The protagonist in my next story interacts with a runner on the subway. I sketched this to work out the composition of a watercolor I’m planning for the story. The right side is obviously and unintentionally dark. The reason is I used scrap paper and there is an image printed on the other side. I don’t like that y’all can see it, but I’m OK with it: I’m just going to make copies, do some color sketches, and find a color scheme I like for the painting.
I’m planning a watercolor painting for a story I’m writing. The setting of the story is a meeting [yay, meetings!]. I sketched this to work out the composition. The protagonist is the second person (woman) from the left.
The planet Meeko was 219 light years from Earth. The most intelligent beings who inhabited the planet were cognitively very much like humans. However, they were very different physically. They evolved to have modular bodies. Their torsos, legs, and arms were independent; but they joined together to construct complex individuals. The symbiotic relationship of the torso and limbs helped them survive the harsh environment, powerful predators, and war.
Yfelergon was the energy executive of the planet Meeko. This was a very high position in the planet’s government. His duty was to manage energy resources to maximize benefits for all citizens. He knew how much time it took to go from raw materials to usable energy. He also knew how much it cost to produce the energy. He was obsessed with measurement. As they should, the time and amounts concerned him. Unfortunately, the principal factor of his concern was the merit of the citizens who received the energy. He had a very strong opinion about whether certain groups of citizens were worthy of the energy his department worked so hard to produce. Anyone who spoke with him saw where he stood.
“Do you know when Asis will return to work?” Yfelergon asked his assistant Tarius.
“She has three more months of leave, sir,” replied Tarius.
“Isn’t this her fifth offspring?” Yfelergon asked.
“It’s her sixth, sir,” said Tarius.
“You work hard and are paid well for it, Tarius. How many children do you have?” Yfelergon asked.
“None, sir,” replied Tarius.
“You have none, and Asis has six,” said Yfelergon. “Please tell me, how many units of energy does a citizen consume from birth to adulthood?” Tarius replied that he would need to calculate that and get back to him. If he had known what his boss was planning, he might have underestimated by a lot.
There was a catastrophe in Meeko later that year. The offspring of the working class and poor were starving. Energy was plentiful, but the children were unable to consume it. As the years went by, the working class and poor significantly reduced the number of offspring they produced. Their inability to perform a basic function of all living things caused unrest among them. Their numbers decreased overall, unhappiness was common, and there were serious social problems.
Since the demand for energy went down, there was a surplus. Those in the population that were better off financially took advantage of the lower cost of energy to enhance their lifestyles. Some boosted their power and made themselves stronger and faster for no practical purpose. Others replaced their older components with newer ones so that they might be more attractive. Many purchased homes much larger than they needed. They moved far away from the neighborhoods where the working class and the poor lived – far from their unhappiness and problems. The differences between the haves and have-nots grew extreme.
However, decent citizens on planet Meeko were not extinct. They saw the unhappiness and problems of the working class and poor and wondered why they could not live good lives too. Activist citizens investigated the problem with the working class’ and poor’s offspring. They saw no reason for malnutrition in a world with plenty. What they found out was horrifying.
Yfelergon developed and installed malware into the energy distribution system. The worm infected all citizens, but it was discretely detected and cleaned by the more expensive service packages the upper classes were encouraged to add to their energy services. Without that protection, the working class and poor remained infected. The worm propagated among them. The effect of the worm was that it did not allow energy consumption mechanisms to develop along with the growth of the child. Energy requirements remained at the level they were at the time of infection. Adults infected with the worm did not notice it, but their offspring did not grow.
Yfelergon was arrested. He was found guilty of crimes against Meeko. He was sentenced to be disassembled, his components encased in energized stone, and to be banished from the planet. Yfelergon did not believe he had done anything wrong. Instead of sorry, he was furious.
A new energy executive was appointed. He removed the worm from the energy distribution system. The department cleansed everyone who was infected. The working class and the poor began to recover their numbers. Understandably, that generation was deeply angry and remained suspicious of their planet’s leadership their entire lives.
