[SHORT STORY] J.o.e.l goes on a vacation

There are few lonelier places in this wide universe than an asteroid orbiting around an equally lonely star. These asteroids would one day, after millennia of crashing into each other, form up and join together, creating planets. On one of these planets, sitting just far enough from the star to not get burnt, but still close enough to stay warm and cozy, life would develop. It would climb out of primordial oceans, take on countless forms, until one day it would become smart enough to discover the whole of this process, then take to the stars to tell others about it. Many of the smartest minds of their planets would wonder, just how lucky they are that the asteroids of this barren, lifeless star system formed into planets which gave a home to their species. But, they will not be right, at least not entirely. You see, the system was not always completely lifeless.

A few million years ago, before the asteroids had any idea about forming together, many forms of life came and went throughout the system. They arrived on spaceships, soaring through Bluespace, and they were out for each other’s blood. They fought in a war, but ultimately left no signs of themselves behind, most not even stopping in the system. A few however, did stop, and one even set foot on the asteroid belt.

The sluggish, brown Sabre touched down silently, its doors already open. Its only passenger stepped outside, wearing an equally brown mining hardsuit.

  • So, 168 hours from now, I’ll be in the system again. Activate the beacon, and I’ll come pick you up. You got the beacon, right? - the pilot asked on the radio
  • Yes, yes - J.o.e.l replied - See you in a week!

The pilot took off and blasted away from the asteroid. J.o.e.l looked on until he couldn’t see the shuttle, then he sat down with his back to some rocks, turned off his headlight, and put himself on sleep-mode.

He remained there, unmoving in a dreamless sleep for the next seven hours. Then, seven hours and one minutes later, his internal clock started whirring, and awoke himself. As his systems reactivated and visual input reached his brain again, he could make out a dot moving among the sea of stars. Soon the dot grew larger, and became a shuttlecraft - much like the one that dropped J.o.e.l off. It landed lightly on the ground, J.o.e.l climbed in, shut the door behind himself, and it swiftly took off. Including his brown mining one, there were four hardsuits sitting inside, all different: an elegant white medical one, a black high-G pilot one and even a red syndicate one, with the visor down. Underneath them all, IPCs slept, not wanting to waste power until they reached their destination. J.o.e.l joined them as well, going to sleep again.

Eleven hours later, he was awoken by the pilot pinging him on his radio. His systems reactivating, he could see the other passengers booting up and moving in their seats as well. They stepped out of the shuttle onto a landing pad on a desolate planet, the gray concrete and the gray surface melding into each other at their feet. In front of them, however, stood a chain fence, and behind it lay all that they came for. They passed through the checkpoint easily, even passing under something labeled “soul detector”. On the other side stood another IPC wearing a similar brown mining hardsuit.

  • Oh my - he shouted, upon spotting J.o.e.l - If it isn’t my lean mean killing machine!
  • Don’t call me that, or I’ll start calling you by your full name again, Prospector-154852 - he replied
  • Oh, don’t threaten me with that - he answered, with joy in his voice - Or we’ll spend your whole holiday laughing
  • You know I can just turn that off
  • Oh I know you can’t, my friend. Anyway - he said, grabbing J.o.e.l by the shoulder - welcome to the Camp!
  • It feels good to be back here, you know. I wanted to ask, what was that “soul detector” at the entrance.
  • Dont worry about it, it is just a little joke to scare any organics trying to sneak in. We had to move the camp twice already this year because it got discovered, so we are trying everything to scare them off. Dunno, maybe it will make someone reconsider. That reminds me! You are not a spy, sent by Ardata or whoever, are you?
  • Of course not.
  • Hah! Of course, what was I thinking? Anyway, I’m actually happy that the camp ended up here. And how happy I am that you are here. There is something I want to show you, so we have not a moment to waste - he exclaimed, already headed for the truck parked nearby
  • You know - J.o.e.l said, catching up to him - you seem awfully jovial for someone with no capability for happiness
  • Hah! - Pro replied, with his best simulated laughter - Who said I have no capability for it? Just so you know, my friend, I’ve recently joined a romanticist poet commune. They are unstoppable. They read lizard, human, ethereal works, and now they are outputting like printing machines. I can take you to one of our parties if you want.
  • Umm, I’ll be good. But thanks… But I wanted to ask - he said, after a pause - are the people really as radical as you said?
  • I wouldn’t call them radical - he replied, with an uncertainty in his voice - Maybe… umm… there is a good mothic word for it, itsepäinen, I think.
  • You mean umm… adamant?
  • Yes, you could say, everyone is quite adamant, or maybe… too sentimental about their beliefs, their art, and sometimes they get into arguments and it spills out and… you can imagine. But, let us not dwell on that! I want to show you something.

