Nov 28, 2020 2:09 PM
A Starfleet vessel stumbles across an unintentional visitor.
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Looking out from the top of the skyscraper, a distraction interrupts Drake in the form of a traffic advisory, warning him that light aircraft are obligated to maintain a distance of at least ten meters from buildings and may not land on any structure without a registered landing pad.

In the meantime, San Francisco glows gently in the summer fog as it's pulled back up out of the water. He's left in peace for about ten minutes before the service door slides open and a timid-looking cadet peeks out holding a fire extinguisher. She looks human, although her hair hides her ears and some facial ridge patterns can be pretty subtle, and she's wearing an armband with markings indicating a Student Trainee Public Safety Officer. She begins tip-toeing in Drake's direction.

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Drake chuckles to himself at the cadet attempting to sneak up to him. Without turning from the view of the city he speaks up. "Okay, I've gotta ask. Why the fire extinguisher?"

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She jumps, pauses for a moment, and laughs sheepishly.

"In case there was a fire! The report said you were flying on a rocket, and they have us do fire training too, so I thought it was better safe than sorry? I guess I don't need it, though! I'll just set this down..." She leans the fire extinguisher against the door.

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At this Drake laughs out loud for a moment. Finally turning to face the cadet he nods, stepping off the raised ledge onto thin air as his thrusters activate, lowering him onto the roof. "They're technically jets actually. Take in atmosphere, excite the electons into muons, and turn that into a plasma stream. Takes a lot of power but then that's something I usually don't have to worry about." As he says this he walks over to the cadet and holds out his hand. "Cadet Drake Lugh, pleasure to meet you."

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"Oh, cool! Cheri Michaels, nice to meet you too! Does that take any sort of grounding? I know neutrino exhaust is pretty safe, but that sounds like it might also cause some ionization."

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"Well at it's heart it's an electrical system, so it has to be grounded. Others of my kind use various methods, but military types like me typically have a series of supercapacitors that support the weapon system, which pull double duty as the electrical ground. As for the exhaust, yes the very first models put out a good amount of ionizing radiation. Those were pure combat models though, and once my kind and base humans started coexisting an enormous amount of research was put into creating a thrust grid that included a radiation filtering system. Within about a decade after the war ended we had thrust systems safe enough for biologicals to use." By this point Drake had turned back to the view of the city, apparently lost in thought.

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Cheri takes a seat leaning against a pillar.

"That makes sense! Impulse drives and antigrav can both be used for personal flight, but our architecture isn't really designed for it and transporters are easier for longer distances anyway, so we mostly use them when being in the air is the point. And like, rock climbing and stuff, obviously. Sorry, did you know that already? You're the alternate universe guy, right? I heard you can just download databases into your head."

As she's talking, she pulls out a PADD and starts poking at the various buttons.

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"Yeah, I'm the alternate universe guy." Drake replies with a snort. "No, I won't look things up for you. No, I won't hack into the Academy mainframe for you. No, I will not show you my weapons. And no, I did not look up your student file, that would be rude. And finally," Drake says as he turns his head towards Cheri, irritation obvious despite his expressionless face. "If you open up the photo program on that thing I swear on the Quantum Singularity that I will brick it so hard even Lt. Commander Data would never get it working again.

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She laughs nervously and waves the device at him.

"No, no! It's just my training materials! Does Lt. Commander Data actually have training as a engineer, though? I heard he isn't actually a computer wizard either, and his only advantage is that he can read really fast."

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"Huh, you know, I never actually asked him." Drake replies as he turns back toward the view. "I know he's got training in field dynamics and warp physics. But I don't actually know about engineering or computer science. I guess I was projecting what Technos can innately do on him a bit there. Which, considering he's the only one even close to being similar to a Techno around here..." Drake falls silent for a moment, simply staring off into the distance before turning back to Cheri. "Anyways, sorry about biting your head off there. I've had a pretty shitty week and my fuse is about nonexistent at this point. Which... isn't a excuse. But still, sorry."

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"It's fine! This is part of the job too, anyway! So, what's up with the bad week? You seem like a guy who's used to, like, space monster problems, and maybe not campus drama."

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"Heh, yeah you're right on that. And that's part of the problem. I was never really enthused with campus life when I was growing up. Joined the military right out of college actually. And most of the past seventy years I've spent fighting endless waves of insectoids. Starfleet may serve as the Federation's military, but compared to what I'm used to it just... doesn't feel like one. Plus there's the whole "oh wow, are you really a robot!?" "Can you really download any database you want?" "Hey, shoot a can off that table over there." shit from knobhead students that has been continually pushing my buttons. And the occasional distrustful look and rude comment about "artificials" from some people."

"Honestly though, the worst part about this place.. this universe I mean... is how... quiet it is."

