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WolfSinger Publications

Don't Write What You Know;

Write What You Care About -- Passionately!

- Ted Pennella

In the distant future, when peace between humanity and the artificial intelligences their ancestors created has been settled, Conrad Conner tries to live a quiet and unassuming life in orbit about Jupiter on the city-station Socrates’ Odyssey.  When Conner’s attempt to create a prototypical communication artificial for use by the Sol-Humana Confederation’s Stellar Fleet gets derailed by the attempted murder of the very artificial he’s created, his life spirals into a mad flight back to Earth to try and save at least his sister’s children, if not his sister herself. Past failures and heartaches resurface as seemingly unconnected dots become a plot by the First Admiral to steal not just power over the Confederation, but a secret Conner holds within himself. 

A secret not even Conner knows about.


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The lift-pod doors opened to a large lobby half a dozen sectors below Conner’s destination on the city-station, Socrates’ Odyssey, which orbited Jupiter. The last person he expected stepped into the pod, turned to the others wanting to get on, and only held up a hand. As the lift-pod doors closed out the strangers and continued its journey, Conner glanced over the twenty-something-looking man beside him with a quizzical stare. Unlike what Conner usually saw Sam wearing, which were ripped pants and shirt designed to expose a very fit body, he currently wore a black business suit of the latest style. The stiff vertical collar with a flat emblem of the city’s logo, which was a stylized scroll wrapped with a loose ribbon, flanked both sides of the narrow opening at the front of the neck. A pale cream shirt hugged the body while a loose jacket fell just short of the man’s narrow waist. Sam’s usually messy tangle of blond hair had been wrangled into a very proper business style.

“Looking quite sexy there, boss,” Sam said with a wide smile verging on a leer. “I’d offer to kiss you but based on what I could decipher from Delilah’s exhaustion-fueled ramble, this morning’s meeting with Fleet is quite serious. Socrates gave me a bit more info, but still remained rather tight-lipped. You’d think he didn’t like me anymore, based on how mute he got when I asked.”

“First, you don’t work for me. Second, I didn’t know the city’s controlling-artificial even spoke to anyone anymore,” Conner said, running a hand over his own black hair. Nothing stuck up, but his nerves whispered he’d left something out of place. Tugging on his own suit jacket, about a decade out of style and far tighter than he’d like, Conner stared at the lift pod doors. “Third, if you’re here in Delilah’s stead, then you’ll need to know what’s up.”

“Hoping to distract the old codgers with Delilah’s overinflated nano-modded body?” Snickering, Sam nudged Conner’s arm with an elbow. “You sly dog.”

“My company has a contract with the Sol-Humana Confederation Stellar Fleet to develop a prototype artificial intelligence droid for use on all ships as an emergency communications officer,” Conner said, ignoring Sam’s comments. “My contact within Fleet indicated this is not a review meeting to go over refinements on the droid, but rather a hearing on whether to cancel the contract. Officially, I’ve not heard anything other than to be at Fleet’s Jovian Command for a meeting. I’ve put eight years of my life into this project, kept it secret from my employer before I started my own company six years ago and finalized this contract. Everything I own and am has been sunk into this project. They cancel it and I’m back to where winning the Battle of Horus got me fifteen years ago, drowning at the bottom of a deep well, but this time with no one to save me.”

Sam’s smile vanished. “Understood. Just so you know, I’m far older than I look and have extensive tech experience. In fact, AI and tech development have been my life for longer than you could imagine.”

“Are you saying that stripping down at The Rusty Bucket is just a hobby?” Conner smiled as he finally looked Sam in the eyes. He regretted it almost immediately as the impish face grinned back at him from Sam’s slightly shorter than six-foot height.

“I do that to get your attention, my sexy techie,” Sam whispered, pressing himself against Conner’s body while wrapping his arms around Conner’s neck.

A disgusted groan from Conner’s left sleeve sliced through Conner’s quickly growing arousal at the man’s affection. Sam jumped back in surprise before laughing raucously. Conner lifted his left arm and snarled, “What is it, Magnus?”

“Not to be the cold, wet blanket on your fun in this love pod for two, Daddy,” a deep male voice said full of derision, especially with the last word, “but you wanted your Maggie to remind you this morning’s meeting is scheduled to begin in thirty minutes in the Blue Room on Level F02. I hear that your, well, distraction is being quite distracting. Don’t forget about how this meeting may decide someone’s fate.”

“Thank you, Maggie,” Conner snapped before slapping his sleeve to sever the connection to his AI son and assistant. “End.”

