Once more Malthus struggled to open his eyes and his limbs pain him as he tried to make even the slightest movement. In the netherworld of near consciousness, Malthus knew that his second stasis in the cryonic capsule was over and that he must struggle back to reality.
His body however, didn’t seem to want to submit to reality.
It took much longer this time for his body to come round and he cursed Socrates for not warning him about the pain of leaving a cryonic capsule.
Gradually, once more he began to be able to move his limbs and his concentration improved. As he opened his eyes everything seemed to be exactly as he left. When he reached the navigation chair the view of space seemed the same but he knew from the ships computer that he would reach Phobos in just a few hours.
Malthus wondered how his next rendezvous would go and hoped that he would not have to use desperate tactics. There was enough Mullinarians slaughtering humans without him joining in.
Unlike Zenith, Malthus knew very little about Phobos only that it was officially a Venetian mining colony. The fact that he was in the Merideth, the flagship of Venetia should aid his passage.
There had been rumours that Phobos was a secret Venetian military base or that strange research was carried out there but Malthus had always put down to Galthusian paranoia about its biggest rival. Scare stories were only to be expected when the countries had threatened to nuclear annihilate each other on more than one occasion.
As the time slowly passed, Malthus began to flick the control board and hum to himself. He wished for some company; the beautiful princess would be his first choice.
Then the shrill sound shattered his sanguine state. It was an incoming message & Malthus couldn’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu.
However, the image in front of him this time was very different to that which went before.
It was a General of the Venetian Army, in their standard green regalia. He was bald and chubby, but his face had a mean demeanour.
“Where are the Royal Guards?” he immediately demanded.
Malthus was stunned; there was a military base on Phobos after all.
“They are dead, sir” Malthus replied cautiously.
“What about the Princess?”
“She is alive”
“Good, you must carry on to Ciesta. All is not lost. There is a large military presence here on Phobos; actually, it’s an invasion force. Our primary mission was to invade Galthusia in the aftermath of a nuclear war with Venetia.
However, it appears the Mullinarians are the new enemy. We’ll need reinforcements but we’ll try to hold out using guerrilla tactics. The future of Venetia & Martan rests in your hands. What is your name and rank soldier?”
Malthus wasn’t sure how he would react to a Galthusian escorting the Princess and didn’t want to have to tell the General that it was he who killed the Royal Guards.
“My name is Malthus; I was a research scientist on the base”
“Malthus – I may well be dead by time you return. Hopefully by the mandible or gun of a Mullinarian but possibly by old age. But I will make sure that every foot soldier knows the name Malthus and his mission with the Princess. Over and out.”
With that the holographic general disappeared and Malthus was once more alone in the emptiness of space. He laughed to himself at the irony of the situation. An unwitting Venetian General, entrusting the safety of the Venetian Princess to a Galthusian. He would never have even dreamed of this situation arising prior to the Mullinarian attack. It was a strange Universe.
Malthus spent the next few hours watching the approach of Phobos and the orbiting fuel depot in infra-red. There was far too little starlight here at the outer edges of the star system to view either in visible light.
Then he felt the ship slightly jolt as it locked in to the fuel depot. From the computer screen in front of him he could see that the ship was taking on much more fuel this time, probably to cope with the huge distance involved in interstellar space.
Malthus was getting very bored now. It had been so long since he had a proper conversation with someone and he was sick of the dour image of space. He felt hatred towards the Mullinarians who had destroyed his people and planet. It was the hatred he relied on to keep himself motivated.
He took to floating up and down the ship hoping that something would be different. Sometime he thought things had moved position, but deep down he knew that his mind was playing tricks with him.
There had been numerous stories on Martan about space farers landing on the planet delirious, their mind beyond rescue. Malthus hoped that this would not be his fate.
With each trip up & down the chambers, he spent increasing amounts of time gazing into the eyes of the Princess in her cryonic capsule. She still looked beautiful even in a frozen state.
Then he heard the shrill sound of another incoming message. He was almost deliriously happy that he would have someone to talk to. As he strapped himself into the navigation chair, the Venetian General appeared once again.
“You were followed. Four Mullinarian ships are on an intercept course. They will be on top of you shortly”
Malthus` heart sank. They must have pursued him from Zenith; perhaps even since they left Martan itself. The Zenith colonists must have taken out two of their ships. At least they went down fighting he thought.
Then General then continued, “Well there’s no point in you trying to outrun them. They’d easily catch up with the old Merideth over the long journey through interstellar space. This will be the ideal opportunity to test our space fighters. We’ll show those critters that it’s not worth messing with humans.
You’ll need to disengage from the fuel depot & stay well away from it. If the Merideth was in close proximity to it, the Mullinarians would likely target it to damage the ship indirectly.
As the Mullinarians begin to open fire, our fighters will attack them from the rear hopefully taking them by surprise.”
“Will do, General”
Malthus was starting to get fond of this Venetian General. He heard a bleeping sound, which indicated that the ship had taken on the necessary amount of fuel.
