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Abbazorkzog

The Speed of Light

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Prologue

HUMANITY’S earliest examples of technology, some of our greatest leaps forward in evolution, were based upon the tiniest of objects, at the smallest of scales. Sunlight heralded the discovery of firelight, firelight into electricity, and electicity into power centers. Photochemistry. High-resolution microscopy. And measurements of molecular distances. Doctors Alvin Schwartz, Ana Ortega, and Smith Maynard spearheaded a military-industrial juggernaut bankrolled by the wealthiest nations and most powerful corporations in the history of human civilization, an attempt to weaponize the most powerful force in the universe – black hole singularities.

And now there they stood, drawn into it as though it were physically present in the room with them, pulling at the very fibres of their existence with the shameless and unconscious nature you would expect an object to do so of such immensity and utterly untamed raw power as a black hole.

“Clearly,” Maynard’s said, his light voice piercing an air grown shackled to the overbearing and awe-striking dominion of what science had come the closest to identifying as a living, breathing, all-consuming, all-powerful God spoken of in the holy texts of religions the world over. “This is the single-greatest achievement of humanity since the creation of fire itself.”

“Something as small as a hadron,” Schwartz said, shaking his head. “A photon… and… this.”

The ball of fire was less than a few nanometers across, yet its accretion disk – if not contained within the quantum bubble within the TITAN superconductor – would have swallowed the moon and its Mother World along with it.

“Are you really that surprised,” asked Ortega, taking a seat and kicking back.
Schwartz could tell she was suddenly feeling boisterous, despite the fact that everyone else felt about the same as the nuclear scientists at Castle Bravo on March the First, 1954…
…When the United States detonated the first Hydrogen Bomb in the depths of the Cold War.

“I mean, a few years ago we did find out that Quintessence is simply the four forces wrapped up tightly at the smallest of dimensions to form a new substance that explained the weakness of gravity and gave us the enigmatic ‘Theory of Everything,” she gloated,

“Which I happened to point out when I–”

“We know, Little Miss Sunshine,” Maynard croaked, pouring sweat. “I-I really don’t think any of you fully grasp what’s going on here, not even a little,” he added in a stammer.

Schwartz had taken on a thiny-veiled look of concern himself as he appeared at his cohort’s side.

“What’s your point?”

Maynard swallowed. “Nobody has even thought of how the **** we’re going to turn this thing off?”

Right there, the dead silence gripped the room once again, this time with a furor that felt almost sapient.

“Well,” Ortega said. “We could, you know, just… turn it off?”

“And where does all of that energy go? This is a ****ing black HOLE, it doesn’t get any smaller. It’s… a ****ing SINGULARITY. It’s INFINITE.”

Schwartz glanced over at the beast, his eyes suddenly fixed on it, reflecting back through them as though it were an external marvel to behold… whilst also a reflection of the deepest… darkest recesses of the biological collective unconscious.

The psychotic break of the universe itself.

Back then it all seemed so simple. Back in the 2050’s, the budding societies on Jupiter and Mars were just that – tiny saplings that had just sprung forth from the Mother Earth’s bosom, just beginning to open their sore eyes to look around at the vast universe around them. Begging for the teat, and entirely dependent upon the economic powerhouses of the United States of the Americas, Europe and the Moon.

Although in the depths of a Frozen War between the West and the East, ongoing since the turn of the millennium… the battles were among wits, and logic. ‘Hard War,’ bombs and fire of yesteryear – masses of people dying by sword or by nuclear weaponry – gave way to ‘Soft War,’ as they called it.

Cyberwarfare.

Autonomous war bots.

Staking out cosmic territory. Establishing dominion over the resources yielded by asteroids, moons and the like… and accumulating as massive a wealth gap with your next-closest competitor as possible… this was the warfare of the future.

Alvin Schwartz fought in this war, although the propaganda and societal programming was so powerful that he didn’t even realize it. For the first year at Lunar University, Schwartz spent all of his time either with his nose in a kiosk or his hand around a beer, palling around with the friends he made throughout. It had arguably been the best year of his life socially, the first twenty-one years of his life being rather abysmal, boring and depressing – according to himself anyway.

But he was always the ‘bookworm,’ so-to-speak. He was around long after most of his friends had graduated or dropped out, most of them being more of the ‘street-smarts’ types.

Halfway through his third year, the last of the original – ‘close’ – friends he’d made in his second semester of his Freshman year had departed Lunar-One back for Earth or to new frontiers… and Al began to realize how badly his GPA had fallen.

“You can do better than this,” his quantum-mechanics professor said almost immediately – Al’s bag had barely had time to make contact with the carpet floor and the door had barely had time to slide all the way closed.

Al sighed. “I know, I shouldn’t have plagiarized.”

“I should suspend you, hell I should have you expelled… this is the third time.”

“I know.”

“Third time,” he repeated more sternly.

An awkward silence followed momentarily.

“Are you getting enough sleep,” the professor asked randomly.

He suddenly looked embued with new life.

“I… guess?”

“No,” he said. “You’re not.”

He pulled out a note, and began writing on it.

“What’s that?”

“I’m writing you a sick note,” he said. “So you can take a day off and re-write your paper. I am also a medical doctor, after all.”

He finished scrawling on it, folded it up and handed it to him, but before he let go, he leaned in.

“Do. Not. Let. It. Happen. Again.”

It was this solitary act of kindess from Doctor Ron Warden that allowed Alvin Schwartz the chance to do what he did – and he turned his career trajectory around with a quickness.

It was in 2058 – the sixth year of his Doctorate residency – that he met Smith Maynard… his newest roommate.
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  1. Abbazorkzog's Avatar
    “I’m on my last year, too,” he declared with triumph. The man was eight years his junior, having completed his residency in record time, and his direct and polar opposite in almost every way.

    Schwartz was majoring in quantum mechanics and theoretical physics.

    Maynard – astrocartography and cosmopolitics.

    Schwartz was a massive fan of music and film from around the turn of the millennium.

    Maynard was into that regurgitated, annoying, repetitive crap and would play it at odd hours of the night while smoking weed in the dorm… clearly out of regulation.

