Short Story Competition: The Holographic Holocaust that Never Happened on WeBB OOC Area
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The Holographic Holocaust that Never Happened
I was in Ops when they set it up. At the time, I thought it was harmless. As a matter of fact, that's exactly what the guy from Jupiter Station said.
“The upgrade process will be entirely harmless. Since Starbase 200 already has the latest subspace communications array and multi-core holoprocessors, all we have to do is update the holodeck systems to the latest version of the software.”
I didn't even try to understand any of that. I was just the security chief, and I wasn't actually being spoken to. Simon made a face though; as the chief of ops, he'd have to provide maintenance for the thing after everyone from Jupiter Station left.
“You're running LCARS 5.6, right?” the nerd from Jupiter Station asked Simon, in response to the his pained expression.
“5.6.34. We applied the latest update two weeks ago.”
“Great. They added support for the new protocol directly into the kernel back in .29, so we won't have to add any additional modules. Just update the userspace holography package.”
Simon seemed to relax greatly when he heard that. “That's a relief,” he said. I had worked with him long enough to know when he was faking out of politeness; he wasn't this time.
“So, all of our existing programs will still work?” This question came from Commander Tillie. Even I could tell it was a dumb question, but she spent a lot of off-duty time on the holodeck. Sparkly vampires or some weird crap like that.
The nerd fielded that one: “Yes, the new version of the holography software is entirely backwards compatible. And thanks to the updated communications protocol, you'll actually be able to share programs with other Starbases and planetary installations who are on the network.”
“How many are on it right now?” she asked.
“About a dozen. But we're rolling it out to more places every day. We're also setting up a site in Klingon space, and the Ferengi are interested in purchasing licenses to the technology.”
“That sounds like a wonderful opportunity for cultural exchange!” she said. Yeah. Grand. I could imagine the kind of exchange that would be going on: Vulcan Love Slave: Subspace! Pre-order now and get Limited Edition Klingon Pain Stick Downloadable Content at no additional charge!
“Yes, we're looking forward to seeing what people end up doing with it. Anyway, the software packages should be easy enough to update; we've done this before in several places, so the process is mostly automated.”
“How long will that take?” the Commander asked.
“Three hours, probably,” the nerd replied.
“Good,” she said, turning to Simon. “Get it done, Mr. Travaglia.”
As she walked away, the egghead pulled out an isolinear chip from the case he was carrying and handed it to Simon. “It's all here.”
“Seems simple enough.” Simon put the chip into an open slot next to the Ops console.
“Hey, I meant it when I said it was harmless,” the other man said with a smile.
Back then, it seemed like it would be.
“Hey Howard,” Simon yelled at me from across Ops. This was entirely unnecessary but he always was needlessly loud. “You want to try it out when we're done upgrading it?”
“Yeah... sure. Nothing's really happening today.” I said.
Three hours later, the four of us were outside Holodeck 3. The computer spoke to us, exactly as it had done for everyone who had been standing outside that room for the 24 years it had been in operation. “Program complete. You may enter when ready.”
The double doors slid open slowly, and we walked through them, into some kind of eating establishment. It was entirely empty. The windows ahead of us were large and only showed the sky. I walked towards the windows and looked down. Below there were many hundreds of tall buildings, many of whom had ventilation fans spinning like mad, looking like toy boat propellers. The streets were filled with small rectangular objects and tiny dots alongside them; automobiles and people. To his left, just barely in view from where he was, there was another extremely tall building, this one slightly taller than the one they were in. The windows of that building seemed to be the same as the ones here. It was a scene from a period in Earth's history, but I never did find out when it was from. I should probably do that later, the view was spectacular.
Anyway, after everyone came through, the door vanished. Its disappearance revealed a Vulcan woman wearing a Starfleet engineering jumpsuit. She was carrying a PADD.
“Can you hear me?” she asked.
“Yeah. Can you hear us?” That was Simon asking.
“Yes, Lieutenant. The signal appears to be operating within acceptable parameters.” She began typing on her PADD, checking readings or something.