Malthus disengaged the Merideth from the fuel depot and put it on a trajectory away from the fuel depot. He then went back the cannon chamber and spent a few minutes messing with the controls so that he would be able to shoot all the ship’s cannons at the one target.
Then he waited…
From the void of space, a ship appeared on his screen. Malthus immediately opened fire. He could see the jets of laser fire disappearing into space. But then he was startled by the red flashes of the Merideth`s shield. Then his screen indicated that the other three ships were now in the vicinity. Malthus kept firing at the same target. He placed all his trust in the Venetian fighters, hoping it wouldn’t be too much longer before they got involved.
Then his target disappeared from screen; it had been destroyed. But the Merideth`s shield was taking a pounding and was already down to seventy percent strength.
Malthus immediately selected a new target but the shield was flashing almost continuously as the barrage continued.
Then little specks appeared on his screen and they intercepted the Mullinarian ships. The laser fire towards the Merideth then became more sporadic as they turned their cannons onto the fighters.
Malthus grew nervous when he saw that some of the fighters had disappeared from his screen but gradually the battle was won and the last Mullinarian ship was destroyed.
The Merideth however had sustained a massive amount of laser fire and the shields were down to just 5%.
As Malthus strapped himself once more into the navigation chair it was clear that all was not well. The life support systems had been damaged and wouldn’t last much longer. Fortunately, Malthus was aware that he could switch off the systems & set them to turn back on a few minutes before he was scheduled to once again emerge from the cryonic capsule. There was no time to waste so he immediately set the ship back on its course and returned to the safety of his cryonic capsule.
Once again Malthus struggled to fully regain consciousness after leaving the cryonic capsule. It felt like an added torment was added every time. His back was aching. It must have been the way he was laying; he thought to himself.
He struggled towards the front of the ship and into the navigation chair. The ships computer was flashing wildly informing him that the life support was still critically damaged.
Even in infra-red there seemed to be nothing but empty space in front of him. He knew that he just had to try and be patient and hope that the life support system didn’t fail.
With each hour that slowly drifted by, he became more and more anxious about the life support systems. His eyes were locked on the screen in front of him hoping that the fuel depot would appear.
Malthus considered returning to the cryonic capsule in order to preserve the life support systems but considered it to be too risky considering that there had been complications at the other two depots. There was always the possibility albeit remote that Mullinarian ships could be lying there waiting for the Merideth to appear.
This fuel depot was not in orbit around a planet like the other two but rather at a gravity well or Lagrange point between stars in deep interstellar space. The ship navigated to it using the Galaxy Positioning System, which uses X-ray sources such as the central massive black hole to pinpoint locations.
Then the fuel depot appeared on the screen. Malthus gasped with joy & made sure to thank every God of Martan. As it got closer, Malthus could see from the screen in front of him that it was far larger than the other two fuel depots. It was of course completely invisible in the normal spectrum of light, being such a vast distance away from any star.
Malthus was relieved when he saw that there were no Mullinarian ships in the vicinity. Now he only had the life support systems to worry about. They were now in such a poor state that if he went back into the cryonic capsule, they almost definitely wouldn’t be working when he came back out. He would likely suffocate before he could even look up to see Socrates and the Princess dying. He needed to come up with a new plan and fast.
Then he felt the gentle prod as the Merideth intercepted the fuel depot and began refuelling. Malthus tried to stay as still as possible in order to not drain the life support systems unnecessarily. He tried to think back to the lectures he had attended about the Merideth when he was at university. However annoyingly, only thoughts about the ion drive were returning to him.
The ship has now taken on fifty per cent of the required fuel and the life support is now faltering. Desperation is now over coming Malthus as he realises he is close to the point of no return. Frantically he starts to search through the ships files to see if there is any emergency procedure he can rely upon.
Malthus starts to feel cold and breathless as the life support worsens. Then just as all appears lost, he has a eureka moment. The crew won’t need a life support system when they come out of stasis, if they are already on a habitable world. He will have to put total confidence in the ships navigation system.
He frantically keys the commands into the ship’s navigation system to not only go to the planet Coosan in the Ciesta System but to also land on the planet. He knew nothing about the planet except that it was inhabited. Fortunately, he had learned a small bit about the programming of navigation systems during his time at university.
Just as he finished, the life support systems completely failed. He unstrapped himself from the navigation chair and tried to struggle back to his cryonic capsule. Fortunately, it required little effort in move in space but he was now unable to breathe. The thought that this was a strange way to die popped into his mind as on he went. He reached the capsule and closed the door. He never thought he’d be so happy to feel the freezing agents flow through his body but wondered would he ever wake up again.
Malthus opened his eyes but there was only darkness. He could tell from the soft fabric under his naked body and the covers over it that he seemed to be lying in a bed. It was an unusual bed though as there was a gap around his bum. He tried to get out but could only lean forward slightly before falling back. He wondered if this was some sort of strange dream he was having or had he died and joined the afterlife. But his throbbing headaches suggested otherwise.
