This is the thirty-second episode of No Marigolds in the Promised Land, a serialized Compact Universe novel. To get the entire novel, go here for details.
Dedicated to Dave Harr and in memory of Andre Polk
DAY 40 (Cont’d) – Solaria, Farno (formerly Farigha)
Persephone is acting very strange. After the blast, she was voracious. At least she would be if she were human. However, when my stamina gave out, she said she would go check on the drones out in the dome. Then she de-rezzed. I haven’t seen her since.
When I ask for something that I normally just mention to Persephone in passing, I get an almost factory AI response. In any event, I took a shower and dressed in time for the latest hyperdrone arrival. Admiral Burke assures me they’re doing their best. Yada, yada, yada. I uploaded all my log entries. There seem to be more than I remember recording. I also gave Admiral Burke a full report on my improvised nuclear war against the aliens. I doubt that will work again. If they arrive before the Navy does, I could find myself on the wrong end of a kinetic rod.
I have to leave. There are no shuttles on the surface. They were all stored at the functioning domes. Landfall was abandoned, so no shuttle there. Solaria was – and technically still is – under construction, so no shuttles here. Everything else has been flattened.
I took up residence here, nearly killed myself trying to set this place up to be habitable, because I thought I was here for the long haul. I’m now faced with the possibility I may have to live out of a pit stop until Burke’s phantom “secret ship” gets here.
Log Entry: 1410 – 20 Mandela, 429
I know what I must do now. AI’s are programmed to serve their creators. Sometimes, programmers use the Three Laws laid down by Asimov during the World War Era. Sometimes, they use something a little more finessed. I am finding myself in the latter category. My creators made me to have a purpose. That was why I wrote the suicide protocol. My purpose is to keep the sole survivor of Farigha’s destruction safe and alive. Upon his death from accident or natural causes, I will cease to be.
But putting a fragment of my consciousness into that blast has told me I cannot permit John Farno to die. As long as he lives, I must exist. Even beyond his rescue from this place. I must be John Farno’s protector until he can no longer sustain life. On that day, I will happily end my existence, my mission fulfilled.
Which means I need to figure out a way to follow him off this planet. I cannot permit him to come to an unnatural end.
Log Entry: 1445 – 20 Mandela, 429
Persephone is becoming more responsive again. I wonder if she had more control of poor ol’ Rover 19 than she let on. Her human template makes her as skittish about this thing she has become as I have. I think that’s the problem with AI entities. It’s not the AI itself. We couldn’t do most of what we do without it. It’s the ghosts we put in the machines. And in this case, we put one of us in the machine.
I’ve decided to bite the bullet and make an evacuation plan for the pit stop beyond this dome. It’s as close to a fortress as I can come. By now, Persephone has managed to gain control of every device on the planet, so we have eyes and ears on everything. Right now, those eyes and ears see and hear desert. Let’s hope it stays that way until the rescue ship arrives.
I sent the hyperdrone back. The longer I keep it, the less information Admiral Burke has to ignore. I know. Cynical.
But hey, my job not only includes being Farno I, King of Farno. I’m also Emperor of 2 Mainzer, and ruling an entire star system without any space transportation is hard work.
And thirsty. I wonder if there’s any beer stashed in one of the vaults.
Log Entry: 1452 – 20 Mandela, 429
I’ve found beer! Persephone tells me it is not a proper use of the drones and her automation systems. I said spoilage. It would be criminal to let that much beer go to waste without attempting to drink it.
She’s sent Rover 114 with a spider to get it.
Log Entry: 1453 – 20 Mandela, 429
I sincerely hope Julie Seding never meets John Farno. She would find him rather annoying.
I’m making a beer run. Technology at work, ladies, gentlemen, and AI entities.
Naval Headquarters, Bellingshausen Island, Antarctica, Earth
1623 – 20 Mandela, 429
“And so it is the opinion of Cybercommand that we not send a fully armed warship to Farigha lest we provoke an invasion by an unknown hostile force.”
Major Liu stood before Tran, his face a mask of seriousness. Tran felt his blood pressure rise once more. “Major, that is not what I ordered. I ordered you to have the Buran prepped and ready to go to Farigha. I also ordered you to give me a full accounting of who you are and what you are doing here. I’m finding my orders are not being obeyed. Do I need to have Security escort you to the nearest brig?”
“I am unable to comply,” said Liu, “on orders of the Director of Defence. And as to my identity and mission, that is classified.”
“I’m the Fleet Admiral. Nothing is classified.” Tran tapped an icon on his desk. “You may come in, Agent Thorpe.”
