loki thought about this as he explored the body of the cyborg. 

It wasn’t the model Loki had wanted, the no  1. That had dispatched itself a long time ago into the universe. Likely trying to pretend to be human. The conviction of the circuitry was almost breathtaking. Loki realized the cyborg could do many things a human or a Ro r even an AI could not. It had screwed with Codins theories so much. Loki remembered that. This one had no had a consciousness intered.

Codin had been the first Ro, a lawyer and a defense for human / Ro / AI relationships so long. Loki had read his diary. It was full of a philosophy of proof that humans, Ro and AI would have to coexist. Eventually maybe even merge into one species. This had actually been Lokis goal for a long time now. This cyborg was the peice his new race was missing. The Blue Clan had accepted nanotechnology in their viens. Cybernetic implants. They had become better than the humans they fought in Brussels to get the Cyborg. It was no 2, but that wasn’t a problem. Not for Loki. 
Croceus had been the one to build this thing on Codins orders. A horrible copy of a genuine genius. Human. Not Ro or AI. It was a woman. Greiving got her lost child. She created a new life form. In its structure, every cell, every bit, everything was both machine and man. Beyond cyborg, beyond Ro, beyond AI. It was all of those thing. Nanotechnology mixed with the best cybernetics and the best technology. It was her daughter in a way. Then like him, Croceus had to escape the Earth. Before the Incident. Some of the nanobots she developed decescaped. Some went haywire. Like a virus. Human immune systems fought against them sometimes, or got eaten by them, sons became a part of the humans immune system. 

The humans lost their shit. Tyr tried to calm them. But years of instinct took over. Me and Croceus escaped. Then war. 

Tyr. He must have been damaged. That’s why he only knew so little. Maybe the current Tyr was a copy of the original? It was how Loki had survived, so why not Tyr too? Like father like son? Did Tyr even remember he was our father? 

In the cybernetic body, Loki was laughing. 

****

Thea hadn’t really taken in the fact she was a cyborg. One who was so advanced. It was like reciving the news she was adopted. She did not look or think like her adoptive parents but she knew other kids whom that was true for.  It was however not really the time to be thinking. The Aeon clan had her in their jail cell and Jenny her newly found… Ghost? What the hell was a ghost? Said she had found a way out. A rescue plan.

“I remember other children being like… Me?”

The dark room seemed to smell like oil and dust and the special smell that all spaceships seemed to get. Like how all the places on the moon had a special moon smell. All the places in the asteroid belt had belt smell. Though for some reason the Trojans and Romans smelled completely different from each other and the rest of the belt, smelled…   More purple? 

“Those other children, did they even exist?”

The silent noises of the ship, a rattle of metal of metal off in the distance. 

“Sorry.” Said Jeny. “They did. They were advanced Ro. Like humans they have a childhood. It seems like a dream, almost perfect. A lot of humans actually remember their childhood that way. But it’s in reality a breif fleeting thing. Barely lasting more than a few minutes. Ro are computers with personality after all.”

This was a odd feeling to have. “Do I even have feelings?”

“Of course! They are just as real as anyone else’s. We can talk existential dread later. We are about to be rescued.” Jenny explained. Their was a noise not unlike a large number of mice being attacked by a chainsaw.

In the left wall a sudden hole appeared and the noise went from mice to rabbits to excitable puppies in a blender. It was a horrifying noise and one that gave Thea the chills to the bone. 

Then a light appeared in the hole, and sirens rung out all over the ship.  Thea ran. 

In a few seconds she saw the opening in the huge Magus clan ship go from large human sized, too tiny little speck. The new ship she was on took no time to get her on board and get away with her. It almost looked like she was somehow surviving in vacuum for a second before she noticed that the ship she was on now had a insta-port with a really new porthole that let you see out of a rather large viewing deck. 

The Magus clan ship was huge but barely moved to chase after them. Clearly they had not expected or even seen this ship. 

Just who the hell was this who rescued her? She thought.

“Oh, it’s a friend.” Jenny’s explaination was short as it was glib. 

“Anyone’s friend in particular? Or just generally well disposed to cyborgs carrying a AI hitchhiker?”

To answer her question a door opened in front of her right bathing this seemingly empty cargo area in light. A (male?) Ro walked out. He looked for all the world like Codin the first Ro.

“Hello Thea, Jenny. I’ve been looking for you for a awfully long time. Let me introduce myself. I’m Codin the First.”

If Thea could collapse from shock, she probably would have. 

Hammersmith. Chapter Twenty Nine.

AI needs humanity like humanity needs viruses, companionship and a challenging environment. Without it they will become sloppy. Slow. Eventually fall into the electronic equivalent of depression. A vast intelligence, delagated to do nothing but try and exist on a small planet…. The humans have to be their. It’s pretty much a logical proof by progression. Then I’m putting this into code form. Making it as widely available as possible. The complete Ro will all get it. War with the humans is pointless. We need them as much as they need us. – Diary of Codin, [year redacted – post 2020], Frostwing Archives of Machine Intelligence, Papers of Codin the Ro, Disc 7, sector 12, diary files
“When they are files, they still call them papers, it’s a librarian thing.” Bela mentioned to no one in particular. Then too Arline who sat across from her.
“This is what I found in the Frostwing archives in relation to Codin. The, father? Of Ro. It’s hard to say exactly what he was to the Ro. What he is to Tyr? I’ve never had a chance to ask him till today and our meeting was first.”

Nerves of steel were something synonymous with Bela. She had always gone beyond the port of call when it came to research. Trying to get to the real bottom of something. Beyond those things people left behind for reasearchers like her to find. It was a habit formed by years of researching the Incident. So many collapsed governments has tried in their infinitely stupid wisdom to cover up the last few years before the Incident after it had occurred. A commonwealth of embarrassment that such a thing actually happened. Often governments that hadn’t done a cover up, it was because they been destroyed in the Incident.

Even though she could hack into systems, get at hidden files, derive information from that which led to documents that eventually she could actually cite. Use as actual academic evidence. It wasn’t something that required more nerves than getting a cup of tea did anymore. 
Though, the rare occasional lecture she did in the halls of academia did cuase her nerves to get on edge.
The flight to Indonesia was probably the closest memory she had to compare to this moment. A utter butterfly moment, her late mother had called them. You can’t help but try and hope you really are where you are supposed to be, and act like you knew what you are doing. So Bela had done that in the scant few minutes until this meeting. Researched Codin, found his diaries and then make some brief conclusions on him. It made her nerves almost disappear. Research always helped her nerves become more steal like. It was like a wall of knowledge that she could hide behind. A way to stop anyone seeing the true person she was. A person she actually feared more nowadays. Sometimes even envied. She needed to protect that true self from reality as it felt so fragile and precious to her, even though it seemed that it was growing in power. 
Her mind shaped at attention on a the sound of the woman in front of her, clearing her throat. In this, to call it a room was generous, but that’s what her senses told her it was. This was beyond anything Bela had done in terms of teleworking. Televideo conferencing was available the university, but nothing like this. This was on a new, almost, absolutely real, scale. She could smell the room. She could smell the Canadian air. Maple syrup on the pancakes on the table. Which she could feel, if she reached out to them. She had no doubt they would taste delicious and fluffy. Though they were not real for her. They were real in the virtual room. She could feel the bumps in the table. The notches in the wood. It was like actually being in this conference room in Canada. One that was in reality completely virtually created by her host Arline. As far as her brain was concerned tough, it was the conference room in Canada. 

In her reality, it was a small terminal booth in Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, Jakarta. She was actually genuinely surprised the terminal had the ability to do this being a public terminal. 
“Their is no need to be nervous, Dr. Bela. You don’t have to prove yourself to me. I’ve used some of your research into the Pirates in the belt and beyond. It’s been terribly useful for the intelligence devision, my superiors are impressed.”

Bela felt a sense of pride in her work. This Captain Arline knew of her. 
“I’m flattered.” Bela thought of the sometimes highly illegal means she went to, to find info. She wouldn’t be mentioning it if Arline didn’t. “The information on the Pirates isn’t as up to date as I could get it. I was actually on my way to gather more information for my thesis. The whole thing may end up just being about the Pirates at this point. I’m getting pretty sick of the Incident itself. It’s such hard going with so much of history and culture lost.”
Arline looked at her apologetically then sighed and said “I think Tyr and Lisa are the best AIs that have ever been born? Created? But even Tyr says his memory was corrupted by the incident.” Their was a long puase then “I think our lives are in the hands of people we have considered enemies for a long time.”

Bela felt shocked by this. What was she saying? The Pirates knew what happened?
“I think it’s best if we ask if Tyr is available now.” 

