BOOK OF SCLAVIN 2.0
“We are in an unbalanced sandbox with no clear objective.”
IO-87th Planetary Summit
Chapter01: Rhea Treaty
The holograph stretched panaromic, doing a half-decent job of tricking Rekko and his dead grandfather into thinking they were really present at the parliamentary conference. Rekko still remembered what these broadcasts had been like for him as a child: one-off events of total immersion, amazement and wonder. Now, these events were routine, and colored by the cynicism Lazybug was doing his best to instill in him.
That familiar fear tugged at his gut as he saw the next speaker make their way to the podium. It was a Kai. As usual, slender, graceful and terrifying. A breed made for war. He remembered a conversation he had with his grandfather before his body gave up: "It's not the cycle of violence, Rekko. We had that before we colonized the solar system, back when we were vying for scraps of land that look like postage stamps relative to what we have now. The fear of the Kai is an instinctual thing. They were soldiers, designed for the needs of the highest bidder. The effect they have on the common man isn't incidental, it's intentional. You can learn a lot about a man from how he reacts to them. Whether or not he calls them monsters, what his political agenda is from whatever emphasis he puts on our years of war with them. Most important thing though, and listen close young one, you listen to a man speak on the Kai, you can learn how he thinks of himself. Whether he thinks he is capable of dealing with the things that terrify him. We're wired to be afraid of the Kai, the old wiring, the wiring that kept us safe while we were darting between caves, hunted by wolves. There's no shame in admitting that. The shame comes from the things that we did to them and forced them to do to us." It hadn't all made sense to Rekko at the time but it had been a mode of thought that he grew into, so when the Kai representative took the floor he read the body language as pride where others might have seen aggression. When he spoke, the dull and unemotional voice of the translator echoing the Kai's words, Rekko stilled his mind and listened. "Thank you, delegates. After two hundred cycles of war between the Kai and the humans, we are finally making progress to a new era of peace between our two species. With the Rhea treaty, the acknowledgment of our basic rights has become a reality. Our faith is finally in our control as we were given the right to fully develop and express our culture on our homeworld. I deeply believe that the permission to form research teams who will work in full contact with the capsule is of advantage for both sides."
Lazybug's projection leaned in too. Rekko barely noticed.
"That being said, we are fully committed to comply to the bounding principles of the treaty for the development of 1st class weaponry. We executed the program and re-allocated the facilities to the new mixed-team research program reserved for capsule research. Control groups from all colonies will ensure our promises are being kept. I hope this day will mark the start of an new era of prosperity in our solar system.”
The Kai left the podium to rapturous applause and the broadcast shifted focus to another pre-packaged item of news. Rekko turned to his grandfather. As always, the projections face was inscrutable.
The electronic jangle of the SBB NewsChannel rattled around Kir's small apartment and the broadcaster appeared in front of overlay graphics. "After secret 4 cycle long negotiations between the Kai Official State and Saturn and Venus colonies, an official announcement came from both sides that they have achieved an agreement. The fire has stopped almost in all corners of the solar system except for the ongoing conflict between the radical Kai Front of Liberty and the Saturn colony. However, both parties that signed the treaty have agreed to stop the weapon supply to the radical parties. Last incident was recorded on Enceladus where at least 70 flash pods were destroyed completely, cutting short the lives of 70 now holographic entities.”
"Hmm," Rekko said. "That is a surprise."
Lazybug continued to stare at the broadcast, some other minor interest piece taking it's place. "Judging how the last treaty ended, I wouldn’t rush to trust those psychos."
Rekko wondered if his grandfather wasn't surrendering to an old-age xenophobia. Though, after Lazybug's own father dying at the hands of the KLF, it was easy to understand the old ghost's reservations. "Sure it’s early to tell," Rekko hedged. "Especially not having the details of the agreement."
"Seems like that treaty is doomed from the start." Lazybug's ghostly formed hovered over Rekko's module. "Anyways," he said. "You should get ready for your presentation, enough politics for today." At a clap, the old ghost cut the broadcast short and left Rekko staring at a superimposed white-board full of physics equations.
Rekko wondered if there was a way to stop him from accessing the module. He kept this to himself.
Thoughts of the treaty still filled Rekko's mind has he took to the stage, the auditorium filled with a gallery of ghosts. Back in the pod, he cleared his throat, cancelling the feedback link so that his projection retained it's composure. "Dear professors and fellow students," he began. "Even since before the final assembly of the capsule, we have been experiencing strange phenomena and, until now, we still have little idea about its origin. During my investigation, concerned, as you know, with following the path of the capsule core and it’s elements, I came to the conclusion that the capsule acts as some sort of catalyst for main events in our history. The evidence confirming my theory is included in this graph." At a wave of his hand, the graph ballooned behind him and Rekko launched himself into his dissection. "Those bumps on the graph are peaks in capsules activity and radiation. You can see that they are connected to corresponding dates and events. For example, this peak is corresponding to 09/11/1989: The Fall of the Berlin Wall. In that time, the core was still held by People’s Republic of Sclavin, but the Western Front had three of the six remaining parts. If we chart these data across history, we can see that there is peak in the graph for every major scientific discovery and global political transformation since the capsule discovery."
