Machines are but puzzles, and I the Engineer, their master. –Izurin the Mechanist
We never thought that we would spend the majority of our lives on the field of battle, my brother and I. By the time we were born war was a bygone thing of the past, conflict and warfare rendered obsolete and unnecessary by the technologies around us. We lived in a glorious age of technological advancement; robotics and automation dominated the news, architecture and engineering had never been more easy with the discovery of advanced metals and alloys hundreds of times stronger than those previously utilized. Even the most advanced computer known to existence, the human mind, had been replicated and even improved upon; when I was five the world's first ever A.I was born and reached full operating capacity running the transportation networks of several large cities on its own.
This technology enabled the eradication of a vast amount of problems such as starvation and homelessness, room for growing food was made available almost anywhere by new materials and techniques alongside the Skyrails; their arterial pathways snaking to and fro across entire continents whilst their capillaries narrowed down in localities to service every location in even the smallest of cities. These Skyrails had replaced every rail or road bound form of transport; the fast paced shuttles within traveled at speeds rivaling those of commercial aircraft of previous generations and traveling aboard them could be accomplished at almost no cost to the user since they burned no fuel and were a globally funded project. Similarly housing was available in abundance never before seen meaning that finding accommodations and living quarters cost little more than the cost of feeding yourself and your family.
Global warming and environmental issues associated with burning fossil fuels were also reduced or even eliminated since the Skyrail meant that personal and private transport was unnecessary meaning firstly that no more carbon emissions were produced, and secondly that parking and storage space that used to be taken up just housing vehicles while they were not in use. And as all the problems disappeared our society went to hell. Freed from the constraints that kept us from extremism and abusing our resources the developed world became gluttons once more; the capitalist regime alongside the rapidly advancing technology allowed for the highest spike in consumerism that the world had ever seen; it was the highest period of economical growth that the world had ever seen; dwarfing the post-world war two boom period in America by several hundred times.
This consumerism caused the developed nations to once more neglect their less fortunate peers; though much of the new technologies spilled over into these nations the standards of living were still far lower, and their populations far greater. Even with increased amounts of food production and housing the supply of these finite resources could not keep up with the demand. While we drowned ourselves in our wealth these less fortunate countries looked upon us with great envy, and this envy eventually grew to resentment and then even hatred; and thus the 10% that made up the developed nations made an enemy of the poorer 90% through their ignorance and negligence.
And so we flourished, and through our greatness we grew complacent and this complacency bred an environment ripe for war, all that was needed now was a spark to ignite the fire that would spread across the entire globe. The developed nations were unfair, like bullies in the sandbox and so when all the other "nice" kids finally got tired of our antics they ganged up on us to take us down. We strong, and fast, and tall, we were the king of the hill, but there always has been an advantage in sheer numbers; the conglomerated world state of what had once been India and China proved that. It was them who made the first move, the first strike, that one "small" troop movement of half a billion soldiers onto the borderline; an aggressive posture which they refused to abandon which finally triggered the onset of the fighting.
Of course none of this really meant anything to us, my brother and I were just regular civilians living regular lives at the time; we were both part of the consumerist system doing what everyone else was: consuming as we pleased and not giving a damn about the consequences. We lived a life of luxury and ease, whatever we wanted we could get if we worked hard enough for it. Nothing was barred from us, nothing out of our reach. That was the environment that we had grown up in and so even as adults that was how we lived, there was no reason for us to change our ways.
I was a university graduate with a PhD. in aeronautical engineering, the best of my generation and the last bright star in a dying profession. Atmospheric transportation via aircraft had been rendered obsolete by the Skyrail and there was little to no demand for the vehicles my corporation designed and produced. The only contracts we received stemmed from the military and private corporations which still found very limited uses for private transport not shared with the global public, and this small trickle of income kept us afloat; since we were one of the few companies still producing such things we had a monopoly on the tiny market and were able to easily stay competitive. Near the end we experienced a sudden surge in interest and buyers, and my company flourished as we sold contract after contract for military flyers and autonomous aerial combat drones; little did we know that this was an indicator of the war that was to come within the next few years. But it was not my fate to stay as a design engineer till the end, no, my story parts way with Aldaris Aeronautics eight months before the war truly began.
Our government may have been complacent but they were not stupid; when it was too late to prevent the outbreak of war but war was not yet ready to break out they began the restructuring of their little technocracy into a state focused singularly on war. Thus their decision to integrate mandatory conscription into the armed forces came as a surprise to no one. I was at home when the news came, my brother was still at work at the laboratory, probably experimenting with some new mixture of chemical concoctions for one use or another. It had been a busy day and I was tired and just wanted to go to sleep, but of course as with all the events of my life, nothing ever went my way.
I sat back down on the chair by my desk having just finished my evening shower after getting home from work, In spite of the fact that recently we'd received a sudden surge of commissions and orders I still had to take work home in order to keep making designs for new aircraft and drones to try to appeal to a wider market; as Chief of the Bureau for Engineering and Design I was the one responsible for leading the design teams and approving blueprints and schematics. If I didn't work then my company didn't have any products to sell, and since business is tough…well let's just say that I never get any time off.
I stared down at my latest design, a twin-engine military hovercraft ten and a half meters in length and five meters at its widest point. Recently we'd received a commission of hovercraft designs from two more new customers and I've been pumping out blueprint after blueprint from different customers from all over the outer world. For a long time the only business my company had been getting was from the more developed nations of the inner world but in the last six or so months there had been a sudden increase in demand for the flyers constructed at Aldaris Aeronautics; I don't know why this was but it did mean that for the first time in a long time there was some stability in my work environment.
