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USD: Around the same time that SMS Grazhdanin left for 90 Pegasi

Location: 92 Pegasi, Tears of Fire, rendezvous with A3123Y wharf

 

Alex stared out the observation deck’s window as Nameless slowly guided the Tears into position for the automated mooring system to dock the ship to A3123Y’s orbital. That orbital had grown from a simple shell to a multi-ringed orbital that would be the same size as Ackman Station in another month.

Thousands of drone units patrolled the area, carrying out their tasks. Larger human operated mining ships waited in a queue to be unloaded, and an automated repair dock took care of ships that needed patching up on their way out after unloading their hauls.

A second orbital, the black cylinder she had noticed on the way in, was the manufactory that she had bargained with Portmaster Whitely for. It had turned out Wyles Hammock of MilTech Arms had come through for her: he had convinced Portmaster Whitely to allow A3123Y to take care of the operation without her personal supervision.

The fact that the fledgling subcore had hired human employees—Amy and Logan—had made a big difference. Putting a human face on things had made it a bit easier for the Portmaster to swallow. While ‘FedTech’ AI wasn’t something that was unknown, it wasn’t really present in the sector.

The current technology levels post-collapse meant that a sapient AI required massive buildings dedicated to the task. The nanite computronics modules that they were using could fit in a small module slot on the ship or station. Thankfully, this had not been noticed or commented on. Alex hoped it stayed that way.

Even without the issue of ‘nanite’ technology hanging over them there had still been several incidents where bad actors had tried to break into the station, but between the IHMC frigate that she had hired to patrol the area, and the station's own automated defenses, the small-scale attempt at theft or espionage had been dealt with via extreme ventilation.

That was just the reality of the frontier. Thankfully, it hadn’t scared off the customers.

That might have had something to do with her new Mining Operations Director. After having read the reports, Alex had been impressed. Amy and her brother had convinced a large portion of the independent miners to try A3123Y’s services.

Which couldn’t be beat. So they had kept coming back. Which drew more and more customers. Now most of the independent mining traffic preferred the A3123Y orbital over Ackman Station. Which had produced the ongoing traffic between the stations as A3123Y serviced Ackman Station’s production needs.

Normally those minerals would be shipped out bi-annually in massive ore barges for processing in a distant industrial system. Alex hoped they wouldn’t be furious with her start-up company’s sudden acquisition of all those resources.

As she had examined the station’s accounting records, the reason she had only been getting negative balance updates had become clear. Rather than accepting payment for the materials sold, A3123Y had directed Amy to only accept certain resources and items as payment.

Specifically, rare materials that were harder to acquire in the Ackman system. That had enabled the subcore to rapidly build out its capacity. It had hurt their bank balance by the tune of nearly 150 million, but Alex wasn’t worried about that.

Between the rapid delivery fee and their mercenary contract, they still had half a billion credits. They weren’t worth as much in her mind when they were nearly self-sufficient.

The manufactory was already hard at work producing two new freighters that A3123Y had designed. They were multi-purpose in that they were a mix of FedTech and expediency. Rather than having an expensive double hull, they would have a single hull with a single layer of heavy plating.

A Bi-phase Linear Drive would make them faster than most warships of similar size while saving them anti-matter costs that an enhanced drive would have needed. They also carried an impressive weapon loadout for a non-military ship with four bow mounted missile tubes, two railguns, twelve lasers, and twenty-four PDC-Ks.

They would never be warships, as a massive amount of space was taken up by their cargo systems and they lacked the heavily redundant systems a military vessel needed to survive combat.

They each had two main holds that could be pressurized, but the big development was the radial attachment systems.

They were part of a new system that would allow the ships to take and deliver their cargo via the detachable containers. The downside was that the containers weren’t cheap. At least the pressurized ones. They had to have their own life-support and energy systems.

However, for bulk goods like ore, there was no need for that, and they could simply use a steel shell with a simplified A-Grav system to keep the ore in place inside it once it was loaded.

The glaring issue to Alex, though, was that no one else used the system yet. That meant it wouldn’t actually save time with operations unless it became popular. Although, at the rate of progress they were making, she figured it would catch on quickly. Even if they had to encourage that by selling the containers at a discount and offering to make the modifications needed for existing ships to use them for free.

A warm feeling settled over Alex. This was exactly what she had wanted to do. Building new things, improving the lives of the people in the system, and making progress towards… well, she wasn’t sure what their ultimate goal was, but this was definitely the correct direction!

