NaNo NaNo

The title of this post really only works if you’re ancient, like me, and remind the still more ancient Mork and Mindy (starring the great, and unfortunately late, Robin Williams), and imagine it mispronounced as such.

This NaNo I’m largely forsaking the usual format, because I have a life, a marriage on the mend, and irritated bowels (not irritable, medically, just cranky). As a compromise, I’m still planning to write out a novel, finally finishing out the Nexus Trilogy (Sontem Trilogy if you’re nasty, and let’s be honest, both I and anyone reading this probably is). But the compromise is doing a NaNo with actual boundaries. As friends and family (what few have lasted with me through these long, bad years) would tell you is I largely disappeared during November for the last decade plus. Sure, I’d emerge from a cave with a completed novel and a Hefty sack containing my weight in bodily solids/fluids (my only real companion during that dark winter month). I don’t feel like I’ve got anything left to prove, on that front. And I’ve matured… a little. Or I’m being crushed under the weight of adult responsiblities. Potato-potato (that really doesn’t work in print the same way, does it?). My compromise position is that I’m going to try to write every day. On weekdays, that means one writing hour per day. On weekends it will be 3-4 hours, depending on what I need to do besides. My hope is to be able to post week-daily updates Monday-Thursday, with a pause on Friday for the pitches; I think that schedule should give me enough time to keep ahead of the posting schedule, while still leaving time and space to handle my other responsibilities. This revised schedule likely means that it will take a bit longer for me to finish Nexus 3: Fight the Future, and a bit longer to post it. I don’t know if I’ll try to keep up that writing schedule until the novel’s finished; I think that depends on the state of my responsibilities on December 1st, but the hope, moreso than a goal, at this moment, is to be able to post the final chapter (assuming not too much outline bloat) around Valentine’s day.

Nexus 3: Chapter 1

I wake from the same nightmare, the ship in flames, with a familiar boot on my throat, choking the last moments of life from me. It belongs to my nephew, who I held minutes after his birth back on Earth, who I was with on his first trip to Disneyland. I tell myself, and the crew, that it will be all right, that we can evade our pursuers. But I can’t convince my subconscious. Unlike the Argus, we can’t outrun them, we can’t lose them. The Nascent, nicknamed in the Argus‘ files the ‘Shipkiller’, is advanced enough that it will catch us; it’s only a matter of time.

What makes waking from the dream worse is that I’m alone. I can’t turn onto my side and find comfort. Sam moved out months ago. Elle barely speaks to me. And I know I deserve far worse.

“Good morning, Captain,” Haley, the ship’s artificial intelligence, said, the synthetics in her electronic tone barely audible, thanks to her own fiddling.

“I’m not awake yet, Haley. That’s why my eyes are still closed.”

“Your neuronal activity would beg to differ.”

I sighed heavily and rolled out of bed. “And what’s it saying now?”

“You’re upset. But it isn’t with me. Would you like to talk about it?” I frowned. “Or would you prefer I schedule an appointment with PsychDiv?”

“Neither,” I said. “And I’m sorry I snapped.”

“I understand. It’s difficult, keeping the Nascent threat to yourself. I can only simulate your anxiety and guilt over it; it’s difficult to imagine what it’s like for you.” She paused, and I knew that pause well. She was an AI, capable of forming a billion ideas or doing a trillion calculations in the space of that break. She was pausing for effect, for my benefit, and because it was something she’d seen the humans living in her ship- essentially her body- do to signify a spontaneous idea when with her it most assuredly was not. “Perhaps, then, it’s time to tell them what’s chasing us.”

“I want to, Haley,” I said. “But the Nascent is not the Argus. The schematics on this ship are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. We don’t have a realistic hope of evading her, not for more than a token amount of time.”

“Perhaps measured in decades…” she soothed.

“We thought we were so damned clever,” I said, flopping back onto the edge of my bed. “That taking the Nexus away from them, and humanizing its mission was unfathomable. But they already had a contingency in production.”

“In fairness, Captain- Drew– the decrypted files taken from the Argus indicate that the Nascent was in production to be the third ship in the exploration fleet. It was only after discovery of your… defection, that the Nascent was retrofitted as a Shipkiller.”

“I don’t think that makes me feel better,” I said.

“I’m not sure what would,” Haley admitted. “Though my figures would indicate that Sontem has placed itself at considerable risk building the Nascent at this stage. The Argus was built using standard stock sales, as was the Nexus. Due to the fact that these prior investments had yet to bear fruit, and to rumors of troubles with their fleet, another stock split was deemed ill-advised, and so the company took on debt against its assets.”