“Maggie doesn’t like me, does he?” Giggling, Sam straightened his jacket a bit before leaning against the pod’s wall across from Conner. “So, we’ve got another minute or so before we arrive. Just to keep you from being shocked in front of Fleet, my full name is Samuel Maxwell Youngs. Yes, the same Youngs as in the company, Youngs Galactech, which is now Tandon Universal. This body, should Fleet’s security sensors go off, is an ancient tech called orga-tech.”

“Orga-tech!” Conner tensed even more at the familiar name. “That tech has been lost for more than a thousand years.”

“And that leads to my next statement,” Sam said with a wistful sigh. “I’m far older than any human because of that now lost technology. When it finally fails, I either die or become an artificial equivalent. Depends on my great-grandfather and his siblings. Always has.”

Conner looked down at the floor. He recognized the name Sam used. Anyone who studied human history knew the name of Samuel Maxwell Youngs. It had been passed down in the Youngs family for generations, or so official histories said. “Are you claiming to be the original Sam Youngs? Or his descendant? And either way, why did you let the company get taken from you?”

Sam smiled sadly. Pushing off the wall, Sam faced the lift-pod’s door before answering. “Yes, I’m the original and not a descendant. A family tragedy led to me losing the desire to run a multi-stellar megacorporation. My past will hopefully not come up in today’s meeting, Conrad Conner, but if it does, I don’t want you to be caught unawares. Great-grandfather felt it prudent.”

The lift-pod’s door opened before Conner could speak. Beyond that door lay the wide-open lobby of the Sol-Humana Confederation’s Stellar Fleet Jovian District Command Headquarters. Floating in the center of the lobby, at nearly ten feet across, was the Fleet logo of four stars orbiting each other while contrails of three ships slowly encircled the stars. A counter wrapped around the logo where half a dozen men and women sat answering questions or directing people. Each of those men and women wore Fleet’s blue with green shoulders uniform, as well as vertical silver bars denoting them as lieutenants.

Conner walked up to the nearest open person with Sam hanging just behind him. “Conrad Conner and associate with The C5 Group for a project meeting.”

A faint chime sounded from behind the counter as the ethereal image of a young black man in an ensign’s uniform appeared beside Conner. “If you’ll follow me, Mr. Conner and associate.”

Conner and Sam followed the artificial intelligence’s holographic image. He recognized a representation of the Fleet Central Observation and Preservation System, or FCOPS, artificial. That system originated during the early years of humanity moving into space cities over two millennia ago. The FCOPS, he knew from personal experience, was an extension of an even older and more powerful AI, though most people, including many in Fleet command, didn’t know this fact. Through a security checkpoint and down a long, twisting corridor, they finally stopped at a closed blue door with a faint square near the center.

“Knock’em dead, dear friend,” the hologram whispered while momentarily flickering to become a sixty-year-old man with a few streaks of gray in the close-cut hair and stockier body.

The hologram reverted to the young ensign before vanishing. Shaken, Conner silently cursed whoever invented the first self-sustaining artificial intelligence back at the beginning of time. Resisting the urge to use the artificial’s real name, Conner tugged on his sleeves before reaching his hand out toward the faint square at the center of the door. He splayed his fingers out wide and held his hand an inch or so from the glowing square.

“The C5 Group is here concerning Project Beta Four Zero One Nine Nine Peter Alpha Two Three,” Conner said in a flat voice. “Requesting entry for two.”

“Identity and project confirmed,” a woman said, her voice coming from all around. “Admittance allowed. Welcome, Lieutenant First-Class Conner.”

“Always good to hear your beautiful voice, Vickie,” Conner said with a slight smile as he glanced up at the ceiling. “How are the kids?”

“Gods of the stars, they are wearing me out, Conner,” Vickie said with an exasperated sigh. “Can’t tell you more, but I wish you were still around. Constant Conner, they called you.”

“If you say, ‘The good old days,’ Vickie,” Conner said, chuckling as he waited for the door to open, “I will hook you back up to the basic barracks.”

Vickie snorted out in laughter before regaining control. “Promises, promises, you old lech. They’re ready for you. Knock some sense back into them for me.”

Conner sobered up at Vickie’s last comment. She had rarely spoken more than a few words to him since he left Fleet Academy nearly two decades ago. Admiral Victoria, or Vickie, had always been pleasant with him, but also neutral. Something was up and he didn’t like the warnings he was getting. Sam shot him a confused look, but the door vanished before either of them could speak. What worried Conner most, though, was that certain artificials, who had a reputation of rarely speaking to humans, were being overly friendly toward him.

