Concerned that the UA forces on Luna Base may use the quantum teleporter to send an unwelcome gift to the newly-declared independent United Mars Colonies, former Mars security chief Sergeant Major Hamels and former Artemis crew members Enoch Ryan and Brady Cooper attempted to disable the teleporter ahead of time.
Cooper could sense the radioactive isotopes within the canister. The explosive materials could kill them and most of this part of the colony due to sudden decompression of the building’s atmosphere. Fine radioactive dust spread everywhere. If it reacted with the cobalt in the boxes around them, the resulting dirty bomb could poison half or most of the planet for years. Decades, even. Who knows how long it would last.
If anyone were around to care.
“Fly-boy, you sense that?”
“Let me try something.”
“You want the rifle?”
“The energy discharge will just set it off. That’s probably what they were counting on. Or hoping we’d try to disable it.”
“Or send it back,” Hamels said. “No doubt their end has a rigged signal to reject contact, which also would set the thing off.”
“Then there’s only one option.”
With a sigh, Enoch set the rifle down next to the console. “Coop, something tells me you need me to help.”
“You read my mind.”
Now it was Hamels’ turn to back away. “What are you both doing?”
“Sergeant Major, we need you to focus on maintaining the force shield.”
The geist sat down crosslegged on one side of the platform. Enoch sat down likewise across from him on the opposite site. They stared into the force shield, concentrating on the cylindrical container.
This installment is a bit longer than anticipated, so I will cut it into two parts. Metaphorically. Just like the Artemis crew will need to, following their agreement with the Mars colonies faction heads to train the afflicted settlers in controlling their odd new powers and sensations while assisting in distribution of temporary water and food supplies. Only Martin, the former Mars UN Overseer, who thinks he can manipulate the situation, is about to find out things are proceeding far faster than he planned. And Luna Base has a nasty surprise in store for Mars…
The storeroom chambers were nearly full by now. It had taken several days, but at last the food and water brought from Ceres had been stacked neatly, carefully portioned and labelled for each settler division. Orders were sent to each settler node requesting two or three representatives to bring their respective robotic platform dollies to the main supply chamber.
Cooper strolled casually along one earthen wall, rubbing a hand against the soil. He could feel the regolith composite materials, sense the minerals and hydrocarbon content. It would be so easy to extract and solidify what they needed, strengthen the structure. Or dig even deeper below the planet’s surface.
“Here,” Martin said, handing a pad to Cooper. “I’ve authorized the complete list of supplies brought by the Artemis. There’s my thumb verification, at the bottom.”
Cooper accepted the pad. He scrolled up to verify, nodding. “That should do it.”
“Now,” Martin said, addressing both Artemis crew members with him. “I’d like to find out what happened to my security chief, Hamels. She was outside the airlock when you dropped the ditrium on the ice cap.”
“First things first,” Enoch said. “We’d better make sure that the quantum teleportation nodes from Luna are severed.”
Martin turned pale. “That would seem a bit, er, final, wouldn’t it?”
Enoch grinned. “You bet. And necessary. Who knows what might come through the next time the UA turns the system on again?”
The geist spread his hands wide and made a booming sound, then laughed. The tall spacer slapped his crewmate on the shoulder, then both laughed hysterically for a moment. Martin stared at them. Cooper couldn’t help doubling over again, holding his stomach.
I’ve been testing ChatGPT over the last couple of days. (If you don’t know what this chatbot is, here’s a good NYT article about ChatGPT and others currently in development.)
The avowed purpose of ChatGPT is to create an AI that can create believable dialogues. It does this by scouring the web for data it uses to respond to simple prompts.
By “simple,” I mean sometimes “horribly complicated,” of course. And sometimes a little ridiculous.
As has been pointed out, chatbots only generate texts based on what they have been fed, i.e., “garbage in / garbage out.” So if you push the programs hard enough, they will generate racist, sexist, homophobic etc awful stuff — because unfortunately that kind of sick and twisted garbage is still out there, somewhere online in a troll’s paradise.
So far, I have asked the program to:
Write a haiku about winter without using the word “winter”
Write a limerick about an Irish baseball player
Write a dialogue between God and Nietzsche (I just had to…)
Imagine what Jean-Paul Sartre and Immanuel Kant would say to each other (see above) but using US ’50 slang
Have Thomas Aquinas and John Locke argue about the existence of God (that one was fun)
Write a 300 word cause-effect essay about climate change
Write a 300 word compare and contrast essay about the US and Japan
Write a 1000 word short science fiction story based on Mars
Write a 1500 word short science fiction about robots in the style of Philip K Dick
Sorry that it’s been almost three months since posting more fiction. The colonists on Mars are still undergoing training by Riss and Sanvi so that they can understand and control their new abilities. Meanwhile, Bardish has headed out into space, where he met his destiny.
And Gennaji, who had been headed to discover Bardish’s fate on Luna, is now approaching his own.
