Coldstone Chronicles: False Dawn: Polaris: Part 2

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
Part 1
(url="http://"http://www.AmbrosiaSW.com/cgi-bin/ubb/newsdisplay.cgi?action=topics&number;=49&forum;=*Coldstone+Chronicles&DaysPrune;=25&article;=000044&startpoint;=")Part 2(/url)
(url="http://"http://www.AmbrosiaSW.com/cgi-bin/ubb/newsdisplay.cgi?action=topics&number;=49&forum;=*Coldstone+Chronicles&DaysPrune;=25&article;=000045&startpoint;=")Part 3(/url)
(url="http://"http://www.AmbrosiaSW.com/cgi-bin/ubb/newsdisplay.cgi?action=topics&number;=49&forum;=*Coldstone+Chronicles&DaysPrune;=25&article;=000046&startpoint;=")Hyperspace(/url)
(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 would’ve been. His face seemed wrought of angles, not curves, while a faint smile showed more mockery than pleasure.

“Gregory. It’s been a while.” His voice flowed through the air, almost ethereal. He had a slight Australian accent, but hid it well.

“Marshall. You’re getting lax. The door guard didn’t frisk me.”

Marshall snorted. “You know if you pull a gun you won’t 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. You’re 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 would’ve been worth.”

Gregory smiled grimly. “Just like you to jump for the most money, Wayne.”

“Like old times. Aren’t I amazing?” His voice was dry. “I trust the family’s doing well.”

“Father’s dead.”

“Damn shame,” Marshall said. He had known Cal Whitehawk, once. “Timothy still doing politics?”

“You can drop the fakery, Marshall. They don’t matter to you any more.”

“Very astute of you. Well then, let’s 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. “I’ll 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 shouldn’t need a card to open it.”

“Obliterating a ship’s doors does have a way of attracting attention, though. I’d 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.

Gregory’s troop filed behind him into the brighter, but still artificial lighting.

“We’re heading to a tavern, take a quickie. There’s 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 Mandrosus’s 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. They’ve taken to performing cremations after the Plague started, and he wouldn’t 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. It’s 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 engineer’s 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.

“That’s it?”

“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. We’ll wait there until the Iron League is finished, and then we head home.”

“Sounds fair.”

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 Shakespeare’s time), would process the senses and tell the body what actions to perform. Nearly one hundred Operators existed at a time, each lodged into Guardian’s mind for four hours straight, for that was as long as human minds could hope to interpret even a small fraction of the Guardian’s 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. ”

“Good.”

“ 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.

“Guardian?”

“ Seventeen, I have a question. ”

“Shoot.”

“ 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.”

“Mr. Thornton?”

“ 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 one’s 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. You’ve 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. ”

“Exactly, Guardian.”

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 I’ll send someone if it gets out of hand.”

“I don’t know about that, sir. He sounded sarcastic.”

“Oh really?” Gregory grinned.

(This message has been edited by Celchu (edited 01-20-2003).)

Which resiedent moderator "makes a cameo appearance in this one"??? Great story, by the way. Very well written. If I had to give you an English grade, I'd slap a huge A+ on it!!

EDIT: Spelling, as Celchu pointed out to me

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CI-I@()s
(url="http://"http://www.evula.org/cha0s/")The Homepage of Cha0s(/url)

(This message has been edited by CI-Ia0s (edited 01-31-2003).)

Quote

Originally posted by CI-Ia0s:
**Great sorry, by the way. Very well written. If I had to give you an English grade, I'd slap a huge A+ on it!

**

Thanks, chaos; and it's spelt 'story,' not 'sorry.' I was a bit confused at first. 🙂

Quote

**Which resiedent moderator "makes a cameo appearance in this one"?

**

I'll let some others have a shot at this, and if they're stumped, too, I'll tell you. 😄

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A tomb now suffices for him for whom the world was not enough.

Very good. I read the series today, and found it most interesting. A few comments, though.
(Note - I expect an equal number on my story from you when it comes out 😄 )

It is refreshing to see a future vision that is not America-dominated, however it seems that there a few issues with the prominence of the EU -
There is no reference to ships of other nationalities... this suggests two possibilities to me, assuming it wasn't an oversight on your part. (Seems unlikely)
One, that the EU is now the uncontested Earth world government, and thus they are dominant over human space holdings as well. This conflicts with the name European Union, I would assume that even if the above globally dominant government is an outgrowth of the EU it would have a name that is correspondingly different - Earth Union maybe?