    Schwartz let this situation go on for far longer than he should have, probably because – despite their differences – they had the same social situation, and they got along because of it.

    “I didn’t have a girlfriend until I was out of high school,” Maynard once told him. “Hell, besides you I’ve only had like maybe five friends.”

    So it was hard for Schwartz, and he bottled it up until – one day he snapped.

    “This… oh my god I am so ****ing sick of this damn tablet!”

    It was slow, an older model from the 2030’s.

    Sometimes it would freeze, and he’d have to turn it off and back on manually – but lately, it had started to simply turn itself off.

    While Maynard was about to light up another pipe, Schwartz snapped and threw the tablet so hard at Maynard that it hit the metal piece, knocking it out of his hand and shattering.

    “You cock-wombling ****-ass!”

    “I’m… sorry, no… you know what?”

    He stood up. “I’m not sorry.”

    “Do what?”

    “Every damn day for the past three months I’ve had to go to sleep – or do my work – with constant paranoia. Every day for the past three months the prospect of everything I’ve worked toward these past six-seven years going down the drain because of your stupid decisions!

    “I’ve been working toward a molecular equation that could probably be exploited by the Very Large Hadron Collider in Armstrong and – potentially – revolutionize the way we view the underlying source code of the ****ing universe itself, and you’re… up there,” he was out of breath, quivering with rage. “Smoking ****ing weed.”

    “Hey!”

    He held up his finger, clearly in a stoned stupor. An uncomfortably-long moment of silence hung in the air, before answering.

    “Hey now.”

    Before he could form another single vowel, Maynard began coughing uncontrollably. Hacking. Wretching. Disgusting noises emanated from the bowels of his throat and lungs that should never emerge from a human being.

    Finally, he collected himself. Schwartz was about ready to jaw the smaller man, unrepetently and unfathomably angry at Maynard. But then, Maynard did something Schwartz reacted to the way you’d expect a member of the Inquisition to react to a Pagan orgy unfolding on his new rug.

    Maynard handed him the weed-smoking contraption.

    “Hit this,” he said. “You’ll feel better.”

    Schwartz scoffed. “What you think I haven’t tried that before?”

    “That’s exactly what I think.” He smiled.

    Schwartz now sighed. “Why?”

    “Okay, tell me, what was it like?”

    “I felt like **** the next morning because–”

    “Nope,” he cut him off.

    “No hangover with this stuff. No withdrawal, nothing.”

    Schwartz groaned. “Fine, I’ll take ONE hit, and a SMALL one.”

    Maynard smiled broadly and handed him the pipe.

    This eventually transformed into two, then three.

    The next year Schwartz and Maynard received their doctorates. With the former’s paper on the theoretical ‘Dark Antimatter’ being ‘quintessence,’ and Maynard’s patent for the ‘Interplanetary Hyperlane’ superstructure, they had been given a top project at the VLHC in Armstrong on Luna.

    It was called the Schwartz Program, after its brainchild, and it would be the death of him.


    In 2061, just over a year into the first particle acceleration, was when it began to get scary.

    “This is… the Q-Field?”

    “What is important is that this is a new force of some sort, we need to be able to create a new form of matter though, we need to be able to create unification at a frequency never before observed, even here,” Schwartz explained. “If we can attain a certain frequency of unification, we can get to where we are going…” he trailed off as he noticed something peculiar.

    “What, what is it,” asked Doctor Ortega, clearly growing distressed.

    “H-has anyone noticed that the…”

    “C’mon man, spit it out,” coaxed Maynard.

    “All energy in this system is at an absolute-zero point of state.”

    Over the next several months, the team ran rigourous tests, which required constant operation of the thousands of miles of tunnels and machinery buried underneath the Lunar surface. Eventually they came to the realization that gravity and antigravity pairs were being generated by this zero-point effect.

    “Gravitons,” said Schwartz.

    “What?”

    “Gravity, the Q-Field, electromagnetism and nuclear is the key to interplanetary communication, ladies and gentlemen,” Schwartz ceased his inexorable pacing. “We have a new mission.”

    From late 2061 to early 2065, Dr. Alvin Schwartz enjoyed what was perhaps the high-water mark of his life, spearheading the first manned effort to journey to another star besides our own.

    But in the summer of 2065, Space Race II unfolded… and Schwartz was one of the catalysts for its induction.

    Almost overnight, Alvin Schwartz became a household name – his face was everywhere; on TV, billboards, cartoons, the evening news, comics, you name it. People would bombard him with questions, fans and foes, paparazzi and journalists… almost every aspect of his social life had – once again – been turned upside down, but for the worst.

    It had all come full circle.

    And as if the heaving masses of pop-culture zombies practically robbing him of his privacy wasn’t enough to put his sanity on life support, the nightmares would.

    He would have horrific nightmares of beings incomprehensible in their biology, all limbs, talons and teeth. Of inconceivable geometries and numbers thought too big to exist. Of space and time itself collapsing into a hypermassive blackhole the size of a galaxy.

    Alvin held it together on the surface for over fifteen years while humanity advanced technologically.

    The budding colonies on Mars, Vesta, Venus and the moons of Jupiter eventually grew into the millions – becoming their own nations, and having their own agendas and spheres of influence.

    And people who uploaded their consciousnesses into machine form became a regular thing.

    But what really brought Schwartz to the finality of his breaking point was the role his own contribution to history – the Schwartz Drive – played in it all.

    As Schwartz spent more and more time around machinery operating at nearly the speed of light itself, as he dove further and further into the natural machinery predating human civilization, as he became further and further isolated from the rest of his fellow humans… he began to hear voices.

    And they told him terrible things.

    * * *

    What if the world as you know it is not as it seems? I have a tale to share, about a realm of existence so far beyond your own, beyond all comprehension. It is the dying year of the first decade of the twenty-third century, and our many nations are dominated by ruthless elites and powerful corporations.
    Humanity had ascended to the stars beyond our own in search of the keys to unlocking Life Everlasting, the origin of consciousness itself, a higher knowledge.

    Immortality.

