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.

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 two.

Cass was not immediately clear how she had got to where she was now. Her unit had made losses. The kind of losses that would in a simulation, or a test run, in live fire exercises, pretty much any test. Would have got her a chewing out that would make her jealous of being the gruesome grissle you got in three credit steaks. Instead she was in a odd little complex near the sea wall just ourside Brussels proper.

The room was utilitarian as most would expect of military. Racks of lasers, kinetic rifles and other weapons in a row. The other side a set of lockers. It was a basic barrack. One of the those things she didn’t expect to see was her comander in person. He was right in front of her. Thanking her troopers. The men and women she commanded. Then he would thank her. Again. Like a slightly broken record. He seemed to be dealing out praise like it was confetti. Cass couldn’t understand why. Major Arran was being nice. In the three years she had been in the Rapid Earth Ground Response (REGR for short) he had been generally a voice on the phone, or a terse holomail. The only other time she had seen him person was when one her Liuerenants had committe self  harm and ended up in the psych ward. Mostly turned out to be because she had been through a tough divorce and Cass had been on a short posting in India cleaning up a old military intelligence fuck up. Sometimes the only person who can speak up is themselves. That’s all Cass had left to think about that.

They had lost. Well in a way. Lost, the battle. The Blues had too heavy armor. Bigger better weapons. Faster troops. An entirely new way of making suprise attacks. We had losses. The full enormity wasn’t yet known. Military losses were at least 67 troopers. Including 14 of her own. At least twice MIA and another 200 civilians. Most of them public service staff. The Ro losses were less, only about 45 full unit annihilations. Some really smart person on the moon had modeled a Ro control unit onto all of the Luna craft coming into defend the Earth. By doing that, whomever it was had made sure their Ro learned and adapted to each attack and still had a back up of the whole thing. Ro where really good soldiers, but civilians where really cautious of them. Think they want to take over the planet. Most just wanted to earn a buck like everyone else. Some of them activity pursued relationships with humans. People marrying them wasn’t unknown. 

Cass deep in thought shook her comander shandy hands. He looked at her almost like he was personally thankful. What the hell? This is the guy who would usually have more veins on his head and face then a vineyard full of twisty vines. He’s usually making me into a little ball of anonymity, waiting to fight back at the darkness. Why is it that we are being praised? What? Someone higher up. That has to be it. One of the shrinks? The Major General? Maybe even the General? Or maybe Tyr? Who?

Cass’s questions went unanswered in this little display session. She waited until she finally had a spare moment with the Major.

“Ok sir, but what the fuck is going on?”

Her commander looked at her kindly then seemed to be slightly different. Like a he had been in a long chewing out. Cass knew what those were like. But they almost always went down the ranks. He would usually chew her out. She would then chew out the two Vice Captains in her group, they would chew out their Liuerenants and they would go on to the enlisted and likely have a big gripe about how the Vices. That’s was how the SOL army had worked for the last decade of her service. 

“I’m being forced to resign.”

He said it plainly. Like a brick had hit his head and that was all he was confident of saying. 

Cass was astounded. They were blaming him? “They are making you the slapper? That’s so unf..”

He cut her off.

“Don’t. It’s come all the way from the Maj Gen. He’s seen it was my responsibility to make sure REGR troops were ready to deploy in any Earth bound military focused security event. Which this was. I was the one who made the decision only to deploy 1 company. Yours. That means that I’m the one to blame.”

“The army deployment, yes?”

“Yeah. Though technically we are all one big happy force.” The major said this with the sort of implied italics that comes with harrowing sarcasm. The army, navy and space force (you couldn’t call it a Air Force when it was part of how SOL kept the peace in the 20 or so allied solar systems) all merged into the SOL forces after the Incident. Part of the many reforms of intersolar government after that event. It was in fact a well known issue as Space Marines was a more appropriate title to most of what the Army now actually did. The forces though still had their own specialists and keeping even a small navy was sensible. The head of he Rapid Earth Sea Response was probably working double time to mane sure they were ready for anything right now.

Though no one did anyone in government think Earth had been a true target? Clearly if they hadn’t their heads probably were on the forced retirement block at the moment.

“So the suits who gave you the advice being pinged for suit death too?”

“Undoubtedly, or so I’m told. I’ve been given various option for retirement. So I’m more focused on that. Your new companies Maj will be Ri 23F a very competitive Ro comander. She’s not one of the slack ones. I expect you to continue being a very effective Capitan for her.” 