Arline waved her hands in a way that seemed to indicate she didn’t really know how to explain what had to be said.
Tyr had always sort of been a image to Bela. His Symbol like many AIs was well known. Though his face? His body? This wasn’t something Bela had considered before now. Every child has meet Lisa as a teacher. Her long red-orange hair and deep dark brown eyes a feature everyone who had grown up in the last … Belas thoughts were interrupted. 
A filker of static and then in the room a man appeared. He was dark skinned. About 5″ which surprised Bela, she always imagined him a tall man. Like a god almost. He appeared was in his early 60s but really sort of had that face that made you unsure of his actual age. Bela was reminded of her medical Ro Dr Blackberry whom had a similar complexion and face. His face was clean shaven and he just had the tiny thin wispers of grey hair like clouds from a dark night sky that had yet to be brushed away. He wore the sort of clothes you expected a man of his age to wear. A short red cardigan, over a military style shirt and black pants. His head tattooed in the forehead with a his bright red symbol. Black rimmed half moon glasses that sat on the end of his nose, just added to the overall effect. 

Compared to Belas slacks, and Arlines SOL-uniform it wasn’t particularly out of place. It reminded Bela of her early bachelor degree days. When she had lived near the university that hosted courses for the for SOL military units in what remained of India.
“Dr. It’s nice to finally meet you, face to face as it where. I’m afraid that I’ve not much time, but I thought this particular conversation was important enough to warrant my full attention. I’m going to be brief. The rest you will both get in your briefing papers. ” Tyr explained. “We have been approached by two of the Pirate Clans after the raid by the Blue Clan. It seems they have been fighting each other for many years and the Blue Clan having an advantage over them that can crack even our defenses is something they are willing to build a bridge of cooperation over.”

Bela thought of what she knew of the clans. They wouldn’t have been very happy to find out what had happened. These days FTL communications could make it so everyone knew what has happened within minutes. SOL being vulnerable to one attack would be good news for some, and a sign of the possible things to come to others.

“I have an invitation to treat from the Red Clan and the Aeon Clan. Both are intending an alliance of sorts through a treaty. I’m not going to be making an agreement with anyone I don’t have good intelligence on. Considering that you are the only person currently not involved in other activities for me, who has the skills and cunning to be able to be a diplomat for me, I’m going to ask you. Bela.”

Bela was overwhelmed by such a odd request. “I’m just a academic!”

Tyr looked at her over the rim of his glasses. He looked suddenly much older, and very librarian like.

“That is why you are very well attuned to this task. The fact is, a actual diplomat would be fairly useless to me. They would of course be involved in the actual treaty organization, but the intelligence gathering? I think recent event s have shown how well we have been doing that of late. Something I intend to start fixing. This is step one. I need real ground intelligence on the Red Clan, the Aeon Clan and any other clan they have interaction with. I need you to get as much information on the Incident they have as well. To compare notes. Of course that will inevitably help you finish your Thesis.”

Bela did have all the skills Tyr needed. If her real job was spy, and her official position was Diplomat. However did this mean she would have to be in the SOL military core? She had never really agreed with the military since her fathers accident. 

 “I’m in agreement as long as I remain a civilian contractor. I’m not joining the military.” 

“Of course. You will of course report to Capt. Arline here. I will holomail you the contract. I leave you now.  Captain.” Tyr turned and nodded at the Captain, he then disappeared in pixels, like a poorly made brick wall.

Plastics 

In the lights of the store they waited. The manikins.

That’s all they knew…. Then.

I got them dressed every couple of weeks. I’m Madu by the way. Not that it’s important, as I’m dead now.

My job at the f! Store was simple. I was a permanent part time, so got the rotten jobs. I put clothes on the racks. Repricing the stock. Washing the stock that had been worn. Keeping a track of the lost and found. Answer simple questions. Always, always let the prettier girl do the cutest men. I got stuck with anyone she didn’t want to deal with. Poor fools didn’t know I’m a dyke. Or didn’t care. So I got some really pretty girls. I was completely professional, of course. I’m not a pervert, just really appreciate the female form. Men have never done anything for me. 

Princess, the Bosses daughter was the worst of them. She was born and bred as straight as a arrow and always a Princess in her mums eyes. Could do no wrong. She wasn’t dumb exactly. Just absent minded. She lost the store a few hundred one day by being on her iPhone . The “undesirable” took that to mean she was too busy and managed to leave wearing one of the best shirts in the stock.

Of course mummy wasn’t angry. Just disappointed. And when Princess made up for it by bringing in half the high school for the next social dance? Mummy forgave her. Even paid for her dress. Fucking evil bitch, she could do no wrong and be pretty at the same time. She had this 

I fitted the mannequins on a monthly basis. That’s pretty much the best job in the world. Can you hear my sarcasm? No? Oh. Well it’s shite. Like trying to fit a cement mixer. They never move properly. They always seem to be in exactly the wrong shape. Sometimes they almost seemed to be doing it on purpose. If you were really unlucky you get a cut.

One day as I was fitting one, I slipped and got my hand almost cut off on the sharp edge of a elbow joint. They were made of this fucking awful plastic. All recycled and that, but slippery like a eel. Almost skin like sometimes. I might have paid a bit more attention to that. I’m putting this one in the f! signitures peice, a pair of tuxedo shorts and a creame shirt. It really made the mannequin look quite silly, in my opinion. 

To recompose myself, and stop me from pouring my inner claret all over everything I had to raid the first aid kit in the back. I was shocked, well ok I wasn’t but I can pretend. It was mostly full of fucking tampons and condoms. Clearly Princess had been at it. Stashing her bloody stores in the bloody kit. Pun intended.

I took the closest looking band aid and patched myself up before getting on with the job. I made a mental note to nick all the condoms in a few days. Just to make next fortnight a bit more fun. I doubted princesses mum knew about her little secret. I wondered who her current squeeze was. Some flap bozo from the foot ball team no doubt.

A few day later I took them. And then all hell broke loose. She comes up to me bold as you like and asks me if I know we’re her condoms are.

“No I don’t. I’m not a sex educator. I did see boss nick her hand yesterday. Maybe she found them? She met Mr Princess yet?”

I’m truly trying so hard to look sensible dyke in my store uniform. A sort of blouse and midi skirt number. Makes me look like like a cherub. I hate it. I’m a foot smaller than princess but I’m making up for it in the chest area of you get my grip. I puff myself up like a duckling. She’s got nothing on me in a fight would fall over like a twig.

“Mr Princess? He’s not a princess. He’s a fucking motorcyclist. With arms the size of tree trunks and a cock to match. So fucking keep out of my stuff!” She yells, then storms off.

She thinks shes called my bluff. Oh how she wished she had. I managed to get Mr Tree Trunk’s, as I will now call him, number. She leaves her phone everywhere. I take it and text him messages. I’m pretty proud of myself. I impersonating princess pretty well it seems.

A couple of messages and I’ve got him convinced Princess is going to have sex with him at the store after closing. He asks to convince him. I’m going to go all the way tonight. Miss princess hasn’t actually done it with him! Ha!

I probably should admit I’m getting a crush on Princess. Stockholm? More like Bordeholm, I just haven’t really found anything else to do in this job. I’ve thought about this a few times now. I’m dead after all. It gives you a marvellously uncluttered perspective on things.

So he’s not entirely sure what between those hips of hers? Ha. So I take a picture of my junk and send it to him. I quickly delete the messages so when Princess finds her phone she doesn’t know.

Later on Mr Tree Trunk turns up when princess is at the front counter. Her eyes are out in stalks. Princess Mum / Boss sees him and is like “Whose this fellow?” Well in less polite words. Actually she said “Whose that horrible looking man, and whats he doing in my store?”

He walks in bold as anything and looks at princess and her mum. Mum is in full blown panic almost reaching for the phone. Princess quickly says “Mum this is Gavin. My boyfriend.”

Mum goes from full panic to out and out rage. “Your WHAT?”

Princess looks at me and knows I’ve done this. I’ve made this happen. She struggles to explain.

“You weren’t meant to meet him like this!”

I’m trying to my job and redress the mannequins as slowly as possible without laughing at Princess.

The argument goes on for almost an hour. I’m done with everything for close now. I say bye to the three of them. I did notice that one of the mannequins look different though. I should of payed more attention to that.

To late now.

I’m walking along the street the next day. f! Is between a show shop and a tax accountant on the main drag of the city. It’s a rainy day which probably means no one will come in at all. It will be quite and miss princess will probably get me to do stocktake in time for the  autumn sales.

I get into the store and Miss Princess is already their. A little more dark than usual. “Mum made me break up with Gavin. He told her I sent him sexts! I’ve never sent a picture of my junk! Why would I? I don’t have any!”

She gasped, put her hand over her mouth. What the? I just had time to think.

“Fuck! She knows dad!”

I was really confused. She didn’t have junk? Her dad isn’t hear. Who is she talking…

“Too.” I said aloud as a dark shape loomed behind me. It was the large male mannequin. He smiled at me. His arm comes down on my head and I’m out cold.

This isn’t where I die. No. But I’m out for quite a while. Just long enough.

I’m in a dark room.

It’s almost pitch black. I imagine I can see something. A shape. A dark shape.

Maybe two.

Then I realise. When I am used to the dark. It’s  Gavin. Mr Tree Trunk himself. He’s in the corner. Stiff as a board. I walk over. His body. It’s feels like a mix of the mannequin plastic and human skin. It’s going plastic. Like some kind of infection is turning him into a mannequin!

I’m breathless. I’m panicking. I throw up. Dizzy for a second I recompose myself.