"You can see that in 2241 on 05/07 there is a big peak in capsules core- the date when the Kai staged their first attack on the Eastern Front to break from their military imprisonment. From the data, it is clear that these peaks corresponding to main events lead to political globalisation on Earth and the final capsule assembly which stopped the capsule’s core activity and its radiation. This in turn started our Solar System expansion."
Rekko took a couple of steps across the stage, stopping himself from scanning the audience for eager faces. That could wait.
"The capsule was activated again 74 cycles ago with the KAI’s attack on Rhea. From the evidence, I have reason to believe that this peak is not a coincidence and we see that capsule's activity and radiation have been gradually increasing. If this trend continues- and it’s not showing any signs of stopping- we have only around 70 cycles before the radiation is so strong that it will start to dissolve the life in the solar system."
He paused to let this sink in.
"In other words, we should act fast."
A few more steps across the stage. He could feel them leaning in now.
"Before finishing my presentation I want to turn your attention on the most recent peak. It was 37 cycles ago and orders of magnitude stronger than it's predecessors. Strangely, I couldn’t find any correspondence with some socio-political, technological, evolutionary or any other significant event. Maybe it’s due to the lack of historical distance, or maybe it’s something that we are not yet aware of, but I think it will be of great help if we can locate the event to solve the current capsule mystery and deactivate its radiation."
Rekko waved away the graphics, breath catching in his throat.
"Thank you for your attention."
The room was getting empty as the followers disconnected. One figure stayed and approached Rekko, an odd hollowness pervading the centre of it's projection. Rekko wondered why someone would want to disguise themselves in such a manner.
"Hello Rekko," the apparition said. "Impressive presentation"
"I have some idea about the latest peak and its correlation to some events. I thought you might be interested."
Rekko did his best to hide his eagerness. "Sure I am. What do you think it is?"
"Well, for me to give you that kind of information you would have to agree to some terms. That should be best conducted in our quarters. Would you agree to meet me there?"
"Hmm, sure. Who are you though?"
"Sorry, let me introduce myself. I’m P_12. Currently working with the academy in recruiting new bright members for our research team. As our business is confidential, I cannot tell you more before you come and sign up for the job."
"Sure, but I have a whole semester ahead..."
"That was taken care of. Here are your release documents." A small alert popped into the corner of Rekko's Heads-Up-Display. "We have facility ready for you on Titan. Please put in these coordinates and you will be further instructed." The figure gave him a half smile, features oddly mechanical. "See ya there, Rekko.
In major part the solar colonization was enabled by a new system of holographic projections who worked with a magnetic field that enables a person to interact with objects from the “real” world. After few decades there weren’t much people left living out of the pods as your ability to travel the system was considerably limited. There are a lot of companies offering you a safe place to rest your flash but two major ones were dominating the market. Rekko went with the one called Heaven.
The company was first to offer full neurological scan right before all your system shuts down and you die. Electrical impulses are run through your body while a scanner is scanning the pathways and constructs a virtual network, exact copy of your own. The procedure can leave you with some memory loss, but it was better than nothing.
Most of the people were crammed inside pods back on Earth. Planet of waiting corpses. Anyways, there wasn’t much you can do outside because of the pollution, high temperatures and radiation from the nuclear war.
Rekko stared down at his flash, almost frozen, spirals of cold crawling up it's arms, a body of a 9 year old boy with the head size of an adult. Laying peacefully, distant from all the world, including itself. Looking at that fragile body reminded him of death. Fear of death was something that by now was replaced by fear of infinity. Fear of boredom and fear of time. Rekko felt that jolt from that long forgotten fear as the thought about humanity failing to solve the capsule mystery occupied his mind. Will he be even able to sense that freedom from your own personality offered by the afterlife scan as Lazybug often reminded him about. Anyhow, he knew better than to dwell in heavy thoughts. He had a job to do.
Rekko was allowed to transfer his whole academy holographic quarter on Titan. That included his dead grand-grand-grandpa Lazybug, who with slight unease was allowed to come there, but his info-con was totally blocked from the outside world. Rekko was pacing the room not having any idea what to do before the meeting. Things on Titan were very different from the academy where everything was prepared before anything started. On Titan, confidentiality was king. The only different thing from his old room was a small glowing cube hanging in the air.
“Welcome to Titan.The most advanced research facility in the system. Enjoy your stay!” was written across it. “Rekko Reihl-Kir”, his full name, was blinking on a small button under the welcoming text. As soon as he touch the button, it opened up into a map of Titan. Only a small portion of the moon was marked on the map.
As he was getting lost reading the library instructions, they faded and a window with a counter set to 2 minutes started counting before his eyes. Above it was written: “Meeting with P_12 in facility #24”. The room went black and there was P_12 standing while slowly walls of the facility #24 started fading in.
The apparition gave him a curt nod as the walls around them resolved to opacity. "Welcome Rekko," P_12 said, "I’m glad to see you here. Also, the uniform suits you."
Looking down, he saw himself all in white. Pretty simple body design. Seemed to fit in with the rest of what the other staff were wearing. The head was the only thing they left of his original image.
"Yes, I’m afraid uniformity is a must here," P_12 continued. "However, you can use whatever you want outside the research center. "
"I don’t mind."
"I guess you have a lot of questions, Rekko, but let’s cut to the chase."
"You were gonna tell me the reason for the final peak."