“Yes sir.”

Cass knew Ri, or as she was often known Riffer. She had been one of her early Sargents back in the day when she was enlisted. Fighting a security guard riot on Ganamede. Ri had driven her hard but always rewarded her troops as well. It was management style Cass preferred to the Chewing Down The Ranks she got from Arren and his ilk. The fact she was a Robot didn’t even fase her. Robots were effective and efficient. Riffer was suprisinly senseative to her troops as well. It had been a long time but Cass was looking forward to the reunion. 

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. Chapter Twenty Six.

The news wasn’t something Darren took the habit of watching. Today though, he had switched the news on. The sudden wave of feeling, took him by utter suprise.

Without Mary. Without his wife. The house he used to live at was like a empty shell. He hand’t gone back till today. His psychologist suggested that he needed it this morning. That blocking and ignoring his feelings was what was causing his issues. 

The Blue Clan attack came on the wallTV. Brussels was in a mess, Budapest had taken over most the operations of the SOL. It was a declaration of war, or so the news report said. It wasn’t going to be war though. By the time the SOL forces were able to recover the Blue Clan would be gone. 

Darren knew this. Though his main area of expertise was space based combat, it didn’t take a military genius to work out that the Blue Clan had been on a raid. The damage was really quite localized to the SOL forces buildings. Particularly the ones holding military hardware. For some reason the computer science building had been hit too. Not as hard but troops had entered that building. 

The thing was though with the Blue Clan able to effectively cut off half the defenses and attack quick enough that all Luna SOL could do was clean up. Capture any straggling fighters and help with the repairs.

You could bet their would be a quick inquiry into how this happened. Darren tried hard not to think about it. The fact was he couldn’t do anything to help. He was off duty. He was sick. Going full pelt into work again would only cause another breakdown. This one could cost him his job, or worse his life.

He thought of Mary and how they would both sit and look into how to deal with things like this. How they would have chats about strategy, forces, how best to deploy troops to cause maximum successes with minimal damage to people and equipment. Keeping death tolls lo and captures high. Mary was the best and this game. She had become a nurse because she wanted to heal. She joined the military because she water to make things better. Selfless. Mysterious. Beautiful. 

Her photos were on little display screens around the apartment. Ones of her smiling like happy days were here to stay. Ones of her in her uniform, next to him. Ones of their wedding. Ones of her and her dad. He had died just the other year. Now their was no one left in her family. Except Darren.

How do you deal with loosing so much? How? 

Just as he thought that, a message came on to his pad.

Sorry, been called into work on the Brussels mess. Tyr’s pissed. Heads to roll etc. feel free to use my apartment till I’m back in Canada. A

His sister always had a way to make him feel a bit better. The fact she was working on this attack from the intelligence angle meant he felt a little better. He left his apartment. Started on his way to Arlines. He couldn’t stay in his apartment. It was like staying in a ghost. 

—-

He got the her apartment, it was still technically morning so after eating a boiled egg on toast and eating a protein package, Darren took a moment to take him the morning colours of Arlines apartment.

The simple things in hear were not the things that you noticed. The casual obser might think the designer and owner to be a somewhat minimalist. The fact was that it wasn’t actually minimalist would be something that only a those who have the time to pick up the little things.

A little red leaf on a shelf, next to it a tiny gold statue of a doe. Then under that shelf a red colour pairing of a fishing cat on a peer dipping their toes in the grey-red water and wearing a large whimsical red straw hat. Over to the over side of the room another small set of shelves had the same pairing but in blue. Above that though their was a set of books. Nothing unusual about that, if they were normal books. But they were not. They each had a title beginning with letters from Arlines name. A wallTV took up most of the space in the middle of the room. The table in the middle was a finished cedar with small red placemats on it. A vase in the middle had a small plastic red rose in it. That was it for her dining room. It wasn’t a large apartment, so it was also a lounge. In the comer a single red couch sat facing away from the TV. You would be curious about that if you didn’t know Arline. She only had the wallTV for music and motorcycle races. She spent most of her time reading. 

Darren took a look in the spare room. It doubled as the library and wine cabinet. A large selection of Clarets adored one cupboard, books shelves in alphabetical precision sat patiently watching you from the other. A futon, doubled as a bed and couch, and took pretty much all the rest of the room. No wardrobe. Darren would have to live out of his suitcase. It’s not that bad he thought. 

Better than spending the night sobbing himself to sleep as his own memories huant him.