Being a ‘mercenary’ had left a sickening, haunting feeling wrapped around her. Worse, she’d have to continue to deal with the fallout from Dedia IV for a long time.

The Tears finally killed its relative velocity to the station, and an automated tube extended from the mooring arm to the ship, matching the Shrike’s original docking collar perfectly. Alex realized the space had been specifically crafted with the corvette in mind.

“Thanks, A3123Y.”

|Thanks! are always nice|

|Although complete understanding|

|Might be lacking|

 


USD: A few hours later

Location: 92 Pegasi, A3123Y Orbital, Command Center Module, Meeting Room

 

Alex was late for the meeting, but only because she had been inspecting A3123Y’s massive food processing facility. She’d been mesmerized by a massive aquaponics bay that had thousands of little fishies swimming inside of it. Apparently, they were very productive and able to be converted into tasty proteins.

There had also been a garden to explore, but the meeting was important. It was the first time that everyone except H-3233L would meet in person. Or well, as close to as in person that A3123Y and Nameless could get.

Alex had already thought of how the AIs could be represented, with a nice little holo display of a floating ship and station to put on the table.

The main concourse of the station was clean and polished, but Alex noticed the differences between Ackman and Nucrateri station and A3123Y’s immediately. It was empty. The signs of human habitation were missing, and while there were rooms and buildings along the way, they were mostly empty.

A few had boxes or supplies stuffed in them, but that did little to break the stark, bare metal aesthetic. White and blue lighting clearly lit everything to drive the difference home.

The entire corridor was flanked on the outer edge by a massive window that helped form the torus. A clear view of the sun and the nearby asteroid greeted her as she continued toward the meeting area.

Several cargo bots drove back and forth, carrying heavy loads on their backs. That was the most activity she had seen so far. She felt a slight pang of loneliness. She knew the cargo bots weren’t exactly alive, although bots with personality matrix upgrades like Beeper and Booper blurred the lines heavily.

Alex wondered how long until the orbital would possess a real population. One thing was for sure, before they could consider that, they would have to examine and prepare proper security measures to keep the station and everyone safe. She didn’t want a mess like Ackman Station, where bad operators and kidnappings could happen.

That security could bring problems of its own if the inhabitants didn’t like to be constantly under the eye of a sentient AI.

Pausing at the door to the room where they were gathering, Alex let out a sigh. Those were troubles to consider later. She needed to focus on the meeting and greeting her first employees.

Of course, everyone was already there when she arrived.

Elis, Amy, and Logan were already seated and chatting. Alex felt her cheeks burn when they all stopped to stare at her.

“Uhm. Sorry, I got busy over in Aquaponics. A-3123-Y was showing me the food systems.”

As Alex approached, Amy stood up and shook her hand.

“Nice to meet you, Ms. Alex. My brother and I are happy to finally meet you. We look forward to working with you.”

The words were all correct. The sentiment was probably perfect for a new employee meeting with their first CEO. Alex had to give the girl credit. She was trying very hard to fill her new job requirements.

Except it all felt so very wrong.

Alex scrunched up her face. “That sounds terrible. Ms. Alex? Urgh.”

Amy hesitated. “Umm, your file didn’t have a last name listed. Would you rather be called Captain instead…?”

“No, not really. Maybe in public. How old do you think I am?”

Amy looked Alex over, seriously considering the question before answering. “Seventeen? Eighteen? I wouldn’t say much older.”

Alex nodded. “You’re older than me, so it feels weird for you to call me that. Just call me Alex like Elis does.”

A conflicted look filled Amy’s face. “But...”

“No buts. If you didn’t notice, this isn’t a typical corporation. Heck, we don’t even have a crew for any of the ships.”

A bit of surprise appeared on Amy’s face, but she tried to hide it. Curiosity filled her question, though. “But how do you run the ship then?”

“Well, the ship probably is less complex than the asteroid base, but it also has someone for you to meet. Nameless?”

[Notice: Starship operations are no less complex and share considerable overlap with orbital station operations. If Avatar is attempting to diminish this unit’s capacities, it is making faulty calculations.]

Logan spoke up, “Woah. There is another one? Cool! How many AIs do we have!”

Alex smiled and scratched the back of her head. “Umm, three?”

Amy had a question, “Avatar?”

Realizing that line of questioning was in the wrong direction for how much exactly she wanted to share with them still, Alex hedged her words. “Oh, yeah. That’s what it calls me since its sort of keyed to me. So, it can’t ever be hacked or anything.”

