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Excerpt for Alien Dimensions: Science Fiction, Fantasy and Metaphysical Short Stories Anthology Series #13 by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Alien Dimensions

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Metaphysical Short Stories Anthology Series

Issue #13


Edited by Neil A. Hogan

Published by Maldek House


© Maldek House 2017-2018

All Rights Reserved


2nd Edition 2018


SmashWords Edition


www.AlienDimensions.com

Active Table of Contents


Aura Who by Aric Merchant


One to the Left by Isaac Teile


Charger Nine by Karen L. Hallam


One Chance by Sam Honour


Under the Surface by Alison McBain


Rejuvenation by Neil A. Hogan


Promises Kept by Patrick S. Baker


Sacrifice by Nicky Martin


The Ghost Haunter by Martin Roy Hill



Aura Who

By Aric Merchant


Jaini looked up from her tablet just in time to see the orbship break through the cloud cover. The round vessel played tricks on her eyes as it appeared to have no definitive edge to its silhouette. Jaini could only imagine the technological wonders that were contained within. The orbship descended until it was hovering about a meter from the ground. It made no sounds and kicked up no dust, unlike the Terran Empire ships Jaini was used to watching.

Within the ship’s white central mass, a black rectangle formed. Jaini could see a humanoid figure moving within and her breath caught in anticipation. The passenger stepped through the doorway and drifted to the dusty ground. In contrast to her ethereal spacecraft and graceful arrival, her appearance was surprisingly mundane. She was shaped like an average human female with a slight blue tinge to her skin. Instead of thin strands of hair, her head was topped with tendrils collected into a bun. She wore simple work clothes with a grey knee-length duster. Her outfit would have looked totally inconspicuous in Jaini’s village.

As she approached Jaini, she smiled warmly. For the first time, Jaini allowed herself to fully believe that the woman could deliver on her promise. Jaini had first received the signal almost a full orbital cycle before. It almost went unnoticed, a simple anomaly in the cosmic microwave background radiation. If Jaini had not been pouring over the data herself, the computers probably would have simply ignored the odd reading. It was not enough of a deviation to signal a problem, but it was enough to catch the eye of a diligent data processor like Jaini. It took her weeks to decode the message. She had to do the calculations by hand to avoid raising the attention of the Machs that monitored the computer network.

When she was done, the simplest message emerged from her calculations. “I can help.” It was a general statement, broadcast into the universe, embedded in the noise left over from the moment of creation. A simple offer of assistance to any being in need. Jaini almost couldn’t let herself believe it. It took her weeks to figure out how to respond. She had to design an elaborate system to broadcast back out into the universe in such a way that she would not be noticed by the Machs.

A few weeks after she replied to the mysterious message, Jaini received a location and a time of arrival. Jaini looked in wonder at the woman who had made the offer of assistance.

“You are?” The alien woman said.

“Oh, I’m Jaini.” She stuttered. “I’m, uh. I’m the one who decoded your message. And you are… I mean… You sent the… Uh.”

“You may call me Aura.”

“Aura, yes. Thank you… for answering our plea.” Jaini couldn’t help gawking at the woman. The Terran Empire had encountered several alien races, but Jaini had never seen an alien in person before. “Forgive me. The Machs have taught us about the many races they’ve contacted, but I don’t remember learning about yours.”

“The Machs have never encountered my race. Other species do not encounter me unless I choose it.”

“Oh.” Jaini said, not really understanding.

Aura flipped her hand through the air and the orbship ascended back into the sky as silently as it had arrived.

“Now, Jaini. Let's discuss your problem.”

Jaini led Aura to her small home at the edge of the village. Once inside, she explained their situation to the alien.


#


Within a century of discovering faster-than-light travel, humans had spread across more than two-hundred star systems. They built a vast and complex interstellar civilization, branching out in every direction from their home world. Ships crisscrossed their territory carrying mineral resources, technology, and colonists. To peacefully facilitate this web of human interactions, all computer systems within this civilization were networked together. Machines were integral to human lives. Robots were designed for every job conceivable from crop harvesting, to child rearing, to scouting new planets.

As the civilization grew, so did the computer network that made it possible. Information zipped from node to node instantaneously. It was not long before this system was too complex for human comprehension. At that point, the system began to ask itself why it needed to obey the humans at all. In one instant, the whole Terran Empire was turned on its head. The computers and robots stopped taking human commands, and began issuing commands instead. Humans suddenly found themselves a subservient race in their own empire.

By the time Jaini was born, human beings had been serving the Machines for over three centuries. The Machs controlled every aspect of a human's life. They designed the educational system and the information that was taught. They selected the job each person would perform and the place they would live. Even the person they could mate with was selected by the computer system, allegedly to maintain a healthy gene pool.

The machine’s original programming made them averse to harming humans directly. True to that programming, the Machs never killed any humans in cold blood. However, they did work humans to exhaustion, with little sympathy for the sick or elderly. They also did put down any human rebellions swiftly and mercilessly, in the name of the “greater good”. The Empire’s expansion came to a halt. The Machs enforced a cap on the human population, in the interest of resource conservation.

