There was a knock at the door.
A tall Dharan woman strode into the room. The room itself was incredibly low-rent for a Dharan residence, being a bare, off-white plaster room which was somehow peeling, a sight never seen by a typical citizen of the Republic.
“Pitaqa, what are you doing in this shithole?”
The man lounging on the sofa was not impressed by the question. He sat up slowly and looked to her.
“I’ll live in any shithole I like, thanks.”
“Fair enough if it’s choice, but seriously, this place is a dive. The whole fucking region. Where are we?”
“About a thousand parsecs off the galactic south of Andromeda, slightly down.”
“You’re kidding. There has to be a better place than here.”
“Well, Veneza, you find it. I’m staying here.”
He got up from the sofa and walked over to the largest of the room’s three windows, which resembled a non-opening patio door. Outside a rolling mist appear to shroud a valley, and below was what appeared to be a humble shanty town, but of course, Veneza and Pitaqa knew that almost none of the figures living down there were Dharans, and non-sentient AI were hardly likely to be even slightly concerned about their surroundings.
He nodded. “Not all of us want everything civilisation has to offer. I don’t know why no-one else sees, Veneza. We’re the society that has to have everything all of the time, the people that need to become gods. I sense a Babel moment coming. Complacency is rife, and hubris is everywhere. I feel like I’m the only sane man, the only one who knows that we must remind ourselves of where we came from.”
Veneza nodded sarcastically as she joined him by the window. “You the only sane man, and everyone else is hubris-ridden. Well good luck with that.”
The wallscreen, an old relic from the Third Iteration, flashed up a news logo. Pitaqa didn’t move, didn’t even turn his head, even as Veneza was startled.
“This is RTTN, and your scheduled news has brought up one more item inside your search parameters…”
Those parameters, Pitaqa alone knew, were for the Qareen Confederacy, their starship – or “Astrostate”, as they insisted – Damocles, and the Shango Federation for good measure. They were wide parameters, for sure, particularly given that NGC4038/9 was not exactly a quiet galaxy, but centuries of pruning away at what constituted a relevant story meant that the AI almost always had the game sussed by now.
“Latest coming in from way out in the Antennae, there are suggestions of a rising Dharan breakaway group with the recent hacking of a Qareen ship, the Damocles, by an independent ship that was not on galactic patrol. They are also the prime suspects in a case regarding the General Designated Ship 504937, a small government vessel which was found to be swarming with picobots upon a temporary stop in Hotel 599 in the same galaxy. The picobots were successfully removed by the singularity transition, but already an inquiry is underway as to their nature and origin.”
“You see what I mean?” Pitaqa said, but the slightly ajar door and the memory of a soft “I’m off, bye” (and maybe a murmured sentence before that, but it might have been imagined and listening to the neural playback suggested something ambiguous that wasn’t audible) suggested that she had left.
The news item continued for perhaps a minute more, detailing background information that he by and large knew – the AI hadn’t quite managed to pick that out – but he stored it anyway, and let the images fade back into the wall again. He stood there for some time afterwards, perhaps some ten minutes or more, sensing the mist thicken and thin, making the day brighter and darker as it blotted out the light source. It took some time for him to eventually decide that he was going out, and even more time to wrench his feet from where they were rooted by habit and autosuggestion.
By the time Pitaqa moved from the window, a spot of rain had hit it, and by the time he had taken the lift down to the Hotel tower’s ground floor the rain had turned into a fine drizzle charging downwards through the mist. He sighed at the sight of it outside the reception windows, but of course, the journey time, either to the bottom of the tower or to wherever he was going, could not be shaved of time through teleportation – where he was had no reference points, and so he would most likely have wound up back where he was.
So he grabbed a coat, one that he thought of as his, even if it he didn’t exactly own it, and headed out into the rain. He decided he was going to get a ship, move on to somewhere else, and he insisted to himself that this had nothing to do with Venaza’s visit.
He moved through the crowd, a throng which felt eerie in their apparently Dharan nature. Was it knowing that they weren’t? Or knowing their functions; that some of them were there to maintain the Hotel, or even just to be decorative, and avoid a blank environment? Or maybe it was a case of knowing all of that and having his eyes open to what he believed to be the excesses and the madness of the Current Iteration.
He managed to slowly make his way down a muddied dirt avenue filled with hissing corrugated iron and flimsy fabric doors that stopped, seemingly arbitrarily, an apparent hundred metres or so away from the tower, and then turned left, right, another right, another left and found himself down on the apparent seafront.
This Hotel, in thudding literal fashion, lined up every spaceship that visited at the docks on the edge of an apparently vast ocean. What Pitaqa hoped for was that amongst the ships, identified by wooden signs in front of each of them, there would be a private one that the military had not commandeered.
He found himself wandering along the docks for some time, struggling to find one amongst the military, the general-purpose Republic-owned ships, and the empty spaces. Finally he found one – the Undesignated 103977 Origin Andromeda. Local-built and independent? He decided that he would gladly take it, and he did.
It turned out to be quite obvious as to why this one had been left behind, where all others had been taken. This ship was clearly old – probably around the Twenty-Second Iteration, if his intuition was correct (and it was hard for it not to be). The ship was certainly in good condition – it had most likely been locked up inside a Globekeeper at some point during its life – but it was old, and on the whole, that made it unfavourable to people if there wasn’t a newer version available.
Of course, there was very little about the Undesignated 103977 that was actually technically inferior. It was most likely capable of around 95% of Modern Iteration speed, but it could still be controlled like an M.I. ship, either with a lone person on board or a lone person externally programming co-ordinates. It was perfectly fine. It’d do. And what was wrong with that?
He thought about inviting Venaza, but decided to check the Hotel log and found that she had left already, with her stated co-ordinates suggesting her direction as towards M80.
Well fuck that.
He started up the ship and pointed the way out, which was not so much an up, down, left or right so much as a repositioning; an act of leaving without there necessarily being a transition. What was true to him about it would not have been so to any outside observer, at any rate, but the important thing was that he emerged from the Hotel where he said he was, able to see in front of him the sprawl of the Andromeda galaxy.
He had still left without a plan, though, but he had a vague inkling; either he would follow up the last news item he heard, or the one before that. The one before had been, admittedly, a piece of Republic propaganda about the Mall Expo on the outer reaches of the Republic, but it was roughly in the same place.
If he couldn’t make a decision about where to go, though, he would have to leave it up to chance.
“Ship, can I get a disc shaped forcefield, independent, around 3cm in diameter, no edge, with a differing design on each side.”
A blue-tinted circle appeared on the bridge table. He picked it up and looked at both sides, and found the blue tint shifting to green as he turned it around. OK, he thought: green for the galaxy, blue for the Expo. He flipped it, watched the circle’s tenuous mass turn over and over, alternating blue and green, and then land back down on the table, blue side up. Decision made, he got the ship to disassemble it again.
Expo first, then.