The other possibility that occurred to me is that Earth is still divided nationally, and that the adventures of Gregory and crew are taking place only (so far) in the EU's allotment of the Galaxy, so naturally the authorities there are representative of the EU. This seems more likely.

The other major issue I have - and this is not a problem with your story - is the mention of religion ("myths") in the story. You state that they were relegated to the history books as a warning about the dangers of fanaticism - indeed, fanaticism is a real threat to freedom, but if religion has actually been banned by the future government, that is a far greater affront to freedom. It strikes me as hypocritical. Look at my sig - that is one of the five creeds of the 'Community of Refuge', a society in a game I am writing. I would rather live there than in your future EU where the Freedom of Thought (By way of religion) has been obstructed so fragrantly.

If, on the other hand, I am misunderstanding, and that you intended to merely communicate that organized religion has fallen 'out of style' in your future, and not been officially banned, then disregard the above.

Your story seemed realistic to me, although I think the Android's death earlier in the series was somewhat brushed over. I admit that death can be a tricky issue to deal with, in my own Collusion series (on the Cythera Chrons) I kept the heroes too busy to think about the implications of their friend Horgan's death, so I really can't talk. I suppose that you could simply say that the protagonists in your story simply didn't care because it was a 'lowly robot'.

On the implications of machine sentience - the android K4 was clearly sapient, contemplating the meanings of life and death, curiosity about what a close-range nuclear explosion would be like, reasoning that he should sacrifice himself for the greater good. Thus it seems that he should have the same rights as every other living being of the crew. If your future government does not grant him those, then it again falls short of the Paragon and has, in effect, allowed the creation of an expendable slave race.

Genetic engineering in your future seems to have succeeded, it is nice to see a future where it does not seem to have been either used to enslave the world, or, conversely, been banned to prevent that from happening.

I was a little unsettled by the depiction of hyperspace - seems rather hyper-normal. Are you suggesting that there is an afterlife in another dimension? (Which hyperspace is, after all).
A little too weird for me, but its your universe...

I would have also liked a set of protagonists that I could relate to a little more, but its better they be pirates than police for the sake of the story’s unpredictability, so good job. Keep it up.

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"...All persons are free to think of any concept and hold to any idea or position." - The Second of the Five Fundimental Truths of 2081.

Where do you want to (url="http://"http://www.macclassics.com/cythera/tricks/rJade.htm")teleport(/url) today?

(This message has been edited by Bryce (edited 02-01-2003).)

Warning: Really big reply! use discretion. 🙂

First off, thanks, Bryce, for taking the time to read all of my story so far and respond to it. In return, I will explain the answers to your questions. You can tell how grateful I am by the length of this post. 😉

Bryce, your idea of the European Union being the sole government was correct, as was the banning of religion (it is still practiced, but not truly organized). It is neither a utopian society nor even a just one. To explain how a global, galactic, and atheistic European Union came about, allow me to return to 2027 A.D., to the Mid East.

The Palestinian intifada ended fourteen years ago, and was replaced by a Palestinian jihad in 2025, sponsored by the Arabic nations surrounding Israeli land. Not merely suicide attacks, the border patrols have evolved into fronts, with armed men firing at any who move. The E.U. has grown to encompass all of Europe with a promise of unity, which in the words of its then-head, Heinrich Toer, "Will raise... Europe as a superpower to rival and outclass... America."

The jihad is building power, and Jerusalem is shelled daily. Illicit weapons were long ago smuggled into the region by remnants of the former dictator Hussein’s armies. They have since been used sporadically against major Israeli cities, sparking outrage in Western nations. Toer urges his the Union to pass resolutions giving the Union power to dictate foreign policy to its member nations. It passes after several angry departures from the Union, and Europe goes to war in a fight eerily similar to the Crusades.

