Inquest of Commander Xi

Commander Xi stood under the giant columns of the Panoptic Tower entrance. The grand sigil of the Supreme Leader hung in the vaulted lobby like an immense eye, watching his servants.

As militia men passed by, they saluted the Commander. Servants wheeled cases containing weapons, and bureaucrats checked every visitors’ papers and RFID chips, scanning their hands and eyes as they entered the building.

The Grand Technocrat had requested a special meeting. Commander Xi knew he couldn’t refuse a face-to-face meeting, because it must have been exceptionally important. Normally your standard meeting would be held remotely on holotube, but he looked forward to this one because it was well known that entering the Panoptic Tower meant you got a meal consisting of Old-Earth delicacies such as meat.

At the appropriate hour, his AR wristband lit up and he proceeded past security. They scanned his chips and eye, confiscated his weapons — except for his ceremonial dagger, of course, which was required to be on his personal at all times when in public.

The elevator took him to the 231st floor, which had an amazing view over the hive city. Screens inside displayed surveillance footage from the lobby, the exterior of the building, as well as some random shots of citizens working at their desks.

Within a few minutes, the Technocrat entered, wearing a thick hazmat suit and respirator, indicating he had just returned from one of the toxic zones. The Commander bowed low, as servants whirled around the official disinfecting him, and stripping him of his garb. The man under the respirator was grey, and had the nebulous look of someone who had been through rejuvenation at least a half dozen times. He was wearing his full regalia, which was either a very good or bad sign.

“Good evening, Commander. May the Supreme Leader guide us to righteousness.” The Commander saluted.

“Honourable Greetings, Majestic Technocrat. May We thrive in the light of the Leader Supreme.”

“Please, Commander Xi, sit down.” The technocrat pressed a button on his AR band, summoning servants to start the meal. They brought in charcuterie plate with bright red strips of cured meats. The Commander couldn’t hold back, the last meal he had was reconstituted waste product, his official ration. But this! This was clearly real and not manufactured in a sumptuary lab. “We are here to discuss your latest file.”

“Ah, yes. The spy.” The Commander was drooling over the delicacies on the tray. He had just savoured the juiciness of a fresh pineapple ring. The hard part was holding back from digging in with his hands, getting them all sticky. He forced himself into restraint, and enacted each movement with calculated precision and a deliberate slowness.

“Indeed. The Supreme Leader demands to know what happened to her..”

“Well,” Commander Xi said between bites, “unfortunately, she disintegrated before we could interrogate her.”

“Disintegrated?!”

“Yes, Majestic one. She just turned into a pool of grey mush.”

“That is truly unfortunate. But you are still alive, so I suppose you must have good news. Isn’t that correct, Commander?” The technocrat scowled.

“Actually, yes. We have finally figured out a foolproof way to lay traps for the elusive organization known as the Covert Insurrection Network.” He swallowed, and took a sip of some wine. “We finally have a method of decrypting their communiques.”

The Technocrat looks incredulous. “We at the Science Organization Commune were under the impression that C.I.N.’s decryption required access to an actual person in their conclave. They have genomic security in place. We know as well that their communication code is encrypted regularly, requiring a rotating key, and that they avoid 2-way communication at all costs.” The technocrat sipped his cup and turned off the screens around the room from the wrist panel of his AR suit. “So, tell me Commander, how is it possible that you have figured out a way to decrypt their messages and lured them into a trap?”

“I’m afraid that information is classified, Grand Majesty.”

“Very well,” said the Official Representative. “Allow me to explain my own thinking. We have been trying to decode C.I.N.’s secrets for as long as the Science Commune has existed and we have never come up with a single clue indicating how they avoid our detection. And yet, somehow within three years you, Commander, have intercepted one of their spies. An act without precedent. The Supreme Leader himself demands to know how you cracked the code because without a sufficient explanation, I will have to report you to the Thought Police as a traitor to the nation.”

The Commander turned red. He stopped chewing. His AR wristband glowed a dim red, indicating the rise in his heart rate.

