The main computer of the Salutem Novis carefully examined the selected rover and corridor service module for any flaws after the clean install of their operating systems. Jay Johnson and Tamita Koroma were also watching, on terminals from the bridge, static cameras as well as an exterior drone feed following the rover made for gripping viewing.
“Should we send Gopher for popcorn?” Jay asked, Tamita hushed him. He used hand signals to tell Gopher to do it anyway and it left quietly. He had his popcorn within minutes but Tamita kept taking some without asking. Jay just smiled and shook his head.
“I do not see any flaw in their operating systems” the computer said “When I simulated them, more than a thousand times last night, there were no problems at all”
“Maybe it's not in the OS” Tamita said, munching more of his popcorn.
“Wait, what are you suggesting?” Jay asked “That there is a piece of hardware in these machines causing them to attack humans or tear up the ship?”
“Could be malevolent program inside one of the parts. A tiny hidden chip could do it” she told them.
Jay shook his head. “I doubt that would have gotten through the manufacturing process”
“Why? Do you think that after they saw it once or twice on the assembly lines they would ever question it again? So much advanced hardware being put out, I think it could have slipped by” she told them.
“How would we look for that?” Jay Johnson asked “We wouldn't even know what to look for if we tore them apart!”
The two robots on the screens quietly moved about their business without any signs of trouble at all that anyone could see. They had watched for hours as the robots made minor repairs and inspections in their specified portions of the ship.
“Okay, even if that is true, then what triggers them? Neither of the malfunctioning robots had even seen one of us before they went bad. I am having trouble believing that this could be possible. If something happens to us, what would the ship do?” Jay Johnson said “Maybe turning around is the best thing to do, sometimes it seems like it”
The computer tried to parse the meanings behind that whole statement. The idea that the ship or the computer might be in danger should these two humans die was illogical. They were quite easily replaced. It might briefly hinder the psychological studies the computer was doing but that was more of a hobby than part of its job description.
“This is getting really boring” Jay Johnson said later “Is there anything you need me to do?”
“No” Tamita said absentmindedly.
“I was asking the computer” he told her, they both laughed “More beer, Gopher”
“Yes sir” the little robot said and took off through its own little chute above the door as it hung from the ceiling. They went back to watching the two robots on the screen and then heard the chute open again and Gopher entered empty handed.
“Houston, we have a problem!” it said “The corridors are blocked by robots”
“That is not possible” the main computer said “They would have to disable their location beacons or I would know when they moved”
A second later the computer said “The rovers and corridor service modules have all left their assigned storage bays, I am unable to track them”
Tamita and Jay Johnson stood up and switched the terminals to views outside of the bridge. “Lock up the bridge!”. They could see several corridor service modules on either side of the door to the bridge.
“I have already” the computer said.
Tamita sat at the terminal farthest from the door to the corridor. Jay was still closer but he was looking around for something. “These things are working together!” she yelled.
“Looks like we're surrounded Captain” Gopher said
The monitors went blank. “Now we can't watch them”
“Gopher keep looking out there and see what they are doing!” Jay Johnson ordered the little robot. It went through the chute and came right back.
“They have opened all the wall panels and are cutting wires and pipelines” Gopher said just before the lights went out and the red emergency lights came on.
“Computer, is there an air duct or anything we can fit though? Any way at all that we can get out of here and to safety?” Jay Johnson asked and then waited. There was no response. “Looks like they must have cut the main trunk line to the bridge if the computer is cut off”
“What can we do now?” Tamita asked “Gopher. Gopher still works!”
“I am functioning normally” the little robot confirmed
“Are you in touch with the main computer?” Jay asked, “Put us through if you can”
“Through my rail I am, it is also how I draw power” the robot said “Okay”
Tamita came to stand next to Jay, looking at the little robot in front of them. Then the voice changed and the main computer said “I have been able to calculate a way for you to survive”
“Good to hear that” Jay said “Just hurry up and tell us”
“There is an escape pod connected to the bridge behind the hatch between the bathroom and Captains office. Disconnect the panel and there is a hatch, crawl nine point seven feet to another hatch, that will put you inside of the escape pod” the computer said “Then you can get far enough away, it is already programmed and stay there until I can deactivate all of these rovers and corridor service modules”
“There were no rovers in the hall” Jay said. Tamita looked behind them across the bridge and to the transparent dome and a short scream escaped from her. There were more than a few rovers watching them from the other side, one was moving back and forth liked a caged tiger. Then they started hitting and scratching at the dome.
“We have to go right now!” Jay Johnson said, grabbing her shoulders and pulling her toward the alcove where the restroom and Captains office were located. He examined the panel and had no idea how to get the bolts to unbolt. “Gopher, do I need a tool for this?”
After a second the little robot took off through the chute.
The banging and screeching of the transparent dome being attacked by the rovers echoed across the bridge. If they managed to punch a hole in that, the bridge would lose all of its breathable atmosphere.
Then there was banging on the door, very loud and hard bangs as the corridor service modules were attacking it.
Finally Gopher was back and holding a tool. It was a simple design with one button and two small lights. He placed it over each corner of the panel and touched the button, sure enough this was all it took and he pulled it to the side. He and Tamita both knelt to look into the tube that led to the hatch of the escape pod.
“How long before you can shut those things down?” Jay asked pushing Tamita into the tube first as he saw the computer had already opened the inner hatch for them.
“I am working to isolate their response algorithms. It should take about nine minutes because it seems to have many built in firewalls.” the main computer said through Gopher.
“Go and save yourselves” Gopher said.
He was still in the tube and Tamita was inside the escape pod looking out at him. “Come on, hurry up!” she said reaching back out to pull him in.
