Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Ground Base - part 5

On the surface of Kepler 756d -

A steam cloud rose from the small metal container, which by now was curled and twisted.
'I told you not to damage my mug there!' Ashley thundered loudly, both her hands on her waist - scolding.
'Beg your pardon, Chief!' Brick let loose of the considerably heavier electrocuter which splashed into the muddy ground.'I can't lower the intensity any more than that. I will have to take the thing apart and turn it into a magnetron from the second world war or something.'
'Always amazed, EV! Be my guest!' 
Brick's education and enculturation had included the beginning of the Space Age period, long before the events of Seed Inc rising. The modern space walkers knew a lot about the history of the first men to go into space, as well as the petty mistakes which had taken so many lives of their as well. 
'Well, how are we going to drink this tea of yours now, Einstein?' Ashley turned to Mnemo, who was going through the latest raw data from the bio-inspection drones.'We just lost our one and only mug, eh.'
Mnemo faced Ashley with his expressionless manequin head. Flat smile face.
'I am sure we can still patch something up from the crates, Chief.' Zyana added, sat on one of the them.'Or I can empty one of these,' she pointed to an ammo clip of a ram rifle she was polishing.
Brick and Ashley laughed.
'Well, all data say that you will enjoy these lichens just as you would enjoy the tea beverage back on Earth.' Mnemo noted.'It's a shame you cannot tell us what exactly it tastes like, Chief.'
The bots had inspected a particular growth, found in the thick corona of a 'tree', which turned out to be rich in polyphenolic compounds, forming extraterrestrial tannins. An equivalent of English breakfast some twenty light years away from the Throne World. Ashley had Brick use the electrocuter - a weaponised microwave beam laser with high intensity. It could evaporate all moisture, inch deep of a body containing water in less than a second. She just wanted hers hot.
'Well, here goes nothing.' Brick said, coming out of the drop ship, helping himself to the EV tool kit.'You won't miss it dearly, will you?' He turned to Zyana and Ashley.
'Go for it, man.' Zyana smirked. 'I'd love some of that dehydrated stuff warm.'
'Yeah, It's high time we had a decent meal!'
'The sap is quite nutritious for your body, Zyana. Remember, it helps you recover 'battery' better than anything we have around.'
'Minus the taste. I wouldn't want to take another bite of the thing!' She smiled.
Another discovery that Mnemo had made was a thick amber sap, hidden in a pod of yet another type of tree. Sticky and gluey, it had been identified as edible. Surprisingly, containing a vast amount of simple carbohydrates plus other trace elements, recognized as 'metabolise'-able. It was, as Mnemo said, a sugar bomb for the human body. Zyana said it was a terrible supplement to be had.
'So tell me, Einie. Why is that bot following you and looking at your back all the time? Are you in need of fans?' Ashley prompted her robotic companion.
Mnemo turned; the bot in question, locked it's scanning lens at the rear of his mannequin body followed the motion, making a quick semi-circle.
'As always, inspecting the local life, Chief. The heavy rain had not quite washed all of the spores and seeds away. If you look at all of the surfaces of our equipment,' he gestured at the hulk of the Zorgathron and the crates, 'you will find residue of their progeny. Even though it might not seem like it, life here is savage. The spores are breaking each other down and whichever trumps gets to grow, essentially consuming the rest of the plant cells, that are so present everywhere.'
He pointed to a particular spot on the ground.
'Look there. This moss tumble looks just like every other, but if you look at it closer, you will find out that it has already lost a battle and is being used as a building block by some other form of plant that is growing as we speak. See?' He showed them his holo plate.
A magnified image appeared, showing the purplish, uneven and grainy surface of the tumble and what looked like small tiny versions of a 'tree' that was growing from it.
'Maybe as they are growing they will converge, or maybe they will have a battle royale to determine who will make it to grow to the size of these.' He gestured at the short trees around them.
'It is not happening everywhere, though. The rest of the tumbles I looked into have seemingly subdued this 'invasion'. I think they have broken down the spores to produce energy for themselves. Precicely the same thing is happening at the back of my hulk at the moment. A growth contest.'
'Beautiful explanation, Mnemo. Thoroughly impressed! By the way, have you given any though to these lilies,' Ashley pointed at the blue wide flowers, covering the landscape.
'Heat mirrors?' Brick proposed, tweaking the dismantled electrocuter.
'I suspect yes. Brick's suggestion is quite insightful. The high temperatures of the surface may not be suitable for all the plant and so they have devised ways to reflect the highly luminous light back. Of course - very unpleasant for us.'
'Are you affected at all?' Asked Zyana, rubbing her hand on the grainy surface of the crate she was sat on.
'The heat is equally bad for me as it is for you. I have to say that I must be even more careful in a way than you, because of my body.' 
'I wouldn't have guessed that it might be bad for you, Mnemo. How are you holding up?' Ashley asked.
'I have lowered the intensity of power transfer to my modules and slowed down my movements. My processor is working at a calculation rate inferior to that of your brains at the moment.'
'I wouldn't have noticed.' Zyana said. 'What about you, Chief?'
'Well I have to say I am glad you can take care of yourself, Einie.'
Happy smiley.
Brick was rubbing the back of his carapace.
'I wouldn't quite agree about the calculation speed. He will always perform quicker than us simply because of more instructions per second. You've just lowered your synaptic count, haven't you. Capacity is still tremendous. It's not like I can notice any difference, without special equipment.' He inspected his gloved palm. 'The vegetation here is quite aggressive, isn't it! Just look at these!' He stretched his arm towards his companions.
'Yeah.' Zyana was looking at hers.
Ashley went to the ship and brushed her fingers against the hulk.
'Dusty -,' she murmured thoughtfully. 'Mnemo, do you have a connection with the Exo?'
'Possitive. Closest approach in 43 minutes, Chief. Systems previously out of order still not operational. Velocity - unchangeable, angular momentum - unchangeable, main batteries are powering up. If we want to go to next overhead location it's three hundred kilometres in that direction,' he stretched his arm.'Telemetry and communications are safe. Connection to drop depot is up. No changes on board whatsoever.'
'If we go to drop site and back here are we going to have enough fuel for ascent?
'Positive.' Mnemo confirmed after, inspecting the holo screen projected from his arm.
Ashley went in the ship and came out with a small slate from her private carapace kit.
'Check on loaded cargo EMGx53, please.' She was tapping quickly on the slate.
Mnemo raised his head.
'Running check list.' a brief moment.'Cargo is secured in drop depot. It is loaded into the reconstitutor and awaiting delivery, Chief. Authorisation required?' Sad smiley. He sounded sincerely surprised. He was not subject to the protocol. Not any more at least. 
'Expedition Commander Ashley Thompson, Royal Marines, First Corps. Here is the clearance, private.' She held the slate in front of Mnemo. A small holo screen was going through a wall of text at high speed.
'I doubt that would be necessary, Chief. I do appreciate your impartiality, though.' Flat smile face.
Brick had stopped his tweaking of the laser and turned his head.
'What's cooking, Chief. If it's not too much trouble is it?' Zyana spoke.
'Einie, how long can we survive here with what we've got?'
'Hard to estimate. Considering the already obvious threats I have to say that your organic bodies are situated in a very dangerous environment. Wearing breathing masks, protective visors and purifying all water is essential. We do have only a limited set of equipment available and with the state of the Exo we can make a limited delivery only. Fuel in the shuttle will suffice for a trip, but we cannot chase drop zones as it will deplete our supply quickly and we won't have enough for an ascent into orbit.' Flat smile face.
'So we do need to take what is essential then.' Ashley was smiling.'Brick! Where is that cup of alien tea?'
'Beg your pardon, Chief. I was just listening to our dooms-day report here.'
Zyana's brows pulled together.
'Am I the only one that doesn't know what's going on?'
'I do not quite understand it either,' Mnemo added,' but it does seem like Chief has a plan.'
'Yeah that at least is pretty clear.' Brick was back into his contemplative state, stripping small parts from the electrocutor.
'I am saving your asses here. Be a bit more patient! Mnemo, help me load some of that,'Ashley gestured at the Zorgathron,'for scrap metal! We will need it.'


