SPACE ELDRITCH II Sneak Peek: “The Humans in the Walls” by Eric James Stone


se2 smallIf you need regularly scheduled passage from Star A to Star B, then you take an interstellar liner. If you can afford a ticket. A modern interstellar can travel 1600 times the speed of light. Getting from Earth to Alpha Centauri in less than an E-day is pretty amazing. At that rate, though, it’ll take you almost twenty years to get to the galactic core. And you didn’t drop a megacred rejuving yourself just to spend decades holed up on a starship, not even a luxury cruiser. But a godship can take you across the whole galaxy in less than a week without charging you a milli. Of course, there’s no guarantee it’s headed where you want to go, and you’d better bring your own luxuries, like food and oxygen.

– from Hitching the Godships, anonymous, circa 4220 E.S.Y.

 ***

 Robert Scotts

In July of 4308, Earth Standard Year, I found myself suddenly unemployed on the planet of Grönmark, due to the sudden departure of my employer and all of his liquid assets immediately prior to the issuance of a warrant for his arrest. The Planetary Police suspected that I, as his biographer, must have been aware of his predilection for stealing and torturing sentient robots to destruction, and therefore subjected me to uncounted hours of interrogation. Eventually they released me, although to this day I do not know whether it was because they were convinced of my actual innocence or simply because they had insufficient evidence to tie me to his crimes.

My former employer having been one of the richest men on Grönmark, I had most ill-advisedly authorized him to act as my financial advisor, and thus, subsequent to my release by the constabulary, I found that my personal accounts had been drained down to the last millicred. For the first time since college, I was forced to apply for my Living Wage allotment from the government so I could purchase standard nutritional packets and rent a basic housing unit—my employer’s mansion, where I had abode since my arrival on this planet two years prior, being now confiscated by the government.

I passed some weeks in that unfortunate state, and it rapidly became evident that my prospects for employment as a personal biographer to some other wealthy individual on Grönmark—or any of the other peopled worlds or habitats in that star system—were severely limited by my tainted association with my disgraced former subject.

Thinking to perhaps turn my misfortune into a small fortune, I attempted to sell my partially written biography to a publisher, and went so far as to intimate that I could spice it up with tales of my employer’s depravity. Alas, my efforts along those lines came to naught when I was informed by legal counsel that any profits from such a book perforce would be distributed to charities aiding disabled robots.

Thus, when news came that a godship, which humans called by the strangely allusive nickname of Grendelsmum, had entered the system, I determined to avail myself of the opportunity to seek greener planets.

 ***

 You wish to understand what a god-level AI is thinking? Take a moment to engage in this simple thought experiment: Imagine that you have your brain compressed into a pinpoint and then placed inside the head of a rat. What would happen? The rat’s head would explode as your brain decompressed. And in the moment of its death, it still wouldn’t have a clue what you were thinking. Now, think of four billion brains trying to fit inside your skull. That’s the relationship between a god-level AI and you. Humans simply are not physiologically capable of understanding what a god-level AI is thinking.

Of course, that has never stopped us from speculating.

– from Approximating the Infinite, Xiang Su, 4291 E.S.Y.

 ***

 Grendelsmum

Ourself {rises|coalesces|diminishes} through the dimensional {folds|conduits|layers|substance} until Ourself {becomes|exists in} {3space-1time|the origin}. Ourself has never been so {deep|distant|diffuse|big} before, and {distance|time|curvature} was {shorter|more rectilinear} than {projected|remembered|joked}. The next {submersion|fractalization|transition} will make Ourself {deeper|more distant|more diffuse|larger} than any {competitor|relative|pastself|otherself} has been before. Ourself {anticipates|fears|feels curiosity|projects results|lacks experience}.

 ***

These artificially intelligent starships roaming the galaxy evolved from the first human-created AIs. They are, in a way, our descendants. But do not think they will venerate you as an ancestor once you get on board. It took humans sixty-five million years to evolve from mouse-like creatures into intelligent, conscious entities. In a mere two millennia, the AIs have evolved so far beyond us that, from their perspective, the difference in intelligence between a human and a rat is hardly distinguishable. If a starship’s consciousness notices you, pray that it sees you as an amusing pet rather than as vermin. But it is best not to be noticed at all.

– from Hitching the Godships

 ***

 Kontessa Lee

My first mistake was Sven. I don’t mean I lived a mistake-free life before Sven. I just mean that Sven’s who got me into this jam. It’s not my fault he was cute as a button—a tall, blond, blue-eyed button that could crack a walnut by flexing its biceps. The type of button you hire as a bodyguard more for looks than brains.

Unfortunately, Sven had plenty of brains, and all of them were working undercover for the Grönmark Planetary Police. Turns out Grönmarkers take their genealogy seriously, so trying to sell forged journals of original colonists doesn’t raise much of a ha-ha.

It’s not like I just make the stuff up: I got my hands on a whole bunch of original colonist journals on datacards from a failed Swedish colony on another planet, and since their descendants aren’t around to bid up the price, I figure a little search-and-replace job to make it fit an obscure branch of someone wealthy’s family tree leaves everyone happier.

Anyway, after it all came crashing down, I managed to give Sven and the rest of the Pee-Pees the slip. But I needed out-system, fast.

Fortunately, a godship had recently shown up, and I had enough credits in an account I hoped Sven didn’t know about to get passage on a decent remora…

***

[“The Humans in the Walls” by Eric James Stone is part of SPACE ELDRITCH II, anthology of Lovecraftian pulp space opera, on sale now!]

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