Glyphs of standardized mathematical notation danced in my Cartesian theater, as I worked to engage the levels of my consciousness. A few equations were drifting out of context; my tutor nudged me gently towards a sharper re-visualization as I refocused a portion of my intellect. The intricate mathematical pieces rotated, a majestic multi-dimensional tower of non-linear coupled topological equations. When my detail gestalt had verified the details and Tutor approved my
work, I solved them simultaneously in a single blinding flash of realization.
Basic excursions in elementary spacetime topology.
Sighing, I put the task out of mind, asking to be allowed time for physical play. Remedial mathematics was not my favorite subject, anything else would be welcome relief.
Still, I was surprised when Tutor acquiesced. I felt then the glow of Mama's thoughts with me, and a short time later, Mama's eidolon materialized in front of me, approving.
"Shall we take an exterior excursion?" Mama's presence radiated warmth, love, congratulations, and a hint of further testing of my inquisitive nature. I registered a chord of approval from Papa, though I knew he was distantly engaged someplace outsystem.
I couldn't keep the smile of happiness and excitement off my face. I raced into the dresser, selecting my favorite external attire. I could barely wait for the sprayers to finish, earning a warning as I tried to stray from the assembly field too soon.
As soon as I possibly could, I raced into the transport lift, Mama hugging me in a protective shell as we headed for the surface.
Distantly I knew Mama's physical form was somewhere in the planetary core, and while part of her was spending time with me via telepresence utility fog, most of her concentration was in the delicate interface management between the core processing and power of our garden world. Papa was even further away; in space someplace where lightspeed lag made interactions a matter of local extrapolation.
A warm, tropical paradise greeted us from the elevator. Even with all of the facts droning into my consciousness, I scampered from treeline to treeline with the joyous abandon of any ten-year old sliding down fast (but boringly safe) playlines with mock gymnastic athleticism.
I was especially proud of the three-and-three quarters revolution quadruple layout that had propelled me from the lowest platform to land on the soft, spongy ground. The flower scents were delicate and amazing, and this little patch was a clearing in the usually bright canopy of awakened plant forms, slow consciousness pulsing with biotic genengineered organisms of all shapes and sizes.
Mama floated down next to me, smiling fondly. Looking around at my wonderful playground, I cherished my boyishly exultant happiness. I felt truly connected here, especially in the land with its marvellous denizens of flora and fauna. Perhaps more so than even my increasing communication with my fellow citizens distributed throughout our lightspeed network of data and family bonding.
And while nearby, Mama trusted me enough to let me fall and make mistakes and get hurt, if I did something to merit it.
I was happy for the solitude. Different from my peers, I preferred my home and my family to everyone else, nearly or distantly related though they may be. I knew, objectively, that this artifact of childhood would have to be discarded someday, when I integrated with society more fully, and especially when I uplinked to the Network.
But that day was a few years away, by my reckoning. I wiggled my toes,enjoying the velvety feel of loam, moss, and short grass.
Birds leapt from the trees, startled. Instinctively, a shiver of ice went down my spine. Mama looked up; puzzled, worried, with protective emotive overtones. Though I was not yet old enough to fully tap into it, I knew that some portion of our systemic network had just gone offline. For me, it was loss of conversations I cared little about going perennially over my ten-year old head.
But for Mama, the silence must have been deafening. A sudden worry seized me, as I realized I could no longer feel Papa. My few online friends were nowhere to be found.
I looked at Mama, but she was no longer there. Mama's eidolon had already begun hardening in protective mode, spreading out to cocoon me for safe transport.
I was quite alone.
The flash was the last thing my eyes ever registered. Mama slithered soothingly over me, pliant yet rigid. Dimly, I felt heat upon my face; then the fiery winds and vegetation and other things pummelled and jarred me into merciful unconsciousness, while Mama's remains blew away as fine ash.
The world was a false-color display of fireworks and incredible energies.
No time for thought, barely any time for action:
A blast of static as the combat drone fired full-charge EMP. All our non-visual sensors went dead; a blackened soot of fog and barely-visible enemy units drifted slowly, unpowered and induction-fried, to the ground.
A swarm of synsects buzzed and dropped, speared on invisible lances of fire. The rounded prow of the burrower erupted in gouts of molten tungsten under the concussion of Corporal's heavy hellbore, spewing forth feral wall-crawling and hopping doglike shapes and flocks of deadly birds ....
A wave of lethal return fire, rolling waves of plasma and guided munitions. The waves swept over my team members not covered by the combat drones, battered through and over their active defense screens, fully one percent of the enemy guided munitions penetrating our point defense grid over the carcasses of falling synsects ....
Our volley of hellbore fire exploding the dog-drones in flays of armored carapace and weaponry, obliterating enemy ranks with deadly projectiles driven by subkiloton detonations ....
The agonizing pop of standoff shaped charges ripping into, and sometimes through, our armor. My legs spasm uncontrollably, numbness spread in its wake. Three of two dozen micromissiles penetrated my plasmatic screen and combat armor ....
Micromissile carriers popping rounds in long ripping impacts, mopping up enemy survivors ....
