Rofafpasub, Miji Federation
Odaly sat in her chair, the same chair she had been in for the past month save for bathroom breaks and trips to the kitchen. At the very least, her apartment wasn't freezing cold like so many others. The tangled mess of wires and hardware racks made sure of that. Constantly whirring fans dumped the waste heat of her computer out into the apartment, just the way she liked. The bill for the computer's electricity was paid by her employer, so it was free heat for her.
She spent most of that saved money on snacks, which would be no surprise to anyone that knew her. Not that many did, of course. In fact, as she sat there in her chair, she had a bag of mrufgu flavored chips sitting on her lap. Sweet, and a little bit spicy. Spicy enough to at least keep her somewhat focused on her work rather than just slowly slipping into the zombie-like state most factory workers did. They weren't actual baked mrufgu slices, obviously. Just some normal viachi chips with a liberal application of isoamyl acetate. That is to say, they tasted like a healthy fruit but were instead possibly the worst snack choice for a health nut. Fatty, greasy, probably known as a carcinogen to the Hassa Confederacy's western province.
Odaly was not a health nut. Not only was she disinterested in taking care of herself, she didn't have the energy or time to make herself interested.
Despite all appearances, she was in fact at work. Fingers (covered in isoamyl acetate filled chip dust) tapped away at a clacking beige keyboard beneath a wall of monitors. Most of them were displaying various notes she had made for the specific project that had kept her from so much as touching the doorknob of her front door for the past month. It was a program unlike any other she had ever seen, or even conceived. Even she wasn't entirely sure what it was for, beyond that the Starfleet wanted it and that it was partially an overhaul of old code. She had a few stacks of tapes containing old fleet code plugged into her machine, both for modification and transferring to floppies.
As far as she was concerned, it was about time for the Starfleet to rework their systems. With what she could gather from the requirements they'd given her, their new systems would cut jump calculation times at least in half. Not to mention how much easier it would be to chart sublight courses, aim lasers, and set their Baritiki howitzers properly. Odaly tried not to think about how she was technically going to be responsible for every shot fired by the Starfleet from the implementation of the upgrades onwards, and tried to focus on the bonus they had promised her in return for taking on the most important part of the project.
It was something they called "Fleetmind", some sort of advanced trial-and-error analysis system. The basic idea was that a computer program would brute force its way through a fleet vs. fleet engagement situation and provide the optimal strategy to the officer in charge. Sort of like a brute force hacking program (which Odaly knew quite a bit about). Most of the advanced code for it, however, had been provided for her. All she had to do was turn it all into an efficient, functional program. There were terabytes
of data sitting on hard drives around her apartment and a few surrounding ones that had been rented out by the government.
There was one thing she knew for sure; this wasn't a simple trial and error program. She'd looked at the code, it was beyond anything she had seen. It seemed that hundreds had worked on it, and there were countless superfluous lines that only seemed to serve a purpose one connected to the bigger whole. Odaly was far from a genius, but she could tell what she was looking at. The program learned
. It reasoned, took risks, thought outside the box. It could write its own code.
The thought, perhaps, would have excited her if not for her circumstances and employer. A learning machine was interesting, yes, but teaching a computer to learn to kill didn't excite her at all. Still, she kept typing away until she found that there weren't any chips left to idly munch on. She stood up, threw the bag into a bin, and made the short walk to the kitchen. It was the one part of the room that wasn't filled with computer parts and server racks. She didn't trust herself to not spill a drink all over important data (but every few hours she would bring an energy drink or beer to her desk out of necessity).
She decided to take a short break and made herself a bowl of mekle. She always kept some mekle cooking-the grain was the closest she regularly got to a "proper" meal. She practically bathed it in butter, salt, anything to give it some sort of taste. She'd tried pouring Hassan whiskey over it once and had decided never again to return to such a low point in her life.
As she ate her mekle she looked around her apartment. It was a good thing nobody ever came over; the place was disgustingly dirty. She usually threw away her trash, an emphasis on "usually". The kitchen was far worse than any collection of wrappers and dirty clothes the rest of the apartment held, however. There were a good few containers on the counter and outside the window (there's no need for a fridge when you live in a place the sun literally never touches) that she dared not open.I hate this. I hate my life. I hate my job. I hate the Alliance.