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"What's so loud about your world? I bet you don't mean the noise."

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"No, not in the sense you're thinking of." He sighs and looks towards the sky. "Okay, so you guys have the Starfleet Database, and most planets in the Federation have their own semi-self contained networks, which for the most part evolved from the pre-warp internet for most human planets, and the equivalent on primarily alien worlds. You follow so far?" He asks, glancing at Cheri. With a small nod from her he continues.

"Well, from what I've seen the biggest thing keeping you from merging those networks into a single Internet system that spans the entire Federation is a lack of bandwidth. The subspace network, at least as it is now, simply cannot support the amount of data traffic that an internet spanning even a few systems would require."

"In my universe however, the peaceful conclusion of our World War III and the subsequent merging of Technos and biological humans into a single society led to a boom in our understanding of quantum computing and quantum physics. To the point where the first near-C probe we sent to Alpha Centauri contained a quantum beacon, which not only allowed instant communication between Sol and the probe, but also acted as a guiding system for our early FTL drives. Eventually, every single large city on every planet in our domain contained what we call a "Think Tank". A massive network hub and administration system run by a Techno which vastly increases said Techno's processing power and speed. These Think Tanks assist in the administration of the city under which it resides as well as perform research on various topics, but their primary purpose is to act as the guardians of the Network. They administrate it, and protect it from interference both internal and from outside sources."

"Im explaining all of this so that you understand when I say that, in my universe, the pre-WWIII internet has evolved to encompass the entirety of human controlled space, I don't mean a system like yours where updates to the database are limited to the arrival of Starfleet ships and Subspace data-bursts, but a fully interconnected network containing everything from memes to military communication. People can argue over inane topics on discussion forums from opposite ends of Human Space in real time. A person can post a video and it could go viral across all of human space in moments. Military communication in the field is done entirely through Network links run through specialist Think Tanks in Sol and Alpha Centauri. In my universe, unless you choose to forgo a Network link, you are constantly connected to a virtual hivemind of thoughts and ideas, feelings and dreams. A connection to almost every other human alive. It is a noise you cannot imagine, but a comfort you cannot imagine either. Humans, whether biological or technological, are social creatures. We crave the comfort of being with others we identify with. And no human in my universe is alone unless they choose to be..." He turns back to Cheri, sorrow clear in his body language. "All of that was torn from me in an instant. I'm alone here. Far more than you could imagine. The only beings like me here are some alien species, certain Starfleet computer cores, and Lt. Commander Data. Now, I'm not xenophobic, but there's a certain amount of disconnect between mentalities for most other species, on top of them being biological. The Nebula class computer cores are at least able to connect to me on a similar level as what I'm used to, but they are just on the wrong side of awareness. Even the Lt. Commander is... I don't know... I was really hoping that he'd be someone I could at least have a conversation with without having to use basically all of my processing power on doing other things in my VR space just so I can follow the conversation without waiting for what feels like an eternity for each response. But not only can he apparently not think much faster than a particularly gifted human, but he doesn't even understand how his own mind works."

"The noise that reminded me of who I was and that I would never truly be alone is gone, and the silence is deafening."

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"Wow, that sounds like a lot! I think there's a planet that does something like that. The Bynars can communicate with their planetary computer from anywhere in the quadrant, and can download things right into their heads. It's really important to them, they won't even go into rooms that have too much shielding. It sounds nice, but also like it might make developing an identity difficult? Sorry if that's rude, I don't mean to be rude! But it kinda seems like it would be hard to stay independent. I think a lot of people would end up outsourcing so much of themselves they'd find it hard to be a real person if it got shut off."

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"Okay, first off stop worrying so much. I'm not going to bite your head off for asking legitimate questions, and if I think you're being rude I'll let you know. As for losing your sense of self, you're absolutely right. If you were to take someone from this universe, give them the necessary implants, and throw them into UHS society without proper knowledge or training on how to use the Network safely, then I'd give them 50/50 odds of becoming a Ghost within a year. That is to say, someone who literally does not know who they are anymore due to being too immersed in the lives of other people or full-dive game characters for too long. Luckily though, the technology developed slowly enough that we were able to develop ways to minimize that danger, mostly through introducing Network implants at an early age in biologicals and the equivalent in Techno children. These implants have tight parental controls that limit their functionality, which loosens the child ages. By the time they've become an adult, the vast majority of people are able to fully utilize the Network with no danger to themselves or others, and those that can't typically only need a few years of additional training before they're fully capable as well."

"On a side note, according to the Database the Bynars seem to basically be Starfleet's IT department, so there should be some on campus somewhere. I'll have to make sure to meet some of them while I'm here."