His arms were strapped to the bed and there seemed a tube stuck in one of them. There was also a tube in his penis, which he thought must be for draining his bladder.
He tried to think how he could have ended up in such a predicament but his power of imagination failed him.
The hours slowly passed without anything happening. His head felt itchy and it drove him mad not being able to scratch it. The hours continued to drift by.
Then he heard a door opening, a ratting noise and the sound of footsteps. The sound seemed so clear, like he was hearing every slight bump. He roared out shouting help but had to stop when the sound became too piercing for his own ears. He felt someone checking his pulse and wiping his bum. Then he heard the sound of the door closing and everything fell silent once more.
He must be on Coosan, he thought to himself. Maybe he had some sort of injury and that is why he felt so weak. But why was he being kept in darkness and how come his hearing was so good?
A cycle of long hours spent in darkness and silence, followed by the door opening and the sound of footsteps developed.
Malthus kept on trying to communicate with whoever was coming and sometimes thought he got a response, but it was in a strange language that he didn’t understand. As Malthus spent hours alone, he could feel teardrops flowing down the side of his face. Perhaps he thought; dying on the Merideth would not have been so bad. He wondered what was happening to his crewmates.
Without daylight or a clock, Malthus was not able to tell how much time had passed but it seemed like an eternity. Then eventually and Malthus wasn’t even that sure it had really happened, he heard the normal rattling and then a cheerful female voice say in the language of his home planet (Martanian), “Hello, how are you feeling today?”
“Who’s that?” shouted Malthus incredulously.
“Now calm down boy-o,” she replied, “There is no need to shout. My name is, well call me Beatrice anyway. I’m a nurse and they’ve told me you’ve been in some sort of accident or something?”
Malthus was almost hysterical with joy.
“Well I guess you could call it that. The life support on the spaceship failed. I was unable to breathe when I entered the cryonic capsule.”
“Oh deary me, I do hate those cryonic capsules. It makes me feel sick just thinking about them, you poor fellow. That must be how you ended up in here. Never a good idea to go in to a cryonic capsule when one is lacking oxygen,” she replied in the same cheerful tone.
“Where am I and why am I in darkness?” Malthus enquired.
“You are in a hospital in the city of New Kent, the capital of the planet of Coosan. Well you see your body is not built for this world. The gravity on this planet is many times that of Martan that is why you haven’t been able to sit up in your bed. The room is dark, because if we opened the curtains, the sun’s light would burn through your gentle skin. This world is very hostile to Martanians.
I had some similar problems when I visited your planet; this is how I know your language. I had to wear a mask because of the low oxygen content and the relatively thin atmosphere. Also, I had to take different kinds of tablets every few hours because of the differences in starlight between the two worlds.
Sorry that nobody was communicating with you but nobody else knew how to speak Martanian. I had been on holidays but they got me to come back early.
Now I have to leave…”
“No wait,” Malthus said in earnest.
“It’s okay, I’ll be back. You’re more or less better at this stage anyway and will be joining your friends soon. I’ll see if I can get something done about the darkness”
With that Malthus heard the sound of the door closing and he was once again alone. At least he knew that Princess Rosaleen and Socrates were alive. He felt much more positive than he had been. He was amazed though that two worlds inhabited by humankind could be so different and he realised that he still had much learning to do about the world outside of Martan.
Beatrice was true to her word and after what seemed a long time, Malthus could hear the door opening and her cheerful voice once again. It was a pattern that was repeated many times.
Malthus learned all about the history of Coosan and its absolute ruler Emperor Anthon from Beatrice.
Coosan was originally colonised by the Our Universe Foundation. They sent embryos of genetically altered humans to Coosan accompanied by robotic minders. There embryos were birthed on arrival on the planet and they formed the first city. Naturally all the first fully grown humans were female who used a sperm bank on the ship to get pregnant repeatedly. Their genome had been altered to give them a strong disposition to having daughters thus enabling a population explosion. Even now, a few hundred generations later, two females are born to every male.
The mission of the first settlers of Coosan was primarily to ensure high profits for the corporation through mining. Coosan was and still is very rich in natural resources.
Eventually though as the population grew the power of the Corporation waned and major regional governments formed. Over time tension increase between the regional governments and there was a major planetary war.
Unfortunately, it lasted years and millions of the inhabitants of the planet died. The end of the war saw the rise of the Zing dynasty of which Emperor Anthon is the latest ruler. The people of Coosan built up a fearsome reputation as extremely good warriors and their technologies of death legendary status in human systems throughout the galaxy during the long war.
The Zing dynasty has since profited from the population’s misfortune through the sale of some of some of its citizens to foreign armies and through the mass production of weapons of war.
Beatrice didn’t want to speak about her Emperor but Malthus coaxed it from her. It turned out he wasn’t much different from his predecessors. He was consumed by the desire to increase the planetary profit line and sire sons.
He was pompous and cared little about the suffering of the ordinary inhabitants. Maintaining a powerful grip on the planet through a powerful army and the will to use it, there were no dissenting voices.