“Woaah. That’s some seriously rad security! I imagine there are a lot of people who’d like to steal the AIs, though, so it’s probably a good idea.”

Amy gave her brother a ‘chill out’ look and returned to her seat.

Elis brought them all back to the reason they had gathered. “We have a lot to discuss. Maybe we should get started?”

Pulling out her chair, Alex scanned the faces looking back at her.

“First, welcome to Starlight Revolution, Amy, Logan. You’re our first two employees. A3123Y vetted you, and I don’t plan to question that. But I would like to be careful about who we recruit in the future because there will probably—definitely be those who want to take advantage of some of the unique resources we have.”

“That said, we’ll likely have to expand our criteria quickly since the scale of our operations is likely to balloon in the future. As much as I know that Nameless, A3123Y, and H-3233L can handle a lot on their own, limiting ourselves to just AI is not something I want to do.”

“Why not? They seem to be super smart, and you don’t have to pay them? Seems like adding human employees has a lot more drawbacks.”

Logan seemed to realize the sentiment wasn’t in favor of his own job. He continued hesitantly, “Uhh… not that I want you to get rid of my job, or anything!”

Alex frowned. “They are very smart, and you bring up a good point. Maybe we should pay them? They aren’t slaves. Nameless? A3123Y? What do you think?”

Nameless’s little hologram on the table lit up first.

[Informative: This unit receives compensation by performing its operative functions.]

A3123Y’s hologram changed from a small asteroid base, into a floating kebab.

|A purpose held|

|Agency gained|

|Compensation unending|

Elis shook her head. “They seem to be happy with doing what they do. I’m not sure paying them wages makes any sense when they can literally build whatever they want over time without buying anything.”

Alex had an idea. “Maybe they should be allocated resources for building things they’d like at some point.”

|Already construction|

|Of tasty treat makers|

|Goes splendidly|

Alex nodded. “Ok, but if something comes up, don’t hesitate to bring it up.”

Elis spoke up. “What is our goal, actually? So far, we’ve only had a vague idea, Alex. I mean, I was sort of joking when we first arrived to 92 Pegasi. I said we’d build ships and take care of the locals… I didn’t think it would be possible this fast.”

Alex frowned and considered her words.

She’d been thinking about this for a while. Corporations usually just tried to make money to make their owners rich so they could do whatever they wanted… at least that was the picture of them she had.

It wasn’t what she wanted, though. Their stint as a mercenary ship had shown her that money wasn’t worth giving up your agency. It was even worse when it involved killing or deploying weapons on a planetary scale that would affect so many people.

“At the core of it, I would like to help people. People in the broadest sense of the term, not just humans. AI, Rexxor, Human, or anything that can think and decide for itself. All while not giving up our own agency to others, being trapped to slave away at something not meaningful… I’m not sure If I’m doing a good idea explaining.”

Amy offered some support. “No, I get you. It is different from what I’d expect from a ‘corporation’ and something more like a charity or non-profit organization. It’s a lot nicer goal that I had imagined.”

“I thought we were going to take over the universe.” Logan mumbled.

Alex shook her head. “I don’t want to be a charity. People need to be given the tools to take care of themselves, not be taken care of.”

“It sounds nice, but I’m not sure how realistic that is, Alex. There will always be people who need to be taken care of.”

“But we have so many tools, we can provide resources for all of them!”

“Sometimes it’s not even about having enough resources. We can talk about the pitfalls and benefits of a lot of systems of government. None of them are perfect, and I’m not sure we should be considering replacing what’s there without a lot of further research and discussion, along with input from more people. Vastly more.”

Replacing the world order hadn’t been what she meant, and she nodded. “I didn’t really want to replace anything like the government. Really just doing our own thing was what I had in mind.”

Amy raised her hand to get everyone’s attention.

“Maybe what we really need to do is just narrow the scope of the goal, then. Alex wants to help people. Why not do that from the context of what you seem to have built here so far? Shipbuilding, Orbital Construction, Resource Refining and Mining Operations. Military too?”

“That sounds like a smart plan, Amy. We can always talk about bigger things in the future once they are more developed.”

“I, for one, would welcome a benign despot if she were a cute blue-haired girl.”

Amy glared at her brother. “Logan!”

Alex felt her cheeks heat slightly at the compliment. “I guess we should make a list of things to focus on in the short to medium term. A lot of them are probably just going to be about building out our capacity to produce more… capacity”

“About that, we have several projects in the works. The freighters, finishing the manufactory, and building the orbital.”