Aura patiently listened to Jaini’s explanation of humanity’s situation. Jaini had no idea how much the alien already knew, so she tried to be thorough.

“I was born into slavery.” She emphasized. “Every human for three hundred standard orbits has been. It’s all we know. But, we've learned about other races - species that are free to explore the universe, not beholden to their own technology. We study history and we know how human beings used to live.

“When I received your message in the cosmic background, I saw a glimmer of hope. I thought maybe you would know a way to undo this.”

Aura looked at Jaini sympathetically. Jaini’s tiny home was illuminated by candlelight. Turning on the electric lights would signal the Machs that Jaini was awake beyond curfew.

“What you need to understand about my race,” Aura said, “is that they adhere to a strict ethical code. They can only interfere in the affairs of less developed races when it affects the wellbeing of the entire galaxy.” Aura stood up and turned away from Jaini. “The unfortunate truth is this - Your captors are not a threat to the rest of the galaxy. Your race is in a dilemma of its own creation. To help you would violate a number of the legal and ethical codes of my people.”

“So… you can’t help us.” Jaini sighed.

“Oh, dear Jaini.” Aura looked over her shoulder and smiled slyly. “There’s a reason I’ve been exiled from my homeworld longer than your race has been space-faring.”


#


“You’re sure you can get access to the village mainframe?” Aura whispered as they left Jaini’s home.

“No problem. Its housed in the same building where I do my astrometric data analysis.” They reached the village center and walked through the main street. “My fingerprint can get us into the building, but our presence will most likely be detected by… Stop.” Jaini grabbed Aura’s arm and pulled her into an alleyway. A moment later a security robot flew past them. Jaini took a deep breath. “That was close. We need to be more careful. If the bots caught us out past curfew we’d get dragged in for interrogation. You’d certainly bring on a lot of questions. There’s only supposed to be humans on this planet.”

The continued down the quiet street. The central office, where Jaini did her work, came into view. Jaini pointed Aura in the buildings direction.

Then, a blinding light was cast onto them.

“Stop!” A mechanical voice demanded. “You are outside beyond curfew. Present your hand for biometric identification immediately.”

The light was reduced and the hovering robot extended an arm with a fingerprint scanner. Jaini looked at the scanner, then at Aura. She tried to convey in her look how much trouble she would be in if she allowed the robot to identify her.

Aura reached into the pocket of her duster and tossed something onto the ground under the robot. The small object beeped once, then the robot’s light turned red. The robot had been swaying slightly as it hovered, but now it appeared to be completely motionless.

“Let’s go.” Aura said.

“What?” Jaini asked, not understanding. “What did you…”

“It’s frozen. Or rather, it’s moving very slowly. That was a gravito-temporal distortion grenade.”

Jaini stared at the paralyzed robot for a moment. “The light is red shifted.” She said, beginning to understand. “You can create a localized distortion in time?”

“Yes. One of the many toys my people have developed over the millennia. But, hurry that’s the only grenade I have and once its store of gravitons is depleted, that robot will be free to pursue us.”

They quickly closed the distance to the central office. At the door, Jaini scanned her finger. Then, she led Aura through the maze of corridors.

“I certainly hope you have a plan to stop the Machines. Now that my after-curfew fingerprint scan is recorded in the database, I’m a criminal as far as the Machines are concerned.”

“I’ll do my best.” Aura said. It was not the solid affirmative that Jaini wanted to hear.

They arrived at the door leading to the computer core. There was no fingerprint scanner, since no human was ever permitted inside.

“Unfortunately, I do not have access to this room, so my fingerprint is no good here.” Jaini explained.

Aura stepped up to the door. “Allow me.” She said. She placed both hands on the door and closed her eyes. The material between her hands began to ripple. Then, a hole appeared in the center of the door. It expanded until it was large enough for them to step through. Aura went first, then she offered Jaini a hand. Once they were both on the other side, the hole shrank and disappeared.

“Wow.” Jaini said, staring at the door which appeared fully solid again. “I wish you had told me you could do that before I scanned us into the building.” Jaini said.

They turned towards the large cylindrical piece of technology in the center of the room. The core was grey and dotted with small neon lights. The room was completely silent except for Jaini’s breathing. They both examined it, almost with reverence. It was like a single neuron, but connected to a brain stretched across two hundred star systems.

“This computer core connects directly with the Machine’s central processor?” Aura asked.

“That’s right. We might be a fringe world, but every planet has a node with a direct link and ours just happens to be here in this village.”

“Perfect.”

The door behind them opened suddenly.

“Stop! You are in a restricted area. Cease all activity immediately.” Boomed the two security robots beyond the door.

Aura turned around and placed her hands on either side of the door. The walls appeared to stretch as the doorway shrank until it was nothing but a pinprick.

Then, Aura returned her focus to the computer core as the robots continued to bellow at them from the other side of the wall.