Malthus thought to himself that although the Emperor was far from pleasant, at least he was a Military man who could aid them against their common enemy – The Mullinarians.
Then one day as the door opened, Beatrice told Malthus she had a present for him and turned on a light. Malthus squelched his eyes at first, but then opened his eyes to view the room and Beatrice for the first time.
It was not as he expected. The room was an orange colour and there was one white door. There were more tubes in him than he realised. Beatrice was small but wide in stature. Her arms were full of muscles and her skin was black and rough like a reptile.
Then Beatrice spoke in her familiar cheerful tone “It’s time to get you up so you can meet your friends.”
“What you mean? Now?” replied Malthus, overjoyed that the boredom might be coming to an end.”
“Yes, of course”, replied Beatrice, “We’ll be putting you in an electric wheelchair.”
Beatrice began taking the tubes out & putting on small bandages over the holes they left. Malthus could tell she was standing on a small ladder to get up a practical level. Putting on clothes however proved more difficult. Beatrice had to get another two nurses in to help as they pushed him from side to side to get his trousers up.
The shirt proved easier, putting one arm in first before being rolled onto his side. Then the nurses pushed the shirt to the other side, put his other arm in & pulled it up.
Malthus was shaken by how weak he was in this world.
The nurses used an overhead hoist to lift him into the wheelchair. They then placed a mask over his entire head with goggles over his eyes, which Beatrice told him was to protect him the intense sunlight. He had to wear gloves for the same reason.
He felt quite comfortable in the wheelchair, it had ample head support and the seat was soft. His head was at the same height as the nurses, them being from a race short in stature and he was able to move the chair by using a joystick. He never thought that he would ever have to use a wheelchair but at least now he would now be able to explore this strange world…
Beatrice opened the door and out he went. It was a corridor. The walls and floor were white. Beatrice signalled that he was to follow her, which he did. Everybody they passed stopped and openly stared at him. Beatrice told him that the same thing had happened to her, when she visited his world and to try not to feel uneasy.
They reached a large door and she told him that they had to go outside and to keep following her. Malthus was amazed by what he saw as he followed. There was green vegetation but none of it rose a meter above the ground and the sky was a deep blue colour, so alien to the purple colour he was used to.
Beatrice led him to a hover car and directed him on to a lift at the rear. He drove onto it and it raised him up in the air to a level where he could drive in to it. Once he stopped, he could hear the wheelchair being automatically clamped.
He had a claustrophobic feeling. His head was almost touching the ceiling of the vehicle and there was no room to move around in the wheelchair.
Beatrice sat into the driver’s seat and informed Malthus that she was bringing him to the Emperor’s Palace. It was difficult for Malthus to see out while was driving but he could see buildings and hear the noise of people talking and shouting, so he gathered they were travelling through a city.
After travelling a fair distance, she pulled up outside a large building. She got out and opened the back of the car. Malthus reversed onto the lift and once again found himself on level ground.
He found himself in the centre of a city. However, the white building in front of him was far larger and more magnificent than any in the surrounding area. This would have been a large building even on Martan whereas the others would have been considered miniature versions of Martanian buildings.
There were statues of Coosan warriors, many times their real size, adorning its walls and their weapons appeared to be made of gold.
Beatrice told Malthus to hurry up, that he could not afford to be late for this meeting. The building’s large doors slowly opened and Malthus drove his wheelchair into a large atrium. He could see that there were two people in wheelchairs, with their faces covered and Malthus instinctively drove towards them.
He shouted out “Princess, Socrates”, and the two people immediately drove towards him. They met in the middle of the atrium.
“Malthus!” they said excitedly.
“Yes”, he replied, “I’m so happy to see the two of you again.”
Beatrice tapped Malthus on the shoulder and told him that she was leaving him with his friends and returning to the hospital. Malthus quietly thanked her for her help.
“Are the two of alright?” enquired Malthus.
Socrates replied “Well I’ll be alright once I get off this wretched planet. The women are so gross and their drink tastes terrible! I heard you ran into a spot of bother on the ship.”
“You could say that alright. Nothing I couldn’t handle though! There were worse places you could have regained consciousness, Socrates. How are you Princess?” said Malthus happily. He was overjoyed to be reunited with his crewmates.
“I’m fine Malthus and happy to see that you’re okay. I was worried about you”, the Princess said sincerely, to jeering from Socrates.
“We’re waiting to see the Emperor,” she continued, “I told them I wouldn’t divulge anything until all three of us was reunited.”
Just as she finished speaking, a doorway at the side of the atrium opened and a white Coosan guard instructed them to go inside. He was carrying a sword, which Malthus assumed to be of mostly ceremonial significance, as he had a machine gun around his waist.
The Princess led the way, flanked on each side by Socrates and Malthus.
The Emperor, flanked by four advisors was immediately visible on a high chair towards the front of the room. A red carpet led up most of the way up to him but it was apparent you were not supposed to get too close. There were armed guards on each side of the carpet, holding their swords to attention.
The Emperor then began to speak in an unintelligible language, the planet’s native language Malthus guessed. However, it was quickly translated by one of the advisors at his side.