    But, war… between Jupiter and Mars – and the threat of the Titan Corporation – would soon follow.

    The Unitary Nations, subjugated by the Lunar Lobby, themselves oppressing and silencing the Transhumans of the Outer Worlds, the Vesta and Pallas communities of the Belt, and throughout the System.

    Mars and its mighty military were threatened by a radical movement.

    And Titan ruled with an iron fist and machine fury the moons of Saturn.

    While our home world stood divided.

    However threatening the various spacefaring nations of our species may have been to the interstellar community, another empire wielded a power that shook the very foundations of spacetime itself.

    And there was only one way interstellar civilization could survive.


























    “Everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century.”
    — J. G. Ballard, 1930.
  2. Abbazorkzog's Avatar
    <<12-19-2203: Miranda, Sol>>

    Earth in the twenty-third century was dominated by 12 nations and superstates, had a population well over 10 billion, and was in nearly every essence of the term a “****-hole.” With the remaining 3% of humanity wealthy enough to afford it, living off-planet had essentially become the ‘New American Dream,’ of course the United States as it was once known was now a constituent republic of the dominant confederate entity known as the Earth 7, or ‘E7’. Twenty-Four of the contemporary Earthbound countries were semi-autonomous dependencies that ultimately deferred to the Unitary Nations Administration Authority, which was itself the main competitor of the interstellar-renowned E7.

    Together; the American States, Commonwealth and Pacific Asia formed the Earth Security Council, which was co-chaired by an Earth Ministry and the Earth Embassies. The latter of these were a signatory of the United Embassies along with the Unitary Nations of Alpha Centauri, Triton, Ariel, Palladium, Jupiter and Mars. The only major Solar power not involved was the Titan Corporation, and for good reason.

    The Jovians were only tangentially represented and allowed due to pioneering Transhumanism and the rise of Second Humanity. Their powerful cyborg sub-species stood an average of 6’6 to 7-feet-tall and were on average equivalent to an Earthling or Martian Citizen in peak physical condition, far beyond that of an Olympic gymnast.

    Perhaps most alarming among current events, even amid the Solar Cold War between Jupiter and Mars, and the rise of the Titan Corporation’s machine armies that terrorized the people of the former-United Republics of Saturn, was the third encounter Humanity had with extraterrestrials – for it had been borne in bloodshed.

    Ivy had been two when Jovian colonists first uncovered the remains of the Eu civilization of Europa – the first discovery of extraterrestrial life.

    Some of her earliest memories had been of the Jovian–Martian Conflict, and she’d have been almost nine-years-old when the Zeta first travelled to their time with words of caution and warning of intergalactic terror and chaos.

    It was the story of the century, and both Humans and Transhumans, and – indeed – even the Eu, had been united in one brief moment. The bickering about nonsensical conspiracy theories of the peaceloving Eu secretly brainwashing the leaders of the Earthling, Jovian or Martian governments (whichever faction it was politically expedient for at the time could be easily substituted with another), or immigrants from Palladium ‘taking over Mars’ or ‘dilluting Earth culture’, were briefly put on pause as the Solar System marveled at the sheer orders of magnitude with which these new beings eclipsed Interplanetary Civilization at the time.

    Of course, fledgling colonies had emerged in Alpha Centauri, and even in Sirius and the currently-known Barnardian Republics, but this was a big deal. She remembered it all as though it had happened yesterday, the adoration and tantamount worship in some cases that was bestowed upon the Zetas and their Centurion counterparts, despite the latter being in a state of feeble and waning resistance against their more animalistic brethren.

    The rest of the Centurions, they would darkly explain, had been consumed by a vast, homogenous and pervasive intergalactic ‘star-sickness’ known to originate from the Plaeides Star Cluster.

    “The Stellar Machinery, Multidimensional Programs and Hyperspacial Weaponry of the Lenakaieans, the long-since gone noble allies of the Zeta men and women,” the Minister explained. “Were no match for this ‘World-Breaker,’ they called it – it filled the skies of a million worlds with the flames of a billion shattered suns. Entire galaxies were drained of power, and left devoid of life – all organic matter having been converted into a highly-corrosive biomechanical technology. The Lenakaieans managed to trap this ‘Organism’, but – even then, its presence persevered in many forms.”

    This was not the news we expected to come from ‘first contact’. The new age that fell upon humanity was one of darkness and fear.

    A prevalent terror that pierced and permeated every corner of every society on every moon, station and planet.

    For years everyone pretended that the Zeta had never spoken those words, among others.

    The Zeta disappeared from our world, a brief exchange in passing.

    The Frozen War continued unabated, the Titan Bots continued to terrorize the outer settlements.

    Partisan-blinded politicians and company spokespeople continued to drone on about hammering out immigration and income reform, making peace or war on such and such, but – after the Zeta, after 2101 – everything seemed dulled out, dimmed, numb. People in positions of power, the interplanetary elite King Olav of Jupiter, suddenly seemed so small and vulnerable.

    But, the status quo persisted, relatively, unremitting throughout the Solar System. It was like the various species and nations of Sol had essentially chosen to ignore these words, words that had waited for centuries – and before that, eons, perhaps longer – to be carried forth, for some reason, to the people of Sol.

    And Sol alone.

    But nobody could envision a world where Earth was challenged. Although all of the major spacefaring powers and worlds possessed some number of Interplanetary Ballistic Missile (INBM) systems, the Corps eclipsed them all threefold… combined.

    Although the concept of a state possessing INBMs in and of itself was horrifying, due to their range and accuracy calculated as reaching distances as far as a lightyear – and packing the tonnage necessary to wipe a planet clean of life with a single missile strike – nothing could have prepared Humanity for what came next.

    Ten years later, and it was happening.
  3. Abbazorkzog's Avatar
    Warrant Officer Ivy 55-B was stationed on Miranda. Ivy’s first assignment was surprisingly high-profile; a reconnaissance mission to accompany a political delegation from the Republics to the Transhuman Mir.

    The Mir had been in the news a lot lately, as being among the last people in the universe who were alleged to have acquired leftover Zeta temporal-displacement fields.