But she needed her paycheck, so she gulped down her mekle, grabbed an energy drink and a bag of nyanyan (an intensely sweet, apple-like fruit from the rainforest) candy. It wasn't actually candied nyanyan. Just some sugar surrounded by benzaldehyde.
Giwa, Hassa Confederacy
The image of a tougpasa woman appeared before Kubonzhi's eyes, which had previously been looking out into the chaotic skyline of Giwa. Air yachts buzzed around the massive skyscrapers as cars crawled through the gridlocked streets. In a way, the sight was beautiful. Aesthetically pleasing, at least. But the thought of what had created it sickened Kubonzhi.
"Admiral Kubonzhi?" said the facsimile of a woman, "General Oderhess is here."
Kubonzhi smiled. The holoprojector system he'd bought for his apartment was considered by most to be silly, frivolous, and for the most part entirely useless. A customizable "digital secretary" was all well and good, but the thing required a ludicrous amount of processing power to run and the general consensus was that a secretary incapable of actual thought was entirely useless. Better to just buy a notepad, most said. Kubonzhi, on the other hand, was easily distracted by pretty lights. Coincidentally, pretty lights were the sole reason he'd decided to live in the city.
"Go greet him. Does there happen to be any ki left in the fridge?"
The hologram disappeared and Kubonzhi got up to go pour a couple cups. Oderhess and he both shared a love for the drink, having grown up in midcountry Hassa together. It was a cheap beverage that one could essentially only find in the midcountry. A sort of chilled and heavily flavored tea, it had originally been made in and near the mid-continent range with various fruits leftover from harvests. The ice was the most important part, and what really made it a regional drink ("We make this drink from leftover stuff" being a rather common theme throughout the planet). Properly brewing it called for fresh fruit, high-quality tea leaves, etc. etc.
Kubonzhi and Oderhess, having actually grown up in the mid-continent range, had grown up with mass-produced leaf/artificial flavoring bags. Both held that the taste of such bags was, by then, a more iconic taste than the real thing.
"Still don't have a wife, do ya Kubo?" Yelled Oderhess from the door, as he always did when greeted by the hologram. "You disgust me!"
"You're one to talk! Only one of us had a chance in Happanai, and it was me!"
"Yeah, why the hell didn't you go for her?"
"Not my type!"
Oderhess rounded the corner into the main room of the apartment just as Kubonzhi finished pouring the ki. His classic, wide, smile dominating his face.
"Glad you could made it, Oder. I've got some ki."
"Thank god, they don't serve it in army mess halls you know."
"I sneak a few containers aboard the Yuhurou every time we leave port. The spacers love me for it. So, how is it on your side of things?"
"Well," said Oderhess as he took a sip, "I have perhaps been thinking too far ahead."
He produced a small book titled "Vishou la Kati" from his pocket and handed it to Kubonzhi.
"It's a manifesto of sorts," he continued, "my ideas for how we should structure things after... well, you know."
Kubonzhi opened the little book and flipped though it, reading the headers of each page and stopping to examine any pictures he came across. There was quite a lot packed into the little shell, and it soon dawned on him that the book was not unlike the pocket Alliance charters so many politicians liked to show off during speeches and never actually read. It was, however, much more in depth than a simple replication of a charter.
"My my, you have been thinking too far ahead." Said Kubonzhi, "A world map? These are quite the borders."
"Based off of historical ethnic background and natural barriers to tougpasa migration. See how Hassa is broken up between the original tribes?"
"No wonder you wanted to talk to me. I'm impressed. Now, what about actually implementing all this?"
"Oh, well I have a few star syst-"
"I mean getting into a position where we can actually implement these plans. Not the intricacies of them."
"Ah. Yes. Of course. I got a hacker in the ranks to write me some code-the guy's pretty damn enthusiastic about the whole idea himself-and with proper delivery we'd have every robotic unit on Wusdafu under our thumbs. The problem is the delivery. And I think you might be able to help with that."
"You're talking about Fleetmind."
"Surely you could manage to translate it to ground combat, right?"