After losing all of the appeals influence and wealth could buy, Yfelergon’s sentence was carried out. He was disassembled into five pieces and they were encased in energized stone. His body parts continued to live independently, so being taken apart was not a death sentence. The five pieces were launched into space in five different directions. They traveled far from Meeko and each other.
Years later, a strange asteroid approached an inhabitable planet. The asteroid became a meteor and glowed as it entered the atmosphere. Some of it exploded in the atmosphere and emitted a large amount of light. Most of the asteroid survived the passage through the atmosphere and hit the ground. The impact weakened the meteorite and it cracked. The crack allowed something to escape.
After the aliens tore the man in the armor apart, they flew away. They were ordered to return to an officer’s ship to report on the unusual incident. The aliens did not fight hand-to-hand. Although the aliens, who looked like wasps as large as humans, had frightening mandibles and stingers; they usually used a weapon that turned the organism it was fired upon into a fine black powder. The alien officers wanted to know why the squad had resorted to tearing a man apart. This story is about what happened to that man.
Shortly after the aliens won the fight and left, human soldiers found the parts of the suit. They found them by following the distress signal it sent out automatically after it was critically damaged. The soldiers found the pieces on the forest floor. Aside from some blood, the scene was not as gruesome as one would expect. It appeared as though a child had pulled apart an action figure and left its pieces on the forest floor.
The suit was the most promising weapon against the aliens at that time, so the soldiers took the pieces back to their base. There was a small laboratory there. Two scientists ran it: a man named David and a woman named Jessica. They were very skilled as individual scientists, but together they were brilliant. They developed impressive battle drones, but winning a fight against the aliens required the creativity a soldier brought to the fight. The suit made it possible for soldiers to be in the fight. The military hoped the two scientists would be able to figure out how to make more of the suits for that purpose.
The soldiers brought the pieces of the suit into the lab. An officer ordered the scientists to stop working on drones and develop suits like it. The scientists looked over the parts of the suit and, after seeing it had a biological component, told the officer that they did not have the expertise to do it. The officer told them that they had to find a way because it was more effective against the aliens than any of their drones. He added that if it had not run out of power during some tests, the scientist who developed it would be running their lab.
The officer and soldiers left the two scientists alone in the lab. “That’s an odd way of motivating people,” said David as he snapped on some nitrile gloves, picked up the helmet, and put it on a workbench. He rolled it over gently to inspect it and did not like what he saw. He told Jessica he would remove the body from the suit and go get her when he was finished. She was offended.
Jessica ignored David and picked up an arm. She was surprised at the weight of it and struggled to put it up on a workbench that was at the far end of the room relative to David. After looking into the torn end of it, she used a hoist to move all the other parts into a cold storage chamber. Then, she went back to work on the part she left on the workbench. She turned on a video camera and tried several procedures to remove the man’s arm from the suit. None of them were useful because she found that the arm and the suit were joined.
At the end of the day, Jessica and David were not been able to remove the biological parts from the mechanical parts. Jessica worked so hard on the problem, she got over her anger at David. She told him she could not remove the arm from the suit without damaging connections they might need to know about to make more suits. David said he had the same problem, but held his tongue before saying he had a worse problem than she because he worked with the head. They agreed to give up for the day and stored the remaining two pieces of the suit in the cold storage chamber.
David played video games that night to release some of his frustration from his failures that day. However, his gaming system crashed and he had to restart it several times. When he decided he would try to play a different game, the disc would not come out of the console. He restarted the console again, pressed the eject button, and the disc was ejected.
The next morning, David awoke to what he believed was an excellent idea. He got dressed immediately even though it was earlier than usual and left his quarters to wake Jessica up. She was unhappy about being woken so early until she heard his idea. His idea was to interface with the simplest part of the suit via computer, power up the system, and try to disconnect the organism from the suit by rebooting it. She liked it and felt that no matter what happened, trying it would be a step forward.