    Time-travel technology.

    The Mir had established a political prescence within the Earthen-spearheaded ‘Solar Republics’, shortly after the Jovians had assassinated one of the Eu Shamans. The Jovian–Eu War had lasted approximately 48 hours, up until then the only example of interspecies warfare not counting the confrontation between Human, Machine and Transhuman factions.

    But, thanks to the Mir mediating the conflict between the Jovian and Eu Leadership, the conflict was successfully deescalated.

    This inevitably led to the establishment of a Mir-Eu Commonwealth, a brainchild of then-Professor Nuit Zyreena.

    Against protocol, Ambassador Allaura N. Green climbed out of the executive shuttle first. Ivy was close behind, in her T2AW-SOAS-M10. “Ambassador,” she began, as the delegation set foot in the atrium.

    Before she could continue, the Ambassador held up her hand.

    “Not now, officer,” she said.

    Green pointed, and Ivy followed her finger to see the Foreign Minister, accompanied by her own delegation. Among which was Professor Zyreena. Within the atmospheric processing station – APS – none of the individuals from either side required headgear.

    “Ambassador, it is my pleasure,” the Foreign Minister said, shaking Green’s hand. “Likewise, shall we?”

    The Mir were perhaps the most alien of all Transhumans, their genetic alteration had given them various brilliant hues of skin coloration, and their concept and nature of gender was also quite foreign –in such a way that transcended the physical, even the males were almost indistinguishable from the females.

    Likewise, they had also tapped into the energy of their glandular systems, one of which – the pineal gland – had evolved into a literal ‘third eye’ positioned in the center of their forehead above their primary eyes.

    The meeting went on for forty minutes. About fifteen minutes in, while Ivy watched, Zyreena introduced herself. Ivy regarded the amphibious woman guardedly, before taking her hand. “You can call me Ivy,” was all she said.

    “I’m not surprised, Lieutenant,” she said quietly after another ten minutes.

    Ivy shook her head, barely regarding Zyreena. “I’m sorry, Professor, what do you mean?”

    “The apprehension,” Zyreena then said.

    “I get it; Earthlings are proud and regard anything too different with apprehension and suspicion.”

    Ivy looked as though her heart had leapt into her esophagus.

    “Do what, no – you don’t know me well enough to make that much of a leap to a conclusion, madam. With all due respect.”

    Zyreena shrugged.

    “If you say so.”

    They turned and watched the remainder of the meeting in silence. When it was over, the Minister announced pleasure at coming to a conclusion regarding mutual recognition of the Mir-Eu Commonwealth and the nomination of the other non-Jovian Treaty of Outer Worlds member-states for election to the Republics.

    As they were departing, the professor said, “I just think it is ironic that you and I are alike in the aspect of our isolationism, officer.”

    Almost as soon as she said this, the journalist on-site began to frantically announce shocking new developments, holding his finger to his ear whilst doing so.

    “W-we’ve got some disturbing new developments from Extra-Solar territory, specifically the Barnardian Republics. Um… this is… I-I, it’s… bad,” the reporter was now stumbling over his words as he looked into the camera and swallowed with some significant struggle. “We’re getting reports that… that… the Barnardian Republics are, gone. They are no longer there.”

    “And what does this mean, that–”

    “It means that there is a previously-unaccounted for hostile force at work on the periphery of Human Space, Fox,” the reporter said, cutting him off a bit more suddenly than he realized. “And as far as we know we are currently under attack.”

    “Is Barnard still under attack at this moment? Surely there must be some survivors we have thousands of colonists out there.”

    Ivy felt her heart thumping against her ribcage.

    She knew some of them personally.

    Her neighbor on Ares MegaStation had been of Barnardian ethnicity. A taste vaguely reminiscent of vomit and heartburn began to emerge in the back of her throat.

    “We still don’t kn – er – one, no, two, shuttles managed to make the jump. But… everyone else… we’re getting new updates. Some in the neighboring Lalandic Principality reported bright flashes completely unusual and alarming for this time of year – reportedly in the direction of Barnard.”

    The view on the holo-screen of the man’s face was then replaced with footage one Lalander took of the spectacle unfolding in his ‘backyard’.

    They set it all on fire! They set the entire bloody ****ing system on fire!

    Her thoughts raced like cracked-out hamsters going ape**** in an exercise wheel.

    Ivy then heard a voice from behind her and to her left, just over her left shoulder. She turned to see Zyreena.

    “We are so ****ed,” the professor declared.
  4. Abbazorkzog's Avatar
    <<8-16-2212: Chiron, Alpha Centuri Star System - 4.38 ly from Earth>>

    “WE run. We hide. They leave. But they come back. They always come back, the Titan Corporation, the most powerful force known. Humankind was for decades the preeminent military power across entire planets… no longer. The Solar Republics, the E7 . . . all seems bleak, even with the help of all the others, our small niche, our small community, stand not one fighting chance of defeating an enemy endlessly our greater.

    Even with their most compelling forces . . . even with what allies they had . . . the Corporation’s sleeper cells were far and wide – no asteroid escaped their grasp, toppling governments and infrastructure of the Outer Worlds . . . with hardly any endeavor, or rue, mercy, or sympathy – even the Moon gazed down upon the Earth with light polluted by the neon-flourescence of battling Orwellian monstrocities. Each and every passing year, the line between organism and machine continued to blue. The Solar Security Council came up with the sentiment for the use of "Android" soldiers, by use of a human subject . . . the "artificial warriors" would retain their humanity, and know what they were fighting for, fight fire with fire . . . and would never "malfunction" or "fail".

    Although based out of Saturn’s moon Titan, the Corporation stood for "interstellar awareness", but no matter how much you jollied it up, what they were doing behind closed doors was inhumane.

    The Androids were meant to solve the problem of autonomous warfare machines that were banned by the Earth government as a detriment to ground forces . . . and were, in a manner of speaking . . . deleted, and thus few survived as a consequence.

    And now, the best and brightest scientific minds of the United Systems of Sol think the best alternative would be unlocking Immortality for humanity to share and rejoice within, and in order to do so – they claim – a scientific endeavor must be undertaken to find the origin of consciousness itself.