“What brings you to my planet? I’ve been told that you have brought me no tribute on your ship. You’re fortunate my forces did not blow your ship to pieces.”
This is not what Malthus hoped to hear from the Emperor but he was still confident that the Princess could gain his trust and support.
She replied with authority, “Emperor, I am sorry for the imposition but I come here in relation to the gravest of matters. The Mullinarians have invaded Venetia and in fact all of Martan. Your people are famous warriors throughout the human systems. We humbly seek your world’s military assistance.”
Just as the advisor finished his translation, the Emperor erupted in laughter; quickly followed by the rest of the room.
He replied mockingly, “Why would I help Venetia or any part of Martan?”
The Princess pleaded, “Venetia is an important trading partner for your world and if the Mullinarians are not stopped they will eventually attack Coosan and the rest of the Ciesta system.”
The Emperor stopped laughing and an eerie silence fell over the room for just a moment.
The Emperor replied morbidly, “Venetia is not a valued trading partner. In fact you’re little country owes me 50 trillion universal dollars for weapons shipments. You’re little story sounds like a desperate ploy to avoid payment.
Even if you’re story is true and the Mullinarians have somehow managed to adapt their fragile bodies to Martan gravity; they are the more valued trading partners and would never be interested in the conquest of a high gravity world like Coosan.
You have made a fatal error thinking that I would care about the fate of your puny little country. I do care about the large debt that you’re nation thinks can go unpaid. You & your crew will be cryonically frozen until I receive my full payment.”
Malthus was stunned. Socrates roared out insults, but they were not even translated. Malthus gathered from the Princess` silence that she was equally shocked.
Then some of the warriors tweaked the motors to the rear of their wheelchairs and started to push them out of the room. Malthus tried to drive the wheelchair against them but it was no longer under his control.
They pushed them out a side entrance and down a narrow corridor into a small chamber. Three cryonic capsules and an electronic hoist were there waiting for them. The meeting with the Emperor had been a charade to feed his ego.
They parked Malthus beside the Princess, while they put a sling on Socrates.
Sadness overcame Malthus and he began to weep. He knew that the chance of the Emperor ever receiving the required payment was very remote and that all three of them would likely die in their frozen state when the power sources for their cryonic capsules were removed.
That is what had happened to prisoners convicted of serious crimes on Martan. There were allowed to spend the duration of their sentence in a cryonic capsule. The only drawback was that the sentence was trebled. But when it actually came time to release a prisoner, the population said that why should they deal with the consequences of another generation’s decision and the release would be deferred. Eventually the prisoners would die as their capsules were not properly maintained. This method of serving one’s sentence was subsequently banned.
“I’m so sorry for getting the two of you into this,” the Princess said sorrowfully.
“Don’t be,” Socrates said defiantly as he was hoisted into the air, “At least we die trying to defend Martan. If these are my last moments, I’d much rather spend them here with you two rather than dying by some fireball on Martan.”
With that, Socrates was lowered into the cryonic capsule.
“Don’t call me Princess anymore, promise me that,” said Rosaleen, “for any hope for my father’s kingdom is now extinguished and if we ever do leave these capsules, we do so as equals. You and Socrates are probably the closest thing to family I have left.”
Malthus saw the despondency in her eyes and nodded to her request. He looked into Socrates’` capsule and saw him freeze for probably the last time. His heart was filled with dread.
Then the Coosan warriors fitted the sling onto the former Princess, Rosaleen. As she rose into the air, her emotions broke through and she launched obscenities at the Coosan warriors; she derided their small stature and their reptilian like skin.
It was to no avail of course. Malthus watched as she too froze before his eyes. Then the warriors turned their attention to Malthus and began to wrap the sling around him.
Calm overcame Malthus. He surmised that this situation was not altogether different from the last time he entered a cryonic capsule; he couldn’t be sure that he would regain consciousness then either.
So he didn’t yell, scream or cry as he was lowered into the capsule or even as its door closed; he merely resolved that if he ever regained consciousness that he would take advantage of it.
Chess: Universal Conquest
After finding that his eyes are getting sore, Lance decides to take a break from his reading. He is impressed by the bravery of Malthus but his situation seems so dire he wonders how his great adventure ever came to be recorded.
At least the book took his mind off what happened with Lucy and everything now seems fully under control again. He ponders how the world seems so different when he is not wearing his exoset. The pace of life seems so slow without the constant flow of messages and updates from it. He suddenly feels alone and disconnected. He puts his exoset back on his head and switches it on; calming him as he merges with the grid.
There are several messages waiting for him in his inbox. Most of them have been sent to every citizen but there is one personal message. Lance is thankful that it’s not from Zoe452. It’s from Zan546, challenging Lance to a game of “Chess: Universal Conquest”.
“Universal Conquest” is a game similar to the original chess, except that it is played on four different boards. Some of the pieces were taken directly from the original game but it also contains many unique ones. It was developed when the wearing of exosets became an everyday occurrence. Serious players of chess found that there was little room left in the games for human ingenuity. The move calculating power of exosets led to the human brain having a greatly diminished input into the game.
