Wednesday, June 17, 2015

LONELY SPACE - Chapter Six (Sabotage)

Link to Chapter One


Chapter Six


Jay Johnson went back to the biological habitat where he found Tamita stacking sticks and broken branches in the center of three rocks. He went over to the opposite side of this pile and sat down with crossed legs.

“What is this?” he asked

She looked up at him from the other side and said “Any woman in Sierra Leone with any dignity has her three stones well taken care of. We cook with them, we take them inside when it rains... they define the traditional wife and mother in my country. A three stone stove, with a pot balanced on the tips of these, is something everyone in my country knows of”

He nodded. “I think remembering is important. No matter how far we go, New Eden or whatever, we should never forget where we came from”

She shook her head “A hundred years after we settle a new world, nobody is going to remember this, not much of anything from Earth is going to be remembered. They will be making their own customs, their own culture, their own memories. This is where it all ends, I guess”

Then she furrowed her brow “and where have you been?”

He smiled and shook his head “Outside. There was something the computer needed human hands to fix and I was the lucky volunteer”

Tamita knew he wasn't telling her something but she would find out what it was eventually, it is not like the computers kept secrets. The little Gopher robot would probably tell her anything she wanted to know. She still wondered if was wise to trust this man, Jay Johnson, too much.

Jay Johnson was very frustrated but he didn't want to let it show. That night, after Tamita had locked herself in her quarters he decided to have a real talk with the main computer.

“So, have you figured out why that rover tried to rip open the skin of the ship and why it tried to attack me?” he asked looking at a small terminal, because he had to look at something, and a voice in the ether had no face.

“I have not” the computer said “It is illogical for such a major malfunction to occur so soon after launch”

Jay crossed his arms and leaned back on the bunk. He suggested, not seriously, “Maybe we should abort the mission?”

“Negative” the computer said “Only a catastrophic failure would activate any protocols for returning to Earth”

“Those rovers are your hands out there” Jay said “You can't expect me to know how to fix stuff, that wasn't my field. I'm here because...” he stopped and sighed. “I could learn, in the virtual reality chamber, I could learn how to fix some of it”

“The library has everything you would require to become a fully certified technician in any sub-system or engineer in all of the systems” the computer agreed “It would take years”

Jay lay back on the bug with his hands clasped behind his head “I have plenty of time”

The computer thought there was a 75% chance that Jay Johnson would live another 15 years, 5 years to learn to become an engineer and maybe a decade of work after that. There was a 66% chance he would become unstable or insane before then. His relationship with the female had not yet come to fruition, the computer thought it was unlikely within a year. It was not an expert on that, it knew, humans were quite unpredictable sometimes. It was learning though.

In her quarters Tamita lay on the bunk. Then she rolled to face the wall terminal with the small blinking red light. “Computer”

“Yes, crew member Tamita Koroma?” the computer responded

“Tell me what happened to Jay Johnson today” she said “I know something happened. Don't try to lie to me”

The computer of the Salutem Novis did not know where she had gotten the idea that it would lie to her, but it decided to open a separate file on her psychology, not just on her interaction with Jay Johnson.

“Jay Johnson was requested to make an excursion outside of the vessel to replace exterior panels that protect many of the ships sub-systems. Once there he was attacked by a malfunctioning rover, but he was unarmed and the rover is no longer a threat” the computer said.

He was alarmed by this revelation. “That's insane!” she calmed down a little “How could one of the rovers malfunction like that?”

“This remains a mystery” the computer said “Prior to being sent to repair a minor problem an hour earlier it was perfectly normal. Since the rover unit is now floating far away in the depths of space, it cannot be opened up and studied”

“Jay didn't tell me any of this because he thinks I'm too fragile to know?” she asked nobody in particular. “Did he think it would frighten me?”

The computer pondered whether Tamita was upset by this revelation that Jay Johnson tried to protect her from this knowledge or maybe because he was a gentleman. Would she feel warmer toward him or colder, this is something the computer wanted to see.

The next morning Jay Johnson woke up and showered much earlier than normal for him, the computer thought he was eager to see Tamita again, instead he went to the bridge.

“Have you figured out what happened to the rover yet?” he asked

“Negative” the computer said “There is just no information available to make a determination about why the rover behaved the way it did”

Could it have been a malfunction?” Jay asked

“Unlikely” the computer said “It's behavior could not have been the result of random chance”

“So someone tampered with the program?” Jay Johnson asked

“I have found nothing in the programming that would cause this though” the computer said “I have compared the software of all of the rovers, they are identical”

“Sabotage” Jay Johnson “You should go through the programming line by line and create a virtual rover and see how it behaves”

“I will do that” the computer said “I also need you to replace an instrument outside the ship, since the rovers are deactivated for the time being”

Jay Johnson found himself suiting up again for a spacewalk, but this time on the top-side of the ship over in area C. He didn't have to walk up the wall to the ceiling this time since he was already oriented correctly. The computer assured him that all of the remaining rovers were accounted for in their bays and he did not have to worry about being attacked.

He found himself walking through a forest of antennae and other extrusions from the ship, he was looking for one of these in particular. The computer was acting as his navigator. Turn left, turn right, this much farther. He was expecting a bing followed by “You have arrived at your destination” any time now.