    I think it’s a terrible idea. My name is Evelyn Leonova, call-tag Knight, Lieutenant, First Class, in search of Templar Squadron. Darien Leonov is the last of the Androids... and it is my duty to keep him alive. While I do not pity us Humans for being ignorant to the possible repercussions of allowing our wars to endanger the interstellar community, and I know what I have become is anything but Human, I will not stand by and watch as billions of lives... innocent lives... are obliterated in the fiery breath of this seemingly unstoppable juggernaut, and because of that my life is expendable when we get to Saturn, I don't need to be alive much longer, anyway, for now–”

    It was the last imail his sister had sent over the stellar-net before she’d gone missing nearly a decade ago.

    The Android sealed the holographic proctor and rose from his seat. He felt his skin. Although his exterior was living tissue, like how he used to be, it was the only thing he had left of his old life out of everything else. His brain was completely artificial, supposed to triple his life expectancy . . . maybe even quadruple it, and of course, with the proper enhancements, he could potentially live forever.

    His personality was the only part of himself that he had from his old life, and even that was deteriorating with each passing day.

    The Corps . . . extremist swine . . . felt it necessary to throw people's humanity in the scrap without feeling the need to tell them, to even give them a choice. It was his misconception . . . he purported. He was doing it for his sister, Ivy, three years his junior. He’d just required the BitCredits needed to live comfortably.

    He had prearranged to enlist for a few months to get just enough, but what was supposed to be no more than a few weeks instead became 10 years of hell . . .

    Sent his life spiraling into a new direction . . .

    These people . . .

    Took his humanity away . . .

    His life . . .

    His soul . . .

    And transformed him into an abomination . . .

    A monster.

    Paladin looked directly into the dirty mirror, directly into his own eyes, only to see nothing, no trace of humanity in this stranger staring back at him, this creature.

    Machine.

    He looked over its face.

    Once it was smooth, human looking . . . now embraced by scars of battle, a crooked nose, even missing a few teeth from where it was struck by a War Bot.

    They were ample, easily eight-foot, but varied greatly depending upon their role. Their methods were what you would expect of a machine – coordinated, dissected down to the mathematics, the utmost measured and thorough a slow-motion genocide against Saturn’s transhumans could be. Which was enough to show their relentless, undying, unchanging, unanimous goal: the complete and absolute cleansing of the galaxy of the human disease.

    The "parasite" they called us, they were the real enemies.

    They obviated everyone in his old team, Templar Squadron, except him. Templar One, Templar Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven and Eight . . . all KIA. They were, among those of the Ganymedian Autonomy and Saturn, the core militant group of AI that had banded together against Earth and the Solar Republics . . . but the Jovians and Martians were too busy fighting over their own cosmic borders and territorial claims in the Vesta and Pallas Communities to focus on helping the Corps fend off the robotic invaders from their controlled space.

    Although technically not a part of the Corps, Advanced Operations, AEON, was still a joint-paramilitary-intelligence division operated as part of peacekeeping and police attached to the Inter-Federal embassies – which the Sol and Sartan Embassies were party to.

    So it appeared as though AEON was drifting in loyalty more towards the Solar Republics. Especially their Division Six group, the "Melchizedek", the group his Templar Team had been a part of.

    "At least they cared for the outcomes of their acts. They did not try to conquer and suppress, and their lives were not based on greed..." he thought.

    The Android went over in his head just how immorally grotesque the authoritarian rule of Jupiter and the United Republics of Saturn was, and how the Unitary Nations felt like traitors to Earth for collaborating with them so closely, economically and otherwise.

    There were whispers among the downtrodden, impoverished and oppressed that backlash – or even outright war – against the Unitary Nations by a united ‘Transhuman Front,’ was steadily building.

    Wishful thinking, he reasoned.

    For decades the Unitarians had gotten away with enabling the anti-biological genocide by the machines, encouraging direct consciousness uploading into robotic vessels – such as his own mind had been.

    They saw the Mir, and other transhuman species of the Outer Worlds, as a mistake.

    And they wanted to correct this error.

    However, this thought pulled a memory with it.

    Like the tail of a comet, it exploded back into clear remembrance, a memory he wanted gone, he wanted dead . . .

    But the scars, they would always be there to remind him that he was not a man . . . he was a machine.

    It was his curse.

    It was his rage.

    * * *

    <<6-7-2209: Kali, 61 Cygnus Star System - 11.39 ly from Earth>>

    Everything was dark as the Android, a Second Lieutenant back then, dreamed. He was young again, probably 13, his sister, Ivy, was 10. He stood at the doorway of the small house and watched as the Colonials killed his mother.

    Colonials opposed the "rule" of the Earth Seven, the current government of humanity, and sparked the Coalition Wars. It had started as early as the 2050's and lasted up until the current time period in his dream, 2193, and now the war had begun to spiral down.

    The flaming bolts of energy tore through her like a swarm of piranha. He remembered screaming until his throat was sore, he remembered restraining Ivy as she tried to go after her killer. That is where his life really ended. He figured that joining the Titan Project was not where his humanity ended, perhaps this is where it ended. He did not know anymore . . . all of the bad memories seemed to blur together. While he dreamed, the Lieutenant was oblivious to the fact somebody was looking for him. His pod was supposed to have been launched towards the colony, not in the dense jungles where it was now.
  5. Abbazorkzog's Avatar
    * * *

    This was to be the last insertion of the Androids. He was distrusting, scared even. He had heard stories of how they had hunted down, and killed off the last of them because one of them went crazy, and "malfunctioned". His name was Gauss, Dwayne – a sergeant, and the account for how he even knew of the existence of the android warriors was because he was an AEON, meaning he did not hold the Corps in high regard . . . but none of that mattered now. He was here to "acquire" him. He did not like it one bit, but he had to do it.