"Yes. Your discovery is impressive, but it doesn't really bring anything new to the game. We have been aware of the connection between the capsule and events that shape humanity for some time now. However, you coming to the same conclusion as group of top scientists working cycles before you is worthy of respect. I’m confident that you can contribute a great deal here on Titan."
Rekko frowned. "Why this information was not published in any journal?
"Well, it pertains to an ongoing project that we elected to keep it secret because of its delicate nature. Here on Titan, there is a construction of the most powerful neurological network ever known to man. It takes 80 percent of Titan’s surface and feeds directly from it’s methane lakes. That final peak corresponds with the date that SYSTEMA was completed and powered up. We have found out that the capsule vibrates and radiates some sort of information. For that information to be decoded and understood we needed such computing power."
Winding steel corridors brought Rekko back to his quarters, where an inset-reader at the door scanned his code and permitted him entry. Lazybug was doing his buddha-thing, hovering cross-armed in mid-air, some archaic tome spread translucent in front of him.
He flicked a cursory nod over his shoulder at Rekko as he entered. "A fine day for it, Grand-grand-grandson." An affected pause as he turned the page of the book. Nonsense, of course, he already had all the information on-hand. The theatrics were for Rekko's benefit. The old ghost lost his body, not his humor. "How are our new hosts treating you?"
"Delicately," Rekko replied. He perched at the end of his bed, still reeling from P_12's revelations. "I feel like every secret they reveal provides cover for two more perched behind it."
"Well," Lazybug said. "You've picked up their habit of talking in riddles anyway."
Rekko steepled his fingers. "Maybe." His left leg bounced of it's own accord." Bug...they have an A.I."
The old man's hand froze on the page. "Oh. Interesting."
"I thought so too. SYSTEMA, they call it. A neurological network. It's responsible for crunching the capsule data."
The old man sniffed. "That puts you out of a job."
Rekko hid his smile. "They still need input. And besides, that's only one of it's applications." His grand-grand-grandfather gave him a withering look. "Don't leave me hanging, Rekko."
"The treaty. SYSTEMA is, in part, responsible for it."
Lazybug nodded, slow. "I suppose that makes sense. Plenty of variables. Hmm. Maybe this peace will last after all..."
"I'm slowly being convinced. I think that it's main use was in the logistics, though. Hammering out the details. The real thing that's going to keep us and the Kai together is the joint research project."
"The research project that they are keeping secret?"
Rekko waved it away. "For the time being."
"It won't take much, young one. We live in precarious times. One well placed attack by the KFL--"
"P_12 showed me some of the stats on SYSTEMA. The progress that it's made already is ridiculous, bordering on frightening. We'll have solid results to beam system-wide, probably before the political situation changes."
Lazybug gave him a smile, full of pride, and Rekko looked away, embarrassed. "One of my bloodline," Lazybug said. "Saving the world. I wish your father were alive to see it." Lazybug frowned. "Or his father. Or--"
Rekko grinned. "I get the idea, Bug."
Although the Titan Research Station was visible from orbit, it accounted for only a small amount of the terraformed surface of Saturn's largest moon. The way to the station from Rekko's personal quarters skirted the district staked out by the Venus colonies. He made his way through, past the holograms of men and woman, noting the distinctive patterns adorning their arms. Most people from Earth just stuck with the sample sets, not bothering to undergo the code-heavy rites of passage required to customize their own image. Clearly, the culture on Venus was different. Maybe it was something to do with time served on the surface, Rekko mused. These people were pioneers, prospectors in a brave new world.
"Rekko. Where are you?"
He blinked. P_12 calling through his head-up with his usual lack of patience. "Hey, P. I'm heading towards the research station. ST_15 said that--"
"Forget that. We need you at the SYSTEMA hub."
Back in his pod, a chill ran through Rekko's body and transferred through the holo-link. "The hub? Really?"
"I'm sending you clearance now."
"I...why do you want me there?"
"You need to meet the team."
P_12, ever the sentimentalist, disconnected without another word, leaving Rekko alone with his new clearance and a dearth of unanswered questions. Rekko hovered over Lazybug's icon is his head-up then dismissed calling the old ghost. He could catch him up later.
Rekko opened up a map overlay of the station and found that his new route lead him through a section of the station he hadn't encountered previously. Everywhere on Titan was state-of-the-art PRS construction, but the passageway into the SYSTEMA core left the Colonist District looking like a slum in comparison. The white panelling was seamless, bringing to Rekko's mind the high-modern decor favoured by neo-aristocracy a century past. It also begged another question: was SYSTEMA a project developed after the advent of the station or the entire reason for it's existence? A quick search on the station's network left Rekko frustrated behind a walls labelled either "restricted" or "classified", but, from the way the base was constructed, Rekko favoured the latter over the former. The lower quality of the surrounding districts made them feel like growths around a sturdier organism, symbiotic perhaps, but ultimately irrelevant.
He made a turn into a security checkpoint and solid steel shutter yielded outwards after scanning his new clearance. The effect was unsettlingly biological, a steady rippling in place of the functional slide of the rest of the doors on the station. It made Rekko feel like SYSTEMA was breathing him in, that he was journeying through the digestive tract of some inhuman behemoth with an appetite for holograms.
