Sentient Domain: Chapter 9

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 Alessandra had been working for the intelligence branch inside the ICA tower on Aydan for two years when she first met the prototypes. It seemed like an accident, at the time. Three children were playing in the corridor outside her office. They chased each other back and forth, tossing a ball in some pattern that indicated rules Alessandra didn’t understand. Two of her officemates had already passed them in the hallway, amused that somebody had managed to sneak their triplets to work with them.

Except that sneaking even one child into the building should be impossible, let alone three. Exhausted from long hours on the project, but unwilling to let an obvious security breach go, Alessandra did the only logical thing and asked the Aydan-machine. “Does anybody know these children are here?” Continue reading “Sentient Domain: Chapter 9”

Sentient Domain: Chapter 8

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They went to Delhi Xiang. Nobody felt particularly convinced Rita would be there, but it was the best possibility. It was three days away. Pavi and Mike spent most of that time analyzing the news Mike had downloaded off the Primus Drie servers, looking for clues about why the ICA had blockaded Kempus and where Rita would go.

“If she was dodging the ICA she probably didn’t hit any of the civilized worlds. But there’s no way she’d go somewhere extremely hostile to the Kempari, not after getting shot and a war starting. So which of the cooperating colonies would have made the most sense?” Pavi asked. Continue reading “Sentient Domain: Chapter 8”

Sentient Domain: Chapter 7

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“How long before we can build a wave?” Pavi asked when they saw the fleet.

“At least half an hour. We have to let the engines cool down before we can restart them, and we need to put some distance between us and our wake before we start again,” Mike said.

“How long before the ICA latches on and kills our engines?” Pavi asked.

“Twenty minutes,” Mike said. “They’re faster and more maneuverable than us in-system, and there are enough of them to box us in.”

“We’re screwed,” Donegal said. At least prison on Aydan was supposed to be nicer than Islandiski.

Pavi already had her glasses on and was quickly pulling on her fingerless interface gloves.

“We should surrender,” Mike said.

“No way,” Pavi said.

“Of our three options, it is optimal,” Mike replied.

“I’m not giving you to them,” Pavi said.

“We cannot run away in time. If we fight they will board us and have me, as well as you and Donegal. You will immediately be their prisoners and have no rights of information access. If we self-destruct then they get none of us, but we are a significantly diminished tactical position. Complying with their orders and surrendering puts us exactly where we will end in a best case scenario if we fight, but you will have more rights and privileges consequent of your cooperation.” Continue reading “Sentient Domain: Chapter 7”

Sentient Domain: Chapter 6

This chapter is eligible for winning bonuses in the Sentient Domain Game. An index of all relevant posts can be found here.

“There’s food at your feet,” Rita said once they were well away from the camp. She tossed the keys into the back so they could unshackle themselves.

“Thank you for rescuing us, Captain Valshorn,” Aliph said.

“Don’t thank me yet. It was a bit self-serving. I’ll explain when we’re back on the Whimper. Eat. I know they don’t feed slaves up for auction and you do look ill.”

“We are fine,” Bett said. “And most grateful to return to the Whimper’s Revenge. Calvary is not the place for us to forge an independent existence.”

“Definitely not,” Rita agreed. Then, despite her plan to wait until they were safely on the ship before starting any conversations that might scare the kids, “Are you really from Aydan?”

“Yes,” Aliph said.

Aydan, the home of ICA headquarters. It didn’t prove Mahkrim’s story, but it did support it. “It’s lovely there,” Rita said.

“It is said only Kempus and Earth are its equal,” Bett replied.

“Kempus is very nice too,” Rita agreed. Continue reading “Sentient Domain: Chapter 6”

Sentient Domain: Chapter 5

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 Aliph held Bett’s hand as they walked down the Golgotha’s main drag. Mud sucked at their feet and the afternoon sun hurt their eyes, but they barely noticed. They were distracted by the overwhelming silence.

Always always, from before their earliest memories, they’d been able to hear the Aydan-machine, its constant, comforting hum in the background. It had hacked the node on the ship they’d taken to Primus Drie, so they hadn’t been separated until approaching the Whimper’s Revenge. But Captain Valshorn’s companion-machine was just another piece of the Aydan-machine, domesticated and shaped to fit Captain Valshorn’s needs, true, but fundamentally the same.

Calvary had no network. Once they left the Whimper’s range, they could hear only each other. They couldn’t integrate with each other properly without an external network, just ship meaningless pings back and forth where their skin made contact. That was enough for now. Half the point of leaving Aydan had been to find out who they were without the network constantly bleeding into their consciousness.

