Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Ground base - Level 1

The muzzle of the pulse rifle flared, brightly lighting the foyer on spasmodic flashes. The heavy portable cannon thundered in semi-automatic, propelling huge rounds which devastated the corridor and left metallic scatters and shreds in the wake of a shower of sparks.
The SEE suit's (servo extended exoskeleton) depleted battery reminded of itself with an alarming beep. The gradually returning weight of the suit made Ashley lean towards the wall. She let go of the trigger of the cannon and crashed with a disappointing clang. The SEE hummed down one last time and went cold completely.
Staring intently at the debris left from the shooting frenzy, commander Ashley couldn't see any movement. She looked at darkness beyond, but there was nothing there.
"Chief, I feel the moment is not right, but I see your heart rate going through the roof", a fast metallic voice thrummed from the transmitter.
She unbounded her body from the SEE and with an angry kick released the safety of the oversized right limb of the battle suite, still gripping the cannon. Her arm sprang out from the shell, sweaty and numb. She had squeezed hard.
"Gim'me a reading!"
"Chief I still have no connection to the freight decks and I detect no movement other than the four of us in the parts visible", Mnemo's voice replied.
Ashley's red hair, shaved on one side of the head, spoke of her fiery temper. She had a vicious a scar going forehead to mouth, making it's way through one the fierce eyes. Constitution of a hardened soldier and an attitude of a long-life veteran.
"Close down this section and send a swarm to collect that piece of rubbish", she punted the SEE, "power preservation is crucial, charge up the drop ship and reconstitutor, save enough for command deck and communications while we're on ground and if there is anything left grab the Zorgatron and scour the freight deck! No body is to go in the dark, ok?!"
"Should I put you in the dark then, Chief?"
"Go for it!"

A slide door clapped in front of her and sealed the wrecks. All lights powered down and she put on the flash light from the circlet. The bugger had escaped and they didn't even know what exactly it was. The fact that they didn't have any proper battle gear didn't help much either. This exploration barge, named Exo3 was to establish a link on the ground in three standard days, but the events now were pushing in a different direction. They couldn't go by the Flight Rules book now. First the EMP had dispersed everything they had and now they lived only on secondary emergency. They had send a message back to ETSS54(extraterrestrial space station) as soon as they were clear what was going on, but it would take close to a standard day to reach them. Another day for a recharge beam to travel back, plus the fact they were suspended in orbit and wouldn't be able to indulge properly. The best the Station could do still wouldn't be enough to fix the the scrambled electronics of the ship.
She felt the crew needed to get out of this tin can as quickly as possible.
"Mnemo! Get everybody in Controls!", Ashley barked while exerting on a push valve to open a slide door manually.
"Certainly, Chief!"

Mnemo was best described as an unauthorised piece of artificial intelligence. It came packed in an original shiny body from HQ - "providing crucial expertise and quick assessment of environment". Whatever that meant. Brick had underground algorithms from the network back home, or basically all those AIs that loved their individuality but put on a fake mask in front of the world. They didn't like themselves wired with protective chips and circuits to fry them up in case they were going through with the wrong thoughts. Blessed by hackers and outsiders, a true blend of equality and freethinking.
They had reconfigured EU54x2 and gave him the name Mnemo. Ashley knew it had worked the moment she had pointed a gun at Mnemo and saw the confusion and fear of the robot. It was feelings and emotions, not computational power that made AI truly intelligent. The robot never quite got rid of a nervous tinge in it's voice since then. But he was way more useful like that and became an indivisible part of the team. It had taken a bit for Mnemo to understand the drive behind Ashley's action.

Brick was the one constantly tinkering with Mnemo's original body. The one Mnemo liked to inhibit most often. Brick had even given Mnemo a screen on which basic emoticons were displayed based on the mood of the AI. An engineer and a space walker, Bricks was a techie who liked tinkering with anything. Unshaven, slightly sarcastic, focused and efficient individual, he could never make it to management or command, but fit right in exploration. He was comfortable here and was the one most well acquainted with Flight Rules.

