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System Collapse: Chapter 12

“WHY DO YOU HATE Holism?” I asked ART.

I was on the bridge, in the most comfortable station chair, surrounded by floating display surfaces. ART’s interior was quiet; on the planet it was night over the main colony site, so half of our humans were taking a rest break. The ones who were still active were on either Holism or the Preservation responder.

It had been seven planetary days since the mission and we were finally working on getting colonists off the planet. Holism’s backup ship Sum Total was coordinating the evacuation of two shuttles full of Bellagaia’s faction, and the Preservation responder was acting as escort and making sure that Barish-Estranza didn’t get any ideas.

ART said, I don’t hate anything. I am discerning in my company. My judgment in this area is impeccable.

It keeps pinging me, I said.

Don’t answer it, ART said. It’s doing it to annoy me.

With Holism and its crew and its two support ships and their crews as our backup and witnesses, Barish-Estranza had been forced to grudgingly acknowledge the documents Pin-Lee and Karime had prepared and admit that under Adamantine’s original charter (or what they thought was Adamantine’s original charter), the colonists were now the sole proprietors of the planet and could stay or go at will. We knew B-E still wanted to get at least some of the colonists to sign up as contract labor, but since the task force’s implosion, they were mostly too busy dealing with their own shit to try that hard. The last situation update had said that the colony’s main factions were getting ready to formally ask B-E to leave.

(Martyn had said he wasn’t surprised that the Barish-Estranza task force had tried to eat itself. He said there were indications that intra-corporate violence was increasing, that it had always been an unsustainable system.)

(I really hoped he was right, but it sounded like something that would happen a long time from now, and I was mainly worried about now.)

The other factions of colonists had been continuing to negotiate with the tag team of Mensah, Thiago, and Karime. Like Bellagaia’s group, they were looking at resettlement options in newly independent colonies outside the Corporation Rim that needed to increase their populations to be viable. Basically, they would be doing the same things they were doing here, but on a better planet with no alien contamination, and no corporate control or ownership. And the option to pick up and leave on the next transport if they felt like it. (I had taken that option once, so I could relate to how important that one was.)

A second team led by Iris with Kaede and Martyn was also now in negotiation with the separatists. They still weren’t big on leaving or rejoining the other colonists, but they had committed to going forward with the idea of managing the planet as a place for studying alien remnant contamination. In four hours Mensah and Pin-Lee (Preservation was acting as an independent third-party arbiter) would be going to a meeting between the separatists and the University representatives from Holism to start working out the contract.

Part of the lab plan was getting the separatists access to a planetary feed and comm via hard cable connections to points outside the blackout zone. For now, we were communicating with them through pathfinder-delivered message packets. (AdaCol2 had requested copies of all ART’s entertainment files.)

Holism pinged me again, this time with a message packet. I checked, and the packet was tagged infrastructure proposals. Also as part of the alien contamination lab deal, the University was going to repair or establish the infrastructure that Adamantine hadn’t had time to install. This would be stuff like fixing the rest of the routers, rebuilding the satellite network, establishing transport to the drop box station, introductions to an independent polity trade network, hunting down the rest of the contaminated ag-bots, etc. All normal planet stuff that I didn’t know anything about. I sent back a message packet that said, basically, that I was a security consultant and that wasn’t my job. (Except for the batshit ag-bots, that was clearly my job. I needed to get on that.)

A message came back: I could help you learn about it, if you’re interested.

ART said, Stop talking to it.

I think it’s just bored, I said.

I don’t give a shit, ART said.

Holism was like ART. (An enormous asshole who thought it was omniscient.)

(Yes, ART was not the only one. I was still processing whether this was a surprise, not a surprise, or a horrible shock. So were my humans. My Preservation humans.)

(It was weird to have so many humans I had to give them group names.)

I thought at first ART fucking hated Holism because it was bigger and potentially smarter. But after further observation it might be because Holism was doing such a good job of acting genuinely indifferent to ART’s hatred. This was mostly reflected in a passive-aggressive competition to see who could use the most annoyingly correct comm protocol. The only fallout from it so far was collateral damage to me and Seth, because it was irritating the shit out of both of us.

I sent, ETA on shuttle arrivalsSum Total only had two big enough for bringing up large groups of colonists and was offloading to both Holism and its own module dock to save time. They could have brought more ships, but Holism had already been en route here—too late to find out that preserving the main colony site was impractical at best and negligent homicide at worst.

ART said, 7.32 minutes at the same time as Holism said, 7.3247 minutes. The resulting silence on the feed was stony, except for Seth’s exasperated sigh. (He was on the Preservation responder, sitting with the captain on the bridge.)

I pinged Three, who was in its assigned cabin watching educational videos, and asked it, Do you want to listen to Holism explain planetary infrastructure to you? You don’t have to if you don’t want to.

Three indicated that it did want that. It was still tricky trying to tell if it was actually interested instead of just saying yes to everything you asked it, but it did have that weird thing for nonfiction and educational entertainment. I connected it with Holism on the feed.

It wouldn’t be too long now before ART could leave.

One of the first things Holism had done on arrival was deploy one of its modules designed to operate as a temporary station. Docked to ART, its crew and bots had started to help with decontaminating and repairing ART’s wormhole drive. Once they were done, and the contract stuff was finished and the colonists were situated, ART would be ready to leave the system, with Holism staying here to work on infrastructure with the separatists. Mensah and the rest of my Preservation humans would be going back home on the responder. Amena had decided to apply to the University, but she had education modules to finish up at FirstLanding on Preservation.

We were going to have to figure out what Three wanted to do, or how to get Three to tell us what it wanted to do. Ratthi and Arada had been talking about putting together a team to work on a trauma recovery program for free SecUnits. They wanted me to work on it, too, which I think they knew wasn’t going to happen.

I had given them a bunch of the data about my memory incident, and they were going to get Dr. Bharadwaj to work on it with them. They thought they had enough information for a good starting point.

They also would have liked Three’s help with it, but they were afraid to ask it, since they didn’t want it to think it was being conscripted or something. Yeah, that was going to be an ongoing problem for a while.

So was my whole memory incident/thing. But at least I knew I could still do my job.

(I know I needed trauma recovery, I just didn’t want to help figure it out for anybody else when I was still figuring it out for myself. But at least I knew now that was what I needed. I wanted to send a message to Dr. Bharadwaj about it—I don’t know why, but just telling her stuff made it easier for me to figure out what I wanted to do. I had asked ART for a detailed description of what its trauma recovery treatment entailed and it had sent me the file, I just hadn’t been able to make myself open it yet.)

(I’m getting there, okay.)

I was ready to get out of this system. I was never going to like planets, and nothing had happened here to change that.

And I had decided, for real this time, which ship I would be on when I left.

Do you know where we’re going next? I asked ART.


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