Then the smoking gun is fired, and Jerusalem disappears in a mushroom cloud. Bethlehem and Tel Aviv follow the next day, at the same time E.U. And US troops roll across the borders of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. The fights are fast and brutal, and extend as far as the north western borders of Pakistan. Militant Muslim clerics spark the continued aggression by declared another jihad, this against the West, prompting said region to fight these enemies, too. A spiral of conflict ended with bribes to Indian officials to attack Pakistan. Two years later, seven more nuclear devices exploded, effectively removing South Asia as a population center. Global holocaust would have developed if not for the actions of hundreds of SS and CIA teams, though conspiracy theorists ask if it was only a coincidence that the only failed operations were against missiles aimed at the opposing side.

At the end of the New Crusade, as it came to be known, 380 thousand Western soldiers has died, along with incomprehensible numbers of Arabic, Israeli, and Indian civilians and military. The Middle East and its oil fell under joint E.U. and US control, and the Indian subcontinent became hell on earth.

Gradually, the E.U. became more and more controlling of domestic issues along with foreign issues, and in 2053, used a growing atheist population and government to pass the historic Crusade Bill, which outlawed public practice of religion on account of the actions of religious fanatics in the New Crusade. Later, extension of these laws placed huge restraints on religious activity, and a faster, Union-controlled version of the Internet based in the Hermes databank effectively silences the press. Government regulations control everyday life.

In the intervening time period, the two superpowers have engaged in a territory race, prompted by fears of nuclear war. The US Sought allies to join in military pacts, and the Union bargained with ever more prospective member states. At the same time, computers and artificial intelligence (still a crude thing) began multiplying and controlling more aspects of everyday life.

These two trends came to a climax in 2054, when the world is split down the middle between the US and the E.U. A virus attack of a level previously unknown cripples all computer systems in the world from shear volume of data. It was initiated by the E.U. When power returns to the world the next day, Washington D.C. is in the hands of a small army, trained specifically for this purpose. The government has been ousted, and the non-European world is told that its luxuries depend on acceptance of the rule of a Europe-based oligarchy. Those that have the better things in life comply, and pay to kill those who don’t. The lower class is forced into submission.

For two hundred years, the citizens of the galaxy have lived under a state-controlled media and a class-segregated culture. Unskilled labor is provided by the poor, and the rich only better themselves. The general populace does not know the horror of their situation, from birth they are taught that the present state is the only state good enough. The US is a memory; gods are myths.

The Union stretches into space under a European name in the same way that Rome took Britain, and Britain in turn took America and India.

Few people know enough to dissent; do you remember the man who gave gregory the US coin? That man’s grandfather was twelve years old when the US fell; it was a miracle that his nationalism was passed down even that far.

Space has been regarded by the poor as a way out of it all, a new life. In some ways, it is. but the Union’s guiding hand is always there, ready to strike. The next chapter in my story should make this class system and the dream of space abundantly clear.

As to machine sentience, it is an unforeseen and new development, although the timeframe parallels in Guardian, Sentinel, and K4 indicate something more than chance at work. No one besides James Thornton even suspects that the androids are sapient.

By the way, congratulations. In your post, you managed to grasp three of the major themes of my work, which I eventually intend to become novel length. But not so for this response, so I depart. 😄

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A tomb now suffices for him for whom the world was not enough.

Thanks for explaining those issues to me. I hope we can continue the tradition of large and detailed comments elsewhere as well.

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"...All persons are free to think of any concept and hold to any idea or position." - The Second of the Five Fundimental Truths of 2081.

Where do you want to (url="http://"http://www.macclassics.com/cythera/tricks/rJade.htm")teleport(/url) today?

You write very well, Celchu. I'm sufficiently impressed. I'd like you, actually, to take a trip over to EV/O chronicles and critique my story (named, fittingly, 'Currently Nameless')
It's misplaced, actually. I should have put it on Coldstone, but I had a temporary memory lapse and forgot about its existence.

Thank you.

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This world falls on me, with hopes of immortality
everywhere I turn, all the beauty just keeps shakin' me
Check out my boring life in my (url="http://"http://www.livejournal.com/users/umea")Livejournal(/url)

Oh geez, I haven't been here in ages! Just popped back, and found Celchu at his usual- writing amazingly. Keep it up! I love your geo-political future as well, it is intricate and fascinating.

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The answer to life, the universe, and everything is...42.

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