With his mind spinning away at possible reasons, Conner led the way into a small room with a long desk on their right and five empty chairs behind it. In the far corner behind the desk was another door, also blue. To their left were two eight-foot-long tables with three chairs behind each table so they faced the long desk. About fifteen feet separated the desk and tables. In that space sat a small platform with a rod about three inches in diameter and roughly four feet long laying on it. Short lengths of iridescent tape could be seen in haphazard places along the length of the rod. Over the nearest desk’s front edge floated the logo of Conner’s company, five ‘Cs interlocked in a pattern reminiscent of a carbon atom.

Conner’s fists clenched as he shook with rage. He couldn’t believe what he saw lying dark and unmoving on that platform. That Fleet could do something to his child, his creation, shook him to his core. Whoever had raped his daughter, by opening her body and breaking those seals, may as well have gutted him. His heart might as well be lying on that platform, a knife piercing it.

“To our places, boss,” Sam whispered, grabbing Conner’s arm and pulling him to a chair.

To try and get control of the rage which burned inside and the grief filling his eyes with unshed tears, Conner tried to recall all the major points of his contract with Fleet as they waited. He ignored the holographic Fleet logo on the wall behind the long desk across the way or the much smaller Fleet Tech Division logo floating over the other desk beside them. Instead, he lifted his left sleeve close to his mouth.

“Magnus,” Conner whispered just loud enough he faintly heard himself, “feed contract goals to me. Then pull up and ready the certified records of Betty’s seals. As need be, link with FCOPS and the Variegation and Integration Command, or VIC System, to display upon my command. Record this hearing and get an official copy for our records upon the hearing’s completion.”

“Is it lawyer time yet?” Maggie whispered with very uncharacteristic seriousness. “Or do I need to call in the boys?”

Conner couldn’t decide just how to take Maggie’s reference. He hated to think all artificials watched ancient entertainment vids. Those pre-holographic videos were pretty unwatchable by today’s standards. “Only if the First Admiral walks into the room. Otherwise, I’ll let you know.”

A moment later, Conner’s sleeve displayed a copy of his contract with Fleet. He read through the stated goals softly so Sam could hear until the blue door to the corridor opened. Three people in Fleet uniforms entered, two wore a lieutenant’s silver bars on their collars while the third wore an ensign’s single brass bar. The lieutenant second-class, who wore one silver bar, was an Asian woman in her mid to late twenties and the other two were Caucasian men, with the older man having a pair of silver bars and looking to be in his early thirties, while the ensign looked fresh from the academy. The lieutenants had the lean tallness most common in humans who grew up on Humana IV while the ensign looked liked a fellow Venusian. Just as the trio took their seats, the door behind the long desk opened. Three Fleet officers wearing the crescent moon and star pins denoting them as admirals walked in and sat down. One of them had been the captain of the ship Conner was assigned to during most of his own tour in Fleet. Now an admiral, his former captain had six pins on his collar, denoting him as a Fleet Admiral, while the other two admirals only had five pins each. Conner found it curious all three were men. He’d heard there were more women than men as admirals right now.

Conner and Sam rose, along with the newcomers at the adjacent table, as the three admirals took their seats. The senior admiral spoke. “I’m Nigel Nokata, Admiral of Fleet’s Jovian District of the Sol System. Admirals Choktra on my right, Harrison on my left, and myself will be conducting this hearing on the progress of Project Beta Four Zero One Nine Nine Peter Alpha Two Three, which is intended to create a new artificial intelligence-driven prototype android, with a version birthed for use on all Fleet ships as a surrogate communications officer during times of battle or human incapacity. Mr. Conner, you and your associate are here to defend your work. However, I will ask the Fleet team assigned to review the project and the prototypical droid up to this point to give us their review. You may all sit.”

Sam stayed standing as everyone else sat. When Admiral Nokata arched an eyebrow at Sam, the young man spoke. “The C5 Group was not made aware nor given access to any review documents in order to be able to respond during this hearing. Not providing such documentation a week prior to any hearing concerning an artificial intelligence at any stage of development is an egregious violation of the AI Accords of twenty ninety-seven. When did the Sol-Humana Confederation Stellar Fleet get permission to ignore and subvert a nearly thousand-year-old accord governing natural and artificial life within the known and occupied universe? An accord accepted by and considered to embody the fundamental rights of artificial and natural life alike?”

Admiral Nokata looked to the Fleet officers at the other table, where the two lieutenants glared at the ensign. “Lieutenants?”

The first lieutenant shot to his feet stiff backed, curtly nodding at the admirals. “Sirs! Our summary and supporting documents were sent, but acceptance was refused.”