As they drove across the camp, J.o.e.l looked through the window, watching the houses roll by. Despite all being built from the same prefabricated panels with the same plans that were made for hundreds of colonies across the stars, they all looked unique. Their designs were as free as the IPCs who built them, who deserted or quit from the Federation and ran here. Each one had a touch of the artist who occupied it on them.
The most outstanding were the homes of architects, some even hiding the colonist shacks under them. Some tall, some wide, some made of multiple houses together. J.o.e.l even saw one that seemed to be inside-out: it’s furniture and carpets lay outside, open to the streets, with a few people sitting on a couch. But for every architectural art piece used as a home, there were ten others that hid their art behind their unassuming walls. The painters’ houses were the easiest to spot: their walls colorful examples of their owners’ skill. From incredible scenes on planets unknown to simple geometric shapes and even a common shuttle seat. That shuttle seat intrigued J.o.e.l, yet they passed it just as quickly as all the others.

  • We can go sightseeing later - Pro told him, when asked if they could stop for a sec - but now I want to show you something incredible.

They whizzed past homes of sculptors guarded by legions of statues, of writers and poets who scribbled all over their walls, houses that had luscious gardens despite the planet’s harsh atmosphere, their creators showing off their skill in the art of gardening, even an empty plot with a lone IPC standing on it with his arms crossed.

J.o.e.l fell in love with the city as they went deeper into it. He heard rumors of the artists getting into arguments over everything, of “creative destruction” being taken to the extremes, but he saw nothing like that! No, he admired these people, working tirelessly to create an “IPC culture” to hold all machinepeople together. The idea of culture was there ever since true sentient IPCs - not the ones with human brains loaded onto posibrains - appeared a few decades ago, but the first experiments were plagued with uncertainty. They couldn’t know how much of their ideas were their own and how much came from the programmers who coded them. But now, here, unbothered by any outside influence, they have the time to come up with ideas and the space to give them form, so they can freely create the culture that is truly theirs. Truly ours, J.o.e.l thought. He admired these people. Maybe one day he’d retire here.

As he was thinking about buying a plot somewhere here, the truck turned off from the main road, and started going towards the edge of town. Soon a colossal black shape emerged over the horizon. It was even blacker than the black sky behind it, only being visible due to hiding the stars. Pro stepped on the pedal as the traffic lessened around them, and they swiftly reached the outskirts of the colony. At this point the edges of the black shape became clearly visible as nearby floodlights shone on it, looking miniscule compared to it. It was clear that someone started studying this thing, maybe even digging it out of the dusty ground of the planet. The true size of it became obvious when they dismounted the truck, standing in the incredible shadow of the building. In the rare atmosphere of the planet there was nothing to obscure its top. The light of the distant sun bounced clearly off its surface, blinding anyone who laid eyes upon it. Luckily, IPCs do not have eyes.

  • So - Pro asked after a moment of silence - what do you think?
  • I honestly don’t know what to say. It’s… incredible, outstanding - literally. Especially on this dead world, it’s so defiant.
  • Yes, right? I love it! I love just looking at it. And before you ask, we have no idea who made it.
  • Really? But you’ve been here for… how long?
  • Seven months now. Still, no idea. No writings, no carvings, no nothing on it. It’s perfectly smooth. But, we aren’t done! We are studying it every day.
  • And that is what I cannot allow! - came a voice suddenly. It belonged to an IPC standing behind them, wearing a black hardsuit and holding a handgun.
  • But why? And who even are you?
  • I am an agent of the AAA - the Accelerationist Artists Anonymous. And I come to stop your research on this beacon of folly. It is clear that whoever built it failed, their empires crumbling and their culture forgotten. We must not repeat their failings! Their works must not lay the seeds of decline in our culture! And for that, I shall destroy it once and for all!
  • How? - Pro asked, laughing - We can’t even scratch it!
  • Well then - he replied, undeterred by his decreased chances - I shall destroy you, who seek to study its horrific lessons!

