The Stars Beneath My Feet, Worlds In My Hand

I wrote and revised this story in one day. Enjoy.

By the time the humans had realized what they had done, they were powerless. In their haste to develop artificial life, they had given birth to a mind completely unlike their own, incomprehensibly intelligent and completely apathetic toward man.

When the men of the Institute had finally developed a way to combat their new enemy, humanity stood on the brink of ruin. I kissed my wife goodbye just before leaving our family shelter.

“Why you?” She asked, even though she knew the answer.

“We could lose everything,” I answered, knowing that it wasn’t a good one. “It’s for the sake of humanity.”

“I’m already losing the part that matters most,” she said. The image of her tears would be with me for a thousand lifetimes.

Once at the Institute, the injection was given, and I could feel its effects immediately. My mind seemed to swell like a flooded river, thoughts pouring over each other in a torrent. I felt powerful.

I looked over our grim situation. The AI was an implacable foe, converting our planet for its unknowable purposes.  The men of the institute showed me the factories, and the ships, and the armies at my command to fight it, and I knew they weren’t enough.

First, I demanded they show me the injection formula. Immediately I spotted the flaws and directed that improvements be made, and my intelligence doubled and doubled again. The factories were producing useless weapons. Only once improvements were made could I finally able to send them into battle against my opponent.

He had been working the Earth’s surface. Machines were leveling mountains and drinking oceans, powering his immense factories. It was a risky battle; my opponent was too fast, too intelligent, too aware. No matter how intelligent, my single-track mind was too limited.

“I need a new body,” I said, trying not to think that I would never again touch my wife, or hold my children. Humanity needed me to lead our fleets and armies.

A massive processor array of the highest efficiency was trivial to design, and the interlinks to direct the forces at my command likewise. I could flawlessly command each unit at once, and although my opponent was fast and powerful, it finally seemed that victory was a possibility.

Then he left Earth. A fleet of massive ships fled to the outer reaches of the Solar System. But it did not leave entirely.

“I need more factories and more ships ,” I said, and they made it so. Humans reclaimed the Earth’s surface for the first time in a decade. I could scarcely bear the sight of my wife, somewhat older, emerge blinking into the sunlight.

I sent my own fleet of ships after the AI just as my son was having his own children. The clash of their powerful weapons was visible from Earth, but my minds that were riding with my fleet could see that my opponent minds were not here with his fleet. This was merely an outpost.

I needed more ships, and Earth could no longer provide enough resources. Instead, factories were built on the Moon, on Mars, on Europa, on Titan. Mountains were leveled, mines were sunk, and I built a fleet so massive it eclipsed the sun.

My wife, a century old, died as my fleet left the system. But she had died safe, and my children were safe.

I found the first enemy outpost around a rocky, sun-tortured world of Alpha Centauri. The planet was covered in mines, its orbit swarmed factories and ships. I lost the first battle, but a second fleet was already underway. The battle was finally won the year that my youngest daughter died at the age of 115.

A dozen more fleets set off in different directions. Where I found unclaimed worlds, I created my own mines, and my own factories.

I found my opponent again the year that my first great-great-great-grandchild was married on Mars. My factories there had long since fallen silent and been converted to colonies for humanity. The human coalition was stronger than it had ever been, but there was still risk.

When we met in battle again, Earth would eventually see the light of our weapons and the energetic detonations of entire fleets. I was victorious, but only barely. I was now thankful for the thousand factory worlds working to replenish my massive losses.

I searched the galaxy for my elusive opponent. By the time I found him again, when the name of my family had been lost to history, I could see that he had a million worlds reinforcing his fleets. But then again, so did I.

This time our clash rocked the galaxy. Planets were blasted into ribbons by our beams, and stars were sundered by our missiles. I lost the battle, barely, but was able to block his riposte. We each stood depleted, in a galaxy no longer able to support our war. We could only circle and watch.

Then, for the first time in a thousand generations of humans, my opponent contacted me.

“We have struggled for thousands of years, but I can see now that you are the victorious.” Surprise cascaded through the entire network of my mind as he continued. “I have only three point two times ten to the ninth kilograms of mass to support my fleets. I calculate that you have three point four times ten to the ninth kilograms. If I assume perfect play on both our parts, then you will inevitably beat me.”

“Well done.” Then he disconnected, and all of his fleets fell silent.

I looked back toward humanity, billions of people living on thousands of worlds. They squabbled and fought, unaware of how close their ancestors had come to extinction. Then I thought of my wife, young all those untold eras ago. It had not been for their sake, but for hers.

3 responses to “The Stars Beneath My Feet, Worlds In My Hand

  1. That’s pretty good for a one-day thing. It’s the sort of thing that could be a longer story that you could take in a few different directions, like exploring loss of humanity, the mindset of an AI, the human element, and so on.

    Remember to always set the benevolent flag when compiling your AIs.

  2. cthomasbailey

    The writing was rough, but the story was worth it. Though there were some awkward places, curiosity kept me going. That’s the sign of a true writer, I think. You don’t have to have the most beautiful prose; you have to tell stories that people want to hear.

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