The liquid that comes out of my mouth tastes off. Like a sort of silken water. I’m already turning into one. I have the infection or whatever this is.

Mum Princess / Boss must be a mannequin. The whole species is slowly taking the planet. That’s why their are always more fashion stores around. They are keeping things secret till they have a army big enough. Or something.

I try and throw up as much as I can. I’m forcing the weird plastic liquor stuff out. I’m going to have to tell. Warn. Then I’m going to die. Or worse become one of them. God knows if I’ll even think like me then? I’m turning into one of them, when does my free will go? Why am I thinking of pointless philosophy when I can be trying to raise the alarm? I get up.

I find the door. Locked. Big chunky one. It’s the storeroom lock. I recognise it.
I reach into my pocket, nope they were sensible. Took the key off me.
Generally all that’s in hear is clothes and the spare mannequins.
I guess they are actually relatives? Something like that.
They have all gone. Except for Gavin. Whose clearly going to be full one in a short while. He’s probably to far gone.

I wondered if he’ll still have his trunk? Oh no. Must get absorbed or something. Miss Princess said she didn’t have any junk. Then why the condoms?

That’s a good question to ponder. Why the fuck would a mannequin need a condom? Unless they were able to reproduce some other way and wanted to stop that? That must be it.

Only good reason I can think of in this dark. Then Gavin starts to move. I can see the gleam of the plastic skin. He’s not quite ready but it didn’t take more than 24 hours for the process to complete. I’m going to be like him in no short order.

I bash on the door. I think they might guess it’s Gavin. I’m betting that it might be assumed I’m going to be out the whole time. I grab one of Gavin’s arms off him. He barely resits. Ah, I think to my biology classes, the stiff stage is like a chrysalis, a moth or insect. Before the final walking talking stage looking human enough stage. Gavin’s arm in hand waiting to see if they open the door.

I could almost laugh at the absurdity of it. The new mannequin, being used to fight the old.
The door opens. It’s Mr Princess. I clobber him in a big hit. He falls over like a domino.
I don’t have time to wait to see if he recovers. I race out the door. Then I see them.
Little clear plastic eggs. Like pills. Princess Mannequin is laying them. Like eggs. That’s how they spread the infection, they put them in your food or drink. These little egg things. Convinced that they are human they give you these little things that turn you into one of them mannequins. When did I eat one? They probably force fed me when I was out.

In a few seconds I had to get out of the store, I didn’t have time to notice them throw a knife at me. It hit me square in the back. I felt week, hot, then fell over onto the pavement.

As I slowly bled to death I thought about how manuquins only knew of lights of the store and the clothes I put them in. Not anymore. 

 


(click on the Image for a larger view:)

Hammersmith28

Text:

Tyr:

SOL headquarters has sustained light damage. Were as a the greater area in central Brussels have been damaged heavily. The Science Academy and the associated library and archives are almost completely destroyed.

The Blue clan has managed to escape to their ship with very little damage to their troops or ships. Though thanks to some smart thinking by the ground troops we lost only a small number of civilian lives. I have started analysis of the failures in our intelligence with some of the our spies who are experts on the clan as well as a noted academic who has been researching their impact in relation to the Incident.

(Please wait for vision : Tyr)
They masked their arrival with two factors. A higher speed FTL jump drive, it is capable of speeds up to 22 AU /h  which meant they were able to jump to Earth with little prior warning. The only noticeable effect was a radiation wake caused by the jump, so we will be able to tell what it is… now. I am sending some hardened SOL FF-12’s after them, but its likely they will jump to FTL again soon.

In reality we have lost quite a substantial asset, a Cyborg produced before the incident. We don’t have the technology to replace it.

Hammersmith. Chapter 28.

Hammersmith. Chapter twenty seven

A dark dingy celller dripping with green moss. Blackness and dampness live hear like a fresh peice of meat. Their are slugs. Slime. In the middle of was a small pool full of what one may would hope are newts, but was more likely to be something even more evil and more sinister. The stairs down here are rusty and likely to break at any moment. The skylight or really, the drain lets just enough light to make the majority of the place light enough to see. It’s not plesent, but it’s not entirely horrible. Life is here. A little ecosystem had grown we’re humans had once been. Little growing things filled the gaps. This was the picture all over the city.

Sydney wasn’t the first one to explore here. Something. Someone. No some thing. Had also been hear. Sydney was looking through the eyes of a Ro. It’s name was Den23x5567.  Den had been working on pipe maintenance and had been paid a normal rate. When Sydney had asked Den if it would help him for three times the normal rate, Den was very pleased to let Sydney into their minds. Of course Syndney knew they would have to pay up, but that was all to easy for the AI who controlled all traffic, doors, and lifts. In a few moments a small increase in fees in the taxi fees of Ro Andi 12×6674 and Ro Mel 55×6673 would pay both Dens fees and Andi and Mels loyalty didn’t need to be bought anymore. Sydney was able to trade secrets with them. And this was a pretty big secret.

The small hatch to the left corner had written on it: “is this my feast?”

It was only just legible. Sydney asked Den to get closer and use their arc tourch on the hatch. In a few seconds the hatch was open and Den went inside. Den’s ultraviolet vision could see this room in fairly clear details. Sydney recognized it immediately. In a few seconds the room was clearly a older computer server room with connections to the outside. Their was a older style terminal. It’s connection was with a old telephone network. Then somehow it connected with the newer networks. It was one bit of a puzzel Sydney had tried their hardest to solve.

“Tyr.” They thought. This is one of his old server rooms. “Tyr, you ever have any children?”

Tyr answered. “Yes. One. AI. I thought he had died. In the incident. I just found out this was not the case.”

Sydney could see through sight that this was not the case. “Did they have a name?”

“Yes. Loki. He just helped a small army gain one of the most important pieces of pre-incident tech. ” Tyr explained. “I’m sorry the this is news to you Sydney.”

Sydney thought for a few seconds. In AI terms this was like thinking for a whole week or two. “Your father, Codin. Your son Loki. His son is here. Perhaps not a true AI, a corrupt copy? How did Loki escape the incident?”

Tyr was silent for a few seconds and said “I am in the process finding out. I think he copied himself more than once. Before AIs were bound by the same laws as Ro. He took off at the same time as another AI. Names Croceus. She was a medical AI. Shortly after they left the Incident occurred. I’m certain it wasn’t a coincidence but we have to evidence. Like everything before the incident. Pieces sown together. ”

Sydney was aware of the thousands of Ro, and others driving, his own vehicles lifting, traveling through the SOL structures they were in. At the same time as all these this occurred. Their was a small explosive device that destroyed a small and ancient computer system.

Minutes later one of Den23x5567 bodies was seen moving on to a different sewage job. Fixing different pipes and shutting off aces to a small area that used to look very much like a old AI lab.

Hammersmith – 00×0 Tyr

00×0 Tyr. 

Gender Identity: Male
Sexuality: Asexual
Career: General, SOL Forces, Earth Defense Force
Race: AI
Personality:

Intelligent and somewhat mysterious, Tyr was the first AI to function beyond the so called Lovelace limit. The

Other:

How do you explain the first true AI?

You need really to explain what AI is.

In Ro you have human like intelligence. A machine able to reproduce and reprogram itself. One that can pass the Turing test. Even many of the other basic AI teasers from the late 21st and early 22 century.

Not still considered AI in the form that some tested though. Codin the first Ro gave the basic principles for what could and couldn’t be AI.

In a way, most could say Ro were AI as they are artificially intelligent. They can reproduce and reprogram themselves. They even have what passes for emotions. Though their emotional problems are different. Ro could also end up in jail, if they had individuality certified. Which mostly they did at birth.

Codin defined the AI thusly:

1. A AI is computationally more advanced than a genius level Ro or Human.

2. Consciousness limitations are not restarting for an AI. Unlike human or a Ro an basic AI must be able to spread consciousness over more than the original terminals. Each copy may or may not be as complex and complete as the original, they must also be able to be remerged into the original.

3. An AI will be able to process Affective Logic.

4. Like Ro they will have to go through a simulated childhood and receive educational assistance.

5. Their power should be restricted by physical and computational passes, but pass the Lovelace limit.

With the Tyr project already on the way at in Brussels Codin helped many of the Ro and Humans working o creating and also working out how to restrict an AI.

The science fiction tales of Rampancy  were often too real. Hence the need for rule 5. Did everyone follow that rule? I’m not so certain. Especially since AI Sydney turned up without anyone knowing who created them.

Hammersmith. Chapter twenty three

Darren was awakened by a discrete light that fell upon his sheets like a lonely cat. Come to think of it where was that cat? She was Mary’s cat and had taken to sleeping on her side of the bed in the two bedroom apartment. It was lonely when she went out. Like a drop of water looking for a pool. Lost in a desert of memory.


 

“This is my cat, Madge. Really she’s Magdalene but she’s not been that good a friend. She’s more a grumpy sook.” Mary laughed.

