Thursday, July 10, 2014

Deep-Time: Burdens of the Patriarch

Deep-Time is a world created by myself and David Stewart. A Science fiction in which the people are harshly governed by the laws of relativity. The galaxy is split up between two groups of people the Clans and the Planetsiders. 
The Clans travel deep into unexplored portions of the galaxy at near light speed slowing time aboard the ships relative to the people planet side. They set quantum entangled particles (QEPs) to create gateways, allowing planet side ships to travel instantaneously from gate to gate.
While the clans travel at near light speed, the planet side folk live their lives as normally as we might today. The planet may go through generations, hundreds of years, between the time they're seeded from a clan ship and the next time they see the same ship; for the clan ship, however, only a few weeks have passed.
In this story Moses, an Earthling Clan Macbeth rescued from the shattered remnants of Earth, tries to decipher Malcolm Macbeth's motivations as he and his son, Anders, argue over which planet will be the recipient of newest QEP gate. 
You can read the introduction to Deep-Time on David's blog, here. I hope you enjoy this story as much as I enjoyed writing it. As always, thank you so much for reading.

“Everett-VI is the best candidate for the newest jump seed, Malcolm.” Anders was saying but Malcolm Macbeth paid him no mind as he continued to watch over the engineers hard at work keeping the Icarus’s engines at optimal performance. As always, since his rescue from Earth – the Human race’s ancestral home, Moses remained at Macbeth’s side as the silver-haired man always had something up his sleeve. Yes, it was always a lesson and though it irked him, Moses knew that if it hadn’t been for Macbeth’s clan rescuing him from orbit around the planet he would not only be dead, but oblivious to what that fate entailed.

“We’ve been at sixty-eight percent light speed for nearly a month, Malcolm. Any feud between you and Conner is well past turned to ash. It’s been generations.” Anders went on.

It was an ever mind bending shock to Moses to think that though he was just shy of middle aged in his thirty-eighth year, this entire crew had lived for hundreds of years. Well, hundreds of planet-side years. As they traveled closer to the speed of light, time slowed for them. It was seen to some as a curse; traveling into deep space to plant the quantum entangled particle that would allow human civilization to expand - to travel without the boundaries of relativity – to the outer reaches of the galaxy, only to return months later to find everyone you knew dead, but the great, great grandchildren dead as well.

“Conner had a small mind,” Macbeth said after a time.

“Yes, and you’ve won,” Anders said mockingly, “Can’t you at least give his kin, our kin, a chance at something greater? A chance to expand Clan Macbeth into the furthest depths of deep space?”

Macbeth snorted. He was the image of composed confidence but not so long ago, he would smolder at the mere mention of Conner’s name. Moses had been around the man long enough to see the iron grip Macbeth had over his composure, it showed no sign of slipping now.

“We’ll be in the Everett system in less than forty-five minutes,” Anders said. “I would stop so that we at least consider the option, given what cultural advances they’re sure to have developed.”

“There’ll be none, boy.” Macbeth said. His tone wasn’t mocking, it had a hint of… pity.

Anders only heard it through the bitterness in his voice, matched by what he imagined was there in the older man. “He was the greatest engineer that had ever been aboard the Icarus, aboard the entire fleet maybe! Maybe he doesn’t have thousands of lifetimes to complete his work, but surely he bore a strong seed in Everett-VI. The planet is sure to be ripe with innovation. You’ll see. I’ll hail you when we arrive.” He turned then on the iron catwalk above the mass of engineers working on the engine below, boots clapping on the metallic surface as he made for the central lift to take him back to the bridge.

“Anders,” Macbeth called.

The younger man stopped, turning his head over his shoulder. The barest recognition that the older man, the Patriarch of Clan Macbeth had addressed him.

“Stop at the outer ring. We’ll see what they’ve done, lad, but I don’t want to trigger a religious event if we decide to move on.” Macbeth said.

Anders took a deep breath, nodded, then continued on toward the lift. He was gone a moment later. The two men were left alone on the catwalk with the thrum of the engine room.

“That seemed… cruel,” Moses said.

Macbeth let out a deep sigh, still watching the men work below. “Cruel. Yes, I suppose it could be seen that way.”

“You know that Conner was his best friend, right?”

Macbeth turned to him; his eyes were a deep emerald green. His severe gaze finally forced Moses to look away. It had been close to a year now – ship time – that Moses had been on board but still he was as a child to the rest of the crew. “What do you remember of your life before we found you, Moses?” he asked.

He paused at the odd change in topic, considering. “Images. Places mostly. The Omni-Core sent instructions directly into our implants,” he said. He moved his hand instinctively to a round scar just behind his right eye. “I didn’t really have much I needed to remember. I did what I had to do, and was told how to do it.”

“So you’ve said before,” Macbeth replied. “Did you ever have children?”

Children were always fuzzy to Moses. There were imprints of sharp images torn from his mind. “I believe so. I lived with a pair of children. We were attached in some way. I recall panic at the thought of harm coming to them. Could they have been mine?”

Macbeth let out a soft chuckle, “I suppose they could have been, at that. What would have hurt them back on Earth?”