I was not married and neither was my brother and so because of this the law required that we remain with our family and stay in the home that we grew up in. Our parents were dead; they had died not long after we had both graduated from university and found ourselves jobs in what would be one of the last car crashes to ever occur in human history. It hadn't mattered much legally, we were essentially fully independent by then but for the two of us, my brother and I, well I guess it didn't change anything either. I had never been close to my parents though I was the younger of us two, I had always been more inclined towards introspection and was aloof and detached. I let my brother sit in the spotlight and let my parents dote on him because I wanted none of their attention. We were similar at a basic level, but he always was the one more inclined to communicate. Both of us got excellent grades but he was the one who made our parents proud, I just…was there.
My relationship with my brother wasn't particularly close either outside of academics we didn't talk much, we simply didn't have that much in common apparent form interest in the sciences. Sometimes he approached me to talk and on those occasions I would indulge him with some short conversation, but otherwise I kept to myself. I had nothing to say to him, we were siblings but apart from the fact that we lived in the same building, we may as well have been strangers.
A bell chimed above me, indicating that someone at the door to our floating cubicle had rung the bell so I tore my gaze away from my work and got up to get the door. I figured it was probably another door to door salesman, they were always appearing at inconvenient times. I strode down the stairs of the two level compartment to the lower level, walking through the kitchen and then the entry corridor which doubled as a guest room, taking three short steps through the cramped interior over to the doorway. I glanced at the view screen above the doorway which was linked to a camera which showed me what was outside the door and to my surprise I found myself looking at two stiff looking men dressed in matte black; the military's logo of three silver stars overlaid on a golden triangle winked back up at me from its place on the left breast pocket of both men.
I slowly opened the door and came face to face with the two grim faced men who from their uniforms were evidently officers; the silver bar of a lieutenant and the double silver bars of a captain flashed under the dim light of the cubicle complex. Shiny medals adorned the captain's uniform, the lieutenant's garb was somewhat less brilliantly garnished, but I was not at all impressed. The government was always flashing their officer's awards in our faces during those military displays and marches; it was blatant propaganda and display of their strength, a show of power to keep us in line and crush any thoughts of rebellion or discontent.
"Hello officers, I assume there's a reason for this visitation?" I said, looking the captain in the eye.
"Good afternoon sir, we're here on government mandate; we have your conscription orders here, along with another set for your…brother; that was it, correct lieutenant?" the captain pulled out a small pile of sheets along with a plain white envelope and thrust them out towards me. I almost snorted, traditionalists; pen and paper letters hadn't been used for almost four decades now.
"Yes sir, a brother." The junior officer handed the captain another stack of sheets and an envelope.
I took the papers from the captain, "May I have a moment to take a look at these?" I had known that the situation with China and India had been tense of late, but really, conscription? I just had to check to make sure that these guys weren't faking it.
"That's fine, I assure you that the paperwork is comprehensive and absolute, but you can take your time sir." The cocky bastard was almost smirking at me, the lieutenant on the other hand was expressionless and unreadable; you'd think the senior officer would be the one setting the example.
I ignored the snarky comment and began to walk towards the chairs in the guest room when I remembered my manners, I turned back and quickly invited the two into the cubicle; there was no need to be rude and leave them waiting outside when I was fully capable of accommodating them. I pulled out two chairs for the officers before sitting down myself to examine the papers, this time it was the lieutenant who was more active, taking a look around the room whilst the captain stared disinterestedly into empty space.
The letter was plain and simple, it asked me to serve for my country, to serve for my government, to prove my loyalty and fulfill my responsibilities in the service of my nation; the standard propaganda bullshit story. The other paperwork however, which contained details of what exactly I'd be asked to do was quite a bit more interesting. They'd be transporting my brother and I by Skyrail to the training facility where we'd spend two years working towards becoming full time soldiers; as expected we'd be removed from our current jobs; a pity but there wasn't much that I could do about it from the looks of it, the papers said that lethal action would be used if I refused to co-operate.
Apparently we would begin as recruits and then would work our way up the rank ladder during our training, apparently excellent recruits could graduate as junior officers and go on to enter the officers academy elsewhere; the papers didn't specify but it was already looking like it wouldn't be that miserable of an experience—if I could make it out of the rank and file into the officer corps, there was no way I was going to end up as a rifle grunt on the front lines being used as cannon fodder.
The captain was correct of course, there was no way my brother or I were getting out of serving; the only other alternative was execution. We could try to leave of course, but there had been incidents in the past of people trying to leave when the government didn't want them to, and the results had been…messy, to say the least. Besides, though we wouldn't exactly be leaving anyone important to us behind, where would we go? With the current state of affairs there would be nowhere we could go that wouldn't either turn us in to our government or rip us limb from limb just for being former citizens of Aphelion.
Finished, I looked up and handed the papers back to the officer, keeping my conscription papers for myself. There was nothing to do now but wait, it wouldn't be long assuming my brother wasn't working late, it was already almost eight o' clock after all.
"You done with these?" the captain asked, looking for affirmation that he wasn't going to have to step in and put a bullet in my brain.
"What do you think." I growled.
"Don't give me that lip, soon enough that sort of tone will result in you being assigned to the latrine duty recruit."
I began to snap out another response when the bell rang, "I'll get it, it's probably my brother." I said.
I opened the door and unsurprisingly came face to face with my brother who wore a tired expression on his face; he probably had had a rough day at work, well his day was about to get even worse. He raised an eyebrow at me when I wouldn't get out of his way, and I nodded pointedly behind me towards the officers before shifting aside so he could see where I was indicating.
"Pack your bags, we're going on a trip to the army barracks and it's an invitation we can't refuse." I said without inflection.
He looked at me for a second, a strange look in his eyes before he nodded and walked inside to grab his things; there was nothing more to be said between the two of us.