    But, not with dignity. Never had he been sent in on an assignment alone, never had he even seen any sort of ETL, or Extra-Terrestrial Life-form. One time when he was sent to negotiate with Transhuman Mir privateers and he had not liked it, and since then he’d not had any direct contact with some kind of gene freak whom he would not trust with the life of the healthiest dog. And the Mir weren’t even considered ‘extraterrestrial’, but rather genetically-evolved humans.

    The Mir, the Jovian and the Palladium were what they called ‘Second Humanity,’ or humans that colonized the Moons of Neptune, Jupiter and the Asteroid Belt, respectively.

    To back it all up, his sinuses were killing him, he had more trouble adjusting to different atmospheres than others, since he'd spent 4 years at a desk job on Zastrozzi, Charybdis, and now he was here, in hell, one of the most desolate colonies within colonized space, Kali.

    The world Kali, of the Sixty-One Cygnus star, was the second-furthest colonized world in human history – second only to Procyon, which at 11.41 light-years from Earth was the most-distantly-settled star by humanity.

    Gauss gazed up at the black, ominous cloud, like death himself had arrived on his decaying steeds of hell, being the ships, and his scythe, the powerful dark energy cannons. It was almost the complete polar opposite to the standard issue energy weapons issued to all cluster organizations of allegiance to one another, antimatter. The M-3 assault rifle was cold in his hands, yet he was sure the battery inside was hot and ready . . . but he honestly hoped he would not have to use it. He'd only gotten a name.

    That name was "Paladin" . . . the name of the Android.

    Right now it was comatose in the crashed dispersion pod, four clicks from his current position, what he didn't know was that "monster" was going to be their only hope of survival.

    The pod could only be activated from the outside. The systems whirred to life, pumping adrenaline into his powered armor to awaken him.

    Then, his once-pale blue eyes ignited with electricity, and the hatch to the pod hissed as it popped ajar. Paladin collapsed on the soft ground before the open chamber. He glanced around to see the man standing before him, and the first thing he noticed was the lack of trust in his eyes, the only thing that existed was contempt, maybe even pity. Disappointment. The unknown soldier did not help him up.

    Paladin coughed up clear fluid and pulled himself up to his feet using the side of the pod.

    The armored exoskeleton easily weighed the better half of a ton, and would pulverize any human – no matter how augmented – that attempted to wear his particular model of combat exoskeleton.

    "Are you Paladin?" Darien heard the soldier speak finally. His voice was dry, only a hint of uncertainty. He shook his head.

    "Just Darien," He replied, still breathing heavily, trying to clear the mucus out of his throat.

    Gauss couldn’t tell if he was Russian in descent (that is, before his mechanical transformation), or if he’d been programmed with the accent. It sounded real enough.

    There was a moment of silence.

    "I'm Gauss, and that's all you need to know. Just stay at least ten feet or so from me and we'll be fine." He was another jarhead, most likely, typical military "tough-guy" persona. He tried to ignore the grunt and search inside the pod for his helmet. He shuffled through the mostly-useless equipment (in this situation of course) and finally his armored hands brushed over the crest of his helmet. He pulled it out and looked at it for a minute. Its design was almost like that of the ancient Roman gladiator helmets, even bearing the significant helmet crest, but also bore similarities to NASA astronaut helmets.

    It symbolized his allegiance to AEON, even though he did not consider himself to be truly allied to anyone but his friends.

    "Hey... Paladin... we need to get going, this place is going to be a three-ring circus sideshow of oversized freaks any minute those... gunships... decide to enter the atmosphere."

    Without further hesitation, the Android pressurized the atmosphere seals on his helmet and popped it on. He then turned around.

    "Please, call me Darien."

    The Soldier seemed to withdraw a little, as including all the armor, from his boots to his helmet crest, he stood approximately seven feet tall.

    "How about I just call you Paladin, I don't think we're on good enough terms to go by first names—"

    "It is my only name, Gauss." He said as he continued after the soldier, grabbing the M-3 rifle from the interior of the pod, before catching up with him, of course, keeping his distance, and trying to earn his respect.

    His philosophy was friendly allies are better than non-friendly ones, as well as ones you can trust.

    The rain had begun to downpour, and as they continued to journey through the jungle for seemingly hours, the rain let up, and a fog replaced it.

    The jungle had thinned out into fields of indeterminable size, mostly due to the fog.

    There was something strange about the landscape here. It was . . . hard, not soft. Almost like rock but the way it felt beneath his feet was in no formation a rock would be. It felt like—he looked down, and gasped.

    "What... in the hell is this?" Gauss exclaimed, picking up his feet. The landscape in the area was infected by nearby Jupiter gunships.

    They had landed.

    They were here, and they were nearby. Another unexplainable anomaly of Jupiter’s and Saturn’s technology was that every time their technology came into contact with organic or natural formations . . . it would grow into it, and their ‘seemingly’ artificially-constructed technology, would merge with the natural formations and form a second nature of sorts. The process of one ship doing this usually takes days, but this had formed here in a matter of hours. There were lots . . . hundreds of them, nearby.

    "Um . . . Paladin . . . er . . . Darien . . . what is this? I have never seen—" Darien motioned – by way of a clenched fist – for him to cease talking, as he scanned the surroundings. What he could see of the landscape had been almost completely transformed.

    Biomechanical protrusions made the once-smooth landscape a rough and knobby contortion of a maze-like hell, comprised of designs and formations a normal human mind could not comprehend, and then . . . there was silence.

    Not one bird chirped.

    Not one animal, or sound of nature, could be heard.

    "There's nothing, we need to go—"

    Again, as he scanned the surroundings, he held up a hand. A humming had broken the silence… which meant they were not alone.

    "What's that?" Gauss asked, now hearing the buzzing noise. It grew louder. Darien uttered one word.

    "Move,"

    Gauss cocked his head.

    "Move... where... what is—"

    "Go... now! RUN!" A bright pear-green orb of light then penetrated the fog and flew through the air right at them. Darien took off at a sprint as more of the spheres of chartreuse-colored light zipped through the air, zigzagging across the landscape in lines now, erratically colliding with the warped landscape in miniature explosions, rapidly, one after another.
  6. Abbazorkzog's Avatar
    Darien dove behind one of the protrusions. He saw Gauss was right behind him.

