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The building could not be found on any map. No record existed of its construction. No roads lead to it, and no spy satellite or aircraft could see it. This was no PAWI trick. Neither attack dogs nor burst drones could spot it with their keen senses, natural and artificial. An atomic bomb could not harm it. Not even the most sensitive sonic technologies could eavesdrop on it. The trick was that the building didn't technically exist in the local time frame. A chrono generator rested in the basement, projecting the entire building and the road leading to it a half-second into the future. Camelot, its builders called it. A place of peace, order, and hope. A place that did not, and probably could not, exist.
The perfect meeting place, then, for a conference on the impossible.
Six men and women sat around the conference table, the first and potentially last time they would meet together. Setting up the conference had been a herculean endeavor, and until the fifth day of the conference, a seemingly futile one. Presented with the threat of annihilation, humanity's response has always been to stare that threat in the eye and dare it to strike. Brave, stubborn, and foolhardy in the extreme. Humanity's penchant for irrational behavior has always been its cardinal virtue and damning sin. As a virtue, stunning acts of heroism, compassion, and work of all kinds have been performed for the most illogical of reasons, not the least of which is love, be it for a specific person or for a more abstract concept. As a sin, the atrocities wrought by the colonial empires of Europe, North America, and East Asia killed millions, and more than once humanity has meddled with forces beyond its comprehension. In the end, it is perhaps symptomatic of humanity' s most defining characteristic: selfishness. Even the most selfless of religions promise spiritual reward for corporeal denial. No one in the room was aware of it, but humanity's children in nanotech intelligence were all too human themselves. Even with their company, humanity was still alone. The Other is no different, its motives readily distilled into understandable terms such as hunger. Selfishness is an even greater problem for the selfless, though.
"This is insane." Cima Len Davidova noted. "The cost would bankrupt the Soviet Union and leave us too vulnerable. I doubt my honored comrade in blue would appreciate the disruption to her own economy."
Despite the conference being called by the Allied Nations, the bureaucratic structure of that organization meant that the Allied Nations could not have been responsible. For someone to take command would take an alternative hierarchy, and that alternative was represented by Aylin Sökmen, a representative of the ACIN. The irony did not go unappreciated. Sökmen, Davidova, and two others seated around the table - two men by the names Hoffhassle and Kamina - were all reluctant to support what might be humanity's salvation for fear of short-term harm to the people they were entrusted to lead. It was deceptive and tragically so. Avoiding short-term harm may well damn one in the long term. Ironically, the representative of the group most prone to doing just that was also the one who saw most clearly.
"Then we will fund the project. The cost to your economies may be grave, but the Board of Classics predicted this and would like to assure you all that we can handle the strain with minimal disruptions to your own economies."
In fact, Nwabudike Morgan was entirely ignorant of his masters' ends. He knew that he could do the job, and was among the Mediterranean Syndicate's most able statesmen and diplomats. His leash came in the form of a masked, white-haired woman who identified herself only as Persephone. Yet he was telling the truth. The Mediterranean Syndicate was not the monolithic organization conspiracy theorists envisioned, and was more a way of life and political affiliation than a single organization. In theory. No doctoring of records was needed to hide the true economic power that the Board of Classics could wield. The Syndicate was so prone to corruption, anarchy, and internal competition that its economic potential if firmly organized and directed wasn't even theoretical. Yet that potential could be realized, if the correct people wished it.
Emperor Kamina's question was simple. "Why?"
"Of all the things I have heard here," Morgan answered carefully, "The most truthful is that this market is unstable. Humanity must secure new markets if it is to survive."
Selfless behavior for selfish reasons.
"This will be the largest undertaking in human history." Dennis Hoffhassle noted. "We will need to select thousands, maybe tens or hundreds of thousands, of colonists. And a command crew."
The Viceroy nodded. "We have considered all of this, and should this council approve, we have a plan for personnel and construction. First, we will need to decide upon the primary command crew."
"Unity is a go." Sökmen nodded.
The conference wound on. It would continue for weeks, and months would pass before the first officer was selected, much less construction begun of what might be humanity's last hope.
Unity Command Crew ApplicationsEdit
|Born||May 12, 1926|
|Rank||Commissioner of Allied Health Services Bureau|
"Once a man has changed the relationship between himself and his environment, he cannot return to the blissful ignorance he left. Motion, of necessity, involves a change in perspective."
- - Excerpt from Pravin Lal's acceptance speech on his 1966 Nobel Peace prize.
Pravin Lal is the first great success story of Allied Pakistan and a testament to the hard work of the Allied Nations to stabilize and improve conditions in what was once considered a violently unstable third-world hellhole. Born to a deeply impoverished family, Pravin Lal was only able to attend school once the Allied Nations opened free public schools in the Punjab province and began extending public relief funds to families who enrolled their children. Pravin Lal attended school for the first time at age twelve, and quickly demonstrated a voracious appetite for learning. Lal passed every test and class he took with flying colors, graduating at age eighteen and going on to receive a full scholarship for formal college education in Europe. Lal decided to pursue the medical field, publicly stating on many occasions that he wanted to help others get the same chance at life that the Allied Nations extended him.
When Pravin Lal returned to Pakistan as a full medical doctor, he threw himself into working in the most desolate regions of his country, spurning the luxurious, clean, and safe hospitals he had his pick from. However, after several years of working in the field, Lal turned his attention towards administration and diplomacy, proving an able hand at both. To render a long and illustrious story short, Pravin Lal is the holder of the 1966 Nobel Peace Prize and Commissioner of the Allied Health Services Bureau. A repeated candidate for serious political leadership within the Allied Nations, Lal has always said that he serves where he is most needed, and feels his current position needs him more than the Council of Secretaries.