Jay Johnson resisted “I think I should stay”
She shook her head “No. Are you nuts? Let the computer handle this”
“Just let me suggest something before I go then” he said backing out of the tube. He stood up “Gopher, can I make a suggestion?”
“What kind of suggestion?” the little robot asked.
“Have you ever heard of an electro-magnetic pulse? Can you produce one? A rather small one that will affect just a little more than this room enough to shut down the rovers out there and the service modules, can you make one?” Jay Johnson asked.
“There is a power transformer in this wall, but there is no power currently running through it. The conduits have been cut by the service modules” Gopher said “I might be able to produce one in another section that will reach the service modules but not the rovers out there”
The main computer spoke through Gopher again “Try not to cause permanent damage”
“Do that, then we will figure out what to do with the rovers” Jay Johnson said. Then he crawled back into the tube and told Tamita “I have a plan, you need to go though”
“If you stay I want to stay too!” she said and started to climb out of the pod but he pushed her back in and she protested. Then he pulled her to him and kissed her. Then he pushed her back in again and hit the switches that locked the inner hatch. As he exited the tube he told the main computer through Gopher “Launch the escape pod”.
He watched through the dome as it disconnected and drifted upward slowly, the rovers noticed it and started moving towards it. Just as the first rovers got close the rockets ignited on the pod and it moved out of their reach, even one that leaped after it.
“Gopher, go blow that transformer. Make sure you get far enough away before it goes up!” he reminded the little robot. It took off through the chute again. The rovers were all now attacking the dome, he could see the little dimples like micro meteors might make.
He heard a popping sound and the banging at the door stopped. It seemed that Gopher had done its job and the service modules were now inactive. Jay Johnson tried to open the door by touching the panel but nothing happened. Then he put his fingers into the groove between the doors and pulled, it opened a few inches and he looked though.
It looked like the small EMP had done the trick. Some of them had stopped with their tools out when some of their circuits were fried. He pushed and pulled until he could squeeze out between the double doors. “Now what?”
He was standing in a corridor with eight service modules the size of airport mule vehicles and trying to figure a way to stop the rovers. That is when Gopher returned “Got them!”
“Yes, now we need to get the rovers too” he answered “I'm just out of ideas”
The main computer spoke through Gopher again. “The escape pod from the bridge, unlike the others, was built with defensive weaponry. I believe I can program the laser on the pod to fire a weakened laser at just the right frequency to disable the rovers.”
Jay sat down on a service module “I wanted to be the hero”
The computer didn't miss a beat “There is an air-lock one hundred meters down the corridor”
“No” he said waving a hand “Your way is faster and better, I suppose”
Tamita was sitting in the front seat of the 5-seat escape pod and not touching anything. Even though the control stick seemed familiar she was too scared that something bad would happen. She could barely see the rovers from where she was at, stationed 1,000 meters away. The ship still looked huge from that distance, it was just really big.
“Tamita” the voice of the computer reached her, though there was static.
“What? I can hear you” she said
“Communications... difficult... damage to bridge... need you .. shoot laser... rovers...”
“Okay, I can barely hear you” she said. She saw a button on the dash in front of her that said “weapons”. Why there would need to be weapons on a trip to New Eden she did not know, but they would be useful against bad robots.
“Hang on” she answered “Even if I figure this out, those rovers are right next to the bridge I can't shoot”
The computer voice came back “Reprogrammed... EMP laser... You must … targeting system”
When she touched the switch labeled “Targeting” the monitor in front of her lit up, and then it showed the ship below with red dots where the rovers were. “So how do I aim this thing? Is it like a video game?”
When she moved the control stick to line up the cross-hairs on the red dots, the whole escape pod moved with it. The whole vessel reoriented itself which threw off her aim the first few times. When she the hang of it, taking out those tiger-like rovers didn't seem so hard.
She counted eight of them when it was all said and done. The main computer had broke back into the static to say “Recalling escape vehicle”. It moved all by itself and soon docked where it had been in the first place.
When Tamita crawled through the tube, Jay Johnson was there to help her get out.
“I thought I was going to get to be the hero” Jay Johnson told her “But you got to play shoot'em up all by yourself”
“So what happens now?” Tamita asked
The main computer spoke through Gopher again “I will have to manufacture new computer cores for the rovers and corridor service modules. Jay Johnson and you will need to take their original cores out and replace them. Then the service modules can repair the damage they caused.”
“That should make the robots act normal again?” Jay Johnson asked
“I hope there aren't any more surprises coming” Tamita said “At least not any time soon”
The main computer watched Tamita and Jay Johnson leave the bridge through Gophers eyes, he saw them shake their head at all the disabled service modules in the corridor. He heard Jay Johnson smack one on the top and say “I thought we were friends Goth!”
Then they walked back towards one of the biological habitats for “a break”.
The computer noted that they held hands this time. They had started to bond, which the computer noted in its psychological research database. The computer also noted that humans seemed to thrive on adversity, or at least surviving adversity. Overcoming obstacles and challenges was “progress” for humans, the computer determined.
It analyzed this conclusion. It seemed a correct deduction, supported by the recent events. The main computer of the Salutem Novis filed this away for future reference.
This is just barely the beginning of the story of the Salutem Novis and its 6,000 year journey to New Eden carrying the remnant of the human race in cryogenic suspension with just one or two crew members "awake" at a time. There will be other characters and other challenges, and I don't think anyone really trusts that main computer do they?
When I complete the whole story I will release it as an e-book, unless I decide to release them a serials. If I do that, then these first seven chapters would be part one.
Meanwhile I will probably begin another on-going story soon enough. It will, of course be science fiction.
You can always support me and this website by buying New Arrivals (or borrow if you have Kindle Unlimited or Prime subscriptions)