Monday, December 26, 2016

Lonely Space - Chapter Eight

See Chapter One

Chapter Eight
A Quest

After they were back in the small mess hall they had been using for a while Jay Johnson pulled Tamita close and whispered “Even if we install new computer cores you said the bad programming might be coming from another part inside the robots”

She nodded.

“We might need to take some of them apart and inspect each piece” he concluded. The prospect of being electrocuted or torn apart by sabotaged robots was worth the extra effort to prevent. The main computer had a long-range 6,000 year plan built in to its system, while humans are worried about more immediate things, such as their own lives.

“If that is what needs to happen to end this mess, then we can do that” she answered “This ship needs those robots if it is going to have a chance to make it for 6,000 years”

Jay thought about this. Pretty much every part on every robot would be replaced several times over before this voyage is ending. He hoped replacing the cores was the end of it or barring that, finding the part that had been sabotaged from the design stage.

The main computer spoke up “I have designed a more efficient computer core for the Corridor Service Module and it is being built as we speak. Gopher should have it brought to you within a quarter of an hour.”

Jay Johnson was impressed “redesigned and built in such a short time, that is impressive'

The computer was silent but Tamita laughed “Please tell me you aren't trying to charm the computer, I don't think praise is going to compute”

As promised Gopher entered the room carrying a ceramic and metallic-looking all with grooved edged around it that were obviously meant to fit into a slot. Jay Johnson picked it up and examined it while the main computer spoke again.

“You will need to open the top access hatch on the unit, then open a secondary panel inside of that and replace the computer core. It should be fairly straight-forward, as these were made for humans to be able to repair easily” it told them

“See” Tamita said standing up from the table they were sitting at “Sounds condescending but it doesn't mean to be”

They returned to the lift and then walked back toward the bridge, all of the service module robots were still where they had been stopped previously. The one closest to where they had come from was the one Jay Johnson had named Goth. Corridor Service Module G-27.

“Looks like a silver and black refrigerator lying on its back, doesn't it?” Jay asked jokingly.

He climbed on top while she leaned over from the side. The access port was easy to open, being no real reason to make them otherwise. Jay Johnson laid on his stomach to get a close look at the inside, he could see where the secondary hatch was inside but there were things in the way. So he took the chance to hold the wires and stuff to the side with one hand and open the hatch with the other.

There was a white and silver ball, looking only a little different from the one printed up by the ships computer. He reached down and pulled, it came up out of its slot quite easily. He put it aside and Tamita handed them the replacement. He dropped it and it slide into the slot, a tap of a finger made sure it was embedded snugly.

“That was easy” he said, sitting up and closing the top hatch.

The computer spoke up through Gopher who was a few feet away “I will have this unit push the others out of the way and then fix some of the damage that was caused. If you want to be out of the way during this operation you might want to leave the area now”

Tamita and Jay Johnson walked back to the lift and he leaned close to her and whispered “Did you feel the urgency to the computer wanting to fix the damage? We're in the middle of nowhere, most systems are automated, what did the computer not tell us?”

The computer monitored the module called “Goth” by the humans as it reconnected and rewired the connections to the bridge. Some of the first connections to be reconnected were the least important, but it was progress, those needed done before the main trunk line could be fixed. There were thousands of computers on the ship but losing access to the bridge hindered some of its operations.

A lot of exterior sensors were directly wired to bridge computers, thus the computer had only partial data about what was happening outside the ship. This could leave the mission in danger, there were occasional meteors and comets even this far out into the heliopause. To the computer sensor darkness, not knowing where danger might be, was unsettling.

Tamita and Jay Johnson entered Biological Habitat 2, one of the smaller ones, so they could try to get a little privacy.

“This ship is so big that I haven't seen most of it” he told her “I have no idea where the passengers are being stored. I guess I could figure that out though, but there is so much else I haven't seen”

She nodded “What else is there?”

He took a fallen twig and found a dirt area without grass and sat next to it. He drew a rectangle “We have only been to about this much”

He filled in what he thought was right and they were surprised. Even after spending several years living and exploring Jay Johnson had been to less than ten percent of the volume of the ship. “I reckon a lot of this side of the ship is fuel that we took on from Jupiter” he filled in the back quarter of the ship. “I bet much of the center is the storage for the passengers” he filled in another quarter.

“The manufacturing and the stuff they make things out of must take up some space, but I bet there is enough air and water to take up a quarter of the ship too” Tamita added.

“That still leaves a good fifteen percent of the ship that is totally unknown to us” Jay Johnson said “I know the computer doesn't tell us everything. It took close to four years before I ever saw a corridor service module! The computer had never mentioned them to me before I ran into Goth while jogging”

“What would the computer do if we asked to see the other fifteen percent of the ship?” Tamita asked, curiously.

Jay Johnson shrugged. “That probably depends on what is there, I guess”

“So, we just go and look without asking then” She said with a grin “We're adults, we don't need to do what daddy computer says”

When they left the biological habitat they were holding hands and Tamita was leaning against Jay a little, despite not being physically handicapped. The computer noted this, it believed that the two humans were at least very good friends now. Watching them would teach it a lot about the stages of human bonding and its files on this were growing.