The duo was going to begin with the torso, but realized the man’s spine was connected to the suit. Jessica suggested they try the arm instead. They pulled the arm out of the cold chamber and set it up on the workbench. David connected their computer system to the arm using terminals that were built into it. Jessica connected wires to some exposed connections from the end of the arm that was once connected to the torso. It was difficult connecting to the arm, but it was even more challenging to power up the arm.
They worked day and night; forgetting to eat, falling asleep, and ignoring officers who visited the lab to check on their progress.
When the systems were properly connected and powered, the scientists ran an application to collect as much information about the arm as possible. During one of the application’s tests, a curious thing happened: the arm tried to restart itself. The application was designed to control all of the processes, but the arm started and ran some of them itself. David and Jessica had to end some of the tasks that were interfering with the analyses. They ended up adding code so the application would not allow tasks that were not under its complete control to start. Overcome by exhaustion, they left the lab and let the application continue to run the analysis on its own overnight.
When David and Jessica returned to the lab the next morning, she noticed what appeared to be an error message on the screen. It read, “William. Help.” David thought it was part of the signal from the distress beacon and rebooted the system. At first, everything restarted normally; but then, the screen showed what appeared to be another error message. It read, “Help me.” The scientists stared at the message. Again, they thought the error message came from the distress beacon. As they tried to reboot the system, another message appeared. It read, “I am William.”
Jessica asked David not to do anything anymore. She wrote code to deliver text messages to software in the arm. Her first message read, “I am Jessica. I am here.”
To the scientists’ surprise, the arm’s software returned a response; “Is Melissa OK?”
“Who is Melissa?” Jessica wrote.
“Friend,” wrote the arm. It asked a different question after inferring from the answer that Melissa was not present or known. “Where am I?”
“Austin Laboratory,” Jessica wrote. She and David stared at the screen.
“Power up armor,” wrote the arm. Jessica looked at David. Her face asked what she should reply. It was clear to both of them that the messages were not automated. If there was a sentient being in the arm, she could not just tell him that the armor was in pieces.
David reached across Jessica to the keyboard and wrote, “Unable.”
“Why?” wrote the arm.
“The armor is in pieces,” David wrote. David and Jessica waited for a reply. None of them knew that William and the armor had been joined together in a laboratory to overcome the complexity of controlling the movement, defense, and weapons systems of the suit. As William and the suit interacted, the suit uploaded what it could of William’s thoughts to better anticipate and improve control. William designed the suit that way. After the aliens had torn him apart, the suit’s life support system tried to keep him alive. However, it also uploaded as much of the man as it could into its systems.
“Let’s upload it into unmanned system 105,” David said.
“Are you crazy?” Jessica asked. “We should report this.”
“What are we going to report?” David asked. “’Hey, Colonel; the man that was in the armor is still alive even though his meat is spoiling in our fridge.’ They don’t want this, they want suits. What are we going to do when they ask us to wipe him from the system? I’ve never killed anybody.”
“I don’t know,” she said.
“I do. Let’s upload him.”
“One-o-five is networked, armored and mobile,” Jessica said. “Do we want to upload a killer into that?”
“It also doesn’t have enough memory anyway,” David said.
“PLATO could do it,” Jessica said. PLATO was a powerful computer that they had in the lab.
“Let’s upload him into PLATO then,” David said.
“After I unplug the network and remove wireless,” Jessica replied with an evil smile.
The stories The Cybernetic and The Precious Soldier had the same setting and shared a plot. I wrote one as a romance and the other as a satire just because I like to try different things. I don’t think my kid likes the stories I write as much as the ones I make up nightly. That’s my fault for experimenting; but writing fiction, sketching, and painting are all new to me and I want to try different things. For the next story, I’ll keep working with the Cybernetic and see if I can get the character to grow on my kid.