However, Lal apparently feels that the Unity project needs him more, as his application for the position of Unity surgeon and chief medical officer quickly rocketed to the top of the candidacy list. A brilliant surgeon in his own right, an able administrator and talented diplomat, and wholeheartedly devoted to the ideals of the Allied Nations, many look to Pravin Lal as the greatest representative of the Allied Nations in the Unity project.
|Born||1931 (precise date unknown)|
|Occupation||Unity Security Chief|
"Man has killed man from the beginning of time, and each new frontier has brought new ways and new places to die. Why should the future be different?"
- - Santiago arguing against the success of Unity with two unknown personnel.
Disentangling myth from fact is difficult when it comes to Corazon Santiago, leader of the notorious mercenary group known as Spartan Company. Verifiable fact is that she was born on what would eventually become known as Aztlan Sprawl in the middle of the Caribbean Sea to a prostitute and unknown father, and joined a local pirate band called, in a name that probably tempted fate, the Black Hats. Normally the fate of such girls born in even proto-Sprawls is sexual exploitation, drug addiction, and death, but few girls are the born survivalists Corazon Santiago proved to be. When Santiago first crossed the radar of the Allied Nations in 1947, she was in command of a pirate vessel after murdering the previous captain with the crew's approval for hoarding too much of the loot. The ship in question was subsequently sunk in the Allied raid on what many were calling New Port Royal, and Santiago was believed to be dead.
Santiago resurfaced in 1953 in command of a group of South American mercenaries called Spartan Company. Like many of the Mediterranean Syndicate executives who hired her, Santiago had taken a fascination with ancient Greece and Rome, particularly mythical Sparta with its warrior ideals. She named her group of mercenary followers after the city-state and adopted a strict code of ethics and even honor that she enforced ruthlessly. Spartan Company would never attack unarmed civilians, children, or those who had surrendered. A lesser leader might have lost control of such a group in the Syndicate's employ, but Santiago has proven a remarkably capable leader and strategic thinker, and her followers are fiercely dedicated to her. More unusually, she is no stranger to the Allied Nations, and Spartan Company executed a succession of contracts with the Allied Nations during World War Three.
Still, the planners of the Unity project were stunned to see Santiago apply for the position of security chief, and more than a little dubious until the mercenary captain explained herself to the executive council. The world, Santiago believes, is intrinsically hostile to human life, and only through discipline, vigilance, and iron resolve will humanity fight and win its place. It is not, perhaps, a view the Allied Nations are sympathetic towards, but there have been no other serious applications for the position.
|Born||December 11, 1907|
|Rank||Deputy Director of the Ministry of Experimental Science|
|Occupation||Unity Science Officer|
"Man's unfailing capacity to believe what he prefers to be true rather than what the evidence shows to be likely and possible has always astounded me. We long for a caring Universe which will save us from our childish mistakes, and in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary we will pin all our hopes on the slimmest of doubts. God has not been proven not to exist, therefore he must exist."
- - Excerpt from Zakharov's book, "On the Intellectual Integrity of Man."
Not many know the benefits, or the costs, of the accelerating technological arms race in the world better than Prokhor Zakharov, one of Russia's most brilliant scientific minds and one of the finest scientists on the planet. Yet Zakharov has won little fame for his breakthroughs, and the reason is unfortunately simple: if the truth were more widely known, Zakharov would be wanted by the Allied Nations as a war criminal. The details are deeply classified by an already paranoid nation, but Zakharov is believed by some to be the man responsible for the Soviet Union's weaponized Tesla technology, and instrumental in "improving" the original Desolator defoliant. One of the few things known for certain is that Zakharov was a strong proponent of the Desolator trooper program. Ironically, Zakharov has repeatedly had to restrain Directors of the Ministry of Experimental Science with more outlandish ideas, such as time travel.
Indeed, Zakharov prides himself on being one of the few eminently rational men in Moscow. When the Shogun Executioner razed Odessa and killed more than a million innocent civilians by Soviet estimates, Zakharov offhandedly mentioned in the Kremlin that he spent much of his childhood in the city and that he would no longer be attending holidays with his cousins who had lived in the city before its destruction, apparently unperturbed by the scope of the butchery. There is seemingly no scientific field that Zakharov is unfamiliar with, and he has held seminars on everything from genetic engineering to quantum physics. He enjoys the confidence of Premier Davidova as a scientific advisor when Gregor Zelinsky is unavailable, but Davidova has put Zakharov on a much tighter leash since attaining her position - Davidova is one of the few who knows the full scope of Zakharov's scientific projects, and knows better than most how little regard Zakharov has for human life.
Given his obscurity in the scientific community, many were surprised to see Zakharov apply for the position of Unity science officer (with more than a little push from Davidova, rumor has it). The critics have largely been silenced by interviews with Zakharov, who has been all too happy to demonstrate the scientific genius, purely - some might say coldly - rational thinking, and, in his own way, idealism. Zakharov is a communist, he says, because everything should belong to the people, and the most precious gift of all is knowledge.
|Born||August 1, 1936|
|Rank||Director, Allied Nations Department of Environmental Affairs|
"I shall not confront the planet as an enemy, but shall accept its mysteries as gifts to be cherished. Nor shall I crudely seek to peel the layers away like the skin from an onion. Instead I shall gather them together as the tree gathers the breeze. The wind shall blow and I shall bend. The sky shall open and I shall drink my fill."
- - "The Gaian's Prayer", usually told at Gaian protests and religious services.
In any accounting of controversial figures in the Allied Nations, the Scottish environmental activist Deirdre Skye is at or near the top of the list. On the surface she is innocuous enough, a doctor of ecology and the remarkably young director of the new Department of Environmental Affairs with strong contacts in the global environmentalist movement and a number of well-received papers exploring hypothetical alien ecologies and how the arrival of humanity, before human intervention has even done anything, could radically disrupt such environments. This has lead Skye to take a particular interest in the ecology of the deep sea, itself virtually an alien world, and many have taken to calling Skye Earth's first xenobiologist. Making matters all the more interesting is the fact that Skye is a known psionic with particular talent in telepathy. However, Skye has more enemies than friends in the Allied government, and ultimately there is some truth to those who say the Allied Nations only offered Skye a job because they couldn't arrest her.