When Gopher approached them they let their hands fall to their sides. This was curious, was their friendship supposed to be a secret? At such as early stage in a relationship was it not secure enough to show others? There was much to learn, but 6,000 years was a long time.

“The service module is operating as expected. It is repairing the wiring and tubing to the bridge, fixing its connection to the rest of the ship!” Gopher reported to the humans “The computer has begun manufacturing enough replacement computer cores for all of the corridor service modules”

“How many of them are there?” Tamita asked

“The original plan call for there to be two hundred and forty of them, but this was an inefficient use of resources. Instead we have forty” Gopher told them.

“That is still a lot” she said looking doubtful.

Jay shook his head “If they are all as easy to replace as on Goth, then it won't take too long I guess, besides it means traveling to parts of the ship we haven't seen yet”

“Oh, right” Tamita said putting on a fake smile and laughing nervously to the little robot “Good point, humans like seeing new things”

The little robot then chirped “Okay, I'll go get the next batch of replacement computer cores right now!”

Then it was gone.

“Chippy little thing, isn't she?” Tamita asked

“She?” Jay asked, frowning “I never assigned any gender to the robot before.”

“Gopher just seems like a 'she' to me”

“I always thought Gopher was like a child” Jay asked “Or is that kind of the same thing?”

“You better start running!” she said with an evil smile. Then they laughed and ran all the way toward where the service robots were still cluttering the area near the bridge. Instead they were all lined up neatly, leaving room for the humans to maneuver their way through.

“That makes things easier, thanks Goth” Jay told the robot that totally ignored him, as it always did since they were not made to interact with humans. “I guess we'll get these first before having to travel to get the rest of them” he said.

“Let me do some of them” Tamita asked “Unless you think this is far too dangerous”

He laughed “It's like changing a light bulb, I think you can handle it, little lady”

She shook her head “You should at least attempt a John Wayne drawl when you say that”

“I'm terrible at impersonations”

They finished installing the new cores to the service modules outside of the bridge in little time and then began moving from section to section and deck to deck where Gopher told them others were located. Replacing the cores was easy, the traveling took longer and they mostly used lifts instead of walking.

Then Jay Johnson stopped, the door-frame here looked different, bigger, the frame was red too and entered a strange looking chamber. The chamber had a tall ceiling and was dominated by a silver cylinder at the center.

Tamita entered after noticing he wasn't with her and going back.

“What is this place?” Tamita asked in a quiet voice.

“I don't know” he said “Look how big those tubes to the cylinder are. It could be part of some kind of cooling system”. Tubes entered from the floor and ceiling connecting to the cylinder.

“No labels or signs at all” Tamita said walking around the vast cylinder “Not even a warning sign”

Jay Johnson was thinking hard. “I know the water and air storage sites are a thousand or more times this size. I guess it could be part of a filtration system but this is kind of weird”

Tamita shook her head “Don't you think this could be part of the cryogenic suspension system?”

Jay looked around for Gopher, it was hanging out in the corridor looking into the chamber through the open doorway. He wondered why the computer or Gopher hadn't answered any of the questions they had spoken out loud.

“Gopher what is this chamber for?” he asked walking toward the robot “What does that do?”

Gopher backed up a few feet.

“I do not know. My map of this area is incomplete” it said

Then the main computer spoke up “As you get closer to the front of the vessel there are bigger and bigger blind spots for my maps. I assume that the construction was becoming rushed because of the launch deadline”

How could they leave parts of the ship outside the control of the computer? It didn't seem to make much sense.

“Was there any last minute adjustments or additions?” Jay asked

The computer answered “There were many small last minute adjustments, mostly minor changes but there was one major addition. Part of the forward section of the vessel, which is a large blind spot”

“Me and Tamita can go and check that out” Jay Johnson told the computer. After thinking the computer was hiding something from them this was even more worrisome.

Gopher disappeared again. The computer answered “I will leave that up to you. If you do insist on exploring the unknown parts of the ship you should take certain tools with you. It will keep you in contact with me”

When Gopher returned it handed them small wristbands, then said “I also cannot access the dark parts of the ship”.

Jay looked at Tamita, he was starting to have second thoughts about this.

The main computer spoke again “Scan the dark areas of the vessel as you explore and I will be able to add it to my internal memories and the main map of the ship”

Gopher accompanied them for a while. Then the entire look of the vessel changed. The rail that Gopher hung down from did not extend any further. There was less lighting, the metal bulkheads were darker, as if the metal were not as refined as the rest of the ship.

“Everything looks different” Tamita said “I guess they really did add it at the last minute”

“This project took a long time, 'last minute' was probably a matter of months” Jay guessed looking around and moving the wristband like it was a flashlight. When they came to the first hatches Jay was almost surprised that they refused to open. He punched in the code for door access but got a red light in return.

“This is different” Jay said “I wonder how many of these will open for us?”

Not many, he decided after the next set of hatches refused to budge, So they continued to walk until they came to a T-section. “Looks like we might have reached the front of the ship” Tamita said.

The voice of the main computer came from their wrist devices, but it sounded tinny “Most likely, there is only about 4 meters between this corridor and the outside of the vessel. I believe it is made up of triple hull. There are other decks to check”

Chapter Nine

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