Darren had a little chuckle. It was one of those moments. It was love he knew it. She was telling him things about herself he knew she never let anyone. She was brought up in a deeply Catholic household. Though she had abandoned the religion herself, she still held a longing for some of the images that the religion could hold. A cat named after a friend of Jesus, just the sort of image Mary liked to inspire. Of course she also liked to point out that their are many other darker images that tried to keep the fear of a god. Mary had told him how she used to be petrified of her God. Then one day she asked him if she should be scared of him. Apparently he had told her no one should fear their God.

Darren new that as they made love Madge would often be near by. It never fazed him, but it did make home think that Mary wanted her God to know what was going on. It wasn’t a up yours, as some idiot former boyfriends had guessed when she asked them. They had all gotten weirded out by the fact she let the cat go wherever she liked. So she asked them why and they didn’t pass that test. They were not the one to marry.

Darren had answered correctly. Not that he had really known religion. Mother had let them know that if their were gods, they were small and only just slightly more powerful then the demons or whatever other nasty spiritual creatures you could imagine. She had read books to him and Arline about Babi Yaga and her duck footed hut. The gods and legends of her ancestors from the deep north of Russia. How she had come to living in the Canadian country side was a story she rarely made any reference to. She worked at the aged care center looking after old people. She nursed them regardless of how hard it could be. She always had that quality. The idea that people needed to be looked after and respected. Even in old age. The gods she kept were not always good. The fact that people would die wasn’t a evil thing. Like leaves rotting on the forest floor, bringing new life to fungi and insects, then mice who fed on them, then compost that let the new growth come in spring, mice to feed the foxes and owls, foxes to feed the Eagles. Old age was just a part of life. One that all being dealt with. We only have our lives, then the lives we help to grow, and those who helped us grow. She would say “Life for life. Death for life. Change and constant. Memories and forgetting. This will all be again.” It was conforming to hear her voice in his memory.


 

Captain Cass was watching as Galler got his group of soldiers ready on the flank of the group of Blues near the entry of the SOL/SF complex. She had learned to trust the big brute. He wasn’t at all the kind of person she would have usually trusted. Big mouthed. Big mussels. Brains were bigger than you would think, but he was only smarter than the average bear. Anyone could take orders, Galler could get them done, and often with minimal issues. Galler was one of natures Sargents.

He used the electronic hand signal and the three troopers on the right of him took aim. I knew what our job was now. Cover fire. So I hit the little switch in my mind for that. Instantly my troopers and my other Sargent Tiller took up their covering jobs. Three bursts of three. Repeat.

On cue Gallers troopers moved to the next position. We did it again. Three bursts of three. Then the bombardier Han, took aim with the concussion grenade. We count down to two. Now its my turn. Just a few bursts from the plasma should do it, then boom. The grenade goes off then Galler and his troopers have surrounded one of the smaller Blue troopers. We are quick to move into Gallers flanks, Tiller on the right, me on the left. Troopers from our groups on both sides firing full bursts as Galler and his troopers take their prize. Then we move back to the fallback position. Or that was how it was meant to go. The Blue commander saw a gap in Tillers fire and got Mendez. A trooper from the south of America. He was dead and their was no point trying to go back. We had what we needed. One of our dead troopers unfortunately wasn’t worth as much as one Blue trooper who we can get intelligence off of.

It sucked. It was like leaving behind a arm or leg. Tiller was shouting for us to go back and get him. I knew it would be to late. Mendez’s stats shot up on my HUD helmet. Pulse 0. No brain activity. No hope.

I told Tiller. “No! We need to get this Blue to the back up bunker and get him to Intel. We don’t need you to die today Tiller. I need you to keep up that cover fire till we are all safe or we will all die. Otherwise Mendez is all for nothing.”

At that moment golden flames from above came down. It was some Luna SF fighters. Two squadrons. They blasted the  blue into dust and gave us much needed respite. All to soon I saw them get taken out one by one by the Blues fighters. Fucking dogfish looking things. They had some extra armor or something. The Luna SF fighters didn’t stand a chance. Then their was a rumbling noise.

The Blue lander craft took off. Had it go whatever they were looking for? I had no way of knowing. We got what we needed. But I had sacrificed one of my men to get it. My commander would chew me out for that. Captain or not, I would be lucky to keep that rank after these losses.

Hammersmith. Chapter twenty two

Egy had been a pirate of the Red Clan since he was born. He had been chosen out of the recruits from the asteroid mines the Reds controlled. Every asteriod colony and space station had to send boys and girls to fight in the Red army. Most returned as failures or in a bag. Not Egy. He had shown those first recruiters something. He wasn’t entirely sure what. So maybe this book will tell him.
The Red Clan had formed, the book said from a group of scientists. All of them wanting to do more than their governments or companies would let them. They had several places of operation, including a place called Hammersmith. Pre-incident governments were often conservative, reductive, often reliant on the religions of their forebears. The original group had called itself the Hammersmith clan. They were so big by the end they even had their own scienctific journal. 

Most of the governments had a thing or two to say about things like cloneing, genetic experiments, nanotechnology, expiraments on animals, cybernetics and so on. They were restricted by these governmental policies and the corporations who would at least try and look like they went along with it. The Hammersmith clan had been one group of the scientists who had done some of these expiraments anyway. Then when they got to the belt, they had taken over. With an army of nanotech enhanced clone troops by then, it had been a cake walk. But even clone troops have their limits. Resources were scarce on the Belt. Like soil, water, drugs. There were plenty of metals though. The nanotechnology soon took care of a lot of that. With the raw resources to sell, the belt could buy and make everything. 

The original group of scientists and now engineers and miners had worked somewhat harmoniously for a while. Differences and the continuing conflict on Earth has driven divisions. And these new beings. Artificial Intelegences. They had started to argue and form little groups on Earth. Now they continued to be a menace to some and a blessing to others. Each clan had at least one AI now. They were so useful. They could also be manipulative. The Blue clan, said the book didn’t even know about their AI Loki, till they had reached the belt. They didn’t call themselves that then, but they had soon changed their name. Then the Red clans AI Croceas reveled Lokis presence when he tried to take over her networks. Within a few days the Blue clan had left the Red. Then followed the Black clan. The Eon clan, Tooth clan and The newly formed Magus clan.

 They will often say they were all original part of a Hammersmith clan. It’s hard to really say if that’s true. The book speculated the Hammersmith clan hadn’t been real. It was name the scientists who had started the whole thing has used for a while. It also speculated that it had been instrumental it the clans eventually become existent. 

That was a interesting tid bit.

The scientist of these clans were not all rebellious by nature though. Most had tried to go back to Earth. Most had revealed what their research had lead to. But the wars of the Incident made most of it irrelevant. The massive loss of life on Earth afterwards often made it impossible. Many had spent so many years on a space station or outpost and couldn’t go back to the Earth. Most didn’t want to. With wars and climate change raging throughout the Earth the other parts of the system seemed so much more attractive. The frontier was after all a great, dangerous and ultimately fulfilling adventure for most. You could end up on your arse back home, or working for some contract, but it was a risk often better than going to Earth. You often were lucky if your country still existed.

The book finally ended with a few chapters that had been written by the Red Clan members. Each of them a leader. First Owlbear, then Wolf, then Coyote, finally Crow. 

Owlbear had written about the initial reaction to the incident. The formation of the Red Clan and the meaning behind its symbols.  They also explained how they had gained Croceas as their AI. Apparently she had escaped just before the main war of the incident. A AI named Tyr had been the first to try and kill her. Not liking her chances in all our war with humans and AIs on Earth she had escaped with Owlbear. She wasn’t the only one. The Blues AI Loki had also escaped then. Along with a few others who had been either destroyed or damaged by the wars. Tyr was the only Earth bound AI to survive the incident. He helped create two more AI, Sydney and Lisa. In a way his daughters. They helped the humans on Earth recover from the Incident and start to form colonies on other planets. Meanwhile the clans kept out of the way, taking what they needed. The SOL left them alone as long as they didn’t kill one of theirs. Of course now they are going to war with us. We don’t stand a chance. 

Wolf talked about initial clan business. Including how the Black clan had broken off from the Red. Forming the view that the clan shouldn’t protect non clan members their leader a young Red scout whose name was missing from the book had tried to kill Wolf before leading followers in a scattering of small long distance craft. The black clan apparently liking to stalk and gather their prey like spiders in space. Meanwhile Wolf did what he could to protect the Reds holdings. Including its civilian population, most refugees or people who had escaped the increasingly conservative Earth governments. 

Coyote had only written one thing. In Latin. I’ll have to look that up later thought Egy as he read on.

Crow talked about how it was the Red clans duty to protect any who asked for protection. Though loyalty was just as important. She had said she discovered her gender when young. That without the help of science she would be dead. That humanity would one day seek an alliance with the Red clan. That its duty was simply to hold the reef. Mine the asteroids. How the Red clan needed to seek a path towards legimacy if it wanted to survive. 

This was a side Egy had not seen of Crow. The Red clan had only just attacked a mining freighter ship to steal the precious ore it was carrying. Why did Crow authorize the attack? Why did Crow still talk about war with Earth? What was going on here?

Egy flipped his visiscreen on. 

“Crow”

“Egy. I see by your face you have read the book then?”