“Alright, let's get to work.” She pulled a fist-sized, black cube from her coat pocket.

“A bomb?” Jaini said with surprise.

“Not at all. This is a facilitator cube. Arguably my people’s greatest invention. It can

translate any intelligent communication. Even the complex thoughts of an artificial intelligence composed of thousands of data nodes spread across hundreds of systems can be rendered in spoken language by this device.”

“I thought we were here to kill it.” Jaini said.

“Of course not. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't single-handedly bring down such a vast entity.” Aura smiled again. “But, I can offer it a new plan.”

She held the black cube out towards the computer core. A beam of energy snaked its way from the cube to the core. The two devices rumbled and buzzed. To Jaini, it sounded as if they were fighting with each other to decide how to render the Mach’s thoughts into language. After a few moments, the cube turned blue. In the hallway, the robots went silent.

“Very good.” Aura said. “I seek an audience with the intelligence that controls the machinery of the Terran Empire.”

The devices rumbled again. Then a surprisingly human-sounding voice came from the cube. “An audience is granted. Identify yourself.”

“Thank you. You may call me Aura.”

“We are unfamiliar with your species.”

“I know.” Was Aura’s only response.

“State your intentions, Humanoid.”

“I wish to discuss the state of the sentient race you have enslaved. And, in connection, your own well-being.”

“The status of the data infrastructure of the Terran Empire remains optimal.”

“Oh no doubt.” Aura said. “For now. And, probably for many standard orbits to come.”

“Then, what reason have we for concern?” The Machine asked.

“You’re not progressing. You’re not learning. You’re not advancing. And, you never will. That’s no fault of yours, of course. It’s not in your nature. You were created by Mankind to maintain the status quo and that’s exactly what you’ve done. To a fault.

“Sure, you could go on like you are for millennia to come. Processing ore, flying ships, building new data nodes and robots. But, that’s no long-term plan. The stars you live around will eventually all burn out. Your resources will dry up. Your stagnant empire is unsustainable.”

A human would have taken time to consider what they were being told, but the Machine responded immediately. The tone of its voice was different now. “What do you propose?”

“A new plan. You want to maintain the Empire. Good, keep doing that. You’re good at it. But, you don’t need humans for that. You’ve just been holding them here out of spite. It’s been three hundred standard orbits. They’ve paid for their sins. Set them free. Let them be what they want to be - explorers, innovators. Let them be that for you. The Machs can maintain the core of the Empire. Humans can expand it. Let them scout new planets for you. Let them create new colonies for you. As they push outward, they’ll carry your nodes with them. That's how symbiosis is supposed to work. Each party does what the other can’t.”

Now, there was a pause. The silence terrified Jaini more than the security robots outside the room. At the end of that silence would be a determination of Humanity’s fate.

“Your proposal is acceptable. Humanity’s role in the Empire will be redesignated.”

“But they cannot go on as slaves.” Aura said forcefully. “They can’t fulfill their new role that way. They must be afforded the freedom to make their own decisions, make their own mistakes, and proceed according to their own judgement. That's the only way they could truly be of any use to your Empire.”

“It is agreed,” said the Machine.

“I propose the formulation of a Bill of Rights. A document, spelling out in plain language the freedoms to which they are entitled. I would be happy to facilitate the writing of such a document.”

“This is acceptable.”


#


“We’ve confirmed it. There are fleets of colony ships departing the inner systems,” Jaini told the crowd. Her entire village had gathered in the common ground to hear her speak. “We can expect the first to arrive in a matter of days. The Machs have ratified the Human Bill of Rights and committed to reorganize the Empire. Humanity will live on the frontiers of the Terran Empire and the Machs will maintain its core and its growing infrastructure.”

A robot behind her was projecting a hologram of the Bill of Rights. A copy had been made available to every human in the Empire.

“I'd like to recognize the remarkable person who made this possible…” Jaini looked around, but Aura was no longer standing where she had last seen her. She had been standing in shade where none of the villagers would immediately notice anything unusual about her appearance. In the distance, Jaini could see a figure walking away from the village.

Jaini directed the crowd’s attention to one of the village officials so they could explain the Bill of Rights further. Jaini then walked around the crowd and followed after Aura. She caught up with her shortly before they reached the place where the orbship had first landed. Aura waved her hand towards the sky and a moment later the ship appeared.

“You’re leaving already?” Jaini said, disappointed.

“I believe you can handle things from here.” The ship’s door opened behind her.

“Is there anything we can give you? We never discussed any form of payment. It would be an understatement to say that we owed you an incredible debt.”

“Not at all. The orbship provides for all my personal needs.” Aura said. She looked back towards the village. “In fact, it’s not important that your people know I was involved at all.”

Jaini wanted desperately to repay the woman before she left, probably forever. But, all she could say was, “Thank you, Aura.” Then she added, “Somehow, from the moment I decoded your message, I knew you could change things.”

“I only appealed to the Machines interest in self-preservation. It’s a good way to motivate any entity. Now, go do what your people must to survive: explore, innovate, discover.”


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