Commander Tillie looked with amazement at the Vulcan, and walked towards her, looking upon her. The human woman seemed to study the Vulcan intensely.
“Wait... so... she's real?” the Commander asked. The vulcan raised an eyebrow at this question, but was undeterred from what she was doing. The Nerd From Jupiter fielded that question.
“That is a holographic projection of a real vulcan standing in a holodeck on Jupiter Station, running the same program we are. She sees us as holographic projections in her holodeck as well.”
“Wow...” was all the Commander had to say. I admit, it was interesting, but she seemed a little too amazed by it. “So how does it work?”
The nerd took a deep breath, clearly preparing to give a retelling of his doctoral thesis. “Well, you see, it was something that was always possible, but the limiting factor was the bandwidth of most subspace communication arrays, along with a proper protocol for...”
“No, Doctor, I mean, how does it work, for us, like, in the program?”
Jupiterman just looked at her blankly for a second.
“She's asking you to explain the details necessary to understand the new end user experience,” Simon said, acting as translator.
“Oh, right. Well, it's really straightforward. Think of it as if you're both in the same room. As long as the connection is up and the program is running, you'll be unable to tell that there's a difference.”
“So, what happens if I bump into her?” she asked, as if the technician wasn't really there. Which I guess she wasn't, right?
“That depends on how the program parameters are set. By default, you're both modeled as if you're real physical entities, so it would be just like bumping into another person in reality. But that can also be switched off, so you can pass through each other.” While he was saying this, the Commander was looking at the technician with great interest, and started forming a finger, as if to poke her.
“Please do not touch me, Commander. I am in the middle of performing a critical diagnostic.” I figured that she must have been poked before during these demonstrations; the request was recited as if by rote. Then again, she was a vulcan.
“Oh. Sorry,” the Commander said. She looked around sheeplishly at the rest of the setting.
A minute later the vulcan looked up. “Doctor, we are ready to perform the next test.”
“Go ahead,” said the nerdbag.
A large number of other characters flashed into existence. Some of them were eating, others were talking with each other, more were examining the view. Most of them appeared to be human, though he could also see an Andorian and maybe a Klingon. They all were dressed very ecclectically; some in Starfleet uniforms, a few in jumpsuits like the one the vulcan had, some in 24th century civilian clothing, and many more in clothing specific to the period. Their clothes had a lot of buttons in those days.
“They're all real?” Tillie asked.
“Most of them are,” the technician said. “Computer, freeze program.”
Some people in the scene froze, most of whom were wearing the old fashioned clothing. But many of the others kept going about their business. The people looking out the windows didn't seem to mind the freeze, as the view was still breathtaking. But, from one of the tables, an extremely obese man in 24th century civilian garb yelled at the technician: “Oy! What gives?” A woman sitting across from him appeared to be frozen mid sentence. A group of people in Starfleet garb near him took notice and started laughing.
“We are preforming a maintenance operation, sir,” the technician said. She pushed some more buttons on her PADD, and said “Computer, resume.”
The woman and all of the other frozen people continued as if nothing had ever happened. The upset man resumed his conversation with his apparently fake date a moment later.
“Wow,” said Commander Tillie. “So, where are all of these people?”
“The upset human man is on Earth, the people near him are on Starbase 12. The Andorian gentleman in the back is coming from the Andorian system,” the technician said.
“This isn't even the most complex simulation,” said the doctor. “But it is fairly popular, running regularly on Jupiter Station, and publicly accessible. It's possible for people to host smaller groups as well from their own locations.”
“Wow.” Do I even need to say who uttered that profundity?
“And you'll find Mr. Travaglia, that the bandwidth usage is rather modest.”
“Yeah,” Simon said. “I'm actually kind of impressed.”
So was I.