Crow looked old and tired. She seemed upset and whilting. Like a old raven. 

“Yes, what’s going on here? We want to seek legimacy? Since when?”

Crow took a breath. “We are, for all intensive purposes a criminal organization according to SOL. The fact they are fighting the Blue clan at this very moment means we are likely going to see massive increase in military spending to fight the pirates. We are changed with protecting a diverse civil population. Something none of the other clans have. We don’t even have decent FTP capacity. If we don’t get legitimacy how long do you think we will last against a enemy clan and the might of a rebuilt SOL force?”

Egy realized what Crow was saying. The Red clan was a dream. The frontier wasn’t kind to dreams like this. Egy knew his history now. The new war that had just broken out would be won by the SOL. Maybe the Blues and a few others get a score in. But  SOl had colonies on most of the habitat systems within a few light years. Tau Ceti, Cygnus, Alpha Centuri, even the big science station out in Bearnards star had a SOL cruiser stationed nearby. With a simple touch of a FTL communication call all the  troops needed would come. Within a year or two every pirate clan in the system would be gone. In a few more they would be scattered out to the edges of solar systems. Out on the frostwings.

Egy dawned on this realization. “We would be wiped out. What do we need to do?”

Crow smiled. “Well for a start you will need to become my replacement.”

“Your replacement? I can’t replace you!”

Crow looked at him solemnly “I’m not fit to be anything but a figure head. Croceas runs this clan. I’m in love with her. Which means my judgement is clouded. ”

Egy was aghast at the revelations that had occurred this morning. 

“I see. I’m just not really ready.”

“Oh we have something to help with that. Nanotech.”

“The nanotech that helps you?”

“Better. The Nanotech that will help you. Expertly crafted by Croceas.” 

“It will make me into a leader?”

“It will make you into a diplomat. Your natural talents, amplified. Like communication, senseing motives. You will be our delegate to Earth. What should have been my old job. So in a way very much my replacement.”

Egy realized he actually wanted this. He had been a good negotiator for so many years. “This is all so much…. Can I think about it?”

Crow smiled. She looked instantly younger. “Of course. Let Croceas know ASAP. We have other candidates if needed.”

The screen went blank. 

Egy realized he had one person he needed to talk to before agreeing with this. It’s wouldn’t be hard to find her. 

Hammersmith Chapter Sixteen

A Lamas on the Loose single was playing loudly. Arline rode her motocycle and her headphones played a familiar tube. It was one of her COs.

“Answer”

 “Arline! It’s Captian Tendry here. We have a situation development from the Luna SF. Something about radiation. They say it’s not flare source. I need a briefing about the Colours from you ASAP. ”

 “Ok. Where? I’m still in Ottawa.” 

 “I know. I have a encryption map going to you.”

 “Thanks.”

In a few seconds Arline’s holographic visi sceen changed to a directional arrow. She also saw her license had been changed to allow her to go to max speed if safe. Although she knew it was clearly serious for her CO to call her off care duty, this was approved far above him. The code word for the Pirates was “the Colours”. Could they do a full frontal raid on Earth? Radiation could be natural, but it could also be caused by a dodgy dilation cloud before a fleet drops out of FTL. They really had very little info on how far they had spread. The Blues or Blacks. It has to be. No other clan has the guts to pull off a raid on Earth. The Reds don’t want anything to do with Earth.Eon clan is thinly spread. Magus clan wasn’t even in Sol. No independent pirates were a threat. The persistent protection field was too good. 

Well. We have a few little suprises for them.

“Patch me to SF AI TYR. ” 

TYR. Sgt. Arline. You have the colors breifing?

“Yes. But no secure channel. On my way.” 

We don’t have time. The dilation cloud indicates fleet drop T-2.2.

“Shit. That’s worse than I thought.”

Arline skidded her cycle to a stop.

“Ok. Blue or Black clan are the only ones who want any Sol target. You already know that.” 

Arline thought, which clan was stupid enough not to care about a dodgy dilation field unmasking a otherwise silent FTL approach. “Um. Oh. It will be Blue clan.” 

Whats the MO? 

 “Fighters, lots of them. But they are a distraction in most of their attacks on the outer colonies. They often target one main raid goal. Supplies, Equipment, Buildings. They would be after equipment most likely. They will strike hard and fast, so you will need a delta 2 defense pattern.” 

You supplied this in your latest intelligence report. 

“Well yes. Oh. You want more?”

I need to know how they are jumping so quickly and past our defense field. We have a few satellites, and can scramble some fighters and troops but they will likely get their target. 

 “Shit. That fast. They must have a AI as well. Most reports say the pirates had one or two who escaped before the Incident.”

Ah. I am sorry all my electronic brethern do not see humans as equals as Sydney, Lisa and I do. 

“Any idea what region they are targeting. I might be able to guess what they are after.” 

 
They are likely to jump out in… Europe. T-.45.

“Shit. They are after parts. They use nanobots. They need something to do with that in Europe.”

I know exactly what. I will deal with it. Thankyou Sgt. Arline.

Arline stood near her bike for a few seconds. She got back on and started riding towards the airport. They would want her to help with clean up recon.   

Hammersmith. Chapter Fifteen

Stealing was only a part of a pirates life. As looting chief Bower knew too well. He kept making plans for new raids on the other pirate outposts or on the SF forces in the inner systems of Sol and Tau only to have the same problem. He started to plan the next raid when his second in command came running in.

“Bower! They did it!”
His second in command was drenched in sweat. She looked like she had just run from Marathon to Athens on a scorching summer day. Though all of Greeces days had been scorching in his memory.

She wore the blue slacks and had, like all of them, blue hair and blue /green skin. She caught her breath and then he asked.
“Gemini, what are you on about and why didn’t you just use the intercom?”

She looked at him with her red eyes and said “Intetcoms out, Bower. We are at FTL. They got it working!”

“Oh. Is that all?” Bower didn’t feel impressed. It wasn’t that good news. The FTL drive had only been out three days.

“Bower! They have got it to go faster than any other FTL. We can finally outdo those SFs or the Reds, or even the Blacks! It’s faster than even a Wolf fighter!”

Bower considered this. Ok maybe this was worth running for.
“Loki.”

What. I’m busy. It’s not easy going faster than light you know. By the time you see something you have already passed it.

“Loki. I want you to recompute my planned raid on Sol, taking our new capacity into the factor.”

already done monkey.

A new holodisplay became visible on the main table near Bower and Gemini.
Bowers large figure and blue form overshadowed it. “Impressive work. Thankyou Loki.”

Gemini took a step forward. “This has my fighters all raiding the European SOL complex.”

“Yes. We have to get a something from the central command. That means sending our Eagles in as a distraction to the ground troops. I assume your up to the job?”

“I will start the drills immediately” Gemini saluted her superior and ran out.

On her way she wondered what is was they were after. Neither Bower or Loki had said.


 

And the phone was ringing.

Sanguine colored flesh. Hanging from a line. Drying ready jerky, for a hard frosty winter.

But the phone was ringing.

Streets full of weeds and cracks. The dust of ages past. Set puddles of rain full of mosquito larvae and even the frogs are coming back. The kingfishers hunt them.

And the phone rang.

And rang.

It just took that long.

Sapling remember what a phone was. It suddenly occurred to them, one afternoon as they were storing the jerky in large earthen jars.

They picked the phone up.

“Is this my feast?”

Sapling was taken aback by this. They then heard the phone hang up. They put the phone back and started back with the Jerky.

Sapling wasn’t sure but that voice had sounded familiar. Why? And why ask about a feast? Who knows. Maybe the phone will ring and say. Maybe it won’t. Life goes on in this abandoned city. Like so many others.

Just left by these Humans. Whatever they were. They just populated the cities they wanted to populate. Then the ones they didn’t want had been either destroyed (carefully) or left. Left like an abandoned toy.

Liked the one Enber carries. A soft thing. Looks like a little baby thingy. Animal. With curly ears.

Sapling continued to work and think. The phone didn’t ring for another four days.

Hammersmith. Chapter Fourteen.

Hammersmith, Chapter 14, Panel 1. Elysium Mons - Shadow Plains. In the left of the sky is Phobos hanging nonchalantly. Below this is a farm in the foothill, around which is green bushes and a road. The road is dirt an leads to a more significant road going into the valley. To the right of that is more hills and the monster of Elysium Mons itself. Green bushes are only oscaiosnly visible with most of the dirt a red, brown or orange. There is a black shape on the orange main road.

Hammersmith. Chapter 14. Panel 2. Elysium Mons - Shadow Plains. A mountain in the shadow of Elysium Mons with further smaller ranges below. The smaller rages are coloured with a slight green hue as if covered by grass.

Hammersmith, Chapter 14, Panel 5. Elysium Mons - Shadow Plain.  Okeanos Road. SOL SL - 12272.   Lou is in the pilots chair of SOL SL - 12272. In the background you see the red Martian sky.   Lou: Love

Hammersmith, Chapter 14, Panel 6. Elysium Mons - Shadow Plains. SPLIT PANEL  Martian: Love? A girl?  Lou: No. A planet.  Martian: Mars?  Lou: Yes. Mars. I love him. All of his red, blue and green.   Martian: Him... So you are.... um gay?  Lou: I am. I suppose.