In order to alleviate this problem “Chess: Universal Conquest” was developed. Due to a combination of the vastly increased number of pieces and increased playing area, the computational influence of the exoset is greatly reduced leaving a much bigger role for the human mind.
However also because of these same reasons games tend to be much longer even with the standard rule of a maximum of five minutes per move. Also, it never became widely played because of the time it took to master instead becoming the preserve of enthusiasts.
Lance had only been playing the game for over a year and he was anxious to improve so he messaged Zan546 to see if he was still interested in playing. The reply was an almost instantaneous “yes” and the boards appeared in 3-D before Lance’s eyes.
The game started off slowly with no pieces being exchanged. Due to the long duration of games, it was customary for players to occasionally communicate with each other. As normal the conversation started off with Zan546 enquiring about how Lance’s studies in relation to quantum physics were going. Lance always presumed that this was an attempt to throw him off his game but he didn’t know why Zan546 bothered; he was much too good for Lance anyway.
As the game continued, Lance started to lose ground. He decided that instead of discussing quantum physics, he would change the topic of conversation to see if it made any difference. He started talking about the wonderful history book he was reading. However, he knew from the terse responses and the deteriorating position on the board that it was arousing little or no interest.
He decided that he would change the subject and discuss what had happened between him and Zoe452. After all, at worst Zan546 as an older guy might be able to give him some useful advice about what had happened.
As Lance started communicating about what had happened, the responses grew in length and he could tell that more attention was now being paid to his communications rather than the game. Then as Lance communicated about the video he had seen, Zan546 made a major blunder. Lance thought to himself that he might become a great player of this yet.
He then received a request to teleport to the room of Zan546. Malthus thought that it was strange that he was requested to transport into someone’s cell again so quickly but he was reassured that because Zan546 was male, he would not end up in an awkward situation again.
When Malthus transported into Zan546`s cell he was amazed by what he saw. Whereas Lance felt secure in the uniformity of his cell, Zan546 had painted his a myriad of colours. Malthus could discern no definite shape or function in the design.
Zan546`s appearance was a strange as that of his cell. Whereas most of the citizens of Europeous looked almost identical reflecting the uniformity of their personas; his long black, flowing hair and obvious eyeliner pointed to a unique character.
“Zan546 what have you done to your room?” exclaimed Lance, deciding that it would be better not to begin by commenting on him.
“First of all, call me Zan; I’m not one of your numbers. I’ve personalised it. It’s the way I like and want it to be.” he replied, “You still have much to learn.”
“What do you mean?” enquired Lance puzzled, “I am in the top percentile in my studies and I will have completed them shortly.”
“I am talking about life!” he shouted and then continued-
“You need to open your mind. Our race has become so accustomed to exosets, calculations and uniformity that our humanity suffers. In previous epochs, humans formed friendships and relationships. They shook hands, hugged one another and even made love.
Look around at us now. There is no human contact either emotionally or physically. There are no friendships, even on a limited level.
That is why you and your story with this Lucy intrigue me. You are incapable of truly understanding what had happened. To you, it was a black and white situation. To her, it was an attempt to reach out and touch another human being albeit clumsy and confused.
Maybe you have not reached that stage in your development and I’m being unduly harsh. Maybe I should blame you no more than I should blame that cryonic capsule for not caring about its own existence.
But that girl must have seen something in you, some specks of humanity. Why else would she reach out to you?”
Lance nodded in agreement hoping what he considered a confused rant had ended and wondered why he had ever mentioned Zoe452. However, it was not to be. When Lance informed Zan that he had not decided what to do when he was finished his studies, he continued –
“Have you considered joining the Europeous Energy Corporation? Its right at the cutting edge and it could do with more people like you who have a good knack at quantum mechanics.
I know you’ve probably heard stories that some of its employees are a bit quirky but I’m sure you’d fit in.
You may think that our ancient civilisation has everything figured out but believe me there is still much to learn.”
Lance thought this idea to be preposterous; everything that could be known was as far as he was concerned. But he didn’t object to Zen’s assertions as no other topic of conversation came to mind.
Zan seemed to sense his indifference and they returned to playing “Chess: Universal Conquest”. Gradually Zan started to play himself back into the game and had soon overcome the massive blunder he made and regained parity.
Then the light and power in the room flickered, crashing the game, and rebooting the exosets. Lance and Zan looked at each other in astonishment; this had never previously happened.
“You should transport back to your own cell, just in case it happens again and you get stuck here”, said Zan nervously.
Lance shared the same sentiment and instantaneously transported back to the perceived safety of his cell. He tried to draw comfort from his familiar surroundings and anxiously waited to see if he would receive any message about what had happened.
Unfortunately, he did not have long to wait. The subject line was simple: “Urgent: To be read immediately.” and it came from the Europeous Energy Corporation. There were no videos this time, just simple text –
Return to cryonic stasis immediately – There has been a major system failure. Do not delay or await further communications. I repeat return to cryonic stasis immediately – There has been a major system failure.