It was three months later until I stepped on the holodeck again, though this time it was work related. I saw first hand just how harmless this upgrade was. We got a call from Cestus III over subspace that there may have been a dead woman in one of our holodecks. Only Holodeck 3 was running, and it was a networked program. The man on the other end said he was in the program and would meet me there. I got down there, and over-rode the holodeck door controls.
This was the city: Los Angeles, California. Or at least, it's historical re-creation running in Holodeck 3. The Holodeck was invented almost 40 years ago. Since then, it's enabled thousands of people across the Federation and beyond to experience whatever they can imagine. Now with subspace networking, it's allowed people to share the fruits of their imagination with others across the vast distances of outer space, turning them into a new kind of reality. Sometimes, fruit goes bad. When people turn their rotten fantasies into reality, that's when I go to work. I wear a combadge.
It was dark in the room. It was a small, enclosed space, but in the middle of the room there was a dead body, and blood was all over the floor. It was Commander Tillie, dressed in old-fashioned clothing.
“I just found her there,” the man said. He was also dressed in clothing from the past. “And she said she was from Starbase 200 in reality, so I figured I'd call you, just to make sure she was OK.”
“Well, she's not OK. But you did the right thing, sir. Do you think you could stick around here and answer a few questions?” I asked him.
“Yeah, anything, I want to find out who did this to her!”
I called in an medical team for the body, and had someone from Ops go over the programming for clues. We left the program running. The only other real user at the time was the man I was talking to from Cestus III, Bobby Mitchell. I talked to him outside of the room, which I later learned was a “trailer.” Apparently Commander Tillie and he were pretending to be movie stars in Earth's past.
“What makes you so sure it was foul play?”
“There's a revolver over on the floor, it's been fired!”
“A revolver. An old style weapon. You know, firearms.”
“And she couldn't have shot herself with it; it's too far away.”
“I see. Doesn't the Holodeck have safety protocols to prevent things like that from happening?”
“Yeah, I can't figure out how that happened.”
“I can.” It was another voice, this time over the comm system. Simon, from Ops.
“How?” I said, looking up.
“How what?” said Mr. Mitchell. Apparently he couldn't hear Simon's voice.
“You'd better come up here and see this, Howard. You won't believe it.”
“Alright Simon, I'm on my way. Tuesday out.”
“Who is Simon? Who are you talking to?”
“That's our technical man, Mr. Mitchell. I have to go, but if you can think of anything else relevant, you already know how to get in contact with my office. Computer, exit!”
The doors reappeared, and I stepped through them.
Five minutes later, I was in Ops, and I got the full rundown.
“So yeah, Howard, someone managed to remotely disable the safety protocols on every holodeck connected to the network.”
“I figured tha... wait, what? Every holodeck?”
“Yeah, that's right. Every last one. Looks like the exploited a security glitch in the latest revision of the...”
Before he could go on with the technobabble, I cut him off, “Why would someone do that just to kill the Commander?” I didn't even bother to ask why somebody would want to kill the Commander; I could think up three dozen reason for that, and I didn't even hate her that much.
“They wouldn't. And the guy who shot the Commander didn't cover his tracks at all; he connected through a ground station on Earth, in Australia. I've already sent on a request for the local authorities to pick him up for questioning. But he probably doesn't know anything.”
“Then why shut off all the holodecks everywhere? Why now?”
“That's the crazy part. Do you know what's happening today on the subspace network?”
“No.” I didn't care about that stuff.
“Holocon. Biggest convention of Holodeck enthusiasts ever. With people joining from every holodeck on the whole system. And it starts in 14 minutes.”
“The softest soft target ever,” I said, getting the point. “We've got to stop them.”
“I've already called Jupiter Station. They're already going to try to shut down the entire network. I also sent out the bulletin to everyone system administrator who has had a holodeck connected to ours holodeck in the past two weeks.”
“Well, that doesn't leave anything for me to do, except find out who planned the murder. Or, I should say, the terrorist attack.”
“Isn't that a bit above your paygrade, Howard?”
“Yeah, you're right.”
It was. Little did I know then, however, I already had met the villain.
TO BE CONTINUED...