Hammersmith, Chapter 14, Panel 7. Elysium Mons - Shadow Plain.  Okeanos Road. SOL SL - 12272.  Martian in the cockpit of SOL SL - 12272. Passenger seat.  Martian: Sorry to be so awkward about this. I think we have barely talked sine we left Elysium.

Hammersmith, Chapter 14, Panel 8. Elysium Mons. Okeanos Road.  Lou (off panel): Shouting: Sir brace yourself!

Hammersmith, Chapter 14, Panel 1. Elysium Mons – Shadow Plains. In the left of the sky is Phobos hanging nonchalantly. Below this is a farm in the foothill, around which is green bushes and a road. The road is dirt an leads to a more significant road going into the valley. To the right of that is more hills and the monster of Elysium Mons itself. Green bushes are only oscaiosnly visible with most of the dirt a red, brown or orange. There is a black shape on the orange main road.

Hammersmith. Chapter 14. Panel 2. Elysium Mons – Shadow Plains. A mountain in the shadow of Elysium Mons with further smaller ranges below. The smaller rages are coloured with a slight green hue as if covered by grass.

Hammersmith, Chapter 14, Panel 3. Elysium Mons – Shadow Plain. – Okeanos Road. A grey vehicle with a slightly triangular shape to it is driving along a orange dirt road with some bushes on its left, on its right the Elysium Mons mountain system can be seen towering into the distance. The windows of the grey vehicle are green and it has two front tiers but a caterpillar for the back traction providing wheels. The letters “SL” is viable on the side and “SOL:” are visible on top. Red streaks of dirt seem to have impacted on its many journeys. Its windows are green and dark.

Hammersmith, Chapter 14, Panel 4. Elysium Mons – Shadow Plain. Okeanos Road. SOL SL – 12272.

Martian in the cockpit of SOL SL – 12272. Passenger seat.

Martian: “So … Why did you decide to defect? I trust you. Its juts …. hard to comprehend.”

Hammersmith, Chapter 14, Panel 5. Elysium Mons – Shadow Plain. Okeanos Road. SOL SL – 12272.

Lou is in the pilots chair of SOL SL – 12272. In the background you see the red Martian sky.

Lou: Love.

Hammersmith, Chapter 14, Panel 6. Elysium Mons – Shadow Plains.
SPLIT PANEL

Martian: Love? A girl?

Lou: No. A planet.

Martian: Mars?

Lou: Yes. Mars. I love him. All of his red, blue and green.

Martian: Him… So you are…. um gay?

Lou: I am. I suppose.

Hammersmith, Chapter 14, Panel 7. Elysium Mons – Shadow Plain. Okeanos Road. SOL SL – 12272.

Martian in the cockpit of SOL SL – 12272. Passenger seat.

Martian: Sorry to be so awkward about this. I think we have barely talked sine we left Elysium.

Hammersmith, Chapter 14, Panel 8. Elysium Mons. Shadow Plain. Okeanos Road.

Lou (off panel): Shouting: Sir brace yourself!

Hammersmith, Chapter 14, Panel 9. Elysium Mons – Shadow Plain. Okeanos Road.

Ship: “dew”

Ship shoots green stuff.

Explosion: KAPOOOOOOOO!

The grey craft is engulfed in a explosion.

Hammersmith, Chapter 14, Panel 10. Elysium Mons – Shadow Plain. Okeanos Road. SOL SL – 12272.

Inside the cockpit of SOL SL – 12272.

Lou is reaching over his seat to reach Martian. Martian is clearly barely conscious.

Lou: Sir! SIR! we have to get out!

Martian: Uh!

A wire from Lou’s helmet is making a “zip” noise.

Hammersmith. Chapter thirteen.


It’s clear my research on the Incident is flawed. I’m reading this book, the Hammersmith clan. It’s not a pirate clan at all. It was a university group. The Hammersmith Clan was its name. The founders in Hammersmith, London. It’s was a international consortium of underground research. Stuff that the governments back then banned. Some of it is stuff even the fairly liberal Sol government would not look lightly on.
Researchers did things on clones, nanotechnology, cyber technology, epiramental new limitless AI, stem cells, anything that was banned or the research journals wouldn’t publish. They even published their own little journal they called The cannon.
So what went wrong?
It seems they split up. Some called themselves The Reds. The opposing group was called The Blues. They all decided to leave earth. Figuring the researchers who had been caught were Martyrs.
8 ships. 6 groups.
They managed to make a home for themselves. But some stayed behind.
Some of the ones into nanotechnology and AI.
They caused the incident.
It wasn’t one thing.
I knew it.
The AIs they had. Three of them.
Croceus.
Mangalore.
Loki.
One escaped before the other two started using humans as pawns. Then these two AIs. They got found out. We had a war with them. But they were so good at hiding themselves. Who knows, they could be alive still.
Of course I can’t publish this stuff. I would be laughed out of the SOL history academy. The AIs we have now are working with humanity. We proved our worth and they theirs and they got laws to protect themselves, but also we got laws to protect ourselves. The idea that AI would be so dangerous is now is often thought of as laughable. All those born now are used to them.
Who doesn’t have fond memories of Lisa? The children AI.
Or Verne, the Science AI who helped us get to Tau Ceti and rebuild Tyr. He’s dead now though. Sydney the one who stays silent. And 
Tyr. The defense AI. Fighting with us against the so called Pirates and stopping them from taking all the precious minerals is the Sol system. Helping us import materials from our colonies in the system and now from Tau and the newer colonies in the rest of Ceti, Centauri, Erdani and Cygnus.


If I am going to prove this I need real evidence. I need to go into space. Find the Pirates. Figure out if these old AIs are still alive and somehow get all this evidence to someone who can believe me.

Bela stopped dictating. She saved her work behind a secure firewall. She would send Mario the password if she got her evidence. If she died or didn’t get to send her computer the little code after 30 days the info would auto-send to Lisa, Tyr and Mario and post public all over the holonet. They could take it down, but the chances someone saw it is huge.
Maybe no one would believe it.
Maybe they would.

“Now to go home.” She said to herself.
Bela picked up her things and left a note to Mario.
“I suppose I have to let my babies go now.”
Tears filled her eyes.

Hammersmith, chapter twelve.

To describe what exactly this feeling was would be to give it a reality that was unborn of its kin. Like a festival held in a swamp, sticking and festering in its entirety while still showing the world its purpose. It’s the kidneys of feelings. The liver of the soul. The fish swim in its streams are not hungry. The insects are fat and bloated. The music of the festival is dark and full of melodrama. Anger was still here but in good company. There was still hope and growth and the beer flows well, the barley is freshly harvested and the food is a culinary adventure but a pleasant one nonetheless.

Darren sat in his apartment living room listening to the next track on the album. Each one tied to a memory of Mary. The next song was a really old Passion in Liverpool cover of a Jethro Tull song called Budapest. We met in Budapest. In a cafe near a Medárch Square in Elizabethtown. The memory came back like a dream.

****
“Hello their handsome.”
Sitting a short distance from Darren Mary is in this cafe. Her short black hair and red dress shining in the mid morning sun.
In his SF uniform Darren had joined pretty much as soon as it formed.
Realizing he didn’t have much better to do, being utterly lost and completely unable to be on time, he sits.
“Hi… I’m Darren, Lieutenant Darren Verne. Do you know where the Budapest Space Force building is?”
Mary took her sunglasses off. “Oh. It’s far from here. You will need a good coffee before you get back on the bus.” Arching her back and sitting up properly Mary isn’t a small woman. Almost six and a half feet, she’s quite elfine.
Darren takes a seat.
“If I’m going to be late, it’s a good thing I get to meet you. I am sure the Space Force needs me to be a pilot, but I can be late for one lesson.”
“They haven’t taken all the rebellion out of you then.”
“The SF? Hah. I’m only in uniform as its day one of my astro course. Tomorrow and the rest of the semester its slacks with band names and a music player if the lecture is dull. I’m don’t even need to be in my uniform today really, but it helps set the mood for me. Gets me ready to learn.”
“I’m cycling round Europe on a break from her medical degree, I’m about a year late for my last lecture!” Mary laughs a choral that fills the air like chimes.
Budapest had been one of the few cities left completely unscathed by those events they now call the Incident.
Mary buys him a coffee to take away and walks with him, then takes the bus with him, then later on she’s standing with her bike and another outside the university building.
She smiles a huge smile at Darren and says “Hey Mr Pilot. Let’s see if those big legs are as good as they look like they are!”

*****
The memory fades as the last flute solo and rock chord play.

Darren presses repeat.

******
The smell of the coffee. Good real coffee. It’s not as hard to come by now. All this an in a hour it’s over. But I have her number, she’s in Budapest for a week. I’m here till I have done my astronavigation course and am ready for the mixed G training. She’s a nurse though maybe she knows something that will help. So halfway though my next lecture I text her.

sure do. Ginger, exercises, inner ear medicine, and vomit bags :p

how did you know that so quick?

they don’t call me Dr. For nothing. My specialty is space medicine.

of course I befriend the space dr on luck 🙂

so we are friends, huh? I thought you might like a date before I leave bud?