'Reading on most recent uploads, please. Medical department. Let's see how Doctor Colbert is doing?'
A mess of holo screens appeared in front of Aidan, appearing and disappearing quickly. A second later they fused and adjusted themselves in one big projections of the Doctor, who was sitting in medical quarters. She was in the middle of an interview.
'OH! Hello Doctor! Excuse my intrusion.' Aidan was surprised.'I did not mean to contact without notice.'
'No, no, please! We were just finishing here. May I help you anyhow, Director?'
'Actually,' he smiled nervously,' I was compiling a status quo for the agency back on Earth. I was looking for the medical status readings, which I am SURE you have updated in the core! I was, if possible, looking for an interview. But before that, by all means, finish what you're doing! I will be here as always. Only when you can spare the time.'
'Of course, Director. I will contact you shortly.'
'Yes, thank you!'
'I will catch up later on.'
Aidan terminated the link manually from the keyboard.
'Not literally, Annabelle!'
'You did say you wanted to see how she is doing.' Ann's mechanic body was spinning around lazily. She seemed relaxed, regardless the crane-like contraption attached to the ceiling.
'I really do have to be careful here.' He smiled politely. 'Well, let me just remind you that you bear responsibility as much as everybody else on this colony. Your own actions speak louder than any words. And people believe in you as part of the whole.' Aidan was typing quickly on the old-fashion keyboard. His head was encircled with a brain scanning EEG readers, giving full picture if his brains activity. While the device was checking if General Mabb was still intellectually capable and fit to be the director, it was also stimulating the frontal parts of the cortex, enhancing his attention organ and providing sensation of comfort. Bits of information were also transferred, but those would become available as memories in the days to come, when they would settle down.
Ann's body twisted so she could look directly at Aidan. Her lens zoomed in with a servo sound heard across the quiet assembly room.
'You still scheduled the meeting with Doctor Colbert. She didn't seem to bother.'
'I think it was rude from you. Now, medical readings, please.'
'Ahh,' an unusual exhaling sound from a body that doesn't breathe.'Three cases of severe DNA damage, protein sequence repair needed. A note left by Doctor Colbert - 'No need for nano bot intervention'. Regrowth of cells already on the way, using computational morphogenesis. Learning disorder appearing in two families. Both are raising the kids in the stigmergic cells, rather than the apartments. Social inclusion scheme and individual interviews from colonists proposed by medical panel. Note from Doctor Huw - 'To the attention of the entire colony. Volunteers needed for colonial development'.'
'Stop. Attach note from me.'I applaud the effort and congratulate anyone who offers help to the programme.' End note.'
'So bossy.' Ann came in closer.
'I say this rather as a member than a leader of this community.'
A short silence, during which only the clatter of the keyboard was heard.
'Continue with medical reading, please.'
'No case of weightlessness nausea during last drill. The colony's general susceptibility is decreasing. No changes in supplement production and intake. The colony is coming to a conclusion that homo sapiens extraterrestrialis cannot support a body in weightlessness conditions without the aid of enhancements, drugs, supplements, genetic modification, nano-bots and special intensive care programmes. An infrastructure that will severely change the biological lineage and alters the body too rapidly away from genetic standard.'
Ann was superb at giving the essentials from the entire data that were collected on board the station. He hasn't told her yet, but she was making his life much easier.
'Enculturation is believed to be heightening by the members of council. The colony is now observed to be developing a societal structure that is increasingly becoming self subsisting. Customs, approaching the limits of ritual are forming around the capturing and reuse of any possible materials. Norms in close living quarters have given rise to social development based primarily on co-operation and co-existence, observed in the holobiontic symbiosis of human beings and their macrobiotic flora. Bio mimicry in terms of social structure rather than technological development has underlined the development of the community.'
Another quiet moment during which only the clatter of the keyboard of Aidan was heard. Ann's lense produced another servo sound, when focusing on Aidan.
'This means you are not needed here any more.'
'That was the idea from the very beginning, Ann.'
'The community can survive without you. Do you want me to keep updating you?'
'I am aware of that, thank you. Ever since I stepped in, that was the aim. And I have worked towards that goal together with everybody else present on this site.'
'When are you leaving, then?'
'Despite the independence of this colony, I say, without any pride, that I still hold my position vastly because of the respect of the council and body of Elders. I
used to be soldier and a general,' he stopped typing and settled back in his chair, looking at Ann,' but it was this position that has allowed me to learn so much. At the beginning I was quite different, the war was different. But the people living here have opened my eyes to something new, Ann. I was instructed, trained and educated, drilled, scanned, probed, tested until I was deemed perfect to take my seat right here. But the years have made me a full-fledged member of the family. I am a member of this community and if not as a director I will stay, even if I have to form the first full time position as a farmer or a re-cyclist.'
Ann slowly turned away. There was a moment of silence, during which no body was doing anything.
'I am tired. May I have some time by myself? I will disconnect from server.'
Aidan stood up and readily walked out of the council chamber. The council chamber he was a director of.