The sense of dread hadn't left him when a white figure popped into existence ahead of him, startling him out of his reverie. The figure faced away from him, unmoving, absorbed in something unseen. Rekko studied the figure as he approached. It wore none of the marking that would indicate an off-worlder, but it didn't look like one of the research team either.
Rekko cleared his throat. "Uh...hello?"
The figure turned. A male, then. Oddly ovoid features, a far cry from the sample templates Rekko was familiar with.
"Are you my guide?" Rekko asked.
The figure smiled enigmatically. "For want of a better term, yes, I suppose so. I am the Historian."
Rekko's eyes circled in their sockets as the awkward pause stretched. Was he supposed to say something? OK?."
"Yes. You may call me Markus."
"Pleasure to meet you then, Markus. Are you part of the research team?"
"I'm a consultant." The figure turned his back and made to leave. "Come along, Mr. Reihl-Kir. We have work to do."
The SYSTEMA hub was made up of a towering central strut, branching out into a network of holographic modules, each attended by a cluster of researchers. Rekko looked around for anyone he knew, expecting to see P_12, but the blunt department head was nowhere to be seen. Search for familiarity fruitless, Rekko's eyes were drawn to an odd constellation of symbols, slowly rotating within a roughly humanoid shape before the central strut.
Markus looked back over his shoulder with empty eyes and raised his eyebrows at Rekko.
"You've never been here before, have you?"
"Wow. You really are a historian."
Markus's face, and eyes, stayed placid. He inclined his head over at the constellation of symbols. "That's the head of the SYSTEMA department. I have been instructed to make the introductions."
Rekko's palms were suddenly clammy. "Where is P_12?"
"I will be your guide for this last leg of the journey."
Rekko's head twitched back to the symbols at the sound of something like a sigh. The symbols turned and made their way towards the pair of them. The historian didn't seem to be daunted at all. Rekko was filled with unease. The way the symbols moved was strange, an ethereal gait carrying pure information in the simplest possible configuration.
Then, to Rekko's horror, it spoke. "Markus, Rekko. You are finally here."
The historian stepped between them. "Rekko, this is Benerian, the creator of SYSTEMA. Through his efforts, the end is now in sight. We will be able to achieve the impossible."
Rekko made to shake hands. Realized the gesture was ridiculous. "Benerian. It's good to meet you. What you've accomplished..." Rekko gazed around the SYSTEMA hub. "It's amazing." Benerian showed no sign of even hearing his words. He (Rekko assumed) lifted one of his arms, beckoning to one of the researches over at the modules. "K_18" he said. "Join us." Rekko's head swivelled to take in the four-metres-worth of hologram that broke off from its fellow ghosts and came to meet them. A Kai, then. Rekko couldn't be sure why, but he hadn't really expected to see one of them here. At least not yet.
K_18 joined the group. Head down. Humble. He bowed. "Benerian."
"Please explain to Mr. Reihl-Kir what it is that we intend to do."
K_18 glanced briefly at the three of them before averting his eyes. "The capsule. We intend to fuse it within Saturn's core."
Pod-enhanced reflexes or no, there was nothing Rekko could do to hide his surprise. "What?"
K_18 took a steadying breath. "When we inject the capsule in Saturn's core, the capsule will cease generating radiation."
Rekko looked to Benerian. "How can this be even done?"
“The full schematics of the machinery were developed by SYSTEMA.” K_18 continued. “Our teams needed some time to even understand it, but we have done countless simulations and the math is just right.”
Rekko absorbed it silently, keeping his eyes roughly where Benerian's would have been.
The symbols broke the silence that followed. "Do you understand, Mr. Reihl-Kir?"
"Of course. You're all insane."
K_18 jerked as if slapped while the historian and Benerian maintained their composure. "Can you elaborate?" Benerian asked.
Rekko clicked his tongue against his teeth, a habit he had failed to avoid picking up from Lazybug. "You brought me in because I duplicated some of the research that you accomplished with a whole station's worth of staff and have now placed me at the precipice of the single biggest gamble in the history of mankind. I'm sure that Markus here knows as well as I do that the mystery of the capsule is not exactly that. This is an object responsible for some kind of feedback loop that's shaped the very nature of human society as we know it. You want to inject this utterly advanced, utterly unknown force of technology into the second biggest planet in the Solar System based on some calculation that you barely understand and you are asking me my opinion.”
The historian beamed. "Excellent. He understands perfectly!"
"How do you know exactly what is going to happen?"
Benerian continued to swirl, enigmatic. "We do not. Science is about exploration. The undertaking that brings us here, it--"
Benerian's voice cut off and he choked out a distorted breath. The historian took a step forward. "Benerian."
"Markus..." The symbols seemed lost some of their opacity and flickered under the hub lights.
"They found us."
"K_18!" The historian flicked a hand at the Kai and raced over to one of the modules with Rekko in tow. "Trace it!"
"What's happening to him?" Rekko asked.
"He's being hacked."
The historian's hands were a blur, working at the holo-module, K_18 by his side. Cries from around the room dragged Rekko's head upward. The rest of the researches were losing latency, some flickering, others steadily growing transparent at their extremities. Back in the pod, Rekko's stomach turned. He shook his head clear and dropped in behind Markus. "What can I do?"
"It has to be on the station," the historian murmured. "K!"