The image tugged in Moses’s mind. A white sheet with blue, yellow and brown on it. A drawing. A… bird. “Creativity,” he said finally. “The Omni-Core strove for conformity.” He had taken the drawing and hidden it away. Afraid someone would find it and take the little one away from him.

“And what would you say is the opposite of conformity, Moses?” Macbeth said.

After a moment of thought he replied, “Autonomy. How you and your clan are showing me to live, Malcolm.”

He turned on his boot heels and strode toward the central lift then. Moses follow behind.

“An excellent answer, Moses. But are we showing you to be autonomous?”

“Well yes. If you recall, my first night aboard the Icarus I couldn’t handle a broom,” Moses said.

Macbeth stopped then, in front of the lift. “Yet you follow in my footsteps.”

“Well, you instructed me to when we first—”

Macbeth faced him then, “Am I your new Omni-Core, Moses?”

“I should hope not, Malcolm.”

“Do you see where I’m going with this?”

“Not at all.”

Macbeth turned and entered the lift as it opened before them. Moses hurried along after him. The two faced the doorway, Macbeth’s steely composure quieting the small room as he stood at parade rest. Moses twitched nervously as the lift shifted into motion.

“We’ll be approaching the Everett system in twenty ship minutes,” a voice over the com announced.

“What does it mean to be human?” he asked.

Moses thought for a moment before answering, “To struggle.”

A smile cracked Macbeth’s lips. “And why is it we struggle?”

“To understand. To know. To… be.”

“All of these things, Moses, cannot exist if we were fully autonomous. Humanity needs itself to survive. It’s why the clans came into existence in the first place,” Macbeth said. “To be in deep space, we need family. With family, we struggle to find our place. Our usefulness.”

“That often troubles me, Malcolm. If that’s true, why have you kept me aboard?”

“That’s a question for another time, Moses. Suffice it to say, your usefulness is constantly appealing to me.” The doors opened and the two men continued down a long corridor. The rough metal paneling on the walls of the upper decks of the ship hadn’t changed since the ship was originally constructed – according to some of the older crew members, Macbeth had a nostalgic streak and the aesthetics of the upper decks were a way of keeping him focused on his goal.

“To work together, to have community, we cannot be completely autonomous. There is a level of conformity among us. An agreement, shall we say, to work together toward the achievement of a greater goal.” Macbeth said.

“So it is, in fact, conformity that you’re showing me?” Moses asked.

“Don’t be absurd,” Macbeth replied. “If everyone knew how to manage the helm, and no one knew how to maintain the engines, how would we achieve anything? Our dream of deep-space travel would never have begun. No, Anders is a great helmsman and Timothy’s ability to adapt our engines to the newest advances from our planet-side colonies is unmatched. In these things, our autonomy is priceless.”

Moses considered this as the entered the bridge. The room spilled out from the door in a deep, downward sloping room. Descending the ramp, they passed console stations; navigation, communications, weapons. Their occupants busy at work.  Anders was below at the helm.

“Status?” Macbeth asked.

“We’ve slowed to main thrusters. The anti-matter engines have disengaged,”  Anders said. “We’ll be within scanner range shortly.”

Moses followed Anders’ intense focus. He was obviously a skilled pilot. He’d taken the Icarus out of plenty of dangerous situations with little damage done to the ship. It was plain to see what Macbeth was talking about in Anders’ ability. His skill was second to none in the Macbeth Clan.

“We should be within scanner range,” Anders said.

“I’m picking up some serious tech readings, Macbeth,” the woman behind them said. Moses still had problems with his short-term memory, so he hadn’t gotten a grasp on everyone’s name. He had begun to get the sense he should feel embarrassed, after all he had spent a year with these people.

Anders flashed a satisfied grin at Macbeth. “Whatever Conner’s done, His people will be out colonizing half the quadrant for Clan Macbeth.”

“Can you give us a visual, Vanessa?” Macbeth asked.

The woman nodded, dragging the image from her small monitor up to the grand viewing screen at the front of the room. The image of a gas giant sprung into view, blocking the light of a small yellow star. The Icarus slowly passed its horizon to reveal the small, terrestrial planet in the inner reaches of the solar system.

Anders gasped at the sight.

“All stop.” Macbeth said.

Anders stared at the planet, not reacting to Macbeth’s command.

“It’s reached singularity, Anders. Stop the ship. Now.”

Anders shook himself from the shock, first stopping their forward momentum then engaging the grav-anchor. He stood up, tears heavy in his eyes as he approached Macbeth. “You did this!” he shouted. “How bad was he that you could go so far as to annihilate an entire faction of our clan to settle your petty grudge?”

Macbeth stood still, his eyes never left the view screen.

Moses looked up at the planet. A swirl of satellites obscured the surface. He was grateful; somehow, he had avoided remembering the beauty of this planet. Somehow, he would be able to sleep tonight not knowing the full reason behind Anders’ anger.  

Anders brushed past Macbeth then, ignoring the cries of the rest of the crew. He needed time to grieve. In light of what was their most promising achievement this year, he needed his time to grieve.

“Jon,” Macbeth said. “Can you take us out of the system on your own?”

