InBetween City by f1r3br4nd
Concept: The City is actually a pocket universe with 'tangents' to various other spots in the space-time continuum. However the space-time continuum these days is not a safe place to be a Human anymore. Humans hide like rats in the cracks and folds of a universe where they are hunted by races that are even more ancient, powerful, and advanced. The city happens to be in one such particularly large crack. To the people living in this relative pocket of safety, their generations-long war for survival is a distant anxiety, like some war halfway around the globe is to us. Conversely, somewhere else in the universe are people who were soldiers or starship crews for generations, and to them The City is a fond neverland for which they fight, but whose existance they sometimes doubt. That's what I think it would be like to be part of a species that has grown enough to really start experiencing a tiny glimpse of the universe's vastness. On top, or at least near the center of things, is one of the main characters. They use different titles than we do, but it wouldn't be too inaccurate to call him the Mayor of the Humans. He's got a rough job, to say the least. If I/we ever finish writing this, it might just be some kind of parable about the use of power when one's decisions may affect unimaginable numbers of people. By the way, humanity has changed and diversified, and the term Earth Clan is used synonymously with it. In the year umpteen million, a dolphin, a human-made AI, a heavily augmented human, a nanite-fog, an assimilated alien immigrant, and some completely de novo life form whose not-quite DNA genetic code was written from scratch... all these beings are scions to the common heritage of Ancient Earth, all members of the Earth Clan, and all potential allies against the truly alien creatures lurking somewhere out there, just out of sight.
Problem: If I recall correctly, it was just me, ordinary unaugmented human, living in a town of a few hundred thousand people, looking at what I was about to write, getting dizzy, passing out, and being too intimidated to go back to writing it.

It was a time of contradictions. The human race had an intimate understanding of life down to the very atoms making them up, and yet it had only hazy, fragmented recollections of what happened before they founded The City, and why they had to come here in the first place. There were more than 10 billion people and several hundred million sentiences belonging to the "Earth Clan" squeezed into the unimaginably intricate and vast labyrinths of the city, and yet humans and all life that was born of earth, were in more danger than the doomsday prophets of the Golden Age ever could have imagined. There were humans who were powerful, who had machines that could twist and shape the very fabric of space-time to do their biding-- and there were thousands of nameless humans obeying their orders, living day by day, keeping the complicated machinery of The City going or fighting and dying in nameless multitudes out in the cold, black depths of space where starts are so numerous that they don't even rate names anymore. Except for ones that have something remarkable about them, like Trellis.

The picture window opened right onto one of The City's lacunae-- relatively empty spots in the otherwise densely packed hive of corridors, elevators, roads, offices, vat-factories, homes, and the bio-electronic guts through which the life of The City pulsed. Lining the lacuna were spires, unfinished scaffolding, and random lumps of architecture that never expected to find itself so exposed. The very farthest of them were ensconced in clouds. Massive hologram projectors would sometimes superimpose artificital landscapes on this space, especially during the many City Holidays. Today, however, they were still, and far "below" on one of the thousands of City Squares scattered throughout the lacuna, there was an irregular shape. Something swarming. That was how a crowd looked from this far away. It was a sizeable crowd, but not nearly enough to fill the square which was at least twice the dimensions of a place in Old New York called Central Park. Was it a demonstration, or some kind of civic event? There were little flashes of light around the edges of the square. The crowd was using some sort of incendiary weapons.

Hauser smiled at the irony. Did they know that for once, precisely the person who was probably at fault for whatever was upsetting them was looking straight at them. He should search the newsfeeds to see if there was anything he could do about it. There were probably ten to a hundred major riots happening somewhere in the city at any given time, but he was sure he'd find what this one was about. Presently, a white mist covered the square. ParaGas Type II. Harmless (usually) and cleverly conceived. Unlike the original ParaGas, which reversibly paralyzed parts of the peripheral nervous system, type II went straight for the brain's motivational centers. The crowd would just be sitting there, feeling too lazy to move, until the Peace Officers arrived to collect them. Some people believed that small amounts of ParaGas II were being continuously leaked into the air supply to encourage docility. Hauser found such wild, unsubstantiated speculation irritating. It had to be speculation, because he attended to the security aspects of that project personally, therefore it was likely that someone out there came up with that scenario independently. Well, what did they want him to do? It's not as if The City's room for growth was unlimited. In fact, they were quickly approaching the point where the opening of any new districts would necessitate closing old ones. On the other hand, this happened sooner or later even now, as the Others discovered the tangent to any given star system the humans might open. The upshot was, someday The City would hold far more than 10 billion. Twenty billion. A hundred billion. A trillion? All crowded in this vast but finite metropolis. These riots were easy to control, they cause barely a ripple in the day to day bustle of business as usual. But what would happen as the population got more concentrated? Eventually even minor discontent would be able to snowball into mass psychosis that even the Peace Central would be powerelss to control... and for PC to lose control would be the beginning of the end.