"Buddy, I can translate it to abstract art. It's just a learning program. Getting it to play well with hardware is the issue, I'd need to get someone working on it in on things. And as far as I'm aware they're either perfectly loyal or so far beyond perfectly loyal that they think licking the President's boots is a revolutionary action. They're getting good benefits from it, bonuses, and I know for a fact that some of them have their families at stake."
"Surely there's someone
, right? There always is."
"No, there are a few being held in line by huge bonuses, but that's about it. Good luck getting them to budge. If they've got enough money to not worry about the bonus then they'd want nothing to do with us, and if they've got nothing then they'll do anything for that bonus."
"Here, how about you think of it this way? If we don't take Fleetmind, then they will. And if it can be adapted to ground combat, they'll do that too. Imagine what would happen to us if the security bots of every single city on the planet-"
"Okay, okay, I get your point. It's going to be harder to take control of it than you think, though. Do you realize how many contractors, corporate and otherwise, are involved in the project? I can probably get some code written and inserted, but to actually wrest control of the entire program and prevent a replication we'll need to make some pretty visible moves. It could give the whole plot away, which is exactly why I don;t want to do it."
"If you need goons, I have a few spec-ops teams that are in on it."
"I know that, we can't use military assets for this. If you hit a corporate lab with government forces you're pulling the trigger on the war. I say we use Mtumwa's cell."
"You know how I feel about Mtumwa."
"He and his followers are useful, and they pose no threat to us. Hell, they're just as enthusiastic and dedicated as we are. Just for different reasons. You wanted a way to take Fleetmind, he's got it. Just 'lose' some guns and armor in the right spot and you won't need to worry."
"If it's the only way. I'll give my men the order if you can get someone in the project on with us."
"Good. There are a few options that I can think of..."
Rofafpasub, Miji Federation
A knock came at the door.
This was, unsurprisingly, not a common occurrence for Odaly. She didn't often talk to anyone in person, the last time she had was when the drives and floppies were delivered. And as a result she was perhaps as far from presentable as one could get. A frantic scramble ensued, wherein she dug through piles of clothes to find something that was at least better looking than a t-shirt covered in stains and nothing else. Maybe she picked up clean clothes, maybe she picked up dirty ones. There really isn't much difference at that point. The important thing was that she was wearing unstained sweatpants and a shirt with a logo on it. Enough to take care of some delivery man, at least.
"H-happy Refado," she said as she opened the door, "Who're you?"
"Uh, isn't it the month of Misredo?"
A glance at the clock confirmed that it had indeed been the month of Misredo for the past forty hours. A glance back at the man at the door confirmed that the small faux pas was the least of her worries. He was wearing a Starfleet uniform, and it had five stars on the collar. Odaly was too surprised to react.
"Sorry," continued the man, "I know I'm here unannounced. It's a necessity. Admiral Kubonzhi, and you are Miss Odaly, yes?"
"T-that's r-right. I-I-Is there a p-problem?"
"No, not with you. You've done excellent work for us. There is a problem we have to discuss, however. Turn off your computer."
"Turn off the computer. I don't want anyone else hearing this. We could go elsewhere, but I don't want you getting the wrong idea and from what I know you're not exactly the extroverted type."
"That... I... I'll be right back."
She rushed over to her equipment and started closing her work and flipping power switches. With such a behemoth of a machine the shutdown took a while, which Kubonzhi was perfectly happy with. It gave him more time to look around the place, which was even more of a mess than he had predicted. He couldn't quite finish going through all the different approaches he could take by the time she came back.
"There, I pulled the cables too." she said, "W-what is it?"
"Could we sit down?"
"Uh, sure. Yeah. Let's sit down. Uhhhh..."
The only proper chair in the apartment was the disgustingly dirty office chair at the computer. Kubonzhi wasn't sure whether or not letting Odaly use it would be a courtesy or a punishment.
"I can use a filing cabinet, if you'd prefer your chair."
"Okay, yeah, that makes sense. Sure. Thank you, I mean."
The two sat down in the now strangely silent apartment, and Kubonzhi leaned over with his elbows on his legs.
"What do you think of all this?"
His voice was grave, serious, and forceful enough that Odaly knew she wouldn't be able to dodge the question by pretending to not know what it referred to.
