Sunday, May 12, 2013

Serious Robot Journalism

Bad news, remember when I said there was going to be a sequel to Diplomacy? Turns out it's right here. The good news is that it isn't a romantic comedy.

Aggressive Negotiation

By Tyler Baray

The following is everything we've received from Zor 30489 since the events earlier this quarter. The account seems incomplete, but we're hoping more will be transmitted soon. We've decided to reprint all available data, in the order we received it and with no editing on our part. Several terms are used in the text with no explanation to their meaning, which we hope will be cleared up soon.

Thank you for being patient with us in this time of crisis. I have known Zor personally for several years now, he is a professional and as an Animat, tireless. I realize that there's obvious gaps in this account, but we have to remember the circumstances surrounding it.

We're just as concerned for his safety as you are, especially given the political climate on Syphrean. We are doing everything in our power to get in communication with Zor again soon, hopefully to convince him to come back. Like now.

-Yolar Svent Editor in Chief, Pulsar Magazine

10.Q1.2204 10:02 AM

The sense of panic in the camp was palpable. "Something happened to one of the frontier stations." I kept hearing. Rumors of a fatal malfunction, something falling out of orbit. Immediate radiological containment.

Equipment was being shuffled around seemingly at random. No orders were being given, no one seemed to know what to do. Civilians were being evacuated from a vaguely described "hazard zone" and dropped off here. I arrived in the initial confusion, noting the sick look on the faces of the IASA officials as I rolled off the shuttle's landing ramp. There were plenty of other journalists there already, each as clueless as I was at to what happened.

I spent most of that morning trying to observe from a distance. Most of the IASA people were in a pod at the far end of the camp, which was guarded at all times. After several minutes, two officers appeared and gathered together all the evacuees. A screen was brought into the largest pod and we all sat down to see the hastily prepared presentation. Suddenly we were treated to images of a destroyed city, little more than a ring of demolished buildings surrounding an ashy crater.

"Around 3:45 this morning," A Representative Lerth said shakily. "There was a fatal accident on Frontier Station Five. An explosion in it's life support system."

It slowly started to dawn on me. I could see it on the other's faces, they recognized it too.

"The station fell out of orbit almost immediately and crashed in the Sha'leou area. The situation has been declared a level one ecological disaster by the administration and have ordered the immediate evacuation of all IASA affiliates." Lerth said.

There was a stunned silence as everyone stared at the image of the crash site.

"We are expecting a shuttle in the next three hours, which will be bound for Frontier Seven. We ask that you prepare whatever personal items you have and be ready for transport."

Slowly, questions were muttered from the crowd. People were worried about their affairs on Syphrean, or if any effort was being made to help the victims of the disaster. Did any of the crew escape in time?

"No statement has been made yet, so there's no way of knowing. But we've been asked to cease all activity on Syphrean, which includes civilians here on a visa."

"It was a formal request, on threat of military retaliation."

10.Q1.2204 10:45 AM

My head was spinning.

The shuttle was a smoking crater, people were running in every direction as Tanji jets swarmed overhead.

It had risen out of the ocean impassively, unflinchingly; heedless of the rays searing the air around it. The metal monument was floating towards us, toppling trees with it's immense anti-gravity. The Nightbringer hovered over the center of the island where the lagoon used to be, but had since boiled away. Four metal legs unfurled from the main body and stretched wide over the dried up lagoon. The mass came to rest on the soft sand, snorting as it expelled a spray of ocean mist.

"This is it," I heard an officer say. "We're already dead."

As if in response, the whole upper half of the machine blossomed outward. Two immense arms appeared; each holding a semi-circular metallic segment, creating a ring in the air. There was a low rumble as each segment started to spin independent of each other, like a giant gyroscope. It was gaining speed and glowing slightly, a faint blue. I watched as it continued it's mysterious operation, in mere seconds it had become a whirlwind of spinning metal, a bright blue light radiated from it's surface. The order to fire was given. A soldier appeared from behind a rock and unloaded a full clip at the machine. Not even a single bullet struck its surface.

More shots were fired. The island came alive with the crackle of gunfire. Suddenly the arms stopped rotating. Their ring sections slowed to a stop, folding back to their original position as the arms lowered back into the main body of the Nightbringer. All the while people from all over the island were shooting at it to no effect. Then someone came charging with a grenade.

They threw it at the base of the machine, only to watch dumbstruck as it flew upward, toward the empty space above where it floated for a second and exploded. The fireball erupted and was immediately sucked back in and disappeared. The wind started to pick up, blowing in the direction of the Nightbringer. Sand and loose equipment started to tumble towards it. The wind was blowing harder.

That's when I saw it: a pinpoint, a black dot had formed above the machine. The space around it rippled like heat rising off hot concrete. Dust and sand were being sucked in, like a hole in the Universe itself. The wind had become a roar of escaping air, picking up huge plumes of sand as it was pulled in. The makeshift camp toppled over with a resounding crash. Storage containers were sent careening across the ground like immense boulders before they were inevitably sucked into the growing whirlpool. The pinpoint had become a gaping hole in reality; an unfathomable, impenetrable blackness.