“With all due respect. It was I that foiled the sabotage at Benzig Depot. It was me who captured the traitorous city of Nova Illinois. I have devoted myself to the cause, excelled in my path where sponsored infants born into the Militarum Creche failed. Grand Majesty, I promise you, I have worshipped Supreme Leader as a son does a father.” The Commander placed his ceremonial dagger on the table. “I have spent over three years and fully half of the Nation’s AI computing power to simulate a C.I.N. spy just so we could crack their encryption.”

“You did not notify the Science Commune of your plan, Commander. You have violated the Supreme Code of Science. There are laws against creating artificial humans, you know. A devout general as yourself, would never break such a law. So how do we not know YOU are the spy, using your own geonomics as the key?”

“I am no spy!” The commander spat onto the floor. He pushed his plate to the side ungratefully. “The matter was classified. If C.I.N. knew how we beat their encryption, we’d be no better than when they could come and go as they pleased! This is the first time we have the jump on them, you see.”

“Very well.” The Technocrat stood up and walked towards the Commander. “I understand. But tell me Commander. How do you guarantee that the key device does not fall into the wrong hands?”

The Commander stood up as well, unbuttoned his breast pocket, and took out a pill container. He held it between his thumb and forefinger, displaying it inside the beam of his AR band. One of the pills lit up with a greenish glow.

“This,” he said. “This is the key device. It is the only one in existence. It is always on my person, and only my AR has the frequency to make it light up. Grand Majesty, I promise you that there is absolutely NO CHANCE of it falling into the wrong hands.” He looked insulted. “Besides, how in the Dear Leader’s name would a C.I.N. agent ever get past the retinal scan, the security chip verification, as well as the gait detectors on each level of our secure buildings. It has never happened.”

The Technocrat smiled, and placed his hand on the Commander’s shoulder. “Good,” he said. “Very good, Commander Xi.”

The commander’s face softened up. He had passed the test. He was no traitor. But before he could sit back down, he felt a tight pinch in his neck, just next to where the Technocrat had placed his hand. He heard his AR band beeping a vital statistic warning, then fail miserably. Suddenly, he felt light-headed. When he touched the painful spot on his neck, he felt a sticky substance. It was a grey goo, foaming at the edges, consuming his neck and now his fingers where he came in contact with it, deconstructing him on a molecular level.

“You!” he screamed and tried to activate the alarm on his AR, but the nanobots had already deactivated all electronics in his body transmuting them into a vast network of tiny robots, which was now consuming anything it touched, replicating at an alarming rate. He drew his ceremonial dagger and jumped at the Technocrat. But within a flash the Official’s hand had transformed into a jagged blade and blocked the strike. The Grand Technocrat’s face melted, momentarily revealing a young woman before transforming once again, this time into a mirror image of the Commander himself.

Commander Xi died in a pool of grey gelatinous machinery smaller than the eye could see. And the spy stood above him, holding the pill bottle in one hand scanning it with the AR suit. Before leaving the room as the Commander’s döppleganger, she flicked a switch on her AR band, which activated the nanobots to clean up the mess on the floor, transforming it into a plate of cured meats and pineapple rings on the table.

Primaris Station in orbit at L3 of the dual Solar System Eucaryote IX

Outgoing Signal: Mayday Loop

Status: Emergency Life Support System Engaged

Station Commander’s Log

“This is Chief Scientist Annabel Esteban, last remaining crew member of the Research Station. Evacuation Protocol has failed. This is a warning to any salvagers, rescuers, or morbidly curious interlopers: STAY AWAY! This Station is contaminated with Dark Boson Mycelia. Despite our best efforts, Project Eternal Energy failed. The immense particle collider Genesis Corp financed ripped through the fabric of space/time. Forty-five Spins ago, we discovered the Dark Particles, which Dr. Fiona Burgess dubbed ‘Mycelia’, due to their organic collision patterns akin to the fungoid web of the mushrooms of old Earth. Beware! These particles cause spontaneous mutation in biological life! And all evidence suggest that those transformed by the Dark Boson webbing, enter into an altered state of mind, claiming to commune with entities from a dark dimension far beyond the veil of our own. Primaris Station is lost…”