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"Oh, I would have guessed that starting early causes more problems even if you ease in, cause then you'd be more comfortable with it. I'm sure you have better data, though. Anyway, there's definitely some Bynars around! I think it's a bit of an exaggeration to say they're the IT department, and I think they manage a lot of their maintenance contracts remotely. But they have an embassy in San Jose, I bet they'd be willing to agree to a meeting!"

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"Huh, good to know." Drake replies, already sending a request to the embassy for a meeting appointment. "And honestly I'm, I was I guess, just an airborne infantry officer back home. The way I understand it though, the minds of children and adolescents, both biological and Techno mind you, are far more malleable than the mind of a mature individual. This makes it much easier for children to learn how to properly balance between the Network and the physical world than it is for someone already used to operating solely in one or the other. Adults who immigrate from a splinter world, especially agrarian ones, to a UHS world tend to have severe difficulty in accessing the Network and balancing the two worlds. Conversely, some early Technos that never had a physical body had severe trouble operating in the physical world. Most of those Technos actually became the first Think Tanks that monitor and defend the Network."

"Although, now that I look at it from an outside perspective, I will admit that we tend to focus a bit more on the virtual world than the physical world."

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After about forty milliseconds, the Bynar embassy responds offering two available time slots. One later this evening, and another a week from now, a couple hours before Drake's classes start for the day.

"I would have said lots of people on Earth spend more time in the virtual world than the physical one too! Holoaddiction is a thing that happens! But I'm not sure our normal treatments would work for you guys, if everyone else is always plugged in too."

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Drake immediately sends a response confirming the evening appointment. The entire exchange taking less than a second.

"Now hang on. Don't get me wrong, my universe has it's share of Net-lifers, but just because the Network is so ingrained in life back home does not mean that we're all addicted to it. That would be akin to saying Betazoids are all addicted to telepathy. The Network isn't just for entertainment. It connects the whole human race in my universe. Binding us together while allowing us to advance further and faster than we ever could without it."

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"No no, I mean for bad cases! It's like...there's a rare condition where you can't eat replicated food, something about hypersensitivity to malformed proteins. And replicated food has been incredibly valuable to humanity for hundreds of years. It's solved malnutrition and famine and obesity and monocultures and pesticide pollution, and all our other historic problems with food supply, both human and environmental. It's definitely been a positive thing both collectively and individually for the vast majority of Federation citizens. But that also means it's everywhere, and if you can't eat it then you're better off moving to a historic reservation just so you don't have to be paranoid about what you're eating for every single meal of your life."

"And that's kind of how we treat holoaddiction, too. You make friends who maybe use the holosuites sometimes, as a group, but who also do things outside in the physical world, so they can help keep you grounded. And around here that's pretty easy cause most people don't spend all their time in the holosuites or online, but it's really hard for avoiding replicated food cause there's only a few places on Earth where you can get a broad selection of natural foods. And in your universe, it sounds hard to get away from all that, exactly because it's so valuable and important for you."

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"Sorry, I misinterpreted that. Honestly Net-lifers aren't really that big of a problem. The majority aren't a danger to themselves or anyone else, and with how prevalent nanotech is in the UHS they aren't much of a drain on resources either since basically everything can be recycled almost infinitely. Many of them choose to become Full-Conversion Cyborgs just so they don't have to bother with the physical world anymore."

"As for the ones that do pose a danger, either to themselves or to others, we offer, or perhaps a better phrase would be gently push them towards free and comprehensive therapy and/counseling. Which usually works."

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After chatting for a while longer, a beep emanates from Cheri's pocket. She jumps to her feet.

"Oh, duty calls! It's been nice talking with you, don't set anything on fire! We have enough of those!"

She grabs the fire extinguisher from its place by the door and runs inside.

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"Nice to talk to you too! See you around!" Drake calls after her. Once again alone, though more centered and at peace than before, he looks back towards the Academy and the city beyond, the buildings lit by the late afternoon sun.  Deciding that few people were likely to bother him where he was, Drake sits on the edge of the building, turning his focus inwards to a project he'd been working on in his spare time. When the time comes for him to go to his meeting with the Bynars he stands back up and prepares to lift off.

Just before he launches though, he pauses and looks back to the door Cheri departed through. Snapping open his bat-like wings, he leaps off the roof and glides away from the building for several seconds before lighting his thrusters and turning toward the Bynar embassy.

The ground and water beneath Drake passes quickly as he accelerates, and within only a few minutes lands outside of the embassy 50 miles away. Retracting his wings, he walks up the steps and into the building.

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The Bynar embassy looks like an extremely well-maintained but two-hundred year old warehouse. It's plain and cleanly painted, and labeled in large block lettering as the embassy of the Bynar people. Next to the door stands a sign-in kiosk, asking for an entry verification code. Aside from the kiosk, sign, and the door itself, there are no external decorations.

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