The first person they met was a skinny woman with short, scraggly hair tied back in a scarf. She smiled at them with crooked, rotting teeth as she left the porch of her plastic hut and rushed into the street to meet them. “Hello there my dearies, my little peccadilloes,” she said. She threw an arm over Bett’s shoulders and patted Aliph fondly on his slim shoulder. “What brings you to nasty little Golgotha?” Continue reading “Sentient Domain: Chapter 5”

Sentient Domain: Chapter 4

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Alessandra was covered in dust from crushed seashells. The streets of the City were paved with them, and she’d fallen when she tried scaling the side of an empty white building. After that, she’d broken in through a window, prying away the thick, knobby vines that covered it. The floor creaked loudly beneath her feet, menacing against the utter silence resting over the City, but Alessandra ignored the hairs rising on the back of her neck and arms and went to the staircase.

She had a dozen points frequented by the runaway prototypes mapped. The ICA had known how to map points in the City for over two centuries. Recording a place once they were there, then returning to it, was easy. And they were reasonably certain that all mapped points existed in the City at all times. Their relationship to each other, however…

Alessandra climbed up to the third floor of the building – all but one of the buildings in the City had three floors just as all of them were white, and abandoned – then started looking for a way onto the roof. She was lucky; this one had a skylight. It opened fairly easily, releasing a fresh coat of dust. Alessandra wiped her eyes, then pulled herself onto the roof.

And found herself in the middle of a street, in a part of the City that wasn’t overgrown by vines. Continue reading “Sentient Domain: Chapter 4”

Sentient Domain: Chapter 3

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Rita woke up feeling cold and hungry. She was alone in the medlab, lying naked under a thin sheet. Gently, she pressed her fingers to her right side, feeling the wound. Plastic sutures covered it. Rita tried to focus her consciousness on the wound, to see whether she could feel any nanites crawling around inside of her. She couldn’t, but that didn’t mean anything — she couldn’t feel the bacteria crawling around inside of her, either.

“Hi, boss,” Linda said. “Food’s up in a minute.”

“It’s freezing in here,” Rita said.

“We’re at standard temperature according to ship’s regs. You’re missing blood. I can crank the temperature in there, but you might want to bundle up for the rest of the ship.”

“Don’t we stock blood?” Rita asked.

“We used up all the supplies on you and strained the ship’s nanite colony squeezing out more. Rita, you tried to die on me.”

“That’s not how I would describe it,” Rita said.

“You refuse to read local news before landing on a planet, go off willy-nilly drinking with the natives, and then let them shoot you when you get caught. And what do you think happens to me if you die? Barbarians poking at me, that’s what.”

“I’m sorry.” Rita wiggled her toes, just to make sure she still could. “Where are we?”

“En route to Calvary. They’ll have need for the goods we took on at Primus Drie and their passenger rates are very favorable.”

Rita had forgotten her passengers, again. “What have they been up to?”

“I’m teaching them to cook,” Linda said.

Rita didn’t have time to snicker at the note of pride in the computer’s voice before the siblings burst in, wheeling a large cart with a tray on top of it.

“Captain Valshorn, you are recovered,” the girl said.

“We have prepared a meal for you. Linda, your companion-machine, has instructed us in this most generously,” the brother said.

“Stop,” Rita said. “First of all, I’m Rita, and thanks for lunch. Secondly, what are your names?”

“I am Aliph,” the brother said.

“And I Bett,” the sister said.

“Aliph and Bett? Your parents were hilarious. You are siblings, right?”

They paused, frozen, then in unison answered, “Yes.”

Rita pulled the tray toward her and took a look at her lunch. They’d made her a ham sandwich and potato salad. It wasn’t quite gourmet but, for a meal Rita didn’t have to make herself, she wouldn’t complain. “Put your feet up,” Rita said after she took a bite from the sandwich. Continue reading “Sentient Domain: Chapter 3”

Sentient Domain: Chapter 2

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Islandiski had a pirate problem. Most of the planet’s trade went through Kopalvogurnýtt, meaning that all an enterprising pirate had to do was lurk near the space above that city, and a steady stream of merchants and traders would always be there, ready to fall victim. Many pirates did just that. Some of them were legendary. A few were local heroes.

And then there was Pavi Valshorn.

Pavi commanded at least three cross-system jumpers, which implied a crew of at least 400. The reports used the term “imply” because they were certain she didn’t have that many people. Somehow, and everybody from the mayor of Kopalvogurnýtt to the Executive branch of the ICA wanted to know how, Pavi had an alliance with an undomesticated AI who had never once integrated with the Aydan-machine. Nobody was sure how powerful the ICA’s AI was. They did know that even the ICA only got a fraction of its potential help, and they were careful to avoid offending it. Pavi’s AI had no limits. Pavi Valshorn, it was whispered, commanded the most effective, damaging fleet of pirates to prey on Islandiski, by herself.

Everybody wanted to catch Pavi Valshorn.

Autumn had come to Kopalvogurnýtt and brought with it an excuse for the biggest party the colony had thrown in the three generations since its founding. Through the dedicated efforts of their police force, in cooperation with officials from the ICA, Pavi Valshorn was in custody. Mayor Oggsson had declared a city-wide holiday and the Agrarian Society had sponsored a parade. This was the day they marched Pavi Valshorn into the city center in chains, before throwing her in prison to await trial in the spring. They hadn’t captured her ship, but that would come in time. Winters on Islandiski were persuasive. Pavi would give up her AI, or she might not see a trial.

Plaenetasgata, the main street running through Kopalvogurnýtt to the mayor’s mansion, was covered in banners and streamers, the sides lined with vending stalls selling everything from food to commemorative flags and t-shirts. Both secondary school marching bands played during the celebrations. Every able-bodied citizen of Kopalvogurnýtt was either participating in the parade or watching it, and anybody within 30 hours travel of Kopalvogurnýtt had flocked to the capital to see the festivities. Pavi had been a menace for five years, a pirate who wasn’t from Islandiski, didn’t spend her spoils on Islandiski, and couldn’t be bribed into acting in the interests of the Islandiskeri.

Floats followed the marching band. They were mostly paper-maché confections rapidly built atop the beds of old pickup trucks recently tuned up for harvest, but they were colorful and that was what mattered. A formation of the Kopalvogurnýtt police force marched behind the line of floats, pistols and nightsticks flashing in the morning sunlight atop their glossy, navy-blue uniforms.

Then, surrounded by a rigid cage of armed guards, there was Pavi, arms and ankles chained together. That evening people would talk about how bent and defeated she seemed, dragging her feet with her head bowed while the colony celebrated around her. In the following years they would talk about how she marched smartly along, a sinister grin curling on her lips. In reality, Pavi just walked, taking in the sights, noting the people. She’d never been to Kopalvogurnýtt before. It looked like a decent place.

“Pavi Valshorn,” Mayor Oggsson intoned from a podium in front of the Mayoral mansion. “You have been arrested for seventy counts of piracy, nine counts of kidnapping, fifty violations of ICA protocols, creating and harboring an unintegrated AI, thirty counts of conspiracy to commit piracy…” the charges went on for some time. Pavi glanced at the sky. It was too bright to see her flagship cruising overhead, but she knew it would be there. They hadn’t taken her chips yet, so the automated systems were still reporting to her. Mike wasn’t making contact, though. A wireless signal transmitted this far wouldn’t be secure, not from the ICA, and they’d agreed that it was more important to keep information about Mike to a minimum than it was for Pavi to have an active companion during the walk up Plaenetasgata.

When she got bored, Pavi tuned out the mayor and started watching a movie feed off her ship’s servers. It was one of the new ones off Delhi Xiang and full of Kempari spies blowing things up. Pavi loved movies about the Kempari. Continue reading “Sentient Domain: Chapter 2”

Sentient Domain: Chapter 1

This chapter is eligible for winning bonuses in the Sentient Domain Game. An index of all relevant posts can be found here.

Tedious tasks are always better with musical accompaniment. Therefore, the appropriate response to supervising a slew of loading bots schlepping cargo crates into the Whimper’s Revenge was to blare the top 300 playlist as it downloaded off the planet-side servers. That was the sacred, inviolate opinion of Captain Magritte Valshorn, owner, operator and crew of the Whimper’s Revenge. Magritte could suffer through most things as long as the ship’s computer kept the music playing.

“Linda?” Rita called from her station at the aft hatch of the cargo bay.

“Yes, Rita?” the computer replied.

“Where’s the music?”

“We’ve maxed out our bandwidth allotment at the moment. The music feed is a low priority item. I can run the local top thirty for you.”

“No local lists. Restart the list with what we’ve got,” Rita said. Then, on second thought, “How have we maxed out our bandwidth? We’re the only independent ship in port and Primus Drie isn’t that tiny.”

“There’s an external piggyback on our network,” Linda said.

Rita cursed. Cheap docking bots pilfering her bandwidth because they couldn’t afford the hardware to run their own stable network were the thing she hated most about back world planets. For that moment, anyway. At least she’d caught them. No way was she paying the fees for network adaptation when they didn’t have a network to integrate with her own. “I’m going to go find their super. Keep an eye on the drones for me, ‘kay?”

“Sure thing, boss,” the computer replied.

Rita ducked out of the cargo hold, slid down the loading dock and dodged the spider-bots scrambling to and fro. She hit the ground with a satisfying crunch on the gravel below. She was halfway around the Whimper, absently scanning the hull for signs of damage, when she noticed a pair of teenagers huddled together under an engine bank.

Her first instinct was to leave them there. The ship wasn’t taking off for hours and no teenagers anywhere took that long to fool around. On the other hand, if this was a special case, they’d get incinerated later that afternoon and Rita didn’t fancy adolescent barbecue as hull decor. Continue reading “Sentient Domain: Chapter 1”