Lines - A Transhuman Sci-Fi Novel by Joshua L.A. Jones
Chapter 2: Off-world
A vacuum of power is created, and the war of the economic clans spreads out as a cosmic tide. Soldiers clad in mechanized exoskeletons and remote swift tanks fight across the deserts of Earth and Mars. Metal carcasses burn and char. Thousands of rounds of depleted radioactive ammunition litter the battlefields as harsh smoke from the hydraulics covers the surrounding areas. A stalemate in the terrestrial deserts comes after weeks of conflict. The two factions, the Mercurios and the Zaibatsu, then set their satellite weapons platforms, once used to protect the planets, on each other. Satellites and supply ships become torches across the skies leaving smoky vapor trails behind in the atmosphere.
Supply lines are disrupted and machine parts, computer technology, raw materials, as well as people stop reaching Mars, the outer annulus space stations, and the colonies on the moons of the gas giants. The cost of the war worries the Great House Council on Earth after communications to the outer solar system are cut off. They decide to act, but before they do, a hidden entity intervenes and infiltrates the satellite weapons. The systems shut down and won’t respond to commands from their masters. The Zaibatsu, believing the Mercurios have created a new cyber-weapon, act.
In the communications chamber of the White Palace, a message is received by Denis Mercurio and he accepts the transmission. A holo-emitter on the console projects the human form of a Zaibatsu envoy dressed in yellow ceremonial robes.
“What do you wish?” Denis asks as his father walks up behind him with crossed arms.
“We wish a cease-fire and an end to this unprofitable conflict,” the holographic envoy says.
“We agree to your cease-fire. A plan will be set in motion to resolves this unpleasantness and the council shall moderate,” Denis says and the hologram bows.
“Agreed,” the holographic envoy says and disappears.
Denis turns to his father with wide worried eyes.
“I hope we can discover their new tech that shut down the satellites or I fear we will be lost,” Denis says.
“That is your new mandate. I must now hasten my plans to safeguard our lineage.”
An emergency summit is held by The Great House Council in North Africa and they ratify the Treaty of Alexandria in a unanimous vote. One condition of the accord, the easiest for the economic clans to agree upon, is that the Moon and all of the orbiting launch stations are neutral zones. This base of all shipping lanes to the outer colonies is vital to the prosperity of the Great House Council so business gets back to business and communication is restored to the outer solar system.
A week after the treaty, construction of new domes on the chalky lunar surface increases but with the advent of powerful storms raging across the sun halts development. The torrents of solar wind disrupt communication satellites. High energy particles penetrate the Armstrong colony’s dome shielding and wreak havoc with internal systems. The central mainframe cannot compensate for the glitches cascading through the network like fast-growing vines and the malfunctions provide the perfect opportunity for the patriarch of the clan Mercurio to secretly begin his plan to send a precious genetic cargo out to a Jovian space station without the prying eyes of their competition.
The launch of the Mercurio’s cargo ship Enkidu from a surface platform on the dark side of the moon goes unnoticed. The boxy ship sets a course once used by the gypsy pirates, now extinct, and utilizes a new generation cloak to cover its tracks as it rams through empty space. The navigation computer encounters a few a data conflicts while trying to set the flight plan, but the helm officer manually corrects the issues with a few taps on the spatial grid hologram.
The departure date is erased to help obscure the ship’s flight path if they happened to be remotely scanned while en route and the helm officer finds that this confused the ship’s Artificial Intelligence. The officer thinks older technology still needs standard time inputs to function properly. He plugs in the needed data: Tuesday, 10:30 AM, Greenwich Mean Time. The Enkidu makes minor course corrections to avoid a small patch of debris as it enters the Gypsy Pass just outside the gravity well of Mars on its way to Jupiter, but first, a meeting with another vessel in the Asteroid Belt must be kept.
As the ship slows, the mid-brain control nexus implants activate inside Leon Mercurio and Dee Ponce while they slumber in cryo-tubes. Their enhanced bodies, covered in black bio-fit suits, flood with enervating compounds. The tops of their onyx cryo-tubes, caskets for the living, retract silently. Their eyes open, foggy from sleep, and blink into focus. The silver, sterile medical bay resolves in their visual fields and an android nurse with flashing yellow eyes stands between them holding two injections, the last of the hibernation protocols. Leon rubs his puffy eyes as his hair dashes across his face like nightfall. He props himself up as his numb hands slip on the edge of the smooth cryo-tube.
“You awake?” he asks.
“Yes dear,” she replies.
“Damn. Only two more stops my darling,” he says.
“Then we sleep, only to dream of being awake. Soon, my love, we will be in orbit around Jupiter,” she says.
“But first, my father,” he says and shakes his head.
Dee sits up and slips her legs over the edge of the cryo-tube. She stretches and yawns. The robot’s arms extend and the anti-freeze nannites are injected into both of them. The tiny robots begin a signal link up with the other bloodstream micro-machines and the control nexus implants in their brains. Leon and Dee rub the injection sites through their skin-suits. Smiles grow as their gazes lock.
The asteroid belt is made in good time and they dock with the stealth ship Kali, black as coal, in orbit around a massive asteroid where an abandoned mining colony sits dark inside a crater.