People simply never had time to evolve for life on such a scale. It took millions of highly trained social engineers, arsenals of non-lethal weaponry, and terracycles of computing power to keep the lid on. To see that everyone was fed, housed, reasonably busy, and not engaged in mindless urban warfare. That was part of the reason for the scale of Terra Irridenta's recruitment efforts. Population control-- especially of the young, restless, and potentially violent population. "They might as well die fighting the Others rather than die fighting each other." as one Irridenta official put it.

"Brings back memories, doesn't it though?" asked Rita in Daenten. Hauser didn't hear her come in.

"What does it matter? We were wrong." answere Hauser, pointedly sticking to Common. Years ago, they were both in the Feinn Daentein, a separatist movement in on of the 1,523,321 areas that considered themselves to be "Down Town". Public transport between there and other "Downtowns" was substandard for a few generations, so the area managed to diverge culturally and linguistically before the traffic computers notices something amiss.

People died, people were drafted, some corridors were trashed. In the end, Peace Central gave the Daenteiner Cameuneite Baerd, as the regional government was called, some measure of autonomy. By this time, the old transport tubes had been renovated, and the Daentaen was flooded with tourists and entrepreneurs, while young and ambitious Daentaeners such as Hauser and Rita could now safely travel to a PC academy and prepare for careers in civil service and elswhere. Daentein autonomy lasted about a decade, by the end of which it was just a legalistic curiousity, an anachronism left over from a neighborhood that had long since been reabsorbed into The City without very few traces. It had been five years since Hauser even travelled there, though once he had sworn to visit every year, on the anniversary of the Great Uprising. The church where the rebel leaders met had been replaced by spanking new hospital complex. The scorched corridors had been renovated. The revolutionary graffitti has been scoured off by cleaning nanites. There were a few plaques, commemorating various battles, speaches, and meetings... but the landscape had changed so much Hauser wasn't even sure they were correctly placed. They probably were, though. Humanity took what little history it had very seriously now. He could probably have stopped at any wall-socket on what used to be called Beinhen Streigt and called up surveillance footage from any officially or unofficially covered area in that time and place, catalogued down to the millisecond, with historically interesting vigniettes highlighted. On the other hand, he could also do that from any other street, or from the comfort of his own armchair. He chose not to.

"Were we? At least we had something to believe in then."

"Something false. Something that was easier to believe and understand than reality, though, I'll grant you that."

Rita sighed. "Reality sucks. Reality is we're a fungus inhabiting the cracks in the space-time continuum. Grow too much outward-- another, meaner fungus eats you alive. Grow too much inward-- choke on your own spores. Who wants a reality like that."

"We could be more. We could create new Cities, if we could get rid of the Others... or at least hide from them long enough. The problem is really figuring out a way for our slow, ancient, brains to catch up with what our nimble little hands can do nowadays."

"Have you ever thought that maybe it's we who are in the way of this? Maybe this rioting, the Warlord Phenomenon, the whole thing... maybe these are necessary growing pains before we can ascend to the next step? After all, evolution seems to have proceeded through the death of many, sometimes most, individuals back on Earth."

"So what do you think we'd evolve into, given the chance?"

"Who knows? Virtual beings, living entirely in the computer network? Fearesome, vicious predators of deep space that are every bit a match for the Others? Gods, inhabiting a valhalla of pocket universes? Who knows. At least we would not be stagnating."

"Who's stagnating. Maybe you are. But it's a big old town, and there's more going on than meets the eye. If you're feeling stagnant in The City, you just haven't explored the options available."


***

"Comrades, we cannot be part of this rotting, stagnating empire! If being a lackey to Terra Irridenta is what it meens to be human now, perhaps it is time to stop being human. May the Plague take me before I ever answer to the TI or the PC again!"

The small, cramped room thundered with applause, amidst a sea of leather jackets and canvas caps. Of course, it was just the transport and communication systems that were on the fritz in the Daentein area. Climate control used to work perfectly, and no one needed leather jackets. It was the brilliant idea of Fein Daentein to sabotage the local climate control nexus and blame it on Peace Central. Propoganda against the enemy, plus a shared, non life-threatening hardship to give their people a sense of solidarity. This also unexpectedly led to the adoption of a militaristic, de-facto uniform among the ranks of the Fein Daenteinen. Instead of the only slightly out of date body-paint and gauzy veils that they used to wear, the Daenteiners were now adopting the starkly anachronistic garb that had more in common with the insulated battle gear of pilots than with modern civilian clothing. The fact that it was (or looked like it was) made from the skin of slain animals was an extra jab at the "all life is sacred" ideology of The City as a whole.

Young Hauser continued. "It's not enough that they hire some social engineer to be the 'Daentein Liason' or give us the privilege of teaching our children our own language in our schools" neither Hauser, nor most of the people gathered in the room had children yet. "No, what we want is real power. Give us administrative access to the programs that run our communications grid... our transportation, our energy... our climate control..." more applause. "Let us decide when when and where to link in new districts, whethere to open tangents into new star systems. I see before us a future of Daenteiner-colonized worlds. While the TI and the Plague are busy fighting it out, we can be building a new life. On our terms."

Inbetween City, 2 UNFINISHED STORIES

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