“Sure thing, Macbeth.” He said.

“Set a course for the Monarch system. They’ll be receiving the QEP seed to our newest gateway.” Macbeth said. With that, he strode out of the room, back toward the upper deck corridor. Moses watched in silence. Jon took the helm and guided them out of the solar system.

“Moses?”

He shook his head waking from his stupor. Jon was looking at him expectantly.

“He’s not answering the com. Could you go find him?”

He looked around, seeing it was just the three of them on the bridge.

“Sure,” he said and walked toward the  corridor. He passed the woman again. Vanessa . I’ll remember this time.

When he exited the bridge, Macbeth was nowhere in sight. Moses knew where he was, however.

Short term memory was a tricky thing. If he didn’t repeat an action, a name, a place over and over again, he couldn’t remember it. He knew Macbeth and his immediate family because of his consistent proximity to them. He knew Conner because frankly, he had been one of the few friends Moses had made outside of Macbeth’s immediate family. He had been so wrapped up in the confusion of the planet, with the anger evident in Anders’ face, he hadn’t noticed the slow swelling of anger in his own chest. He knew where Macbeth was because that’s where he always went to cool his head.

He ran then, down the corridor, heedless of the protocols he was breaking. He veered right, past the observation crews pouring over scanning data. He turned again, and again heedless of the personnel he pushed out of the way. Finally he stopped a lone door at the end of the maze.

The door to the nose of the ship opened and Macbeth stood at the tip of a catwalk surrounded by wide open space all around, the stars alight on all sides. Moses took a hesitant step out. The vastness of space always made him motion sick so he stopped only a few paces in. “Why?” he asked.

“Are we automatons, Moses?” he asked, his back turned facing the depths of space.

“He was Anders’ best friend! Your son’s best friend, Macbeth! Why is Anders so upset? What happened to that planet?” Moses cried.

Macbeth turned then, his shoulders slumped. “The planet achieved singularity,” he said. “Do you remember Earth when we found you?”

“You know I don’t.”

“But you remember the scars that occurred afterwards.”

Moses turned away at that. He always felt a shiver of shame at his scars. None of the other clan-men had them, he wasn’t even certain why he did.

“When a planet achieves singularity we must abandon it and all the people on it. An AI has taken a leadership role: delegating tasks, placing people best suited for each other together. Sound familiar?”

Moses nodded, “The Omni-Core.”

“What happened to Earth happened to Everett-VI,” Macbeth went on. “The ‘Omni-Core’ drafts any network capable device into its community and begins delegating tasks to it. The cybernetic implants you had when we found you gave the Omni-Core complete control over you. If we got any closer, we would be put our entire fleet at risk.” Macbeth turned back to the vast space before the nose of the ship.

Moses overcame the motion sickness and approached Macbeth on the catwalk. “Why did you leave Conner planet-side?”

“Hubris,” he replied.

Moses stood shoulder to shoulder with him now, confusion writ in his eyes, “Hubris?”

“I am a prideful man, Moses. Anyone in this fleet can attest to that. When two prideful men stand toe-to-toe, people are liable to get hurt.” Macbeth explained.

Moses was thoughtful for a moment. He realized, like Macbeth, he too was granted a sort of calm from gazing out into the vastness of the stars.

“So, Conner was too autonomous?” he asked. “And you needed him to conform, so that he could be part of the community.”

Macbeth grunted. “You’re learning.” He said. “Life is ever a struggle for balance. We cannot be too dependent or too autonomous. In the end, we rely on each other to strike a balance and find our place.”

“But Conner didn’t find his place,” Moses countered. “You gave him an ultimatum.”

“A choice, Moses. I gave him a choice. To follow the lead of his Patriarch, or see how he did on his own.”

“So you knew if he was in charge, our best computer engineer, the entire civilization he built would fall into singularity?” Moses asked, aghast.

“There is always free will, Moses. It is the board on which we strive for balance.”

“That doesn’t seem like much of an answer for a man of such self-acclaimed hubris.”

“Of course I knew, Moses!” He shouted. “He was my clan mate since he was born. Everyone in my crew has ties to me, and I them. If it hadn’t been Everett-VI it would have been this entire damn fleet. Now you tell me, does arrogance negate self-preservation?”

Moses watched Macbeth as the fire twinkled in his eyes from burning rage down to glowing embers of regret. Macbeth turned back to the stars, hiding the weight on his heart.

“Was there no other option?” Moses asked.

“There was always another option. Conner had but choose to make those decisions.” With that, Macbeth fell silent.

The two stood out at the tip of the cat walk, watching the stars and the swirl of solar systems for a time.

“Free will is like a board,” Moses said. “But you have to balance with everyone else around you.”

“Aye,” Macbeth said.

“And if you’re not careful your weight can topple the board over, along with everyone on it.”

Macbeth nodded and turned from the beauty of the cosmos to Moses, “Aye, lad. And in your innocence you find understanding; in your understanding I hope you can understand your worth to me.”

With that Macbeth turned from the stars and strode back onto into the bowels of the ship, leaving Moses to ponder the weight of that responsibility.