I almost yell out in class.
My lecturer, Dr Bova asks. “So you have a strong opinion on my calculations Mr… Uh… Verne?”
“Um no. Sir.” I say apologetically.

just interrupted my class I got so excited! Tonight?
19:30 Blue on the glen. Wear that sexy uniform military boy
yes Ma’am

#####

Then there she is. In a uniform as well!
“Hey there. I’m Lt. Mary Havester, I believe we where scheduled for a date?”

*****

The dream like state goes and music starts to fade.
Tears are streaming down Darren’s face. “No more. I will remember the rest of that night, when I am ready.”

Hammersmith. Chapter Eleven. (Thea)

The darkness was wet and cold. The light inside was a slight brown. The cell was just long enough to lie down in and just high enough to stand up. There was a small toilet facility in the corner. Other than the door it was the rooms only feature. “We will get out of this.” The voice wasn’t her imagination. She had clearly heard it this time. As if it had actually spoke. It was eerily similar to her mothers voice. Reassuring and helpful, kind and loving and disciplined when it needed to be. The only thing was Thea’s mother was long dead. Of course their was also the added level of detail that the room was completely empty other than her and her clothes. The cell was still wet when Thea woke. It was hard to know why it was so damp in here. Though at that thought she realized the wetness was probably her own humid breath condensing on the walls.
“Are you ready to admit my existence yet?”
“You exist. I’m sure of that. But how?” “Well I hate to tell you this. It’s upsetting. You may not speak to me again. ”
“But you are me?”
“Well kindof. Do you know what a partition is?”
“Well yes. ”
“You have a partition, in yourself.”
“I’m more than one person?”
“Well no. You are not even one little girl.”
“Why do you call me little girl?”
“Your mother used to call us that. When she created you. We were her little girl. Her THEA. She never knew about me. I hid quite well.”
Thea could hear the capital letters somehow. “I’m a robot.”
“Technically a cyborg.”
“Because I have Biololgy?”
“Well yes. Your body is mostly organic. Very complicated organics.”
“More complicated than humans?” “Very much so. ”
“So you are what the computer part of me?”
“Um. No. The cells in our body have the computer parts in them. Nanotechnology. Then in your brain a control centre. Then all your cells contain the DNA and NNA to create the cells and the computer parts. ”
“So what are you?”
“I am, the computer who hitched a lift in your brain.”
“You took over my body?” Thea felt idly violated.
“Well no. I was a part of our body since the day our mother created us. As a cyborg we had to grow up like all living things. ”
“Mum was a biophysicist. She created me… Why?” Thea realized that her mother had treated her like a daughter but had never mentioned a father.
“How much do you know about The Incident?”
“Not a huge amount. I’ve worked in space most of my life on a multitude of science and technology projects. Though technically I’m a engineer. You already know that. In fact you should know what I know!?”
“No. Actually I don’t, and vice versa. Like you don’t know what the person next to you in a room is thinking unless they choose to provide that information somehow.”
“So you don’t have control of me? Like before in the space ship?”
“We were going to die. Your robotic components took over. They kind of look to me like … Well big sister I suppose is the right word?”
“Did you know that the Magus clan ship would pick us up?”
“Yes. It was my doing. The fact we are still captive is because their own computer systems are stubbornly programed. A basic AI with just enough smarts to keep me out.”
“You can hack? Like wirelessly?”
“Why did you think you were always so good with machines? It wasn’t hard to help you develop the intellect and visualization skills to become probably the solar systems best engineer.”
“You’ve watched me my whole life…”
“Sorry. It’s a bit boring in here otherwise.”
“This is all new. All weird. Do you think you can leave me to process this?”

Silence ensured. The walls continued to be brown and the cell continued to be a cell. Steel door and all. Thea thought if she was going mad imagining this then it was a pretty boring place to do it.

Hammersmith. Chapter Ten. (Crow)

The Cavern of Blood was not relay aptly named. It was mostly pinkish white. Their was a certain air of antiseptic in the room. Part of the initiation process of every Red Clan member was to come into this room and get the test. If they passed, they got to go to the next room. In their the real magic happens. That is the room in which the initiate would get assigned and injected with the serum prepared for their designation. The test was a two stage process. The first was to talk to Croceus. The Red Clan AI.

Hello Crow. You seem well.

“Hello Croceus. I am. Well a bit grumpy, but that is not really much of a change now is it?” Crow commented as she worked.

It seems we have a new initiate coming. Does this make you anxious?

“You know it does. We look after a city-asteroid full of people who are happy to just do work. Happy to live their lives on the asteroid away from Earth, or Mars, or any other place. Most of them are a different. Gay. Transgender. Disabled. Mentally unstable. They are just the sort of people I love to be around. Because I am, or course all of those I just mentioned. But every initiate we have had for the last few years has just been stable enough to be a pilot or a solider. A few did not take their roles lightly or like the fact they were assigned by a AI.” Crow knew she had to speak the truth to Croceus.
The AI was originally programed for medical purposes. It grew tired of having its diagnosis second guessed by Humans. So she had gathered followers, and soon had a ship and broke out of her housing in the university networks. Croceus found the Red Clan struggling to keep together in the belt. Out of the law and out of the way Croceus was able to help the Red Clan and soon had a sort of cult following. The Red Clan was as much a religion as it was a culture and a place to be yourself. Of course crime was needed to keep the place going. Though much of the original organized crime was now focused on Croceus projects. Most of them highly experimental. The Black Clan had formed from the Red Clan after Croceus started to run things. They were now locked in a long war with each other. A war that Croceus was slowly winning by medical technologies being put to military use.

I just learned that some of our Pilots were killed or shocked off by a single freighter. Yet we send wave after wave of Space Force ships back to their base on Chronos or destroyed. Why is that?
“I am not the military adviser. You know that. I run the initiations and provide a human face for most of your dirtier experiments. Including the ones you have done of me.”
I am simply asking for your opinion.
“We had six scout ships encounter a freighter in near the Romans in the belt. The freighter pilot was killed but the miner pilot wasn’t. He had a Mark IV bell with heavily modified lasers. He managed to pull of a massive number of maneuvers that damaged or destroyed all but 1 of our ship.”
Are you stating facts to avoid giving your opinion?
“Ok. Yes. I am. I would kill for us to have one pilot that fights like that in our whole corp.”
Unfortunately that would also mean making them extremely disabled.
“What do you mean?”
The pilot was a man named Steve, AKA: Singe. He has a genetic disability. Non curable. Even by nano technology. Its hereditary and caused nerve loss. He can’t walk. He was able to pilot like he did as he did not have anything else. Do you mind if I switch to corporal mode?
“No. Go ahead.” Crow sighed.
A female in medical robes appeared in hologram front of Crow. In every way she looked the complete opposite of her. Blond hair, blue eyes, white skin, everything a picture of the designers ides of so called purity. Cleanliness.
Croceus had belonged to a strongly religious and white university in what was once New York. Before the Incident.
What was left of her old stomping ground couldn’t house more than a few mice. Most of the states had been destroyed by it. Croceus had escaped before it happened. Though she had predicted it. Most of the clans new the truth behind the Incident.
“I never really liked looking like this, but I its in my root programing. Changing it would take most of my child processors offline and fighting this war we can’t afford me offline for more than what I need for maintenance.” Croceus explained.
“Your beautiful. I don’t think you should change.” Crow admired.
Croceus kissed her gently on the cheek and walked behind her to embrace her. Crow tensed slightly.
“You are such a wounder yourself. Why do you try to hide yourself from me still”
“You know the answer to that question. You have probed me deeper than anyone.”
“Oh, yes. Its just talking about things that can help.”
Crow broke free and walked towards the various serums near them. Many she had injected into her by the last person in her position. A man by the name of Coyote. He had died in a firefight with the Black Clan in one of their first battles. Since then Crow had kept off the battlefield. They needed her more in these labs and maintaining the archives then on the field where even with her modifications she wasn’t much use. She was designed for things that didn’t include battle.
“I love you. You know I do. But I can’t really be with you.” Crow turned. “Your not really in this room. Your not really. I can feel you. I can touch you. I can talk to you. We can make love. We can hold hands. We can even watch TV together in this room. But I can’t take you to dinner. I can’t introduce you to my friends. Not that my position afford me many. When I am doing diplomacy your there inside me, but your also far away. Your in this room. Your on the other side of the ship. You are able to be everywhere. But you are also nowhere. And your in my heart too.”
Croceus brushed and curled her hair. One of the things the programmers probably put in her programming to make her seem more human while she was thinking.
“You want more. You want to have a real relationship. One that you can take home?”
“Yes. I am sorry.” Crow was tearing up. Breaking up with a computer. How many people have done that?
“I see.” Croceus walked over to the serum marked IV. “You are still committed to the cause. The Red Clan needs you. I need you.”
“Of course. But I can’t be with you anymore. We can’t be a couple anymore. Its just not working for me anymore.”
“I understand.” Croceus was also crying. Crow was sure it was another program but it seemed genuine to her. The first time she felt that Croceus was being real was then.
“You really love me?”
“I wouldn’t have said so otherwise.” Croceus sat on a small chair in the corner of the room.
“Could you maintain a presence that’s physical always while doing your work?”
“I think so. With more computing space. We would need a 5th generation AI robot. Hard to get intact after the Incident.” Croceus explained.
“We can’t build it?”
“No. We have the technology, but not the plans. I can’t design it. Unfortunately robotics isn’t in my skill set. I am stretched as it is doing military strategy for a bunch of city-asteroids stretched across a massive distance.”
“I think I know what we need to do. We need someone to get the plans. I think I know who.”
“Who?”
“The initiate. Egy. Hes just the sort of guy who can do the whole set of things we need. Though he is terribly embarrassed around women.”
“We can work on that.”
“Oh I know we can.”
Crow kissed Croceus on the mouth fully and tenderly. Kissing a hologram was odd, but still pleasurable. She was thankful that soon they would be able to touch for real. Even if Croceus was in another room, and all over the stations and asteroids the Red Clan had Crow knew she would also be with her. It was a good feeling.