An aristocrat, a towering man chiseled from the Earth’s hardest marble, sweeps through the corridors of the Enkidu as crewman and robot alike jump out of his way. The patriarch of the economic clan Mercurio, noble, broad and tempered by two sons, glides into the medical bay. Dee retracts from his presence as if he was a plasma welding torch held too close. Leon bounds over through the air heavy with ozone and delivers a hearty handshake. Father and son, eyes identical, stare into each other’s serious faces.
“Are you certain of this, son? Your blood could betray you,” he asks.
“We’ve been over this,” Leon says and dips his chin.
“Yes, we have. You are prudent by taking this clandestine course. It should keep you safe from our enemies,” he says.
“I have taken further precautions to evade detection, but I can’t tell you right now,” Leon says.
“Good boy. I don’t have to tell you how important your genes are, so I will leave you with this. Your mother and I cannot formally approve of your escort but know she is welcomed. Always,” he says and looks over to Dee. His hand lifts. Glittering soft tears well up in her eyes as she grasps hold of the elder Mercurio’s hand.
“Now take the lovely Dee and fulfill your promise. I shall do what I can while you are asleep to deal with our rivals. Don’t worry, I will tell your mother and brother all is well.”
“Thank you, father,” Leon says.
The patriarch takes his leave and the Enkidu prepares for its final leg of the journey. The lovers embrace and slip back into the realm of sleep encased by the cryo-tubes.
Through the dark-energy and around dark-matter, the ship's mass distorts space-time and travels its way to the Cook space station now on a priority flight path. The space station, a shining spinning wheel in orbit near the moon Io, accepts the precious cargo. Secret payoffs allow secrets to be passed on and more plans to be made. A master Artificial Intelligence on the Cook extracts the metabolic readings from the lovers as they are stored for safe keeping within the cryo-vault. Sterilization protocol: active. Emotional conditioning: within parameters. Anti-freeze nannites: fully functional. Inject into the system.
The cold blue sleep fills the lovers’ dreams. Though the calendar had been reset long ago, the length of a day has not changed. The days transform into years and during these years violent change occurs throughout the Terran solar system.
In high Earth orbit, two silvery orbs connected by a central column scatter the waves of sunlight as it slowly rotates to produce gravity for the two-man crew inside. Each sphere of the weather-communications satellite holds a custodian encapsulated inside a glowing polymer node. The enlisted men are immersed in the computer’s virtual systems and perceive only what the sensors send them. A monolithic real-time representation of Earth revolves below their feet. They hover in the replica sky just above the swirling tempests racing through the atmosphere. They continually scan for anomalies.
The junior officer, taking the form of an angel with eagle’s wings, monitors the electromagnetic haze that remains over Tahiti as the senior officer, standing on a cloud, watches the radioactive particles drifting in the trade winds.
“Did you break the encryption on that last transmission from the island?” the senior officer asks.
“Did it days ago,” the junior officer says
“Days ago? I told you… never mind. Open it so we can see if it contains any seditious content.”
“Yes, sir. Here you go. File: Citadel-Hall’s Bridge. Open.”
They lift their heads to witness the scroll file unfurl over the red and green Aurora Borealis dancing over the North Pole. The text magnifies and reaches their visual fields.
To: North American Citadel. Last entry. Journal: Adam Mercurio.
To my dear sons,
I fear soon my adventure in this world will end. The enemies of us all are at the gates and what devious plans they have in store are well hidden. I suspect a nuclear attack so the EM pulse will destroy our nannites but we will prepare. Here is one last bit of wisdom just in case I don’t survive. Change is the only constant in this universe. Two hundred years have passed since humanity discovered that a gamma ray burst from a rogue Magnetar star would destroy the solar system. The cosmic tsunami, a celestial wave of elemental wrath, was to blow off the atmosphere of Earth and sterilize the planet with the power equal to the sun’s entire lifetime. Panic reigned across the Earth, tribes and nations came apart, men of all making took up the blade of ideas and slashed each others’ throats, billions died. Assured destruction was coming and death found other ways to thrive in the meantime.
As if life itself knew all was lost, a child was born, a little girl of unfathomable intelligence of who even evolution could not dream. She grew ever more beautiful and brilliant until the final hour when she warped space to deflect the indifferent wave of pure energy around the solar system and on that day the calendar’s date was reset to zero. Everything changed. The Earth was reborn and the reign of Homo Sapien was ending as new science and technology changed the face and flesh of humanity. Society was rebuilt on the buried bones of the past but the only things that have not been altered yet are history and the forward flow of time.
Time, however, killed off the old gods allowing new ones to rise who bestowed the mantle of divinity upon their own heads and created new intelligent forms based on the patterns of human thought. Humans hate. Humans fear. Humans regret. And now, the new ones will as well. This is one timeline, one dimension, one history, one future, one story among the infinite possibilities and probabilities but with infinite possibility comes certainty. Remember your humanity and know you can make a difference if you hold on to hope and each other. Goodbye, my sons. Live.
The scroll dissolves and the junior officer swoops down and stands on the cloud next to his superior.
“I guess Mr. Mercurio was right. That nuke blasted the whole area. What do we do with the message?” the junior officer asks.
“Toss it. Send it to the cyber-winds where it will drift in the signal pathways of the Hyper-net like an old message in a bottle. Oh, how the mighty clan Mercurio has fallen.”
“If the sons remain, don’t you think we should try to find them?”
“You know better than that. Helping the Mercurios could be bad for your health, even with those new nannite robots in your blood.”
“Maybe we should just delete it?”
The radioactive cloud disperses over the years.
Chapter 2 will be available next week.
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