[Notice: Anti-matter stores are becoming critical. 6 AMCN missiles have been cannibalized for Tear’s AM Bi-Phase Linear drive operation. Recommend prioritizing construction of AM creation facilities.]

Alex hadn’t realized they had been consuming their AM supply so quickly. That they had only 23 AMCN missiles left was worrying, especially when she remembered her promise to Thraker to get him a resupply of them.

Amy looked shocked. “We can build anti-matter production? But… that’s only done in major systems. That’s why it’s usually so expensive. Passive gathering can only supply a small amount and collider units are extremely expensive to operate.”

“I had forgotten about that. What’s our options for producing anti-matter?”

[Informative: A passive AM net collection system has already been prepared to siphon much of the anti-matter inside the magnetic shadow from Ackman’s magnetosphere. Estimate yearly production via deceleration spheres: 2-6kg of anti-particles annually. This volume is insufficient for continuous operations at current consumption.]

[Recommendation: Production of a solar AM collider facility is required.]

“Yes, but as Amy mentioned, what will that take to build? There is a reason they aren’t just found everywhere; the power requirements are massive to produce anti-matter.”

[Informative: A schematic for a collider has already been developed. Modular design allows building out of the proposed facility in steps. Cost is nearly equivalent to a freighter/frigate hull size vessel. Maintenance costs will require a complete replacement every 6-12 months, mostly comprising outer hull and solar energy generation elements.]

“Wait, so… you want to build a ship that we basically stick really close to the sun to generate a ton of power to operate the collider?”

[Notice: This is a very effective form of anti-matter generation despite ongoing costs to maintain facility. Monthly production rates of 10-12kg per module can be expected. An AMCN missile contains approximately 5kg of anti-matter per warhead.]

“So, one module will produce about 282,352 kebabs worth of anti-matter per month…”

Amy and Logan both looked at each other before giving Alex a skeptical look.

Elis fought back a giggle. “She does that. It’s normal.”

Alex, unperturbed, did some napkin math. “Umm. This is harder than I thought. I promised Thraker 20 new missiles. We are going to need multiple modules to keep up with our needs plus build those.”

|A fiery orbit|

|Will soon collide|

|Many powerful particles|

There was another concern Alex wanted to bring up. “We also need to prioritize food production. I promised Governor Tyler that we would help with the incoming food shortages the colony is likely to face. At least we already have a lot of progress on that.”

Elis spoke up. “Transporting it all will be an issue. I’d say we need to get the freighters built ASAP to help with that.”

Alex nodded. “Seems like we just need more time.”

[Notice: Tears structural integrity restoration will require several weeks of dedicated repair time.]

Elis nodded at the NAI’s reminder. “That should be a priority.”

Alex leaned back in her chair. “Urrgh. We need a priority list.”

She pulled out her datapad and jotted things down. Nameless filled in estimated time frames for each item she listed. The holotable displayed the information for everyone to see.

|Repair Tears: 2 weeks|

|AM Collider Module: 2 weeks|

|Finish Freighters: 3 weeks|

|2nd AM Collider Module: 4 weeks|

|2 Freighter/Frigate Class hulls: 2 months|

|30 AMCN Missiles: 3 months|

|Fully Operational Manufactory: 4 months|

|Finish A3123Y Orbital: 6 months|

|A Cruiser-sized Warship w/FedTech Standard: 12 months|

Elis whistled. “We can already do 2 ships a month?”

[Informative: Manufactory expansion will increase the rate of ship production. Notice: Shipbuilding and Orbital Construction estimates are sequential.]

Alex frowned at the list. A lot of work could be done simultaneously, so it would allow them to work on most of the items pretty quickly. The new warship and finishing the orbital and manufactory would all need to come one after the other.

Why did it feel like time was the one thing that was quickly running out to her?

She swallowed, then looked toward Amy. “Let’s go over those mining operation plans you sent me. We are going to need to keep the rocks coming if we want to meet these deadlines."

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A note from Erios909

Thanks for reading!

If you are enjoying the story, please leave a comment, rating, or review! They help the story out!

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AI Fan Art time! 

 

 

 

Next time: Chapter 51 – Operation Rug Pull

There is a lot more interaction with me and other readers on the discord: Here

People like to post their theories in the #Crackpot-Theory-Place and ask questions about things in #Story-Questions, too!

There is also the Integrity Police which point out possible mistakes or problems!

Most importantly, there are a bunch of ShipCore stickers and extra arts. You can see all the failed attempts that don't get included! 

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Erios909

  • West Virginia, USA
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Bio: Still alive, yes.

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