Lance started trembling. He had never truly felt fear before but he knew that he was experiencing it now. He wondered if this was the end of Europeous, the last bastion of matter in the Universe. Then for a brief micro second he pondered if there was even a remote chance of an afterlife.
He lied down in the cryonic capsule and as the door closed, he thought how ironic it was that his situation had come to mirror the situation that he had been reading about. The only difference being that it was unlikely that any account of his life would exist for anywhere near so long.
Europeous Energy Corporation
Lance rubbed his eyes as the door of his capsule slowly opened. Unlike the time of Malthus, coming out of stasis had long ceased being an uncomfortable experience. So that was not to be his end after all. As he got out of the capsule, he realised that things were not as he left.
This was a different cell; the walls were a blue colour and it had gotten much bigger. He looked out his window and was amazed. He was in the usual location but everything had changed. The streets were bustling and he could hear the noise of people talking and shouting. They didn’t seem to be wearing their exosets and some were publicly expressing emotion by laughing or crying; especially the younger ones.
The building looked rundown and dirty. Some even had windows that were shattered and even the light coming from the biosphere had dimmed substantially.
Lance was shocked. He went into the bathroom to freshen himself up and was relieved to see that his exoset was in its usual position. He plugged it into his head.
Things had changed even more radically in the virtual world. There were options and categories that had never existed before such as pornography, banking & crime and also some that were missing such as access to the teleport device. Lance also sensed that there were far fewer connections to the virtual world than previously.
Nothing seemed to make sense. It was as if order and uniformity had completely broken down. But he could not understand how such a thing could have happened.
He knew that he would have to venture out into this strange new world but he was gripped by fear. He spent an hour looking out the window but the outside world didn’t become any more alluring. Occasionally, he would hear a large thunderous banging noise and the people would quickly scatter from the streets.
It was hunger that drove him from his cell. Normally he would merely have to teleport to his favourite canteen but this method of transportation was no longer open to him even in what seemed the unlikely event that it still existed.
He decided to bring the book he had been reading with him, he needed to bring a token of normalcy into this uncertain world. He knew from looking at the people on the streets below that he would be conspicuous if he brought his exoset.
As he walked up to the door, he expected it to automatically open as usual. Instead it only gingerly opened half way and Lance had to push it the rest of the way. He could see that the corridor was completely dark. The miniature bots that maintained Europeous must have long since stopped functioning.
There was no other option but for him to continue on his way. He made sure that his left arm remained touching the wall of the corridor as he ventured forth. With each step further away from his cell he went the more nervous he became. He knew that he was passing cell doors and wondered if there were still humans more similar to him in their capsules.
Normally the time spent going along these corridors seemed to fly by but this time it was taking an age. As he approached what he thought to be the half way point to the exit, he heard sobbing from inside one of the cells he was passing.
Lance roared out, “Are you ok?”
“Help me!” was the panicked response in a male voice, “The door won’t open.”
Lance knew that there was little he could do in the darkness even if he had the requisite equipment.
“I have to get help”, shouted Lance as he continued on his journey with even more determination.
On he went past numerous cells hoping that there was no unknown danger in the darkness. He never thought he would be so happy to be leaving the building he called home.
Eventually he reached the outer door onto the walkway. It automatically opened, the light suddenly dazzling him as he stepped outside. When he turned around to see if it would let him go back in again, he was met by a large “No Entry” sign and the door wouldn’t budge.
He could hear people walking towards him so he set off in the opposite direction hoping to meet humans more similar to himself. He knew from the loud noises they were making that they were not his kind of people.
As he briskly walked everything seemed similar yet so different. The buildings were in the same position but they were all run down and discoloured.
Lance could hear that the people behind him were talking about him and he sensed that their pace was quickening. He started to run in response and he was then hotly pursued.
As he ran, he passed several individuals, bumping into some of them going in the opposite direction on the walkway. They were shabbily dressed and some even had a foul stench emanating from them.
Lance was truly afraid now as he could hear that his pursuers were now right behind him as he anxiously searched for somewhere safe.
Then he saw it in front of him. A building that stood majestically apart from the others, not in size but in elegance. It stood out like a beacon. The words “Europeous Energy Corporation” was written over it.
Lance ran up to the entrance but the doors didn’t open automatically like he had hoped and he couldn’t see any button to open them. He turned to face his pursuers who stopped just in front of him. There were three of them, two men and an ugly woman. They looked dirty, shabby and threatening.
It didn’t take long for him to receive the first punch, which knocked him to the ground. He rolled up into a ball and put his hands along with the book he was carrying on his head as they viciously kicked him on the ground. Then after just a few seconds they fled and Lance heard the doors opening.
He pulled down his hands from his face to see a fellow ci-human, dressed immaculately in the familiar white uniform and holding a weapon in his arms refreshing displaying no emotion whatsoever.
He simply stated, “You must come inside with me. It’s not safe out here.”