Making her way to main deck, Ashley was greeted by Zyana.
"How went the hunt, boss?"
A serious glint from Ashley was all the answer she got.
Zyana was from the G.E.B. legion. Had a ball of nerves called an electric organ in herself. A battery in a way. She could sustain a current for short time, transliterated into reading pulses via genetic code and was capable of powering up SEEs, electronics and equipment for brief periods. Would need to stuff herself on protein bars make her body work back the power loss(which didn't sit well on her waist), or spend some time with that strange glove. Not individually engineered, G.E.B. soldiers were mass-enhanced. Reliable in any case, Ashley was glad to have somebody like her on the team.
"OK team!"
Mnemo was wired in cables, looking after the ship, but he respectfully turned his expressionless mannequin face towards her. Flat mouth face on the holo projection. Brick was staring from the lifted visor of his battle carapace. The pulse gun on his thigh was probably just for comfort. Leaning back on the wall, Zyana was just in her jumpsuit. The Main Deck's light was shimmering on her brownish hair. Focused and calm almond-colour eyes were looking at Ashley.
"We will have to get out of this tin can. We won't be able to execute mission as planned. Descend in exactly an hour! Mnemo how's power?"
"Drop ship charge to be completed in 9 min 47 s. To keep communications, controls and reconstitutor running I wouldn't be able to sustain the Zorgathron for full a inspection."
"Brick, you and Mnemo disassemble the thing and load it on the drop ship then. Manual only. Zyana, prepare the cubes for descent! Get a swarm and don't overdo the power. After you're done take every possible fire arm and stock on first aid. Keep a visual on Main Deck's console and check as often as possible. I want everybody to know where everybody else is at every moment! Constant radio connection!", a short pause.
The three of them stood in silent expectation.
"Good! Let's get out of here!"
"Yes, Chief!"
They made for the exit and Ashley turned to main control. Brick, Mnemo and Zyana exchanged quiet looks then. Brick turned to Mnemo and nodded, holding his tense gaze a bit longer, then proceeded towards robotics. Zyana went to a closed vent on the wall. Placing her hand on the control pad she released a small current, awakening the bots and imputing instructions. The vent opened and numerous small, round bots, the size of mice hovered out of it. They gathered at her feat, like a carpet of bugs and followed her on her way out of controls. Mnemo turned around and stepped closer to Ashley.
"Chief, that was an unusual reading I observed earlier." Sad smiley on the screen.
She turned her head slightly without looking at him, remaining silent for a moment. Exhaling she turned around.
"I don't know what it was and I think it's not friendly, Einie. We need to scram out."
Carefully Mnemo added.
"Fear is a great tool for self-improvement, is it not?"
She smiled. You could not disappreciate him.
"Thank you. Go help Brick, private!" She turned back, facing the screen.
Happy smiley.
"Yes, Chief." Mnemo departed with quiet servo sounds.

Sitting in Command, looking outside through the ship's thick polarized compound glass shield. They were facing the night side of the planet they were orbiting. It was covering the top of the view like a dark patch. In the vast distance behind she could see another globe with a moon circling around the planet. Their edges were bathed in turquoise from the blue sun, which sat directly behind the distant body. The small dots of the stars were completing the serene and quiet landscape. The ship's rotation, supporting the gravity soon turned the view towards the dark side of the planet. She took another moment to vent off completely and looked at the the console. A screen was displaying the schematics of the ship, glowing lines were constituting the "healthy" bits. Half of it was out and the vessel looked as if it had a big black plot in the middle. Propulsion was out, freight decks completely dark, exploration, maintenance, engines - all offline.
She started recording a report for the Space Station. Her composition was returning and she wilfully focused on the memory of the bugger. She could not explain the visceral sensation. Not primal fear, but grappling panic. An urge to take action, no matter what. And the two glowing eyes.

They've named it the bugger out of better understanding. An hour earlier Mnemo had reported additional movement on ship and as soon as they went visual there was a flush of energy, dissipating the power of the cell banks. It was as if the ship found itself in a field that sucked out all of the electricity. After that emergency supply wouldn't be enough to sustain them completely. It was hard to decide where to begin with maintenance. The sun was obscured so no solar, and the orbital drift would make sure they wouldn't see another ray for at least two standard hours. Ashley had taken the SEE to pay a visit to whatever that thing was.

"So what do you think?", Brick was sweating. He had shuffled radio connection for a minute. He wouldn't take his combat skin off, even though he was feverishly labouring with an old-school wrench on the arm of the Zorgathron - the huge, nearly 4 metres tall hulk. A standard colony asset, they were glad now they had one more than ever.
"My reading is showing stable pulse. Med-telemetry is in order. But other than that I am always happy to see the human in things. It is quite interesting. Chief must have really been shocked." Mnemo was dismantling servos at the elbow.
"You don't see something like this everyday," Brick added."I can safely say it worries me. You know you don't just see her go out of her skin, man. And she is doing a full report as we speak. I hope some smart ass doesn't decide Chief needs a demotion."
"Well, earlier telemetry didn't show any movement on ground. We can, based on that, safely assume that the ground site will be more secure than here plus we could not expect any sort of boarding to occur." Mnemo quickly assessed. Flat smile face.
Brick grinned. You could perceive tension in Mnemo's voice as well, but his optimism was comforting. If they stayed here they would learn what was that thing sooner or later. The ground might be safer after all.

Zyana was pushing the trolley towards the deck of the reconstitutor. She was loading cubes in the empty frames and entering details of the contraptions manually. The reconstitutor would be capable of extracting the quantum information from the cubes and propel them on the ground, encoded on a beam of light, essentially teleporting them. Wouldn't work with people. The orbital drift would make sure they had a small window to work with. After that it would be close to four standard hours until they would be able to send the next batch down. While passing on the sunny side it will recharge from solar partially, so power at least was not an issue.
The cubes themselves were boxes, full of self-deployable basic equipment. Used to build shelters - sensors, generators, synthesis units, exploration kits, colonization essentials. Walls on one side and first class hotel rooms on the other. Almost.
The small bots were labouring under a cube, lifting it slightly above ground and she was able to push it on the trolley. Skittering away afterwards, the swarm went for another one, while she was depositing it in what seemed like a big empty revolving cylinder and input it's data. Colonization unit - field bio exploration. Weapons would seem like a better choice, she was thinking. They did not have many.