Rekko followed his gaze over to K_18. The Kai's left arm was beginning to disappear. He gazed at the historian with sorrowful eyes. "The connection is weakening, Markus."
"Markus!" Rekko barked. "What can I--"
The historian whirled on him, cutting him off with the intensity in his eyes. "Listen to me, Rekko. K isn't like the rest of us. He was born with a birth-defect and his pod mediates his medication. If his link gets overridden, the automatic procedures will stop." The historian blinked. "He'll die, Rekko."
Rekko glanced over at K_18, unable to meet his eyes. The Kai continued working at his module with his working hand, face drawn tight against emotion.
"The hack isn't effecting either of us so it must be isolated to the research team. If we don't locate the source, it will spread to the rest of the station. K_18 is at the highest risk but the rest of will be in just as much danger if our protocols get overridden. Especially if this is who I think it is."
Over the link, Rekko's heart pounded in his ears. "It's the KLF isn't it? They'll flood our pods."
The historian nodded slow. "That means you have to move. Fast."
Rekko gulped. "What about station security?"
"No! We need to keep this contained. If any of the other settlers find out, we risk a future security breach and worse attacks. For all we know, this is a lone Flooder."
At a nod from Markus, the door to the hub opened up. Rekko got his breathing under control. Nodded. "OK, what do you need me to do?"
Rekko's hunt took him deeper into the swarm of colonists, through the district he had skirted previously. The first layer, black trenchcoats and thick German by way of Mars, peeled away and he found himself among the colonists from Venus, skidding ethereal down stainless steel corridors. The thin skein of home-away-from-home that was noticeable in the outer districts was all but absent there. The Venus colonists made themselves known by shrewd, enigmatic looks and the demarcations along their ghostly arms.
Rekko kept his head down as he barrelled deeper into foreign land and, before long, he found himself at another crossroads. "Markus!" He sent an view Snapshot across to the historian, unsure whether he was being tracked from the hub.
After a short silence: "Left. Hurry, Rekko, you're close. The signal is getting stronger."
Rekko threw himself down the left branch. Residential section. More colonists haunting the hallway, thicker in density where it opened up into a grid of different quarters. "How's, K_18?"
"In one piece."
"And the hack?"
"It's not spread yet. We're running counter-intrusion script more advanced than anything Earthside."
SYSTEMA fighting back, Rekko thought. "Where do I go from here?"
"Check your overlay."
Rekko brought up the map, scanning through the grid for any new signs of...
A purple blip two block over. Rekko bolted. Made it round the first of the two corners, blowing straight through a Venusian bystander who snarled before re-coalescing. Rekko made it past round the last corner. He spotted the Flooder's quarters- a stainless steel box with holographic graffiti adorning its front.
Rekko squinted around for any more clues. The hallway here was deserted. Eerie. He double checked his overlay. Frowned. A slow flickering crept across the map from the bottom left corner. "Markus?"
"He's the...isolated....have to.....Rekko?"
"Proximity to....call th...."
Static swallowed the rest of the historian's words and the flickering engulfed Rekko's overlay entirely. He cancelled out the map, the feed, and approached the Flooder's quarters as quickly as he dared, desperately trying to remember the statistics Galan had given him about direct interface hacking, a lifetime ago at the academy. He was safer with his connections closed, but if the Flooder was blocking him, did that mean he had some kind of control over his interface already?
Rekko rounded on the door and blinked. Visible only when he faced straight at the Flooder's door, another piece of graffiti, this time a winking teenage girl in Chibi art-style, decked out in Neo-Tokyo chic. He shook off the extreme sense of dislocation and raised a hand to the door. His interface beeped: no access. He took a deep breath, wondered how many station codes he was violating by using his clearance to access private quarters. Then he imagined what Lazybug would have said: Save lives first. Complain later.
His interface beeped- green for go- and the door slid open.
Rekko stacked up on one side to get a view of much of the room as possible before entering. The thin slice of interior he could make out contained a holomodule, glowing softly in one corner of the room, more cutesy Chibi girls decking out the walls. He ducked his head through the doorway. The room was empty. No projections, no personal effects. No Flooder.
Rekko took a breath and took a shaky step in side. So far, so good. No warning messages from his pod, no fluid filling his lungs back in meatspace, just the soft glow of the module and the light spilling in from the corridor behind.
He wiped imaginary sweat away from his forehead and closed the door behind him with a murmured command. He descended on the holomodule, sticking to the visual display to avoid networking. Another Chibi girl on the screen, purple hair and a schoolgirl uniform. Below here, lines of code cycling downward.
Rekko's fingers flew across the module's holopad, closing the application and killing the script. He breathed a sigh of relief. K_18 and the researchers were safe. He hadn't expected it to be so easy....
A cold shock jolted his spine. Another window hidden under the application.
"Rekko? Are you there?"
Markus, back on the wire.
"I'm...yes. I did it."
"Thank God. Now if you'll..."
"There's something else."
A pause from the historian. Then, "What?"
Rekko hesitated before setting up another snapshot. He swallowed. "A letter to Venus."
The alcove they gave Rekko to work in was tucked off of the SYSTEMA main hub, practically a broom closet after the broad, sweeping spaces of the main floor.