Lance picked himself up off the ground and entered the building, the doors closing behind them. The inside of the building reminded Lance of the Europeous he knew & loved. It was clean, ordered and maintained not like the rotting world outside of it.
“My name is James7432”, said the ci-human, “Where is your exoset?”
“It’s in my cell,” replied Lance, “I was trying to -”
He was quickly interrupted and told there was no need for further elaboration. He would be shown his new living quarters and they would provide him with a new exoset. Lance then mentioned that one of his neighbours was trapped but he was informed that there would be no rescue attempt.
“What happened to Europeous?” Lance enquired.
James7432 told him to wait for another time but Lance insisted.
“Europeous depended on rigidity and uniformity for its existence. There was no room for individualism or competition between individuals. The collective and collective goals were paramount.
That is how we as a life-form had managed to survive and even grow in a dying Universe. However, this existence depended on the suppression of many human characteristics.
When the population of Europeous grew beyond an unknown number, the group dynamic changed and individualism increased. It simply became increasingly difficult for the group to self-regulate.
It all started with what seemed like minor trivial breaches of regulations. For instance, when the population surpassed 3 billion it was seen to be acceptable to legally fornicate and when the population exceeded 5 billion, eccentricity was accommodated rather than exterminated.
Great errors were made. Fornication led to increased emotional attachment and a weakening of the collective.
An eccentric by the name of Zan546, a former employee of the Europeous Energy Corporation was responsible for the ultimate disaster that forever changed Europeous. It appears that he cared little about the goals of the collective and instead carried out dangerous experiments for no more reason than to satisfy his misguided curiosity.
One of them had disastrous consequences…
He purposely tried to create quantum tunnelling events through the use of gravitational waves and did so many times successfully. However, in one of his experiments he created a singularity, which fortunately joined the multiverse in a microsecond.
However, the large magnetic field in that microsecond affected a key computer, which later malfunctioned. It appears that he wasn’t even present at his workstation at the time. This ultimately led to Europeous experiencing a catastrophic loss of power.
You were in one of the fortunate locations. Most ci-humans died when the power to their capsules was turned off to save power for others to survive. This was the fate of Zan546
Some ci-humans had been too afraid to enter into their capsules when the alert was issued. When they saw that so many ci-humans were being allowed to die in their capsules and without the calming effect of the grid, they rebelled against the system and degenerated back to human savages. Then they started to breed ignoring the old system of artificial insemination leading them to devolve further with each generation.
Due to their great numbers they now control the planet. In a cruel twist they have now grown a taste for killing ci-humans, whether it’s killing them in their capsules as they lay defenceless or hunting them down in the streets when they awaken. You are one of the fortunate ones to make it this far.
Their leaders from the early days recognised the importance of the Europeous Energy Corporation to the overall habitability of the planet and have protected its workers and buildings from attack. It is not known how much longer this will continue.
In any event, Europeous is now in a death spiral and looks unlikely to be saved. The planet cannot be shut down like it used to due to the human presence so all the energy will eventually drain away and the planet will die.
You will become an employee of the Europeous Energy Corporation. There is no other function for which you could perform.”
James7432 then showed him to his new living quarters. As Lance expected, it was a standard cell, a carbon copy of what he was used to. It would be easy for him to settle in.
James7432 then left telling Lance that he would be given duties to perform in a few hours and that he should familiarise himself with his new exoset in the meantime. No ci-human would be left idle in this world.
Lance sat down and tried to take in his new reality. The glorious civilization to which he once belonged was now a mere rabble of its former self and was now in terminal decline. The signs had been there for him to see.
The erratic sexual and hacking behaviour had touched him personally. Maybe he should have known there would be consequences to the break of uniformity. It was as if there had been a collective break of discipline in the masses. In the energy starved Universe of his time, this was fatal.
It was the fact that he knew the person directly that had caused the catastrophe that astonished him most as he sat staring at the white wall of his cell. The chances of that happening seemed so remote that it must have been almost zero.
Maybe there was something not quite right about Lance himself that he had become acquainted with people directly responsible for the destruction of his civilization. He had his own peculiarities such as the way he used to walk to his lectures rather than use the transporter. Others may have noticed his abnormalities and sought him out. He must try to get rid of such traits, for they will only bring him ruin.
Then his thoughts turned to how fortunate he was to still be alive. It was a microsecond decision to return to his cell and seemed to come from instinct. He thought it was ironic that a basic human instinct could end up saving a ci-human.
If he had died though, at least he would have been spared the nightmare that is present day Europeous. Civilisation, reason and the collective had unfortunately been replaced by disorder, animalistic and individualistic behaviour.
There was no point however in a ci-human feeling angry or getting fixated about the past. It was not part of his nature. Instead such emotional attachment should be expunged and focus should only be paid on the job in hand. This was the ci-human that Lance7154N resolved to be.
However, he now had many hours with nothing to do and even after this tumultuous period he was still curious to see what happened to Malthus. He opened the book that he still held in his hand determined to finish it and complete what seemed likely to be the last bit of coursework that he would ever do.