“Prepare to board that Loonie ship,” Gennaji said tersely, unstrapping his flight harness.
Karel’s voice sounded void of emotion. As if the big man had gone numb.
Gennaji glanced over at his new navigator. It looked as if the man hadn’t slept at all since they left Ceres. Since their failure. Since Andrej betrayed him.
He couldn’t help himself.
“Pining for that backstabbing vybliadok?”
Karel shot him a glare that Gennaji could not back down from. He planted his magboots firmly down on the control room deck and returned the glare. Neither spoke for a moment.
“He made his choice,” Karel finally said. He kept his eyes firmly on his captain.
“Yes,” Gennaji said, crossing his arms. “He did. And you?”
“You agreed to join this crew. Standard sixteen-month contract.”
“For two more weeks.”
“Yes, two more weeks! A man makes a promise, a man keeps it. You have a problem with being a man?”
Karel turned red, clenched his fists.
“Captain,” said the pilot. “The Lunar skiff is changing course. Heading…directly at us!”
“What?” Gennaji took a step towards Orynko. He felt a big hand grab the back of his right upper arm, twisted him around to face behind him. The punch came in slightly off target, a glancing blow on the chin that sent him backward a step or two. He staggered, recovered, anticipated the left body blow and blocked with the inner part of his right arm. Karel fell forward, his momentum carrying him into his captain.
Gennaji immediately sidestepped, tripping the bigger man and forcing him into a headlock from behind. Left forearm under the man’s left shoulder and neck, right arm behind and locked with the left bicep. Twisted hips, pushed down to the floor, pinning his opponent down with his body weight.
Karel gasped, grabbed at the forearm, kicking futilely.
They couldn’t possibly outrun the hunter ship. Sergey couldn’t identify the vessel, not from his prone position, certainly not in his physical condition. But he knew from experience that any hunter ship could run faster than them, even if the lunar skiff had more maneuverability. And he had a strong suspicion who it was, anyway. Someone he probably should have dealt with in the past.
Music was playing now. He caught just a few refrains. Piano. Ah. Moonlight Sonata. A bit melodramatic, he thought, but appropriate.
He returned his thoughts to this Elodie person who had chosen his adopted daughter’s favorite composer. He still had no idea why she had rescued him from Lunar Base. Or even why he needed rescuing in the first place.
Somebody wanted him. Badly. But why?
In the end, it mattered not to him. All that he wanted was what he had always wanted.
To remain free and independent. Owned by and beholden to no one.
Not even his rescuer, no matter her taste in music.
“El-Elo-die,” he croaked. “W-what now?”
There was no sound from the front of the little ship. He tried again, a bit louder. Still nothing. The music swelled.
He closed his eyes, making a fist with his good hand. No, he wouldn’t die like this. Lying down and useless.
With every ounce of willpower he could muster, Sergey struggled to his feet. Foot, he corrected himself, grabbing onto anything he could to get upright. It took considerably longer than he thought. After a few excruciatingly long moments he found an arm looped round him, assisting him the length of the ship. He was helped into the navigator’s chair, next to the pilot’s chair.
No captain needed on a two-person ship. He would’ve smiled with chagrin, if he could still smile.
“I guess you just aren’t the kind of person who is willing to stay still,” Elodie said. She had sat next to him, almost as if by magic, without his noticing.
He flickered his eyes at the console.
“Where is the approaching ship?” she guessed. He tried to nod his head, but it hurt too much. But at least he could still grunt.
She called up the flight and intercept trajectories and overlaid them so that he could clearly see them.
“No ship registered ID. Most likely hunters. Perhaps pirate.”
He examined the readout, then tried to shake his head, slowly. It came out looking more like a twitch to the right.
“No? Do you know who it is?”
“Captain, before you tell me what you’re thinking, I want to tell you something.”
He continued to gaze at the trajectories in front of them. The dot representing the hunter ship slowly closing in.
“I received a transmission from Ceres. The mining council was briefly taken over by a hunter captain named Ildico. I think you know her.”
He blinked his eyes to show that he did. And waited.
“Ultimately she was unsuccessful. The Artemis showed up. Helped depose her. Now it’s on its way to Mars. The Sundering has begun. We will no longer bow to the whims of the old order, no longer be their mining slaves. No longer be powerless, controlled by—”
He sighed, waved his hand. Enough with the speeches and politics, he thought. It had nothing to do with him. At least he knew that Riss was safely away from whatever coup, whatever powerplay had occurred. She had chosen independence, as did he. He was satisfied.
Only one thing left to do now.
“Captain,” Elodie said forcefully. “You must come with me to Ceres. The remaining hunter ships will listen to you. They respect you.”
He tilted his head to the side, waving his hand again. Then gestured at the screen in front of them.
“Yes, I am not sure how to evade this ship, if it proves hostile. The message I received did not talk about any kind of rescue ship coming. I think the mining council still believes I am on Luna, safe and soundly hidden. But somehow, somehow—”
He gestured with his right hand. “Pen. Pen.”