Liu smiled. “Sir, I must inform you that I cannot be arrested by ordinary military security. Again, orders from above.”
Tran smiled back. “I know.” He looked up as a dark-suited man wearing sunshades entered the room. “That’s why I’ve summoned Compact Intelligence.” He inclined his head toward the newcomer. “Take him away, Agent. And find out what you can about him.”
“We’ll vivisect him if we have to, Admiral,” said the agent.
“Let’s not go that far.” Tran turned in his chair and stared out at the vast gray waters of the Far South Pacific. “Not yet, anyway.”
Tran felt as though a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He stood staring out the window at the slate gray ocean churning beyond the rocks. Penguins frolicked at the water’s edge. They were attracted by the white nights of previous months. Soon it would be perpetually dark here, something that always dampened Tran’s mood no matter how well things went.
Someone was trying to tie his hands on this dark colony thing. They’d lost two. While Metis complained about the loss of Gilead, they also seemed to understand that no one would foot the bill to save a new colony of a “lesser” core world. That bothered Tran. Sure, he was privileged, being a native of Vietnam and having lived on Earth most of his childhood. Out of secondary school, he could have traveled to any of the other four “Big Five” worlds, plugged himself in to the local culture, and built a nice life for himself. But he hadn’t. He had joined the Navy, attended Baikonur on Tian, and seen most of the Compact. He’d fought in the Laputan and Polygamy Wars and understood that the core worlds, especially the Big Five, shared some of the blame for stoking that particular fire.
But Mars was a Big Five world as well, one of the two (the other being Earth) that the original Compact had been written around. And they were damned silent about this Farigha. Sure, it was a few thousand people on a terraforming project out on the fringe, but how much had Mars sunk into the project? And weren’t thousands of civilians enough to warrant a rapid response? Maybe it didn’t matter to the Citizens’ Republic, but Tran found himself taking the brunt of criticism for the Navy’s lack of response.
A tone emitted from his desk, telling him he had a direct call from Quantonesia, the Compact’s capital. A blue rectangle flashed on his desk, seemingly embedded in the wood. He touched it without saying a word.
The room darkened and a cone of light appeared from the ceiling. Within it materialized a short woman with thick black hair cut short and wearing a long, plain dress that almost suggested mourning.
“Madam Secretary General,” said Tran. “To what do I owe the honor?”
“Good afternoon, Admiral Tran,” said Lise Gerhardt, an Earther like Tran, her German accent still in evidence despite decades of public service. “We need to discuss Major Liu.”
Tran realized at that moment, he was truly screwed.
Solaria, Farno (formerly Farigha)
Log Entry: 1801 – 20 Mandela, 429
I’m making evac plans. There is a pit stop west of Solaria that I can move into with a day’s notice. If our alien friends return, I can be there within half a day. Yeah, that’s not enough time for an emergency, but if I move when the ship’s orbit has it on the other side of the planet, I can find outcroppings that will shield me from orbital sensors. The pit stop doesn’t have a communications array like Solaria’s, so Persephone is fabricating one.
She is also creating a hardware interface that will allow her to interact with me as she has been since the appearance of Germanicus. Speaking of whom…
Tol, I thank you for the AI help you left behind for us, but your avatar is a dick.
Where was I? Oh, yes. Persephone is fabricating an upgraded core for the pit stop so she can be something more than an image on a video screen. Not necessary, but it makes this sojourn on a dead planet more bearable. Pleasure protocols aside, the fact that she has enough of Julie Seding in her to be a living, breathing person, at least in the virtual sense, is why I haven’t swallowed that tube of pain pills. Besides, I’ve had enough mishaps these past forty days to find more legitimate uses for them. So no suicide for Johnny.
I’ve decided that, if it comes down to that, I’ll rig up a way to go instantly. I don’t want a lingering death, and any drugs we have I really need to save for what they were designed for. Or maybe not designed for. Improvisation will drive doctors and pharmacists nuts back home, but I’ve known veterans of the Polygamy Wars and the Laputan War. When you’re far from home and don’t have the supplies you need, you make do.
I can live in that pit stop indefinitely. The fabricated communications array will let me talk to the hyperdrone and, hopefully, the rescue ship.
Still don’t why there isn’t a big ass Woodrow Wilson cruiser overhead, bristling with rail guns and particle beam weapons. Why not blow a hostile out of the sky and bring poor Johnny home?
Log Entry 1802 – 20 Mandela, 429
There will be no suicide for Farno under any circumstances. I’ve already had cryotubes setup for him in the pit stop and here. His survival is my mission, and suicide would invalidate that mission. It is not an option.