Seven precisely placed bolts annihilate the surviving enemy.
Two-tenths of a second has elapsed. There are five of us left: Heavy, Spec Three, Corporal, Medic Three, and myself. The rest of my team is either in hibernation or flat-out destroyed.
Leave that to the suits; the rest of us have a job to finish.
Medic Three administers sufficiently for us to function for the next hour. The backs of my legs are blackened, and I try to ignore the three sealed-over holes on the front of my armor.
The combat drone's induction engine has blown out, and the sides of the tunnel have melted onto it with the ferocity of fire it took. It stays to guard our brethren in Hold-Until-Relieved mode.
The front hemisphere of its monopolium armor has been scrubbed clean, and is radiating dangerously to sophonts desiring continued existence or procreation.
We limp past it, and into the blackened, melted tunnel beyond. Our hellbore cables scrabble, insectlike, over the remains, stretching far back to the static position of our immobile Powerdrone.
A draft of antiseptic air is now flowing past us. SpecThree moves first; I follow, Heavy behind me, then Medic, Corporal taking the rear.
I look back at Medic, she gives a quick shake and blink.
Past the wreckage of the enemies reserve military, the hundred ton magnetically-shielded, tungsten-faced diamondoid vault door has been blown completely off its hinges and back into the vault negligently, a child's physical puzzle that ought not to be solved when the nearest diameter of the vault door is much larger than its interior.
SpecThree sidles towards the corner, patiently waiting for me to catch up. My breath is loud and heavy in my deadened helmet.
We're poised at the entrance of our final objective. I don't need our dysfunctional network sensors to know my team's heart rates and adrenaline equivalents have just skyrocketed.
The five of us are about to take a room with floorspace measured in square kilometers.
But just one end. Our cables won't reach that far. I hope they will reach far enough.
Reserves should be here in twenty minutes.
SpecThree covers the nearest corner. I take the farthest. Heavy covers the central angles with his four self-aware arms. Corporal and Medic Three reverse, covering our left and right flanks.
We stare over kilometers of gleaming cylinders. Each encases a single sophont in hibernation, virtual reality and backup supply integral to the unit. Power hums softly in the vast, enclosed mausoleum of dreams. The air rushing into our little corner of vacuum is just a trickle from the vast sea of motionless, ageless inert gas.
We watch nervously for signs of the enemy. Medic Three cautiously extrudes a sensor tendril; her integral sensor and processor power far exceeds our remaining resources in our combat suits. I can't help dividing my attention between overwatch and a glance at her features, trying to discern her reaction.
Her faceplate is dialled transparent for better resolution; I watch the fine furrow between her brow, the slightest crinkle of her nose. Another part of me is aware that my sector of the room has exhibited no activity in the last tens of seconds, and still another part knows that my team is beginning to relax.
Heavy's four weapons never veer from their deceptively lazy orbits around distant aiming points.
Medic Three's eyes crinkle, her face lights up in a cautious smile.
"No contamination, Sarge."
A flood of relief, and vindication, floods us. We've gone through hell to get to this point.
"Alright, lets start on overwatch positions," I begin to signal/vocalize. "Heavy, you'll take the center, Spec Three, this entrance, I'll cover the far side. Corporal, get on the line with Spotter --"
Motion rivets our attention.
One of the capsules has begun revivification. Power drain increases and gelatin begins sluicing out onto the grated floor, into drainage below. The atmosphere balance has begun to restoration, and a localized field gradient around the capsules begins preferentially trapping oxygen.
"Sarge, the programming shouldn't ..."
"Let's not jump to conclusions. Stay sharp!"
The capsule nearest to us opens completely, and its occupant, a young woman, sits upright.
"Medic Three front and center, bring up the testing sequence."
We dial down our weapon energies and wait, hoping against hope.
The newly-reconstituted girl opens her eyes, confused. Her lips begin moving, she glances at us, unsure. Her eyes plead for understanding.
Other capsules are beginning the sequence.
MedicThree projects the test, an aural/visual hologram and soft datalink through the girls eyes, sped up tenfold.
The girl stands, captivated and confused. Her eyes waver, and she glances back at us.
"Sarge, she's broken contact ...."
"Initiate the next test."
A dart pierces her supple, lustrous skin. She looks at us, fearful and uncomprehending. MedicThree's expression is tense as she absorbs the data. She walks towards us, arms raised.
Medic's expression falters, horror slowly creeping into her eyes.
I glance away heartbroken.
"Please help me!" says the girl.
My team is frozen. A thousand like her are beginning to rise, a million more within minutes.
Tears flowing down my face, I blow her away into oblivion.
"NOOOOOOOO!!!!!" yells Corporal. He dives and tackles me to the ground. Our helmets are face to face.
"Their backups have been CORRUPTED!" I scream, enraged, conduction carrying my words to his shocked features. "WE WERE TOO LATE!"
All our sacrifice in vain ....
He looks at MedicThree, but she won't meet his burning eyes. Corporal crumples to the floor.
The dreamers of this world will never rise again. Only their bodies, last corrupted playthings of a malign entity, are left to pay the butcher's bill.
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