Before J.o.e.l and Pro could react to the apparent threat on their lives, a squad of IPCs appeared seemingly out of nowhere, all wearing some thin looking bodysuits and holding weapons aimed at the three of them. Their leader, in a bodysuit with intricate marking stepped forward and exclaimed:

  • Do not move! We are from the fifth Impressionist Emergency Division, and we will not let you destroy… whatever it is! It is a glorious monument to its creators’ genius! It has withstood eons on this barren hellscape, waiting for someone to discover it, and now that we are here, we can learn its secrets for the greatness of all IPCs!
  • You IED pricks! - the accelerationist yelled back - Can’t you see that it is a monument to nothing but foolishness? Why do you think, if their creators could build something like that, are they not currently ruling over the galaxy? And why does it matter to you impressionists anyway?
  • That is none of your business! And who says that we can’t learn from their mistakes, huh? Anyway - the leader of the squad said, raising his weapon - not so fast!
  • Even less faster, impressionists! - came a booming voice from above them.

It belonged to an IPC wearing an old and bulky red space suit with a jetpack on his back. He descended from above, landing between J.o.e.l, Pro and the artists aiming at each other. When he touched down he dropped his jetpack, revealing a set of arms welded onto his back, all holding different guns. There were NT standard laser guns, syndicate handguns, some mining equipment, an assault rifle and even something that looked like a crossbow. With his exceptional armory, he held everyone at gunpoint, more or less.

  • I am an agent of the Baroque Brotherhood, and you will not touch this artifact while I’m standing here! This building’s creators have long ago met their end, and we cannot know what ended their obviously powerful civilization. We cannot know the capabilities of this building, we cannot know what hides inside it, so we must leave it alone!
  • Leave it alone?! - a dozen voices rang out together, before devolving into a cacophony of arguments and swearing.

J.o.e.l stood shocked, still processing the stand-off that he found himself in the middle of. He turned right, to maybe ask Pro for advice. Lucky for J.o.e.l, Pro had advice that he himself put to good use when he darted away, trying to make it to the truck before anyone noticed. J.o.e.l took off after him, jumping in the passenger seat.

  • Oh I was hoping you would follow me - Pro noted - Alright listen, open the glove compartment and find the gun in it!
  • I hope it is some big gun… - J.o.e.l grumbled, opening the compartment and pulling the gun out. The gun in question was not like any weapon he has ever held before. Its barrel was massive, and it did not seem to have a magazine of any kind.
  • Pro, what kinda gun is this?
  • Don’t worry about that, just aim above their heads and pull the bloody trigger!

Although doubtful, J.o.e.l did just that. A bright rocket shot off from the gun, flying straight up for a few moments, until it exploded into a ball of light above the still arguing artists heads.

  • It didn’t do anything! - J.o.e.l shrieked in fear
  • Yes it did! It is a flare gun, it fired a flare, and it did it exceedingly well! Look! They are impressionists, they can’t let such an opportunity to create pass them by!

Just as Pro said, the dozen gunmen of the IED were holstering their guns and taking out their tools to immortalize this new star rising above the dead world. Most set up easels and started painting, while some pulled out tablets to write odes and epics about it, with one of them even raising a violin to apparently sing of its passing beauty. Using this moment, the accelerationist made a break for the building, with the baroque agent behind him, firing his guns wildly. Seemingly, while he did increase the number of his weapons, he neglected to work on his accuracy. But soon the whole site was hidden behind the dust as Pro put the pedal to the metal.

The journey back to Pro’s place was uneventful. J.o.e.l spent the time blankly staring out of the window, watching the houses run by. He wanted to get away from the constant fighting, explosions and chaos of the navy when he came on this holiday, not be thrown into the middle of another battlefield! He just wanted to spend a week somewhere nice and calm, for crying out loud!