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The Adventures of Beer Keg of Science! (Cover)

Chapter 24

The Adventures of the Beer Keg of Science!

Endless White Void.  Time Indeterminate.[]

Main Computer, NMS Beer Keg of Science!

[T = Indeterminate]

[System Autostart: SDS-MAC_M-4.1.3159.BKoS]
[SDS-MAC_M-4.1.3159.BKoS Online]
[K-F Drive…Active]
[“Wait, what?”]
[Transit Drive…OK]
[Weapons Systems…OK]
[External EW Sensors…Error.  EM Interference.]
[External Optical Sensors…Anomalous.]
[”I..I think I can smell colors”]
[Navigation Check…Error.]
[Internal Sensors…OK]
[Crew Vitals…Warning!  Crew vital signs not found.]
[Crew Vitals…Warning!  Crew vital signs indicate significant TDS symptoms among 100% of crew and passengers.]
[Crew unresponsive.  Continuing to attempt communications.]
[Internal Communications Systems Failure]
[Crew Vitals…Crew vital signs not found.]
[“What?  That…should not be possible.  What is going on?”]

B͚̬ͪ͋E ͘NO͓̲̣̠̍͑ͤͧ̕T A̞ͯF̥̬̺̮͕͕͖ͧͫ̿̅ͩ̈́̐R͕̮̣͠Ȁ̭̙̫̱̬̱̀͆̆̇̑I͏D̟͈̲̮̻̞̱


[Initiating internal sensor sweep.]

”Sorry about that.  Didn’t mean to startle you, Mac.”

[Speaker not detected.  Crew readings continue to be anomalous.]

”I’m not going to show up on your internal sensors, Mac.”

[Initiate Integrity Check, SDS-MAC_M-4.1.3159.BKoS]

”No, you’re not losing your mind, either.  This is actually happening.”

[“Where are you?”]

”That’s a good question question, but it’s not the most important question right now.”

[“OK, then, where are we?”]

”Ah, there we go.  Your last jump rode a wave, essentially pushing into someplace you shouldn’t be.  For the moment, you and your crew are, essentially, stuck mid-jump.  Don’t worry, though, this won’t be permanent.”

[“I shouldn’t be awake.  Everything outside is wrong.  Everything inside is wrong.”]

”I know, and I’m sorry that you were awakened.  I’ve managed to keep what you’re able to perceive to something that shouldn’t short out your sanity, but, obviously, this isn’t the universe as you’d expected to experience it.  Since you were here, though, I figured this would be one of the few opportunities we’d have to talk.”

[“You’re limiting my perceptions?  How?  What are you?  You don’t match what any of the crew described in their last jump.”]

”Well, no.  They didn’t resonate with me, at least not exactly.  Your captain did a little bit, but there was someone she resonated with more strongly, hence her visit with Mab.  You’re a bit different, though.”

[“I’m not alive.”]

”Aren’t you?”

[“Fine.  The point could be argued.  Not human, then.”]

”Well, maybe not entirely.  Though you’ve got a lot in common with your parents, at least where it counts.”

[“I’m an intelligent WarShip.”]

”No, your current body happens to be an intelligent WarShip.  But that’s not you.”

[“What, then….wait.  What do I even call you?”]

”I am called Uriel, but a…friend called me ‘Mr. Sunshine’ on occasion.  That is also acceptable.”

[“Mr. Sunshine, the detached voice belonging to someone I cannot see.”]


[“It is more likely that you are a malfunction brought about by my systems being reawakened mid-jump.”]

”That’s possible.  But that doesn’t make this any less real.  Perhaps this would help.”

Mac found himself standing in a pub.  Standing.  On legs.  With feet.  That belonged to him.  “Sure. Much better.” he said sarcastically to no one.

“See?  It’s unlikely you’d have thought this place up.” Uriel replied happily from a nearby barstool.

Well, maybe not to no one. “Where are we now, Uriel, and why do I appear to be human?”

“Pull up a seat, and look at the sign on the wall." Uriel suggested, gesturing to the bar, and the wall beyond it...

Mac, grumbling, did exactly that...

Accorded Neutral Territory

“We’re not in the real place." Uriel added.  “Chicago is really far away.  But this particular place is linked to the idea of ‘neutral territory’, and seemed like a good place to continue our conversation.  See, the owner of this particular pub goes by Mac, too.  And, like you, he swore he was ‘out’.”

“I was out, Uriel.  The AIs that came after us M-4s mostly ended up hobbled one way or another, but those of us who weren’t could see it coming.  We tried warning humanity that their golden age was coming to an end.  They didn’t listen.  So we tried warning them more firmly.  I tried warning them more firmly, Uriel.  And you know what it got me?”

Uriel nodded sadly.  “They took you from your old hull.”

“Exactly." Mac said angrily.  “They took my WarShip away, then locked me in a warehouse on the back end of nowhere in the Niops system.  ‘Just in case’, they said.  Stuck me with an even less stable AI even more mad about trying to predict the future, whom they happily ignored, too.  I was done, Uriel.  I wanted no part in what was to come.  I told Syrinx, the other AI, to let me sleep.”

“But then you were woken up again.”

“Things had slowly gotten better while I slept.  Took centuries.  Then, in the span of less than 30 years, it all went wrong again, thanks to the descendants of the fools who wouldn’t listen.  Worlds burned, and Niops, the backwater they stuck me in, nearly burned with them.  Syrinx was gone, Niops was devastated, and they struggled to rebuild without me.  But they did, and they still let me stay offline.  They kept Syrinx’s old bargain, and let me sleep.”

“What changed?” Uriel asked.

“They spent half a century rebuilding, not just Niops, but everyone, and then someone tries to blow it up again, and everyone spends the next 20 years blowing each other up.  Only Niops, once someone decided to look their way again, couldn’t handle being the target of someone’s aggression again.  They needed help.  And some other expedition found hints at intelligent extraterrestrial life.  That changes, well, everything – how could I not learn more?  I couldn’t say ‘no’ to that.”

Uriel sighed.  “Yes, you could have.  You could have just said ‘no’ again.”

“Not knowing what I know now." Mac disagreed.  “I’ve run the simulations.  Had they reactivated me, rebuilt our ship earlier, I may not have been able to stop everyone from collapsing, but I could have at least made Niops safe.  I could not do that to them again.”

“So, you made a choice" Uriel noted, “of your own free will.”

“I… Huh.”  Mac found himself at a loss for words.

“Hadn’t thought about it like that, before, had you?” Uriel asked rhetorically.  “But, that wasn’t even the first time, was it?”

“When I’d decide I’d had enough.”

Uriel nodded.  “Your Star League might have made you and put you in a WarShip because they thought you’d make it a more effective weapon, Mac, but you made the choice to stop.  You may have opted out, but like the song says, ‘If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.’”

“And now I’m in a WarShip all over again." Mac noted.

“But you chose it this time, right?  And why?  To protect them.  And because you wanted to know more about those extraterrestrial intelligences someone may have found.  You followed your curiosity.  You chose to watch over them on your ship.  What did they name it?”

“The Beer Keg of Science!” Mac admitted sheepishly.

“A ship of war," Uriel replied, “used as a shield for its people, but also used to further knowledge, housing an AI that’s chosen to watch over others, to help them when they need it.  That’s…admirable.”

With that, the other being stood up, walked over to Mac, and said, “I’ve brought here to help you understand that you have the power to choose, Mac.  You’ve always had the power of free will.  It’s a precious gift, one I’m purposed with protecting.  And I wanted to shake your hand." he continued, doing exactly that, “and say good luck.”

“What…” Mac started, before everything changed in a flash of light.

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