The council's decision concerning the rescue mission was to send a designer ship. A segment of the colony refitted by the engineers. Evan Jackson was overseeing the event and the council has voted their trust in favour. 
A message was send first to the crew of the Exo, informing of all current operations. The ship itself was going to be a slice from the circular body of the colony, reshaped with the help of the compartmentalised reconsitutor. Swarm robotics were going to finish the job, growing additional quarters and refitting the surfaces, bit by bit. The final design of the ship was generally mapped, but no one could know what exactly it would look like. The estimation was something similiar to a nest of frog's eggs, insulated from the outside by a layers of cells, but efficiently using space on the inside. The bots were going to decide collectively. The reconstitutor itself was no longer functioning as it had been during the times the station was making interstellar jumps, but was now being reassembled to it's old days past. Some of the colony's functions were slowed down and power had been redirected. More time spend in weightlessness was now necessary for the function to be completed. Bio diversity was also compromised, as well as tech support for growing food. But the time spend without mechanical aid was not enough to harm the sustainability.

The reconstitutor was looking like a giant halo, just a kilometre away from the colony. A chunks from the station was segmented out and now it looked, humorously like a doughnut with a slice off. The ship that was going to make the jump was refitted from the slice, which contained living quarters and farming grounds. It wasn't an essential part of the colony and it's absence was felt more as an inconvenience. The space walkers were dotted around it like bees around their hive. They have to refit the hulk robustly, before going in through the reconstitutor, which was being reprogrammed as they were labouring hazily in the open space.
The deffence satelites orbiting around the station were visible from here as well. Space debree was redirected with carefully shot physical projectiles, or in some cases a booster rocket attaching itself to larger rocks.

One more sensitive question was still worked on.