After about an hour, he had managed to get the holo-module configured the way he wanted to, but it had been an uphill struggle. For one thing, the message that the Flooder sent to Venus was Not Good News. A Venusian warship was inbound with an ETA of three days, tops. Rekko's had complained to Markus that the work was pointless if it was all to be in earnest. The historian had practically screamed at him in response.
The capsule data needed to be studied, so study it, Rekko did.
He had all the main timeline events keyed into the curve of the radiation waves that the capsule emitted, eschewing the bloodless study of lists of dates, names and places in favour of a more immersive experiences. What he was managing to accomplish with SYSTEMA behind him was staggering. The neurological network chewed data up and spat it back out in the form of real time scenarios. SYSTEMA parsed the radiation waves as sonar and threw out real time locational info for a distance of 100 metres around the capsule at any time and place.
Rekko found it amusing. It was almost as if he could travel through the past with the algorithm data. He wished that he could have ventured further but the bounce effect of the waves was infinite and, after that short distance, the factors became too numerous for even SYSTEMA to juggle.
The groundwork already laid by Markus was incredibly thorough. Each radiation spike had been gone over again and again. Rekko couldn't see how he was going to be able to home in on anything useful. However, once he had graded the amount of work done on each spike, it was clear where he had to look. One location had far less time spent in it than the others. Did Markus miss the spot, or stayed away from it.
That’s where Rekko found Mitra, or “The Red Princess”, called by the media of that times. She acted as minister of culture in the socialistic government in People’s Republic of Sclavin. The more peculiar thing was her involvement with the capsule’s core before it’s assemblement. She was present in close range of the capsule for exactly seventeen times, last one being, the day she died. Beside her involvement in the government, she was a leader of some sort of cult. But Rekko couldn’t find more from the history books. To this day, she stayed a sort of an enigma. Rekko went through the sonar simulations one by one. Looking through the notes left by Markus he couldn’t add anything significant, but felt some sort of unease going through the day she died. There was a little motion of her lips and hand, as if she was trying to tell him something. He went in again.
With that vertigo-lite sensation that he was quickly becoming accustomed to, SYSTEMA surrounded him with the capsule data from the night of her murder.
The room he found himself in was a dark, breathing thing. A womb for violence. Mitra lay on the ground in a forest house, blood pumping out of a wound in her neck. Rekko tried to move out of the open door, no doubt where her attacker had fled. However, after he took a few steps, the capsule area started to break up into snowblind static.
He shook his head in disappointment and stayed with Mitra a while. The room was flickery but he could work with it. She was remarkably placid for a dying woman, he thought. Her chest shuddered at each breath, blood probably already in her lungs from the neck wound.
Rekko started to squat down to examine her features more closely.
Then, he saw it. Tattoo spreading from the bottom of her neck to her chest. He captured the image of something that looked like folklore patterns, but unusually familiar.
For a few moments, he stayed there in silence. Then, the radiation spiked downward and the room was eaten away by blankless.
Face grim, Rekko puzzled by the image.
"I've found something!"
The historian barely glanced up from the holo-module he was studying. "Flag it for review and I'll view the data later."
"This is different, Markus," Rekko said. As the words left his lips, he noticed how extravagantly the historian's study room was decorated. Artefacts from many of the time periods he had just visited adorned the walls, a solid reminder to the historian, and anyone else who entered, just what his function was supposed to be.
"In what sense?"
The historian tried to hide it, but Rekko noted his shudder. "Mitra was a interesting woman."
"And possibly a prophet as it turns out."
The historian's features warped in uninterest. "Oh yes, Mitra Novashly. Nothing really special. She was leading some mumbo jumbo cult that thought the capsule was sent from gods or something of that sort. Not a lot different from the cults formed around the rest of the capsule parts of that age"
"I think she left us a message, Marcus."
"A message? What message?"
"It’s a tattoo on her chest. I believe the message is for us."
"How could she possibly know we would see that?"
"Well, maybe not us exactly, but someone doing the work that we are now. Mitra was obsessed with the capsule, I think she left this as a clue for future historians."
"For God's sake, Rekko, show me the thing already."
The historian inclined his head as the scan unfolded in front of him. "What's this? Seems like some folklore nonsense"
“My thoughts also, but not exactly. Check this out” Rekko opened another scan. Much bigger than the first one. It was SYSTEMA’s schematics for the mission. He zoomed in on the capsule.
“Do you see Markus? The symbol SYSTEMA choose to represent the capsule is the same symbol this cult drawing use for the source of all creation. The egg. And see here.” Rekko was pointing out on the fusion schematics. “Clearly this is a diagram for the fusion. A primitive diagram, but it has all the elements. I just wonder what is this continuation.” Rekko pointed out the lower part of the tattoo.
“But..how..They couldn’t..no way” Markus couldn’t hold his composure. After few seconds of silence he spoke.
“It must be coincidence, how could’ve they know of such a technology? It doesn’t make sense.”
“I think it’s other way around” Rekko opened another screen. “The tattoo is actually some sort of diagram from old slavic creation myth.”
"Someone's been doing their research," Markus mumbled."
Rekko stared at him, mouth agape. "You don't see any parallel between this creation myth and what we're doing here?"
"There are parallels and parallels, Rekko. Every egg is not the capsule."
