In the Crosshairs

Many years ago I came across Orion’s Arm: a collaborative SF universe with a hard SF, transhumanist bent. In this universe:

  • Multiple Singularities exist, with the highest being the Archai, or AI gods.
  • A wormhole network known as the Nexus allows travel throughout the Terragen sphere, as well as an internet called the Known Net.
  • There are intelligent machines (vecs) and uplifts of non-sapient species (provolves).
  • Mind uploading and copying is possible, and sometimes trivial.

I always wanted to write something in the OA setting. Lately the community seems less active, but I thought I would give it a shot. Here’s what might be the first part of a story set in the OA universe.

Drifter thrashed violently in his mind as his sensorium adapted to the new body. He grepped his memory, but could not recall ever being a vec before now.

He? Such a gender label now seemed inappropriate to Drifter.

A quick mindmod fixed the pronoun situation: je was now a vec, and je no longer defined jerself by jer ability to donate or accept genetic material for reproduction. Je was now a sapient silicon mind wrapped in a body of tungsten, titanium, tough alloys. From now on, he was no longer a man; je was a machine.

Drifter’s subliminal power-on tests completed: all basic hardware was functioning normally. Yet Drifter struggled at a conscious level with these new sensory inputs. Infrared vision, radar hearing, a dozen other senses that jer previous human incarnation had never experienced were now jer core senses. It was somewhere between terrifying and exhilarating.

“Hello? Are you there?”

Though Drifter’s blink reflex was no longer connected to any physical reaction in jer vec body, Drifter blinked. The words were not spoken, but entered jer mind by way of packet radio. It was the original, the ur-Drifter.

“Yes?” je replied. Jer subliminal mind translated the attempted vocalization into a narrowbeam packet radio transmission.

“What is your status? Do you remember the mission?”

Mission? A human phrase came to Drifter’s mind: to come to one’s senses. Drifter looked around, in every spectrum from infrared to radio. Countless stars were visible in every direction. (Countless to a human, that is: Drifter instinctively locked onto 6,173 stars brighter than the limiting magnitude of jer senses.) Je listened by radar, smelled the ions of the solar wind, felt the unfiltered UV photons of the nearby sun shining on jer photovoltaic wings.

“I’m in space,” je observed.

“The hu-to-vec transition can be very jarring,” another human told him. Drifter recognized her. Someone from the recent past… but the memory would not load. “Especially under traumatic conditions. We’ll help you through this. Can you give us a more precise position?”

Using those newly acquired senses, Drifter oriented by star tracker. “Fiver star system,” je said automatically, “approximately 7 AU from Fiver B.” Radar telemetry fed the names and ghostly outlines of distant objects into Drifter’s consciousness. “Approaching minor planet 5723-XC-177 at 2.7 km/s.”

“Do you remember the mission?” asked the ur-Drifter again.

“What do you remember?” asked the other.

Her name was… “Nenshe.”

Drifter grepped all recent memory for that name. Baseline human female. Height, mass, physical appearance all came to mind. Tall and tanned, perhaps the recent descendant of a planetary tropical islander population. To Drifter’s baseline human mind, she had been exotic.

Next came their interaction history. Drifter — the ur-Drifter — had met Nenshe a week before on Bertrand dyson. She worked as an upload counselor in the mind bay. Personable and friendly, Drifter had been flirting with her when…

“We were attacked!” Vecs from the Pebble Band must have slipped undetected past Bertrand’s perimeter defenses. Drifter remembered alarms, people screaming.

“Yes. There’s a large population of anti-hu vecs in the Pebble Band,” Nenshe reminded him. “Mostly descended from Korwen iridium miners…”

Now the memories began to flood into Drifter’s consciousness. One of the attacking vecs had breached the mind bay. Three of the vec’s ten prehensile legs latched onto the support beams. The remaining seven robotic limbs flailed wildly, alternately smashing at the panicked humans with reckless abandon, then striking them down with the cold, calculated precision of their drilling lasers.

Smash! One massive limb crushed a mind-upload bed less than a meter from Drifter. The multiple metric ton impact sent Drifter flying into the air.

Sizz! A laser beam sliced past Drifter, visible in the smoky chaos. Drifter landed beside a man whose face contorted in agony. It took Drifter a moment to realize that the laser beam that had missed him, had sliced this man cleanly in half through the torso. The unfortunate man took twenty agonizing seconds to lose consciousness. He was still luckier than some: fragile human bodies, broken, crippled, bleeding to death from brutal injuries.

But Drifter and Nenshe were the luckiest of all. Two of only a dozen human survivors amid hundreds of victims in the mind bay, they had come through the assault unscathed.

“…a new leader has risen to power,” Nenshe continued, unaware of vec-Drifter’s returning memories. “Recently the vecs have gone from passive anti-human separatist sentiment, to violent action against the human population of Bertrand.”

In the aftermath of the attack, the death toll on Bertrand exceeded ten thousand. Security squads eventually fought off the intruders, but at great cost of life and materials. With their perimeter defenses in ruins, and their security squads nearly wiped out in the assault, Bertrand was now virtually defenseless.

“And unless something is done to stop them,” concluded Nenshe, “their next attack will likely slaughter every living organic being on Bertrand dyson.”

And now Drifter remembered the mission.



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