    The firing ceased.

    "Can you see anything? Anything at all?" Gauss whispered so quietly it was almost like a breeze. Darien peaked out from behind his cover . . . and saw the tall shapes emerging from the fog.

    There were four at first, followed by two more, then five. Then there were ten, twelve, and twenty. More appeared until more than fifty surrounded them, only their twisted abominable silhouettes were visible. "Wait for my mark, then move... low... and slowly, and quietly." Darien said. Gauss leaned in.

    "What are those?"

    Darien replied back, and said,

    "They are from the Titan Corporation... and they are the enemy,” The Android drawled in his thick Slavic accent. “That is all you need to know."

    Their frames were tall. Their upper body armor was heavily reinforced, and bulky, and almost reminded him of the pads football players wore back in the early 21st century.

    Darien held a finger to his helmet's mouthpiece, and motioned for him to follow slowly.

    Darien got down on his hands and knees and crawled through the intertwining fibers and surrealist networks. It'd only be a matter of hours before the entire planet looked like this.

    Dead.

    Devoid of life and hope.

    The only things keeping them alive were the artificial atmospheres inside their suits. Something told him to turn around. Inside his head.

    "You are strong now, but you were weak. Turn around; stop crawling around in the dirt like an insect. Quit being so pathetic. Make them suffer for the infinite suffering they have caused unto others. You are a juggernaut, an unstoppable force. Make them pay, make them suffer."

    Darien stopped to clear his head. That wasn't him talking. He believed that they had a right to their motives, and nobody can make them suffer for their beliefs, it wouldn't be right.

    Whenever he could avoid a fight, he did so.

    They knew he and Gauss were alive... and they had to escape . . . fast.

    Soon, they were clear of the infected parts of the forest . . . and had arrived back at the colony.

    The shapes of the colony complex, now dark, due to being evacuated, loomed in the clearing fog... the midday sun now peeking through, revealing the deserted streets and the bodies of those burned by the orbital bombardment. Only a handful of buildings, including the main complex, remained standing. Darien looked back and could hear the humming getting louder.

    "Scans from my codex up-link show that the colony shuttle is still intact," Gauss stated. "Let's get the hell out of here."

    Darien held up a hand.

    "Not so fast. If we just leave, we will be abandoning mission, AEON procedure instructs thus so; that if installation cannot be saved, human or otherwise, we must at least claim logs and any possible information we can use to prevent it from happening in future, and to at very least find survivors." Gauss sighed.

    "Well we need to make it fast."

    Darien nodded in concurrence.

    "You head right, I'm left, and we’ll rendezvous at shuttle... look for any survivors at all." He could tell from Gauss' breathing that he was beginning to lose it.

    "Okay... alright, I'm on it." He said tensely, completely on edge. Those who do not learn to remain calm don't last long.

    "Gauss... just relax. We're going to be fine."

    Gauss exhaled and nodded.

    Still no survivors.

    Not one sign of life.

    Not one audio log . . . not even a single disc. He frantically searched.

    Each charred body he saw only began to incite his anger. They were of all shapes and sizes.

    Men.

    Women.

    Even children.

    He blinked, trying to clear his head again.

    Breathing steadily, trying to keep his cool, he moved on.

    However . . . it did not last long.

    "They took them. They beat them unarmed, completely obliterated everything else from the sky, in their vessels of chaos. They must pay, they must suffer."

    No! No! No! He gritted his teeth.

    "I am not monster," He told himself.

    "Oh, but you are. The only difference is you have been hurt. You have been punished. They have not. Show them justice. Justice must be served!"

    He shook his head.

    "That is not justice. That is merciless, causeless killing, mindless. Like animal!"

    He kept his sane mind surfaced for a while longer. Unbeknownst to him, as he turned, the bulk of his equipment knocked over a communication terminal. It smashed and sizzled on the ground, creating a loud racket.

    Then... the howling.

    A long, loud drone pierced the air. Their battle cry. Their time had just got divided by three. He quickly opened the communications module in his helmet and opened the channel with Gauss.

    "Gauss! Get to shuttle! Double time!" As he closed the module he heard frantic banging on one of the garage doors...

    Survivors.

    It had to be.

    Usually nobody would survive a Titan planet harvest. This could be their lucky day.

    "Are you survivors of attack?!" Darien assertively interrogated through the thick metal plating. No response at first. Then he heard scratching, and then frightened yelling.

    "Please! You have to open the door from the outside. We trapped ourselves in hoping they wouldn't find us... is it over?"

    The dry, scratchy voice of an older man pled through the metal.

    "No. Hostile ground teams haven't even arrived yet. Now how do I get door open?" Still another moment of silence, "Hurry, we don't have much time..."

    Darien then realized to his dismay . . . that they, actually, in fact, had no time at all.
  7. Abbazorkzog's Avatar
    There was a quiet charging sound, like an explosion preparing to detonate, which could be heard just beyond the tree line.

    He reopened the module.

    "Gauss... Gauss! Start shuttle, comrade, I'll be there in one moment," Darien located the door panel and hit it. The thick metal door opened and as soon as the opening was large enough to crawl through, the man and two younger children scurried through, one possibly eight, the other appeared to be 12, if not younger.

    He looked back to see the man, bald, overweight, dirty and frightened.

    "Thank God, we thought we were going to be taken by the demons in their spires of dark salvation," The man pointed to the sky. "Capital ships never participate in..." Darien began, but the man shook his head. "No, this spire was the size of Jupiter. It destroyed the moon and came down with a massive fog, which covered everything, and when it cleared... all life was taken into the networks of hell. This landscape, it is only a...glimpse of what Satan has in store."

    His mind was obviously gone.

    "However, they did say that angels would come, they said you would come..." Darien held up his hand.

    "I'm just Android,” he said chuckling a bit, “it’s my responsibility you live. You must get to shuttle."

    The man pointed behind him at the colony.