After walking nearly a kilometer he found himself outside of one of the biological habitats, he could see the trees and the water on the inside. It was like seeing a bubble of life in a vast, dead ocean that stretched all around him.

Then he saw Tamita inside the habitat and waved, she smiled and waved back. She smiled, Jay Johnson felt his heart flutter. She had a spectacular smile and it warmed him up.

“Your heart rate is elevated crew member Jay Johnson and you have not moved in twelve point seven seconds” the computer noted “Are you having a problem?”

“Negative” Jay answered “So, that sensor that needs replaced is around here somewhere”

“Correct. It is at the top of that tower to your left”

Jay looked and then looked up. The tower was at least ten meters off the surface of the ship, the shaft was about as thick as his arm. He could see the sensor pod at the top, he had the replacement in a satchel over his shoulder. “I can't climb that...”

The tower started retracting straight down until it was nearly at the same level as his head.

“It is a simple and routine procedure” the computer said “normally the rovers would be doing this kind of thing but right now, you are my hands”

On the way back to the hatch he stopped to peer inside of the biological habitat and saw Tamita cooking something in a pot over the traditional three stone stove. He felt hungry all of a sudden, he couldn't wait to get a taste of whatever it was she was making. Then he saw the hatch open at the far in and one of the Goth robots entered the habitat. Not even Gopher entered these habitats.

“Computer why is Goth inside the biological habitat? I never knew they could enter” he said

“They are not supposed to enter, it is forbidden” the computer said “Do you really see a ...”

Jay Johnson was already running toward the hatch he had come from, it was nearly a kilometer away but he just knew there was trouble. “Make it stop! Shut it down!”

“I am attempting to shut it down, but it is not responding”

Jay couldn't bear the thought that the square robot might hurt Tamita, he was barely getting to know her and she finally smiled at him. “Tell her to get in the water, go swimming! That thing isn't water-proof is it?”

“Negative, it is definitely not able to get into the water” the computer answered

He climbed into the hatch and shut it, it began pressurizing immediately. He took off the spacesuit and tossed the helmet. Once the inner hatch opened he knew where to go and it would send him straight up Maple Street, his nickname for the main corridor at the top that led to Biological Habitat 4. He was tired and a bit worn when he arrived, Gopher was at the hatch opening looking in.

“She is all wet” Gopher said as he ran by.

Jay ran into the habitat and saw the robot near the edge of the water, it's side facing the simulated ocean where Tamita was standing in waist-deep water.

“Are you okay?” he asked

“I guess” she said “Except that thing is trying to fry me”

The side facing her was open and the welding torch was active and another tool starting firing bolts or something into the water. It couldn't reach her and it was kind of pathetic. Jay climbed on top of it and opened the access panel.
“What is the shut down code?”

“Type in 0-1-3-2-8-0-9 “ the computer said, once he did this the tools deactivated and stowed away inside the robot and the hatch on its side closed.

“Corridor Service Module C-14 has been deactivated manually” the computer said

“I bet someone in the project sabotaged these robots” Jay Johnson said “Maybe they found out they weren't going to New Eden and decided to get some revenge”

Tamita was out of the water and standing nearby. “That was disturbing” she said “If the computer hadn't warned me, it would have electrocuted me from behind. Those things are pretty quiet”

Jay shook his head “This trip is going to take thousands of years, what are we going to do if we cannot trust these robots?”

“We can't keep going without them” Tamita said as left the habitat and into the corridor, Gopher followed them quietly “The ship and its systems would fall apart long before we reach New Eden”

The computer suggested “I can try to reinstall the programming in the rovers and the Corridor Service Modules before restarted them. Then I will reactivated one of each to assess whether they function properly”

“Can we really trust that?” Jay asked

“I will run the test as far from your location as possible” the computer said “It must be done, as you have already pointed out, we cannot proceed for long without them”

“Yes” Tamita said “It has to be done”

“If that fails, then what?” Jay asked

“Then we would need to replace the main computer in all of these robots and start from the beginning. I can, of course, manufacture new computer boards for them, but it is complicated and would take some time”

“Tamita needs some dry clothes” Jay told Gopher

“Yes sir!” it said in its happy-go-chirpy voice before taking off down the corridor, hanging from a rail on the ceiling.

“Computer, do you think there's a chance that Gopher has been compromised by whatever this is?”

After a moment the computer “Seems unlikely, it has a completely different manufacturer than the robots and the corridor service modules.”

“Is there a way to send a message to Earth about the sabotage?”

“Negative” the computer said, because this was forbidden, it did not add.

“With the way things are on Earth, there is a good chance he's being punished anyway” Jay muttered and put an arm around Tamita “You doing okay?”

“Yes” she said “A little scared, but okay”

The computer noted that the two humans were finally bonding. The circumstances and the danger was bringing them closer together. If this was normal for humans this could be useful in the future, and would be remembered. Meanwhile the Salutem Novis is about 122.8 billion kilometers from Sol but the continuous nature of ion propulsion meant that the ship is accelerating and would continue to accelerate for about 2,500 years to half the speed of light, before the ship turned around and began to slow down as planned, finally reaching New Eden.


Click Here For Chapter Seven!

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