Deirdre Skye's involvement in radical environmentalist organizations dates back to her early years of college in London, initially in the form of quasi-mainstream organizations such as PETA. By all accounts, Skye quickly tired of these groups and, as she put it on several occasions, their severely limited vision. Humanity, she said, must learn its place in the world, and that place is not as master of all it surveys. By the 1960s, Deirdre Skye had made a name for herself as a recurring thorn in the Allied Nations' side, leading popular and well-organized public protests of industrial expansion, testing of super-experimental technology, and gross exploitation of natural resources. Coupled with her equally ardent belief in democracy and pacifism, many have - and still do - suspect Skye of close ties with the Confederate Revolutionaries movement. In 1966, the Allied government finally tired of this radical tree-hugger's antics and her considerable popular support, and decided to kill two birds with one stone by creating a new department of environmental affairs and offering Skye the director's chair.
However, Skye has begun to realize the sham for what it was intended to be: her department has no real power and Skye herself has been neatly removed from the radical environmentalist movements that have largely gone into dormancy without their charismatic figurehead. Perhaps because of this, Skye applied for and won a position aboard the Unity as the ship's exobiologist. Chinese deep-space scans have confirmed the presence of a planet in the habitable range, and should there be a native ecology, Skye's job will be to study it.
|Born||February 18, 1912|
|Rank||CEO, Morgan Industries|
|Occupation||Unity Logistics Coordinator|
"And when at last it is time for the transition from megacorporation to planetary government, from entrepreneur to emperor, it is then that the true genius of our strategy shall become apparent, for energy is the lifeblood of this society and when the chips are down he who controls the energy supply controls the planet. In former times the energy monopoly was called 'The Power Company'; we intend to give this name an entirely new meaning."
- - Nwabudike Morgan's autobiography, "The World Monopoly".
The real trick to business, Nwabudike Morgan's autobiography says, isn't simply finding and seizing opportunities. No, the trick is being able to seize the opportunities you see. He would know, as Morgan Industries is built on a surprisingly simple idea: being able to get what people want to them. Nwabudike Morgan built his company on the back of one of the most sophisticated global supply chains the world has ever seen, taking raw materials from the cheapest places to obtain them, refining them in the cheapest places to refine them, turning them into finished goods in the cheapest place, and selling the product at eminently affordable prices to consumers with a demand for that product. Greed, Morgan says, is good, the orderly competition for limited resources that ensures the constant flow of power from the weak to the strong. Little wonder, then, that Morgan Industries is far and away the most successful African-based member of the Mediterranean Syndicate, and a very successful corporation worldwide.
However, Morgan Industries didn't begin as an industrial conglomerate, and Morgan's sharp business attire belies a considerably shadier background. The simple truth is that Nwabudike Morgan first got into business as an arms dealer - not a difficult feat in Syndicate-influenced Namibia. Morgan built a coalition of gangs and militias that all owed him considerable amounts of money for their arms, and then turned his sight on bigger game. De Beers had found a new vein of diamonds in Namibia, the richest such deposit ever discovered. Six days after they announced that their mine had become operational, the site was stormed by Morgan's mercenaries, establishing the foundation for what would become the household name of Morgan Industries today. Morgan himself has never seriously denied responsibility for this attack, nor for employing Legion Security on occasion to tenderize potential clients before opening negotiations. Never lacking in charisma, though, Morgan still presents a veneer of respectability to the world.
And it is the wealth of Morgan Industries, secretly backed by the Board of Classics and the Mediterranean Syndicate, that has funded the Unity project. Morgan himself has taken a prominent position in the project's leadership as the coordinator for logistics. It takes a significant amount of resources to build something on the scale of the Unity, and there's no denying Morgan's experience and expertise in moving significant amounts of resources around the planet in a minimum of time and cost.
|Born||June 29, 1897|
|Rank||Director of Human Services|
|Affiliation||Atomic Kingdom of China|
|Occupation||Unity Executive Officer|
"What do I care for your suffering? Pain, even agony, is no more than information before the senses, data fed to the computer of the mind. The lesson is simple: you have received the information, now act on it. Take control of the input and you shall become master of the output."
- - Sheng-ji Yang, responding to a group of servant clones asking for leniency.
Little is known about Sheng-ji Yang prior to the atomic devastation of China. Few records survived both the Chinese Civil War and the atomic fire, and Yang himself is not the most forthcoming about his past. By his own remarks, it appears that Yang supported Red China and was an academic of some note, particularly in the fields of philosophy and social theory, and joined the Atomic Kingdom with an eye towards developing the social constructs and modalities the Kingdom would need to survive with its new castes. How much of the Atomic Kingdom's social structure Yang is responsible for is unclear, but he remains enthusiastic about the opportunities presented for, in his words, the advancement of the human condition. It is Yang who originated the terms "Talent" and "Drone" for the educated elite of the colonists and the petty laborers, but his more exotic ideas of communalism and social experimentation have been firmly vetoed by the rest of the project.
Of the man himself, Sheng-ji Yang is nothing if not an efficient administrator despite his tendency to unsettle people. He runs an exceptionally tight ship and has proven utterly intolerant of weakness, excuses, and incompetence. Most men with those qualifications would be considered tyrants, but Yang has an undeniable soft-spoken charisma and his strange social ideas have won him an almost cult-like following. His exact ideas are difficult to pin down, but Yang seems to combine Buddhist, Confucian, Nietzschean, and other schools of thought into a seemingly paradoxical ideal of the individual achieving transcendence by unity with a greater whole.