“That… helps, actually. Though it strengthens my concern. I’m sure by now they’ve assured their shareholders and regulators that the mutiny aboard this ship was limited and already put down. Which gives them more incentive to murder anyone who could ever say otherwise… something I would not put past the company at this point.”

“I’m confident you won’t allow that to happen,” she said.

“Allow… no.” I didn’t have it in me to crush her hope. “But are they really that precariously positioned?”

“The Argus was the most expensive and advanced ship launched at the time. The same is true of the Nexus, and Nascent was only made possible by proprietary technology acquired by the Argus through trade with alien species. By even the most optimistic timelines, the mining rights procured by the Argus are only now beginning to be exploited. It is very unlikely the company can sustain in this fashion for the long-haul. Infobursts from the Argus further indicate that the loss of the Nexus became public knowledge, and caused a precipitous drop in Sontem’s stock. This is likely why the Nascent was not likewise financed by issuance of further stock. But at this juncture, retaking the Nexus is likely the only scenario in which the company can avoid dissolution.”

“Unless they tell everyone we’ve been retaken,” I said.

“Lie?” she asked.

“They’re the only ones in a position to know whether or not we’re working for them again. Ditto the Argus. They can stall, at least for a while, by claiming to be back in control of their fleet.”

“I hadn’t anticipated that.”

“I think that’s good,” I told Haley. “You’re nearly as smart as every person on this ship; computationally you bury us. I can’t imagine how dangerous it would be if you were skilled at guile, too.”

“But what if it’s necessary?” she asked.

“In some ways, this ship is about being the pinnacle of human- and now inter-species- possibility. And you’re a part of that; perhaps the most integral part, since you’re functionally immortal. But some of our worst traits- like guile, like treachery- they’re important now, because they increase our odds of survival. But they’re vestigial instincts, ultimately dangerous to the fabric of our society, and toxic to our relations to other cultures. I don’t want you to learn to be treacherous, because I want those traits to die with my generation, or at least, to get bred out over the proceeding generations.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, Drew,” she said.

“I sleep through anything important?” I asked, trying to rub the sleep from my eyes, and because I was eager for a change of topic.

“There was another three-way brawl, between Meh Teh refugees and former Argus crewmembers, and security.”

“Who started it?”

“A review of the footage would indicate that the Argus crew were the aggressors, but that conflict was quickly enflamed by the Meh Teh.”

“Makes sense. The Argus crew might see us as liberators, or even rivals, but at least we’re still human. But an alien species sharing the same resources… that’s a harder sell for them. Especially coming from mostly military backgrounds, they’re not used to peaceful coexistence. I’ll talk with Elle.” My mind flitted back to the stolen time I spent with her, when we thought Sam dead. She was still swollen with the fruits of that experience- my daughter. I missed her, and Sam, too.

“And it looks like PsychDiv put in a request to meet with you as soon as you were awake.”

“Looks like?” I asked.

“I’m beta testing introducing grammatic uncertainty into my repertoire, to more closely simulate the experience of speaking with another human being. In this case, I’ve notified PsychDiv, and she is currently-”

“PsychDiv override,” my door intoned, as it opened.

“I might not have been decent,” I said, as PsychDiv stepped into my room.

“Nothing I haven’t seen before.”

“On my clone, maybe. Which isn’t the same.”

“Or had pressed against me way back when.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “Why the sense of urgency? Or did you only just now realize you could abuse your power to catch men in compromising situations.”

“I assure you, I’m not here for my own personal sex comedy.” She sketched instructions on her HUD in the air, and a graph shared onto my eyescreen. “Haley’s been spreading decrypted communications from the Argus to the relevant departments on the ship. I noticed their sociologists were tracking some… odd information, gleaned from our ship. I don’t have access to the equations these variables were being fed into… but making a few educated guesses, I was able to get some useful results anyway.”

“So what am I looking at?” I asked.

“This inflection point in the graph,” she traced it with a delicate finger, and a glowing circle appeared in her wake, “represents the likelihood that you will take the ship off-mission. Similar figures on the Argus captain put the number in the low teens- within the realm of possibility but also attributable to noise and error. Your score was in the high 60s.”

“Interesting,” I said. “But what does that mean?”

“It means that if Sontem was doing similar calculations- and the existence of them tracking these kinds of variables would indicate they were- they may have known fairly quickly into our mission that you were going to go rogue.”

My stomach tried to drop through my feet. “How early?” “Within a few months of our launch. Which could cut down on the amount of time it would have taken for them to prepare a response. So whatever that might look like- it could be a hell of a lot closer than we previously thought.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *