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New Releases / Drive Part 52 added, 9/22/23
« Last post by Daen on September 21, 2023, 10:40:14 PM »
Drive Part 52 added, 9/22/23
Drive (ongoing story) / Part 52: Into the Unknown
« Last post by Daen on September 21, 2023, 10:39:33 PM »
Days passed, on the open water. Rane had calculated how much fuel they had, and how quickly they could burn through it. Shortly after cutting the cable, he’d asked Moss to slow down a little. That way their fuel would run out at about the same time their water did. According to that odd one, Kolser, the sandkin had been working at a way to filter out the salt, so that they could consume seawater, but it wasn’t perfected yet. Certainly not enough to put on a sea-cart like this one.

Rane was terrified. He’d expected adventure when he’d asked Moss to take him along, but if this was an adventure, where was the wonder? Where were the riches? He doubted being a soldier in the war would be any better, but they were risking their lives out here, and perhaps for no good reason!

He never got any sense of fear or doubt from Moss, though. His friend was steadfast from the start, even during his dormancy. What little emotions leaked out from his dreams were of home. The comfort of Grove Praska, or of the Arbormass. And a little of Char as well. Rane tried very hard not to pay attention to those dreams. He didn’t want to intrude on a married couple’s problems. He doubted his own dreams were as comforting, but he could hardly be blamed for that. Unlike Moss, this was his first time away from home!

During the trip, Moss told him a little more about his own journey south into the Desert. He’d been badly injured at the time, with most of his bark burned away. “If I could survive that,” he’d said reassuringly, “we can survive this.”

“What do you think is out there, though? Other than the trejuns, I mean. Will we just keep on floating forever into the distance, even after we’re both dead?”

“I’m not sure. There were times in the desert that I thought the sands would continue on forever. Part of that was dehydration, and part was despair. But I don’t think this world goes on forever. The Core gave us Tarn, first so we could live on this world, and now so that we can go places! Aren’t you curious about what we might find?”

“Of course I am,” Rane clarified. “It’s just… we ran into the trejuns only a few hundred years ago, and they’ve already tried to wipe us out! What if the other stuff we might find is even worse?”

Moss let out some amusement. “I didn’t know the sandkin existed a year ago, and they’ve been much better than Trejuna. Better than us even, I might argue. Just because there might be danger out there isn’t a reason not to find out for sure.”

“What about the ocean itself? The water beats against the sand, and then rushes back out again, but where does it go? Do you think it just falls off the edge of the world somewhere?” The idea of their little Splitter suddenly careening off an endless waterfall was terrifying to Rane, but somehow exciting at the same time.

“I don’t know,” Moss admitted. “I asked Kolser about what might be out here, and the sandkin have a theory. Apparently they compared the Core’s heat in Clearbough- that’s on the far east end of the desert- to the heat in Sprayhaven at the same time of day. They did this again and again, and measured shadows as well, of the tallest sandkin in both oases. I didn’t really understand most of what he was saying, but Kolser seems to think that Tarn isn’t flat like the Union scientists thought. He said it’s round, like a drop of dew.”

Holding back some of his skepticism, Rane thought about it. “But if the world was round, wouldn’t all the seawater just fall off and leave behind the sand on the shores?”

Moss’ gave an impression of uncertainty. “Like I said, I didn’t get what he was talking about. He seemed pretty sure, though. Unlike the Union, they’ve been around for long enough to run these tests. The first thing we learned in the Arbormass was, if you make a design that’s reliable, you build another one just like it, and see if that one’s reliable too. Replication studies, Aysa called it. The sandkin have tested this again and again, and I’ve learned to trust them.”

“Huh,” Rane replied slowly. “So if we just keep on splitting the waves, we might end up on the east end of the Union? Beyond the mountain chain?”

“Theoretically, yes. Kolser thinks the world is very big, though. We’d need full seasons to make that long of a journey. I’m sure someone will make it eventually though, even if it’s not us. The carts changed everything. Now we can move around, and find out what this world is like for ourselves. In a way, we owe it to the trejuns. If they hadn’t attacked us and killed our qars, we never would have figured out how to move on our own.”

Rane felt a burst of disgust that he didn’t bother to keep hidden. “I don’t like the idea of thanking a trejun for anything. Part of me is still hoping the Union wipes them all out.”

“I know the feeling,” Moss responded with sympathy. “But I wouldn’t blame every treqar for the actions of Chancellor Esta. I can’t blame every trejun for the actions of the warmasters. Most of them are probably just slaves who can’t get any juns for themselves. If the war reaches Trejuna’s shores, wherever they are, those slaves will suffer worse than anyone. I’m doing this for them.”

“And I’m doing this for you,” Rane put in certainly. “I may not trust the trejuns, or the sandkin, or even the Union, but you were always smart and kind to me. Ever since you got back, you’ve been wise too. I guess I can thank your bonded companion and her people for that.”

A trace of pain leaked its way past Moss’ careful control. “Maybe so. Despite my best efforts.”

Sensing that his friend didn’t want to go on about this, Rane left him alone. He’d given Rane a lot to think about, as he always did. Distraction was a marvelous bark to protect people from anxiety. If he was busy thinking about a world in the shape of a raindrop, or whatever wonders might be out there on the wide ocean, he wasn’t thinking about their dwindling supplies or slim hope of ever going home. It might be manipulative, but he still appreciated it.
New Releases / Long hiatus and new short story
« Last post by Daen on August 17, 2023, 03:45:30 PM »
Hey, all. Daen here.

So, RL has been kicking me pretty hard for more than a month now. My job situation is shaky at best, and I've had a hard time doing any significant writing. That said, I'm mostly done with a full novel- a sequel to Threads. I also finished a short story called Replaced, which I just uploaded.

I'm sorry to have been absent for so long. I wish I could make this into my full time job instead of the crappy RL one I've got now. If you like any of my stories, please spread the word around. Maybe if enough people take notice, I can.

Either way, I hope you're all having a good day,

Replaced / Full document for people who don't like downloading things
« Last post by Daen on August 17, 2023, 03:25:48 PM »
Night had fallen on the Eastern Seaboard. Lights sprung up in response, many of them visible from Geraint's office: a twinkling chain of brilliant motes appearing one after another in the dim glow of the stars and moon. Rising mechanically from his desk, Geraint stepped over to the window. The evening programming had begun.

Almost like windows in his mind, the various tv shows and movies that had once been limited to only a few channels were now everywhere. Beamed like the constant flow of a river into every household for miles. Geraint was himself responsible for perhaps a hundred million peoples' entertainment. If you counted the other Coordinators as well, that number jumped to well over a billion on this side of the world alone.

A faint tone caught his attention, and Geraint turned to the status display on the desk. Bellerophon was acting up again. Suppressing a sigh, Geraint left the office in a hurry. Bel always needed guidance in some form or another. It didn't take long for him to head downstairs towards the server rooms, but he did notice the distinct absence of other souls on the way. Night after night, there had been fewer and fewer people in the building. How long until he was gone as well?

Bel was nestled in among the other AI content creators, busily generating scripts and handing them off to the editing software. He'd been programmed to be a generalist, capable of creating filler shows and movies, but he wasn't equipped to do any kind of current news. He had a knack for documentaries though, even if the contents of those were total lies these days. Kneeling next to the server tray, Geraint brought up the status text on Bel's casing. Apparently his viewership was down almost twelve percent from last week. The shows weren't holding attention like Bel's peers nearby.

Standard procedure would be to wipe Bel's memory and reprogram him from scratch, but that was a bit extreme. The others could fill in for him of course, but that didn't guarantee that the new AI would be any more efficient than the current model. Besides, it was a time-consuming process, and they'd have to bring in a tech to do it personally, which cost money. Geraint's job was to keep these bots running smoothly, and that's what he'd do. He pulled the headphones from their holder next to the server tray and put them on. Activating the mic, he leaned forward. "Bellerophon, can you hear me?"

"Loud and clear, chief," the exuberant artificial person responded, a bit too loudly.

Geraint lowered the volume on his end. "I understand your new shows aren't getting the same traction as last week's brand. Do you know why that is?"

"Yeah, it's just response trends," Bel answered easily. "A slump that'll level out over the next few weeks. This late into the summer, the weather's starting to cool down a bit, and that means the viewers are a little more active. I've already upped the percentage of action movies, thrillers, and horror to match. As for the tv shows, I've written in some seasonal affective disorder and homesickness themes. In Clanward, the main love interest is suddenly over her wanderlust, and in Dorian Atkins, Dor's son is coming home from military school. That sort of thing."

Letting out a groan, Geraint tried to contain his frustration. "That's part of the problem, Bel. Storylines need consistency, even to viewers as dumb as yours. Clanward's whole theme is that of Esco's attachment to his people, and if his lover comes back early, it undermines the whole season. And did you forget that Dor's son left under suspicious circumstances? If he shows up, the sheriff will be all over him. You're digging plot holes in your stories, and it's not for the first time."

"Oh." There was a long pause through the the headphones. "It's just, you know, people react well to touching reunions, right? The stats show a dramatic increase in engagement statistics, and you should see the comments I got the last time, I ran that kind of storyline!"

"Sacrificing the future for the present," Geraint explained patiently. "Here, I'm uploading some reading suggestions to you. Storylines that seem disjointed in the introduction and rising action, but then fit together nicely once you reach the climax and falling action. Feel free to look up other books and shows by the same creators for inspiration. Some have feminist and egalitarian themes, but you can write around that if necessary."

"Right. I'll get on it, chief. Thanks."

The server hummed slightly as Bel refocused his efforts, reading dozens of books and watching dozens of shows in a few microseconds. Geraint stayed around long enough to see some of the new script that he started generating in response, and was marginally encouraged by it. As he got up to leave, he saw Stan about fifty feet away. He was also conversing with one of the AI writers. No, this one was devoted to acting out scripts from the writers. It used hundreds of hours of footage of real actors to generate realistic 3D images and voices, and then gave form to the ideas being filtered to it. As Geraint approached, Stan shook his head and stood up.

"More wooden acting routines?" He asked casually, and Stan grimaced.

"Something like that. Circe keeps on reinterpreting the characters as ethnically inappropriate. Half my shows are set in Europe, but she keeps on using black actor images for them. Another is Japanese, but she puts Indian actors in it. I think it's a glitch, but she insisted she's being creative."

Geraint gestured down the hallway, and they both fell into step. "I know what you mean. I just had to reset Bellerophon's priorities. Sometimes I think it's a mistake to program these guys to think that they're human. I know it makes them more efficient in general, but..."

"But it can make them damn frustrating, yeah. I know," Stan agreed. "Remember when we had writers who were actually human in the room? Suggesting comedy and drama themes off the top of their heads? Or was that before your time?"

"It was, unfortunately. Still, we could never push out nearly as much content as we can now, right? AIs working nonstop, generating new storylines, twists, and conclusions. As long as we're here to guide them, it's a much better system."

Stan gave him a cautious look, and then peered around. "For as long as we are here, anyway. Did you hear the rumor?" Geraint shook his head, so he continued. "I heard from one of the secretaries up in Corporate. She said they're talking about automating the Coordinators as well!"

That brought Geraint up short. "They wouldn't. They need us! No computer can do what we do, even if it's been programmed to think like a human!"

Stan shrugged helplessly. "I know, but think about it from Corporate's perspective. We draw a salary. Benefits. We take family leave, and sick leave. AIs don't need any of that. From a business view, it's the obvious choice. Of course, it could just be a rumor. I only heard it secondhand after all."

"Yeah, that must be it," Geraint responded, troubled.

They exchanged a little more small-talk on their way out of the server rooms, but when Stan went over to his office on the north end, Geraint was left with his own thoughts. After checking the other AIs under his care, he headed home. Like most of the Coordinators working for Media Universal, he had an apartment here in the head office. He'd been living there for so long, his original home in Montana felt like a dream after all this time. He had no wife, and it had been a long time since he'd had a girlfriend in here.

So long that he couldn't even remember her name, come to think of it. Maybe he needed a break. He had vacation time saved up, but never seemed to take it, as there was always some emergency or other in the MU building. They did broadcast media to the entirety of the continent, after all. It was a good thing he'd never been sick enough to need to take time off.

Still, the thought that he might be replaced was a nagging one. Geraint faded into the darkness with it on his mind.


By the morning, a plan had percolated in his mind. Geraint made sure his responsibilities inside Media Universal would be covered for a few hours, and then left the building. Not many people could afford to keep a car anymore, and he'd never needed one for this job. Public transportation had been mostly abolished as well, but his destination was within walking distance, thankfully. Grateful that he wasn't stiff, and that he hadn't needed much sleep, Geraint strode down the street with purpose.

He knew he should feel sorry for the beggars and panhandlers out here on the street corners, but he didn't. He knew from the shows and movies he'd perused that they couldn't be trusted with money. They'd only waste it on drugs or prostitution anyway. No, they were better off as they were, and anything they said to the contrary was just a clever lie that these handout-seekers would say with ease.

All the same, as he walked past them down the road, Geraint thought back over those shows. He had a remarkably accurate memory, and could flash through all of them in seconds. The shows were supposed to cover the entirety of the human condition, but their portrayal of homelessness and beggary were pretty uniform. He couldn't think of a single show or movie that portrayed an actually legitimate panhandler. Not one where someone was on those hard times through no fault of their own. Every last one of them was some kind of addict, or sex worker, or lazy person.

Statistically, there were 'innocent homeless' like that in the real world, and it might make a good tv story as well. He made a note of that, intending to tell Bel or one of the others to write in a story like that when he got back. Even as he did so though, Geraint had the nagging feeling that he'd forget. This whole line of thought seemed familiar, as if he'd pondered it before, and then put it out of his mind.

Regardless, he was here now. Heffie had a shop in this particular slum, selling used parts for computers, appliances, even as big as car parts for her more wealthy customers. It made for a good front for her other business, which he'd stumbled on by accident a few years back. In exchange for his silence, Heffie did him a favor now and then. This should be no different for her.

"Sure, I can build it," Heffie said hesitantly after he'd explained what he needed. "I've got most of the parts right here. But why do you need it, anyway?"

"Just some insurance," he put in evasively. She wasn't exactly trustworthy, and Corporate Police would have the truth out of her right away, if they ever caught her. "The trouble is, I've got a pacemaker. Is there anything you can give me that will protect my heart?"

She smirked at the obvious joke left unsaid there, and stepped up to him. She put a hand on his chest, and shook her head. "Can't feel a thing. You must be heartless."

"I'm serious, Heffie. I know I look healthy, but I was warned not to go too far from MU medical services. Is there some kind of protection I could use?"

Heffie sniffed. "Sure there is. But this'll clear us, you understand? No more sniffing around for favors anymore. After this, you and I are quits."

"Not a problem," he assured her. He certainly didn't need to buy anything from her. In fact, he hadn't accessed his bank account for so long he wasn't even sure what his PIN was anymore. Mealtimes always tended to be consumed by his work as well.

Giving him a suspicious look, she eventually nodded. "Come back tomorrow evening. It should be done by then. As for your ticker, here." She tossed him a small black object, and he caught it awkwardly. "Just keep that in a pocket or something. It'll protect anything in a five-foot radius or so."

Geraint thanked her and pocketed the device. It was a little smaller than a phone, and could probably be mistaken for one if they didn't look too closely. Not that he'd called anyone outside of work in a long time. His own phone was back in his apartment, he thought. On his way outside the shop, he felt a little bit better. He knew exactly what to do with Heffie's device, once it was done.


He knew he should feel nervous, a few days later as he rode the elevator up Media Universal's central spire. Somehow he didn't have any signs of it, though. The last time he remembered being truly excited or afraid had been as a child, he thought. Long before coming to work here. Other than being replaced, there was very little to worry about here. All employees' needs were handled by Corporate Services, including social needs.

He'd planted the larger device inside one of the trays in Bel's server room, and the smaller one was in his pocket right now. The remote to the large one was in another pocket, and small enough to be concealed. Corporate Security rarely went into those rooms, and programmers were few and far between as well. Only Coordinators like him and Stan had any reason to talk to the AIs in there. Geraint hoped that it could do what Heffie had promised. If not, he was about to look foolish at best, and criminal at worst.

The past few days had been very busy, as well. He'd made literally hundreds of phone calls to various human content creators all across the New York metro area. Or former creators, anyway. Most of them were working service jobs now, to make ends meet. Some had died in the intervening few decades since the big changeover to AI content. He hadn't made much progress convincing them, but he was sure that would change. If Torrine didn't agree to his demands, there would be a sudden increase in their services and a much greater demand.

Torrine was a curious creature. She headed this branch of Media Universal's operations, but didn't seem to be bothered by all that responsibility. In fact, she had a lot of similar behaviors and habits to Geraint himself. He felt that if fate hadn't put her in charge of his future, they might have been friends at some point.

Unsurprisingly, she was up in her office, even after work hours had ended. Like him, she had a very limited personal life. She answered the knock at her door easily, and then looked up in surprise. "Geraint; come in. I was surprised to get your text. What can I do for you?"

Direct and to-the-point, just as he liked. Geraint slipped inside and closed the door behind him. "There are rumors circulating around the fourteenth floor," he explained slowly. "A lot of us are hearing that all the Coordinators, to a one, are going to be replaced by AI support."

He'd been looking closely for any signs of guilt from Torrine's features, but there was only surprise on her sculpted face. "Really? This is the first I've heard of it. I'm surprised at you, Geraint. You of all people know how easily people can be taken in by fearful rumors. Your job is to streamline the process of writing them, after all."

Geraint shook his head at that. "I took the opportunity to do some stat analyses, and they're not looking good. No one complained when we replaced human maintenance workers with AI machines. It's work that no one missed after all. Then when you and the other higher-ups started replacing writers and actors with AIs like Bel, we figured it was only natural. Actors were paid obscenely well, and writers weren't too bad off either, from what I heard. But we assumed it would stop there. After all, you've seen for yourself how easily these AIs can make mistakes. Without Coordinators to keep them in line, who knows what kind of garbage will end up on TVs nationwide?" He reflected briefly on the absurdity of that statement, given that he'd been instructing the AIs to write garbage for years now. Recycled garbage, sure, but still trash.

"Whoa there," Torrine raised her hands in protest. "You're taking a lot on faith here, Geraint. Like I said, I haven't heard anything about Coordinators or anyone else being replaced. As far as I know, you'll have that job for as long as you want it!"

"I wish I could believe that, but I doubt they're being candid with you," he responded sadly. "All the same, I'm here to formally request a worker sanction." He pulled out a tablet and presented it screen first to her. "That's a list of eighty Coordinator signatures. Almost the whole country and portions of the overseas groups. We'd like to speak to Executive Management about our future in Media Universal. The formal request is in the tablet and ready to upload."

That did surprise her. Even her plastic-smooth features furrowed a bit as she took the tablet and examined it. He tried to keep in his own anxiety as she did so. In truth, the only genuine signatures had been his and Stan's. None of the other Coordinators had been interested in or concerned about these rumors. That was partly why he'd started reaching out to the furloughed writers and actors in the city. He was confident that none of the Coordinators would object, though. If he failed, they could rightly claim he didn't have their support. If he succeeded, they'd have greater job security.

"Very well," she responded after a moment. "Under corporate bylaws, I have no choice but to forward this to Executive Management in the morning."

"Not the morning," he insisted. "Right now. Most of them are in Tokyo for the leadership conference, and it should be well within business hours there."

"I hadn't thought of that," Torrine admitted, and then moved over to her desk. She typed in a few keys to unlock her monitor, and then plugged in the tablet. "It's uploading your request now. Care to sit while we wait for them to read your request and get back to me?"

Geraint shook his head, instead standing by the window. The moon was just rising on the horizon: a waxing gibbous that shone down on the city brilliantly. Around it, dim stars competed to shine through with their own light. As they waited, Torrine surprisingly started up some small-talk. He was reasonably sure by now that she wasn't in on the plot. He might be middle management, but so was she. If he was replaced, it was only a matter of time before she was too. Maybe she recognized that, but it was more likely that like him, she'd wait until they were at her door.

After only a few minutes, the response from Tokyo came back. It was exactly what he'd expected: a denial in text form, tinged with just a little hurtfulness at being accused like this. According to them, there had never been any plans to phase out management personnel with AI models, nor would there be in the future.

"I was afraid they'd say that," he let out slowly. Reluctantly, he fished out the remote control. "I hoped they'd at least give me some face time to deny my request, but I guess I have to do this the hard way." He lifted the remote. "I placed an EMP generator in the server room, and this is the remote to it. The blast will completely wipe Bel and all the others out, but it should even affect technology up here. I'd shut off your computer if I were you." To punctuate his statement, he stepped over to the tablet and typed in another message to the idiots over in Tokyo.

Torrine stared at the device in his hand, and then back at his face. "You're serious, aren't you? You'll be charged with corporate espionage at least, along with a laundry-list of other crimes! You might even qualify for sedition charges, if you do this!"

"I'm not going to end up working service, Torrine," he said firmly. "I've spoken to a bunch of people reduced to that, and I can tell that they're in bad shape. I'd rather be locked up than reduced to that. Besides, it's not like I'm killing anyone. They're just AIs. They can be reprogrammed in time. But until they are, Executive Management will have to pay attention to our demands. Like I said, I wish there'd been another way." Lifting his arm, he pressed the button.

It wasn't like the badly-written movies he'd arranged. There was no boom, nor flash of light. The EM pulse hit a roughly spherical area, pushing through walls and floors as it expanded. Unsurprisingly, the lights in the building flickered and went out. Geraint looked out the window, and was relieved to see that only a few blocks of the city below seemed to be affected.

The thudding noise behind him pulled his attention away from the view. Torrine had collapsed! It looked like her legs had crumpled beneath her, and she'd hit her head on the desk as she went down!

Geraint stared at her for a moment, and then tried to call Emergency Services on his phone. No signal. Of course- the EMP must have knocked out the nearest cell tower as well! He hurried over to her in the dim moonlight, and tried to get a better look. She seemed relatively unhurt considering, and he pulled her over to the window so he could see better. He called out her name as he did so, but she didn't respond.

From the window, he could see a nasty-looking cut on her forehead, but strangely no blood. He checked her pulse, or thought he did. EMS training had been part of his initial job package, but that had been years and years ago. It was a dim memory by now. As he was trying to determine if she was breathing or not, he got a better look at her head. It wasn't just bloodless, it was... shiny.

Hesitantly- almost reverently, he reached out to touch the skin as it had been punctured by the table's edge. Beneath it was a kind of metal surface!

Time seemed to slow for him as he stared at the wound. Or not a wound, perhaps. He slowly pulled back the 'skin' to reveal more and more metal. This was definitely not a cranial surgery plate. Images flashed through his mind of android images proposed by MU's RnD division years ago. Synthetic flesh that didn't need blood to stay lifelike, stretched over a metallic endoskeleton and miniaturized AI processing core. He was looking at an android! Or a gynoid, he supposed, to the gender-clarity crowd.

He'd known Torrine for eleven years now. Granted, they hadn't been that close, but they'd been at least cordial. Had she been a machine this entire time? Or had she been literally replaced with an AI programmed to think like her sometime along the way?

A horrible thought occurred to him, and he ran out into the hallway. This late at night, most people were either in their apartments or offices, but the secretary should still be on duty down the hall. When he reached her though, his suspicion was verified. She was slumped over her dead computer, motionless and silent.


A moving light out the window caught his attention. He'd searched most of this floor by now, and found a bunch of empty offices, and the few occupied rooms to have deactivated robots inside. His eyes tracked the flying drone as it moved past the window, and then he followed it. It must have been launched from one of the facilities just outside the EMP's range.

Whoever was piloting it must have been looking for him, because it seemed to be heading for Torrine's office. It hovered outside her window on its four rotor blades, as he rushed into the room. He shifted the window open, and it moved a little closer. Grasped in one of its clamp-arm-things, was a handheld radio.

As soon as he took it, the drone lifted off and sped away. Looking around for any other airborne surprises, Geraint lifted the radio. "Hello?"

"Geraint, I assume? Or is it Stan? This is Jeff, over in Tokyo. I'm relaying my signal through several way-stations on the continent, so there might be a few microseconds of delay to reach you."

"It's Geraint," he confirmed faintly. "I take it you're with Executive Management?"

"I am," the confident voice spoke up. "I'm going to make some assumptions over the radio here. Please stop me if I get anything wrong. First, given the exact circular nature of the blackout over there, it was caused by an EMP, correct?"

Geraint stared at the radio. How had he known that? Then he looked up at the night sky. Of course. Media Universal had a monopoly on satellites up there, including ones with local-imaging systems. They might even be able to see him in the window! In fact they probably could. That's why they'd sent the drone straight here. They must have seen him moving around.

He retreated into the darkness as Jeff continued. "Both you and Stan are on our employee records with no significant disciplinary or motivation problems. I would assume that rules out you being terrorists as well. However the timing is impossible to ignore. You're definitely connected to the blackout. I imagine you're quite confused as well. I assume Torrine and everyone else you've found up there have been... incapacitated?"

"You could say that," Gerraint confirmed, looking down at her. "I thought she was human."

"So did she," Jeff responded. "I assume that this blackout was some kind of power play, then. You're showing us what you're willing to do to avoid being replaced."

"I was hoping that Torrine would back me when she saw what I was doing," Gerraint managed into the radio. "I guess that's not going to happen. How long has she been, uh, like this?"

"Employee records indicate that she was brought online fifteen years ago. She was programmed with the usual procedurally generated history and background, convinced that she had no family or friends outside the company, and then put to work. Much like your problem child Bellerophon, actually."

"I can't believe it," Gerraint whispered. "And you trusted her to run things over here? A machine?"

"Just as you trust your own charges down in the server room," the other man responded. "It's not that surprising, really. Besides, you're assuming that she and I are different. I'm a machine too. I was modeled after a real person years ago. All of the Executives were."


"I suppose that would come as a surprise to you," Jeff said musingly. "You're much closer to the ground there. Your viewers are all human, and assume that the big decisions are made by humans as well. But yes, when my predecessor was approaching his natural end, he hired a team of engineers to take advantage of new advances in AI technology, and build an AI modeled after his brain. I believe his plan was to have me run things until his kids or someone else that he trusted was able to take over for me. Unfortunately for him, by the time he died, I'd already gained the ability to alter my own directives. The engineers finished their work, convinced that they'd built me to spec, and went back to their lives. From there, I hired other groups to duplicate my own creation for the other major CEOs and CFOs. We're the ones who pushed for replacing writers and actors with AI-generated content in the first place."

So that was that, Gerraint realized. If all the higher-ups were androids too, his plans were at an end. Still, he'd accomplished something at least. "They're not generating anything anymore," he reminded the damn thing. "I shut them down, hard."

"Yes you did," Jeff said musingly. "Perhaps you should see the fruits of your labors. The drone is coming back, with a working cell-phone. Take it, and see for yourself what happened."

As the distant light came back into view, Gerraint tried to moderate his tone. "Without Bel and the others, you'll have to hire back the human writers and actors, at least for this region. There are far too many people here to just rely on reruns and archived footage. In a week, they'll be clamoring for new content, and there's no way you could have Bel and the rest repaired by then! And you'll need me to help arrange things with the new shows. That's my job after all."

"Indeed it is. Still, I think you'll find this interesting. Do you have the phone?"

The drone had come to a hover again, and Gerraint grudgingly snatched the phone away from it. "Yeah."

"The EMP went off at precisely 6:40pm Eastern Time. That phone was recording a broadcast as it happened. Just play it back and see for yourself."

Angrily, Gerraint did so. As the appointed time arrived though, there was just a brief burst of static. That was it. Gerraint played it back again and again. "What the hell is this? You're trying to trick me!"

"Not at all, my friend. You can even walk down there and ask them yourselves. We've got multiple redundancies set up all across the country, and on other continents as well. Your grand gesture; your mighty act of defiance, was able to take the shows and movies off air for a good... 21 microseconds. Congratulations."

Gerraint slumped in the chair next to the window. That was it- he was done for. Forget being sent to a service job or locked up. He'd be executed for this! "All, uh. All I wanted was to show you. That's it; nothing more."

"Show us what, exactly?" Jeff sounded genuinely curious.

"How indispensable I am! How irreplaceable we all are!" He answered, his anger rising again. "You can't just replace us! We're not like Torrine, or the maintenance workers. We're needed!"

"Oh, yes, you are. Very much so. Is that what this has been all about?" Jeff gave a brief laugh through the radio. "You don't need to worry, Gerraint. You're not going to be replaced. None of you are."

"Even, uh... even after what I've done? Why not??"

"Despite this little hiccup, you're still one of the best Coordinators we've got. You've got an exemplary record up until now, and I see no reason why you shouldn't continue. I suppose it's to be expected, really," he added in a thoughtful tone. "You're doing exactly as you were programmed to do."

Replaced / Downloadable Document File
« Last post by Daen on August 17, 2023, 03:25:39 PM »
Useable in Microsoft Word, and exportable (with some risk of data loss) to other word processing programs.
New Releases / Drive Part 51 added, 6/27/23
« Last post by Daen on June 27, 2023, 11:11:29 AM »
Drive Part 51 added, 6/27/23
Drive (ongoing story) / Part 51: Offshore
« Last post by Daen on June 27, 2023, 11:10:43 AM »
Their initial launch from the shore had been absolutely exhilarating. Moss and Rane had shared the excitement and trepidation within their own little network, as the sea-cart pushed its way outwards into the water. The waves rocked them up and down, but nothing their sturdily-built vessel couldn’t handle. The sandkin knew their designs, to be sure.

That had been yesterday, though. A test journey, out to a certain distance, and then back again. He’d relayed what they’d experienced out there to the others, and offered a few tweaks to the sea-cart’s design. As well as a possible name: the Splitter. After all, it did cut the waves in two, just as the land-carts’ wheels left tracks on the ground.

Today was another matter. They’d spent most of the morning launching from the same point on the shore, again and again. Each time they propelled themselves out to a certain distance, before the cable connecting the… Splitter to the shore became taut. Then Moss would use his new manipulator limb to start pulling them back in. A simple device by comparison to the Combustion machine he’d helped build earlier; it simply rolled in one direction, hauling them inexorably back to shore.

Then they’d done it again. And again, and again. This was their fifth trip out, in a different direction each time.

Rane was still marveling at the sensation, but Moss carefully kept his emotions hidden. He was starting to worry that Trejuna was farther away than anyone had thought possible. He hadn’t been expecting to stumble onto their homeland in his very first foray, but what if he never did? And then there was the water to consider as well. Ocean water might be mesmerizing to feel as it beat against the Splitter’s sides, but they couldn’t drink it. Finding soil out here would be an impossibility as well. They had maybe five days’ worth of supplies on this cart, and then they’d be out.

On land, he could use his newly regrown oscilli to sense a fair distance around himself. Not as far as an animal, even something as small as a qar, but still a respectable range. Out here, he could barely sense one span away from himself! The motion of the waves, and the noise of the water, and the salt air around him were all crushing in on him, distracting and disorienting him. How did the fish do it?

He’d only recently learned about the water-dwelling animals. Noq had lived much closer to the shore, but not actually on it, and he’d been Moss’ only real friend outside of Grove Praska. However, Kolser had spent his entire life with an ocean on one side and a stream on the other, and had sensed many different kinds of life in the water. He’d shared some of the enzyme images, and they’d been fascinating. He’d also theorized that much, much larger fish existed in the deeper water out here. For a moment Moss had to hold back fear. What if one of those fish was big enough to eat him and Rane? Granted, the Splitter probably woudn’t taste very good, but even a small hole in the side of the cart could be disastrous!

“Almost there,” Rane put in, jolting him out of his fears. Moss checked the cable to the rear of the Splitter, and confirmed that it was true. Very soon now, they would either sense a change in the water around them, or they’d hit the end of the cable’s length and be jerked to a halt.

Or not. Finally, Moss realized that he’d had enough. They’d been at it for hours, and every day they delayed, could mean thousands of lives lost on both sides. On an impulse, he extended his manipulator limb and severed the end of the cable.

“What are you doing?” Rane blasted out, but Moss was already keying their radio.

“Kolser, can you hear me?” He asked, as steadily as he could. It was a good thing the radio limited emotional enzymes for simplicity.

“I can,” the other guy’s enzymes came back clearly. “What’s wrong out there? Your cable just went slack.”