Simple Mathematics

Generation Flagship Ouroboros Lambda-Orionis Molecular Cloud, Orion Arm, Milky Way Galaxy 1474 ly from Earth Admiral-Ascendant Onanda di Sarallos woke to the smell of lavender. The manufactured stimulus was meant to ease her out of the depths of hypersleep, and she welcomed the distraction: coming back from the dead was, generally speaking, an altogether unpleasant experience. As consciousness returned in jarring, jagged fragments, Sarallos leaned on her training to ride the wave until, finally, she surfaced to full awareness. Opening her eyes, Sarallos saw two young officers waiting patiently beside her suspension pod. She didn’t recognize them, but that was not unexpected. The Ouroboros, like the other fourteen vessels under her command, was a generation ship. The singularity-reactors at its core provided only enough power to suspend senior command staff; the rest of her people lived out their lives on board, raising children to follow after they were gone, thus perpetuating the cycle of life down through the eons of their journey. Though Sarallos remembered the men who put her to sleep as if she had seen them yesterday, she knew that they were long dead. “How… how long?” asked Sarallos, her voice a wet and ragged rasp. She coughed up a lungful of hemogel with as much dignity as she could manage while waiting for a response. “Three thousand, seven hundred and fourteen years, Earth-standard, Admiral-Ascendant,” the officer on the right said with stiff formality. It was longer than she’d anticipated, but within mission parameters. Even so, the changes wrought by such a vastness of time were apparent: linguistic drift had rendered the man’s accent strange and unfamiliar. Sarallos idly wondered what other surprises awaited her in this time so far from her own.(edited)Her idle thoughts were cut short when she caught the two men exchanging pensive looks. There was more to tell. “Spit it out,” Sarallos said through another cough, the pun unintended. “We haven’t found it,” the man on the right continued. There was no confusion as to what he meant. ‘It’ was the sole reason this convoy of fifteen behemoths was carrying a hundred thousand souls on a millennia-long journey through the interstellar abyss; ‘it’ was their promised destination—a new Eden, a new home. But Admiral-Ascendant Sarallos was not to be awakened until the convoy arrived. And yet, here she was… which meant there was a problem. Sarallos said nothing, and instead took a moment to observe her surroundings. The suspension bay was darker than it should have been, and colder, too. She felt lighter than she remembered: gravity was low. Power, then: the Algorithm had rationed it down to a trickle. “The reactors?” The officer on the left nodded, taking over. “Four singularities radiated out unexpectedly. The Algorithm recalibrated for higher evaporation risk, and merged the other eight in pairs to compensate. Larger singularities means—” “—less power,” Sarallos finished. It was the classic balancing act of black hole engineering: the smaller the singularity, the closer you could get to its energetic core, but the faster it radiated its mass away. The convoy had begun its journey with twelve. Four were gone, and mergers had diminished the other eight… The shiver Sarallos suppressed wasn’t related to the cold. “How many?” Again, there was no confusion over what she meant. The man on the left replied by handing Sarallos a lightpage, from which an exerpt of the Algorithm’s logs glowed softly. She read in somber silence.(edited)

[CONDITION] HANZ-WAVER SINGULARITY-DRIVE OUTPUT: 68% NOMINAL. [CONDITION] POWER CONSUMPTION: UNSUSTAINABLE *** RECALIBRATING *** [RESPONSE] TERMINATE NON-ESSENTIAL SYSTEMS [RESPONSE] REDUCE GRAVITY INDUCTION OUTPUT: -48.9% [RESPONSE] REDUCE CLIMATE MEDIATION OUTPUT: -71.2% [RESPONSE] REDUCE BIOSPHERE SUPPORT OUTPUT: -18.5% [RESPONSE] REDUCE POPULATION: -15 214

It was simple mathematics, Sarallos told herself. They didn’t have enough power, so the Algorithm did exactly what it should have done: it ‘recalibrated’. With the perfect, dispassionate logic of its design, it shut off some lights, reduced gravity, cut the temperature, and ejected over fifteen thousand men, women and children into the hard vacuum of space. Despair clawed its way up the back of her throat, but Admiral-Ascendant Sarallos couldn’t let her officers see that. “Very well,” she said simply, dismissing the deaths of thousands with the confident authority they all so desperately needed. “Let our focus turn to the eighty-five thousand who live.” She looked up, holding the eyes of her men. “And let’s find our Eden.”