She complied, setting down a pad and stylus for him. Sergey tried in vain to write a few letters, managing only to scrawl indecipherable scribbles. He seemed on the verge of tossing the pen when Elodie said, “Captain. Don’t write. Draw.”
He stopped, then began to draw images. Two ships. One small, one large. Lines between them. An even smaller, tubelike ship. An asterisk, covering the tubelike ship.
He pointed to the asterisk, then to himself. Then from the small ship to Elodie. Then drew a circle and added stick figures around it. He made one hold what looked like a pad or some similar device. He then drew a line from the small ship to the circle again pointed to Elodie.
“You want me to go to the circle? Is this Ceres?”
“You want to stay in the small ship. This one we are in?”
He tilted his head to the side.
“No? Then, you want to go to the big ship?”
He tilted his head again and closed his eyes.
She suddenly grasped his design.
“Captain, I can’t let you do that. My duty is to prevent your capture and escort you safely to—”
He grabbed her arm with his good hand and held it firmly. Looked her in the eyes. Then said as clearly as possible, “Elo. Dee. Give. Mess. Age. All. Hear.”
He kicked his right foot on the floor and pointed at it. She looked down at it, then up again at him. He gestured again and grunted. Carefully, she removed his boot.
Bardish couldn’t see her remove the chip from an inner pocket in the back of the boot, but he was sure she would find it with little trouble. An old hunter tradition. A final, farewell message. He had always carried it with him, occasionally re-recording it before he thought he might meet his fate. He couldn’t remember when he had last done so. Probably well before the attempted coup. Possibly before Riss had left to track down her rock.
It was just as well. His mind hadn’t changed about many things. Especially since the trial.
The trial that had never should have happened.
Elodie showed him the transponder capsule, with the chip inside.
“Captain, do you want me to broadcast this?”
He blinked, grunted, and pointed at the image of the tubelike ship.
“I understand,” she replied. She held his good hand with both of hers. “You are a legend, Sergey. To all of us. I will make sure that everyone will hear.”
He smiled. Only half his mouth moved, making it appear more like a grimace.
“Well, at least those who care to hear, at any rate.”
He grunted, then looked at the console. Their pursuer had gained considerable ground on them. Most likely would demand to board them. For what purpose, he did not know. But at least this way he would stay free.
If only he knew where Riss was. And that good-for-nothing fiancé of hers.
As the clone pilot assisted his entry into the pod, he prayed for their success. For Riss and Weng. Not for himself. He cared not whether the stratagem worked. This clone, Elodie, she was capable enough of defending herself.
He lay in the tiny pod, hands clasped together in prayer. He only wanted to sleep. Sleep, and to face the darkness on his own terms.
He nodded in response.
The door above his head closed. The music stopped. The pod launched.
Sergey closed his eyes.
Green grass, flowing light blue banners and red rising spires floated before them.
The dirge began.
Beside his old horse a soldier is lying
Beside the soldier his mother is crying…
Above them in circles the bird is flying…
My body pale white, like seeds of poppy–
wounded sore in desperate flight.
O mother mine, do not sorrow so
To see your son in such plight…
Search for a doctor, a carpenter, as well.
The doctor cannot help but
The carpenter a small house will make…
When all is lost and all is finished,
My builder and my war, farewell and good-bye.
O mother mine, cease all your weeping,
Because your poor son is going…
Next:Bringer of Light, Chapter 37: Transit, Ceres to Luna. Gennaji and Karel finally come to an agreement, and things do not go well.
(And it would be VERY helpful if WordPress didn’t “refresh” while I was adding tags and categories to posts, and then hiding those tags and categories afterward so that I couldn’t update them…Sigh…what was wrong with the older version that worked just fine?)
The crew of the Artemis have admitted that the water brought from Ceres was contaminated. And yet they deny it was dangerous. Only different. And requiring training…that may stretch the rationality and scientific understanding of the current “United” Mars colonists…
“Delegates,” Martin began.
“Delegates, we must accept the help of the Artemis crew. We have little alternative. We must face the facts. The UN, our home countries, our home planet has abandoned us.”
“How can we survive?” another delegate asked, voice quivering. “Captain, how can we feed ourselves? Maintain heat, power?”
“These are legitimate questions,” she replied. “Coop, a small demonstration?”
He nodded and looked back and forth. Spotting a cup on a small table to the side of the console desk, he raised it above his head.
“Empty now. See?”
He stooped and scooped up a handful of regolith from the chamber floor. Dropped it to the cup. In an instant, water appeared.
Our search for alien life is getting serious. With better telescopes and a growing scientific consensus that we’re probably not alone in the universe, we’re beginning to look farther and wider across the vastness of space for evidence of extraterrestrials.
But it’s possible we’re looking for too few signs in too few places. Having evolved on Earth, surrounded by Earth life, we assume alien life would look and behave like terrestrial life.
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