chapter: 40 kilometers above Aristillus

The background:

John and the Dogs have been hiking around the equator of the moon for six months. While they were on Farside Earth forces destroyed the relay sattelites in lunar orbit, thus cutting John off from Aristillus…and also cutting off the AI Gamma’s remote bases from each other. We have learned previously that when Gamma’s processing nodes are separated from each other each assumes that it is the full inheritor to the original Gamma…and acts to strike out against any impostors (i.e. other instances of Gamma).

After the relay sattelites were burned John and the Dogs made contact with an instance of Gamma in Zhukovskiy crater…and encountered two PK ships on a recon mission. Gamma shot the first ship down, but its nuclear scuttling charge was detonated, destroying the instance of Gamma in Zhukovskiy crater. The blast damaged, but did not destroy, the second PK ship. John and the Dogs realized that they were caught in the middle of a hot war and thus needed to get back to Aristillus ASAP. In order to accomplish this they looted materials from the second PK ship and built a small lifeboat. In the process they learned that the PKs are planning an invasion in the very near future.

We begin our chapter as John and the three Dogs fly over the north lunar pole and back to Aristillus.

chapter 105: 40 kilometers above Aristillus, Lunar Nearside

John held his breath as the north wall of Aristillus slid majestically beneath them. The colony was still almost 30 kilometers ahead, but even from this distance it was unmistakable. Glittering solar farms spread out across the city. Vast piles of mine tailings were stacked to the south and west. And even from this distance he thought he could make out the open pits of Lai Docks.

He was coming home.

Blue said “Altitude 40 klicks. Ramping down the AG.”

“Excellent.”

John could even see a small bit of Sinus Lunicus, just over the far wall of Aristillus. Suddenly something occurred to him. “Gamma, can you hear me?”

“John, is that you?”

John laughed. “Yes, it’s me!”

“You survived.”

“And so did you!”

“Part of me. John, I have an important question – did you get my last message? Did you get to Zhukovskiy Crater?”

Blue, on a separate channel, gave a status update. “Altitude 20 klicks. John, are you -”

“Blue, I’m talking to Gamma. You can take it in to Lai Docks on your own.”

John turned back to Gamma. “Yes, we got to Zhukovskiy, but -”

“How is the installation there?”

“The installation? You mean your installation?”

“Yes.”

“Uh – it’s destroyed. A PK ship nuked it.”

“I see. Good.”

“Good? Gamma, what are you – actually, let’s talk about this later. I need to call Mike Martin and tell him that there’s a PK invasion force coming.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t let you do that.”

John was taken aback. “What do you mean ‘can’t’? Gamma, this is important. I’m hanging up. I’ll talk to you -”

“John, if you had any communication with the Zhukovskiy facility it is possible that your suit software is corrupted. I can not risk direct data communications between you and anyone or anything at Aristillus.”

Blue said “Altitude 10 klicks.”

“Corrupted? Corrupted by who? The PK ship -”

“Corrupted by the Zhukovskiy fork of myself. I’ve explained partition spasms to you before. I am sorry but I must insist. I am taking control of your suit processors now.” A pause. “Duncan’s suit is not responding.”

“Gamma, I can’t believe that you’re doing this. I do NOT give you permission.”

“Why is Duncan’s suit not responding?”

“Duncan was killed by a PK. His suit is powered off. Now -”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Forget that – you do not have permission to mess with our suits.”

Blue called out in panic “John! The AG drive interface has disappeared!”

John snapped his head to face Blue. “What?”

“It’s gone! I can’t find it in my overlay!”

This was bad. Someone had to control the drive or they’d crash. John tried to call up the control screen in his overlay but it was missing. As he frantically paged through the menus the menu items themselves disappeared one at a time. Finally the overlay itself went blank and John was staring out at unfiltered, unaugmented reality. Damn it! They needed to rotate the lifeboat immediately and apply braking –

As if on command the lifeboat shuddered beneath him and began rotating.

“Blue! Did you get the controls back? I-”

It was Gamma who answered him. “No, John. I’ve taken control of your craft.”

John looked to his right at Blue. The Dog was gesturing – pointing to his helmet and waving his hands. No overlay. No coms.

“God damn it, Gamma!”

“Don’t be afraid, John. I’ll land you safely. I apologize that this was necessary, but -”

“This was NOT necessary!”

“You may not understand, but I assure you that it is.”

The lifeboat shuddered again and the rotation stopped.

John looked down at the surface. They were low now – really low. Perhaps just a kilometer over Aristillus – and they weren’t heading for Lai Docks. As if on cue Gamma said “I do not have communications with Lai Docks and Air Traffic Control, and even if I did, they probably would not want a ship contaminated with nuclear fallout to land there. There is a very large open area near airlock #912. I will set you down there.”

John’s anger was cold and unwavering. “Gamma, I need to talk to Mike Martin immediately.”

“I apologize John, but this is non-negotiable – and, at this point – not even possible. I’ve wiped out the software on your suits, with the exception of a minimal life support library in each of your systems and one small communications driver in your personal suit. I’ve also set auto-reformat countdown timers in each of them. Your suits will become entirely inoperative – ‘bricked’ – in five minutes.”

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4 Responses to chapter: 40 kilometers above Aristillus

  1. Max Lybbert says:

    In earlier versions of the story, I thought I could get along with Gamma. He seems much more alien now; which I know is intentional. Somewhat similar to Mycroft in “The Moon is A Harsh Mistress,” but a little meaner.

    • Travis J I Corcoran says:

      Gamma now has an arc – or perhaps it’s more correct to say that our viewpoint characters now have an arc in their understanding of Gamma. He starts out very agreeable, and he gets stubborn – and sort of scary – about one thing, and one thing only: his own survival.

      The chapter I quoted is perhaps the low point of Gamma’s path.

      By the end of the two-novel-series I think you’ll find him once more very agreeable.

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