Sunday, June 15, 2014

Forwun By E.S. Wynn

E.S. Wynn's horrifying vision of a machine-mind trained to do battle on distant planets.

From the moment the sentient mesh is mated with the neural tissue of my first body, I know that I have a purpose. I know the concepts, the symbols and the grammar of a sterilized strain of stan-terran. I am acutely aware of my body, know how to measure and calculate weight, distance and inertia with only a glance.

And I know how to use a gun.

The name coded into my mesh is CZ-1041, but the woman behind the glass calls me Four-One, runs the words together so it sounds like Forwun. I take her simple instructions verbally, but a silicon-quick stream beamed directly to my mesh provides the real details. The mission is simple.

Run.

My first assignment lasts 7.2 seconds. Three breaths, and then a brush with a sensor drops the floor out from under me, triggers waves of heat that wash through my flesh before I can register more than the edge of a cleansing pain. CZ-0538 is given the messy task of cutting the mesh out of my carbonized corpse. The researchers make notations, check the data saturation in the machine side of my mind to make sure the lesson sticks, and within a few hours, my mesh is cleaned and mated with the neural tissue of a new body, a clone of my last.

My second assignment runs almost three minutes before reflex overrides reason, tosses me sideways into the toothy blades of a meat grinder, turns my clone body into hamburger. Again, CZ-0538 picks the mesh out of the mess, and in another few hours, I'm back on the testing floor, running.

Eight minutes of running, of dodging rounds, sensor sweeps, rebounding off of walls at high speed, trying to stay ahead of bullets that scar steel in volleys. Eight minutes before I fall face-first to the floor, back riddled and steaming, blood rolling in steady rivers across smooth steel plating. Eight minutes, and then another few hours before I'm back on the floor again, running, running.

It takes six attempts for me to reach the end of the course unscathed, learn all of the ways and places the researchers have built death into the world through which it has become my mission to run. A wall opens, and the woman behind the glass, the one who calls me Forwun, uses verbal commands to give me a new mission.

Walk over there. Wait.

My senses are tuned, sharp, catch nothing I can perceive as a threat. For hours, I stand and wait, body taut, ready for the part of this mission, this test that will surely swoop in the moment I relax, carve me into ribbons or scorch the flesh from my bones. Nothing comes. Nothing.

And then a stream of data hits my mesh. New instructions. Go.

The path laid down in the silicon synapses of my brain-mated mesh-mind takes me through corridors studded with cameras, with sensors I can feel but can't escape. No death comes, only a steady, passive scanning - and then a bend in a hallway funnels me into a line of others like me, clone bodies driven by sentient meshes, hundreds of us, all bound for the same distant navpoint.

Fifty-seven meters, exactly fifty-seven meters, and I'm stopped at the entrance to a wide cargo bay, wait for the space of a breath while a machine flexes down from the ceiling, burns a barcode into my right cheek. Sizzling flesh, fresh pain registers in the mind of the clone body I wear, but orders, the mission, takes precedence. Turning, hands reach out, accept a mass-spun outfit of plated armor, a glossy helmet, a breath mask and rifle, and then I'm led by mental command to a pod-freezer, given thirty seconds to dress myself, tuck myself in. The steel lid of the pod-freezer descends automatically and I close my eyes, let darkness wash my consciousness back into sweet void.

The journey is long. I don't dream, know only when I wake that the ship carrying my body and a hundred thousand other mesh-driven clones has traveled six hundred and ninety light years to bring us to a battlefield on a planet called Delta Orionis B. Planetfall comes immediately, comes rough, squeals and rattles through hull until the ship hits smooth air, settles soft on scorched sand. The pod-freezer opens, a quick injection blasts away the clone body's sluggish reflexes - and then I'm in the shimmering red sunlight, rifle ready, seeking, flashing, lancing faceless enemies with pin-point beams that sizzle skin, vaporize bone. Eyes seek targets with reflex quickness, mind counting kills, driving the rifle forward, forward -

And then the sand rises up, flashes with spilled red and blackness. For a moment, there is no sound, nothing but the sand, the red - a thick wetness gathering somewhere, filling my sinuses -

Programming kicks in. Damage to the cortex has rendered my clone body over fifty percent inoperable. Pain builds, powers resolve. With the last of my strength, I reach up, snap my own neck in one quick, efficient move.

When I awaken, my mesh is already mated with the neural tissue of a new clone body. At some point in the darkness between my old body and this new one, other clones driven by other meshes have brought the battle to a close, annihilated our enemy with ruthless efficiency. Something in me strives to do better, knows that I will do better, and the chance presents itself immediately. A new barcode is burned into my cheek, new armor and a new rifle are assigned to me.

A new pod-freezer awaits, and three hundred and twenty-seven light years further away, another battle has already begun.

7 comments:

  1. Thank you for the opportunity! :)

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  2. really good story, beautifully descriptive, probably not so far from the truth? really liked it.

    Michael McCarthy

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  3. I enjoyed the intensity of Forwun's narration - the single focus (aka programming) that drives it to complete his/her mission. The reanimation as each lesson was learned, as the battle waged, was well done, and the descriptions brought you right into the story. Nice!

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  4. I enjoyed the intensity of Forwun's narration - the single focus (aka programming) that drives it to complete his/her mission. The reanimation as each lesson was learned, as the battle waged, was well done, and the descriptions brought you right into the story. Nice!

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    Replies
    1. Not sure why this repeated - maybe the story was so good I had to praise it twice ;-)

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  5. Amazing story, love the details, and very gripping as well.

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  6. This dystopian nightmare brings to mind Steve Jobs' quote: "Death is very likely the single best invention of life."

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