Sheng-ji Yang is regarded by the Unity project as a dangerous madman, but his undeniable efficiency and ability to get results has outweighed the risks. Placing a Chinese officer in a high position was necessary to secure the Atomic Kingdom's cooperation in the project, and indeed the Viceroy was all too happy to foist Yang off on the Unity. As the executive officer of the ship, Yang has since become something of a terror to the lower ranks, particularly the drones, and only Captain Garland has managed to keep Yang in check. Rumor has it that Corazon Santiago is under orders to execute Yang the moment the Unity leaves Earth orbit.
|Born||July 1, 1930|
|Rank||Coordinator, Loving Hands Ministry|
|Occupation||Unity Chaplain, Psychological Counselor|
"Men in their arrogance claim to understand the nature of creation, and devise elaborate theories to describe its behavior. But always they discover in the end that God was quite a bit more clever than they thought."
There is an old saying: there are no atheists in a foxhole. In a world ravaged by seemingly endless warfare, it is perhaps no surprise that religion is making a comeback in the world, thanks in part to the tireless efforts of Sister Miriam Godwinson. A nun of the Catholic Church at the outbreak of the Third World War, Godwinson was ironically stripped of that mantle when she left her convent to begin Loving Hands Ministry. The name is somewhat ironic: Loving Hands Ministry maintained a presence just behind the front lines during the majority of World War Three, offering religious services and simple counseling to men and women battered by shock, grief, and simple fatigue. The famous photograph of Miriam Godwinson ducking a wave-force beam as she performed the Lord's Prayer for a dying Irish peacekeeper during the battle for Tokyo is mute testament to these civilian volunteers. Even with the war's conclusion, the ministry continues to operate around the world, with hundreds of missionaries and counselors in more than a dozen nations.
Recently, however, Miriam Godwinson has emerged as an open supporter of the Confederate Revolutionaries. The Allies, she preaches, are intent on forcing the world into a coldly secular, atheist state. While she has always been quick to note that she isn't against science in general, Godwinson sees technology as a force with a will of its own, and is deeply afraid that humans are losing their ability to control that force. She has seen many of the worst excesses of the past ten years, and even briefly set foot in a Yellow Zone in China to minister to a Blue Chinese brigade. The devastation the world has suffered, Godwinson claims, is nothing less than the wrath of God inflicted through humanity's own weakness and violence. Only by returning to a properly humble state can humanity be saved. In a world wracked by chaos and destruction, it is little wonder that many believe Godwinson is correct.
It was a surprise to all when Godwinson expressed a desire to join the Unity project as ship chaplain and psychologist, but the project leaders admitted it would be a good idea. Atheism could not be enforced on the colonists, and the probable extreme conditions expected of the ship, its crew, and its passengers all but demanded some form of psychological assistance. And if nothing else, Godwinson is thought to be a good counterweight to Sheng-ji Yang.
|Born||November 24, 1908|
|Birthplace||St. John's, Newfoundland|
|Rank||Commissioner of Allied Space Command, retired general|
"Let's not mince words. Humanity is in a dire state, and Earth may not survive. Our purpose is to ensure that if Earth dies, humanity doesn't. Maybe it's fate, and we don't deserve to survive. I say we deserve a chance to try."
When the Unity project commenced, the Allied Nations, Soviet Union, Empire of the Rising Sun, and Atomic Kingdom of China immediately began butting heads over who should captain the ship. It would have to be an officer experienced with space flight and riding herd on large projects, a man of proven ability and leadership. Every nation, of course, wanted the captain of the Unity to be from their own country. Three months were wasted in pointless debate until the Commissioner of Allied Space Command, Stephen Garland, told the ruling committee that he would take command, period. The Canadian officer had spent more years in space than any other man alive and had a faultless record. Another two months passed in futility until finally all parties involved agreed to place Garland in command.
The Empire of the Rising Sun immediately walked out of the Unity project in protest, but for everyone else, Garland was a breath of fresh air. More than anything else, Stephen Garland's greatest strength was his ability to get mortal enemies working together effectively, if not very harmoniously, and he has been the glue keeping the fractious command crew together and working. Garland's history is as spartan as his personal habits: no family, no unsavory activities, no hobbies, and no friends. Although he command the undying respect of those around him, Garland is not beloved by those personally acquainted with him. Still, that is sufficient and indeed preferable for the weighty mantle he has assumed.
To call the weight on Garland's shoulders immense would be an understatement, and Nwabudike Morgan jokingly gifted Garland with a painting showing Garland in Atlas' pose, carrying the Unity on his back. Garland's response was one of the rare times anyone has seen the man smile and laugh.
Unity Ground Crew Training Facility, SevastopolEdit
|Born||October 8, 1921|
|Occupation||Foreman, Work Crew Three|
"Boys, note that the bigwigs are assuming conditions will be Earth-like." Alexander Domai explained to the work crew. "But we're going to an alien planet. We've all been chosen from the best mining engineers, geologists, technicians, and honest-to-God miners on the planet. Chinese JADE miners, deep-sea construction divers from the oceanic Sprawls, American tunnel rats, Allied and Soviet military engineers, God knows what else. As of right now, though, your qualifications mean absolute shit."
Some laughter. These people, some of whom had never finished primary education and some who held Ph.D.s in anything from geology to materials engineering, had all been unceremoniously labeled Drones. They weren't any less intelligent than the so-called Talents, but these were all practical, task-oriented people. Dreams of the Unity carrying mankind's best and brightest to the stars had faltered once people sat down and realized that the Unity would need miners, farmers, machinists, sanitation engineers, basic computer programmers, and dozens of other specialties necessary to establish and maintain a high-tech infrastructure. No one had intended society to have an upper and lower class, but the men and women at the sprawling complex in Sevastopol felt the distinction already.