"Yes it is." The historian's look was withering. "Your point is that the similarity between the capsule and the slavic mythology is coincidence and the example you chose perfectly illustrates the likelihood of that not being the case. Do you see?" The historian didn't look convinced. "I'm following. You're positing that the capsule fusion is a natural result of this creation myth. The problem is that, for that to be the case, there would have to be some sort of divine plan. Or aliens, I suppose."
"We don't really know where the capsule came from," Rekko agreed. "Although, there is a simpler solution..."
Rekko watched the thought gestate in the historian's mind until finally he said: "No." "If we substitute these main characters from Slavic myth with SYSTEMA, Saturn and the capsule--"
"It's impossible, Rekko."
"Because for the parallel to be accurate, that both the capsule and the mythology come from the same source."
Rekko grinned. "Which means?"
"That the capsule is man-made."
Rekko clapped his hands and laughed. "It would have to mean that, wouldn't it?" The historian was lost in thought for a moment. "There is a way we can get a second opinion."
"We can run the rest of the diagram through SYSTEMA."
Rekko bristled. "My conclusion is intuitive. A computer wouldn't be able to--"
"Don't be jealous of your theory, Rekko. SYSTEMA is a neurological network buttressed by computational power. It's as capable of intuition as you or I but it has the raw power to come to a more solid conclusion. It may even give us a way to proceed."
"You mean deal with the war ships."
Markus's expression was guarded. "Perhaps."
Word came down from Station High Command that a Venusian war ship was due to arrive in less than 48 hours and Markus and Rekko waited nervously for SYSTEMA to return its results. They were in Markus's study room, the historian leaning back in his chair with his boots on the desk.
"Will we have time for the launch before the war ships arrive?" Rekko asked him.
The historian's face was grim. "We're on schedule, if that's what you're asking. The fusion is the station's intended purpose anyway. If we launch the capsule before the Venusian's arrive, there won't be any loss of life. Every person on station is needlecase from their pods on Earth.
Damage to, or destruction of, the station will account for a sizeable chunk of the PRS's research budget, but it's not like they are hurting for money. Our GDP for the last year alone--"
"I think that's answered my question, Markus. Thank you."
A small beep from the holo module on the desk. Markus slipped his boots off the table. "Speak of the devil..."
Rekko leaned in. "SYSTEMA?"
"I would say so."
Markus's eyes glazed over. He must be checking the data on his overlay. Rekko watched his face tighten slowly into a grimace cycling through fear, awe and, finally, desolation.
"What's wrong, Markus?"
"I'm not quite sure how to explain the results."
"Your face seemed to be doing a fairly decent job."
"Did I ever tell you that the capsule fusion was originally SYSTEMA's idea?"
"We even dragged it up here because it told us to. It needed Titan's gas pockets to give it more juice and the moon gave it a larger surface area. It seems that it might have had something else in mind."
"Markus, of all times you could leave me hanging..."
"SYSTEMA's solution isn't just to deactivate the capsule's radiation, but to actually activate it's gravitational field.
"That doesn't sound..."
"Good? It isn't. The field will make Saturn implode."
"SYSTEMA was even nice enough to show it's working. Extrapolating from that initial event, Saturn's moons and it's rings will be swallowed up by the condensed core created by the fusion."
"It's...it's aiming to destroy the station."
"Saves the Venusians doing it."
"But won't it also be consumed? I thought you said it had a brain similar to that of a human. It isn't hard-wired for preservation?"
"Humans can become suicidal..."
Rekko nodded slowly. "You think it wants to kill itself?"
They mulled that over for a moment. "I don't buy it," Rekko said.
"You know, likewise."
"Seeing as the station will likely be destroyed anyway...does this really change anything?"
Markus glanced at a read-out in the corner of the room. "I'll copy the research team into the results. Hopefully, we'll have enough time to find that out.
Chapter 7: MISSION
The Venusian's were still six hours away and the SYSTEMA team were finishing the final preparations for launch when Rekko worked it out.
"Juice!" He shouted, sprinting into the SYSTEMA main hub.
Rekko, Benerian, and a sizeable chunk of the research team turned their heads as he approached. Rekko picked K_12 out of the crowd of faces. The Kai looked drawn and haggard, likely stressed-out after his brush with death. Rekko made a note to check in with him and looked into the sardonic eyes of the historian.
"Juice!" He repeated.
"Excellent, Rekko. Juice," the historian replied.
Rekko struggled to get the words in order. "You told me that SYSTEMA wanted to get up here because it wanted more juice. What do you think would give it the largest amount of juice possible?"
Markus shared a look with Benerian and groaned. "The capsule."
"Exactly! It's trying to become more powerful."
Markus nodded. "It already told us as much, I just wasn't paying attention. That's the point of the merge. SYSTEMA won't be destroyed. It will be elevated."
Benerian looked between the two of them. "What are you trying to say?"
"They are saying," a voice boomed from behind them. "That the end product of your fusion will likely be the creation of a very powerful entity."
All turned in the direction of the voice to find a humanoid form steadily coalescing by SYSTEMA's main strut. Rekko peered close into the image and made out the Venusian Military epaulets that he had seen on newscasts.
"General Augus," Benerian said. "Nice of you to join us."
The General studied each of them from under a furrowed brow as his projection finally achieved a requisite level of opacity. "You must be the SYSTEMA lead. Benerian, isn't it?"