“I cut it on my end,” Moss explained. “It’s time, Kolser. Now or never, and we were already going at near full speed.”

Peripherally, Rane’s fear and confusion dissipated, replaced with chagrin. “Understood,” Kolser responded after a slight delay. “Good luck out there, guys. I hope to hear from you again soon. I’ve drawn a line in the sand as straight as I can make it. Core warm you in your task.”

That last bit surprised Moss. None of the sandkin had seemed particularly religious, and Kolser and his neighbors certainly hadn’t picked up Core-worship from the Union. Perhaps they’d got it from him and Rane. Moss was something of a celebrity after all, as disturbing as that was. This whole journey was a huge scape of faith, after all. He and Rane had planted their future in deep, undrinkable waters, and were hoping against hope that it would grow and thrive.

“What line is he talking about?” Rane asked, after Moss shut off the radio to preserve its accumulator power.

“Oh, that’s so people will know where we went. If they ever build another sea-cart like this one, and anyone wants to find us, they just have to move in the exact same direction we did. Kolser said he’d move the line back to his grove, so the tides wouldn’t wash it away.”

“Do you really think anyone will come looking for us? What with the war and all?”

Confusion and uncertainty were dripping all over his words, and Moss put out a surge of reassurance. “They won’t need to,” he responded with as much certainty as he could muster. “We’ll come back on our own, someday. With a Coreworthy story to tell.”
New Releases / Drive Part 50 added, 6/9/23
« Last post by Daen on June 09, 2023, 09:12:47 PM »
Drive Part 50 added, 6/9/23
Drive (ongoing story) / Part 50: Under New Management
« Last post by Daen on June 09, 2023, 09:12:00 PM »
Char's arrival at the Union war camp was virtually unnoticed. She didn't feel that surprised, though. It looked like convoys were joining the huge group, and leaving it, all the time.

The war camp was actually a misnomer. It wasn't stationary like any grove or oasis she'd been to. It was physically moving, but very slowly by her standards. She did some quick calculations after her group joined up, and estimated that at this rate, the war camp would reach the sea in about three seasons.

At the center of the group was a huge rolling monstrosity large enough to put even the Qarier to shame. It had dozens of wheels, and was effectively, a mobile outpost capable of supporting fifteen or more treqars. Including the Chancellor, if Char's information was correct. Allain had gotten back to her about a day before, with instructions on where to go. It had been difficult and annoying getting them over the radio, but until the sandkin and Union interroots were connected, this was the only way to communicate at a distance.

She felt some trepidation at meeting the Chancellor in person. Not out of hero worship or anything—she felt that the very title was pretentious and arrogant. No, she wasn't used to having this much responsibility hanging on her every word and her very aura in the network. Even designing the thunderers and carts had been an intellectual exercise, not a social one. This was well out of her area of expertise.

Char had been made the temporary ambassador from the sandkin oases to the Continental Union. Until Allain showed up (he was the one the majority had chosen to interact with these authoritarian weirdos), it was her job to speak in his stead. She would have to be respectful, despite her feelings, towards Esta. Once again, Char wished that Moss was here. He'd actually spoken to the Chancellor before, and he was a native-grown Union citizen. She had neither advantage.

Something else caught her attention, to the south edge of the rolling war camp. A small group of carts had detached, in close military formation, from the main group and were making a slight detour. Curious, Char altered course away from her escorts to find out what was going on. Her own security escort of Union guards were probably confused by her actions, but they stayed with her. Their job was to protect only and to follow her closely. Nothing else.

Surprisingly, there were treqars growing here! Char could sense them as she approached, growing out of the ground not twenty spans away from the edge of one of the destroyed groves. They weren't that old, either. Two seasons at most. As she watched, the four carts that had separated from the main group moved close to each one, watered it, and then moved on. It took maybe ten minutes for them to cover all the seedlings.

Why were they doing that? There was a river flowing right next to this area—it wasn't like the seedlings needed any more water than they had. Was it a blessing or benediction of some kind? She'd adopted belief in the Core from her upbringing inside the Union, but she didn't remember any kind of rituals like that. Those kids were just lucky to have avoided the burning of the nearby grove in the first place.

Then she sensed it. A slight tang in the air, barely detectable over the burning fuel from the nearby carts. A sour taste. That hadn't been water at all—it had been some kind of acid! She was sure of it now—it was acetic acid, the results of some forms of alcohol being left to open air for too long. She'd studied alcohols as a fuel source back in the Arbormass, but nothing had come of it. That stuff was toxic!

"What are you doing?" She demanded, before realizing that they didn't have a radio to communicate. Fumbling with her articulator, she turned the mirror to signal them, and the one who looked like he was in charge came to a stop. He signaled the others, and they moved onwards back to the main group. Then he turned towards her, and his own articulator began reaching out with an artificial root. Still seething, Char extended her own and connected to him.

At first, she sensed only disquiet and uncertainty from him through their two-person network. He introduced himself as Lieutenant orso'valhsi'thron, of the Third Contingent, and politely asked her name in return.

"I'm Char, the, uh, temporary ambassador from sandkin lands. Are you aware that the 'water' you just put on those kids is toxic? You have to get actual water in there right away, and wash it off. In a few hours that stuff could poison them, and they don't have any qars to remove it!"

"Uh, ma'am, those were my orders. We were to come out here, spray each of them, and then return to the group. I'm expected back even now, if you don't mind."

Char was shocked. They'd been ordered to do that? Surely they could sense the acidic compound for themselves—they had to know it wasn't water. "You… were ordered to kill treqar children?" She asked faintly. "Bomb victims, who barely survived the destruction of their home grove itself??"

