Author's note: Because my series so far has been long and sporadic, I will include links to the other installments in case new readers wnat to catch up.
Prologue: Just Before the Breaking
(url="http://"http://www.AmbrosiaSW.com/cgi-bin/ubb/newsdisplay.cgi?action=topics&number;=49&forum;=*Coldstone+Chronicles&DaysPrune;=25&article;=000049&startpoint;=")Polaris, Part 1(/url)
Without further ado, both a w00t! 1000 posts and an 'enjoy' are in order. Thank you.
Polaris: Part 2
The doorway opened into a dimly lit hall, with a single incandescent bulb casting shadows over the furniture. Several wooden doors lay on each side of the hallway, and a molding carpet ran down the center. Gregory could smell the mildew from the entrance.
Take the third door to your left.
Gregory nodded back to the guard, and calmly walked down the hall. The door was oaken on the surface, but probably composite underneath. It was also airtight, with no cracks along the edges. Good for a chemical attack. Gregory reached out his handle. The door knob was copper, and cold. Probably wired to some sort of booby trap, meant to shock an uninvited intruder. He turned it, and the door swung open on well-oiled hinges.
The room inside was better lit than the hall, but not by much. A desk stood near the far wall, with a personal computer, a bright lamp, and a neatly arranged stack of papers. The man behind the desk bore himself professionally, with a straight back, and lifted head. He seemed short, but that was undoubtedly enhanced by his sitting. He was of average build; his black hair was cropped short in military fashion. A slight goatee peeked sheepishly out of his chin, but a five o clock shadow gave him a bluish tinge where the rest of the beard wouldve been. His face seemed wrought of angles, not curves, while a faint smile showed more mockery than pleasure.
Gregory. Its been a while. His voice flowed through the air, almost ethereal. He had a slight Australian accent, but hid it well.
Marshall. Youre getting lax. The door guard didnt frisk me.
Marshall snorted. You know if you pull a gun you wont leave the planet, Greg. I have enough sense not to inconvenience a slightly trusted party.
Gregory cleared his throat. I was told you were expecting me.
Wayne laughed dryly. After the trap the Union set up in 50x, I figured this would be where you fled to lick your wounds. Am I right?
Partially. You knew about the ambush?
Of course. Youre underestimating me, Gregory. The Union wanted four of my Sparrows to support their destroyer. I declined, of course. More profit coming from you than the pay wouldve been worth.
Gregory smiled grimly. Just like you to jump for the most money, Wayne.
Like old times. Arent I amazing? His voice was dry. I trust the familys doing well.
Damn shame, Marshall said. He had known Cal Whitehawk, once. Timothy still doing politics?
You can drop the fakery, Marshall. They dont matter to you any more.
Very astute of you. Well then, lets get back to business. What did you have to show me?
Gregory showed the cargo manifest to Marshall, who showed the most interest in the battle armor, at which he smiled like a child receiving a new toy.
Wayne slumped back, eyes somber, and twitched his fingers methodically. Ill give fifteen million Euros for the lot, he stated, at which point the two proceeded to haggle, finally settling at twenty-five million.
The goods are at Jackson Spaceport, in two unattended shuttles. Bx-509 and Ax-274. With your skills, you shouldnt need a card to open it.
Obliterating a ships doors does have a way of attracting attention, though. Id feel more confident with the codes.
Gregory smiled, and told Marshall the access codes.
Nice doing business with you again, Gregory.
You too, Wayne.
As the captain walked out the door, Marshall took a long pull of liquor.
Gregorys troop filed behind him into the brighter, but still artificial lighting.
Were heading to a tavern, take a quickie. Theres a nice one in Zone 5.
Mandrosus wheeled the gurney into the synthetic air, its alloy wheels clanking along the nearly identical floor. The doctor had barely noticed a change from the stuffy shuttle to the stuffy city, as both held a seventy-five percent nitrogen and twenty-four percent oxygen mix, with corresponding pressures. The only variance in the all-pervading scent, neither pleasant nor odorous, was the stink of the corpse. Mandrosus had treated it with chemicals to reduce its pungency, but the smell still prompted Kravern to follow at least two meters behind. Its rot was nearly as bad as the Plague victims, the poor souls who lined the streets, most too weak to move except in necessity. They recognized the marks of Mandrosuss profession, and while several eyes were filled with hope, the others bore only despair. Or hatred.
Many of the Plagued blamed doctors for the lack of a cure or vaccine for the poor, and some extremists thought the disease a tool of the government. There were tales whispered in dark alleys that spoke of doctors paid to kill, to keep the pockets of the idle rich lined with the blood of hundreds. And though not a single conspirator could offer a drop of proof, envy kept the flames of anger hot.
Kravern tore his eyes away from the damned.
So, where shall we dispose of the corpse?
One of my colleagues runs a hospital near here. Theyve taken to performing cremations after the Plague started, and he wouldnt mind slipping in an extra for an old friend.
You speak of burning the deceased with about as much sympathy as my mother would chop onions.
Mandrosus laughed, and for a moment tore his concentration way from the gurney. Many say that. Its drilled into med school under-graduates from day one: a person may be your best friend, but once you begin to work with him, it is an object. They say it helps dull the shock of seeing virulent disease and decayed corpses.
Your morbidity never ceases to startle me.
Mandrosus smiled, and wheeled on. Kravern could not see conversation in his immediate future, and so applied his engineers eye to the station framework. The city was entirely enclosed in synthetic materials, with steel alloys forming walls and floor, and translucent polymers molded into arches far above the boardwalks. From the apex of the arch, a cable dropped every seven meters, and they supported a monorail system. He had seen no cars go past, and the locals lived easily around the rail, so he assumed it to be defunct. Apartments and stores jutted out of the main corridors, each roughly box or dome shaped. Sometimes uniformed men blocked small halls, and he assumed those to be private dwellings. Government areas were sparse; they most have been concentrated in a central area, probably near the spaceport.
The district the doctor entered seemed more inviting than most. The residents lifted their chins high in arrogance, and left the defensive positions for their guards. Kravern hated most superiority complexes in other people, but they at least stopped knives, for the most part.
A door irised open, revealing a stark room. The doctor gave his gurney a good shove inside, and the metal blades slid shut like a sword in its sheathe, trapping the corpse inside. The doctor left.
I have arrangements. A new gurney will be delivered to the shuttle, and some form of payment will be made to the family. The body will be disposed of. Cremated, as I have said.
Smooth operation you doctors run. A long pause, and Kravern continued. Where to now?
Whitehawk ordered us to a tavern, in Zone 5, for the meet-up. Well wait there until the Iron League is finished, and then we head home.
The Guardian was more than life, it was told from the beginning. It was an amalgamation of flesh and machine, carbon and silicon. Its Operators were its eyes and ears, telling Guardian all that transpired in its domain. And the Guardian program itself (though it preferred the term Artificial Intelligence, and styled itself a lord, most likely from Shakespeares time), would process the senses and tell the body what actions to perform. Nearly one hundred Operators existed at a time, each lodged into Guardians mind for four hours straight, for that was as long as human minds could hope to interpret even a small fraction of the Guardians psyche.
Guardian enjoyed losing itself in day to day processing of fines and record renewals, but was it savored most (even though the term savor was merely an instruction to devote more processor time to an issue) was the thrill of investigation, bringing a law-breaker to justice.
Operator Seventeen had such an issue.
Guardian, an officer has reported two men with a cart near the Dwight Hospital. I am transmitting several images of them and their baggage.
I have reached a decision.
The object in the bag is most likely a human corpse, judging from bulges and the style of the wrappings. The two are certainly working together, and the one pushing the cart bears a striking resemblance to a certain doctor who was ousted from the same hospital branch in the Aldebaraan system under suspicion of supporting terrorist organizations and subsequently disappeared. Further magnification of the retinas confirms the match. The one trailing him is not present in any database in the galaxy.
What action do you recommend?
I will notify officers in the region to investigate the matter if the opportunity arises, and if necessary, arrest the two under grounds of suspected murder.
Very good, Guardian.
By the way, Operator, it is time for your shift to end. Your replacement is outside, waiting.
Thank you, Guardian. I will depart.
James Thornton lifted the headset up. Designed under commission, the sets allowed their wearers to commune directly with both the Guardian program and field officers with a lesser version built into their helmets, with both audio and visual transmissions.
The Operators congregated in round rooms, painted blue to soothe the eyes and feelings. The rooms had few sharp edges and no personal interaction, as the interface required all possible concentration. James walked to the exit with an even stride, but paused for a moment when a small voice issued from the set. Warily, he placed it back on his head.
Seventeen, I have a question.
Why do men murder?
Such behavior was unprecedented among Artificial Intelligences. James stopped dead in his tracks as the exit door opened. Well, I suppose the main cause is envy.
Envy is wanting the power of another, correct? Why do men do this? Why are they not content with their lot, like a machine is?
James frowned. Well, men always seek to improve themselves. By destroying another, they think they might gain power.
But the destruction of another does little to heighten ones own abilities, even if the two were rivals. It merely destroys those of another.
Mr. Thornton, the set.
James held a hand to stave off his replacement. Guardian, do you know of viruses, and their life cycle? How they must destroy an organism in order to reproduce?
I am aware.
James, please. Youve had your turn.
Good, good. Well, think of murderers as men who are deluded into the mentality of viruses, destroying so that they can survive.
So, men who kill are a disease, that needs to be cured.
As Thornton left the office, Charles donned the set, muttering Finally.
Captain, Kental sent us a heads up. He and Jetlo might be late, he mentioned some nasty business.
Damn. Tell him to keep and touch, and Ill send someone if it gets out of hand.
I dont know about that, sir. He sounded sarcastic.
Oh really? Gregory grinned.
(This message has been edited by Celchu (edited 01-20-2003).)