The aliens claimed earth faster than we could make up a menacing sounding name for them. We had time to send one colony ship toward a garden world in a distant star system before they destroyed our entire race.

Now we’re in space – all that’s left of us, some million souls sailing the vacuum of the galaxy. We still have thousands of years until we reach our destination. We’re in a form of stasis; our bodies are immersed in liquid that prevents us from aging. Our minds are jacked in to a central shared artificial reality that keeps us frosty, lets us live our lives and keep our skills sharp until we get our bodies back.

Our world is just as real as the one we left – the system digitizes our thoughts and feeds neural impulses back to our inert bodies to keep our minds from atrophying. We live in cyberspace – we look like our real selves, and everyone on the ship is in it together. Law and order is provided by the Crown System – the most advanced AI we’ve ever developed. Break the law, you get teleported to jail without trial or fuss. The system is impartial and objective. Works pretty well.

The system deemed it beneficial to allow us some fun though. We have a virtual world within our virtual world, the Underworld. It’s a rules-free zone where the Crown system doesn’t keep the law. If you’re there too long and miss too much work, the Crown system just gets you when you unplug. Some people never do.

For the most part, the people who made it onto the ship in the first place are the good eggs, people with good genetic material, who play well with others. The Crown system fills in society’s garbage men, fry cooks, and sign twirlers with VI’s – Virtual Intelligences, or ‘Veeple’ as we call them. Most people can tell the difference fairly quickly, as Veeple are inherently weird, stupid, creepy or some combination of the three.

We’re agents, we work for the Echelon – the brain trust. Glitches happen. We investigate and fix them. We make sure the system stays up, we’re troubleshooters. The Echelon gives us an edge over the masses in the form of code access. We get to break the rules of the Crown system just a little bit for the benefit of all. We’re still subject to the system though, and some agents have gone bad before, retreating to the Underground and using their powers for less-than-altruistic reasons.

The system usually works, and people generally do what they’re supposed to do. But just like on the late planet Earth, people are people, and there are some bad seeds. Some of them glitch and their brains go bad. That’s why we’re here.

There have been some disturbing reports recently. Some people in the system are dying – so we’ve been told. That’s not supposed to happen, there’s no death allowed in the system, and who knows what happens to our real bodies if it’s legit. Sounds like it’s worth investigating.

Crown of Fate

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