People started running, stumbling, clawing at the ground and holding onto trees for dear life. A Tanji jet flew over the island and threw itself into a banking turn along the bay. It slowed as it tried to rise higher, slowing more and more until it stopped in midair and came tumbling back down, falling into the growing void. The wings tore from it's frame and hurtled into the blackness, with the rest falling close behind, silently crumpling before disappearing in a cloud of sand and wreckage.

To my horror, I saw someone get sucked into the portal. I was forced to watch as they screamed and thrashed around in the air as they were drawn in. Another followed. The crunch and ripping of trees being uprooted filled the air, followed by horrified screams as more people were pulled in.

I planted myself behind a rock, digging in deep with my claws, helpless, unable to do anything but watch. I felt like I was in the center of an immense tornado. And yet, during this whole awful experience the Nightbringer was sitting serenely underneath the portal, even as it drew in the ground from underneath it. The portal had become a huge featureless sphere hanging over the island, which was rumbling and rolling underneath. I started to panic. If it got any bigger it would eat us whole. It might take the planet with it.

With a lurch, my rock started tumbling into the sky. I was sent flying, the last thing I remember seeing was blackness.

10.Q1.2204 11:05 AM

I was overwhelmed by a sense of dropping out of the sky, or being shot out of a cannon. It was cold on the other side, my sensors told me that much. There was a bright light in the distance, but no horizon. I was tumbling end over end, surrounded by floating pieces of wreckage as we spiraled outward from some invisible mass. I started to become dimly aware that I had lost all sense of down.

All around me was a nebular void, a swirling vortex of luminous purple gas. A cloud of sand was spiraling outward and in the distance were kolumnb trees drifting off into space. On all sides were the pulverized remains of whatever aircraft were sucked in. There were no planets here, no stars. Just a diffuse purple void. I realized I was on the other side of some kind of portal. The Nightbringer hadn't annihilated us, or compacted us all into a black hole. But we were transported to some alien dimension.

Desperately, I tried to grasp at whatever piece of flotsam I could. For that brief moment, I started to panic as I drifted further and further away. Images flashed through my mind; images of my lifeless body floating through space for the rest of time. Wild panic gripped me. I was suddenly overcome by the crazy idea that I could build a rocket or some kind of booster-plate and fly back out of the portal the way I came. Without even thinking I started gathering whatever was nearby.

A rocket? No I can't, there's no fuel. I can still make a small gravity engine. I did it in school, I can do it here. What has a super conductor in it? Would that computer over there have one? Oh god, I can't do it. No power. I need a grappling hook.

I considered overclocking my processor, frying my brain right then and there. Save myself from this. There had to be a way out.

A bright light blinded me. Once again I felt like I was falling.

10.Q1.2204 12:56 PM

One by one, my sensors came back online. Various warnings appeared at the corner of my heads up display, a border of blinking red along the edge of my vision. The control software started to reboot as my main visual sensor was reconnected. A grainy black and white image of sand came into view. The picture sharpened. I regained color. Suddenly I was back, lying on my side as an ocean wave appeared.

I started to test my actuators, working my way down my arms and legs until I was content they all still worked. In all this time the only sound was water rushing over my audio sensors. Slowly, I picked myself up to stand in the surf and surveyed the destruction.

The island had been devastated. All around me stretched a barren wasteland of twisted, smouldering wreckage. Every tree had been uprooted and strewn across the island, which had been rendered unrecognizable by blackened craters dotting it's surface. In the center were the smoking remains of the Nightbringer, split in half with what must have been an especially powerful laser. The cleanly symmetrical cut was still glowing slightly.

The portal must have collapsed after a vital component melted, sending me hurtling out as it became unstable. The Nightbringer was scuttled, surrounded by Tanji and IASA ships regurgitated out as the portal coalesced, cutting us off completely from that alien dimension.

Everyone else had either escaped, or was trapped on the other side. I was alone on the island. I considered staying. I hoped that I could wait out whatever catastrophe was unfolding on the mainland. But then I thought back to my editor. He was on Tamafrar, he would have no idea what's happened here until it was too late. This was my chance to break the story to him before the commercial rags got their hands on it.

I have to reveal the truth. I've saved images of it, of the Nightbringer, of the destruction in Sha'leou. Say what you will about the IASA, but they would never deliberately cause this. There was a conspiracy here, I knew it. Conflicting interests among the Tanji goverments? Likely. An engineered disaster to discredit the IASA was even more likely. My mind is swimming with possibilities, all I know is that there's a reason they want us off-world. If someone had to sabotage a space station to do it, all the more reason to investigate. Weaponized inter-dimensional gateways are just the cherry on top.

I am going to gather up everything I've recorded so far and get it on the next ultraviolet transmission I can find. Svent, if you're reading this: I'm staying on Syphrean. Don't come looking for me.

Whatever happened on Frontier Five, it was no accident.


Happy Mother's Day everybody!

1 comment: said...

You shared a nice and interesting dialogue-based story about Serious Robot Journalism. I didn't yet completed with it though but will definitely read it in future. Keep sharing:)

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