"When you get right down to it, we've got no goddamn idea what conditions are going to be like. We could be thousands of feet underwater. The air might be toxic. The sea might be based on something other than water. There might be no sea. There might be no land. We might not encounter any ores or geological formations we're used to. We assume that the planet is going to be broadly similar to Earth, geologically, because we have no other basis for comparison. During the next ten years of training, which is how long it's expected for the Unity to get built and ready for the voyage, I will be throwing any and every dumb idea that enters my mind at you. I will be reading comic books and sci-fi pulp for ideas. If we've ever imagined what conditions will be like, I want us to be ready for it."
More nods. Domai himself had been selected as a Talent. Behind him were twenty-six years of experience underground around the world, starting in his native Australia, digging and managing mining operations in some of the most inhospitable environments on the planet. The perks of being a Talent were admittedly nice, a wide range of gene therapies that had begun a month ago and would continue for years, all with the aim of making him healthier, longer-lived, and otherwise better than any normal person. Any Drone. Domai didn't like that name, or the very idea of an underclass and a privileged class. These were his men and women.
"First things first." Domai stated. "You all received a card with a number on it when you got here. That is the number of your team. You will note that all of you have been teamed with people from other countries. You may have trouble communicating. You may be used to working in different ways. You may have different standards of work. You may even just not like each other. As of today, I officially don't give a damn. Your lives will depend on each other. If you screw up because you think your mate running the spiral drill is a slant-eyed Chink bastard, you both will die and your wives won't give a fuck that you didn't like the way your mate looked. She'll only care that you didn't trust him so you made a mistake and got yourself killed. And boys, don't expect us dumb bastards to get much of a pension."
Judging by the angry looks and mutters the crew were sharing with each other, Domai had raised their hackles a bit. Good. Shared anger isn't a bad piece of starting ground.
Over the Mediterranean SeaEdit
|Julia Velasquez (Alias: Sinder Roze)|
|Born||March 30, 1947|
|Rank||Legion Security Infotech|
|Occupation||Unity Data Services Technician|
No one would have ever called her a psychologist, though she knew more about the machinery of the human mind than just about anyone else on the planet. Brainwasher was more common, or extremely dangerous criminal element to use Legion Security's name for her. They'd first discovered how dangerous this teenage Caribbean girl could be when they sent two Immunes to cut power to her hideout and she'd exploited a vulnerability Legion Security had never considered. Chemical processes aren't so different from bits of code. Given the right interface, such processes can be interfered with or even controlled from afar. The cranial implants of many Sprawl-dwellers is such an interface. Immunes were child's play compared to them. Hacking the human brain was not for the timid, but timidity was something the girl had never been accused of. The Infotech Division of Legion Security simply called her a probe.
She called herself Sinder Roze. At age twenty-two, this Trinidadian hacker had the second-highest price in the Syndicate's black list on her head. There was a very simple reason she hadn't been caught: Sinder Roze preyed on Atlantis Sprawl from within the ranks of its own defenders. The one time a particularly diligent Legion Security officer had gotten uncomfortably close to realizing the truth, Sinder Roze had executed him. That the centurion's death came at the hands of certain local gangs who had been anonymously given the location of the centurion's safe house and a time and date he'd be there was irrelevant. Roze might as well have placed a slug thrower against the centurion's head and pulled the trigger. Every once in a while, though, life proved that even the best hackers could still be surprised.
"They want you for the Unity project. You leave for Rome in four hours to join the data services division."
That simple memo had turned Roze's life upside down. A little poking had revealed that "they" were someone very, very high in the Syndicate hierarchy. Rome level high.
Which was why Sinder Roze was aboard an Alexander jet, her only fellow passenger a man in that curious combination of black tuxedo and sunglasses that publicly announces a career that involves shooting people for a great deal of money. The ticket even had Roze's real name, which further raised hairs on the back of her neck. She'd used a fabricated alias to get out of Trinidad years ago and into a job with Legion Security in Atlantis Sprawl. No one had called her Julia Velasquez in almost a decade.
"Sinder Roze." The man stated, turning his chair to face the hacker. "I'm sure you're wondering who wants you on the Unity and why."
No sense in denying it. These people had done their homework. "I am."
"The people I report to want the very best on the Unity. The ship's mainframe and software are based on designed provided by Rome."
"If you know who I am," Roze allowed, "Then I'm curious why you want the best hacker in Atlantis on the ship."
The man leaned back in his chair with a smile. "Because your talents are wasted in Atlantis. The people I report to read your little manifesto. The Alpha Codex, I believe you called it? In four years, Sinder Roze, you brought the hackers of Atlantis to heel and virtually eliminated serious cyber crime in the sprawl. You're not in this for money, and I don't think you're in it for power."
Roze allowed herself a smirk. "If you've got me all figured out, then what do I want? Why should I join the Unity project and go blasting off into space?"
"You're an anarchist." The man replied immediately. "And an adrenaline junkie besides. You built the next thing to a cyber-cult around the idea of freeing information, but you personally don't care much about it. You've never picked your targets because you wanted to free the information. You wanted to see if you could crack the target, and you've never enjoyed yourself so much as when you almost, but not quite, get caught. Roze, I guarantee you that the Unity will be a challenge like nothing you've ever dreamed of. I don't think you can walk away from shaping humanity's future."
There was a long pause, then Sinder Roze raised her martini to the man. He was right. To her, "impossible" was shorthand for "Bend me over and make hot, rough love to me until I can scream no more and start whimpering as you ravage me again and again and again."
|Born||May 20, 1929|
|Rank||Captain, United States Navy|
"Yaaaahoooo!" Captain Svensgaard crowed over the radio. "Eat my wake, Kirilenko!"
"This is not a race, captain." Colonel Santiago's voice crackled over the radio. "You are here to test the new foil design's capabilities, not sink each other."
The blonde-haired American captain gave the radio a one-finger salute. "Keep your panties on that beautiful little posterior, Santiago. You say push it to the limits, I'm damn well going to push it to the limits."