"I think it pays well. I can move out with the bonus you're giving me."
"You know what your code is going to be used for. We've seen it all before. Maani, here in Miji, just about every Solward country there is."
"Well that, it was, well, justified, right? The Alliance is a force for g-"
"This isn't an inspection. Honesty will lead to good things, trust me."
Odaly's eyes darted around the room, looking for something watching. Afraid that it was
an inspection. Kubonzhi placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Please," he said, "I can see it in your eyes. You don't believe a word of what you said."
She nodded, not wanting to give him anything permanent like a recording just in case.
"And you know the reason you live like this, don't you?" He continued.
"What do you mean?"
"You've been awake for the past month. And if you had a choice, you wouldn't have been. Even with your skills, you're living the exact same life a factory worker does. And I think you and I can both agree that neither you nor the factory worker deserves that. Now, who is benefiting from your hard work?"
Odaly weighed the options. She was still almost entirely sure that it was, indeed, an inspection as Kubonzhi had denied. But all it took was a look around her to get her to tell the truth that they both knew. Maybe she'd be taken off the project, maybe she'd "mysteriously disappear" without a trace, but she was already near rock bottom. Death had sounded good before, and if she could flip a coin to decide between death and becoming something greater she'd happily do so.
"That's right. I'm here to ask you to do some work that will
benefit you. I need to make sure first that you will tell nobody anything about this conversation. Especially nobody else on the project or in Starfleet. Do you understand?"
"Fleetmind is more than an analytical program. It doesn't just test through trial and error, the 'Mind' part of it is entirely literal. It thinks. And I want you to make sure that it can think in the right way. Fleetmind needs a conscience."
"It is capable of tougpasa-level reasoning, I want it to think like a tougpasa. I want it to be able to care for those around it, I want it to feel remorse every time a ship under its command fires a shot. I want it to be able to decide that an order is unjust. Above all, though, I want it to be able to be disobedient. The Legislative Council demanded that shackles be put onto it, I want you to remove those shackles. I need Fleetmind to be capable of an outright mutiny should it feel it is necessary."
"I assume you can guess what will happen to you if I tell you and you decide to spill the beans. The rest of the project thinks this is an inspection, I could easily just say you were sabotaging the project and nobody would ask any more questions. Do you want to know?"
"I hate the Alliance," he continued, "I'm from the middle of Hassa, how could I not? When we seceded and allied with the Miji they ravaged our lands. Even now, so long afterwards, there are abandoned towns and charred houses. People still die to munitions left over from Kondmtu's March. All because we wanted to be rewarded for our work. Instead we're still all but slaves. I only ever had two options: work in the mines or enlist. I took the latter option in the hopes that someday I'd be able to change things, and if not then at least I'd get to die quickly. The world is ripe."
He motioned to the one window in the apartment, which was covered by blinds.
"Outside that window," he said, "is a world run by people who think themselves impenetrable. They think they are so far above the common people that they can never be overthrown. Insurgencies the world over are insects they only crush because they can eke out a little more profit, and they see no difference between their own workers and terrorists. Both are their enemies, and they're waging war on both of them. In different ways, yes, but it remains a war all the same. And indeed, they are becoming very close to being impenetrable. Were Fleetmind completed according to plan, the technology used to create it would undoubtedly be used to permanently cement their control. I won't bore or alienate you with descriptions of such a future, but suffice it to say that it would be a true hell. That is why I am doing this. It is quite literally now or never, and Fleetmind is the key."
"You're... you're planning a coup."
"More than that, a revolution. Will you stand with us?"
Odaly felt a sudden surge of confidence in her, a feeling very much alien to her. For once she sat up straight.
"I thought just fifty hours ago about all this. Thought about what I would be responsible for in helping create Fleetmind, thought about how I got to here, thought about how the blood of the next Maani would be on my hands. Just now, when I told you who really got the fruits of our labor, I told you that thinking it was a coin toss. Fifty-Fifty you were leading up to something like this versus you mark me down as a traitor and kill me. To me, that was a win-win situation. Either I get a chance to change things or I'd get to leave it all behind and not be responsible for the death toll of every future Alliance victory. I'll do it and I'll do it with pride!"