Admiral Nokata just looked at the officer half his age with no visible reaction. That look brought back a flood of memories to Conner, who studiously ignored all of them. When neither of the other admirals spoke, the lieutenant tapped his left sleeve. “Access project records and display transmittal for this hearing.”

A three-foot-tall image of a transmittal record appeared between the admirals’ desk and the tables. On the transmittal was a blurred image of the C5 Group logo. Just clear enough to read was the name ‘Conrad C.’ It made Conner snort with disgusted humor.

“Mr. Conner, you find this funny?” Admiral Harrison shifted his stern gaze to Conner. Admiral Nokata, though, let one end of his lips to ever so slightly twitch upwards.

Conner stood, knowing the procedure in Fleet hearings far too well. “With respect to the creator of this plainly obvious forgery, my eleven- year-old nephew could have done better.”

Not waiting for a response, Conner continued. “That’s not our received stamp and it would never be my name as the one who received any transmitted documents. Admiral Victoria, please access FCOPS project records on Earth and display the last official transmittal received and stamped by The C5 Group. Compare and contrast the received stamps on that transmittal to the one displayed.”

“Authorization needed for access to FCOPS record storage,” Vickie said with just a hint of humor in her voice.

Before Conner could reply, the first lieutenant, who still stood, snapped, “There is no need to bother the Admiralty with this request, Admiral.”

“Who needs to bother the Admiralty, Lieutenant?” Conner didn’t shift his gaze from the admirals as he spoke. “I’m quite capable of using my own authorization for this request. After all, it is only informational. Vickie, authorization is Conner, Lieutenant First-Class, former Commander of FCOPS Maintenance Corps, currently Reserve Administrator of System Data Cohesion Review.”

Conner then thought and spoke his old Fleet authorization without actually making any sound or moving his lips. It was an old trick used to keep it secret. The sensors built into the city-station and ships themselves were able to read even the slightest motions made by the human body.

“Authorization accepted,” Vickie said, the image floating before them blurring momentarily.

When the image cleared, the transmittal which had been there was now blue while a new one was superimposed in green and clearly designed around the word “RECEIVED”. The C5 Group’s stamp on the blue transmittal was covered with bold red letters flashing, “FORGERY!”

“As you can see, the name of acceptance should be Magnus,” Conner said in a calm voice even as he raged internally. “Now, can we get to the reason the certified seals placed on our prototype’s body were broken, why there are obvious scars of forced opening on her housing, and why she has been completely powered down without notification to myself, her officially recognized parent?”

Conner looked from the admirals to those at the table beside him for the first time. The lieutenant standing shook slightly as the ensign’s scared face faintly smiled. Only the woman appeared calm and unconcerned. She then stood and placed a hand on her senior’s left arm.

“I’ll handle this, Chris,” the woman said softly while a smile spread across her face.

“I don’t think so, Lieutenant Second-Class Wu,” Admiral Nokata said sharply. “Sit down and remain silent until called on to speak. Now, please answer Mr. Conner’s questions, Lieutenant First-Class Herrods.”

“The seals were already broken and the prototype in a powered down mode when we received it from the defendants,” Lt. Herrods said, his voice shaky. “When we tried to power the object up, it would spark and snarl obscenities at us. We cannot recommend this project be—”

“Untrue,” Conner said tapping his sleeve. “Magnus, please feed video of placement and certification of prototype’s seals and summary to Vickie for review by the admirals.”

The image between the desk and tables changed from the transmittal to that of a rotating holographic image of the city-station’s logo, which is a scroll with a ribbon wrapping it. As they watched, the ribbon untied itself and the scroll opened to show the words “Certification of Sealing.” The words and scroll then blurred into a pair of dark-skinned hands, obviously not Conner’s hands, placing three long seals around the rod now laying on the platform before them. The voice of the city-station’s controlling artificial, Socrates, could be heard saying, “Seals placed upon and certified by Fleet-approved third party. This video record will be sent to both parties as proof and record of placement of seals upon the body of a prototypical artificial intelligence, named Betty, in accordance with the rules and regulations set forth in the Accords of Rights for Natural and Artificial Life of twenty ninety-seven, commonly referred to as The AI Accords.”

“Now, I want to know who raped this, hopefully unconscious, artificial,” Conner yelled, venting his anger. “She has worked hard to gain the certification required of Fleet, with her full adulthood contingent upon final review by Fleet. Instead of Fleet acting in good faith, my still underage daughter gets raped, mutilated, and possibly murdered by those who claimed to have her best interests in mind? I want to know who ordered this gross incompetence!”

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