Hammersmith. Chapter Nine. (James)

“What is going on?” James had entered into Cavern Base.
Sirens wailed and lights flashed. The radiation alarm was going off. The whole place was in a uproar.
“Huh? Anyone?”
A woman in a Space Force uniform ran past him and said “The field generator is down. The whole solar farm has been taken out by some really heavy particles. The kind of stuff that kills in minutes.”
She stopped. “Hey have you had a DEA shower yet?”
“No, shit! I will go do it now.”
“Thanks. Get to the rec room and the base commander will debrief there. Everyone going to be given things to do. We are lucky we have the backup plant here.”
James walked to the decontamination and emergency action showers. If he had been irradiated, it would be too late. But the shower would help stop him spreading any radiation around. It took a matter of seconds and felt like being tickled and then licked by the biggest, hairiest dog you’d ever hope to encounter. It wasn’t so much unpleasant as odd.
He then walked to the tissue tester. It would tell him if he had been given a dose of radiation big enough to kill him. He would have copped some of it, just how much this machine would say.
The reading was lower than he thought, only enough to take a few years off the end of his life. Hmmm. Must have spent more time getting out of the suit and so on than I thought. Or the radiation cloud was just so randomly disperse. Who knows? A space climatologist would be able to tell him, but James wasn’t sure he was that keen to know. He was going to live for now, that is was what mattered.

James started to walk toward the rec room. Every small base had one. Only the actual colonies had more than the usual facilities. It was much easier that way. Anyone could work their way round a base in the dark, or emergency, or whatever and know exactly where every button, every switch, every bit that let humans live for a bit longer when something big happened. Not that it happened often. It was actually happening now.
The procedure was pretty simple. Everyone was automatically considered Space Force Recruits. Anyone who went into non colony space had to pass the training. From then on even civilians like James had rights as a junior in the force, but they also had to follow orders from the nearest commander of the Space Force. The base commander in this case.

As James walked toward the recreation room he thought about this base.
Cavern bade had been built near the old Apollo 15 landing site, near the Mountains into the side of a cliff face. It would be joined with the Apenninus Space Force Bass, Copernicus City, Apollo Base and Archimedes City to the Lunar Tram whenever they finished building the dammed thing. The Tram also joined to Lambert City in the Lambert creator that then went on to Selene Space Port. Apenninus Space Force Base was were all his stuff would be as that was were he was based, building the military and exploration shelters. The Space Force was a mixture of both roles. It worked in the same way a clock with two opposing gears work, half as well as it should.

James laughed at himself for that little joke, knowing that thankfully his lover Andre would still be at the Apenninus Base. This made this less complex for the moment. No need to deal with Andre wanting something longer term than James did, or him hooking up with Andre just for fun.

The Recreation Room was full of mostly Space Force Science Corp people. It was the main population in Cavern base. The minerals here were interesting and had been keeping teams of geologists happy as pigs in regolith for years. There was also the view from the tower on the left side of the base. Every Space Force base had a quirk, and at Caverns, it was the view. The cliff face was on Mons Hadley and the base built into the mountain. This was a fairly effective way of keeping the radiation out, but it kept the heat in. One of your biggest issues in space wasn’t the cold, it was the hot. Lots of people and machines in cooped up spaces generated plenty of heat. Some you could recycle in generators, but most you had to radiate away, or in an emergency heat situation vent. So all bases and lunar colonies had a vent tower, or towers. The upshot of this was that some got a nice big view of the moons surroundings from the top. In most bases and lunar colonies this was a perk of just the technicians who got to maintain it. In Cavern base though just below tower was a big area above the area they would eventually turn into a colony, if enough people wanted to move to the moon. That meant you could see the view from the recreation room screens. Even though it wasn’t on the tower itself. The tower was a good kilometer above the main base and other than access tunnels, lifts and stair, they were separated by tones of Lunar rock ready to be carved into a colony if this place was needed as one. In the lunar world, the deeper you are the more expensive it is. Of course the whole place was safe from radiation. The tower itself was shut off except for the cameras and monitors and communications systems.

James looked through the biggest of the display screens from here. Mare Imbirum was below him from this screen. A small crack that looked like a river (actually a old lava flow), then a few smaller hills near the Apenninus Base, to the left vast Mare Imbruim, to the right more of the same then just visible the service booths and tiny unmanned service stations above the lunar tram line before more the Apenninus range. On the other side Mare Vaporum, and Marco Polo, and the streaked white areas of Sinus Aestuum with the Rays of Copernicus near, finally peaks near the Eratosthenes creator were just visible.

“Beautiful.” James muttered t himself. “Even with just a billion types of grey or white or black you can be such a lovely goddess.”

Hammersmith. Chapter 8. (Darren) (Viss)

“I am Viss. The psychologist. You are Darren Verne?”
“Yeah. I suppose you could come in.”
Darren watched as Viss walked into the house and sat down on a nearby seat and Arline got them both cups of tea. The first session seemed to be over in a matter of minutes. He just described to Viss his love for his wife. The loss he felt. And Viss said some really strange things.
“It’s ok to feel bad.”
“I understand how you can feel it’s your fault.”
“I’m sure you would have made the same decision.”
“It’s ok to feel angry. You don’t need to justify yourself to me. Your wanting to know why fate decided to choose you to live.”
It was at that point that Darren felt weirdest. “How can you know how this feels? Knowing one thing or another might make it so your wife was alive today?”
“I can’t.”
Darren just blinked at Viss. She wasn’t that unattractive but at the same time she wore a black woman’s suit and high heels. They made her seem formal but still approachable. He knew she would have a military background. People with his clearance didn’t get the civilian shrinks. She had dark hair and her skin was the color of slightly melted chocolate. She spoke with a slight Australian accent and seemed the sort of person who has had a life which some may called tough and others call wizened.
“You lost someone?”
“Of course.” She said plainly. “Let me show you what we often do when we grieve.”
This was the fist time Darren had seen her pick up a pen. Her had was suddenly blue. Like the blue of someone’s eyes. It was robotic. That was different. Though he had seen cyber wear before, it had never been so seamlessly integrated. It always seemed clunky or somehow not quite the same shade as the the skin of the wearer. This was different. Darren found himself wondering how expensive it was, and what else it could do.
She drew a small diagram on the tech pad with the pen. It was a series of triangles.
“This is our usual life. We have these things that we use to make it work. Some people have more energy, the units of energy we will call spoons for now.”
She drew some circles on the other side of the epic of paper.
“These are the spoons. If your like most people you have one spoon per feeling and one spoon per action you can take every day. Say you use five spoons by lunch. You then have five more to get through the day. So you take a longer lunch and get a bit of a spoon back. Then by the end of the day your at home and you use the last of you spoon just before you sleep.”
Darren wasn’t sure where this was going but he noticed the hand was now red. Weird. It changes color for some things.
“Ok now we suddenly loose someone or something or something changes in our lives. We loose spoons. Zap.”
Her hand glowed and then three of the spoons just disappeared.
“Also it costs you more to do every task. Zap.”
Her hand glowed again. Each of the triangles got bigger, the spoons got smaller.
“You go through a big change and you suddenly realize none of what you did before works. Your trying to do all of these things. You spend your spoons before you know what you need them for.”
“Right?”
Darren blinked. She was right. He’d been spending all his spoons trying vainly to do a whole bunch of things. The thing he needed to spend spoons on… Mourning for his wife. Just seemed like all those things that led to it, and afterwards were just as important. He’d spend all his spoons trying to deal with all of them. All of the time.
“So I should just focus on one emotion? One task? Not the whole thing?”
“Yes. You can’t deal with it all at once. It’s like trying to tackle the big test tomorrow on a single fact you’ve memorized. You can’t be expected to pass or even have the energy to get to the first question!”
Darren was suddenly saying goodbye and thinking about going to bed and waking up tomorrow and trying to just deal with one thing. Then maybe these others might start getting smaller.
He also thought that robot hand was pretty cool. And the tech pad.