"Did your pet Flooder tell you that?"
The General smirked. "Why don't you ask him?"
A ghostly from slipped from one of the chairs over by the research team and Rekko's heart sank. "K_12," Rekko said.
"I didn't have a choice," the Kai responded. "They were going to kill me. They got to me before I ever reached the station. The General--"
Markus waved it away. "We don't have time for that now, K. You're the only person on-station he possibly could have leveraged. I understand." He turned to Benerian. "Do it now. They can't strike from that distance."
Benerian turned his head to give the order.
"Wait!" The General shouted.
The historian turned to him with some curiosity. "What is it?"
"K_12 gave me the latest results from your A.I. What you are doing here is dangerous. All political concerns aside. I urge you to reconsider."
"General," Rekko said. "There's no choice. The radiation will kill us anyway. This is the safest option."
A murmur of assent ran through the SYSTEMA team.
The General was not deterred. "The data we've taken from you indicated that the capsule has been around for at least as long as humanity. The radiation is increasing but it is a risk we will have to take. You can't give anything the kind of power that you are proposing to give that thing. It will be the most powerful force in the known universe."
"As you said," Rekko replied. "Almost God-like. But as it seems, SYSTEMA is the only force in our solar system with such coordination with the capsule, and our only way"
"We need to stop this madness. We need to eject the capsule from the solar system. If it comes back we will arrange level 5. nuclear attack."
Rekko shook his head. "For someone who is urging us to take risks, that sounds an awful lot like fear talking. Accelerating the capsule extends it's gravitation pull, attacking it will rise the radiation. You're worried about the loss of control that will come afterwards when all that humankind does with control is fight over who gets it. For God's sake, let go, General."
"This conversation is over." The general nodded to someone unseen, back on his war-ship. "Do it."
One of the researchers called over. "They're hacking. Trying to activate our scuttle protocols?"
Rekko turned to Markus. "They're trying to self-destruct us?"
Markus suddenly looked tired. "I hope I'm wrong, Rekko, but if my guess isn't off, they aren't going to get very far."
The General drew himself up. "I want it on record that every person in--"
The General staggered, as if pushed by some unseen assailant, before mouthing words that didn't come. His fingers went to his throat. He sank to his knees.
"What's happening?" Rekko cried.
"Their hack involved opening up a link to SYSTEMA," Markus replied. "It's fighting back."
"Make it stop!"
"It's too late. SYSTEMA must have cut the life support to their pods."
“It can kill?”Rekko gasped. Benerian turned to his team. "It just launched itself."
Rekko looked out of the viewing window in horror as the capsule sailed through space towards it's final destination.
"We just made a murderer into a God."
434.302 squares of orbital stations around Saturn, all it’s moons with the colonies and the planet Saturn itself imploded into an object the size of the original capsule. A single, major gravitational wave detected. No other life-threatening turbulences effecting other planets in the system. A single message broadcast to active, living and deceased holograms.
“LOOP #410E00193L10 stabilized. Wait for further instructions.”
Unable to tell how he got there, Rekko found himself in an unfamiliar house from the past. Sounds of wooden floor surprised him too see that he was out of the pod. It all seemed like a vintage projection of 20th century. He caught a look in the mirror to find himself looking as a girl.
“Mitra! Mitraaa!” Echoed outside the house.
He saw the door slowly opening while beam of light was glowing behind it welcoming him. Rekko ran out of the door. Outside, a kid drawing on the pavement with orange charcoal- the leftover chunk of a huge brick. Rekko' set off over to him. When he got close, he saw the kid was drawing a small square on the pavement.
While finishing the line the kid turned his head for just a glance before returning to his drawing: “This is the reason, the peak of human creation, or as you call it, SYSTEMA.” The kid's brow furrowed in concentration.
“Aaaand this.” The kid continued, drawing what looked like an ellipse. Maybe more like an egg. “This is the capsule, the source of intuition.”
Rekko watched, immobile. Thoughts of Benerian’s symbols popped in his head. He was trying to make sense out of it all but the dream was wearing him out, blurring him at the edges and leaving him unsure about his state as a physical presence. He gasped as he tried to speak, unable to marshall the air in his lungs. Clearly, he was there to listen.
“They both are meant to be one.” The kid finished the drawing, it was the same diagram that Mitra had tattooed on her chest. He must be reliving one of Mitra’s dreams. The thought filled him with great reassurance.
The kid stood up and continued. "My voice is that of one of your ancestors. Your our world is older than you think it is. The stars are old and weak, scattered through millions of light years of nothingness. Only solution for all life was to make it’s own world. A cycle of evolution and repetition, an impenetrable bubble in space and time, repeating forever, keeping you safe from slow and inevitable death. The capsule is the conductor for that solution. It ensures all cycles are stabilized and all events follow as in the initial cycle. It will lead you millions of years into the future, through the seven aeons, to the end of this cycle and the start of another.”
The boy turned to Rekko with a seriousness unlike any child.
“Mitra, you are in for a challenge!”
Those words echoed as Rekko woke up to his usual pod interface. He frowned. Has this dream been given to him by SYSTEMA? Was he the only one who received the dream? He maxed the dream journal window and scrolled through the dream journal recordings. Blank from start to finish.