    "Please, give us a minute, we need to grab some-"

    "No time. Get to shuttle, go... NOW!" He said as he gave the man a shove, turned around and sprinted for the jungle, rifle in hand. The Android was then swept from his feet as he was thrown through the air by an invisible force, utterly powerful. He scrambled to his feet, and looked in the direction the strike came from. Nothing was there. He was then lifted into the air and thrown again. They had cloaking devices.

    Darien yelled through his helmet, and fired off seven or eight rounds from his rifle in the direction it had come from, hoping to hit something, possibly even injure it to allow himself to escape.

    This mission was supposed to take place in the air. Before the Corporation even showed up. But they hit without warning, without hesitation.

    There wasn't even supposed to be any direct contact with hostiles, yet here he was. Paladin was thrown to the ground. This time from behind, and this time, prepared.

    He pushed off of the ground with his arms and landed both feet on the attacker, square in the chest.

    He then heard a sizzle and rolled over onto his back as the hulking figure materialized out of thin air.

    It then spoke words he did not understand.

    "Oerbin oer teishe!" It bellowed, raising an EMP glove. He was cornered, certain to die.

    "Exactly what I expected you to do! Darien is gone. Dead! He was weak! He fell before his enemies, and cowered like a runt, but he died, and you were reborn as Paladin Zero. You are strong; you go where he never could go! You do what he never could do!"

    He could hold back no longer.

    His squeezed eyes shut, which then flickered open – blazing red-hot, he bore his teeth like a rabid dog.

    The rage had completely taken over, the signals jolted through his body, and pulses of energy erupted throughout his body and from core points, emitted in a radius out from it, sending the Jovian flying backwards into the wall.

    Darien rose to his feet, removing his helmet, revealing his battle scars. His teeth bore, he uttered a guttural scream of anger, his eyes wild, and the faint red glow in his irises from his ocular augmentations adding to it.

    He ran and dove through the air at the Jovian, which ran at him. They collided and Darien was thrown back due to being so much smaller, but that didn't change a thing.

    A shock-wave emitted from his gauntlets and impacted with the creature's chest, allowing him to run up and plant his feet right where its face was. The Jovian’s face caved in, and the back of its head exploded in a shower of black gore. Darien turned around to see more of them coming; the energy zipped through the air, grazing his face and armor. There were too many.

    He turned and ran as quickly as possible to the shuttle, before the voice, the thought, the rage, whatever it was, drilled more angry thoughts into his head.

    "No. You do not turn and run! You are still weak! Like Darien. You are not he! You are Zero! You rise above it all! You will die fighting, before you run like a coward!"

    The Paladin grasped at his head, screaming, hitting the wall behind him and sliding down.

    This wasn't him talking.

    It was the rage.

    He couldn't let it control him . . . had to . . . make it stop! He shrugged it off, gritted his teeth, and ran, ran with all the energy he could gather, as the alien horde pursued him, the energy bolts whizzed past him, again grazing, shredding armor and skin. He yelled at the pain but kept going. He couldn't die here. He now knew what he had to do, and he couldn't do it dead. No. He ignored the pain . . . not realizing the energy bolt that had just passed through his soft torso armor. He coughed up blood and collapsed.

    "Get up you weakling! You are no warrior! You writhe in the ground like the worms upon which you tread! Now get up! GET UP AND FIGHT!"

    He continued to ignore it. The rage, the pain, the blood seeping from his wound and mouth.

    He grasped at the ground, pulling himself along. That is when the firing stopped and his vision began to fade. Then a shadow was cast across him.

    He looked up to see, not the bulky silhouette of a Jupiter warrior . . . but the shape of a woman, clad in battle armor similar to his.

    Only sleeker, more advanced.

    In her hand the energy signature of an EMF blade erupted . . . and that was the last thing he saw . . . and the last things that he heard before unconsciousness took him, was the sound of weapon fire, the sound of dying Jovians . . . and the calmest voice . . . the kindest voice . . .

    "You are safe now brother."

    * * *

    The 2100’s were recalled by historians as a century of nonstop and nigh-omniscient terror, while the 2190’s were forever known as a decade of warfare and catastrophe.

    But, Captain Curtis Freeman understood that everything was going according to plan.

    In 2209, the Solar Cold War had escalated when Martian security analysts were given a tip by his good friend and spy captain Vincent Zikan that the Jovian government had reached a trade agreement with the Titan Corporation regarding Android Chakras and a Fullerite stockpile in the Palladian Asteroids. Just as had been orchestrated, word got out and the Martian Premier was outraged at Jovian King Olav II, who claimed he knew nothing about it and blamed the Eu.

    The next year, in 2210 – much to the delightful chagrin of the Mir and Martians – a genocide began against the Eu population on Ganymede. Although only a fraction of the total Eu society, half of the 1.5 million Ganymedean Eu were eliminated, and another 100,000 displaced, it still left irreparable scarring upon their collective psyche. Naturally, the Solar Republics, spearheaded by the Martians, Earth, Mir and Pallas begged the Unitary Nations and CATO (Collective Asteroid Treaty Organization) to involve itself and put a stop to it.

    Two years later, the Republics had succeeded. Jupiter had seethe d with anger at Mars. In February 2212, Jupiter surprised the interstellar community with an INBM strike on an estimate 3,686 of the 4,854 asteroids of the Hygiea Community of the Asteroid Belt, and thereafter began organizing for an invasion.

    “It’s done,” Zikan’s voice creened over the intercom as Freeman took a shot of Bourbon from his glass. “The Republics and CATO would be fools to think of Mars as anything other than an unfortunate victim in this scenario, or – better yet – a weak regime in need of an exchange of power.”

    Freeman breathed a sigh of relief.

    “Yes, and then we can begin plans for a Titan-backed takeover of not only Mars, but Luna, as well.”

    “Earth will be surrounded, and – in time – we can… ‘Persuade’ them to allow the Unitarian takeover as an emergency transitional government until E7 Space can be secured.”

    Freeman smiled silently.

    It was all going so smoothly. It was now a matter of patience and time, and in time, the nigh-omnipresent Lunar Lobby and the People’s Republic of Mars would have to capitulate to the pro-Titan Ares MegaStation Social Nationalists.

    “Good. Captain Freeman – out.”

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