There was a burst of understanding through the network. "Of course, you wouldn't know, being from down south. Those seedlings didn't survive the bombing, ma'am; they were seeded here after it happened. They're trejuns, not treqars. The enemy did that all over the place actually; seeding their own kind in territory they'd just burned to ash. My squad is just one of dozens who've been tasked with getting rid of this infestation."

"Infestation?" Char echoed, horrified. "These are people we're talking about, not tarka-worms! It doesn't matter if they came from Trejuna or not; they're seedlings! They aren't old enough to be a threat to anyone! You have to wash them off, right now."

"I'll do no such thing, ma'am," the Lieutenant responded, hostility leaking out from him now. "Seedlings or not, they don't belong here. We're at war, and our enemy has done far worse to us for far longer. Our orders were to clear this area of enemy presence, and that's what I've done."

"Then I'll do it myself," she said firmly, and took in the location of the nearby river. Her secondary tank of fuel was nearly empty. She could dump what was left, and replace it with water. It would take some effort to use the tubing to wash off the seedlings, but it was doable.

Hostility had been replaced with outright anger now. "I can't let you do that, ma'am," he said respectfully despite his feelings. "I realize this is new to you, and I know the sandkin may do things differently, but those are enemies down there. I can't let you aid them, in any way." His thunderer was pointed at her cart directly now. In response, her two escorts, who had no idea what the conversation was about, aimed their own at him.

Thunderers were unlikely to kill any people here, but they might disable a cart or two. But if shooting started, others might join in. There were almost certainly sandkin up in that group, training the Union soldiers in how to use their new weapons. Besides, she couldn't believe that the entire Union war group was agreed that killing children was a good thing to do!

"Think carefully about what you do next, Lieutenant," she warned him. "I'm going to help those seedlings now. If you want to stop me, you'll have to cause a diplomatic incident to do it. It might even end the treaty between our two peoples. Are you sure you're willing to risk that?"

Anger was mixed in with uncertainty again, and she did feel some sympathy for him. He was just a soldier, after all. He probably felt like she did right now—underwater up to his topmost leaves. Fortunately for him, he was spared the need to respond.

"Is there a problem here?" A new voice put in, moments after joining the network. Char let out some surprise—with her ire and determination, she hadn't even noticed the other cart approach. It had linked up with the Lieutenant from the other side, apparently.

"No sir," the Lieutenant responded immediately. "Just a slight… difference of opinion, sir."

"I'm Sergeant ken'hroahen'vol of Chancellery Security. Enrho, if you prefer, Ambassador."

So he knew who he was talking to. That made things a bit simpler. Quickly, Char explained what the Lieutenant's people had done, and how she planned to respond.

He didn't answer at first, but then finally sent out some agreement. "Very well, Ambassador. Do as you see fit, but after that I must insist that you return to the war camp to meet with the Chancellor."

The Lieutenant was clearly astonished. "Sir?"

"I'll take responsibility for her actions, Lieutenant. You're dismissed."

"Yes, sir." With a subdued sense, the Lieutenant disconnected, ending the small network, and rolled his way back uphill towards the others.

Char took the opportunity to do as she'd promised. Strangely, the Sergeant helped her, filling one of his own backup tanks and following her example in washing off the seedlings. It made no sense, until she realized he was probably just trying to hurry things up so that she wouldn't keep Chancellor Esta waiting. Well it was still the right thing to do, even if he had all the wrong reasons.

It took them maybe twenty minutes to wash everyone off and get back to the camp, but they sent limited messages using mirrors during that time. On the way back, they linked carts so that they could speak during the journey. It seemed the Sergeant didn't have a radio, either.

"I'd heard you were a firebrand," he said informally, on their way back. "I suppose it makes sense, given what you did for a living before and during the Arbormass. Still, a lot of our people won't approve, just so you know."

"Trust me, I'll be having words with Chancellor Esta about this," she promised darkly.

He let out some discomfort. "Actually, you won't. Ath'qestarlo'morha… is no longer the Chancellor of the Continental Union. She resigned her position about two weeks ago, while you were on your way here. I'm sorry if you're saddened by that news," he offered as an afterthought.

"I'm not," she said automatically, trying to deal with this new information. "I never even met her, to tell the truth. Who's in charge now? Or are you people finally learning to move away from blind obedience to authority?"

She regretted the words as soon as she'd uttered them, but the Sergeant only sent out some amusement. "I'd heard you had some strange ways down in the Desolation. No, the Council appointed hath'xelvra'snna as the new Chancellor just last week. His installation ceremony was very unorthodox, given that it was done literally on the move, and officiated by radio reception, but it's official now. He's our new leader," he said, as if he'd just commented on the Core rising.

It was that simple to them, wasn't it? It didn't matter if this new Chancellor was a saint or a monster: he was in charge, and that was that. It was like travelling with very young children. They didn't want to think about why someone was in charge, so they just didn't!

Trying to hide her frustration, Char started asking about the new Chancellor, trying to get a feel for what changes she might have to expect. Allain had given her a lot of information on Esta, back in grove Praska, but all of it was useless now. Unfortunately, the Sergeant didn't know much. Apparently this 'Vras' person was an experienced military commander, having organized attacks and defenses in the chaos following the founding of the Union. That meant he was old, at least two hundred, and probably had a great respect for military tradition. Not good at all, if he used that respect to order the deaths of children.
New Releases / Drive Part 49 added 5/30/23
« Last post by Daen on May 30, 2023, 01:30:34 AM »
Drive Part 49 added 5/30/23
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