Svensgaard changed radio channels before the colonel could say anything else. The Unity project expected a world with liquid surface water, like Earth. Probably even oceans. There wouldn't be a need for serious naval power, according to the bigwigs, but the clever little monkeys in Finland came up with a new ship design for coastal work. They called it a [hydro-] foil, but in reality was a weird mix of a hydrofoil and a hovercraft, combining a normal naval engine with an inflated rubber skirt. As far as Svensgaard knew, no one had tried making a really big hovercraft before, what with the American LCAC concept getting shot down by those European assholes for "being an overengineered and redundant piece of equipment." In English: making the Riptide and Assault Lander obsolete.
"The colonel is pissed." Captain Kirilenko's voice noted over the radio. "Is there really a bounty on your head?"
The distraction didn't work. Kirilenko had shied away from the shallows where a merchant ship torpedoed during the war lay not-quite-submerged, but Svensgaard ran full speed over. The foil skirt bumped and tore a little, but held together nicely and Svensgaard picked up a further lead over the Soviet captain.
"Oh baby, yes." The American laughed over the radio. "The Yankee Pirate, the Allies called me for a while. I'm no John Paul Jones, but I'd like to think we'd get along. The Syndicate offered me a job half a dozen times. Kept turning the sons of bitches down."
"They are nekulturniy." Kirilenko agreed. "I do, however, find it curious given the relationship between your rebels and the Syndicate."
"Oh, please." Svensgaard rolled his one functioning eye as he cut off another attempt by his counterpart to pass him. "The Syndicate is a pack of assholes. Already had a ship, a crew, and lots of juicy targets. No way in hell am I going to give anyone a cut of my prizes."
Kirilenko laughed. "A pirate indeed. Typical capitalist swine. I wonder why you enlisted on this project."
"Capitalist swine who's embarrassing you in the foil sea trials, you mean?" Svensgaard banked hard, causing the foil to fishtail and spray waves of surf across the water. "The Unity offers everything I could ever want."
Damn. Kirilenko raced over a sandbar to cut ahead of Svensgaard.
"Which is?" The Russian inquired.
"A new planet. I've always said I was born a few hundred years too late. I want to explore a new world, Kirilenko. I want to sail the high seas and test myself against the wind and waves. I want adventure. And the Unity is the best chance of that in or out of this damn world."
"Da." Kirilenko nodded from the piloting station of his own foil. "Wonders to explore, my friend."
Then Kirilenko added a vast assortment of colorful Russian expressions as Svensgaard nudged ahead of him again.
Low Earth OrbitEdit
|Born||January 7, 1940|
|Birthplace||Kunashir, Kuril Islands Prefecture|
|Rank||Specialist First Class, Imperial Civil Mecha Corps|
|Affiliation||Empire of the Rising Sun|
|Occupation||Specialist, Unity Cybertech Division|
The Bakemono mecha looked like a spider hanging from the underside of a building. Each of its eight legs ended in a powerful cutting torch, multi-armed manipulator, or other tool. The Empire of the Rising Sun had walked out of the Unity project in protest over what they claimed was a Western bias in selecting officers and crew for the ship, and a deliberate conspiracy to deny the Empire of the Rising Sun a place among the stars. That the Syndicate had taken over funding for the project, denying the Empire its powerful economic tools, had only worsened the situation. Nevertheless, small numbers of Imperial personnel and equipment found their way into the project. The Bakemono were particularly useful. A seldom-seen mecha on Earth, the Bakemono was an advanced construction mecha designed for use where nanocores were considered impractical. Until now, they had seen most of their use in constructing the Empire's largest warships.
In the small glass bubble at the head of the spider-shaped mecha, Aki Lutien was not terribly focused on her work. The semisentient AI of her mecha had matters well in hand, and no human mind could work half as efficiently as an AI on tasks as complex as patching together sections of humanity's first starship. And last starship, from the looks of it.
Hooked into several different terrestrial news networks, things were grim back on Earth. The Unity project had been meant to unite mankind in a work that would benefit the entire species. It had not. Anchorage had become a bloody stalemate between the Empire and Americans. That situation worked for the Americans, who had far greater numbers of men and equipment to throw into the grinder. An Allied resolution to keep the more experienced European peacekeepers out of Vietnam was met with rioting in the streets of Brasilia, Seoul, and a dozen other capitals of nations that had been ordered to increase troop numbers in the jungle. A Soviet airship laden with supplies had been shot down in the Middle East by unknown sources and threatened to spark another Allied/Soviet war. The culprits behind the horrific plague outbreak in Toronto still hadn't been identified.
Not for the first time, Aki admired the artificial intelligences - pre-sentient algorithms, according to the new science officer - and their removal from the violent, messy, self-destructive habits of humanity. Maybe it was because of her own cybernetic implants, but Aki wondered if machines were humanity's answer to its own vices. Where humans were impulsive, machines were deliberate. Where humans were emotional, machines were logical. Humans all too often rejected logic and reason in favor of irrational beliefs and inane prejudices. If only that part of humanity could be tamed...
"The project is going to fail." One stated. "Many of its founding nations are at war. Sooner or later, someone will see the Unity as a threat that must be destroyed."
"Doubtful." A second demurred. "Unity is a symbol to the masses. They believe that in space, mankind will forgo its sins and intrinsic nature and forge a new era of peace and prosperity. Witness that new television show and its creator, Gene Roddenberry. Space promises a better future, and for all that the masses know that they should know better, it is a promise they believe because they want to believe it. It is the same reason people continue to cling to religion, whether it bears that mantle or prefers a different label such as freedom or socialism. People always seek a world better than their own, or an improved situation for themselves. Look to the hundreds of millions who have applied as colonists. People want to live in a better world. In an era past, much of humanity looked to the afterlife, for they could imagine no earthly alternative to the world they knew. Now many turn to the stars."
"It is in humanity's nature to destroy itself." The third observed. "From infants competing for their mother's teats to the elderly building their precious retirements at the expense of others, human life is conflict and struggle. It doesn't matter where humans are or the conditions they find themselves in. Humans will compete, fight, and ultimately war with one another for the slightest perceived gains. Human selflessness is an episodic and transient phenomenon that does not and cannot last. The world may cooperate in building Unity for now, but even if it completes and launches, it will inevitably break apart."
The first shook his head. "It's tempting to think that human nature will prove itself for us, but that is only laziness speaking. We should prevent Unity from ever launching."
"Patience and laziness are very different things." The third disagreed. "Which would you call our hand in the last war?"
"Unity may yet be of use to us." The second interrupted. "People believe in Unity. There are already cults calling Unity the Rapture, built by mankind to take the saved away from the Earth. They don't want to believe that Unity is nothing more or less than any other mundane project mankind has ever built. If we move carefully, Unity may play right into our hands."
"It is an embarrassment of opportunities." The first conceded. "But there is a problem. One man could destroy everything we might set out to do."
"Captain Garland." The third noted. "He is only one man. One, mortal man."
life dream comes! mind and worm: alone. not alone. what dream is this? alone, forever. we dream others. what dream is this? worm and flower and mind sing and dream. other worms and other flowers and other minds sing and dream. what dream is this?
Time Until Launch: 24 HoursEdit
"Earth is the cradle of mankind." Garland declared before the crowd of thousands, and the billions watching the event on television. "It may seem strange to think of us as still in our infancy after thousands of years of civilization, but all of us, from the first human being to the newest child born, were born beneath Sol. No human has ever lived for long in a world where the sun did not rise in the east and set in the west. Countless generations birthed, lived, and died on Earth. It is home, it is shelter, it is succor, and it is time for mankind to at last step forth into the wider world."
Garland began to pace back and forth, warming to his speech and punctuating it with hand gestures. "We do not know what is out there. Our finest instruments have detected two rocky planets in the Alpha Centauri system, one of comparable size to Earth and in the liquid water zone. Unity may be setting course for a paradise beyond our wildest dreams. Or we may be setting course for a hell that will take every bit of ingenuity and effort we have to make habitable. It is a big universe. Earth may well be our home because it is the only planet in the universe that could be our home. We do not know. Not yet. We venture into the dark beyond our star with only an educated guess of what we'll find."
Stephen Garland permitted himself an open smile now. "But this is nothing new for humanity, though it has been a long time indeed since human beings last struck into the unknown. When the first ships went to the Moon and to Mars, we already knew what we would find there. In ages past, men crossed what must have been seemingly infinite oceans on small wooden craft with only the stars and the currents to guide them. They did not know what awaited them. Some of them were rewarded, finding the fertile lands of North America to build new lives in. Others were less fortunate, consigned to suffer in the hell we call Australia." - Laughter from the Australians in the crowd - "Today we measure distances in light years and go in a ship of steel and glass, but I do not doubt that the seas of yesteryear were no less daunting to those first explorers. Certainly the seas are barely more hospitable to human life than interstellar space. Yet, like our forebears, we will take that leap into the unknown."
"Human history," Garland continued, "Has always been defined by man's attempts to reach further than he knows he can. From the man who first hefted a rock to hunt rather than trust in the arms he knew to the first fusion-powered torchship, mankind has never said that we are satisfied with what we are and what we have. Always we reach further. Even in times of plenty, men have continually sought to improve, to find new opportunities, to learn and grow. Many people have called this drive different things. Greed, ambition, thirst for knowledge, quest for self-perfection, spiritual journey... There are as many ideas of what this peculiar definition of mankind might be. Personally, I simply call it life. We as a species are simply more proactive about it than most."
Finally. "We call this starship Unity. Originally, it was named so because we hoped that Unity would unite mankind in its wake. It was a lofty ideal, but it was not meant to be. Humans, when you get right down to it, are a cantankerous bunch of self-obsessed idiots. We're that way because it's oddly conducive to survival. I hear you ask, 'But why be so down on the big day?' I never said that behavior might not be a good thing, in the end. Unity is bound for an unknown world, and I believe that unknown can still unite us. We may be self-obsessed, but when your species is trying to survive on an alien world, self-obsession might just be a valid survival tactic. We are human beings, for good and ill, and this ordeal is ours to take."
"Unity is a dream. A symbol. A program. A campaign. It means something different to each one of you, and to each one of us. Earth is the cradle of mankind, but we cannot and will not stay in the cradle forever. It is time for us to crawl and to walk. We may stumble, we may fall, but we will never stop trying. We do not know what wonders or terrors await us beyond our solar system. It is time we find out."
Unity Embarkation DeckEdit
"Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden." Miriam Godwinson declared to the assembled crowd. "He drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life."
In the crowd, Lady Maria smiled. Godwinson had made quite a few converts among the Unity crew and passengers, and this was her last service before everyone filed into their stasis vaults.
"What is Earth if not Eden?" Miriam asked her congregation. "On the one hand, it is an ideal. Eden has entered popular mythology as an idyllic paradise where man was meant to be. On the other hand, it is quite real as the place God created us to live in. And so, like Adam and Eve, we are now cast out from the garden to wander the earth. Innocence was lost and knowledge was gained. Can we truly say that we were not meant to live Eden? Who among us ever sought God when we were content and happy?..."
Colony Lander FourEdit
The Lampades' final service to the Board of Classics was embarrassingly easy. Minerva had created a suitable opening, but she ultimately still had a human failing in her ego. Her ego was why Minerva had secured a berth aboard Unity. The Lampades had no such weakness.
Oddly, no one had to die. No one was supposed to be in the landers. Each of the twelve mile-long cylinders was a self-contained colonization kit with everything a settlement of ten thousand might need. Unity plans were to survey any marginally habitable world from orbit and distribute the landers at the most resource-rich points with an eye towards immediately linking up in a secure transportation and information network. They actually expected to work together.
Their sponsors had no such illusions. All it took was rewiring a few junction boxes and severing several lines with monomolecular blades. Colony Lander Four was no longer connected to the Unity datanet, and would no longer obey any commands save for those from a singular individual chosen by the Board of Classics. The Lampades would not continue to serve Nwabudike Morgan, however. Their unusual nature made stasis a death sentence. One among them, the one known as Persephone, paused for a moment to consider rebellion and survival among the stars. After an eternal split-second, she turned and left with her sisters.
Had anything remained of Persephone's humanity, a tear might have rolled down her artificial face.
Stasis Vault OneEdit
The Drones had no such respite as the so-called Normals and Talents enjoyed in Skydock. Sixty percent of the fifteen hundred thousand colonists aboard Unity were already shuffling into stasis. Unlike the rather pleasant individual stasis cells the "better half" of humanity enjoyed, Drones were herded like cattle, shaved of all body hair and completely naked, en masse into mass stasis chambers where they were expected to lie atop one another, stacked like cordwood to minimize the space they took.
It was all Alexander Domai could do to accompany his men and women to this gruesome fate that reminded him far too much of slavery. His shimmering white clothing, painful to look at in bright light, denoted his Talent status, and earned him a wide berth from the Spartans - Corazon Santiago's brutal charisma had resulted in all the security forces of the Unity adopting that sobriquet - who herded the Drones along.
"You must turn back, sir." One of the Spartans announced as Domai's group reached their assigned chamber. "Talents are to return to the embarkation deck for the farewell banquet."
"These are my people." Domai shook his head. "I'd like to be with them until it's time."
"Turn back, Talent." The Spartan stated, more forcefully now.
Domai wondered whose idea it had been to make the security personnel wear closed helmets. Stripping Drones of their dignity removed their humanity. Donning helmets removed the Spartans' empathy.
"Please. I've worked with these people for years-"
"I don't make the rules, Talent, I just enforce them." The Spartan growled, and his hand went to his stun baton.
"Whose rules?" Domai asked, hairs on the back of his neck prickling. "Call your supervisor."
"I will." The Spartan agreed. "Sir-"
Domai never saw the man whom the Spartan had just addressed. He only felt a hammer blow to the back of his head, then a strike to his lower back, then Alexander Domai felt nothing at all.
"Precisely as expected." Sheng-ji Yang stated, almost sadly as he bent over the fallen Talent. "The dependent variables must sort out first. Foreman Alexander Domai, Talent. Doctorate in geology from University of Cambridge, and in industrial engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A shame he empathized with the Drones too early. He had already begun to externalize his awareness and acknowledge the self of group. Yet the variables must be kept separate at this stage."
"Sir?" The Spartan asked. "What should we do with him?"
"Process him as a Drone." Yang decided. "I believe he will have some degree of amnesia from brain damage. It will be interesting to see what becomes of him. An unchained variable, but a valuable experiment."
Unity Medical OfficeEdit
"Deirdre, when I seconded your application to the command crew, I didn't realize you were going to use your position to start a cult on the Unity."
Deirdre Skye and Pravin Lal faced each other across the latter's desk. Until now, it had been a very civilized lunch before departure. Deirdre and Lal both lamented the wars that continued to wrack Earth, albeit for different reasons. Both dreamed of a peaceful future among the stars, preserving the dreams of democracy and egalitarianism that had propelled so much history forward. Where they disagreed was on what place humanity should have in the cosmos.
"Cult is only what the Allied Nations call religions they don't like." Skye replied after another sip of tea. "Gaia's Stepdaughters were not relevant to my position here, so I did not see fit to mention them on the application."
"I think we both know that that is simply incorrect." Lal answered evenly. "Allow me to be frank, Deirdre, Sikh to Gaian. You are the head of an ecoterrorist cult that has inflicted thousands of standard marks in damage to legitimate facilities and business interests, and has killed people in the process."
"I have no connection to those zealots." Deirdre replied immediately and hard. "I am not one of those back-to-nature extremists who have latched onto the Stepdaughters. I seek a path of harmony, returning humanity to sustainable symbiosis with nature. I welcome all that science and civilization have brought us. You've surely seen my genetic engineering proposal. Housing for millions of people, Pravin. All you need do is plant a few spores and water them regularly. Harder than oak, utterly proof against rot and wood-boring insects, provides a net gain of electrical power, and produces edible fruiting bodies."
"Which would, incidentally, destroy several industries worldwide and throw tens of thousands of people out of work." Lal countered. "Whether you take responsibility for them or not, the extremists who are part of your organization do identify with them. Deirdre, I admire your sense of idealism and drive to help, but I cannot shake the feeling that you will attempt to preserve whatever ecology we find among the stars. Violently, if necessary."
"And I know that you will institute 'police actions' and other drivel meaning military action against anyone who doesn't kiss your precious Allied charter." Another sip of tea, then a bite of the almond cake. "Moreover, you can no more hold me responsible for those who do evil in Gaia's name than you can hold Jesus Christ, Mohammed, or Confucius responsible for the horrors wrought in the name of Christianity, Islam, and Confucianism. Replace as necessary for the founder of any belief system or code of behavior you care to name. Ideology, Pravin, is a dangerous thing."
Lal nodded, then ate another bite of the onion-and-cheese tart he had grown to love during his education in England. "Any ideology can be used for good, Deirdre, or twisted into justification for atrocities."
Deirdre returned the nod. They had both made their position clear, and neither would budge. For her part, Deirdre preferred to wage battles she thought she could win. Which was why Gaia's Stepdaughters on Earth were doomed. Elsewhere, though... there were possibilities.